Sesshoumaru was angry. No, scratch that. He was livid. He'd bared his heart and soul to her, basically asked her to be his mate, and not only did she reject him but then she ran away! Why? He would have given her the time she asked for to think. He wouldn't have tried to influence her decision. Okay, maybe that was a lie, but she didn't have to disappear on him!

Being without her was torture, sort of like it had been the last time, but now it was worse. He knew that he was the reason she was gone and he had no idea when she would come back or what would happen when she did. He couldn't understand why this was so difficult for her. He told her he'd chosen her and he wanted her as his mate when she'd said she wanted someone willing to commit. Mating was the biggest, most serious form of commitment there was!

What was wrong with him that she couldn't say yes? Did she not have feelings for him as he did for her? Could she not imagine spending her life with him? That was all he'd been doing for weeks now, picturing their life together, their future, and how happy they would be. Did she not want that? Did she want someone else?

Really, any other woman would have jumped at the chance to be his mate, regardless of the reason why he wanted her. Women were always throwing themselves at him, practically begging for him to mate them, even though he basically ignored their existence. He never gave them any encouragement, any reason to think he might be interested, but still they pursued him. Now, after spending months pursuing Kagome, she'd rejected him! The pain of it was immense, and the fact that she disappeared almost immediately afterwards only made it worse. She not only refused to be his mate, but she apparently couldn't stand to be in his presence either!

He cursed himself for confessing to her under such circumstances. He should have never told her he desired her as his mate mid-seduction. She probably thought he was lying in an attempt to have his way with her. He didn't doubt that the thought crossed her mind. He should have planned; taken her to a beautiful place and told her she was even more stunning than the scenery. He should have romanced her, perhaps with a candlelit dinner, before admitting that he wanted her forever and asking if she would do him the honor of becoming his mate. Maybe that would have gotten better results.

Sango hadn't been any help, either. When she had returned without Kagome, he interrogated her, but all she would say was that Kagome went home for a while, that she needed time to think. She refused to divulge what they had talked about that led to her decision to leave, and she declined to give him any kind of time frame for her return. She was absolutely the least helpful being he had ever come across, and he would have reveled in torturing Sango until she talked, if she wasn't Kagome's friend. Since she was, the slayer got off easy with just a murderous glare.

The remaining members of the group had decided to head back to Edo, so that when Kagome did return, they would be there and she wouldn't have to wait for them. Sesshoumaru had led, pushing them to go faster and with fewer breaks, than they ever had before. His anger and hurt were warring in his mind and heart for dominance, and he had to find a distraction, so traveling was it.

Once they arrived in the village, the taiyoukai had gone directly to the well and hadn't left the area since. He spent his time alternating between two things: he would sit against a tree and glare daggers at the time portal, almost as if he wished it would burst into flames, then he would rise and begin to pace around the well, needing some kind of physical outlet for his frustrations.

Inuyasha had returned the previous day and the hanyou immediately realized something was wrong. Sesshoumaru had never known him to be so observant, but his emotional distress was hard to hide, so maybe it was just that obvious. Inuyasha had approached and attempted to gloat, only to be beaten within an inch of his life and sent sailing back towards the village. The taiyoukai almost wished his half-brother would return again so that he could work out some more of the anger and pain growing inside, festering in his heart. He needed her to return. He needed to find a way to fix this.

Unknown to Sesshoumaru, Kagome was pacing around the well in a very similar way in her own time. She was ready to return to the past, she just had to work up the nerve to face Sesshoumaru. The miko was terrified. As soon as she passed through the time portal into the past, her future - her life - would be decided. Everything rested upon his nose and what would happen when he finally smelled her natural scent. She couldn't help but laugh at the thought. She would find out if she would become his mate based solely on how she smelled. It was ridiculous!

She wondered if he was angry that she left. She knew it was a cowardly thing to do, but she couldn't help it. She had been scared and overwhelmed, and she couldn't stand to sit around the campsite with him so close after hearing what he'd said to her. It had been so hard to tell him no at the spring, even temporarily, and Sango was right. If she just flat out denied him, she could be robbing him of his happiness in the same way she feared accepting would do. She and Sesshoumaru both needed to know for sure if she was his true mate or not. Only then could they decide what to do.

She had a good idea of what would happen if her scent were the right one, the thought of which sent a shiver of excitement down her spine. If it was the wrong scent, however, the heartbreak might just kill her. She'd finally found a man who saw her for who she truly was, who wanted her for more than her ability to detect jewel shards, who cared about her. Losing him again, even though he might still want her, would be the hardest thing she would ever have to do. Walking away to make sure he could have his true happiness when it finally came along... she wasn't sure how she would do it, but was determined to anyway. She would not mate him if she wasn't the one.

The miko sighed and shoved away her thoughts. She needed to do this and putting it off wouldn't make it any easier. She didn't doubt he was waiting for her and the longer she made him wait the worse it would be. It was time to face the music, to go through the well and learn her fate. Kagome hauled up every bit of courage she held inside and clung to it desperately before jumping into the past.

The magic of the well washed over the clearing and Sesshoumaru froze mid-step. She was back! He turned to stare at the time portal, and decided not to jump in and collect her this time. He wasn't sure if such a thing would be welcome right now. Instead, he waited as she slowly climbed to the top. The taiyoukai took in a deep breath, hoping to soothe himself with the familiar aromas that always clung to her, and frowned. She carried absolutely no scent, something that, up until that point, he hadn't known was possible.

Finally Kagome came into sight, her eyes scanning the clearing before coming to rest on Sesshoumaru. "You were waiting for me?"

"Did you think I would not?" His tone was cold, but his eyes still welcomed her back. No matter how much she'd hurt him, he cared too much about her to let her see his anger. "You ran away."

Kagome sighed as she saw pain flicker in his golden orbs. She'd known that her abrupt disappearance would affect him, and she hated herself for it. "I... I needed time to think."

"I would have given it to you. You did not have to leave."

"No," the miko sighed again. "I had to go. I needed to talk to my mother and there was something important I had to do."

He nodded at her before asking the question burning in his mind. "Have you made a decision?"

"Not yet," she said softly, her hands shaking with her nervousness.

"And yet you returned. Why is it that you carry no scent?"

Kagome smiled brightly at him and his heart skipped a beat. Gods, she was so beautiful. He wasn't sure he would be able to live without her. He had decided days ago that even if she denied him, he would never leave her side. He couldn't. If she was uncomfortable with his presence, then he would give her space, but he would always be near. He would protect her and do all he could to ensure her happiness, even if it wasn't with him. He would do this because he knew he would never be able to walk away. He had to know that she was safe and cared for, because not knowing would kill him.

"That's a secret. Before I tell you, I need something from you."

"Anything," he said without a moment's hesitation. He meant it too. She could ask anything of him and he would give it to her.

"I... I need you to promise me. Promise me that, if I let you smell my natural scent, you won't lie to me. No matter how much you may still want me, I can't be with you if I'm not the one. I need to know that you won't tell me I am if I'm not."

"On my honor, I swear I will never lie to you, Kagome. And if you are the one, my true mate, will you agree to mate this Sesshoumaru."

"Yes," she whispered. She was practically begging the Gods to give her this, this one thing just for her. She wanted him more than life itself; loved him with all her heart and soul. She needed him to tell her yes, because she didn't know if she could handle it if she had to walk away.

Kagome sucked in a breath to steel her nerves before allowing the spell masking her scent to drop.

The sweet scent of vanilla, mixed with that of a mid-summer's thunderstorm, filled the clearing. Sesshoumaru's eyes widened and then he threw back his head and let out a deafening, heart-wrenching howl that seemed to echo throughout the entire forest.

Kagome's face dropped and her head lowered, before she turned and started her short walk back to the well. She couldn't stay here right now. She couldn't see him, knowing he was forever out of her reach. Her forward progress was halted as a strong arm wrapped around her waist. Sesshoumaru pulled her back against his chest, holding her close.

"Where are you going, Mate?" he purred sensually in her ear.

The miko jerked in surprise, pulling out of his arms so she could face him. "But... the howl. I thought..."

"It is tradition to announce to the world when one finds their one true mate, and I have."

"Really? You're sure?"

"Do you not wish to be this Sesshoumaru's mate? Why do you refuse to accept that you were meant for me? Why do you continue to question it?"

"It's just... nothing good ever happens to me. I always think it might, but in the end, it never does. This... I don't deserve this."

Sesshoumaru closed the small distance between them, burrowing one hand into her hair before pulling her closer and kissing her passionately. "You most certainly do deserve this. I can think of no other I could want. Only you, Kagome. You are mine."

A small smile pulled at her lips as she relaxed and wrapped her arms around his waist. "Does that make you mine too then?"

"Of course. This Sesshoumaru belongs to you; mind, body, heart, and soul."

"I... I love you, puppy."

Sesshoumaru smiled a genuine smile. "And I you, my mate. My delicious mate. You smell absolutely edible."

Kagome blushed a deep red but smiled. "Is that so? Maybe you should show me."