The Past: Revisited

Written by Raven Skye Blackhawk

Prologue

'What a long, lovely day,' Niobe thought happily. She stretched out luxuriously in the deliciously fragrant and steaming bath water.

With a wave of her hand she dismissed her handmaidens and lay back against the side of her large sunken marble bathtub. After soaking for several minutes more, she rose from the warm water, got out and dried herself.

Donning her flimsy linen robe, Niobe exited the bathing chamber and returned to her adjoining bed chamber. A cool breeze filled the room with the scent of roses, jasmine, Lily of the Valley and lilac, which grew in abundance in the gardens just outside her windows and balcony. She executed a happy little twirl and went to her door, locking it. There. No one would be able to get in and disturb her.

She smiled and lay down on her soft, downy bed. Her eyes soon began to flutter close in a weak attempt to fight off sleep. But she did not want to sleep. Not yet. The night was too lovely to waste sleeping…

Then it came, the loud banging on her chamber door that she had been expecting. She came fully awake and sat up, listening. As she did, she began to laugh silently. Oh dear, how dreadfully unhappy he sounded; how wretched were the tone of his cries.

Soon— and as she knew he would— his pitiful cries became angry shouts, demanding and persistent. Open this door, he roared. How dare she shut her door to him!

But still, Niobe said nothing. She blew out her only source of light— a candle beside her bed. Then she lay back down, on her side this time, and gazed dreamily out through her balcony doors, which were open save for the white filmy curtains that flew wildly in the strengthening breeze.

The banging ceased; the yelling ceased. All was quiet.

Niobe sighed.

The storm was not over yet.

As she continued to stare out through the open doors of her balcony, a tall figure of a man appeared. His shadow was cast onto the floor of her room, which was awash in strong, milky moonlight. She then shut her eyes and pretended to sleep.

"I know you are only pretending to be asleep," said the male intruder roughly. "Get up. Get up and face me. Confess what you have done."

She could sense him moving over to the bed and a moment later, she heard him light the candle she had just blown out. Perhaps if she continued to lay here motionless he would go away—

But he did not go away. Instead, he grabbed her thighs and wrenched them apart. Her eyes flew open at his rough treatment and she gave a little whimpering cry. With a growl, he pinned her down by the throat with his left hand and with his right, shoved two fingers inside her.

The cruel hand at her throat instantly released her and he backed away, his dark eyes filling with tears.

"So it's true," he whispered in a trembling voice.

Niobe sat up and laughed. It was a harsh, mirthless sound.

"Undoubtedly. The evidence seems to suggest that, doesn't it?" she replied blithely, standing up. She shoved him away from her and went to her dressing table where she lit more candles. "Do you have a problem with that, brother?" she asked as she sat down and picked up her brush, all the while staring at his reflection in her looking glass.

Thanos appeared to be utterly dumbstruck. He swayed gently on his feet, his eyes staring back at her with shock. "But— but he's—"

She laughed again. "But he's—? He's what? Our half-brother? Because his mother is only a nymph?" Niobe clicked her tongue reproachfully. "Really, Thanos, you're such a snob. He's as much a god as we are; both he and his brother Hector. But Leander is so very well endowed and believe me, he knows how to please a woman."

"How could you?" Thanos knelt beside her, his gaze never leaving her reflection in the mirror in front of her. "You know how I feel about you, Niobe. Damn it, how could you do this to me?"

"How could I do this to you?" She chuckled. "Silly boy, whoever said this was about you? Oh, really Thanos, do you honestly believe I care about your pitiful little feelings?"

Hurt by her harsh words, Thanos could only stare helplessly at her. Impatiently, Niobe set the brush down and turned to look at him.

"What you think does not matter to me anymore. I am living my life as I please, Thanos. Is that not what you have done?"

"Yes, but—"

She waved a hand. "Alright then, stop your grumbling. Just like you, I have decided to indulge in pleasure whenever and wherever I find it. It just so happened that tonight I found it when having a sparring match with Leander." Niobe smiled then, a misty-eyed and secretive smile which told Thanos she was remembering the encounter fondly. "He is so tall, so beautiful and I just adore his green eyes. How easily they can hypnotize one!"

Turning back to her dressing table, she picked up a small jar of cream and opened it. With a slim finger, she took a swipe out of the cream and shut the jar before rubbing her hands together, massaging the creamy lotion into her skin.

"You know he's been after me for some time now," she went on, purposely ignoring her twin's twisted, furious face. "During the bout, I noticed he kept staring at my bosom. Well, I couldn't stand it anymore and so I looked down— and wouldn't you know? The sleeve of my tunic had torn and my left breast was exposed. But I had been so into the match that I had not even noticed." She gave Thanos an innocent smile. "Well, he reached over to pull what remained of the cloth up to cover me when he suddenly moaned and grabbed the fabric, tearing my clothes off."

"You could have told him to stop," remarked Thanos coldly.

Niobe appeared to think this over. "True, but when I saw that he had an erection I thought, why let that go to waste? So I pulled him toward me and when we hit the floor, he slid inside me and—" She stopped and grinned broadly. "Oh my stars, I thought the earth was shaking! It was the most wonderful, amazing experience! All the gossip about his sexual prowess is not an exaggeration. In fact, it has been seriously understated."

She turned back to look at her twin and she suppressed a delighted shiver. Thanos was glaring at her with fierce black eyes. The heat from his rage was nearly tangible. Niobe was unable to stop herself from savoring the delicious tonic that was his wrath.

"Oh, I'm sorry. Have I said something that offended you?" she asked him sweetly.

"You're enjoying this, aren't you?" Thanos rose slowly until he towered menacingly over her.

"What do you mean?"

Her brother's chest began to heave with exertion. Niobe could see how deeply he was affected and she delighted in it.

"You know damn well what I mean, Niobe. This behavior of yours— I don't like it. You know exactly how it makes me feel when you tell me these things. I cannot bear knowing that another man has touched you."

She pouted prettily. "Aw, I'm sorry, brother. But I am even sorrier that you apparently can't handle the fact that I won't give myself to you, even though you desperately want me to." With narrowed eyes, Niobe lowered her voice to a husky whisper. "Even at this moment, when you know I have just been with another man and a moment ago when you felt his seed still inside me… You burn for want of me, do you not?"

Sweat broke out all over Thanos' forehead and he passed a shaking hand over it to wipe it away. He was very pale. "Stop it! Oh, Niobe my dearest, my darling! By the gods, I'm in love with you!" he cried. "I desire you above all else. Surely that counts for something!"

"I've already told you I care nothing for your feelings," she replied shortly with a haughty toss of her head. "Desire me all you want, Thanos. But there is nothing you can say or do which will make me want you. Understood?"

He did not reply and Niobe returned to the task of brushing her hair. When she was done she got up and returned to her bed, removed her robe and lay down. "Now please go. I am tired and wish to sleep. Leander worked me until I became exhausted." She laughed. "And I am not talking about the sparring match."

A strong breeze blew into the room, extinguishing all the candles. As soon as the lights were blown out, Niobe felt a large, warm body on top of her. Large, powerful hands were gripping her, grabbing at her limbs.

"Thanos!" she cried. "Stop it!"

But he did not comply and instead yanked her legs apart. With a startled yell, she slapped Thanos hard across the face.

He returned the favor by punching her on the jaw.

Stunned, Niobe lay limply on the bed beneath him as he began moving roughly inside her. To add to her distress, Thanos began to strangle her with his large hands.

Panicked, she clutched at his hands, her body bucking under him in an attempt to free herself. But he did not relent and stars began to dance before her eyes.

"How do you like this?" he hissed into her ear. "Am I making the earth tremble for you too?"

Despite her situation, Niobe smiled broadly in the dark. With a laugh, she let go of his hands and slid her hands around his back, where she dragged her nails down his skin. He gave a hiss of pleasure and bent down, biting her hard on the shoulder.

"You dirty bastard," she moaned ecstatically. "Gods above, I love the way you fuck me!"

He bit her again, this time drawing blood. "I hate watching you with other men," he panted against her sweat and blood-covered skin. "It drives me insane."

She raised her head and bit his shoulder this time, sinking her teeth into his muscular flesh. "I love how jealous you get. It turns me on." As he pulled away from her, she backhanded him across the face.

Thanos delivered another punch to her face and flipped her deftly onto her belly, sliding his arm under her throat and pulled back. Niobe gasped for breath.

"When are you going to marry me?" he growled in her ear.

"N… never…"

"You fucking little bitch." He tightened his hold until she squeaked in pain. "I will ask you again. When are you going to marry me?"

"No, Thanos…"

"You can't keep putting me through this storm of emotion every time you want me to have sex with you! It's not fair to me."

"But I like forceful sex," she panted. "And it's the only way you to rile you up to such a state so you'll treat me roughly. Sometimes I think you're going to kill me and I love it! Besides, I love making you jealous and feel as though you're going to lose me. It amuses me."

"Fuck you," he snarled, releasing her and getting off the bed.

Niobe laughed and rolled onto her back. Her bitten shoulder and bruised throat hurt like blazes but it was an incredibly erotic sensation. "Yes, you did fuck me. Admit it, you love it too." She glanced down at his crotch and smirked. "I see someone is still excited."

"You're hurting me, Niobe." His voice shook with emotion. "I'm warning you. Stop it. There is only so much I can bear."

"Oh, so melodramatic! Don't worry, my darling, you'll live. Now come," she said, opening her arms to him. She pouted her lips. "I want more. Give me what I deserve."

Thanos stood before her, watching her with uncertainty. "Not until I have your promise that you will stop sleeping with these other men and become mine alone."

"But Thanos…"

"Don't 'but Thanos' me, Niobe. I mean it."

Annoyance filled Niobe's face and she sat up with an impatient sigh. "Oh, forget it. Hand me my robe."

"Where are you going?" he asked her suspiciously.

"What does that matter?"

He grabbed her arm and shook her. "Because it does. Where are you going?"

She glared up at him. "Fine! To find Leander, that's where! He isn't one to ask questions when pussy is being offered up to him."

Niobe nearly laughed out loud when her brother shoved her back down onto the bed and thrust himself hard into her. He was so easy to manipulate, she thought gleefully, wincing slightly as he began to get really rough with her.

To play along with this simulated rape, Niobe fought wildly, scratching and hitting him as hard as she could. And when it was over, he fell on top of her, exhausted and spent. The two of them were dripping with perspiration and blood; their bodies were covered with scratches, bite marks and bruises.

She pulled away slightly so she could watch her twin sleep. He was so beautiful, even as injured as he was. Sometimes, when she would relive their violent lovemaking sessions, she would feel a little guilty. True, this whole mess was his fault to begin with, but she felt that things were beginning to get a little out of hand. She knew that she would have to face facts: in her brother, she had created a monster. And soon she wouldn't be able to control him as easily as she could now.

The arm that was draped over her waist twitched slightly when she slid out from under it. She sat up and groaned softly. Heavens, she was sore!

"Where are you going?"

Startled, Niobe jumped at the gruff sound of his voice, which did not sound the least bit sleepy. It made her wonder if he had been asleep at all and was just waiting until she tried to get out of bed to find out where she was going.

"Nowhere. I just wanted to sit up for a bit, that's all." She got up and stretched. Her bruised body protested and she laughed nervously. "I think you got a bit too rough this time, Thanos."

Thanos was now laying on his side, with his head propped up on his hand. He watched her intently. "Why are you complaining? You said yourself you liked when I got rough with you." He paused, his eyes dark and heavy-lidded. "Come back to bed."

This time it was she who eyed him intently. "Why? You're not planning to have sex with me again, are you? After all, two men in one night—"

It did not take long for Niobe to find herself flat on her back on her bed while her furious brother pinned her down bodily.

"Thanos, don't. Please."

"Why? Why must you keep reminding me of your extracurricular activities? Have you not hurt me enough for one night?"

"Thanos, wait—"

But he did not listen to her. "I am also tired of you trying to manipulate me, Niobe. You've exacted your revenge on me for what I did to you and I have apologized for it many times already. But this little control game of yours is going to end. What's more, you are going to give up your other lovers and marry me, as you should have done a long time ago. Is that understood?"

She struggled against him, but met with no success. "And if I don't? What then? What will you do to me, big man?" she bit out angrily.

He narrowed his eyes as he slid one of his hands beneath the pillows. "Ah, a challenge. Then let me show you. After all, you do find that inflicting pain is amusing—"

Chapter 1

Dreams are funny things. But sometimes they're not the least bit amusing.

Another restless night and another brutal awakening sent Kagome shooting straight out of sleep and bolt upright in bed. She brought a hand to her mouth and covered it, hoping somehow that it would stifle the scream of agony about to burst from her lips.

It did not.

The scream tore from her lips and she clutched at her chest.

The slumbering figure beside her woke instantly but she turned to him in order to soothe him, telling him that she was alright; it was only a bad dream. With a shaking hand, she reached out to find the bedside table and groped blindly for the lamp.

"But that's what worries me. You seem to be having a lot of bad dreams lately, baby," remarked her silver-haired hanyou husband gently. He reached across her body when she was unable to find the light switch and turned it on for her. "I don't like it. You're fragile enough as it is."

But Kagome knew that he was worried about her. He had been, ever since—

"Stress," she said quickly, by way of explanation. "You know how it is. It does strange things to the human body."

Inuyasha nodded in agreement but his eyes continued to study her. "What do you need me to do for you?" he asked suddenly. He slid an arm around her shoulders and pulled her to him. "Whatever it is, you only have to ask."

Kagome felt her eyes blur. "I know. Thank you," she whispered, willing herself not to cry. Inuyasha was so tender now, so infinitely loving to her that it had been easy to forgive him all his past transgressions. Long ago, she wished he had never come back into her life and now, he behaved exactly as she wished he had all those years ago.

When Inuyasha had asked her to be his mate for life, she had agreed. Not as quickly as he would have liked— it had taken her twelve years to say yes— but she had agreed just the same. In his heart he knew that she still was very much in love with Kouga, and Inuyasha knew full well that she would never be able to forget that irrepressible wolf youkai. But after all that had happened between them, Inuyasha was content to be able to have her back in his life and he was incredibly grateful to have her as his wife. The Greek god in him, however, felt that this was long overdue. Hermes had waited so very long to have her. He would have much preferred to have spent eternity as the immortals they had been, rather than the mortals they were now. But still— she was his now and he was content with that.

"I'm fine," she said, in an attempt to be reassuring. But she felt that Inuyasha was far from reassured. His eyes never once left her face and she could hear him take surreptitious sniffs near her head, and she knew he was checking to see if she was lying to him.

"I love you," he said at last and pulled her back down on the bed with him. "All I want is to see you happy and healthy and safe. You mean the world to me and I would do anything for you."

This time Kagome did cry, but she did so silently. "I know," she said, her voice muffled against her hand. "I know and I am so thankful that I have you, Inuyasha. Your concern for me means a lot."

Hearing her words, Inuyasha could not keep the smile from his face. He loved it when she told him things like that. It made him feel as though his heart would burst from his chest, so full of joy was it. He stroked her hair tenderly. "So if you're hiding something from me, please don't. Whatever it is, good or bad, we can handle it together. I'm your husband, Kagome. All your joys are my joys and all your sorrows, my sorrows."

Hearing him speak so tenderly to her this way, Kagome turned over towards him and hid her face against his bare chest. There was so much to tell him, but she did not dare. It would all be too much, even for him, as strong a man as he was. But even so, she was barely holding herself together under the strain of the terrible secrets she was keeping from her husband of only a year.

"I love you too, Inuyasha," she said at last when she was able to catch her breath. "But I'm fine, really. Just very tired and feeling very emotional. You have no idea how exhausted I am."

"Alright, sweetheart, I will ask you again tomorrow."

"But—"

He chuckled wryly. "What? Did you actually think you were fooling me? Silly goose, how long have we known each other? I know when you're keeping things from me. Ah well, I won't press you anymore— for now. Good night, my love." He smiled, yawned and soon drifted back to sleep.

But Kagome did not fall asleep. She could not. Instead, she turned over on her side, facing away from Inuyasha in case he was watching her and her mind returned to the horrible dream she'd just woken up from.

A dream? No. Oh no, she thought sickly. Not a dream. What she'd just seen was a memory from her life as Niobe, the daughter of Ares and Athena. It had been a memory recalling the night when Niobe, who had been so confident of her ability to keep her love-stricken brother under her thumb, lost that control. That night, she thought with a shudder, Thanos had proven his dominance over her in the most brutal way.

Again she clutched at her thin chest and quickly pulled her hands away. No blood. Of course there was no blood. It was only a dream, for pity's sake. But dear gods, that dream had been far too real!

No, she reminded herself again. It was not a dream; it was a memory. And in that memory, Kagome recalled everything with crystal clarity.

After he had slid his hand beneath the pillows, Thanos had withdrawn a dagger. How it had gotten there she never knew, but she felt that he must have placed it there after she had fallen asleep soon after their lovemaking.

With eyes completely devoid of emotion, he had proceeded to stab her numerous times until she could no longer move. Blood had been everywhere—a scarlet nightmare—and her mattress and clothing had been completely saturated with it.

"You no longer have power over me," he had said to her, in a voice that chilled her to her very soul. "On the contrary, I shall be the one to control you. You have hurt me too many times with your cruelty, Niobe. I have apologized over and over again for what I've done to you, and yet you continue to torment me. I couldn't take your punishment anymore."

She had said nothing in response and he continued.

"Now here's the plan, my love. You will marry me and we shall be happy." He stared down at her with bright, feverish eyes and she knew that the brother that she had known and loved was no more. "But if you are faithless, even once, I will find out the identity of your lover." He leaned down so close that the tip of his nose touched hers. "And then I will kill him."

"There's… there's no one…" she managed thickly before coughing up a mouthful of blood.

"You liar. What of Leander?"

Niobe moaned softly. She was in agony. "It was a onetime thing. It won't happen again, I swear."

A sick, satisfied smile crossed his lips. "How do you feel? You don't like this much, do you, Niobe? This feeling of helplessness and pain so deep you can't stand it? It takes some getting used to. I should know." The smile vanished and he plunged the dagger into her chest again and twisted it. The pain was agonizing. Niobe screamed and after Thanos removed the knife from her chest, he flung it out through the open balcony doors and out into the night. Thanos remained where he was, his thighs straddling her waist as he stared down at her sobbing and scarlet-stained face.

"I want you to remember every wound I inflicted on you, because every time you fucked another man, that was how I felt. It was as if you had taken the sharpest dagger you could find and stabbed me in the heart with it over and over again." Thanos lay down beside her and gathered her in his arms. "But I shall be kinder to you than you have been to me. All you need to do is submit to me and then I would not have a reason to hurt you."

She did not believe him. Not then, not ever. The look in his eyes on the long ago night was enough to convince her that he was mad. But the worst of it, this frame of mind he was in— it had all been her doing. She had indeed inflicted emotional wounds upon him and driven him to madness by making him jealous by flaunting her numerous love affairs right in his face. And for what? A cheap thrill, simply for the pleasure of angering him into beating her and screwing her senseless. She had used him shamelessly in order to exact her revenge and hurt him the way he had hurt her.

Kagome sat up, leaned back against the headboard and pressed a quivering hand to her face. With the other hand she grasped the Shikon no Tama, which hung about her neck. He was still there, sleeping peacefully within the jewel's depths. While he slumbered, she had been able to tap into his mind which enabled her to complete the puzzle of her broken past. The monster she had created had in turn wreaked havoc, not only in ancient Greece, but in a different millennium— on a different continent— upon an unsuspecting people.

Naraku had begun his murderous rampage in Japan— because of her. Thanos had followed her there, where she became the high priestess Midoriko. Being reborn as the human thief Onigumo had not deterred Thanos from his mission. Since Inuyasha— whose body contained the immortal soul of the god Hermes— had been able to detect the presence of her soul in the Shikon no Tama, then obviously so could Onigumo. When he was in agony from his burns in that cold lonely cave, he found himself in the care of a young miko, from whose neck hung a lovely and delicate jewel. Like Inuyasha, Onigumo's ancient soul knew instinctively that the one he had pursued relentlessly resided within that jewel.

Tears slid down Kagome's face. She felt sorrow for Kikyo. Kikyo had been an innocent and who had been, by the misfortune of birth, the caretaker of the Shikon jewel; the very reason why Inuyasha had fallen in love with her. All the times she had spent hating Kikyo, considering her a rival, had been misspent. Hiro had been right in saying that Kikyo was to be pitied. There had never really been any contest as it was she—and not Kikyo— whom Inuyasha truly loved and desired.

She turned to look at her husband, who was silently watching her with his sleep-heavy golden eyes. Wordlessly, he opened his arms, indicating that she lay down against him. With a grateful smile, Kagome obliged and snuggled up against his firm, bare chest. The moment his arms went around her, Kagome finally fell asleep.

ooo

The next day it was with great difficulty that Kagome, who was unhealthily thin, made her way to the room of Yamadera Akira. She sent him a request to allow her to visit him, since he had recently awakened. Akira, the younger brother of Yuki and Hiro, was made a prince as a result of Hiro having been crowned Emperor thirteen years earlier. Yuki, much to his dismay, was elevated to the rank of Crown Prince; leastways until such times as Hiro would present his subjects with an heir of his own.

This young elf prince was now lying quietly in bed, exhausted. He had taken to his bed five years previously and was now completely bedridden. Within the last year, he had begun slipping into deep sleeps that would last anywhere from a few days to several weeks at time. His body would never be strong enough for him to move about as he used to, his doctor had said. But there was little danger of him dying; at least his body would not, even as weakened as it was. His soul would merely go to sleep for eternity while his body would live on. Just like Sleeping Beauty.

When she at last reached the door to his bedchamber, she knocked. He called out feebly for her to enter, which she did. There were some things she needed to get off her chest—before it was too late.

oooooo

Inuyasha paced about the living room impatiently. He'd left Kagome a few hours ago in order to go for a run and she had been fast asleep. When he'd come back to their bedroom he found that she was not in bed. He took a quick shower, thinking that perhaps she had gone for a little while to get something to eat. But when he'd finished bathing, he found that Kagome still had not returned.

At last he could take it no more and went in search of Kagome's thirteen-year-old daughter, Yuri. He found his stepdaughter in her room, draped across her red plushy heart-shaped love seat and playing a video game. "Where is your mother?" he asked abruptly.

With large blue eyes that stared unblinkingly up at her television screen, Yuri shook her sleek ebony head. "I don't know." Her fingers deftly worked the video game controller. "She hasn't come back yet."

"She hasn't come back yet?" Inuyasha parroted. "What do you mean, she hasn't come back yet? Where did she go in the first place?"

Yuri, whose gaze never left the TV screen, smiled frostily. "She made me promise not to tell you," was her obscure reply.

An intense annoyance filled Inuyasha's soul. The way Yuri sat there, slouched the way she was and with that all-too-familiar smirk on her face, made Inuyasha want to reach out across the grave to sock Kouga one across the chops. Why, oh why, did this girl have to be so much like her father? It was extremely infuriating. There were many times when Yuri would walk into the room just as he was leaning over to kiss Kagome and without fail Inuyasha would jump back, thinking that Kouga was walking in the door to reclaim his wife.

He glared at Yuri, who shot a smug glance back at him. Inuyasha knew that she did not much care for him; she hated sharing her mother's affection with anybody but he understood why that was. After being raised singly by Kagome since the day she was born, Yuri was used to having her mother all to herself. Of course, both he and Yuki had courted Kagome throughout Yuri's short life, so the teenager was used to them being around. But Kagome had finally remarried and now Yuri was given a father for the first time in her life. And also, for the first time, she was forced to share her mom with someone else. It was plain to see how jealous this child of Kouga's was.

Inuyasha sighed. Being a stepfather was not easy.

"And why should she want to do that?" he demanded.

"I don't know," she said again. After a moment's silence, her lips began to twitch and she burst into laughter. "I'm only kidding! Mom said she was going to see Akira. Said she needed to see him about something. No big deal."

No big deal?

Swallowing the jealousy that was beginning to inch its way up his throat, Inuyasha frowned. She'd been gone for awhile now and Akira's quarters were not that far away. What on earth did she have to say to him that it must take this long?

"Thanks. You're fucking hilarious, you know that? " Inuyasha informed his mate's offspring with asperity.

"Heh. I try."

"But she's been gone too long. What could be keeping her?"

The teenager shrugged nonchalant shoulders. "Who knows? Maybe Akira is making a move on her. Everyone knows he has the hots for her. Always has, so I hear."

Inuyasha graced another withering glare onto Kouga's evil spawn. "You have a filthy mind, Yuyu-chan," muttered the hanyou unkindly.

A thumb hit the pause button and that dark head whipped around. Piercing blue eyes glared hostilely up at Inuyasha. 'So,' he thought with a mental laugh, 'I have shaken your sangfroid. Nicely played, Inu. That's one for me.'

Gritting her teeth, Yuri jumped to her feet. Even at the tender age of thirteen, Yuri was able to look Inuyasha squarely in the eyes. He wondered just how tall Kouga's teenage daughter would be in a few years' time. If she was destined to be exactly like her father in nearly every respect, then she had not much more to grow. Kouga, as he recalled, had been taller than him by at least half a foot.

"Hey! Don't you dare call me that! Only my mother is allowed to call me by that name!"

"Then don't speak of things of which you couldn't possibly understand, you insolent pup."

Crossing her arms imperiously over her chest, Yuri clicked her tongue reproachfully and tossed her long black hair over her shoulder, all the while glaring down her nose at him. Another one of Kouga's irritating habits. "Don't be such a pompous ass, Inu," she retorted. "Besides, I fully understand 'those things', as you put it. Just so you know, I have it on good authority he wanted to marry her long before Mom and my father got together."

"Really." Inuyasha crossed his arms over his chest, too. "And on whose authority did you get this nonsense from?"

Another shrug. "It isn't nonsense. It was Auntie Miranda, if you must know."

"Lady Miranda, you mean."

"Yeah, whatever. She lets me call her Auntie, so there." Yuri's little pink tongue shot out for one rebellious moment.

The two stared daggers at each other for a moment before Inuyasha turned and left the room in a huff. He loved Kagome above all else, but that kid of hers drove him mad at times. He must truly love her, to put up with such impertinence from Kouga's evil seed.

The comfortable little home he shared with Kagome and Yuri was an extension of the Imperial Palace. Lord Akira's bedchambers were located in the same wing of the palace as their quarters, so all Inuyasha had to do was make his way through a bit of winding corridor before he reached his destination.

He walked briskly down the hall and stopped at a set of double doors— Akira's bedchambers. Inuyasha raised his hand to knock, but paused before his knuckles came in contact with the wood. After a moment, he lowered his hand to his side. 'You poor bastard,' he thought with some guilt. 'You poor, sickly bastard.'

Even though he had been perfectly entitled to take Kagome as his lifelong mate— since his Cousin Gil's untimely demise, that is— Akira had been too unwell to do so. It was with great reluctance that he had relinquished his right to Kagome although he had been next in line for her hand—and that right had naturally passed to his elder brother, Yuki.

Here, Inuyasha grinned suddenly but it was a grim smile. Yuki, you bastard. You smug, prissy, pansy-ass bastard.

Oh, how he hated Yuki!

Yuki, who possessed hair of spun gold and glittering emeralds for eyes and who had also been blessed—or cursed— with a radiant, yet terrible beauty. Being half human, Inuyasha had passed out the first time he had glimpsed the elf prince in this realm and when he woke, he felt he would go insane if he looked upon that elf's face again. Thankfully, Hiro had been on hand to give him the antidote and insanity was averted.

Worse, the elf still desired the woman he loved. His wife.

"She's mine, hanyou," the elf had crowed jubilantly upon hearing the news that his young brother no longer had a claim on Kagome. "We may have both fucked up concerning her, but your fuck up was much worse than mine was. You don't have a mouse's chance in a snake pit!"

All that over-confidence was enough to turn Inuyasha's stomach. Well, that and Yuki's devastatingly beautiful face. Partly in retaliation and partly because he couldn't help it, Inuyasha became sick all over Yuki's pristine robes. But he had finally won Kagome back and Yuki, ever the sore loser, had taken off for parts unknown.

Deciding that Kagome and Akira had had enough time to chat, Inuyasha raised his hand again and knocked. There was no answer.

He knocked again. Still there was no answer.

Cautiously, he opened the door and that was when the smell hit him. Blood!

Fangs bared, Inuyasha leapt into the room, only to give a shout a moment later. Before his stunned eyes was a ghastly scene. Akira lay, quite still, his eyes closed in sleep. Across the sleeping elf's body, lay the motionless figure of a woman. It was Kagome.

"Kagome?" he called but there was no response. Gingerly, and with fear creeping up his spine, Inuyasha removed Akira's hands, which were clutching at Kagome's head and turned Kagome over onto her back.

One look upon that still, white face told him that it would be useless to call for help. But it did not stop the cries of grief and horror which burst from his lips. He staggered backwards and dropped heavily to his knees.

Kagome's thin face was a mask of scarlet. Blood streamed from her nostrils, from her mouth and out of her ears— dear gods, blood was everywhere! Her eyes— oh god— her eyes were wide open and staring. Staring a horrible, very dead stare—

In the midst of his choking sobs and the feeling that a thick fog had taken over his skull, he could hear the sound of pounding feet echoing through the hallway. One set of feet was light; lighter than the others, and the fog in his brain instantly lightened but did not dissipate entirely.

Whirling around, Inuyasha rushed at the door and caught Yuri, forcing the teen bodily out of the room.

"Hey! What do you think you're doing—?"

Through the haze that had begun creeping back into Inuyasha's mind, he shook his head as calmly as he could.

"You— you're crying." Yuri tried to glance over Inuyasha's shoulder. "What's happened? What's going on?"

Unable to speak, Inuyasha only held her closer. "Don't. Don't go in there," he managed thickly after a moment.

The teenager stared at Inuyasha and sniffed the air. "Why do I smell blood?" She sniffed again and froze. The blue eyes that had been desperately trying to look past the hanyou's body and into the room behind him, turned slowly to the white face that matched his white hair. "That— that is the scent of my mother's blood," Yuri said slowly, almost accusingly.

Inuyasha felt his entire body grow numb but he held onto Kagome's precious child with all he had. "I'm sorry," he sobbed. "I should have gone to check on her sooner. I— I'm sorry."

Horror filled Yuri's blue eyes and they flew open wide with sudden comprehension. "Mom? Mom?" When there was no reply the words came out in panicked screams. "Mom! Mom! Mom!"

She shoved Inuyasha away and ran into the room, ignoring the choruses of "No, don't!" and came to a halt. The horrible sight on the bed forced her to stagger back, just as Inuyasha had done. And like Inuyasha, Yuri dropped to the ground, her tear-filled eyes staring with disbelieving horror at the woman on the bed.

For a long moment, Yuri swayed back and forth then began to scream and scream. Her grief-stricken cries echoed through the entire house for a long, long time.

Ooooooooooooooooooooooo

Over the next few days, Yuri wandered about in a stunned daze. The shock of seeing her mom in such a tragic state, her lifeless body slumped over the slumbering form of her friend Akira, had taken its toll on her. She refused to eat and she couldn't sleep for the sight of her dead mother was always impinging on her brain. All thoughts of caring for her basic bodily needs had fled; she could only think of her mom and how desperately she wanted her back.

Inuyasha, who also was lost in shock, was deeply concerned for the girl and tried several times to get through to her, to no avail. Kagome's death had been a great blow to them both. But Inu, who had seen death of dear friends before was able to handle the situation a bit better, though not much. He had loved Kagome deeply and was thrown into despair, knowing that after all the time that had passed she had finally agreed to be his wife. After a year of happiness, he had lost her yet again. Only this time, it was for good.

Now he, along with Emperor Hiro and his brother Yuki, were visiting Kagome's elven doctor to find out the results of her autopsy.

When the elf brothers arrived, with several Imperial soldiers in tow as a matter of protocol, Inuyasha was treated to an unusual sight. Both Hiro and Yuki looked as though neither had slept in several days. Hiro was calm and composed, as an emperor should be. Yuki, however, was a total wreck. His normally immaculate appearance was gone; he looked as though he had been sleeping outside for weeks. The golden locks were in desperate need of washing and brushing; his clothes were filthy. But both were dreadfully pale; their eyes, red and swollen from crying.

"Your highness," murmured the doctor solemnly, presenting Hiro with an elegant bow.

Hiro nodded and sat. The other three followed suit.

When Hiro spoke, his voice was tight. "Let's get right down to the matter. What happened to her?"

The doctor cleared his throat. "Well, your highness, Kagome-sama came to me a month ago after experiencing the miscarriage she'd had two months ago." He shot Inuyasha an apologetic look. "She said a month had gone by but she still felt unwell. Naturally I did some tests on her to see what I could find."

"What were the results?"

"Well, your highness," repeated the doctor and once again, clearing his throat, "it turned out that Kagome-sama had cancer."

At the news, Inuyasha's heart dropped to his feet. "What?" he asked the doctor, his voice barely audible. He could not believe what he was hearing. His head began to spin. Cancer? How could she have not said a word of this to him?

Beside him, Yuki moaned and buried his face in his hands. Hiro reached over and touched his brother's trembling shoulder. "What type of cancer did she have?" Hiro demanded.

The doctor glanced nervously at Inuyasha. "Ovarian. At least, it started out as ovarian cancer. I'm sorry. There is no easy way to say this," he said, addressing Inuyasha, "but the cancer had spread throughout her entire body. At the time of her death, the cancer was already in the terminal stage. She had anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks to live." He leaned back in his chair. "However, that was not the cause of death. Her death was caused by a massive hemorrhage in the brain. Fortunately for her, death was instantaneous. She felt no pain."

At this point, Yuki glanced up sharply, then put his head in his hands and gazed thoughtfully off into space. Hiro's face had gone a shade whiter than before and he could only stare at the doctor disbelievingly.

"A— brain hemorrhage?" repeated the emperor quietly.

"Yes, your highness. That is correct."

Hiro nodded. "I see." He said nothing more, for he now knew what had happened to Kagome. As if from a great distance, he recalled the words Yuki had spoken so long ago, back when the four of them had gone to the warring era so Kagome could purify the Shikon no Tama.

"I can't imagine losing control of my powers and accidentally killing people I care about. That would tear me apart— Especially if I killed the woman I loved," was what Yuki had said. At the time, Hiro remembered that he'd felt strange hearing that, as if those words would one day come to pass. And now, he knew they had.

As for Inuyasha, he got up and strode over to the windows behind the doctor's desk.

"When was she planning on telling me this?" he asked quietly. "About her cancer, I mean."

"I do not believe she wanted to say anything," the doctor replied. "She was very stunned by the diagnosis but said nothing else, only that no one was to know. At least, not until she was already deceased. I believe the last thing she wanted was for you and her daughter to find out that she was dying and that there was nothing that could be done to save her."

But Inuyasha did not want to hear that. He felt his soul being swallowed by a tidal wave of grief and all he wanted was to have her back once more, just to hold her and tell her how much he loved her. It was not fair! How long had he waited for her, only to have her brutally taken from him? Rage filled him and he slammed his fists down onto the windowsill. "But you're an elf!" he cried, his anger and frustration surging forth. "Elves can use magic, can't they? Why didn't you at least try to save her?"

The door to the doctor's office opened and Yuri came in. Inuyasha and the others turned to her and saw that she was extremely pale and quite shaken. Apparently, she had just overheard their conversation.

His wretchedness forgotten, Inuyasha was across the room and at Yuri's side before anyone could get to their feet. "Yuri, what are you doing here? You should be in bed resting."

She shook her head. "No. I don't need to be in bed. What I need is to be here, discussing my mom." She sat down in Inuyasha's seat and eyed the doctor shrewdly. "So, my mother had terminal cancer. Is there anything else I should know?"

An angry voice burst out, "Oh, for fuck's sake. You're only a kid. Why don't you run away and play with your dolls?" It was Yuki, who could not help but glare at Yuri, whose likeness to her father was making him irrationally angry.

Yuri turned an icy blue stare at the elf prince. "I thought you should know by now that I don't give a damn who you are," she bit out acidly. She could feel his disdain for her but she did not care. "My mother is dead and I must ask that you respect my feelings at this time. It's the least you could do."

"Respect you, huh?" Yuki responded with undisguised sarcasm. All he could see was Kouga's face and— coupled with the fact that it was due to her dislike of him that she urged Kagome to marry Inuyasha and turn him down— he grew even more enraged. "You've done nothing to gain my respect, you spiteful little girl."

"That's enough, Yuki," Hiro said quickly, shushing his brother.

"No, it's fine," said Yuri coolly. "And you've done nothing to gain my respect either, so we're pretty much even." She flicked her hair dismissively over her shoulder and turned her attention to the doctor once more. "So why didn't you try to save her? Aren't the elves advanced enough in medicine to cure terminal illnesses?" She emphasized the word 'elves' for Yuki's sake and laughed inwardly with satisfaction when he leaned forward to glare hatefully at her.

"Well yes," began the doctor, nervously eyeing the seething, red-faced Crown Prince. "But your mother—" He spread his hands out in a gesture of helplessness. "Normally, humans are easy to heal. They are not nearly as complex as either my kind or demon-kind. But your mother was a rather different case. You see, I did try to heal her, but it brought her nothing but agony. I could sense that by attempting to rid her of her cancer, it only accelerated the spread of the disease. This attempt at treatment occurred two days before her death."

Hiro stared hard at his physician. "So this brain hemorrhage she suffered spared her any further pain? That is, from the pain she would have suffered had she lived until her cancer ultimately killed her?"

The doctor nodded. "Oh yes, your highness. Undoubtedly that is the case."

After the last word was spoken, silence fell upon the occupants of the room.

"Okaa-san," Yuri whispered. She shut her eyes for a brief moment. "So there really was nothing you could do."

Hiro stared absently off into space.

Yuki was sobbing wretchedly again. "This is wrong!" Yuki cried. His eyes bulged madly in their sockets. He turned his attention to the doctor, who instantly sat bolt upright. "You! I don't believe a word you're saying!" he shouted and got slowly to his feet. "You sit there, behaving as though you did have not a care in the world. But let me tell you something, you quack. I know you could have saved her. Elves are far more advanced in medicine than humans. We have magic on our side, so do not tell me that you did not do all you could to save her life."

The doctor looked uncomfortable for a moment. "My lord prince," he replied cautiously, "I told you that when I tried to aid her, her cancer only spread further. I have never seen anything like it. The cancer took over her body— and there was nothing that I, nor anyone else, could do."

"You lie."

Hiro put out a hand and gripped his agitated brother's wrist. "For pity's sake, stop it," he begged. "You are upsetting everyone."

With a snarl, Yuki snatched his hand away. "Oh come on, brother," he snapped angrily. "I've been doing a lot of thinking since I heard of Kagome's death and I'm pretty sure I know what's going on here. Kagome found him— and since the good doctor here swears up and down that he did all he could for her, there is only one explanation as to why she died."

"Don't start that again." Hiro rubbed his temples with a weary hand.

Inuyasha glanced at Hiro sharply. "Don't start what again? What does he mean?"

The emperor sighed and shook his head. "Well, go on. Out with it. What explanation would that be, Yuki? Tell everyone here about your brilliant theory."

"Simple, my dear Watson. Kagome had been behaving oddly lately. I should know; I kept a close eye on her. About two weeks ago, I followed her and saw her go to the park inside the palace gardens. Well, I thought nothing of it, thinking that she wanted a change of scenery. But then she began going to the park every day, where she would go and watch the children at play. I began to wonder why she should do something like this, for she had never done so before. Then it occurred to me: maybe she found him!"

Inuyasha and Yuri looked bewildered. "Found him?" asked Inuyasha. "Him, who?"

Slowly, a ghastly, half-mad grin spread over Yuki's pale, clammy face. "Who? But who else?" There was a dramatic pause and then he cried, "Kouga! She'd found Kouga, of course! Within the group of kids she observed in the gardens, there was one who would always come over to her and speak to her. I never found out who the child was; I was too far away and all elf children look alike to me. Well, almost all. The child that would go visit her had black hair. Just like Kouga," he finished dourly.

Yuri and Inuyasha stared at the elf prince in silence.

Then Yuki began to laugh wildly and Hiro leaned forward and clapped a hand over his brother's mouth. "Forgive my brother," he begged, "but Yuki hasn't been well since hearing of Kagome's passing. He's been rather—"

"I'm not crazy! Damn it, Hiro, I'm not crazy! I know what I'm talking about! He's here. Kouga is here and I know it."

"How can you possibly know a thing like that?" asked Inuyasha. His hand was itching to slap the hysterical elf across the face. "You sound like you're off your rocker, you know that? I think you need to take a long vacation to some place where it's peaceful."

Yuki gritted his perfect teeth. "What the hell do you know? Listen, you filthy little mouth-breather, I'll have you know that I am perfectly lucid. You just don't want to hear what I have to say because you know I'm right. I'm telling you that Kouga has come back and had Kagome lived, she—"

"But she didn't, did she?" replied Inuyasha in a hushed voice.

"No, she didn't. But the timing was too perfect, don't you think? Think about it. She learns that she has cancer and later discovers that her one true love has been reincarnated. Then the doc over here tries to save her, but he only makes her condition worse. Well, there you have it. That's why she went to Akira, you see." Yuki scratched his chin and looked thoughtful. "The only real question here is how she managed to keep the doc's powers from healing her."

The others stared at Yuki in confusion and not a little horror.

"You're not suggesting—!" cried the elven doctor, shocked. "But Lord Akira is a prince of the realm! Why would he commit such a terrible act?"

Impatiently, Yuki rolled his eyes. "Oh please, don't behave like a scandalized old woman. I knew at once it was him. A brain hemorrhage? C'mon. That has Akira written all over it."

"So what do you think happened?" Hiro queried resignedly. What on earth was Yuki babbling about? "How do you think Kagome was able to use the doctor's healing powers to make herself sicker?"

Yuki narrowed his eyes, which glittered with mischief. "You never thought of it, did you, brother? I'm talking of Kagome and the Shikon no Tama, of course."

Instantly alert, Hiro sat up in his chair. "What does the jewel have to do with her death?" he asked suspiciously.

"Again I ask, why do you think the doctor's efforts to save Kagome worked against him? Kagome was an extraordinary woman, but for all intents and purposes she was only human. So why wouldn't his elven magic save her?"

Every eye in the room was trained on Yuki.

"Because the jewel wouldn't allow it, that's why," he explained with a smug grin. "And do you know why the jewel wouldn't allow her to be saved?"

Hiro, not liking where this was going— especially with Kagome's daughter in the room— got to his feet. "Come on, Yuki, let's not get into this right now. Okay? You need to rest, I think. At any rate, this is all wild speculation. How can you know for sure if Kouga really has been reincarnated?"

Yuri put up a hand and stopped him. "No, I want to know." She looked at Yuki and nodded. "Please finish what you were saying."

"Yuri—" began Hiro warningly.

Yuri shook her head. "No, I have to know."

Hiro shrugged and gestured for his brother to continue, which Yuki did.

"The jewel responds to what Kagome wants. Am I right, Hiro?"

The emperor nodded hesitantly and Yuki went on, "Kagome was forty and dying of cancer. She wanted to be with Kouga again, but the only way to do that was to be reborn. What else could she do? There was no way she could be with him in this life. So when she came to see the doc for her treatment, she came wearing the jewel. He wouldn't think anything of it because she always wore it. Anyway, he does his thing, but the cancer only spreads further and at an incredible rate, which would have hastened her death. But instead she died in another manner."

"Oh, for heaven's sake, where is all this going?" blurted Inuyasha, suddenly filled with impatience.

"She went to the doc's treatment with the jewel in hopes that it would reverse the healing process. Well, it works all too well. Anyway, the disease was hastening the end of her life but now Kagome was in incredible pain. Too much pain. She couldn't stand it any longer. So what else could she do? Whom could she turn to?" Yuki paused then added gently, "Akira loved Kagome. There was nothing in the world he wouldn't do for her." He hung his head and began to weep bitterly.

"But why?" Inuyasha was regarding the tearful Yuki balefully.

"Why?" Yuki's fair head came up sharply. He glared at the hanyou, his green eyes glittering with angry tears. "It was because he loved her that he ended her life. That's why. She was in agony and he—he couldn't stand to see her in such pain."

"But why would she go off and end her life without saying goodbye to her family? At the very least she would have told Yuri—"

At this point, Yuri got to her feet. "If you don't mind, I want to go home. No, Inuyasha, it's fine. I'll be fine." She smiled gratefully at her stepfather. "I just want to be alone right now, if you don't mind." With a bow to the emperor, Yuri made her escape.

As she made her way home, Yuri's mind turned over and over to the matter of her mom's death. The news that her mother had had cancer hadn't been a shock to her; Yuri had known all along. Kagome had told her from the outset. But the revelation that her cancer was terminal had come as a complete surprise. Her mom had neglected to tell her that.

Inuyasha had been right, though. If her mom had decided to end her life, she would have, at the very least, told her own daughter farewell beforehand. Yuri knew that if her mom had decided to make such a decision, she would have come out and told her. That's just the way it had been with them. Yuri would have understood why her mother would have wished to die. She wouldn't have forced her mother to endure the pain any longer than she had to.

But her mother's sudden death bothered her. She knew her mom and her mom would not have committed so rash an act without telling Yuri. Whatever had come their way, whatever decisions needed to be made, Yuri and her mother had always discussed them together. When her mom decided to marry Inuyasha, she had asked Yuri for feedback. Since Yuri preferred to have Inu as a stepfather rather than Yuki— whom she felt was the most arrogant jackass ever— she told her mom so and that she felt Inu was by far the better choice. Yuri had also recognized the fact that her mother was lonely for male companionship and although she really didn't want to share her mom with anyone else, she'd gently pushed her mom into marrying Inuyasha.

All things considered, her mother's death appeared very suspicious. It was no accident, she thought gravely.

Shaking her head to clear it of such unattractive thoughts, her mind went back over the recent encounter with His Royal Jackass, Prince Yuki, and grimaced. Behind that pretty face, was the world's most inconsiderate jerk. There was no doubt in her mind that if her mother had become his wife, Yuri knew she'd end up murdering her royal stepfather. Or at the very least, attempt to.

When Yuri reached the home she had shared with her mom and stepfather, she headed for her mother's bedroom and lay down on her mom's side of the bed. Before Inuyasha had moved into their home, she and her mom had spent many hours together in bed, watching television, talking or reading to each other. Before her mom's miscarriage, they had still read together and Inuyasha, knowing that this was an important event in their day, took himself off to allow them their time together.

Just recently, the books of choice had been ridiculously lurid romance novels, spine chilling thrillers, with an occasional murder mystery thrown into the mix. Yuri recalled, as a child, watching the expressions on her mom's face as she read to her. This nightly ritual always occurred after bath time, and the combining scents of clean sheets and the soap she had been scrubbed down with, had filled Yuri with a sense of anticipation. She loved listening to her mom read to her.

That was how they lived their life together for the span of Yuri's life. It had been a simple, yet warm and wonderful life full of love and light.

Tears sprang to her eyes as she breathed in deeply, savoring the lingering scent of her mother's shampoo. She wrapped herself up in her mother's sheets, in hopes of feeling as though her mom was right there, surrounding her.

'Why?' she cried her in her head as she sobbed helplessly into her mother's pillow. 'Why did you leave me? It wasn't supposed to have ended this way! Oh mom, why? Why?'

Inuyasha came in an hour later to find Yuri completely swaddled in Kagome's bedclothes and sleeping deeply. Without a word, he slipped back out of the room, shutting the door behind him.

oooooooooooooooooooooooooo

oooooooooooooooooooooooo

The years flew by. Yuri was now a tall, lanky demoness of twenty-eight. To everyone who had known her father, they always told her that if she had been male, she would have been his identical twin.

And she certainly was identical to him. Everything that she saw in her mother's pictures of him was exactly what she saw in the mirror. The same silken obsidian locks, the same striking features, the same wolfish smile, the same piercing ice blue eyes. She took pride in that and every time she gazed into the mirror at her reflection, she was comforted by the sight she saw there.

She did have one regret, however. It saddened her that she looked nothing like her beloved mother, whom she missed deeply. Fifteen years had gone by since she lost her mom and although time had greatly healed her grieving soul, pangs of sorrow would always prick at her heart whenever she remembered her mother.

Before her mom's death, the two of them had had a long conversation and she had told Yuri that if anything ever happened to her, she promised that she would come back and they would be reunited. That comforted Yuri. Her mother had always kept her word.

On this cool autumn day, Yuri was jogging in the park with her best friend, a pint-sized inu youkai.

"Man, I hate winter," complained the pocket-sized Venus running beside her.

Yuri chuckled. "It's not winter yet. It's only October, Juno, and this is lovely weather. We've got two more months before the cold hits." She paused then remarked thoughtfully, "I'm just glad that Aunt Haruka is due next month, before we have to leave. I can't wait to meet my new cousin."

Juno grunted. "Well, it feels like winter already. Damn, I hate cold weather." She cast a sidelong glance at Yuri. "Wait. We're leaving?"

"Yeah. You won't have to put up with this wretched cold weather for long," she muttered sarcastically and wiped the perspiration from her brow. She was sweating profusely. Cold weather, indeed! If only. Juno was obviously insane.

"Our next assignment is going to take us to a hot and humid rainforest." Yuri pulled a grimace. "Simply lovely."

The silver-haired demoness at Yuri's side came to a halt and as she did so, grabbed hold of her friend's arm and yanked her back. "Don't play around with me, Yuri," she commanded.

Yuri laughed. "I'm not. Wish I was, though."

Juno's bright yellow eyes positively gleamed with hope. "Are you telling me that we're headed for South America?"

Yuri stifled a groan. She despised South America for the simple reason that whenever they were sent over there on assignment, they were always sent to the Amazon region, where the hotbed of youkai activity was normally at its highest. Worse, they were always sent during December when the heat there was ridiculously oppressive and the entire mosquito population flourished. Youkai and mosquitoes make for a very nasty combination.

"Don't look so excited," Yuri moaned. "You may like it there, but I cannot stand it! The last time I came back, it took at least two weeks for all my mosquito bites to disappear." She glanced down at her bare forearms in remembrance. "Filthy, vicious little bastards. I was surprised that I didn't become anemic!"

Juno waved her friend's complaints away. "Don't be ridiculous, Yuri. All you have to do is use bug repellent. That keeps the pests away."

"Well, I would have," Yuri began, scowling, "if you three hadn't used it all up before I got a chance to use it once."

Long silvery lashes batted innocently up at Yuri. "Whatever do you mean?" Juno asked guilelessly.

"What I mean," Yuri retorted, "is that you and the twins have got to bring your own repellent this time. I won't have you using mine like you did last time. It's not my fault that you three are the most forgetful females ever." She glared down at Juno and jogged off.

"That's so mean," Juno mumbled before following her squad leader meekly.

As Juno continued to grumble behind her, Yuri studied the face of every person she passed. It was what she always did when she was out in public. Although it annoyed Juno whenever they went out anywhere, Yuri couldn't help herself. She felt that if she missed one face, she might miss the face of her mom. After she found out about her cancer, Kagome had promised Yuri that if something should happen to her, then she would come back. It was the one thing that kept Yuri going during the moments of her life when she had grown despondent over her mother's death.

"I will come back. I promise," her mom had said. She smiled and added, "I couldn't bear to leave my little girl behind."

And Yuri knew her mother would come back. Of that, she had no doubt.

Of course, her mom most probably would not look as she had in her last life, but Yuri believed that she would know her mother regardless. It was in the eyes, Inuyasha had told her once. The eyes would give it all away.

So day after day, looking for a woman—or possibly a man— with her mother's eyes had become her tireless and never-ending task. One day, she told herself, she would find her mom. No matter how long it took, she would find her.

The silver-haired beauty who trailed behind her at this moment noticed immediately that Yuri's attention was diverted.

"Yuri," Juno called out, barely concealing her displeasure.

"Yeah?" Yuri called back over her shoulder. She did not seem to notice Juno's annoyance.

"You're doing it again."

Yuri stopped short and turned to look at her friend. "Doing what?"

Juno also had come to a halt. "What else? What you're always doing whenever you go out." She narrowed her yellow eyes at the taller demoness. "Don't you ever get tired of it? I mean, look at how much time you've wasted staring in the faces of strangers. And for what? Nothing ever happens."

The wolf demoness stiffened and glared down at her tiny companion. "Are you going to start in on me again, Juno? Because if you are, this is where I leave you."

Juno rolled her eyes. "Oh come on, Yuri. Don't be so sensitive."

"And you shouldn't be so insensitive." Yuri straightened to her full height. "I'm so very sorry if I am not giving you the whole of my attention that you believe you deserve. Forgive me, your majesty!" She accentuated her anger with a mock bow.

"Don't start that again!" Juno cried. She wished, and not for the first time, that she had been graced with more height. It was difficult attempting an authoritative stance when one was only five feet tall and your target was just over six feet tall. "Look, all I'm saying is that you're obsessed—"

Yuri's blue eyes flashed fiercely in her anger-mottled face. "Yeah, that's right. You're totally correct. I'm obsessed with my mom. I'm obsessed with finding her. So fucking sue me!"

Juno held up her hands. "I'm sorry, Yuri, but I have to say my piece. You shouldn't waste all of your time searching. I mean, you do it even when go out to a club when you're supposed to be dancing and having a good time. All I'm saying is that this— activity— shouldn't be the most important thing in your life."

"Are you done?" Yuri's voice was cold.

At this juncture, Juno knew she should let it go. But she was not one to let things rest. In the back of her mind, she could hear the twins yell at her to stop and shut the hell up— but her mouth had always had a mind of its own.

"She's dead, Yuri. Your mom is dead but you're not! I wish you'd realize this. You're alive and you need to stop keeping vigil for her. If she comes back, then she comes back— but staring at every single person you come across won't make it happen any faster."

"We've known each other since birth and you still don't understand," Yuri said quietly. Her face was somber. "It must be so nice to be you, Juno. At least both of your parents are still alive." Without another word, she turned on her heel and sped off.

Juno could only watch with some confusion as her friend disappeared into the grove of trees on the far side of the park. With anyone else she would have run after them, but Yuri was far too fast a runner. She looked like a whirlwind as she took off—

Shaking her head, Juno touched the gold bracelet on her left wrist and felt the familiar rush of the portal as it whisked her back to her home in the Elven realm. But as soon as she stepped through the gateway, she was greeted by two sets of blue eyes that eyed her accusingly.

"Don't start," she muttered and moved off to the right and towards one of two doorways which led out of the portal/living room.

"You did it again, didn't you?" It was a double accusation.

The words rang out and Juno turned her head. Her foot came in contact with something heavy that lay on the floor and she stumbled over it. "What are you talking about? Were you following me again?" She glanced down and saw two large and dusty backpacks sitting on the floor. "Well? Were you? And whose stuff is this?"

The twins stared hard at her, making her feel uncomfortable. At twenty, they were lovely, ethereal creatures; exact replicas of their mother, with long golden hair and big, soulful blue eyes. And like their mother, the twins were elves.

Juno loved her sisters, but she hated the way they tended to gang up on her, especially after she opened her big mouth and hurt Yuri.

After staring at their older sister for a long moment, they shrugged in unison.

"No," said Artemis casually.

"Then?"

Athena continued. "Well, it's just that when you appeared—"

"—you had a guilty look on your face—"

"—and the only time you feel any sort of guilt—"

"—is when you've hurt Yuri with your insensitivity," finished Artemis with a smug expression.

"Guilt? I only gave her my opinion, that's all." Juno glared hatefully at the two of them. Irritating little know-it-alls, the both of them. "You know what? Why don't you both go fuck yourselves. Okay? Thanks."

As she spoke, the other door to the family room swung open, revealing two tall young men. They entered the room, each holding a plate loaded with food and a glass of water. "Now, now, Juno. Don't be so hateful to our little sisters," said the taller of the two reproachfully.

A groan erupted from Juno's lips. "Oh gods, what are you doing here? Shouldn't you be somewhere trying to get into some girl's pants?" she muttered derisively.

Hearty laughter erupted from the extremely tall inu youkai. He set his food and drink down on the large, glass-topped coffee table. "What a dirty mind you have, Juno! But then again, you would know. I mean after all, we are twins." He sent her a saucy wink.

Juno glanced at her twin brother and shook her head in wonder. People were surprised to learn that she and Dante were twins. Their personalities were nearly exactly opposites; even their sizes differed greatly. She was diminutive in stature while he was quite tall and massive. Built like a brick house, Yuri had said once.

And he was. His frame was solid but flexible enough to allow him to move about smoothly, like a cat. Other than their obvious height difference, they both resembled their father with their white silvery hair, golden eyes and purple markings to show their proud youkai heritage. They were twenty-eight years old, a mere five months younger than Yuri.

"Seriously, what are you doing home? I thought you and your team were away on assignment."

Dante nodded. "Well we were, but we were summoned home." He tilted his head and regarded Juno in an odd way, as if he was expecting her to respond.

"Okay." She stared back at him with a blank expression. "Why?"

"Wow, you're really lost in your own world, aren't you?" Dante asked, shaking his head. "Either that or you don't care. But I assume it's the latter. Really, Juno, you're the most insensitive creature I've ever known."

Juno winced. The only thing they seemed to have in common was their straightforward way of speaking. "Damn it, don't you start!" she demanded when her eyes lit on a solitary figure stretched out on one of the sofas and munching silently on a well-stacked ham sandwich. "Well, Ty? Aren't you going to say hello to me?"

Her twenty-two year old brother, Tiberius, lifted his fair head and acknowledged her silently with a nod. But his gaze did not remain on Juno and he returned his attention to his food, which he delved into with relish. Her younger brother was such an odd boy, she thought to herself. He was so solitary, so closed-in on himself that it was a wonder he made it through basic training at all. Luckily, their father was the head of the Slayer Corp., which was why he ended up on Dante's squadron under his elder brother's watchful eye.

"You say you were summoned home," she remarked casually. "What's the matter?"

Before Dante could explain why he and Tiberius had been summoned to come home, a swirling circle of pale blue light lit up the center of the room and out of the portal stepped Yuri. She held a spray of peach-tinted roses and baby's breath in her hand. It was obvious she had changed clothes and bathed hurriedly; her long black hair was still dripping wet at the ends.

"Hey," she said, panting, "I just heard. How is she?"

Surprised to see her friend and happy that she was here – no doubt to apologize for her rude behavior in the park— Juno smiled benignly at the newcomer. "Yuri! You're just the person I wanted to see. I'm so glad you came over and yes, I forgive you. Can we be friends again? Those are some lovely flowers. For me?" She held out her hand eagerly for the bouquet.

"No, I'm not here to see you and no, these are not for you," replied Yuri shortly. She turned to the twins and smiled at them. They, in turn, rushed over to Yuri with delighted cries of welcome and enveloped her in a hug sandwich. Over the fair heads of the elf twins she said, "Hey Dante, hey Ty. Welcome home. How's your mom? Has the baby come yet?"

Juno started, her face turning instantly scarlet. "Oh gods," she murmured, embarrassed. "Mom's in labor?"

Dante shook his head. "Nope, no kid yet. Her labor only began a few hours ago." He went over to Yuri and gave her a hug as soon as the twins released her. "Thanks for coming. Dad says that the labor is going to be difficult—"

"I see. You'll be having a youkai sibling then," murmured Yuri as Athena re-attached herself to her. With a smile, Yuri gently squeezed Athena back. She adored the elf twins greatly; they were like little sisters to her and that meant a lot to Yuri. Having grown up as an only child, she had readily accepted Artemis and Athena when the girls begged her to be their adopted big sister. As usual, Juno hated the idea and threw a jealous fit while Dante thought it was a great idea. Tiberius hadn't cared either way.

"Looks that way," Dante said with a grin. He had such an easy way with him that made people like him on sight. "A little brother, so dad says. That's fine with me and that's a good thing. I don't think I could handle another Juno." He reached out and with one massive paw, grabbed the top of Juno's head and shook her slightly. Juno wobbled under his hand. "Sorry sis, but one of you is enough."

"I hate you," growled Juno.

Laughter bellowed from Dante as he enfolded his twin in a bear hug, causing Juno to lash out at him angrily. His laughter was joined by Athena's and Artemis's girlish giggles. Tiberius was steady eating and did not join in their mirth.

Yuri smiled. The Takashi family had been such a big part of her life when she was growing up before and even more so after her mother's death. Lady Miranda had been like a second mother to her and for a few months after her mom had passed away, the elf princess had been there for her whenever Yuri had woken up screaming from nightmares where she was back in that room and seeing her mother's dead body. When the nightmares ceased waking her, Lady Miranda allowed her three daughters to stay with Yuri and the four girls would spend all night talking. Well, she and Juno would spend all night talking; Athena and Artemis would fall asleep early on, as they were only five years old at the time.

Now the twins were chattering away at Dante, who talked to them just as enthusiastically as they talked to him. Again Yuri smiled. He was such a patient man and so good with kids. Dante always had been, even when they were kids themselves. When the twins had fallen asleep during their sleepovers, he would come into their room to pick up his little sisters and carried them off to their own beds.

With an odd little tug at her heart, Yuri told herself what a great mate and father Dante would be one day. Whomever he took for a mate would be one lucky female indeed.

"You okay, Yuri?" asked Dante, his bright yellow eyes darkening with concern.

She nodded, wishing silently that he wouldn't look at her like that, with those big, golden eyes which she secretly adored. "Yeah, I'm okay. A little tired, I guess." She hoped she gave him a convincing enough smile.

He studied her for a long moment before giving her a big, relieved grin. "It happens," he said jovially. "Here, sit. Take a load off. I'm sure Mom wouldn't mind if you girls wanted to join her in the delivery room, but honestly, I wouldn't. Dad is psychotically protective of Mom as it is; he's even worse when she's in labor." Dante laughed and dropped down heavily on the couch beside his brother, who had obediently sat up and moved his legs off the couch in order to let his big brother sit down.

Athena and Artemis curled up beside their brothers on the sofa. Juno glared at the lot of them and exited the room, while declaring to the group that she was off to clean up.

That left Yuri.

Setting her bouquet down on the coffee table, she took a seat on the loveseat across from the Dante and the others. She watched the elf twins interact with their brothers and felt another little twinge in her chest. Athena leaned against Dante, her head resting against his broad shoulder, as she made an inquiry about something. Dante, who was munching away on his sandwich, nodded and after swallowing his food, he answered his sister's question. The dainty little elf grinned engagingly up at her big brother; he returned it with one of his own.

Yuri had to force herself to look away. Seeing Dante here, in this natural setting, was almost too painful to watch. She much preferred to see him when they were away from home, where his mother couldn't see how he wildly he behaved. Outside of home, outside of the Elven world, was really where Dante let loose. He had a reputation of being promiscuous; a playboy.

It was easier looking at him if he was, as he called it, "on a roll". He had an eye for women; especially petite, curvaceous women. Unfortunately for Yuri, petite and curvaceous were not words that could be associated with her. She was tall and slim, with an almost androgynous figure. Her bosom was small and her hips were practically non-existent. In fact, she was the antithesis of what Dante preferred.

Dante glanced over at her suddenly and smiled at her. Under his friendly gaze, Yuri blushed furiously and squirmed uncomfortably on the sofa. She really wished he wouldn't do that. It was bad enough she had feelings for him, but when he looked at her that way she grew more self-conscious about herself. How often she wished that she had a figure like Juno, who was so small, so dainty, so womanly. Yet every morning she looked in the mirror and saw a face she was proud of but she wished that not everything on her resembled that of her father.

Feeling disconsolate, Yuri sighed softly. It was useless to keep longing for him. She knew he would never look at her with desire in his eyes. He was far too handsome and far too sexy for her comfort. Besides, they were friends and that was where the relationship ended.

A shrill scream broke the silence of the room, startling all the occupants. Dante and Ty were instantly on their feet. Their actions were followed by the twins and Yuri. From down the other hallway there was the sound of running feet and Juno suddenly appeared.

"That was Mom!" she cried.

"I know," Dante replied. His gaze was fixed on the direction of the scream.

"We should go and—" Juno began heading towards the other corridor from where the scream had come.

"Don't!" Dante grabbed Juno and held her back. "It's not safe this time. When Ty and I arrived, we went to see how Mom was. She was alone and very insistent that we leave, especially me. We did as she asked and it was as well that we left when we did, because dad came into the room, growling at us."

"He was growling at you," corrected Ty quietly.

"Fine, he was growling at me," Dante amended. "But seeing two males in the same room where his mate was in labor nearly sent him in a rage." He glanced over his shoulder at Yuri. "Youkai males can be extremely dangerous, especially where their mate is concerned. I hate to admit it but in a fight against my father, I would decidedly be the loser." He grinned ruefully. "Besides, I didn't want to deprive you of my company, Yuri, so I beat it out of there." Dante shot her a saucy wink.

Yuri blushed and frowned at him. What an infuriating male!

There was another scream and everyone tensed. Silence descended on them but was swiftly broken by the shrill cries of an infant. A collective sigh erupted from the group and everyone relaxed. All but Yuri and Ty began chattering excitedly amongst themselves. They had to wait until Lord Sesshoumaru appeared with the infant in order for them to dare to approach Lady Miranda. After a few minutes, Sesshoumaru appeared holding a white-haired and squalling infant.

"May I introduce you to the latest addition to the Takashi clan? This handsome boy is Draco." Sesshoumaru grinned and held out his newborn son proudly to his older children.

As all his children surged forward to see the baby, Yuri's cell phone vibrated at her side. She grabbed the phone, checked the number then answered excitedly. After listening for a moment, she paled and sank down slowly onto the sofa.

While Athena and Artemis squealed with delight and cooed over their baby brother, Sesshoumaru, Dante and Juno all turned around to look with curiosity at Yuri when she answered her phone.

"Okay," Yuri was saying slowly. "I'm on my way." She closed the phone and pressed a trembling hand to her mouth.

Dante was at her side in a heartbeat and sat down beside her on the sofa. "Yuri? What's the matter?" he asked, touching her shoulder gently with one hand. He turned her face to his when he smelled her tears. "What's wrong?" he demanded, staring firmly into her tear-filled eyes.

Unable to help herself, Yuri threw herself against him and began to sob. His arms went around her and held her tightly. But at the moment, she could find little joy in that kind gesture.

"It's my Aunt Haruka," she said thickly. "My aunt was due to give birth next month, but the baby came too early."

Sesshoumaru had handed Draco over to Juno before coming over and kneeling down in front of Yuri. "What's happened to her? Are she and the baby okay?"

Yuri pulled away from Dante and wiped her eyes with the end of her shirt. "The baby is okay. It's a girl," she said shakily and gave the Taiyoukai a watery smile. But the smile faltered and vanished when the tears began to flow again. "My aunt— they couldn't stop the bleeding. She died in the delivery room."

Silence fell on the little group as Yuri got to her feet. "Forgive me, Lord Sesshoumaru, everyone. I'm afraid I must go." She bent down and picked up the bouquet of peach roses. "These are for Lady Miranda," she said, handing the flowers to Sesshoumaru. "I wish I could be happier for you all right now—but I must—I must go. Please excuse me." Without another word, Yuri grabbed hold of her gold bracelet and the portal opened. She dashed through it, vanishing instantly in the swirling blue mist.

ooooooooooo

oooooooooooooooooooooooooo

oooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

A/N: I am so very sorry for taking forever posting this fic! When I started out writing this story, the plot was very different. *sigh* But hopefully what I've got planned will work out alright. Thanks for your patience! Please do read—Review is optional! ^_^

Arigato gozaimasu!

RSB