Chapter 19: Girl Chat

I'm so tired of staring at the wall, but I know I've got to put you down. And I keep trying to make sense of it all, but I can't keep going around and round.

"I'm mated now," Ayame said, glancing over her shoulder where her mate spoke with old pack members. Her eyes lingered over Kouga as she asked, "Are you?

"I froze," Kagome said, smashing her hands to her face. "I can't believe I froze."

Like the rabbit before the wolf – the prey facing the predator – Kagome had in fact froze. Locking the body head to toe: a defense mechanism. Used by small animals to confuse enemies into thinking they're apart of the scenery or dead.

But Kagome wasn't dead and neither was Ayame. In fact, the fire-haired wolf demon was very much alive. Mumbling self-degrading remarks to herself, Kagome let her knees sink into the thick pile of furs. Kouga's bed.

After freezing, she had run. Ran to the safety of Kouga's chambers with the invisible barrier those uninvited couldn't cross. Funny. Not even in the same room and Kouga still managed to protect her. She softened at the thought, but couldn't stay soft for long. Kouga's protection or not, Kagome couldn't let herself off the hook for scurrying out the room with her tail between her legs.

Really. Just how low could she go?

Kagome shook her head in a slow, sad motion.

Pretty darn rock bottom.

After years of fighting demons, the whole freeze then haul-butt act was so been there, done that. Besides, this wasn't a demon juiced up on jewel shard power. It was Ayame, Kouga's ex-fiancée, and the fact that Kagome froze and fled told her and everyone else one thing.

I'm vulnerable.

Kagome removed her hands from her face to let out a breath. The action bowed her shoulders. Kneeling on the bed, she slipped down on her heels and tugged the moss-colored dress down her knees. Silken fabric, a fur trimming. She liked this wolf attire. Maybe she wasn't adorned in the white gray furs of a princess warrior, but she looked nice… royal even.

So why'd she feel as small as a peasant?

When Kagome first saw Ayame, she noticed the difference in the wolf woman immediately. No longer that soft-faced, hot-tempered girl, Ayame had a sharpness to the cheekbones, strength in her posture. Plus something that'd never changed; that spark of entitlement in her eye. In the same way since they'd first met, Ayame looked down her chin at Kagome. A weak human woman undeserving of Kouga.

All the while licking her lips like she, in fact, deserved him.

And under those cool taunts masked in play, Kagome iced up.

She hadn't moved as Ayame cozied up to Kouga's chest like the bed of a five star hotel. She hadn't moved when Ayame flung forward to embrace Kagome, the arms around her neck squeezing like a snake clutching its prey.

And she hadn't moved when Ayame jutted between Kouga and herself, the female giving Kagome her back as she stood close to him.

Too close.

Then Ayame said words that forced Kagome to snap from the freeze spell.

"I'm mated now…" she'd teased. "Are you?"

Mated… definition please? Kagome wished to ask. Could you use it as a noun, verb, or in a sentence? As she had twiddled with thoughts on Ayame's question, Kagome looked to Kouga. Even Ayame's form between them couldn't hide the Wolf Prince. There was too much of him. Too broad, too tall, and too muscled for that little body standing between them.

When their gazes met, Kouga's eyes tightened around the edges. That had Kagome plucking at the edge of her skirt. Why that look? The silence? And why the heck did he walk in there carrying Ayame? That thought touched her with instant sadness. It must've shown on her face, for Kouga's taut eyes went even tighter. Compassionate. Then in one swift movement Kouga slipped around Ayame. He stood beside Kagome in seconds and her breath caught at his speed.

"She is not mated," Kouga has said, his hand closing around Kagome's shoulder. "Yet."

Just remembering and her heart skipped. Shaking her head, Kagome eased out of the remembrances.

Not mated. Yet.

Three words that had the power to raise her body temperature. Spreading out her hands, Kagome's body dropped against the bed. It bounced against the layers before settling deep into the furs.

Despite being alone, she hid her face in a pillow to hide her heated cheeks. When Kouga declared that quiet promise, he'd followed the words with a long, hot look that'd made Kagome suck on her tongue.

In that moment, she hadn't seen anything else but blue eyes sending her an intense message. One of comfort, trust, and dare she think it… love?

If not love, then sentiments close to it. It only took that stare to melt all remaining ice on the spot. The laughs and chatter around her faded and the cold worries bothering her heart were no more.

But no more was a moment short-lived.

"Yet," Ayame had said, a giggle edging her words. She turned to face them and gave Kagome a stare, from bare toes to bed-messy tresses. "One wonders when that state will change."

Things went downhill from there.

She saw Kouga's anger in his face, the jaw terse and locked. Kagome felt it in her body, a brewing irritation from the pit of her stomach.

This girl was ruining everything and she hadn't been there ten minutes.

Ayame floats in, lying in Kouga's arms, something Kagome still didn't understand but refrained from jumping to conclusions about. She knew how tricky appearances could be without a full story.

Ayame thwarts Kouga's attempts to get near Kagome, and when he finally does, making peace with the quiet pressure of his hand on her shoulder and a deep look in the eye… Ayame ruins that too.

So when Kagome set her lip and said "We can't all have arranged marriages." She felt justified in saying it.

Guilty, but justified.

Heck, it'd slipped.

The rest happened so fast. Chatter settled like a low fire, heads whipping towards the corner where the three stood. Had they heard Kagome's retort? Sensed tension thickening the air?

Ayame's lips pulled over her teeth and revealed canines. White, sharp, and promising pain.

Kagome gulped when she stomped forward, her clawed fists swinging. Then Kouga growled. A sharp sound deep from the throat, full of menace. It stopped Ayame in her place. Kagome's pulse was deep and heavy, her eyes flashing away from the angry Ayame to the furious-looking Kouga.

Wrapping a hand around her, Kouga drew Kagome's body behind him. She didn't protest, staying close to his back as she watched Ayame beyond his shoulder.

Kouga's head followed Ayame's every movement, from the twitching fist to the pace of her feet.

"Enough," he said, gaze as dark as his tone.

Wolves trembled, but from some of the smiles and darting eyes, Kagome wasn't sure if it was in fear or thrill.

To Kagome's slight relief, Ayame's lowering lips hid the teeth. She still had an eye on those claws, though.

"But, Kouga." The wolf girl's words were silk sliding dangerously over Kagome's skin. She shivered. "You know not to stand between two ladies talking."

Kagome's hands were laid on Kouga's back. She felt his muscles tense under her fingers.

"Well," Kouga lowered his chin and voice. "If you are only talking, I can politely interrupt."

Movement caught Kagome's eye then. A wolf male lurching from a distant crowd. Long black hair and dark stone eyes. He stopped in front of Ayame. Perhaps this was her mate.

"Is there an issue?" He spoke in soft tones, the dark eyes hooked onto Kouga's.

"There doesn't need to be." Kouga's shoulders were stern and despite the upright posture, ready to lurch at a trigger.

The man took in Kouga, his head bowed. It looked submissive.

After a moment, he spoke.


Reaching a hand back, the man slipped his hand into Ayame's. She broke his contact on the spot.

"Now Kagome," Ayame said, moving in front of the man. Kouga's body still blocked her, and Ayame cocked her head. A pearly giggle left her lips. "Let's not get men involved in girl chat."

Kagome had frozen again. There was only one more step of this rabbit syndrome and it was a matter of time before she took it…

As Kagome recalled the confrontation, she let her eyes drift over Kouga's wall art. In her defense, she had tried to act more human and less bunny back there. So what if Ayame wanted to spar with words and glares? She could handle that. Right…?

"Sure thing," Kagome had said. It earned a grin from Ayame.

Moving away from Kouga, Kagome set to stand in front of him. She didn't get far before he caught her waist.

"You don't have to," he'd said, tucking Kagome back to his side. She thought to detach from him, pride and all, but she felt so warm under Kouga's arm. Not to mention, safe.

"Right," she'd admitted. She met Ayame's eyes. "I think this chat is over."

At those words, Ayame's light peach skin went red as a melon. She glared at the wolf prince.

"Kouga…" she'd said, breaths falling hard through clenched teeth. "You're… you can't influence this! It breaks pack law…"

"Mate." The dark-haired male spoke up. Placing his hands on Ayame's shoulders, he drew her back to him. His height put him well over the average height of the fire-headed woman. "Let us take a walk."

Ayame's shoulder gave, and for a moment she relaxed. Snapping out of it, she'd soon stepped away from his hands and body. Snorted.

"In this weather, Shinji?" Ayame said, batting a hand towards the cave mouth. The wind had taken to whistling and the drafts blew in the early winter air. It occasionally tasted Kagome's ankles, but the chill hardly bothered. The heat from all these boiling demon tempers had kept her temperature warm as ever.

Kagome wondered where she went wrong back there.

When she stood by passively as Ayame sassed her?

The moment she slighted Ayame on her marriage?

Or, when she let Kouga stand between it all?

"I can't believe you," Ayame had snapped at Shinji, arguments continuing, "Taking your old leader and the wench's side."

Wench? Kagome boiled at the comment. As did Kouga, who had hissed at Ayame to take back her insult. Kouga's snap got him a sharp look from Shinji, which lead Kouga to snap even more, and Ayame to shout at both of them.

Their squabble riled up the entire room, the wolves cackling and shouting. Kagome bit her lip through it all, eyes skirting over the room as if for help, or escape. She didn't see Shiyla anywhere, who usually gave her guidance in tough situations.

So, instead of making any more mistakes, Kagome slipped from under Kouga's arms, backed up on quiet feet, and escaped down a corridor and out of that place. She'd plodded down the echoing passageway, jittery and following the fire lights till she reached the end.

Then her jaw dropped.

So pumped with adrenaline, she'd forgotten all about Kouga's boulder door. And how heavy it was. But that same adrenaline had her shoving up her sleeves and pressing all her weight into the barricade. Kagome used the thrust of her hips, palms flat on the stone, and demanded it to budge. And with a bit of sweat, burning palms, and heartbeat slamming to her chest, Kagome finally got a nudge. The rock grunted over enough for her lithe body to slide through.

Normally, she'd rejoice. Proof that she'd gotten stronger.

But the fact that she'd ran off in the first place told her something else.

That she was weak as ever.

Kagome had no urge to return to that room, though, nor the fight waiting there. The furs piled at her body were silk to the nerves. Heck, the room itself was a haven. Safe, cozy, peaceful... the wall drawings blurred under Kagome's gaze as she yawned. Perhaps a nap would do her good. Her dreams might lead her to the next step of action. Chin sinking deeper into the bedding, she let her eyes drift to darkness.

But even in darkness, worries bothered her.

Ayame's hostility, Kouga's anger, and Shinji's defensiveness. Plus all the wolves back there, feeding off that energy. Before she'd left, it even looked like others had taken to arguing. The cave was in chaos and it was all Kagome's fault. Perhaps she didn't belong in the den.

Wolves ate rabbits, after all.

With another deep breath, Kagome dug her face deeper into the furred layers. The softness seemed to embrace her as Kouga's clean scent entered her senses. Kagome rubbed her cheek against the furs. She didn't deserve this comfort, but would take it. She'd just sleep for three days. Hopefully Sango and the others would come fast, she thought. Kagome couldn't wait to separate herself from all the drama.

Regret instantly spoiled Kagome's stomach. That wasn't true. Even with the mess beyond this bed, leaving Kouga behind would hurt. And not just him, but her too…

Not only did the bed embrace her from the front, but now Kagome felt embraced her from behind and above. Hmm. The furs were so pleasant. Warm, with a constant soothing aroma of stones and forest. Then the furs began to nuzzle her neck…

Wait a moment. Furs can't magically wrap themselves around you. Nor can they nuzzle your neck. Kagome opened her eyes. Her position kept her blind, but she knew there was a body on top of hers. The length of it pressed against her back. Not too heavy, as if his knuckles absorbed some of the weight. But definitely an engulfing presence.

Gaze sliding back, she saw the face. Partly hidden in the crook of her shoulder, Kouga's nose slid from her throat and back to the shoulder, running and sniffing alongside it.

Kagome drew in breath, and he paused.

"So you're awake." Kouga's lips spoke against her neck.

Heat thrilled her body.

"I am."

The furs muzzled parts of her voice. Good. It hid the tremor that caught her throat. As if Kouga's body on top of her wasn't enough, he began kissing her throat, soft and slow pecks against the skin. This was nothing to be calm about.

As the kisses continued, joined with a dart of tongue, a mew escaped Kagome's lips. Kouga moaned in response, the sound rough. A second later, his form was no longer against her. Gone.

Breaths loose, Kagome flipped onto her back.

She spotted him quickly. He hadn't gone far, just stood at the bed's end. He watched her.

"Forgive me," Kouga said. "But seeing you lying there…I just had to join."

"No need to apologize," she said, pulling her knees in. "I was enjoying it."

Kouga's lips twitched.

"As was I. But perhaps a bit too much."

One grin revealed his meaning, showing the sharp teeth gleaming there. Ah. Neck kisses and the mating bite they could lead to. Kagome picked at her dress edges, wanting to tell him she didn't mind a little nipping, despite the risks. Despite the short contact, she already missed his hard form against her, the hips straddling her behind…

Then Kouga settled onto the bed's edge. Before Kagome could scoot closer, he seized her foot.

"What are you…ah!" Kagome gasped as he dragged her close. She nearly tumbled off the edge, but Kouga caught her waist. Righting herself, Kagome smacked a chuckling Kouga's shoulder.

"Jerk," she hissed.

"Forgive me. I couldn't help myself." Kouga's hearty laugh shook the bed and Kagome's lips just set. How could he have such joy? Only moments before, in the main room, there'd been arguments and commotion. Troubles she stirred up…

She went out to swat him again, but Kouga caught her fingers. He kissed each one and sent tingles to the ends of her toes.

"So…" Kouga's tone said playtime was over. "You ran off without a goodbye."

She sighed, taking her fingers back.

"I know. I was just…"

Guilty, scared?

Kouga's arm went around her shoulder.

"I only grew worried when I looked and you weren't under my shoulder. But you are now, so it is no matter."

"Well, you guys were doing a wolf thing. So…"

Warm-faced, she leaned into him more.

"Wolf things involve you now." Kouga paused, then added, "Including challenges."

Kagome's blood chilled. As if sensing it, Kouga tightened his arm.

"So that was a challenge," Kagome murmured, pulling her gaze up to him.

He looked straight ahead, jaw set.

"If you're referring to Ayame's antics, then yes. She was challenging you." He fingered his neck. "Over me, I'm sure."

"I figured."

Kagome's brows furred. It didn't all add up.

Ayame had a mate. One who seemed taken with her. And yet the couple bickered and Ayame rejected his affections. What could that mean? Kagome didn't know much about wolf mating, but she thought it would bring the pair closer, like marriage. Not push them apart.

Kagome relayed her thoughts to Kouga. He nodded.

"The mating bond is strong. It normally takes days until a couple can resist a mate's touch. Weeks before most can part from the bedroom."

Kagome's cheeks burned, but she spoke through her flushing.

"And yet, Ayame breaks from all her mate's embraces."

Kouga lifted then dropped his hands.

"I haven't encountered anything like it."

How could this be? Either it wasn't as rare as Kouga thought, or Ayame had a strong will. Kagome looked at him for clarification, but he just shook his head. She strengthened her stare, which made him crack a grin.

"I can't answer that silent question, Kagome."

Kagome sighed. She supposed he couldn't know everything.

"I feel bad for the guy. He seems nice."

Kouga nodded.

"Shinji is a good wolf and warrior. She'll learn to appreciate him."

Kagome sat up straighter on the bed's edge.

"Appreciate him and not you?"

Kouga frowned, eyes giving a short dart around the room.

Why'd he look nervous? Her mind flashed back to when he'd first walked into the den. Holding Ayame. Kagome had told herself not to overreact but now felt a feeling flare in her chest. It was an unwelcome feeling. She'd felt it the several times she'd caught Inuyasha with Kikyo. But Kouga wasn't Inuyasha. She had to remember that.

"So carrying Ayame was another wolf thing… right?"

Kagome's stomach tightened in wait. Say yes, she thought. Even if Kouga didn't rejoice when he held the girl, Kagome still needed some assurance.

"Another wolf thing," Kouga affirmed.

Kagome couldn't suppress her sigh.

"So, Ayame isn't 'Kikyo Part II, the Wolf Demon Sequel'?"

Kouga's smile appeared before falling.

"Carrying the visiting princess on arrival and exit to the home of the tribe; it is a very traditional and outdated law, if you ask me. I am sure Shinji agrees too. Ayame insisted."

Of course. Kagome rolled her eyes, glad her stomach had settled. So she wasn't in a bad sequel. Still, one of Kouga's words caught her.

"Kouga… Ayame had said something to you. About breaking a law."

Kouga shot Kagome a side glance.

"Whether I broke law is up for interpretation, but I'll admit to bending the lines to keep you safe, that is for sure."

Kagome grimaced.

"I still don't get it."

Kouga stroked his neck, seeming to seek words.

"As I'd said, Ayame challenged you. It's another code of wolves, not to interrupt female challenges. Male challenges can be hindered, in certain circumstances." Kouga's eyebrows flinched. "Probably because they are safer, since you females are a whole other danger."

"Oh, hush." Kagome teased. Then she bit on her lip.

Was she in danger? Ayame could easily challenge her again. And from the wolf girl's egging, it seemed she'd really wanted Kagome out of the protection of Kouga's arms… Uncertainty rippled through Kagome's stomach. This was bad.

"How long are they staying again?"

"For the night," Kouga replied.

Yikes. Kagome glanced at the fur coverings they sat on. Perhaps she should stay in bed all day.

Kouga slipped his hand from around Kagome's shoulders, taking her hands. Her palm sank into his large warm one. The winds whistled against the stone walls and the room felt cool. Pounding sounded from above and she knew it was either wolves running above the den, or snow.

The two said nothing for a while, just touching hands, staring at the drawings etched across the walls. She still felt amazed by his talent, the sensitivity it took to note the special moments of your life with art, especially when you're expected to be rough and tough all the time. In the feudal era. It was like diary entries in art.

Kagome recalled her wolf sister Rosella's drawing of her and smirked a little. She'd stored it in her backpack. At least Kagome would have something of the new wolves she met when she would go.

Going. That thought dried her mouth. She would leave soon, wouldn't she? Kagome still needed to tell Kouga. Before he gained too-high hopes of her staying. Or of their being together and mating.

Mating with Kouga.

As much as the idea fluttered moths in her belly, she couldn't mate with Kouga.

Wolves mated for life. He'd told her that one himself, the moment he called her his. And what sort of life would it be, mated and not together? Separated by five centuries.

It wasn't like she could actually stay, despite how good that sounded every moment she spent with him. If Kagome didn't return, her family would live the rest of their lives thinking her dead.

Kouga couldn't leave with her either. And forsake his pack? Plus, who knew of Kouga's destiny? Leaving might ruin it. It might even disrupt the future itself. Wasn't like Inuyasha ever stayed long. But to take someone from the past, and make them apart of her present…the future?

"Kouga, I—"


Both stopped to laugh, and Kouga squeezed her hand tighter.

"Kouga, I…" He quoted, then looked at Kagome so sweetly that her mind blanked and the confession dried in her throat. How could she give bad news to such a face?

"You go first," she croaked, clearing her passage.

"I only meant to ask what you were thinking."

Kouga placed hands to her waist. Just great. Now she had no thoughts.

Kouga seemed to know his effect and smirked.

Kagome returned the smile mildly, eyes distanced. Now wasn't the time to tell him. There was already Ayame to worry about.

Knowing how much Kouga wished to protect her, it must be hard for him knowing he couldn't. Or at least shouldn't, when it came to Ayame's advancements. She didn't want him breaking laws for her either. It'd look bad on both of them.

So she'd save the future news for later.

"You want to know what I'm thinking?"

She noticed Kouga stared at her lips intently.

"Kissing me?" she said, cheeks warm.

Kouga smirked.

"Nice guess."

"Well," she shot him a glance. "I also wanna kiss you."

Kouga's eyes drew low and hooded. The hand at Kagome's waist dug into the dress material.

"Let's not just think about it, then."

Kouga ran his hands from her waist to the bloom of her hips, then back up again. A surge of warmth went down and through. She loved his hands on her. It shortened her breaths and heartbeats every time. Her reaction to even the lightest touches was stronger than her responses to Inuyasha's heavier ones had ever been. Kouga continued running his hands up and down her waist, then moved lower to settle his hands on her rear.

Kagome was lost for breath as the nails sank into her. He lifted her hips and settled her body onto his lap.

Kouga's easy breaths fell against her neck, his hands sliding back up to her waist. All these touches made her dizzy with pleasure. What happened to kissing? A slight bend of her neck and their mouths would align. She was determined to do so when Kouga finally moved in.

His lips touched her collarbone and her pulse raced in her throat. Her head got fuzzy as the kisses met her chest repetitively. She groaned when the lips touched the throat, then her chin.

Kagome's gaze fell under the spell of his mouth. When his breath fanned her cheek, she closed her eyes.

"You smell good, taste good… I can't wait to have you." Kouga's words were a rough and breathy.

Sense trudged through the recesses of brain mush.

"Have… me?" Kagome asked, but her voice died as his lips touched hers. The softest pressure, just brushing.

"Yes, have you…" he mumbled against her mouth. Their lips met at every word. "To make you mine."

Kouga increased the pressure of his lips and parted Kagome's mouth with his. As they moved against hers, she gasped. They kissed with little pause, each meet long and constant. Kagome's head felt woozy and clear at once, the wet touch of his mouth to hers building cravings in her belly.

Lips still locked, Kagome wove her arms around Kouga's neck. He groaned against her mouth, and his tongue touched her bottom lip before going past it. Kouga found her tongue immediately and stroked it with his own. Pleasure shook through her as she caressed his tongue with hers. Kouga kept a steady pace with their kisses, increasing and decreasing speed at all the right moments. Kagome vaguely recognized his exercised control. She had mixed feelings on it.

For one, she wouldn't mind if Kouga lost a little control... and the doors that would open. On the other hand, it was good he stayed in check. The regret that'd follow going too far would outlast their kisses.

Not wishing to focus on these things, she refocused on Kouga's mouth on hers. Sliding her hands from the neck, Kagome pressed her palms against his back. His chest met hers more firmly.

"Mmm," Kouga murmured. Their kisses slowed again as Kouga's hands massaged up and down her waist. "You're incredible."

Kagome melted at those words, pressing deeper into his lap. It brought her in contact with the hard mound between them, and Kouga's growl was deep with pleasure.

"Oops," she said. Removing her hands from his back, she also broke their kiss.

Kouga's eyes opened, dark blue fires.

He looked down at himself, past the legs straddling his lap, then back up. He wore a smirk.

"Please don't apologize for making me want you," he said.

He drew her hands into his, drawing them overhead, and Kagome's brow twitched.

"K-Kouga what are you…" her words caught as they descended. Dropping flat across the bed, Kouga slid up so that his head settled at the pillows. Kagome pushed off his chest to gape down at him. Her legs straddled him, his body flat on the bed.

Images played out before her. Very forbidden images. They involved way less clothes and more skin. It didn't help feeling how much he desired her, nor looking into his eyes and seeing it… Lifting, she climbed off his lap. Kouga's lips parted as if to object, getting out a what…before Kagome interrupted.

"I'm thinking very bad things," she explained as she settled at his side. "So I better just lay right here." Not on top of you. Thinking of doing bad things to you.

Turned to his side, Kouga propped up on his elbow. He eyed her closely, though a light twinkle ran over his eyes.

"Losing control?" he said, cocking a brow. The smile too amused.

Kagome shot him a fireless glare.

"A bit," she admitted.

Kouga's easy laugh washed over her.

"I thought that was my problem."

His gaze went down her body, lingering on her breasts then over her hips. Heat crept through her body. His hand strolled up her side. They moved to her chest to stroke just beneath the peaks under the shirt.

"Are you eating enough?" Kouga asked. His eyes were serious on hers as he continued to stroke her ribcage. "You're feeling thin."

Kagome tried not to let that soft motion distract her, nor the warmth produced from how he looked at her.

"Let's see. The first night here one of your wolves stole my food. Next day, a grape fight cut my meal short. And finally last night I was a little distracted by an insistent wolf demon who wouldn't let me eat in peace."

Kouga paused his hand motion to laugh.

"Well. I'll make sure you eat well tonight."

His smirk showed teeth, and she gulped.

Okay. She wasn't going to take that in a naughty way. Nor was she gonna break the news that she might just stay in his bed until the northern guests left.

Kouga's stroking picked up again, but this time his fingers drew up her chest and down to her navel, then back up again. Kagome's breath stuttered as his palm slid near her dress hem, brushing just where the bunched fabric revealed her thighs.

He met her eyes as he stroked one leg, announcing and requesting his touch.

Kagome gave a consenting yes, Kouga's hand disappeared under her dress, and there was a knock against the door.


Kagome flinched and Kouga growled, rising up.

"Yes, Hiro?" Kouga said with a glance over his shoulder.

Kagome noticed a wolf. Looked about her age. A head of messy hair. Cheeks ruddy, he stood between the stone and doorway, which was partially open. Geez. Had it been like that all that time?

The Wolf Prince retrieved his hand from under Kagome's dress. The material was bunched high on her thighs, and he adjusted it low again with a possessive touch.

"Sorry to disturb you," Hiro said, speaking in a rush. "But the snowstorm is here, and rough winds throw it into the den. Burku and other men say we should close the entrance, but some of the women say to gather the snow for water. What do you suggest?"

"You listen to the women, of course." Kouga looked down at Kagome and winked. She smirked. "When the snow is collected, seal the den."

At that, Kouga gave the young man his back again.

"Now where were we…" he started, eyes drawing back on her.

"Oh, and Kouga?"

Kouga grunted, and Kagome giggled at his annoyance. He gave her an equally annoyed look which made her laugh even more. Though she was excited for what may have happened, Kouga's irritation was too priceless to miss.

"Yes?" The Prince said, voice too careful.

The male shifted his weight on his heels.

"Also, we have enough fresh meat for ourselves but not the guests. Warriors have to go out for more if everyone will eat their fill. The northern brethren have volunteered to go out themselves for food."

Kouga looked down at Kagome, then back over his shoulder. He chewed his lip as if to mull the words. Business or pleasure? He probably asked himself. When he gave a longwinded sigh, Kagome knew his choice.

"That is no good," Kouga said. "It was a day's journey here. If they don't recuperate their strength, the wind will be overwhelming and hinder the trip they must make tomorrow. We will go instead."

Hiro shifted on his feet.

"Um. By we you don't mean…"

"Me, Burku, Uru, and yourself. It's about time you went hunting instead of plopped on watch duty playing sticks and holes. What better time to learn but in a blizzard when all the animals are in hiding?"

Kagome heard Hiro's gulp from across the room.

"I suppose." He didn't leave the doorway, and Kouga's patience visibly thinned.

"Well? Go gather the men. I'll meet you shortly."

The wolf straightened.

"See ya in a bit, Kouga." He looked at Kagome then bowed. "Lady Alpha."

At that he hurried off.

Kouga looked to the empty doorway, slowly easing his head towards Kagome.

"Lady Alpha?" he said.

Kagome laughed lightly.

"After the women and I convinced your men to pick up after themselves, they started calling me that."

Kouga drew back a little, his eyes alit.

"Pick up…do explain this."

Kagome took a breath and did so. Starting from walking into the stink and up to the sport they'd made of clearing up the place with the bins. Each second she spoke, Kouga's face looked more and more interested.

"Thought the air smelled better in there," Kouga said. "I'd been so busy diffusing Shinji and Ayame's quarrel that I didn't notice much else."

Kouga dropped off his elbow and pulled Kagome against him.

"You're an excellent woman. Do you know that?"

His words flushed her cheeks, as did the way he seemed so brightened by what she'd done. Just as she hoped he'd be.

"Does an excellent woman run away from a challenge?"

She tried to sound casual, but knew worry slipped in her tone. Kouga grew quiet, his sigh from deep within.

"I understand why you would, Kagome. Any smart wolf knows when walking away is best."

"I'm a rabbit," Kagome murmured. A stinking, spineless rabbit.

Kouga chuckled.

Shoot. She forgot about bionic hearing.

"If you were a rabbit, I really would be eating you up." Kouga said.

He gave her a look that said he'd still eat her up, rabbit or not, and her chest felt a melting sensation. Nervous, she twisted hair around her fingers.

"I feel silly is all. And a little… unsafe. I'm not strong as a wolf demon, you know."

Kouga's jaw tensed as he chewed her words. After a while, he sighed.

"I'll talk to Shinji; see about him keeping his woman in line. Until then, perhaps you should talk to your friends. Shiyla has been quite the help to you at late."

Kagome smirked. Like the other night, when Shiyla played interrupter as Kagome gave Kouga the silent treatment.

The bed gave and then reformed as Kouga's weight left it, but Kagome's body soon followed, Kouga drawing her off the bed with him. On their feet, he didn't let her go far before one hands rested at her waist, his other pushing back her bangs.

"I must hunt," he said. Giving a glare at the door as if he resented it, he looked at Kagome with much softer eyes. "Will you be okay?"

Kagome sighed, eyeing her feet before looking up again.

"Yes. Don't worry about me."

Kouga's hand touched her chin and she tilted her face.

"That's an impossible request."

The fingers left her chin, hand on the back of her neck.

Kagome's heartbeat quickened at the interest he gave her face. Prepared, Kagome lifted on her toes as Kouga bent to catch her lips. He gave her a quick kiss on the lips, then a series of longer ones. His hands curled into her hair as hers locked around his neck.

Too quickly it ended, their lips parting.

"You stay safe," Kouga whispered.

Then he was gone.

Kagome didn't think she could do it. Didn't want to do it. But after pacing and thumb-twiddling, she knew that yeah, she had to do it.

The room was becoming a holding cell.

There's only so much napping you can do without constantly waking, restless and groggy as whistling winds jostle you awake.

Only so much thinking that can happen until you're jittery, knowing Kouga is out there in that wind. Hunting in a blizzard, for goodness sake!

And only so much pacing and wall-staring to realize you're bored and pretty lonely.

How long had it been? Sometime between her dreams and abrupt waking, Ginta and Hakkaku had dropped off food. They explained it'd been Kouga's orders, making sure that she ate. That meant a good while must have passed and Kouga wasn't back yet. Or else he'd had come to make sure she ate herself.

Kagome nibbled her nails. Were her nerves warranted? Well, years of travelling across Japan and Kouga being a strong wolf demon who'd probably faced worse weather… she thought not. But if not him, she had herself to worry about it. And the little nuisance duo named Madame Boredom and Ms. Lonely.

She had to get out of there. The door was still ajar so escape wasn't a problem. This room wasn't a holding cell; it was voluntary confinement. Kagome paused her pacing, knowing she'd wear out the stones at this rate.

Kagome had backed away from Ayame's challenge. Forgiving herself was easy, knowing the challenge would never amount to what the wolf girl wanted. That is, for Kouga to leave Kagome. But how did it appear to everyone else?

Bad, that's how.

Shambling toward the door, Kagome tensed her fists. This had gone on enough. Was she really going to let Ayame frighten her to Kouga's quarters? She thought of all the hours she'd been away from people. Worse yet, what if Ayame was enjoying some sort of victory at her expense right then? Shiyla and Cora had to be around somewhere, plus the other wolves she was getting to know.

Kagome felt a spark of resentment in her belly. She didn't want Ayame talking with her friends and setting them against her. And she definitely didn't want that girl dancing around as if she'd defeated Kagome somehow. The pest; Kagome could purify her with the edge of an arrow!

Kagome had just reached the door, but paused. A glance back and she noted her pile of belongings on the stone dresser. Her bow and arrows rested against the side. Shoulders set, she took a breath.

Purifying. That would mean hurting, and possibly killing Ayame. She really hoped it wouldn't come to that. Sighing once more, Kagome tramped out of the room. Each step fell with force, the thump of bare feet against the stone floor matching her heartbeats. No more soft toes and no more hiding.

The cave was dark and cool, only a few fires lighting the corridor, though as she travelled more light bloomed to sight. The passage almost reached its end, and by then Kagome's hands shook. Burrowing back inside Kouga's bed again sounded quite appealing. But too late; she was far. She could slow her steps at least…

Voices sounded behind the stone doors she passed. Laughter and constant conversations. This relaxed her spiked shoulders. Even a cave full of energy had its more peaceful moments. Plus, it meant the chaos from before was settled. A little braver, Kagome stepped into the main room.

A sprinkling of wolf demons were there. Some children playing, couples relaxing around fires, a mix of people chattering. On instant she tested the air, realizing the cave smelled like… well, a cave. The scent of stone and now snow, as opposed to festering food stink. Kagome angled a thankful glance towards the bins, glad they were doing their job.

Kagome wasn't the only one who sniffed. The wolf demons did too, noticing her. Many nodded once they met eyes, and Kagome waved and offered hellos. She recognized many faces and names. But she definitely didn't recognize the northerners among them. Hesitating near the entryway, she shook off remaining nerves and stepped deeper in.

Kagome wanted to ask where to find Shiyla and Cora. But bothering the couples was awkward. Especially with so many women sitting between their males' legs, or being stroked and kissed. The non touchy-feely wolves spoke in groups and she hesitated to approach them as well. Then she noticed the children's play corner.

Kagome curved her path there. A handful of gray wolves lay beside the little ones, watching the children pull each other's hair and wrestle with seen-it-all eyes.

"Hey, honey," Kagome said to the nearest child who currently was not tackling anyone. Placing hands to knees, she bent to the height of the small child. She had coiled hair to her shoulders, smooth ebony skin, and angular eyes that glared at Kagome.

"I'm not a honey," she groused to the other kids' snickering.

"Oh." Kagome bit on a smirk, not meaning to embarrass the child. She was so cute though. "What is your name, then?"

The girl crossed her stubby arms.

"Hojo," she answered.

Ha. Now that was a name Kagome hadn't heard in a while. She hadn't even seen Hojo since the last botched date. She grimaced. Definitely wasn't looking forward to that part of present day Japan. There would be no more well-diving to escape from him either.

"You like being called Hojo?" Kagome asked. She wondered why the girl's parents pinned her little face with such a masculine name.

"Yes…" Hojo said, raising her brows. "Do you like being called Kagome?"

Kagome blinked. This kid had spunk. Plus, she knew her name, which shouldn't but did surprise her. Everyone knew by now, right?

"It's just I know someone named Hojo, too. And he's a boy."

Hojo stomped his little foot.

"And I'm a boy."

The kids around Hojo let their cackles loose, dropping to the floor and landing dangerously close to the fire. Gray wolves opened their eyes before rolling them away.

Kagome clapped a hand to her mouth, an "oh" slipping out. Just when she expected this non-female Hojo would yell, he let out a laugh and toppled down to the ground with his friends. Kagome glanced over her shoulder, teeth tight. A woman watched from a rock seat. She had the same rich skin as Hojo, her feminine features dainty. Her male dozed with his head in her lap, and she stroked his head idly.

"Hojo gets this a lot," she said, looking at Kagome. "Told him to let me—."

"No one's cuttin' my hair!" Hojo shouted, tucking his head to his knees. The other children started climbing on top of him, each one teasing and pretending to cut off his locks with their fingers.

As the children grew more rowdy, Kagome slid a step away, reminding herself by their tails and slightly tipped ears that these were wolf children. They could handle a little piling up. Still, they were obviously too busy to tell Kagome where her friends were.

Kagome strolled toward Hojo's mother instead. Her sleeping male caught Kagome's scent, then flinched up from his woman's lap, an arm drawn around her automatically. Noting she was just the non-threatening human, the grip around his mate eased. These wolves really were territorial.

There were short introductions, where she learned the couple's names were Jia and Gorou. Kagome recognized Gorou as one of the men she'd argued with that morning.

"Have you seen Shiyla or Cora around?" She asked.

Jia placed a hand to her chin.

"Hmm. Not since breakfast. You, Gorou?"

Gorou shook his head.

"Nope, same story."

Kagome slumped a little, but thanked them as she started away. Well, there was the woman's room to check. If not, hiding in Kouga's room would have to end this search. Kagome hadn't walked far when a tug at her skirts stopped her. She glanced down.

A gray wolf had her dress between its teeth. Her heart lurched when it tugged again, more insistent, but Kagome stopped herself from exclaiming just when he let her go and started away. She only paused for a moment. He wasn't trying to eat her, he was helping. She trotted after the wolf.

It led her down a corridor and she stuck close. This earned her a bark when she stepped on its tail.

"Sorry," Kagome said, stumbling back. "It's dark in this hall and I don't have wolf vision."

Kagome kept her arms folded as gooseflesh spiked her arms. She pulled down her sleeves. It was darn chilly. Kagome needed to rethink her dress. At least on her travels her blood stayed hot from fighting demons. Not so much action in this den.

The more they walked, the more she wanted to go back. As much as the light began touching the walls, she got colder. She thought she might rub the sleeves thin when she found herself under pale sky on the mountain's ledge, engulfed with blustery tuffs of snow.

"Now what?"

The wolf made an exasperated sound, tail brushing Kagome's leg as it passed to the left. Kagome locked chattering teeth and followed. When Kouga told her stay safe, Kagome doubted he meant "don't walk along the cliffside during a snow storm." Still, it was likely implied. If her toes didn't fall off, surely they would slip on the slick stone and send her plummeting hundreds of feet. Not exactly safe at all.

Kagome stuck close to the mountain, glad for the wide path. Her ears hurt from the storm whistles but luckily a stone overhang kept the snow from dropping directly onto her form. Stone doors aligned the mountains, and it wasn't long until they'd stopped before one.

"Is this it?"

The wolf flipped on its heel and started away. Well. Supposed this was.

"Thanks!" Kagome called back, cupping her mouth to project her voice. The wolf gave a curt howl in reply, disappearing under the bluster. Geez. A shiver rammed her shoulders and she faced the door again.

No time to waste. She gave a knock, but the dense stone ate it.

"Coming in," Kagome announced and she pushed aside the stone.

Steam billowed into the face and she took a step inside. She preferred a warm spray over the cold snow any day. Besides, she knew where she was now: the hot springs. Kagome wished she'd known this was where the girls were. She might've avoided the risky ice walk, knowing Kouga's chambers were connected from the inside.

The air hadn't cleared yet, but shapes appeared the steam.

"There you are." Shiyla's voice. "Wondering when you'd pop your head in."

After shoving the stone back in place, Kagome headed forward. She watched her feet to make sure she didn't land in a hot spring.


She halted. Now that voice wasn't Shiyla. And it knocked her heart off beat.

The steam settled as the spring's occupants were revealed. Within the cluster of hot springs were women. Kagome recognized several she'd debated with that morning and ate amongst the other night. They acknowledged her with pleasantries.

And of course she recognized Shiyla, sinking into a steamy spring farther back. Beside her was Cora, raising a hand from the water to wave.

Kagome tried her best to return it. It was difficult as she caught eyes with the female on Cora's right. Ayame wore a sweet smile. The smile of a girl who'd never stepped on an ant.

Kagome knew better.

"Hi Kagome," she said, hands slapping the water surface. "I've been having a great time with Cora and Shiyla here."

Kagome met Shiyla's gaze, hoping her friend was, well, still her friend. With all the time she'd been away, Ayame had her chance to muddle Kagome's name. But how could she do that? Oh. Perhaps calling her out on her displayed indifference to Kouga from before. Make her seem like she didn't belong. Which she still wasn't sure about.

Her stress eased when Shiyla gave Kagome a firm nod, peering at Ayame from the corner of her eye and giving a minute head shake. So her friend was still on her side? Kagome would think wolves stayed together always, but that obviously wasn't a factor.

It softened her heart. But they were sisters, right?

Ayame's jade eyes glowed under the dim fire lights at the walls, hair dark red and crimpled from the water.

"Join us," Ayame suggested, eying Kagome long and hard. Her lips twitched. "That is. If you're not too ashamed of your body. I know human physiques are not as up to standard as wolf demons."

Women glanced over from springs, and all conversation fell to hushed tones.

Kagome flushed neck to hairline. Another challenge, was that? Well, she wasn't backing down again. With shaky fingers, Kagome drew her dress over her head. No time to waste on this one. No no no.

"Ashamed?" Kagome unclipped her bra and let it fall to her feet, and with a short breath, peeled away her underwear. "I have nothing to be ashamed of."

So maybe she didn't have the muscle tone or rich coloring of most wolf demons, but she was slender, of normal height, and with a full chest to boot.

Kagome proceeded toward the spring and resisted the urge to cross her arms over her exposed breasts and other feminine parts. She'd bathed and undressed beside Sango for years. Piece of cake, walking naked across a hot spring with curious eyes running up and down your body.

She gulped. Maybe thinking wasn't best right now.

Stopping near the edge, Kagome looked down her chin at Ayame.

"May I?" she asked, dipping her toes into the bath. The water coated her bones with pleasing heat, and she didn't wait for Ayame's comment before she brought herself deeper into the spring.

Fully emerged, Kagome released a sigh and lowered until the waters collected around her chest. Shiyla sat directly across and sent her a smirk. Kagome returned it. It was all the confidence she needed, knowing a friend had her back. Knowing she didn't reject her for running off that first time, because she'd returned to meet the challenge.

"Now," Kagome said, holding Ayame under her gaze instead of the other way around. "Let's continue with our girl chat."

Author's Note:

Ah! Such a long wait. Please forgive me. I made the chapter longer in order to help make up for lost time. Truly, it was school at first that delayed this. But I've now graduated from college! Then it was a mental writer's block/need for inspiration deal keeping me from writing. I became terrified of messing up on this. But eventually I really got into the groove!

Now, I can't say when I'll update next. I've joined a writer's group and realized I haven't written any original fiction in months. All my energy has been expended toward this fic and my other active one. So I need to get some original stories written.

After or while I produce more original work, I'll work on this again. So, as before, hiatus is very loose, because I'm not stopping this. Thank you all the encouragement along the way; every one of you! It was so helpful for me in getting the words out. And merci to my two lovely beta-readers as well for their work :]]

Poll and Things:

Didn't create this prior to this chapter being published so i'll make another mention at the next update, but there's a new poll up in my profile! Check it out!

And as always, I'm on tumblr. Sometimes ranting about fanfic writing etc there. Follow or msg if you so please!

I'll see you all next time,