Disclaimer: If you're gullible enough to believe I own anything having to do with the Inuyahsa series, then I have a really shiny magical jewel that can change you into a full demon I could sell you at a good price!

"Love is like the wind, you can't see it but you can feel it."
— Nicholas Sparks (A Walk to Remember)

"There are winds of destiny that blow when we least expect them. Sometimes they gust with the fury of a hurricane, sometimes they barely fan one's cheek. But the winds cannot be denied, bringing as they often do a future that is impossible to ignore."
— Nicholas Sparks (Message in a Bottle)


CHAPTER START

The sun was setting low behind the western mountains. The world was doused in a golden film – like looking through yellowed cellophane. The trees waved sleepily as wind caressed their leaves as if to say, "Yes, I hear you. Now would you kindly let me get some rest. It's been a long day, you troublesome child."

If one was looking for it, or they were having a very very unlucky day, they might notice a single tree that didn't stir. Wind passed, danced, cajoled, but this tree was silent. The wind pouted and sighed, most put out at the lack of attention. For if there is one thing the wind is, it is attention hungry. But that is to be expected isn't it? I mean, you try being totally invisible without developing a complex that demands you stir things up and get noticed.

Wind poked and prodded the statuesque tree like a toddler trying to persuade the one relative not cooing over his antics into a reluctant game of tag. But the one tree was resolute in its silence. The wind huffed and swooped down to the little hutch huddled at the base of the tree hoping to see what might be the matter. No one ignores the wind. It just isn't done.

A man emerged from the hutch. Young and smiling, he looked up at the wind.

"It's no good, I'm afraid." The man touched a hand to the tree's outer bark. "This one is far too busy to play this evening."

The wind twisted itself in the young man's neat brown hair. "Why?"

The man's shoulders shook and a low rumbling chuckle erupted from deep in his chest. A sickly acid glow worked its way from his fingertips and soaked into the trunk of the great tree. The bark rippled and groaned as it absorbed the energy. The man's hand passed through the outer layers like a silk ribbon passing through water. At this, the tree shuddered. The leaves shivered the way one might if they were both very very cold and very very tired.

The hand was pushed deep into the heart of the tree – the very life-cord. The young, smiling man grasped at it and pulled. The tree's roots seized up – a yelp of pain and exhaustion. The man's hand emerged grasping a pulsing thread of pure energy so luminescent it shone brighter than the evening sun. The man reached up and pushed his free hand into his own body, groping around in his chest cavity. He yanked, and out came another thread, this one pulsing with that same acid energy that was still dripping from his fingertips. He began to chant, slowly, softly, as he brought the two life-threads together. He twisted them and the tree gave another great shudder and groan of protest. It had tried. It had tried so hard to resist him. Every day he had come. And every day the tree had fought. But its cries to the others had been silenced and stripped from the web that joined life. And now, there was nothing left. No more strength to fight.

The chanting stopped. The threads were knotted and bunched together like the insides of a bastardized radio.

The man chuckled like oil sludge and vomit. And spoke, once again. "My name is Gogenmaru, old tree. And you are now mine to command" His grip tightened on the joined life-cords. "Now then, let's see how we can go about betraying your old master, shall we?"


It was very late when Sesshomaru stepped across the threshold of Aiko's home that evening. The moon's nightly journey across the inky sky was well under way and the house was dark and quiet. He took a deep breath, filling his lungs with the scent of the home. He felt himself on the cusp of becoming dizzy.

When he had been there for the first time earlier that day the scent of his traveling companion had been stale and weak. His nose had told him that this was the first time she had been there in many weeks. It was still pleasant but he had begun to wonder if he had imagined his overreaction during their meeting at the cave. After plans had been made and it was decided that everyone should depart immediately, Aiko had engulfed herself in that scent-masking cloak and not removed it for the duration of their trip. The shock and smell had begun to fade in his memory.

But now it came rushing back to him with a vengeance and clarity that had him reeling. The confined space intensified the assault on his olfactory senses. The smell was a warm smile, a gentle, comforting hum and joyous laughter. And Honey? He took another sniff. Yes, there was definitely honey. Sesshomaru had always liked the smell of honey – smooth and sweet with a slight twinge of tangy. He removed his shoes and followed the smell. The door to one of the rear rooms had been left partially open. Through the gap, Sesshomaru could see Aiko cocooned in her futon and fast asleep. Her breathing was even and slow. Her arms clutched the quilted, voluminous corner of the blanket and held it tight to her chest. Her shining dark hair fanned out across the bedding, the ends curled on the tatami mats. As if she sensed his presence, she heaved a sigh and shifted in her sleep to face the door. She hummed low in her throat and re-clutched another fluffy part of the blanket, the picture of contentment.

Sesshomaru backed away from the room as her breathing returned to its slow, deep-sleep pace. He should probably get some rest as well. It would be foolish not to shore up strength at this stage in the game. Things had been quiet thus far, but they would not stay that way for long. He made his way back into the sitting room and found bedding with a note resting atop the pillow.

Lord Sesshomaru.

I realize I failed to say this earlier so, welcome to my home.

It is my understanding that youkai of your standing to not find

it necessary to rest often but, should you feel the need, I hope

you will not find my hospitality lacking. Please avail yourself

to anything in my home that you may require.

Rest Well,

-Aiko

Sesshomaru eyed the neatly dressed futon thoughtfully. Aiko was turning out to be very gracious and observant hostess. Sesshomaru wondered how she had come to be so knowledgeable about demon lifestyles. She was clearly not a demon herself. In fact, if it weren't for her scent he would believe her to be nothing more than a human with unusual spiritual power. After all, she and his brother's mate were good friends. And that miko's spiritual power was nothing if not unusual. Aiko was clearly well educated and had the confidence and mannerisms that usually bespoke aristocracy. Yet she lived alone, in this small, albeit well built, home in the middle of nowhere.

Sesshomaru's thoughts churned as he settled down on top of the futon - his back leaning against the wall. He removed Bakusaiga from its place on his hip and rested it across his lap. He closed his eyes and concentrated on evening out his breathing. He resolved in himself to get some of his curiosities satisfied in the morning. The woman would answer his questions - especially those involving her scent. Sleep overtook him quickly.


Aiko's consciousness floated just under the surface of dreams. She felt warmth and light kissing her cheeks. Some moments it came from the caress of firelight in the middle of a clear and vast ocean. Puppy-sized elephants and kittens encased in bubbles that could fit on a quarter would wiggle a little too close to the heat and she would shepherd them away with sluggish limbs pulled down by the currents.

"No, no, sweetie. Fire burns much hotter in the ocean than anywhere else. We have to be careful."

In the next moment she would be laying in her bedroom breathing in the sunlight and pressing her cheek closer and closer to the cool space on her pillow. And for what might be considered a long time in some circles it was quite impossible for her to be aware of which moments were real. Then, all at once, like breaking the surface at the deep end of the pool, she was awake - and was absolutely certain that puppy-sized elephants were a fantastic idea that should definitely be a thing. Ok, so, maybe she had a little more waking up to do.

Aiko unwound herself from the futon blankets and stretched every limb she could find – even her toes got a good flex. She rolled off her futon and did something akin to folding it up – and by 'akin' I mean the estranged second cousin that your grandmother doesn't approve of who shows up at family gatherings once every five years - before shoving the bundle it into its place in the cupboard.

Breakfast was a humble and quiet-as-possible affair. Aiko snagged another couple handfuls of nuts and dried fruit and munched while she slipped on her boots and readied herself for morning practice. By the time she made it outside into the clear dawn, Aiko was gob-smacked that Sesshomaru hadn't woken up. Wasn't he supposed to snap awake at the first breath taken within a ten meter radius of his person and pin the offending breather to the wall with a blade to their neck or something? That was certaBinly the vibe he gave off.

Aiko tip-toed her way across the front of the house to the practice area just in case the whole thing was dumb luck. He could still bust through that front window, no problem. Aiko was confident in her fighting skills but there was no way she was chancing it against a powerful demon lord with lighting reflexes who might not, in fact, be a morning person.

She let out a breath when her feet touched the paved surface and immediately began to bounce on her toes and shake the sleep out of her muscles. After a few moments she unsheathed her sword and started her warm-up: practice swings and lunges.

Once upon a time, a very long time ago (Ago? To come? Time travel makes telling stories so difficult), Aiko dreaded her morning practices. It was early. She was cranky and tired. And her sensei was impossible to please. He had scrutinized everything; from her hand holds to her hakama if something was out of place he would find it. And that wasn't even actual training. Real training was reserved for the end of the day when she was already drop-dead tired from her training with her powers and usually cranky again. Now though, practice was second nature, a matter of survival as much as pride. It was as necessary as gathering food or water.

Aiko slid smoothly into a practice kata. One movement flowed into the next like a deadly dance. Her movements were controlled and held enough power to fell an opponent thrice her size with one swing. Speed and precision were the fabrics of her sword style. She repeated the steps of the dance over and over, each time increasing the tempo until her form and sword blurred together with the landscape. This pace would have continued for sometime if not for the interruption. "What interruption?" You ask. The one that is about to happen right about . . . now.

"Your footwork is wrong."

CHAPTER END


There you are my pretties. Finally, a new chapter. Hey, at least we got to meet the villain this time right?!I promise we will be getting more actual conversation between Aiko and Sesshomaru in the next chapter.

Where do you all feel the story should go from here?

What would you like to see happen between these to?

I have an overarching plot for the story and I know where I want to end up but, like any good journey, making a few stops along the way is perfectly acceptable and can actually make the trip more enjoyable! We have one more chapter's worth of time at Aiko's house before we start making our way to the west. I'm looking at making the next chapter rather fluffy because once the action kicks up with Gogenmaru there wont be much time for making moon eyes at each other.

Anyway, I look forward to reading your responses. See you next time!