A/N: 8. 28. 12.

Ha! You were surprised to see this in your alerts, weren't you?

I will finish this story, darn it. I apologize for the monstrous gaps between updates, but knowing that even after years, this story has people's attention, and reading the reviews, it really wakes you up.

I still have a direction I'd like to go with this, but it is winding down to the end, so expect the next chapters to be longer and fuller. I went back and edited all the chapters as well (my writing from 2007 up until now has improved), though I kept the original notes. Enjoy, and review! I must know my readers are still alive, just as I am! Haha.


A taste of the past…

A whirlwind cut through their path and Kouga appeared before Kagome, stopping inches from her.

"Hey," he said.

His deep voice was an intense rumble, and Kagome's knees turned mushy.

With nervous laughter in her voice, she greeted him. Perhaps it was her early morning optimism, but he looked really good. His pulled back hair had softened against his shoulder, and his eyes were slightly hooded, as if shaking off remnant's of sleep.

"Didn't we just get rid of you?" Inuyasha snapped, pulling in front of Kagome. She groaned inside, for he had cut off her view. Hey, it was fine to enjoy a little eye candy. And though Inuyasha was beautiful, he just didn't have the tan skin and dark eyes that a girl could pant over.

When Kouga pulled out a bundle of small, yellow flowers, she gasped. Pushing the overprotective half demon out of the way, she leaned in to the flowers.

Wow," she said, breathless. "They're beautiful."

Why did he have to be so sweet? It made her feel a little sad sometimes. She wanted Inuyasha, but he could never show how he felt about her. And here was Kouga, who had no sure answer from Kagome, still bold enough to present her with gifts.

"I figured since girls seem to like stuff like this…" Kouga said, his voice hitching with a bit of embarrassment.

Inuyasha snorted, but Kouga ignored his complaints to place the flowers in Kagome's hands. She fisted them immediately, her eyes downcast on the gift.

"Be seeing ya," Kouga said, winking at his woman before taking off with the wind.

As Kagome's friends murmured to themselves about how good of an influence Kagome had on Kouga, the young priestess held the flowers tight, studying their pale yellow petals, a light feeling rising in her chest.

-Inuyasha, Episode 99, with additions.

"Loving him is easier. Loving Kouga...takes away the pain."

Kagome spoke the words into the sky and she lied on soft grasses, spread out under the stars beside Sango. Her friend had wanted to know about this change in Kagome. About the shift her feelings had taken ever since discovering Kouga in the forest a few days ago.

"I definitely understand how it must be hard to you to remain at Inuyasha's side," said Sango, patting the fur on a resting Kirara.

"Yes," Kagome said "It's just so difficult knowing that the one that cares about you cared about someone else first…and still does."

Kagome's mind flickered to Kikyo, her lookalike. Though Inuyasha had refused to leave with Kikyo when she demanded, it was for the sake of his bond with Kagome as friends. If Kikyo told Inuyasha that she would remain with him forever if he got rid of the incarnation, then he'd merely say sorry as he threw her into the well. Kagome knew it from the bottom of the soul.

And she was done hurting.

She had wanted Inuyasha to be hers from the very beginning. And sometimes, most times, he was. However, it was not true. He belonged to the woman he had first set his sights on. He just could not help that. Neither could Kagome. She sighed.

"I used to think that if only I were tougher… If only I fought to make him look into my eyes and see me, he'd stop checking over my shoulder to see if Kikyo showed up."

"No one can force someone to feel what they do. It has to happen naturally." Sango said, her voice as low as the winds that brushed against them.

Kagome shut her eyes, releasing a harsh breath.

"I agree. That's why I never fight him to love me. I cannot force him to do what he is not capable of. If he really wished to love me all the way, then he would have already. He would have at least tried. But he does not try."

A smile touched her mouth.

"But I'm okay now. I realize that I do not have to live with that pain. I can love Kouga so naturally, like a second thought. And there is confidence in this love. There is no other in his heart but me. He declared me as his and has never gone back on that word."

Sango made a very appropriate, girly coo, and Kagome's cheeks warmed under the moonlight.

"I feel it's only the beginning of my feelings. I have so much to discover about Kouga and about myself. First, we have to figure just where he is and what's going on with the poor guy. But ultimately, I won't jump into the relationship. I'll tread in gentle waters and let it all fall into place."

"But sometimes love takes you away at once. It does not mean that it is not meant to happen. And between you and me, Kagome, I think it will happen." Sango sat up and Kagome opened her eyes, following.

Sango opened her arms, a bit shyly, and Kagome embraced her, sighing. It was the hug she needed a long time ago. It was a silent hug of understanding, of encouragement, of blessing.

"Go after true love, Kagome." Sango said, finally releasing her.

Kagome flexed an eyebrow at Sango.

"I'll say the same for you," she said, grinning.

Sango blushed, angling her gaze away.

"I'm not sure what you're talking about."

Kagome giggled.

"Sure you don't."

As they reached the village, a hut door swung open, and the monk stood in the doorway.

"Speak of the devil," said Kagome.

Sango's cheeks flamed.

Miroku looked between the two women, eyes settling softly on the blushing Sango. He approached her, wrapping an arm around shoulder.

"My darling Sango. Does my presence make you bashful?"

Sango looked up, stuttering, and Kagome took the time to slip away, leaving the two alone.

She pulled in a cool, deep breath, feeling all alone in the quiet village. Everything seemed calm, silent. A couple of villagers were trailing back to their huts and Shippo was talking to some young village girl, smirking up at her. A glare formed between Kagome's eyebrows.

True love. What was it?

She thought of Inuyasha. He once made her swoon. It was those golden eyes that she would search for when she was afraid, that slender male figure in red she would race after when he was hurt. But now…

"I've made a mistake." She said aloud.

She was doing all the chasing, and in the process, was running steadily away from the one trying to catch her all along. Kouga.

Kagome knew the truth, and it had prickled her full brown eyes with tears countless times: Inuyasha belonged to Kikyo. She made a fist.

"How degrading."

She was the second-rate thing. The sometimes girl. The one Inuyasha abandoned when the shinier penny rolled along. Yet she had stood contently by his side, caring for him and crying for him and longing for just an ounce of his affections. And affections, he gave. But when Kikyo came along…

But she thought of what happened recently. Inuyasha had refused to go with her. What did that mean? Could it mean that he was making a choice and Kagome had won? She bit into her lip, but after a moment's silence, she shook her head. That was hard to believe. Even after her figure retreated through the door, his eyes had longed after the darkness, mentally willing the woman to return. And that was where his heart had gone; out the door and to the stone body of Kikyo.

Well, let it.

"Kouga is alive." Kagome felt the words on her tongue, and her heart skipped a beat. New hope slipped through her fingers, loosening her fists, and she spread her hands wide, lifting them to the air. "The one who loves me and only me…lives."

Her next step: to get to him.

She wandered towards the village, wondering where her bow and arrows had gone.

... ... ... ... ... ...

Kagome and the others flocked Kirara's back, soaring over hills and valleys. Kagome's eyes were set on the night. She glanced up to appreciate the sheet of stars that they travelled so close to. The last time she felt close to stars was when she lied on the hillside with Kouga. Waking up, hand to hand with him, it was a moment she would never forget. And now that she knew he was still alive, just dormant, she was determined to make new memories with him.

Memories that would wash away this crazy week. Funny how much could happen in a short period of time. She went from indifferent to the wolf demon, mildly interested in him, to totally smitten. If this was how she felt about Kouga, exploring most of their relationship via dreams and short moments, she wondered how much could happen in real life, with real time. She bit down a smile. She was so ready to explore.

Reaching behind her, Kagome tapped her finger across each of her arrows. There were enough to take out a small pack of demons, though it wasn't demons she had to worry about, but a human. A sick, powerful wizard that liked toying with people's heart and killing for fun.

Shippo was perched between Kagome and Sango. Miroku lead the front, and Sango had her arms wrapped her arms around his waist to balance herself, though from her red cheeks and the way she leaned her face against his back, it may have been more.

"Head towards the mountains, Kirara. The mist is gone, but I can since the dark aura of magic." Miroku said.

Kirara swirled their party towards a distant line of cliffs, a purple tint under the darkness. Even travelling through the air, it would take some time to reach. Settling deeper onto Kirara, Kagome exhaled, brushing locks behind her ear. Kaede had said that Inuyasha had gone ahead to the castle, but it had been a while now. She refused to worry. He had escaped the castle once, he could survive again. Her focus was on Kouga. For once she felt okay to put him first.

"We defeat the Sen and free Kouga in the process?" Kagome asked, leaning over Sango to look at Miroku.

"It is my best guess," Miroku called. "But it may not be easy. We are riding straight into his lair, with all his spells and power at the ready to use against us. Stay on your toes, everyone. If the wizard was able to cast this whole area into a spell, he may well be able to try something again."

Kagome set her jaw, nodding. She was tired of delusions. If that wizard wanted to force her under another spell, he had another thing coming. And that thing would come in the form of a sharp, deadly arrow.

"And I won't miss," she promised the night.

Kouga wanted his body back. Bad. His instincts barked from inside of him, and in his mental eye, he slammed and shoved against the blackness trapping his soul. Watching the world from the Sen's eyes sickened him, hearing the plans he sketched drove him near insanity, and the only way to soothe his irritation was to taunt the witch doctor.

Knowing the wizard's thoughts, he knew what the man needed to live. A strong, demon heart. Luckily, Kouga's body was out of the Sen's reach; the wizard had no lead, no way to find Kouga's body. But that didn't ease Kouga's worries too much; he knew the man would not let him go without a fight. Even with his speed, he was no match for the wizard's quickness. Even if Kouga escaped with his body, he would spend his days watching over his shoulder, wary of an enemy that could move in and out in a flash of light. Not only would that endanger him, but if he convinced Kagome to travel with his pack, which he planned, she would also be in danger. Didn't the monster say he planned to bed and kill her? Kouga growled, and grew satisfied when the Sen cringed.

Kouga would have to kill this man or else he knew the wizard would pursue them forever. Reading the Sen's thoughts, Kouga was aware that he had tried using other demon's hearts to keep himself youthful and alive, but no demons had the will that Kouga did. Too impulsive, too wild. Their hearts never lasted long. But here was Kouga, powerful but smart. He was Wolf Clan leader for a reason; he wasn't like the others, wild and untamed. He used his brain and body to survive.

But how did the Sen know the Kouga was the perfect fit. He had to find out.

'Yo, Wizard boy' he projected his thoughts to the Sen, earning an irritated grunt. Kouga smiled. At least, he felt his lips curl.

"What is it now, Wolf?" The Sen reclined on his bed, ripping a golden crisp apple to the core. Kouga could taste the juices as if they had run down his own throat. Another problem; he was connected to the Sen enough to feel some of his physical actions and even pain. He needed to detach himself before the man killed him; he knew what it would do to himself?

"How did you know my heart was powerful enough to fuel your puny body? Lucky guess?"

Kouga was digging, hoping that a helpful thought would cross the Sen's mind and allow Kouga to figure out another way to escape this body.

"Let's just say, Wolf, I did some observing."

The Sen's mind worked slowly, dipping through memories. Images melted into Kouga's vision, images of…himself. Him and his pack travelling. Him fighting Naraku's minions. Arguing with Inuyasha. Nearly fighting Inuyasha to the death. Pursing Kagome, loving Kagome. The memories spanned over the last few months of Kouga's life.

The wolf seethed, his sharp teeth clamping together. Was this guy spying on him? And why hadn't he ever sensed his eerie presence?

"To be brief, Kouga, I have watched you over time. When the demon Naraku came onto the scene, I stayed under close wraps, for I had no intentions of fighting someone like him."

"So you were scared of him?"

The Sen snorted.

"I am powerful, but not stupid. Anyhow, in pursuit of a heart that would last me forever, I decided to watch the ones who fought him and lived to tell the tale. The half demon wasn't strong enough, for his sword is what gave him the most power and had little to do with his heart. But you, Wolf, showed strength in body and mind. You were persistent in your hunt of your enemies, stopping at nothing to kill those who offended you. Watching you pursue the woman was especially inspiring. She gave you not a drop of a hint and yet you kept trying. Silly, but your stubborn insistence will keep me alive."

The Sen reached for a hand mirror and the perfect face blinked at Kouga. He stuck out his tongue, wishing the Sen could see just how disgusted he was in the man, though he knew he could not. Knowing this, he chose words.

'Since you know I'm persistent, you must know that I will hunt you down when I'm free. I will stop at nothing until you die.'

The Sen's brows furrowed, but he smoothed them out, pursing his full lips.

"I'll just have to make sure you are never free."

'If you don't have my heart, you can't use my immortality.'

"Finding your body is next on my list. After I deal with the disobedient child and the woman, that is."

Kouga gritted his teeth. The man was sick. Kouga's nature was set on protecting women and children. The wizard had the child shackled to Kikyo, and though he did not particularly care for her, didn't like any woman trapped, especially by the Tomoshibi.

With nothing else to do but stare at the Sen pick his teeth, Kouga glared at the reflection, staring right into the Sen's pale pool of eyes. He willed those eyes to burst open, to explode and gush all over the mirror. The Sen would cry out as Kouga peeled his arm through the man's face, then he would crawl completely out of the Sen and run to find his own body. Kouga's vision shifted, blurring the face of the Sen. Kouga blinked, then went back to his concentrating.

But as he looked at the face in the mirror, he paused. Something was different. The Sen's eyes were usually pale and hard, but the new eyes in the mirror had a warm deep tone, like honey.

"You have figured it out, Wolf Demon."

Kouga flinched. He had heard the voice in his head. That hadn't happened before.

'You say something, Golden witch?' he asked aloud. The Sen didn't respond. He was humming to himself, though, and his voice felt distance and muted.

"He is not the one speaking. It is me, the new man you see in the mirror."

Kouga inspected the face again. It was definitely someone else. The hardened face had soft lines to it, and the expression was smooth, not edged with arrogance. The lips of the new image spread into a small grin.

'Who are you?' Kouga began, and then remembered the story Tomoshibi had recently lain on him. A story about the father that he killed in order to gain power. But he never said he'd died; only that he had crumbled up and disappeared.

The man read his thoughts.

"Close, Wolf Demon, but I am indeed dead. A spirit. Magic is a part of my soul and therefore even without a physical body, my essence remains. I will send it away to fade into the earth, but only when I see my son dead. I wish for you to help me defeat him."

In his mental body, Kouga crackled his claws.

"I'm ready to dethrone the guy. Just return my soul and I'll make it happen."

The honey eyes in the mirror looked distracted, and then returned to focus on Kouga.

"Your friend, Inuyasha, told me to inform you that he will be the one killing my son, but I believe you two can compromise and both aid in his death a little."

What? If Inuyasha was here, then…

'Did he bring Kagome?'

"Inuyasha informed me he had left her in the village, trapped under my son's spell."

Kouga's tail stiffened, all hairs on his special body raised. Just this morning, he was enjoying the sweetest dream with her. He had shown her life in his mountains, a life he wanted to share with her. She would be his princess; he would treat her to anything she desired, from gifts to servants and food, as long as she never denied him her kisses. But now she was in agony? If only Kouga had a body, none of this would have happened.

"Is she alright?" he demanded, voice rough.

"My son's charms are not everlasting. The effects will die away."

Kouga released a breath, but his muscles were still bunched.

'Can you help me escape?' Kouga asked the Tomoshibi.

"I can give instructions, but you must rely on your will for what I need you to do…"

Good. Kouga had a lot of will. If the Sen had got one thing right, it was that Kouga did not give up.