A/N: This one-shot fits into the time line between the original Purity and Purity 2: Defiance …
~~A Purity One-Shot~~
~The Most Formidable Foe~
Kagome crossed her arms over her chest and pressed her lips together in a thin line, reminding herself for the thousandth time that she needed to stay calm. The stance was mirrored by ten-year-old Kichiro, who stood beside his mother with a thoughtful scowl that reminded her of a very small version of InuYasha. “I don’t like the looks of this,” Kichiro commented gravely.
“Now, now . . . your father can do it,” Kagome reassured him though she couldn’t help but worry at her bottom lip as a rather vicious snarl erupted from low in InuYasha’s throat.
“The curvy thing goes on the other end,” Ryomaru, Kichiro’s twin brother, remarked from where he sat atop the boulder that jutted out over the pond in the Izayoi’s backyard. His best friend—a girl named Deirdre who answered to the moniker of ‘Nezumi’—swatted Ryomaru’s hand away as he snatched single hairs on her head and yanked them free.
“You wanna do this?” InuYasha grumbled, turning the rear fender of the bicycle over in his hands and scowling at it as though he thought it was going to bite him.
“Nope. You’re doing a awesome job,” Ryomaru assured him.
“‘An’ awesome job,” Kichiro corrected.
“What he said,” Ryomaru agreed, snatching yet another strand of Nezumi’s hair.
“Ryomaru, be nice,” Kagome chided automatically without taking her eyes off the hanyou she called her husband. InuYasha’s scowl had darkened into a near mutinous glower, and he looked like he was ready to lose whatever was left of his short temper. “We could take that one back and get the one that was already put together,” she suggested in what she hoped was a bright tone.
InuYasha shot her a withering glare. “The other one was blue, wench. You didn’t want blue. You wanted pink.”
“Well, Gin loves pink . . .”
“That’s because she’s a girl,” Ryomaru said, leaning to the side to avoid Deirdre’s flying fist.
“I’m a girl, and I don’t like pink,” Nezumi ventured as she pulled her ponytail apart to tighten it against her head and knocking Ryomaru’s hand away at the same time.
“You’re not a natural girl,” Kichiro commented. “I mean, look who you hang out with.”
“Oi! She hangs out with you, too, baka,” Ryomaru reminded him.
Kagome rolled her eyes but smiled. “All right, you two . . .” she began in a warning tone.
Kichiro snorted and darted off toward the trees.
“Oi! Where are you going?” InuYasha called after his son.
Kichiro stopped long enough to peer back over his shoulder before running into the forest. “I’m going to the shrine!”
“C’mon, Nez! I just got that new racing game,” Ryomaru said, hopping down off the boulder and landing lightly on the ground. “I’ll kick your ass!”
“Ryomaru, we don’t say that word,” Kagome reminded him.
InuYasha shorted. “You might not say that word, but I say it often enough,” he mumbled, grasping the shining handle bars of the bicycle and tugging at them.
“And that’s no reason for my ten year old sons to be repeating it,” she grumbled.
“Keh! Reason enough. They’re boys, ain’t they?”
Kagome wrinkled her nose, staring after Ryomaru and Nezumi to make sure they closed the sliding door. “They’re your boys,” she shot back.
“’Zactly!” He grunted seconds before a very loud, very obnoxious snapping sound echoed through the clearing, and ever-so-slowly, Kagome swiveled around to assess the damage. “Well, damn. This one wasn’t very sturdy,” he remarked, frowning at the two pieces of handle bars he held in his hands.
“InuYasha . . .” Kagome began in a warning tone as she balled her fists at her sides and slowly started toward him.
InuYasha glanced up in time to see her approach, an odd look of alarm entering his bright golden eyes as he quickly leaned away from her. “K-Kagome . . .?”
“What is it with you and bicycles? Can’t you ever touch them without breaking them? It’s your daughter’s fifth birthday, and all she wanted was a bicycle! That’s all she’s wanted for the last six months: a pretty pink bicycle with streamers on the handlebars and a basket on the front, and you broke it! What’s the matter with you?” she bellowed.
“Relax, Kagome! I can fix this,” he assured her.
“Osuwari!” Kagome yelled, her face reddening as her temper snapped.
InuYasha’s expression shifted into one of abject panic for a split second before he broke into a smug grin and crossed his arms over his chest. “That don’t work anymore,” he goaded.
“Doesn’t hurt to try,” she grumbled. He snorted loudly while she rolled her eyes and threw her hands up in inconsolable defeat. “Come on, dog-boy,” she said, reaching for his arm and dragging him toward the house.
“And just where do you think you’re taking me?” he demanded.
“To the store,” she informed him without stopping. “We’re buying one that’s already put together. Now move it.”
“Keh!” InuYasha snorted, glowering back at the unassembled bicycle still littering the yard. “I can do this. It ain’t a big deal! Besides, they didn’t have a pink one already put together, remember?”
Rubbing her forehead, Kagome winced. “You could read the instructions,” she remarked.
He opened his mouth to argue with her but snapped it closed again when she narrowed her eyes at him. “Yeah, all right . . .”
She heaved a sigh and nodded, relenting despite her better judgment. “Fine . . . you work on that, and I’ll go see if I can buy just the handlebars . . .”
InuYasha snorted again, stomping back over to the pieces of bicycle to resume his task.
‘Please don’t let him mangle it,’ Kagome prayed as she stepped into the house to grab her purse with flashbacks of the bicycle he’d tried to help her ‘fix’ years ago firmly entrenched in her brain. ‘Please . . .’
“. . . Please . . .?”
“. . . No.”
Inutaisho Toga heaved a heavy sigh and wrinkled his nose, striding across the perfectly manicured lawn on the family estate as he tried to shake off the stubborn child who wouldn’t let go of a singular idea. “For the last time, Gin, I said no.”
“Just for a minute?”
He didn’t have to glance back at her to know that she was probably pouting. The girl was just too accustomed to getting her way, wasn’t she? He was better off not looking. He knew he was. Still he made the oftentimes fatal mistake of peeking over his shoulder at her, only to grimace and stop short when he saw . . . it: the formidable flattening-of-the-hanyou-ears, and the kicker? The girl had no idea just why everyone tended to give in to her . . . thank kami . . .
“Gin,” he began with a long-suffering sigh as he hunkered down before the child and grasped her shoulders. “Look, you have to understand that I can’t go around transforming into dog form just because you want to see it. Don’t you think that someone would notice a huge, black dog in the neighborhood?” he asked reasonably.
She nodded slowly though she didn’t look like she wanted to admit any such thing. “I wish I could transform,” she muttered, her ears flattening just a little bit more and drawing a distinct grimace from her older cousin.
“What? Are you kidding?” Toga teased, hoping that he could appease the child since he absolutely could not—could not—transform just to satisfy her curiosity. “If you were full youkai, you wouldn’t have those cute ears of yours.”
“Aww, Gin, sweetie, come here,” Inutaisho Aiko said as she stepped off the patio onto the path behind them. “Is Toga-chan being mean to you?”
Gin sniffled and shook her head, her ears twisting out to the sides like a puppy that had been caught chewing on her master’s slippers. Toga snorted indelicately at the meticulously placed ‘chan’ Aiko had added to his name—an ‘endearment’ meant to irritate him, no doubt. “No . . .” she said slowly.
Aiko didn’t even try to hide her amusement as she scooped Gin up and settled the girl against her shoulder, gazing over her head at him in such a way that he knew she was about to try to guilt him. He opened his mouth to defend himself. Aiko was faster. “Inutaisho Toga, you ought to be ashamed of yourself! Upsetting your baby cousin like this! What would Uncle Inu say if he saw her with her ears all droopy like that?” she scolded.
Gin sniffled for good measure.
Toga grimaced. “Forget it, Aiko; I’m not giving in,” he grumbled, spinning about on his heel to stomp away before his sister made him feel even worse.
“I’m sorry, Gin,” Aiko crooned as the girl sniffled, much to Toga’s dismay. “Toga’s right. He shouldn’t go around transforming for no reason at all.”
He stopped mid-stride and swung around, his eyebrows disappearing under the glossy black bangs that fringed his face. “There, see? Even Aiko doesn’t think it’s a good—”
“Then again,” Aiko went on, interrupting Toga without sparing him so much as a glance, “it is your birthday, isn’t it? It’s not every day that you turn five whole years old . . .”
Snapping his mouth closed as indignant color surged just below the surface of his skin, Toga narrowed his eyes at his troublesome sibling and slowly shook his head.
Gin pulled the two fingers she’d been sucking on out of her mouth and spread her hand open wide. “Five,” she said solemnly, wide golden eyes turning to stare sadly at Toga. “I’m one hand old now.”
Aiko smiled sweetly at her brother and leaned in to speak to Gin once more. “Gin . . . why don’t you tell Toga what you want for your birthday? Your one and only wish?”
Gin thought it over and blinked as she considered her answer to that question before hesitantly lifting her gaze to Toga once more. “I just want to see Toga-inu,” she said earnestly.
Toga heaved a sigh, staring at his cousin for a long moment before grumbling under his breath about demented siblings and puppy-ears as he brushed past the two and headed into the mansion to retrieve the Mokomoko-sama that he’d need in order to fully transform.
Aiko’s laughter floated on the spring breeze after him, and he gritted his teeth. ‘It’s those ears,’ he thought with another loud snort—one that never failed to make his father wonder if he hadn’t been exposed to Uncle Yasha a bit too much over time. Taking the steps on the wide staircase three at a time, Toga made a face but kept moving as Gin’s sing-song voice echoed in his ears.
“I just want to see Toga-inu . . .”
“Keh!” he snorted but didn’t stop.
Down the stairs and around the hallway at the back of the Inutaisho mansion, Inutaisho Kagura narrowed her eyes suspiciously at the impossibly tall figure standing at the huge windows that overlooked the back yard of the estate. He was watching their only son as he stomped toward the doors, and though he wasn’t smiling, Kagura could tell from his aura that he was hard pressed not to . . .
“This amuses you?” she asked, breaking the serenity of the quiet that Sesshoumaru welcomed.
Inutaisho Sesshoumaru turned to meet his mate’s gaze and blinked slowly. “Should it?”
The narrowed magenta eyes narrowed just a little more as she crossed her arms over her chest and arched a delicate black brow. “I don’t know . . . Tell me . . . did you send Gin out there to pester your son?”
A hint of a brightening behind his eyes, but nothing else in the way of a change in his expression . . . “This Sesshoumaru would not stoop to such deliberate trickery.”
“Oh, really . . .?”
He didn’t respond to that, simply shifting his gaze back outside once more.
“So you’re saying that I didn’t overhear her begging you to transform into your youkai-form.”
“And you believe I sent her to Toga to bother him about it instead of me?”
The barest hint of a smile quirked the corners of Kagura’s lips. “Did you?”
“Absolutely not,” he assured her. “I simply mentioned that as my son and a full-blooded youkai, Toga has the ability, as well . . . and I might have led her to believe that I could not do it anymore . . .”
She shook her head as her smile widened. “You, Sesshoumaru, ought to be ashamed of yourself.”
“It would not do, for the populace of Tokyo to see a dog that is larger than most of the buildings in the city, do you not agree?”
“And Toga, of course, isn’t nearly so large.”
“Admit it: you sent her to Toga because you were thinking about giving in to her, weren’t you?”
Sesshoumaru narrowed his eyes at his mate though the glimmer behind his expression bespoke his amusement. “Of course not,” he maintained.
Kagura couldn’t help the smile that spread over her features as she stared at Sesshoumaru’s back. “Of course not,” she repeated. “I’m sure . . .”
InuYasha scowled at the mangled mess of a bicycle and wondered just how angry Kagome was going to be over this . . .
‘Kami, she’s gonna kill me . . .’
He’d followed the directions, damn it. All of them had said to tighten the bolts down until they couldn’t turn anymore. He hadn’t thought about the idea that he could twist them more readily than a mere human could . . . He’d inadvertently tightened them all down to the point that the screws had stripped out, and that had irritated him enough that he’d ended up throwing what little bit of the contraption he’d gotten together across the yard and against a stout tree trunk only to have it pointed out seconds later by Kichiro that there was a good chance that Kagome wasn’t going to like the latest turn of events, especially since the handlebars she’d had to sweet-talk the sales boy at the bicycle shop out of were bent beyond all recognition now . . .
Ryomaru ran over to the heap of pink painted metal at the base of the gnarled old magnolia tree and dropped down beside it to assess the damage. “Wo-o-o-ow,” he breathed almost reverently. “You really broke it good, old man!”
Somewhere in the back of his mind, InuYasha realized that there was something inherently wrong with the high admiration that tinged his son’s voice, but he couldn’t help the smug little grin that tweaked the corners of his lips, either.
“Mama’ll re-curse those beads and ‘oswuari’ you into next century,” Kichiro predicted with a slow shake of his head.
“Let me worry about your mama,” InuYasha said in a rather arrogant way as he cracked his knuckles and tried not to be too proud of the results of his task. He intercepted the almost dismayed expression on Kichiro’s face as his grin widened.
“Oi! Nez! Check this out! The old man totally wrecked it! You owe me twelve-hundred yen!” Ryomaru hollered.
Nezumi shuffled out of the house and stood on the porch at the head of the steps. “You said he’d break it before your mother got back with the handle bars, baka,” Nezumi pointed out, “and he didn’t, so you owe me.”
“You bet on how long it’d take me to break the damn thing?” InuYasha demanded, eyebrow twitching as he stared incredulously at his eldest son.
“That’s true,” Kichiro added, completely ignoring his father’s obvious irritation. “So that means you both owe me twelve-hundred yen.”
InuYasha snorted loudly and stomped over to get a good look at the damage he’d wrought.
‘Shit . . . ain’t no fixing this,’ he mused, the first twinges of remorse siphoning through his body.
“Don’t worry about it, old man,” Kichiro offered in a bright tone. “I had faith in you.”
Against his better judgment, he shifted his gaze to the side to stare at Kichiro. “Thought you said you won the damn bet.”
Kichiro shrugged. “Yeah, but I said you’d make it till after Mama got back with the handle bars before you lost it.”
“Gee, thanks,” InuYasha grumbled.
InuYasha snorted. “Go get my cell phone,” he growled, ignoring his son’s misplaced humor.
Kichiro frowned thoughtfully. “You’re not going to throw it at the tree, too, are you?”
Narrowing his eyes, InuYasha started to get to his feet. Kichiro took off at a dead sprint back toward the house. “And don’t let your mama come outside!” he hollered.
Kichiro didn’t answer as he opened the door and dashed inside.
“Oi, old man,” Ryomaru said, drawing InuYasha’s attention away from the sliding glass doors. Nezumi was beside Ryomaru, and both were watching InuYasha rather closely.
“Can I bum twelve-hundred yen?”
That earned him a loud snort, too, and he just managed to duck out of the way as InuYasha swung his hand to intercept him. “No, damn it! I ain’t paying off your gambling debt, especially when you bet against me, Ryomaru!”
“Oh,” Nezumi commented, lifting her hands to cover her mouth as her eyes widened in surprise. “He said your full name,” she whispered. “That can’t be good . . .”
“Yeah, he did,” Ryomaru sniggered.
“He looks pretty mad,” Nezumi went on.
“Nah . . . he always looks like that.”
“I’m right here,” InuYasha snarled, making a face as he glanced at the wreckage once more.
“InuYasha, I—” Kagome cut herself short with a painfully loud gasp as she stepped outside. Kichiro squeezed past her and darted over to his father’s side, grimacing slightly as InuYasha braced himself for Tropical Storm Kagome to make landfall. Stuffing the cell phone in InuYasha’s hand, Kichiro mumbled something about double checking his homework and ran for the door once again.
Her hands were shaking as she lifted them to flutter over her lips, her eyes huge and wide, staring at the tangled mass of metal that used to be a little girl’s bicycle. Her head swung to the side, those eyes narrowing dangerously, and InuYasha held up his hands in an effort to stave back the tirade that he knew was forthcoming. “Wh . . . what did you . . .? You said you would . . . InuYasha . . .” Kagome sputtered as she balled her hands into tight fists at her sides and took a menacing step toward her mate.
InuYasha stepped back in retreat and waved his hands in front of himself. “It ain’t my fault,” he began.
“What do you mean, it wasn’t your fault?” she demanded. “Who else is there to blame it on?”
He grimaced and snorted but conceded her logic. “All right,” he allowed although completely grudgingly, “it was my fault, but I didn’t do it on purpose . . .”
That didn’t pacify her; not at all, and she kept stalking toward him with a very real air of menace surrounding her. “I had to beg to talk them into letting me buy just the handlebars from the last pink bicycle they had in their store,” she gritted out, her cheeks mottled with indignant color. “There isn’t another one, you know! Now just what are we going to give our daughter when all she wanted was that—that—” Breaking off abruptly when she couldn’t find the right word to describe the mangled bicycle, Kagome waved her hand in a gesture meant to indicate the wreckage. “That . . .”
“You could tell her it’s an abstract art sculpture,” Kichiro commented, poking his head out of the back door.
InuYasha snorted and shot his son a withering glower. Kichiro’s ears flattened, but he didn’t duck back into the house.
“Relax, wench,” InuYasha said, forcing more bravado into his tone than he felt. “I’ll just go find another pink bike; no biggie.”
Kagome heaved a deflated sigh and slowly rubbed her forehead. “Okay,” she agreed at last, checking her watch. “You’ve got four hours before Sesshoumaru and Kagura bring Gin home.”
He snorted indelicately, more from the mention of his irritating half-brother than because of the allusion that he wouldn’t be able to accomplish the simple mission of finding a pretty pink bicycle in four hours’ time.
“Come on, boys,” he said, grabbing Ryomaru by the ear and waving a hand in the direction of his other son. “Let’s go find your sister’s birthday bike.”
‘Piece of cake,’ he thought as Kichiro darted out the door and down the steps. Nezumi brought up the rear in the rag-tag group. InuYasha didn’t comment. He’d expected that she’d tag along. She went everywhere Ryomaru and Kichiro did, after all.
Find a pink bicycle . . .
InuYasha scowled at the small white car parked in the driveway—Kagome’s car that he despised. She’d insisted that he study for and get his driver’s license years ago even though he rarely drove. Come to think of it, she didn’t drive often, either, though she’d had the vehicle for years. It reminded him of the bicycle she used to tote all over Sengoku Jidai . . . only bigger and a lot more difficult to mangle . . . Shaking his head slowly, InuYasha dug the spare set of keys out of his pocket. Normally he’d take the rooftop route through Tokyo, but with Nezumi, he couldn’t chance it since the girl had no idea that the Izayoi family wasn’t exactly human . . .
A pre-assembled pink bicycle . . .
How hard could that be?
“You know, old man, I don’t think that there is pink bike in all of Japan,” Ryomaru mused as he trudged out of the tenth bicycle shop in Tokyo.
“Sure there is . . . just not one that’s already put together,” Kichiro remarked.
InuYasha snorted and glanced at his watch. They were down to an hour and a half, and they still hadn’t found the damned bicycle. “Just keep moving, pup,” he grumbled.
“You’ll be in the dog house if you don’t find one,” Ryomaru pointed out unnecessarily. Nezumi nudged him with her shoulder in a silent warning to shut up before InuYasha lost his temper completely.
InuYasha grimaced and slowly shook his head, loath to give up the search but knowing well enough that if he missed his daughter’s birthday party, there really would be hell to pay . . . Digging the cell phone out of his pocket, he made a face but hit the first number on speed dial.
“InuYasha?” Kagome’s voice came over the line.
He heaved a sigh. “You win, wench. I can’t find a fucking pink pre-assembled bike anywhere.”
She sighed, too, but she didn’t sound like she wanted to gloat. “I didn’t figure,” she allowed. “Well, maybe it won’t matter . . . I’m sure she’d be just as happy with any bicycle. The color shouldn’t matter . . . Just hurry up so you’re here when she gets home, okay?”
“Yeah, all right,” he agreed then snapped the device closed. Grunting at his sons, he turned on his heel and strode back into the shop.
“I’ll take this one,” InuYasha said without preamble as he lifted an electric blue bike off the display stand and strode over to the counter, digging his wallet out with one hand and pulling his credit card free with his teeth.
“That ain’t pink,” Ryomaru stated flatly, face shifting into an exaggerated show of utter disgust at the offending color.
“Keh!” InuYasha snorted.
“Maybe Gin won’t notice,” Kichiro remarked with a straight face.
“How could she not notice that?” Ryomaru demanded.
“I’m trying to be positive, here,” Kichiro pointed out, shaking his head at his brother and casting his father a meaningful glance.
InuYasha refrained from comment as he signed his name on the receipt and shoved the credit card back into his wallet. “Come on, boys,” he said, picking up the bicycle and striding toward the door. He distinctly heard the boy behind the counter chuckle, which figured. He’d tried to avoid going back into the store where they’d bought the pink bicycle initially, and if it weren’t bad enough that the boy knew that he’d broken the first set of handle bars, now he knew that he’d managed to ruin the rest of the kami-forsaken contraption, too.
At least they weren’t far from the forest. It only took ten minutes to drive back to the house, though being forced to listen to the twins and their staunch belief that Kagome wasn’t going to be happy with the bicycle he’d bought was enough to make those ten minutes seem like five hundred years . . .
By the time he stopped at the house he called home, he was ready to banish the boys from his sight for the next hundred years or so. Ryomaru and Kichiro tumbled out of the car with Nezumi close on their heels, heading for the house, most likely to tell Kagome just how hideous the bicycle really was.
InuYasha sighed. ‘All right . . . so smashing up the stupid thing was a really bad idea . . .’
‘. . . And refusing to read the directions until it was already too late . . .’
He snorted indelicately, jamming down on the trunk release button on the keychain as he stomped around the vehicle.
“Oh, wow . . . that is blue,” Kissune Shippou commented as he stepped onto the front porch with his hand raised to shield his eyes. “Doesn’t look like a girl’s bike, InuYasha.”
“Shut up, Shippou,” he grumbled, carefully setting the bike on the asphalt and kicking the stand into place.
Kagome hurried outside, nearly colliding with the fully grown kitsune that she used to carry around on her shoulder so long ago. Her eyes flared wide as she glanced at the bicycle, pressing her lips together in a tight line.
InuYasha grimaced, ears flattening, as Kagome pasted on a little smile. “I’ve got to run and get the cake,” she said, hurrying over and leaning up to kiss InuYasha’s cheek. “I’m sure that bike will be fine.”
Somehow, Kagome’s understanding just made him feel that much worse as visions of Gin’s little face clung to his mind and stabbed at his conscience.
“So tell me, Gin. What do you want for your birthday?” he’d asked her.
“A bicycle!” she’d exclaimed, her bright golden eyes lighting happily. “Pink with pretties and a basket for flowers!”
He scowled after her, draping his hands on his hips as he watched Kagome climb into the car and start the engine. Pausing in the driveway long enough to wave at him, she left him standing there as his gaze shifted to the bicycle—without streamers on the handlebars, and without the basket for Gin’s flowers . . . and he sighed.
“You could always paint it.”
Starting out of his reverie, InuYasha turned his head to meet Shippou’s gaze. The kitsune was staring at the bicycle with one arm crossed over his stomach to support his elbow with his fingers curled thoughtfully over his lips.
Shippou shook his head without taking his eyes off the bike. “I said you could paint it.”
“. . . Paint it . . .?”
He nodded slowly. “Yes. Pink. That’s what she wanted, right? Did you break the handgrips and basket?”
InuYasha narrowed his eyes at the contraption and grunted. “The grips were rubber, so no . . . and the basket? I never got that far, damn it.”
“Then you can still use those . . . Of course, they’d look a little ridiculous on that blue bike, don’t you think?”
InuYasha turned on his heel and strode toward the house, hollering for the twins as he headed straight into the kitchen to rummage through the drawers until he found two rolls of masking tape that he thrust into his sons’ hands. “Go tape off the parts if the bike that shouldn’t be painted,” he commanded.
Kichiro blinked and stared at his father as though he didn’t completely comprehend InuYasha’s demands. “We’re going to paint it?”
“Pink,” InuYasha stated flatly.
The boys exchanged nervous glances—at least, Kichiro looked a little nervous. Ryomaru’s expression was clearly excited. “All right!” the boy exclaimed. “Spray paint! This rocks!”
“Don’t get so excited, Picasso,” InuYasha grumbled under his breath. “Make Shippou help you. I’ll be back.”
InuYasha ran out the back door and across the yard, waiting until he was disguised under the cover of the forest before vaulting into the branches and heading toward Tokyo. Glancing at his watch, he grimaced and quickened his pace. He didn’t have much time to make his daughter’s birthday wish come true . . .
Kagome frowned as she opened the car door and slowly stared around the familiar yard. Pausing long enough to kill the engine but leaving the cake safely on the passenger side seat, she got out and wrinkled her nose. The stench of paint was thick in the forest, and it took a moment for her incredulous mind to form a coherent reason for the reek. When she did, she gasped, setting off at a sprint around the side of the house where she skidded to a halt, eyes widening at the sight that greeted her as she slapped a hand over her agape mouth and stared.
Kichiro and Ryomaru were sprawled face down in the grass on one side of the bicycle. Shippou was lying flat on his back with an arm draped over his face nearby. InuYasha was sitting up, albeit just barely, on the opposite side with his forearm covering his nose and his skin leeched of any healthy semblance of color, and every one of the males had cans of spray paint littering the ground around them. Nezumi alone seemed unaffected. She was carefully peeling masking tape off the bicycle, and if she thought that the guys’ behavior was odd, she didn’t remark on it . . .
If the men littering the yard didn’t faze Kagome, and the overwhelming stench of spray paint didn’t do her in, the sight of everything in the near vicinity of the bike tinted pink did. It didn’t look like they’d aimed for the bike. Instead it looked like InuYasha had gathered all the cans together and used Tetsusaiga to unleash one heck of an attack . . . and if Nezumi hadn’t been right there, she might well have thought that he had tried exactly that . . .
As it was, every last one of the hanyous as well as Shippou were suffering the effects of the smell, and even if the wind cleared the yard of the fumes, they were all wearing as much of the paint as the bike was. If it weren’t so shocking, Kagome might have found it funny. She heaved a sigh and walked over to Nezumi. “Let me guess: InuYasha’s idea?”
Nezumi shrugged. She never did like to be the one to rat someone out.
Kagome sighed again and retrieved the white wicker basket for the front of the bicycle. “Is it dry enough to put this on yet?”
“I think so,” Nezumi replied. She stood up, wiping her hands on the front of her bib overalls and darted over to retrieve the rubber handgrips, carefully shaking out the pink and white streamers. They worked in comfortable silence: Kagome securing the basket to the front of the bike while Nezumi carefully worked the grips onto the handlebars.
InuYasha moaned and flopped onto his back. Kagome nearly smiled at the once red, now pink tee-shirt and pink splattered jeans he wore. It occurred to her that she ought to see about helping him inside and getting him showered and changed. One glance at her twin sons still passed out in the grass stopped her. “I’m going to take the boys in and get them cleaned up,” she told Nezumi with a smile. “I hate to ask, but can you hide that?” she asked, waving her hand in the direction of the mangled bicycle still lying under the magnolia tree.
Nezumi nodded as Kagome brushed her hands off and hurried over to Ryomaru. She turned him over and sighed. He was completely unconscious. Pulling him onto her lap, she gently patted his cheeks in an effort to get him to wake up. He moaned rather pathetically and struggled to open his eyes.
Satisfied that he’d be coherent enough to make it into the house on his own steam in a minute or two, Kagome reached over to drag Kichiro to her, repeating the process to rouse him, as well.
“Oh! Is that for me?”
Kagome grimaced and peered over her shoulder as Gin sped around the side of the house and skidded to a halt much further away from the bicycle than she wanted to be, but the fumes were still lingering, and the girl had enough sense to stay back though she didn’t seem to notice the strange pink grass or her pink painted father or brothers. No, her gaze was fastened securely on the bicycle, and Kagome couldn’t help the gentle smile that surfaced on her face.
“Oh . . . my . . .” Kagura remarked, covering her nose with a delicate linen handkerchief.
Sesshoumaru stopped beside his wife and narrowed his gaze on the scene laid out before him. “Why does this not surprise me?” he mused in an undertone that Kagome heard just the same.
“Looks like Uncle Yasha outdid himself,” Toga said, struggling to control his amusement and failing miserably. Kagome noted the weariness lingering around the edges of her nephew’s eyes and in the slight drooping of his shoulders but didn’t remark on it.
InuYasha heard his name and struggled to sit up again. Gin giggled happily and darted over to her father with her hands covering her nose. “Papa! Papa and twins are pink like me!” she exclaimed.
True enough . . . Because of the spray paint, both boys as well as InuYasha were covered with the pink paint, and Gin, dressed in a white blouse and a pink denim jumper dress, couldn’t be happier.
“Happy birthday, baby girl,” InuYasha managed to say though his words were slightly slurred and he was still having trouble focusing on her face. He smiled wanly as a little more color leeched from his skin as she threw her little arms around his neck and hugged him tight.
“Oh, Shippou,” Rin chastised despite the smile on her pretty face as she knelt down beside her mate and slowly shook her head. Shippou groaned in response and didn’t even try to sit up. He was pink, too. Toga rolled his eyes but ambled over to pull the kitsune to his feet and help him inside, away from the lingering fumes.
“Aiko, would you mind grabbing the cake out of the car while I get these two into the house?” Kagome asked over her shoulder.
Aiko nodded quite happily, obviously relieved to get away from the stench as she hurried back around the house once more.
Sesshoumaru quirked an eyebrow and stared at InuYasha for another long moment before striding over and nudging his half-brother with his toe. “Get inside, baka, before you succumb to your own foolishness.”
InuYasha snorted and shot Sesshoumaru as withering a glower as he could muster before setting Gin on the ground and carefully pushing himself to his feet. “Bastard,” he mumbled, grimacing as he bent over to pull Kichiro off the ground.
Kichiro staggered and nearly fell over. InuYasha caught him and steadied him before he ended up flat on his back once more.
Shaking his head in an effort to loosen the effects of the paint fumes, he hefted his son over his shoulder and shuffled toward the house. “Wish your sister a happy birthday,” InuYasha growled.
Kichiro uttered a ragged whine. “Ha . . . day . . .” he mumbled.
Kagome followed behind InuYasha with Gin in her arms, leaving Sesshoumaru with Ryomaru and Kagura to bring up the rear. Not exactly the start of a perfect birthday party, she supposed, but Gin seemed happy enough. She was wiggling in her mother’s grasp, trying to get down, probably to run back outside to see her bicycle again. “Wait until after you have your cake,” Kagome said.
Gin’s bottom lip jutted out in a marked pout as her ears flattened. “Okay,” she reluctantly agreed seconds before her expression brightened. “I got to see Toga-inu!” she suddenly exclaimed.
Kagome laughed and kissed Gin’s cheek before setting her down on the floor. “You did?”
Gin nodded happily while Toga grimaced and blushed. “He was big! Bigger than our house!” she went on with a little giggle.
“Not that much bigger than your house,” Toga mumbled.
“I’ve got a cake,” Aiko called out from the kitchen. “Where’s the birthday girl?”
InuYasha and the boys, who were shuffling off toward the bedrooms to change, groaned in unison. Kagome’s lips twitched as she struggled not to smile. She caught the vaguely amused glint in Sesshoumaru’s eyes as he put Ryomaru down and just before he turned away. For once, she had to agree with him. InuYasha really had outdone himself this time, hadn’t he?
InuYasha couldn’t help the little smile that quirked the corner of his lips as he carefully leaned down to kiss Gin’s forehead as she drowsed against his chest in the quiet of the Izayoi living room. She half-smiled but didn’t open her eyes, her face, so very much like her mother’s despite her coloring that marked her as his daughter, glowing in the soft light of the fire burning on the hearth.
“Feeling any better?” Kagome asked, setting a cup of hot tea on the short table beside the sofa before leaning over the back to ruffle Gin’s hair with a loving hand.
“Yeah,” he mumbled without taking his eyes off his daughter. Kagome came around the sofa and sat beside him, leaning against his arm and idly fingering Gin’s silvery hair. InuYasha sighed. “Sorry . . .” he said softly, and in the semi-darkness, he could feel his skin heating in an embarrassed flush. “I almost ruined her birthday . . .”
“No, you didn’t,” Kagome chided with a shake of her head. “You’re her hero, you know. You couldn’t let her down if you tried.”
“It’s true,” she went on with a soft little laugh. “You still ate a piece of her cake, didn’t you?”
InuYasha made a face. He hadn’t really wanted to be reminded of that, after all. Sure, he’d eaten the huge piece of cake Gin had brought him, but as woozy as he was feeling at the time, he’d also had to sneak away to throw it all back up again, too. Luckily for him, she hadn’t noticed that he’d disappeared. Toga had her outside and was pushing her around on the kami-forsaken bicycle when he finally slunk back into the living room awhile later, and much to his amusement, neither of the twins had seemed overly rambunctious the rest of the evening, either . . . to the point that Kagome had taken Nezumi home. Ordinarily, the boys opted to walk the few blocks to the apartment Nezumi shared with her father, but neither had been feeling up to it. Go figure . . .
“You think she had a good birthday?” InuYasha finally asked.
Kagome sighed happily and snuggled closer against InuYasha’s side. “I think so.”
“My hap . . . py birth . . . day . . .” Gin murmured though she didn’t open her eyes.
“Yeah,” InuYasha agreed quietly, “but you’re still my, baby girl . . .”
She snuggled closer against her father’s chest and let out a contented little sigh.
Kagome laughed and kissed InuYasha’s cheek. “And just think, dog-boy . . . there’s always next year to look forward to.”
That comment earned her a definite scowl, and he opened his mouth to fire off a retort only to be brought up short by the wicked glint in Kagome’s eyes. “Who knows?” she said with a curious smile. “Maybe next year she’ll want a pony.”
1,200 JPY (yen) is just a little over 10. US dollars.
Final Thought from InuYasha:
… I fucking hate bicycles …
Blanket disclaimer for The Most Formidable Foe: 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.