Madison sighed as she hurried up the wide stone steps onto the Zelig family’s front porch. If she had been thinking a little more clearly earlier, she would have remembered that she’d left her cell phone on Valerie’s nightstand. As it was, she’d been home in the middle of cleaning guns with her father when Shar, one of the girls at her main salon, had called her parents’ house phone, grumbling about being out of a certain brand of conditioner, and just why wasn’t Madison answering her cell?
Her father hadn’t done more than offer a distracted little grunt when she said that she’d left the device in Valerie’s bedroom and that she was going to go over there to pick it up.
‘Are you sure you’re just not looking for a reason to go back?’
Wrinkling her nose at her youkai voice, Madison shook her head and squared her shoulders before raising her hand to knock. ‘Don’t be ridiculous. What other reason could there possibly be?’
‘Oh, I don’t know . . . a mysterious stranger that you ran down on the stairs, maybe?’
Madison could feel her cheeks heat up as she shrugged. ‘That’s just ludicrous. I don’t even know him; at least, not really.’
‘But that doesn’t mean you can’t get to know him, does it?’
‘Ignoring you now,’ she thought with an indelicate snort as she drew her hand back to knock.
She didn’t get a chance to do it. The door swung open, and she stepped back just in time to avoid colliding with a very angry looking Mikio, who didn’t seem to have noticed her standing there. Realizing a little too late, he jerked back and pulled himself up short, using his hand on the door to steady himself.
Madison swallowed hard, ignoring the way her heart lurched in her chest as she smiled a little timidly and cleared her throat. “Hi again.”
He blinked once, twice, left ear twitching horribly, and for a moment, Madison wondered if he could really be that agitated. “H-Hi,” he stammered.
“I forgot my cell phone,” she explained quietly.
Mikio didn’t appear to have heard her. The anger that flashed in his eyes dissipated, leaving behind a curious sense of wonder as he stared at her.
“Can I come in?”
She giggled then sighed as she slowly shook her head. “Are you okay?”
He seemed taken aback at her question, and he blinked in relative confusion for a moment before opening and closing his mouth a few times, as though he were at a loss for words. “What? Oh . . . yeah . . . fine.”
Biting her lip, Madison wondered if she hadn’t overstepped her boundaries, if she weren’t being just a little too intrusive for his liking. “I’m sorry. You just looked a little . . . upset.”
“It’s nothing,” he insisted, waving off her concern despite the hint of irritation that had resurfaced in his expression.
She wasn’t entirely convinced, but she didn’t push it, either. Reminding herself that she really didn’t know him well enough to ask such personal questions, Madison shrugged and nodded toward the doorway he was blocking. “So . . . may I get my cell phone?”
Mikio’s cheeks pinked as he realized that he was in her way, and he quickly stepped back. Grimacing as his face lost much of its color, he caught hold of the doorframe again, so tightly that his knuckles turned white. Madison didn’t think. Stepping toward him, steadying his elbow, it was her turn to blink in surprise when he shot her a weary, shy smile—wan at best, but so completely endearing that, for a moment, she couldn’t think of a single thing—not even her own name.
“You’re not okay, are you?” she finally asked, her voice quiet, as though speaking in a normal tone might hurt him.
He grimaced and leaned heavily against the wall. “Airplanes . . .” he managed, closing his eyes.
It took her a moment to interpret his reply. Then she recalled Evan mentioning before that Mikio tended to have more trouble than the rest of them in coping with the strains of air travel—something to do with the rapidly changing air pressure, and it made sense. “The airplane? Oh . . . I’m sorry . . .”
“I’m fine,” he grumbled, cheeks finally pinking up again, and even though the color obviously stemmed from acute embarrassment, Madison couldn’t help but feel relieved.
Even so, she also couldn’t help but sympathize with him, too. Of course he would want to be here for his nephew’s wedding, but if traveling affected him so badly . . . Well, it had to be frustrating, to say the least . . . “Maybe you should go for a walk or something? Fresh air . . . I could go find Gin . . . or your mother . . . she’s here, right?”
Mikio grabbed her wrist as Madison whipped around to find Kagome. “Not her,” he hissed, his whisper imploring as his eyes met hers. “Not Mama.” He grimaced and let go of Madison’s wrist. “Please.”
Madison frowned in confusion but nodded. “All right,” she agreed slowly. “If you’re sure . . .”
Swallowing hard, he squeezed his eyes closed for a second before managing another weak smile. “You’re right. Fresh air. I think that’d help.”
“Okay . . .”
He pushed himself away from the wall, his movements stilted, almost mechanical. He took a few steps onto the porch but stopped suddenly and glanced over his shoulder. “You . . . would you come with me?”
Madison didn’t think twice. Pulling the door closed behind herself, she fell in step beside Mikio as the hanyou shuffled down the steps onto the flagstone sidewalk.
“Is that why you don’t come here to visit as often as everyone else? Because of the airplanes?”
Mikio shot her an inscrutable glance as he stuffed his hands deep in his pockets and shrugged. “Sort of.”
“I mean, I’ve been friends with Evan for . . . forever, I guess . . . and I don’t remember seeing you, other than the couple times when I was still pretty young . . . and at Bas and Sydnie’s wedding . . .”
“I hate flying,” he remarked. “That’s all.”
“You’re a lot quieter than your brothers.”
He paused mid-stride for only a moment, his back stiffening almost imperceptibly, as though her question was more of an accusation than an observation. “Is that bad?”
She laughed, remembering the outrageous things that she’d heard over the years; the stories about the Izayoi twins. “Not necessarily.”
“I’m not really like them,” he explained quietly. “I’m not really like anyone, I guess.”
Madison nodded as the pebbly ground gave way to the finer sand near the ocean. “There’s nothing wrong with that,” she pointed out with a gentle smile. “Granted, I don’t have much room to talk, given that Evan is one of my best friends, but I have to admit that there are things I wish hadn’t happened—and most of those were his idea. I just went along for the ride.”
“So Evan’s the instigator,” he replied with a curt nod, as though that made perfect sense.
“Well, maybe not entirely,” Madison admitted. “But the things that normally ended up badly for me usually were.”
“Sounds like what aniki and Kichiro-nii say about their exploits.”
She smiled to herself at perceived cuteness in the way that Mikio referred to his brothers. “Too bad those are some of the best stories,” she went on to say. “Don’t tell Evan I said that, though.”
“Understood,” he said with a curt nod and an overly-serious expression. Then he sighed and shook his head. “I guess sometimes I wish . . . I wish I was more like them . . .” He uttered a short chuckle that was almost sad. “Well, sometimes, anyway . . . I don’t think I’d want to get into trouble like they did . . .”
Mikio took a few more steps before sinking down to stare at the sky over the water. Something about him seemed so . . . almost melancholy that Madison bit her lip and frowned. For some reason, she didn’t really feel like she could ask him why he seemed so upset, so she figured that the next-best course of action would be to see if she could make him laugh, instead . . . “If it makes you feel any better, the first time Evan took me out on his motorcycle, I ended up puking off the Brooklyn Bridge.”
He shot her a quizzical glance and then uttered a terse laugh. “You did?”
She made a face as she sat, cross legged, beside him. “Might have been because he insisted on seeing just how fast he could make the thing go. I thought he was going to kill himself or me—maybe both. He’s sort of an ass that way.”
Her story had done the trick, and Mikio still looked amused when he asked, “How’d you meet him?”
She laughed as she considered that question. Easy enough to say that she’d known Evan for so long that she didn’t really remember not knowing him, but everything had to start somewhere, didn’t it? And she’d heard the stories often enough, even if she was a little young at the time and didn’t rightfully remember it completely anymore. “Mom brought me over. I was three, I think . . . he threw my doll into a tree and got stuck when he climbed up after it.”
He thought about that for a moment then shrugged off-handedly. “Maybe you should have left him up there.”
Madison grinned. “That’s what Cain said.”
Mikio started to say something but stopped, as though something had just occurred to him, and he slowly shook his head. “Wait . . . you’re the one he was telling me about, right? The one he set the dog loose with?”
Madison groaned. In one of his moments of bored inspiration, Evan had rigged up a harness for his dog, Fugly, and he’d gotten Madison to sit on the little sled, strapped in so that she wouldn’t fall out, just before he’d set off a string of fire crackers to galvanize the animal into action. It had taken almost an hour to get Fugly to stop running—and yipping—and to this day, Madison wasn’t quite sure how Evan had ever talked her into that stunt . . .
“Yeah, that was me,” she confessed.
“Evan bragged about that for a year,” Mikio remarked with a slow shake of his head.
“Figures. I’m not sure why I stayed friends with him.”
“Looking into becoming a saint?”
Madison giggled at the teasing tone in his voice. “A saint? Oh, I don’t think that’d ever happen . . .”
She ducked her chin. “Well, let’s just say that I doubt I’d meet the requirements.”
Taking his time as he slowly rolled up the cuffs of his long sleeved white dress shirt, Mikio didn’t speak. Madison smiled, noting the deliberateness of his movements, the almost lethargic sense that surrounded him. Even the shadows that fell on him in the darkness of the night didn’t quite seem to affect him in a normal way. Maybe it was simply because, dressed in khaki slacks and the white shirt with his silvery hair and pale skin, he almost seemed to glow.
Snorting at her own whimsical thoughts, Madison shook her head and sighed. ‘He’s just a guy . . . just like every other guy, right? He’s wrapped up in a nice package, sure, but in the end, he’s just the same, isn’t he?’
‘When did you get so cynical?’
Madison shifted her gaze out over the expanse of water in the moonlight. ‘Maybe I am . . .’
“You live around here?”
Blinking as she cleared her mind and stole a glance back at Mikio only to find him staring off in the same direction she had been just moments before, Madison cleared her throat. “My mom and dad do. I normally live in New York City.”
He grinned a little, lopsided, shy sort of grin. “You strike me as a metropolitan girl.”
He shrugged, his gaze shifting to meet hers though he didn’t turn his head. “Polished, I guess . . . do you even own a pair of jeans?”
Glancing down at the short black suede skirt and matching suede thigh high, stiletto heeled boots, Madison laughed. “What are jeans?” she joked.
He chuckled, too—an entirely pleasant sound.
“So what do you do for a living?” she asked, bending her knees and weaving her fingers together under her legs.
“Me? I’m a lawyer,” he replied.
“Oh, I’m so sorry.”
He seemed genuinely confused by her apology. “Sorry?”
She giggled. “They say lawyers are boring, is all. Then again, Valerie’s a lawyer, and she’s not boring . . . of course, that might be because I try to save her from herself, but I’m not sure . . .”
He chuckled softly. “I see.”
“So are you?”
“Am I, what?”
“Are you boring?”
“You mean you don’t have anyone to save you from yourself?”
“Nope,” he chuckled. “I turn them all boring, too.”
She laughed. “Somehow I doubt that.”
“Well . . .”
“Are you feeling better now?”
Madison could have kicked herself for having said that. The easy laughter died away, and he cleared his throat as his gaze fell to the sand around his feet. The random twitching in his ear hadn’t gone away though it had diminished somewhat. He checked his watch, holding down the little switch that made the front glow in a pleasant aqua color, and winced. “It’s nearly midnight,” he told her.
Madison frowned as she stared at the hanyou. “Why don’t you have a concealment on?” she blurted before she could think about it. True, when youkai gathered, concealments weren’t necessary, but since the wedding would involve some humans—mostly Valerie’s guests—everyone would have to remember to hide their youkai attributes before the guests arrived.
Mikio reached up, touched his ears, blushed as when he realized that she could see them. “Oh, I, uh . . . it must have slipped.
“Yeah . . . sorry about that,” Madison apologized again. Tumbling down a staircase, she supposed, would be a big enough shock to loosen the concealment, and she’d seen his ears then, too.
“The stairs,” she admitted as he stood up and brushed himself off before offering her a hand to help her to her feet. Ordinarily she’d ignore such an archaic gesture of chivalry. She slipped her hand into his and let him help her.
“Oh, that,” he mumbled. “Not the first time I’ve fallen down the stairs.”
Something about his quiet admission made Madison stop for a moment. He seemed almost angry . . . or was he more . . . resigned? ‘Strange,’ she thought. ‘Strange, indeed . . .’
“Looks like Evan’s at it again,” Madison remarked as the two neared the mansion.
Mikio sighed then shook his head. “He’ll never learn.”
“Of course not. I told V there’s no way he’d give up so easily. She’s probably upstairs laughing at him. I would be . . .”
“He was here earlier,” Mikio supplied, stopping to watch the entertainment. Cain was standing on Valerie’s balcony, leaning over the railing to watch as Bas and Gavin tackled Evan to keep him from trying to climb up. Gunnar ran around the side of the house, hollering something about impatient grooms with Morio close on his heels. Mikio laughed.
“That’s just shameful,” Madison remarked but laughed anyway.
“He ought to give up. I think Zelig-san’s going to sit outside Valerie’s door all night.”
“You think so?”
Mikio nodded. “Papa says it’s because Zelig-san was forced to sleep at Kichiro-nii’s house before his wedding . . . if he had to suffer, so do his sons.”
“You mean there’s a method to the madness?”
“So it would seem.”
Madison laughed and reluctantly made a face. “Thanks for the walk, Mikio. I think I’ll check on Valerie, grab my phone, and head home. I’ll see you tomorrow, right?”
He blinked and shook his head. “Tomorrow?”
“Yes, tomorrow . . . the wedding?”
“Oh, yes, that . . . okay.”
Madison turned to leave but stopped when the resistance in her arm brought her up short. She was still holding Mikio’s hand. Letting go with a mumbled apology, she crossed her arms over her chest and hurried toward the mansion, willing herself not to blush as she stepped into the light spilling through the windows from the great glass doors. Drawing a deep breath, she pushed the doors open and strolled into the house, unaware of the bright golden eyes that watched her hasty retreat.
“I almost feel sorry for Evan,” Valerie commented without turning away from the window when Madison slipped into her room. Staring down at the spectacle that resembled a football game, she was smiling as she shook her head and sighed. “Almost.”
“He’s earned it,” Madison agreed, grabbing her cell phone before wandering over to grimace at the pile of bodies wiggling around on the yard below. “That just looks wrong.”
“It does, doesn’t it? I figured you’d be back for your cell.”
“Uh oh . . . looks like they’ve gotten caught,” Madison mused as InuYasha, with Toga and Ryomaru in tow, stomped into view. The hanyou reached down to yank someone to his feet. He got pulled into the fray, too. Minutes later, the mass of dogs in the pile had grown. Madison caught sight of Cain on the balcony. The youkai shook his head and sat back in a plastic lawn chair, kicking his feet up on the railing as he knotted his hands together behind his neck. If she didn’t know better, she’d swear he was grinning, though it was impossible to tell for certain.
“I’ve got to hear this,” Valerie said, nimble fingers working the lock before she pushed the window open.
Madison wrinkled her nose at the hot air that invaded the air-conditioned room but she leaned forward to listen, too.
“Will you let go, damn it!” InuYasha snarled at someone.
“Oi, jiji! That’s me!” Ryomaru growled back.
“Then get the hell outta my way!”
“All right, whoever’s got their hand on my ass had better move it . . .” Morio growled.
“That’s your ass? Damn, it’s fucking huge!” Evan scoffed.
“Baka, you’re not going to make it to your own wedding if you don’t move your kami-forsaken hand!”
“That has to be one of the strangest families I’ve ever met,” Madison remarked as she pushed on the window sill, rising up to peer over Valerie’s head toward the beach . . . toward the place where she’d left Mikio standing. He was still there, hands in pockets, and while she couldn’t see his face where he stood, she had the feeling that he, too, was laughing.
“I’m sure everyone thinks that about their future in-laws,” Valerie replied. “It’ll be no different for you.”
“Don’t curse me,” Madison said.
“Curse you? So I didn’t see you walking up from the beach with Evan’s uncle?”
Madison snorted and turned around. “Well, look! I found my cell phone, and I think I’ll be going now.”
“You’re such a chicken,” Valerie pointed out.
“I am not. You’re just crazy. I think your wedding dress is a little too tight. It’s been cutting off the oxygen supply to your brain.”
“He’s not really your type, is he?” Valerie pressed, giving up all pretenses about watching the scuffle in the yard below as she peeked over her shoulder.
“What do you mean?” Madison asked, unable to repress the hint of defensiveness in her tone as she slowly turned to face Valerie again.
Valerie waved a hand dismissively. “Just not that flashy, you know? He’s like . . . the anti-rockstar.”
Tuning away from the window, Valerie crossed her arms over her chest and leaned against the frame. “So?”
Eyes sparkling as she grinned at her friend, Valerie shrugged in a show of deliberate nonchalance. “So was holding his hand nice, too?”
Madison whipped around before Valerie got a chance to see the heightened color in her skin. “You’ve lost your mind,” she grumbled.
“Details, Maddy! Did you kiss him?”
“Night, V,” she grumbled as she reached for the doorknob and gave it a rather vicious twist.
“Was it nice?”
“I wouldn’t know because I didn’t kiss him,” Maddy shot back.
“It’s not too late to find another maid of honor,” she tossed over her shoulder as she closed the door behind her. She could hear the muffled sound of Valerie’s soft laughter and grimaced.
“He’s not really your type, is he?”
Scowling as she strode down the hallway to the staircase, she sighed. ‘No,’ she agreed, smiling sadly at the memory of the way he’d looked, sitting on the beach in the moonlight. ‘He’s really not my type at all . . .’
“Kami, that was harsh.”
Mikio chuckled as Morio flopped onto his back in the grass beside him. “Evan finally give up?”
Morio shot him a dark look. “Are you kidding?”
Mikio shrugged. “You’d think he would.”
“You’d think . . .”
Leaning up on his elbows, Morio let his head fall back to gaze up at the stars. “So why are you out here instead of inside with everyone else?”
Mikio sighed and idly fingered his left ear. “Just . . . quieter.”
“So . . . I noticed you were talking to that girl . . . umm . . .” Morio asked, rolling his hand in an effort to remember the name in question then snapping his fingers when it apparently came to him. “Madison, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah,” he agreed then grimaced, glancing around in a decidedly nervous sort of way. “Did . . . anyone else notice?”
Morio nodded. “Nope . . . Don’t worry . . . In all the chaos, I’m pretty sure that no one else saw the two of you together. They were kind of busy at the time.”
Mikio nodded. “Good.”
“She’s a sweet girl . . . a little wild, but nice enough.”
Morio shrugged. “Well, she is Evan’s friend.”
“I see.” He tugged a handful of grass and watched as the blades slipped through his fingers only to fall softly back to earth again. “She’s . . . pretty . . . don’t you think?”
“Maddy? Sure . . . yeah . . .”
Mikio grimaced as the first rumble of faraway thunder rumbled in the air. “You, uh . . . think . . . she and Evan . . .?”
Morio sat up, scratching the back of his neck as he considered Mikio’s question. “I don’t know . . . does it matter?”
Mikio wrinkled his nose as he fought down a furious blush and shook his head. “No . . . no . . . I just wondered.”
Morio sighed. “You’d be hard-pressed to find a virgin in this day and age, especially among youkai. Thank your brother for that, I guess . . .”
Scowling at the rapidly clouding sky, Mikio nodded. “I know. It’s not . . . I’m not interested; I just . . .” He trailed off with a wince. “Yeah.”
He could feel Morio staring at him, even if he stubbornly refused to look for confirmation. “Not interested, huh?”
Morio chuckled. “Mikio, it’s okay be interested. Any single man with a pulse would be interested in a girl who looks like Madison Cartham.”
That comment didn’t actually comfort Mikio; not at all. The first droplets of rain hit his face, his bared arms. “It doesn’t matter. I’m going back home in a couple days, anyway.”
Morio sighed and slowly got to his feet. “‘Course you are.”
Mikio shrugged. “And she . . . she’ll go back to New York City. That’s where she said she lives.”
Stuffing his hands into his pockets, Morio flicked his ears to shake off the descending moisture. “Mhmm.”
“So I won’t see her again after the wedding.”
“Unless I went to the city, and why would I do that?”
Wisely stifling his amusement behind a well-placed cough, Morio shrugged. “No need to convince me, Mikio.”
“Unless it isn’t me you’re trying to convince.”
Mikio didn’t answer as Morio shuffled back toward the mansion. He was lost in contemplation of the girl with the violet eyes.
Final Thought from Morio:
Violet eyes …
Blanket disclaimer for this fanfic (will apply to this and all other chapters in Anomaly): I do not claim any rights to InuYasha or the characters associated with the anime/manga. Those rights belong to Rumiko Takahashi, et al. I do offer my thanks to her for creating such vivid characters for me to terrorize.