We're interrupted by the heat of the sun, trying to prevent what's already begun. You're just a body; I can smell your skin. And when I feel it, you're wearing thin.

-The Writer, Ellie Goulding

She clawed at the rock, pushed at the rock, and shoved until her arms jiggled like loose change in a pocket. All she got from the exercise was the snap of breaking fingernails. Fanning her aching hands, she cursed at the jagged remains for nails. And that is how you fail at opening Kouga's rock barricade.

Curling hands into fists, she pounded.

"Ginta! Hakkaku?"

The dense echo of rock yelled back at her. She tried again, stretching her voice to its peak.

"Let me out of here!"

Steps clambered against the rock floor, first faint, and then barreling into heavy clomps. Breathing outside the door, and then the stone groaned as fingers wrapped around it, rolling the stone away. Kagome smiled, thanks for Ginta or Hakkaku at the edge of her tongue. When she saw who stood there, the smile dissolved, her toothbrush rattling to the floor.

Danger. That was the expression on the wolf female's face. Her shoulders bunched, a hiss squeezed between tightened lips. Those angular eyes glared at Kagome, flickering between her and the disheveled pillows beyond.

"Bad enough you intruded Kouga's space," she said, "but you lie yourself on his bed?"

Her voice had an ocean's calm. One that lay cool and stiff, but once you stepped your foot in, you'd find your toes consumed by the ice. Kagome rubbed the sleep from her gaze and retrieved her toothbrush from the ground. Ice was Inuyasha's eyes after he stared upon Kikyo and wouldn't even look at Kagome. Ice was waking up in a cold cave in autumn without coverings with a nightmare still clutching at your throat. She could do ice. And so, she shrugged her shoulders.

"You act as if I vandalized his room."

The wolf female bared her teeth.

"You've rubbed your scent all over his territory. That is the equivalence to destroying his belongings."

Heat burned Kagome's cheeks, and she straightened to match the female wolf's height as much as possible. With her hair wild from sleep, Kagome knew she was a sight. Pale skin flushed, black hair untamed, narrow brows folded low over earth-toned eyes. The wolf female opened her mouth, but paused as she took in Kagome's face. She used that moment to wag her toothbrush.

"You're so darn interested in making me a bad guy. 'Why are you here, human? You're destroying everything, human.' I have done nothing wrong and yet you have a demon-sized chip on your shoulder because of it."

The wolf's eyes flashed red, and she stretched her body as if to pounce, but stopped at that imaginary barrier. Kagome smirked. She was beginning to like these wolf formalities.

"That is exactly it. You have done nothing for us, and therefore we owe you nothing. Do not think yourself special; any foreigner in our pack must earn their rights here. We give you lodging so you must return the favor to us in work or gifts."

"But I have helped your people! I've aided Kouga many times when he was hurt. We fought side to side against—"

"But what have you done for us?" the woman interrupted, "It is not enough that Kouga accept you for you have not proven yourself worthy to the pack. Not only have you done nothing but waste space, but you trudge right into our leader's room, lie across his furs, and he is not even here to say nay or ay to such arrangements." A tremble seized the wolf's form, the rustic red overlapping her pupils. "Sleeping here, being in this room, is you claiming dominance over my people. This is you slapping our faces."

Kagome's stomach puckered like she'd licked a lemon.

"That totally wasn't my intention," she mumbled, cutting her gaze from the floor and to the wolf.

The female sniffed, her chin raised.

"Be damned lucky it was me that decided to follow the call of the puny human. If I told them where you'd slept, as I had suspected you would sleep, they would challenge you. Other wolves would need two seconds to push down this stone, and only one more to swipe their claw across your throat."

Kagome shuddered. The ice had melted, fire curling and whispering in its place. What in the world had the boys gotten her into? Well, she couldn't blame them. They were likely doing what they thought Kouga would want. The only issue was that Kouga was not here to defend these said "wants." Well, no more.

It was either leave this den or dwell here, pulling her weight in the process. She could not force herself on the wolves. And even if Kouga could snap his fingers and keep her alive, he could never order their respect. For some reason, she felt unhappy to leave this place as a disrespectful human that mooched, slept, and left.

She set her shoulders. Respect must be built, but a pale, narrow girl has little muscle to flex, let alone to build anything. The wolf female mentioned gifts…well, what about the gift of knowledge? Kagome had first-hands experience of survival, but these were demons here. They knew how to thrive. But then again…Kagome cleared her throat to voice a feeble deal.

"If you don't hurt, maim, or kill me," Kagome said. "I will teach you some medicinal cures and herbs. You could use them for the injuries in your pack."

The female demon straightened slowly, but her fists remained taut. The red dissolved from her eyes, though, a crisped autumn leaf brown.

"We are demons, not soft-skinned humans. Injury isn't a common occurrence with us."

Kagome rolled her eyes at the woman's bluffing.

The other night at supper, she'd noticed some issues among the clan. Some of the brown wolves scratched and picked at inflamed patches on their furs, whining as they gnawed on dinner. She'd also heard snatches of conversation from some women who worried about a slow-healing wound their mates had, inflicted from a recent scrap with a poisonous snake. Kagome had mended both human and demon. From Kaede's good teaching, plus her advanced time period, she knew of healing, a whole forest full of cures. Pacing the imaginary line that separated the female from herself, Kagome worked out an offer.

"Listen, uh…you…"


Kagome nodded, clicking the name in her memory. "Shiyla. I have travelled, fought, and bled beside demons for years. Kouga, your leader, is one of these demons. Immortal or whatever, your people are not invincible. Cross the wrong path or get hurt bad enough and your kind will die just like any 'soft-skinned' human."

There was a tense moment. Distant chatter of wolves and bird song of early morning air. Kagome and Shiyla, eyes locked, challenge flaring in both sets. Shiyla's posture caved in after a long moment and with a dip of the chin, she sighed.

"I will agree to your help. However, you must teach all of our women and children your herbs and medicines. If not, I cannot guarantee your face will not graze my claws."

Rule number one of dealing with demons: never show your fear. Recalling this rule, Kagome held back on the gulp, squared her shoulders, and broke the invisible line to shake Shiyla's hand.

… … … …

Kagome lived for the simple things. Sleep was one of these things, which Kouga's bed had provided. Food another, something she would cling to this time so no wolves stole it from her. Then there was friendship, companionship. Does desiring good company fit into some unreasonable, superfluous category? Kagome pondered this as she pushed through the forest brush, female demons yapping behind her.

"Why is she taking us this far?"

"You sure the human knows what she is doing?"

"I am hungry!"

Kagome peered over her shoulder at the contorted faces of the female wolf demons. The children weaved between their parents, giggling and full of chatter, their attention on the nature and squirrels. Shiyla pulled to the head of the crowd and addressed the other wolves, silencing them.

"The human has agreed to share her skills in healing to make up for her intrusion. It is the least she can do, really, besides provide bone marrow for a delicious stew."

The women chuckled, shooting dark glances Kagome's way. Shiyla was drawing the red bull's eye on the back of Kagome's head, giving the women all the more reason to hate her. Hurt, maim, and kill obviously did not include harass. On another note, these wolf demons weren't serious when they crowed about eating her, were they? For the most part, they looked like her. So it was sort of cannibalism and demon wolves did not do that sort of thing. Right?

Thick trees shadowed the forest, clefts between the leaves speckling gold tinted light through the earthy path. Animal chatter, a gentle breeze, the light fragrance of dew…Kagome's shoes dug into thick soil as she walked. Lifting a finger, she tasted it, tested the air, and then followed the way of the wind. The ban of wolf demons followed, their snickers crawling against Kagome's shoulders, a weight to bare, rough grains of disapproval grating across soft, human skin.

Maybe friendship really was too much to ask for.

Kouga moved on the wind. Cloud light steps clipped against the stone cliffs, dust pebbling at his feet, leaving birds and moose in awe of the swift demon that leapt over the mountainside. He is back…the wind carried the news, demon to bird, bird to sky. The wolf clan leader is home. Howls joined the quiet chorus, carrying a welcome to Kouga's ears.

He grinned and gave a long howl in reply, his heart as light as his feet.

Almost there, boys.

He thrust himself into deeper cliffs, eager to meet the calls. The waterfall came to view, a clear stream glazing over rocks the same gray blue as storm clouds. The cliffs rose before his eyes, mounting and proud like a god, offering Kouga's people its thick shoulders as shelter. Naraku was gone and so the wolves' enemies now few, what with their long time threat Birds of paradise slaughtered as well. Any other beasts that they encountered would be training for the weaker wolves, exercise for the stronger ones.

Kouga skidded over grassy flatlands, peering up at his mountain. The wolves howled to him, tramping their pawed feet, tails swaying. His men were beside them on the cave's lip, spears raised to their leader. The picture would be complete if among the chaos of his rowdy wolves and men, was his mate, awaiting and missing him. That black haired woman with the breeze gentle eyes and breath catching smile. Twirling, he kicked up against the grasses then flung his body up towards the cave entrance. He wanted her so bad, the mate he claimed, that he tasted her scent in the air. He thought he'd caught it when he passed the forests bordering these cliffs, too. Shaking his head, he surged up, his feet dropping to the stone.

He was delusional, for Kagome was not there. She was likely travelling the countryside, or back at home, somewhere with that Inuyasha. Her scent was just a ghost, reminding him of what he would not have. He curled his fist, but pushed down his anger. Now was not the time to ponder how much he'd like to beat the gold out of that dog demon's eyes. The one man who Kagome actually looked at. Right now, his men and wolves circled him, called for his attention. He pulled lower ranking men from their bows and into quick embraces, bumping chests and clapping shoulders with his fellow warriors. Ginta and Hakkaku headed over as well, grins breaking across their faces. The yelps of the wolves provided the percussion to the cheers and welcomes. His men blasted him in questions about Naraku, begging for a piece of his part in the take down. He could hardly answer one without being prompted to respond to another.

But first things first, much needed orders.

"Go bathe, all of you. People will think I run a bunch of wolves up here."

Chuckles floated over the mountains as the wolves launched themselves off the mountainside, howling as they dove into the stream below. Kouga shook out his bonded hair, a smile at his lips. Despite the funk rolling from the cave entrance, this was definitely home. He stretched out those long legs, ambling towards the cave mouth. Steps followed him, and from the hustled, unsure steps, he knew it was his right hand men, Ginta and Hakkaku.

"Kouga, we should tell you— "

Kouga stopped Ginta and Hakkaku with a hand.

"Hold those thoughts. I need some time alone."

"Okay..." they said, snickering as they flipped themselves off the Cliffside.

Kouga raised a brow, then turned back to the cave. He inhaled, nose twitching as it sorted out the scents. Stone and fresh water, the presence of his people, and that fragrant hint of Kagome that still would not leave him alone…

More steps and the cave's main hall swallowed him. Torches drew the room in a mellow light, revealing the fire pits, stone ledges, and stools. Among it all were bone piles, animal parts, and oily stains marring the earth. Just what have his men been doing with themselves in his absence? At least they knew to save the bones. He would set them to work on fresh armor and toys for the youngsters. The discarded meat and filth needed cleaning, though. Someone needed to scrub away that stink.

He moved forward, heading left. He sniffed hard on his way down the foyer. Oh, damn, how that deceitful aroma stretched over the foyer's stink, a honey balm over raw wounds. Kagome was everywhere, her smell painted on the walls, the floors, seeming to trail down the hall as he strode forwards, a sweet wind floating from his bedroom…

Kouga eyes sharpened. He was no fool. The foreign scent, like fruity syrup was there…even his mind could not shape it to this strength and perfection. It was so clear, so strong, that she almost materialized before him. That elegant lean form swathed in her green, white clothing. Hair always free, framing her face like gentle hands. Kouga stomped down the hall, no longer patient. Reaching his door, he shoved aside the rock barricade with his outspread palm.

Kouga's mouth slid open like the gaping lips of a clam shell. He tripped over his unmoving feet, catching himself on the rock wall. His own scent was a mere hello against Kagome's singing aroma. Stone and forest met fruit and maple. His smells and Kagome's, entangled like lovers. Her bags were pushed against one of his stone storage holders, leaning against a silver sword.

'Her things touching mine. My scent, eating hers. My woman in my room. And the bed…'

His furs were ruffled and disturbed. Kouga approached them, leaned forward, inhaled. Ah, yes. She had lain here, too. And from how every inch of the furs had her scented mark on them, that body of hers had definitely entangled themselves in these pelts. He imagined those peach pale legs squeezing his blanketing; regret pinching him that it wasn't him that those legs were squeezing…

He shook out his head, slick hair slapping the sides of his face and leaving a bit of dirt. He can hardly complain about his boys' filth when he needed a good bathing himself. Traveling day and night didn't always bless him with a convenient lake to water down in. Kouga slipped the bind from his hair, black locks tumbling at his back. One by one, he removed his gear, armor plate, sword, and finally the furs that bond his waist.

He stood naked, his open ceiling ghosting him in daylight. As the sun stroked his skin, he looked around his space, eyes narrowed. Even though her scent was strong, it was hours old. The areas of the cave were even fainter. Just where could she be? Perhaps that was what Ginta and Hakkaku were trying to tell him. That his woman was here? That maybe…she dumped the dog and was giving him a try? No...never.

Well, he would bathe first, question his men, and then find her. Heading towards another stone barricade from within his room, he pushed it aside and stepped into an open landscape. Steam clutched the earth, billowing from many hot springs. No one was there, as expected. Besides himself, women and children only used it. No warrior wished to be caught as "soft" lounging in the hot springs when there was a chilly stream to dive into. Kouga never corrected their hard-edged warrior mindsets.

Kouga slipped into the closest hot spring, hissing as the water bubbled around his form. His tanned skin went ruddy under the temperature, shocking awareness to his limbs. Running a hand across his muscled chest, he stroked the skin absentmindedly, his thoughts roasting a delicious dream of him and Kagome, here in this hot spring, together.

Kouga groaned, shifting within the waters. She would be shy, covering her delicate body parts with arms and hands. And he would pull her into the lap, her back against his chest so her form faced away. Not being nose to nose would soften at least some of her nerves. His lips would then caress the subtle skin of her neck and his hands would work across the slick flesh of her belly. He would clean his woman, care for his woman, then one day, when it was right, dry her off and carry her back to his bed to unite with his woman.

He fell into a trance in this way, eyes half-mast, hands running circles over his chest. Steam bubbled from the hot springs, thick as a creamy soap. As the fog grew thicker, he let his gaze slip farther and his hand crawl lower, deep beneath clotted waters…

The trees grew close here. Darkness licked the forest, the leaves and branches crushed so tight that Kagome's hands became her eyes, and her tripping feet the only warning against fallen logs and muddy puddles. The wolf women allowed Kagome to trip her way through the lead, seeing no reason to help. Their bags were already brimming with herbs to heal rashes and saps to cool burns. They needed just one more plant, a berry shrub that Kaede called Demonberries. The leaves, crushed with liquid and applied to the spot of injury, would stall the spread of any demon poisoning. For human and demons, the medicine could mean life or death. They grew in rare patches though, and with the trees blackening the forest into mere shadows, shapes, and noises, Kagome didn't see any hope to find them alone. The demons had sharp eyes, though. Judging from their giggles as Kagome flipped over another fallen branch, It was obviously they had a good view.

She groaned, twisting around to glare at their shadowed faces.

"I am not crawling around this forest for my benefit, remember. This is for you. Now, instead of laughing at me, try and help me find this berry tree."

"Ugh," a female said. "We are helping. I haven't seen one berry bush."

"What does it look like again?" another asked.

Kagome ticked off the traits with her fingers.

"The leaves have a dark green coloring, like spinach. They're jagged edged and resemble poison ivy. And the berries are a pale beige color, with red dots in the center…"

"Oy! Found them!"

Kagome turned. The shape of a child stood about twenty steps ahead. She hovered over a fat shrubbery, the whites of her big, green eyes glowing within the dim forest. The child plucked something from the bush, inspecting it. Wariness lumped in Kagome's throat. As much as the leaves could heal poison, the Demonberries themselves were poisonous.

"Don't eat that..." She said, already heading forward.

Too late.

The child popped the berry in her mouth, chewed, then swallowed hard. Her face crumbled. A nasty taste accompanied demonberries, a warning to all creatures that if you aren't a strong beast yourself, the berries will be your last meal.

"No," Kagome said, "No!" Her voice stretching over the trees. Birds went silent.

Even a demon child's body was not conditioned enough to ward off such poison. And from the stealthy poison of these berries, there would be little time to crush the leaves into a healing pulp. Kagome's heart collapsed.

This child could die.

Her basket of herbs plunged to the earth, spilling to her feet. The chatter of the wolf females was nothing, for her body had flipped to concentration mode, her ears cutting out all sensations, filling her ears with static. Her sights were only for the little child, clutching her wrists, trembling with green eyes wide. Kagome moved like a flash, even faster than the wolf women that now hurried after her, crying out and fussing. Kagome had the child in her grasp, slapping the rest of the berries from her hands.

"You have to purge them," she said. "Now."

The child backed away from Kagome, her head shaking.

"I do not...I don't…"

"Rosella!" A female clutched the child, rattling her.

"Do not shake her! You'll spread the poison. Get her to purge those berries." Kagome said this all in a breath. Her skin had gone damp, perspiration beading beneath her bangs.

The woman just stood there, clutching Rosella. Kagome stuck her finger into the woman's chest.


The woman flinched, then obliged, bending her child and getting her to dispose of the berries. Kagome tripped over to the bush. Shiyla was already there, yanking off the sharp leaves with the help of other women. When Kagome arrived, Shiyla looked up, eyes stretching wide over her face, not a trace of arrogance or taunting in her gaze. Tears whispered at the backs of Kagome's eyes, sheeting her gaze with wetness. If only tears were enough to save this child. She touched Shiyla's shoulder, then turned away, sweeping her arms towards the other women.

"Find water, mud, anything. We need a paste."