~A Purity Oneshot~
Silent night … Holy night …
.:December 16, 2071:.
It was strangely cold—frigid, really—with a wind that felt as though it were slicing right through him as he hunched his shoulders forward and ducked his chin, ears flattening against his skull as he quickened his pace on the winding path that meandered through InuYasha’s Forest. ‘K-kami . . .’
For half a heartbeat, he actually had considered turning right around and getting back onto the bus that he’d just stepped out of, but he’d promised, hadn’t he? Dinner with the family . . . The house would be warm, and that thought was more than enough to keep his feet moving despite the bone-deep chill that had already seeped into his body through the sensible suit he’d opted to wear to work this morning as well as the slate-gray, worsted-wool and cashmere top coat that looked nice but wasn’t nearly as warm as it looked like it would be in the store.
The song in the trees sounded more like a lament: a wrenching moan that twisted around his guts like an invisible vise. He’d grown up here, listening to those sounds. When he was small, he’d thought that the gurgle of water, the whisper of the leaves dancing on their precarious legs as they dangled from a thousand tree branches, sounded like a lullaby. Now . . .?
Now he just wanted to escape it all, to find himself closeted away in the safety—the sanctuary—of the small house deep in the forest.
Pulling the lapels of the coat together just under his chin, he moved on, blinking fast as the wind whipped his long, silvery hair into his face, his eyes, gritting his teeth as the thin soles of the black patent leather dress shoes he’d chosen this morning slipped on the stones that were the darkened path. It seemed to him that the wind was growing steadily worse, and without warning, he winced as his left ear started twitching crazily.
‘Damn it . . .’
But he was almost there. Daring the wind to peek ahead of him, he could discern the faint glow of the lights inside the house: his destination. When he’d spoken to his mother on the phone earlier, she’d assured him that she was looking forward to his visit. He shook his head and kept moving. The way she talked, she never got to see him, and that was just stupid, really. He stopped in at least twice a week for dinner, and in the rare instance that he wasn’t able to, Izayoi Kagome had a habit of stopping by the office where he worked, arms laden with care packages, ranging from ready-to-heat dinners and the like to books that she figured he’d like to read and even the occasional bit for home decoration that she’d seen and ‘immediately thought of him’ . . .
He shook his head, chiding himself mentally for his less-than-forgiving line of thoughts. His mother cared, and he knew well enough that she wasn’t just like that for his benefit. She had a habit of doing that sort of thing all the time for his other siblings, too—didn’t she always have a box beside the front door where she put things for the latest care package she was working on for his only sister, Gin? Kagome mailed out a package every month for her, and he’d seen often enough, the other things that Kagome had picked up for one sibling or another.
Still, the nagging feeling that he was still little more than a pup in her eyes grated on him.
Of course, maybe he wouldn’t feel that way if Kagome didn’t go out of her way to baby him, and the worst of it, really? Well, he had to admit that he let her do it. No, he just didn’t have it in him to fuss at her. She was his mama, and he loved her, even if she did drive him to the very brink of his sanity sometimes . . .
By the time he stepped up onto the porch and stomped his feet to knock off as much dust and dirt as he could, his fingertips as well as the tips of his ears were numb. He could still feel the left one, twitching wildly, but it was in a vague sort of way. Reaching for the handle and wondering absently if he’d be able to open it or not, he blinked in surprise as the door swung open before he could touch it.
“Oh, sweetie, it’s cold out here, isn’t it?” Izayoi Kagome crooned as she stepped back to allow him to step inside as she rubbed her forearms against the bitter chill that blew in with him.
“A little,” he replied in more of a mumble. She hurriedly grasped the collar of his coat as he started to pull it off. “Thanks.”
She waved off his gratitude with a flick of her wrist as she industriously shook out the garment and hung it on the brass hook beside the door. “Don’t be silly, Mikio! This is your home—even if you did choose to move into the city.”
She didn’t see his grimace as he carefully removed his shoes and reached for the nearby mules that she kept around for him. “I-I know,” he muttered, keeping his face averted as he pushed himself to his feet again. “Where’s Papa?”
He didn’t miss the slight faltering in her movements as she cleaned off his coat with a soft brush she kept in the table beside the door. “Oh, you know him. He’s here somewhere,” she replied in a falsely bright tone. “Why don’t you go in the living room? Dinner’s not quite ready yet, but it will be soon.”
Mikio stared at her for a moment but gathered nothing from the clipped, confident motions as she continued her tasks. Shaking his head, he brushed aside the feeling of suspicion that had surfaced just moments before. He had to be imagining things . . . “Okay.”
She paused long enough to offer him a bright smile and to tug him down so that she could kiss his cheek. “I’ll get you some tea in a minute.”
He nodded and shuffled off toward the living room then ducked as a tablet of paper came flying down the steps from the loft—his father’s study. “Keh! Sorry ‘bout that,” Izayoi InuYasha grumbled as he stomped down the steps with an irritated scowl on his face and his little white hanyou ears twitching atop his head.
Retrieving the tablet, Mikio held it out to his father, who snatched it away and tossed it in the general vicinity of the nearby sofa. “To hell with that,” he growled. “I’ll deal with it later.”
“What was it?” Mikio asked, frowning at the notebook.
InuYasha grunted, planting his hands on his lean hips and glowering in the same direction as his son. “The board wants to cut funding for the martial arts department.”
Mikio nodded. It wasn’t a secret that the Japanese market was in a bit of a slump of late, and the alternative school that InuYasha had founded years ago was starting to feel some of the impact of it, too. “So you’re trying to figure out how to keep from doing that,” Mikio surmised.
InuYasha nodded. “Yeah, something like that.”
He shot his father a wan grin and shrugged. “You’ll get it,” he encouraged. “You always do.”
InuYasha didn’t look quite as convinced as Mikio sounded, but he nodded and rubbed his forehead in an exasperated sort of way. “Sure thing.”
Mikio dug his hands into his pockets, ignoring the lingering numbness in his fingers. “Mama have any ideas? She normally comes up with some interesting ones . . .”
InuYasha snorted loudly. “Ain’t asked her,” he muttered in a rather terse way. “You been practicing?”
Blinking at the abrupt change in topics, Mikio shook his head. “To tell the truth, I haven’t had as much time to do that lately,” he admitted.
InuYasha didn’t look too impressed with Mikio’s admission. “Is that right?” he countered acerbically.
“I’ll do better,” Mikio muttered, absently wondering how it was that his parents could manage to make him feel as though he were no better than a three-year-old pup with scarcely more than a raised-eyebrow-ed expression or even something as simple as an inflection in their tones of voices . . . “Sorry, Papa.”
The mumbled apology earned him another probing look as the older hanyou crossed his arms over his chest. “Don’t apologize to me, pup,” he countered almost mildly, “just don’t let yourself down.”
Mikio nodded stiffly as Kagome stepped into the living room. “Dinner’s ready,” she said. Mikio turned to acknowledge his mother’s words, but stopped short at the very tight little smile on her face. Oh, maybe it might have fooled a stranger, but he could see right through it. The good-natured light that normally illuminated her eyes was conspicuously missing, and as she caught her mate’s glance, that pitifully thin smile only widened.
InuYasha said nothing, however, opting instead to stomp off toward the kitchen, instead. He followed behind, trying to shake off the unsettling feeling that something was very, very wrong.
Neither of his parents said anything as they sat down at the table. Kagome smiled at her son as she served up a plate for him. Mikio blinked as he stared at the food. ‘Curry . . .? She . . . she made curry . . .?’
Heck, he knew as well as anyone that InuYasha despised anything ‘spicy’, as Kagome’s curry tended to be. Mikio loved it, sure, but the only times he could recall his mother cooking such things was when she was irritated with the surly hanyou she called her mate, and Mikio knew that, too . . .
‘No doubt about it, something’s not right here . . .’
And even more curious? Mikio blinked as he watched in unabashed surprise as his father shoveled the food into his mouth without as much as a flinch or a grimace.
Nope, just a stony silence that fell as thickly as a funeral pall.
Kagome cleared her throat. “Mikio, dear, would you pass this to your father?”
Mikio blinked again, his ear twitching in an erratic, nervous sort of way, as he slowly, hesitantly, accepted the cup of tea his mother had just poured and handed it over to his father.
“Keh. Tell her I don’t want it, thanks,” InuYasha grumbled, his face darkening in coloring as he stubbornly finished off his first serving.
Kagome paused for a moment before pasting on an even larger, definitely more tolerant smile. “Darling, would you tell your father that I’ll be more than happy to get something else for him to drink if the tea is too hot.”
Mikio opened and closed his mouth a few times, as he slowly, slowly turned to face his father once more. “Uh . . .”
“Tell her that the tea’s fine,” InuYasha growled. “I just don’t want it.”
He frowned and shrugged, offering his mother a rather pathetic little half-smile that probably seemed more like a grimace. “P-Papa doesn’t want it.”
For the briefest of moments, Mikio thought that his darling mother really was about to blow the proverbial ass-gasket, but a second later, she smiled again. “Of course,” she agreed in a syrupy sweet tone. “Would you be a doll and ask him if he’d like another helping?”
Mikio nodded, positive that his face had to be as scarlet as his father’s tee-shirt. “Do you want more, Papa?” he muttered.
InuYasha snorted, narrowing his eyes almost dangerously as he opened his mouth, probably to tell his mate exactly what he thought of dinner. Suddenly, though, he snapped it closed and nodded just one time. “Yes,” he bit out, “because it’s delicious.”
Mikio’s eyes widened as Kagome stood up and refilled her mate’s plate, but she didn’t speak again until she’d set the plate before InuYasha and sat back down again. “So, Mikio, have you heard from your sister? I talked to her the other day, and she mentioned that she was trying to talk Cain into bringing her here for Christmas . . .”
InuYasha snorted but concentrated on his food.
“Uh, no,” Mikio confessed. “I-I hope she can make it . . .”
“She could come and leave that damned bastard at home,” InuYasha pointed out in a completely surly sort of tone.
“Of course she’d want to bring her mate along,” Kagome went on as though she hadn’t heard InuYasha’s commentary. “I mean, it’s only natural, right?” She sighed and smiled—it was almost a normal looking one, at last. “I really like that Cain. He’s such a nice, easygoing guy.”
InuYasha snorted again.
Kagome ignored him and went on. “He really takes wonderful care of Gin, doesn’t he? You know, I don’t think that there’s anything he wouldn’t do for her, too . . .” Her smile turned a little wistful, and she sighed. “Just a really, really nice man . . .”
“Tell your mama that if she likes that bastard so fucking much, she’s welcome to go live with him,” InuYasha mumbled.
“Uh . . .” Mikio stammered, ear twitching almost painfully now.
Kagome rolled her eyes and waved a hand in blatant dismissal. “Tell your father that I’m perfectly happy here, of course. I just meant that he ought to be pleased that Gin’s found such a wonderful mate.”
InuYasha slowly lifted his golden eyes to glower at his mate for several moments before he nodded curtly and blinked just once. “Tell your mama that dinner was . . . fantastic . . . but I gotta get back to that damned proposal. Wouldn’t want someone to think that I forgot about it, now would I?”
Mikio didn’t respond as he watched his father stand up and stomp out of the kitchen again. He wasn’t sure if the strain of them both being in the same room was better or worse than the absolute silence that followed his departure.
“Would you like some more, dear?” Kagome asked suddenly, flicking a finger at Mikio’s untouched plate.
Mikio shook his head. “Uh, no, thanks,” he managed. “I, uh, had a late lunch . . .”
She stood up and plastered her hand against his forehead, uttering a sort of clucking sound as she tipped his head back to stare down into his face. “Are you getting enough sleep? Eating balanced meals? You look a little flushed, sweetie . . .”
“I’m okay, Mama,” he replied, gently brushing her hands away and forcing himself to dig into his untouched food. “What about you and Papa? Are you . . . are you all right?”
With a falsely bright laugh, Kagome waved her hand again. “Your father and I are just fine,” she assured him. “Just fine!”
He said nothing as he continued to eat his dinner. It could have been cardboard for all the flavor it held for him. He didn’t doubt for a moment that it was delicious, but the strain that was still lingering in the air was more than enough to prevent him from being able to actually taste a damn thing. A knot was forming deep in his gut; one that he just couldn’t ignore. Grimacing at the plate in front of him, he stubbornly continued to eat.
“You know, I was thinking about cleaning out the cupboards,” Kagome said suddenly as she set her plate in the sink and whipped around to face him again. “If your sister’s coming for Christmas, then I really think that I should . . .”
Mikio didn’t know what to say to that, so he stayed quiet, watching as Kagome strode over to retrieve a good-sized box that hadn’t been taken out to the recycling bins. She snatched it off the floor and gave it a quick once-over before turning it bottom-side up over the trashcan and tapping on the bottom.
He just didn’t get it. Sure, he was used to his parents’ bickering. It was par for course in the Izayoi house. It always had bothered him, but he’d grown a little more accustomed to it over the years. Still, this wasn’t normal. The tension that he simply couldn’t ignore was a painful thing, and even if his mother wished to pretend that nothing at all was wrong, he knew better. He wasn’t stupid, after all . . .
Kagome hummed to herself as she opened the cupboards and rifled through the contents, and he heard the thumps as she stacked things in the box. Mikio didn’t pay a lot of attention, however, lost as he was in his own contemplations. Something told him that he wasn’t about to get a real answer out of his father, either, even if he were to ask. That didn’t reassure him, though. No, if anything, it made him feel just a little worse.
By some miracle, Mikio did manage to choke down all of his food, and without a word, he set the plate in the sink. Kagome was still quite busy in her impromptu cleaning and didn’t remark as her son headed out of the kitchen, too.
It wasn’t hard to find InuYasha. He was in his study once more, growling to himself over the notepad that he’d tossed down the stairs before dinner. It took a moment for him to realize that Mikio was standing at the head of the stairs, and when he finally did, he heaved a sigh, dropping the notebook on his desk in favor of rubbing his temple as he slumped down a little deeper behind his desk.
“Papa . . .” Mikio heard himself saying, unsure what he really wanted to ask InuYasha.
Mikio squared his shoulders and tried to shrug nonchalantly. “Are you . . . and Mama . . . fighting?”
That question brought the hanyou out of his chair, and he paced the length of the floor and back again before answering. “Nope,” he lied. Mikio knew it was a lie.
“You . . . you’re sure?”
InuYasha snorted indelicately. “Keh! Nothing’s wrong, pup,” he insisted.
Mikio frowned, unable to understand exactly why his parents were acting so strangely. In the end, though, he couldn’t really get either of them to talk when they didn’t seem to be interested in coming clean. “G-good,” he replied. “That’s good, then.”
InuYasha turned to face Mikio, staring at him in that direct sort of way that he tended to do whenever Mikio said something that InuYasha didn’t believe. At times like that, Mikio was pretty positive that his father had somehow mastered the art of lie detection. He’d thought before that his father would make a damn fine attorney, if he had the patience for it. Now, though . . .
But his cell phone rang, and InuYasha spared a moment to stare at his son for a long moment before turning around and grabbing the device. “Izayoi.”
Mikio let out an audible breath and headed back down the steps. He hadn’t figured that he’d get a real answer out of InuYasha; not really. Still, he couldn’t help but be a little disappointed about it, too . . .
It wasn’t the first time that he’d sensed a good amount of tension in the air, though, either. No, the difference was that it was the first time he’d ever seen the two of them behave like this. Yelling, arguing, sure. Those were the things that he had come to expect from one of InuYasha and Kagome’s infamous ‘moments’. This weird silence? Being overly nice to one another, and then to resort to snide, almost catty, commentary? Mikio just didn’t know what to do with that; not at all . . .
Stepping off the stairs, Mikio absently reached up to smash his palm against his wildly twitching ear. His nerves never had been that good, but stress tended to make the entire thing worse, too. Kichiro had always told him that it was natural, considering the precarious balance that Mikio’s body had, to start with. If he were smart, he’d get the hell out of the house before he ended up flat on his back on the floor . . .
Biting his lip, he considered that for a moment then grimaced as visions of his mother’s overwhelming concern crashed down on him. She’d probably end up demanding that he stay the night as she was hightailing it toward the telephone to call Kichiro to drag him over to give Mikio a full-out checkup—exactly what she’d done awhile back when he’d inadvertently ended up crashing to the floor during one of his less-than-shining moments.
Too bad he couldn’t bring himself just to slip out the door, and even if he could, he’d end up feeling guilty about it for the next year or so, and considering he was still feeling a little bad about moving out of the forest and into an apartment deep in the heart of Tokyo, he figured that it would be just a little more than he could take. Besides that, Kagome had an uncanny guilt sensor embedded deep within her. He didn’t doubt for a moment that she’d know, and she wasn’t above using that guilt to her advantage, either. She’d have him talked into moving back home faster than he’d be able to blink . . .
‘You know, Mikio, there’s a good chance that you’re the reason why they’re fighting . . .’
That sentiment was enough to draw another grimace from him. He’d been trying not to consider that idea, and, thanks to his youkai voice, there it was, staring him in the face. ‘M . . . maybe not . . .’
But he didn’t really believe that, either . . . His mother had been against his moving away from the forest from the start. InuYasha? Well, his father had looked concerned, but he’d brushed it off quickly enough, stating that Mikio should do what he needed to do, and that Kagome would be better off to help him pack his things.
‘It’s entirely possible,’ his youkai went on philosophically. ‘What else do those two ever argue about?’
The grimace shifted into a very long, very drawn out sigh. ‘That’s . . . true . . .’
And that was a fact, too. He didn’t like it, no, but there wasn’t any real way to refute the truth of it. Kagome was seemingly convinced that Mikio was still a baby. InuYasha maintained that Mikio was well old enough to be let alone. The stances weren’t so easily reconciled, either, and that left Mikio smack dab in the middle more often than not.
“Mikio? Is that you?” his mother called from the kitchen.
Mikio let out a deep breath, shaking off the bleak thoughts that plagued him. “Yeah,” he called back. “I should probably get going . . .”
“Oh, wait a minute,” Kagome exclaimed as she hurried out of the kitchen with the box in her arms. “Did you say something?”
He blinked and shook his head, unable to make sense of what she was carrying. “Eh? Nothing important,” he insisted, scratching his head in complete befuddlement. “Mama . . .?”
She smiled a little wearily and shrugged as she shoved the box into his arms. “I made some room in the cupboards,” she explained as though it were nothing at all. “If your sister is coming, then I need to get some groceries, and those things were just taking up space.”
‘Just . . . taking up . . . space . . .?’ Mikio wondered. It made no more sense to him than the rest of their odd behavior did, and he sighed inwardly. “But . . . isn’t that Papa’s ninja food?”
Kagome didn’t even bat an eyelash. “So he can go out and get more . . . unless he’s forgotten the way to the store, that is . . .”
“Forgotten?” he echoed.
She waved a hand dismissively. “Never mind, sweetie. Just wondering if hanyous can go senile; that’s all . . .”
Her answer was entirely suspect, as far as Mikio was concerned, but there was a strange sort of hardness in his mother’s expression that he just didn’t dare question.
And he wasn’t entirely certain how he managed to get out of the house without his mother taking issue with what had to be his odd behavior, but the longer he stayed, the more uncomfortable he became. Luckily for him, though, his father didn’t come downstairs, which was just as well since he was relatively certain that seeing Mikio with every last container of ramen in the house stuffed into the box that his mother had insisted that he take with him would have probably brought about the commencement of World War III . . .
All he knew was that he had no idea what was going on in that house, and as he strode down the dirt road that led away from the front door, he sighed. ‘Mama, cooking curry and giving away Papa’s ramen? That . . . that just can’t be good . . . Not at all . . .’
.:December 16, 2071:.
“Have you ever noticed, just how quiet the house is nowadays?”
Izayoi Kichiro glanced up, letting the pen in his hand drop to the tablet of paper where he’d been jotting notes on his current research as he met the almost sad look on his mate’s beautiful face. “Yeah,” he admitted. “It is, isn’t it?”
Bellaniece shuffled into the room, crossing her arms over her chest as the rueful expression deepened into something akin to melancholy. “Not that I mind having you all to myself,” she allowed with a little shrug, “but . . . oh, I miss my girls . . .”
He smiled wanly and held out a hand to beckon her closer. “Sami’ll be here tomorrow, and Isabelle and Griffin are coming in a few days, right? Lexi promised that she’d try, and I’m sure that John will convince her to drag herself away from work long enough to be here for the holiday. Then your house will be filled with your girls once more.”
“Don’t forget Kurt,” she chided.
“I was trying to,” Kichiro grumbled since he highly doubted he’d ever like that particular man. To be honest, he still hadn’t quite reconciled himself to the idea that his daughter really had chosen to marry the likes of Kurt Drevin, but he was dealing with it. Slowly.
“Hmm, but you promised you’d try to get along with him,” she reminded him.
He rolled his eyes and wiggled his fingers. “You doubt my integrity?”
“Of course not.” She sighed then smiled as she slipped her hand into his and let him tug her into his lap. “That’s true . . . you’re such a smart man . . .”
Chuckling quietly, he kissed her forehead and wrapped his arms around her. “You think so? Well, how about this: why don’t we call it an early night, and you can show me just how much you like smart men?”
“Oh, now that’s a fantastic idea,” she purred, sparing a moment to kiss his cheek before getting to her feet and waiting for him to put his paperwork away.
“Have I told you that I’m glad you’ve decided to take a couple weeks off for the holidays?” Bellaniece asked as he shut off the light and tugged her out of the study.
“Ah, well, you can thank me for that, too,” he offered magnanimously.
Bellaniece giggled and let go of his hand long enough to reach for the lamp on the table behind the sofa but stopped when the knock sounded on the front door.
Kichiro made a face and shook his head, casting his mate an apologetic little smile as he moved off to answer it. She blew him a kiss and picked up a stack of magazines before heading toward the kitchen to stow them in the recycling bin.
The blast of cold air that hit him straight on was blunted only by the lanky form of his younger brother when he opened the door. Mikio looked distinctly troubled, and Kichiro stepped back to let him in as he caught a glimpse of the huge box of what looked to be ramen in Mikio’s arms. “Taking donations?” he asked baldly as he closed the door and leaned against it.
“Uh, no,” Mikio commented, setting the box on the table beside the door. “Mama gave this to me.”
That did get Kichiro’s attention. “She gave you ramen?”
Mikio grimaced, holding up the box as he explained, “Papa’s ramen.”
“The old man’s . . .?”
Mikio jerked his head once in a nod, then shrugged. “Have you been over there today?” he asked instead, ignoring Kichiro’s question.
“No,” Kichiro replied. “Why?”
Mikio heaved a sigh, his ears flattening momentarily as he shrugged off his coat and stooped down to remove his shoes. “I think . . . they’re fighting,” he admitted.
Kichiro shifted his jaw as he considered that. “Don’t worry about it too much,” he finally stated. “Those two aren’t happy unless they’re arguing.”
Mikio shook his head stubbornly, pinning Kichiro with a blatantly defiant sort of look—something that wasn’t very common from that particular brother. “No, you don’t understand,” he grumbled. “I don’t mean they’re fighting, exactly. More like they aren’t talking to each other.”
Blinking quickly, Kichiro snapped his mouth closed on the reassurances he’d already been forming. It always seemed like Mikio tended to be hypersensitive to his parents’ moods, but that they weren’t speaking? That was odd . . . “What do you mean?”
Apparently relieved that Kichiro was taking him seriously, Mikio let out a deep breath and slowly shook his head. “I mean that they kept telling me to tell the other one stuff . . . and . . .”
“And?” Kichiro prompted when Mikio trailed off.
Mikio grimaced again. “And . . . See, Mama made curry tonight for dinner . . . and Papa . . .” He trailed off, scratching his head, as though he were trying to put his thoughts into words. “He ate it . . .”
“Oh . . . wow . . .” Kichiro muttered, letting out a low whistle as he slowly shook his head. “The old man ate it? Is that right?”
He nodded. “Then she gave me Papa’s ninja food, and I . . . well, I got out of there.”
Kichiro nodded, too, expression shifting into a scowl as he commiserated with his brother. Mikio, he knew, hated to be caught up in any sort of contention, especially when it involved their parents. Kichiro, of course, was damn good at ignoring InuYasha and Kagome’s little tiffs, but then, Mikio had always been far more attuned to it than he was. “I’m sure it’s nothing,” he said with a half-hearted shrug. “I mean, hell . . . those two aren’t happy unless they’re arguing about something.”
Mikio’s grimace deepened at Kichiro’s attempt to make light of the situation. Scratching his head, he didn’t look like he was buying. “It’s not like that,” he muttered, shaking his head stubbornly. “They weren’t fighting, Kich. They just weren’t talking.”
That was enough to give him pause. If what Mikio said were true, then it would be different, no doubt about it. Not talking? That was odd . . . “Are you sure you’re not reading more into it than what’s there?” he asked cautiously.
He wasn’t surprised when Mikio shot him a fulminating glower. “Forget it,” he mumbled, veering away and stuffing his feet into his shoes.
“Wait, wait,” Kichiro insisted, grabbing Mikio’s arm and pulling him back. Glancing at his watch, he sighed. “Look, if it’ll make you feel better, I’ll go over and see what’s going on.”
Nodding grudgingly, Mikio draped his hands on his hips, saying nothing as Kichiro sat on the edge of the platform to slip on his shoes.
“Belle-chan, I’m stepping out for a minute,” he called, tugging on his shoestrings.
She stepped into the foyer and leaned against the doorway. “Is something wrong?” she asked, her pretty face contorted in a worried frown.
He spared a moment to cast her a quick grin. “Nah. Just going to check up on Mama and the old man.”
She didn’t look entirely pleased, but she did nod once. “All right,” she allowed then smiled as she turned to face Mikio, who was also putting on his shoes. “I’ll make a pot of coffee for you two when you get back. It’s pretty cold out there, isn’t it?”
“Thank you,” he called after her as she sashayed out of the foyer. Pushing himself to his feet, he reached for his coat as Mikio waited impatiently. “Eh, let’s see what’s going on.”
Kichiro reached for the door handle and pulled it open, only to blink and step back quickly when InuYasha stepped inside, his expression inscrutable, though the irritation he was suffering was blatantly obvious. Without a word, he glanced around, spotting the cardboard box of ramen on the table, and he snatched it up and whipped around, stomping back out the door once more.
Mikio blinked and shook his head, gesturing at the empty doorway. “You see?” he blurted without preamble.
Kichiro nodded slowly, scowling at the disappearing form of their father as he hauled ass toward the trees.
The night was colder than normal, Kichiro noted as they stepped outside. Stuffing his hands into his pockets, he glanced back at Mikio in time to see him hunch his shoulders forward and tug his lapels closed.
No doubt about it, there really was something odd going on. That Kagome had actually given away the old man’s ramen was curious enough, but the odd lack of any real commentary when he’d come to retrieve it was even stranger, and the longer that Kichiro dwelled upon it, the more surreal it seemed to him.
“Stay out here,” he said when the two of them reached the edge of the clearing where the familiar house stood. Mikio nodded and hung back, leaning against one of the stout tree trunks to wait. Kichiro started away, and when he glanced over his shoulder, he had to do a double take since his brother had managed to fade in with his surroundings. Too bad the flash of wispy silver—his hair—gave him away . . .
The house was calm and quiet when Kichiro stepped inside and pushed the door closed. He could feel his parents’ presences, and he didn’t sense any real tension in the air. That didn’t make sense, did it? Mikio wouldn’t have exaggerated everything, and he knew it. Still, he would have to be the first to admit that his younger brother actually did tend to overanalyze things when it came to their parents, and not that Kichiro blamed him; not really.
Ever since he was a pup, InuYasha and Kagome had differed with one another regarding Mikio and his unique problems. That had only gotten worse over time, and everyone knew that, too. Kagome tended to over-mother him while InuYasha was of the opinion that Mikio didn’t want or need to be coddled—true enough, in Kichiro’s opinion. Then again, after dealing with his own daughter’s disappearance earlier in the year, he couldn’t rightfully say that he didn’t understand Kagome’s feelings, either.
Of course, that was neither here nor there. Mikio was the one who invariably felt as though he were trapped in the middle, and given his aversion to being the center of attention, Kichiro couldn’t rightfully blame him for that, either.
“Oh, Kichiro! Is everything all right?” Kagome asked, glancing around in what could only be described as a completely suspect sort of way.
Kichiro nodded and smiled at his mother. “Yeah, fine,” he assured her as he leaned down to kiss her cheek. “Just thought I’d come by to see if you’d heard from Gin yet . . . Belle-chan was wondering if her . . .” He made a face, still unable to quite reconcile the knowledge that Bellaniece really was that ass’ flesh and blood despite the passage of years. “Well, if Cain was going to be here for Christmas.”
Kagome sighed and waved a hand before offering a little shrug and a wan smile. “I haven’t heard for sure yet,” she replied. “I hope so . . . I mean, it just never feels quite right to have Christmas without your sister.”
Kichiro bit his lip and frowned. She seemed normal, didn’t she? Just what was going on . . .? “Is the old man around? I wanted to ask him something,” he plunged on, eyeing his mother somewhat covertly, trying to discern any odd reactions.
She rubbed her forehead and forced her smile to brighten. “Your father? Oh, he’s around here somewhere,” she hedged. “Why don’t you sit down and have a cup of tea? I just made a fresh pot . . .”
“Ah, well, I really can’t. Belle-chan’s waiting up for me . . .”
Kagome made a face then shrugged. “You shouldn’t keep a woman waiting,” she chided.
Kichiro chuckled. “I won’t,” he promised. “Mama . . . tell me something?”
Kagome grabbed the brush off the table and started gently cleaning his coat that he was still wearing. “Anything, sweetie.”
Craning his neck to peer over his shoulder, Kichiro probed his mother’s face for a long moment. She had her gaze averted, intent on her task, and she gave away nothing in her serene expression. “Are you and the old man . . . okay?”
She faltered mid-stroke and shot him an almost nervous sort of glance. “O-of course we are, Kichiro,” she murmured, eyelashes fluttering as a wash of uncomfortable color surfaced in her cheeks. “Why wouldn’t we be?”
He shook his head. “I don’t know. It just feels a little weird.”
She heaved a sigh and dropped the brush on the table again before crossing her arms over her chest and offering a belligerent little shrug. “Don’t you worry about us; do you hear? We’re fine—just fine.”
He stared at her for another minute, unsure whether or not he ought to believe her adamant claims. In the end, though, he couldn’t get Mikio’s statement out of his head: “And . . . See, Mama made curry tonight for dinner . . . and Papa . . . He ate it . . .”
But he didn’t argue with her, either, as he kissed his mother goodnight and slipped back out of the house once more. Yeah, it was strange. Mikio was right. Too bad he was no closer than Mikio in figuring out exactly what the hell was going on . . .
.:December 17, 2071:.
Gin Zelig whimpered and burrowed a little closer to her mate’s side when the obtrusive tone of the ringing phone broke through the comfortable silence with all the finesse of fingernails on a chalkboard. Beside her, Cain Zelig grunted, refusing to open his eyes as he groped clumsily for the offending device.
“H-hello?” he rasped out, his voice still thick with sleep.
“Ah, I’m so sorry, Zelig-san,” a distinctly Japanese voice greeted quietly. “I must have miscalculated the time difference . . .”
Forcing an eye open, Cain glanced at the glowing red numbers on the alarm clock beside him. ‘Five a.m.? Damn . . .’
“I’m sorry,” he apologized again. “I just wanted to talk to Gin, but I’ll call back later.”
“Okay,” Cain muttered, reaching over to hang up the receiver without a second thought.
Gin sat up quickly, grabbing the phone before he could accomplish it. “Cain!” she chided. “That sounded like Mikio!”
He stifled a yawn with the back of his wrist as he gave her a little squeeze. “That’s because it is Mikio.”
“Is something wrong?” she demanded, her eyebrows furrowed in a marked frown.
Cain nodded, grudgingly admitting that Mikio did tend to be a lot more mindful of time differences, and that he had ignored them this time? Well, it probably didn’t bode well . . . “He sounds a little upset.”
She spared a moment to frown at him then reluctantly brought the phone to her ear. “Mikio? What’s the matter?”
“Gin? I’m sorry . . . I just . . . A-are you coming home for Christmas?” Mikio asked suddenly.
Gin rubbed her forehead, struggling to clear her mind. She’d never been that sharp first thing in the morning, and Cain had kept her up rather late the night before—something about needing a back rub that she never did get around to giving him—she was even more tired than usual. “Coming home?” she echoed dully.
Mikio cleared his throat. “Mama was hoping . . . a-and . . .”
“We are home, Gin,” Cain grumbled, tugging her down beside him and pulling her close. She didn’t miss the little flinch when the cool plastic phone receiver touched his very warm skin.
“Hold on a minute, Mikio,” she said, lowering the receiver to smash it against the soft flannel sheet. “But, Cain . . .” she began in a plaintive tone. “It’s been awhile since I’ve seen Mama and Papa, and—”
“And they were here for months and months—here—as in, living here, in my house—under my roof—up my ass,” he argued a little too reasonably.
Gin blinked and slowly shook her head. “I don’t think Mama was ever up your . . . heinie,” she pointed out.
“Don’t you want to see Bellaniece?”
“Bellaniece? Yes. Your father? I’ll pass.”
She wrinkled her nose. “Papa’s not that bad.”
“Yeah,” he agreed rather acerbically, “about as nice as having ringworm . . .”
“You’ve had ringworm?”
Cain rolled his eyes. “Focus, baby girl. Focus.”
She heaved a sigh designed to let him know exactly what she thought of his stubborn insistence. He glanced at her then heaved a sigh. “That is completely unfair,” he pointed out, pushing her gently toward the far side of the bed as he tossed back the blankets and rolled to his feet.
She blinked a few times, unsure what he was talking about. “What?”
He snorted again, waving a hand in the general direction of her head. “That!”
Gin reached up and touched her hair, realizing a moment too late that she’d inadvertently flattened her ears. Opening her mouth to protest her innocence, she sighed. He was already halfway down the metal steps that led to the studio he used for his artwork. She sat up on her knees and peered over the edge of the railing, only to see Cain swipe up his cell phone and to flick through the numbers it contained. “Yeah, hi . . . I need to book a flight, please . . . Tokyo, Japan . . .”
She couldn’t decide if she ought to feel really bad or really giddy, all things considered. She settled for promising herself that she’d make an extra special cake for him as she lifted the receiver again. “Mikio? We’ll be there,” she promised.
He breathed an audible sigh of relief. “Good . . .”
“Is something wrong?” she pressed again.
“Uh . . . I’ll talk to you when you get here,” he promised.
Gin frowned. “Okay,” she agreed slowly, ears quirking when she intercepted the faint rustle of what sounded like a plastic wrapper . . . a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup wrapper . . .
“I’ll let you go then,” Mikio went on. “Have a safe flight.”
Gin wasn’t sure if she answered him or not. Dropping the receiver carelessly on the coverlet, she bounded out of the bed and down the steps, the rattle of candy wrappers filling her ears . . .
.:December 17, 2071:.
“You really think he’ll be able to find out anything?”
Kichiro shrugged without taking his eyes off the front of the house. “Probably not.”
Mikio let out a deep breath and fiddled with his twitching left ear as he frowned up at his brother, crouched in the lower branches of the tree above him. “But he has to, right? I mean, Mama and Papa . . . they’ve got to be talking by now, don’t they?”
“You’d think,” Kichiro muttered. “They normally don’t stay mad at each other that long . . .”
“They seemed like they still were . . . or whatever they’re calling it. I guess it’s not fighting if they’re not talking, is it?” Mikio grumbled.
“Oi, here he comes . . .”
Mikio shifted his gaze in time to see their eldest brother stomp out of the Izayoi house, straight toward them.
“Well?” Kichiro demanded as he dropped from the branches in front of Ryomaru.
Ryomaru shook his head and snorted. “They said they ain’t fighting,” he replied.
Kichiro considered that with a frown. “So they weren’t?”
“Dunno . . . Mother asked if anyone had seen her cell, and the old man said that she’d probably forgotten where she stuck it since she’s been having trouble with her memory lately.”
The other two brothers blinked. Mikio was the first to recover. “She has?”
Ryomaru shrugged. “Mother said that the old man must be losing his marbles . . . something about spending fifty years pinned to a tree probably did it.”
Kichiro whistled. Mikio flinched. Ryomaru sighed and glanced around, finally settling upon staring up through the branches of the trees. “You know what this means, don’t you?”
Kichiro thought it over and nodded. “Guess it can’t be helped, can it?”
“Nope,” Ryomaru intoned.
Mikio shook his head. “What?”
The twins looked at each other and very seriously, very slowly nodded.
.:December 17, 2071:.
“Don’t be obvious about it.”
“And don’t be fucking stupid, either.”
“Please don’t tell them that we asked you to do it.”
Toga spared a moment to pin each of the Izayoi brothers with a probing stare before shaking his head and glancing through the trees at the house. “I know; I know,” he reassured them for what had to be the hundredth time since Kichiro had talked him into coming out to see if he could get anything out of his aunt and uncle. “Refresh my memory, would you? Why is it that you think I can get them to talk if you couldn’t?”
Ryomaru snorted. “Because they like you,” he grumbled.
Toga rolled his eyes. “Oh, yeah, that’s right.”
“W . . . They like me,” Mikio muttered, clearly irritated by the insinuation.
Kichiro chuckled. “Yeah, but you’re the baby, so you don’t count. Parents never tell the baby anything. It’s an unwritten rule.”
Mikio snorted—a sound that was wholly out of character for him.
Toga heaved a sigh, scratching his head thoughtfully as he stared at the nearby house. “I don’t know,” he drawled at length. “If they wanted you three to know what, if anything, was going on, they’d have told you; don’t you think?”
That earned him three very significant glowers. “Get your ass in there and take one for the team, you wuss,” Ryomaru growled.
Kichiro clapped Toga on the shoulder and shoved him hard. “If you don’t come back, I’ll marry Sierra and start my harem.”
Toga snorted. “Keh! As if she’d want a baka like you—you’re like the hamburger listed on the menu just after the prime rib.”
“I’m like the after dinner mint following a really crappy, highly overpriced meal,” Kichiro quipped. “Now move.”
Toga shook his head but stomped away, heading toward the house.
“Think they’ll tell him anything?” Mikio asked at length.
Ryomaru grunted. “Hells, no,” he shot back. “With any luck, though, the old man’ll thump him a good one.”
“I don’t know,” Mikio drawled slowly. “Maybe they’ll tell him something . . .”
Kichiro nodded but remained silent.
“What . . . the hell are you doing?”
Mikio turned at the sound of his nephew’s voice in time to catch Zelig Sebastian’s expression of complete confusion with just a hint of trepidation clouding his bright golden eyes. “Da-da-da-da,” Bailey, Bas’ son, burbled from the safety of his father’s arms.
“They’re arguing—or something,” Mikio muttered, jerking his head in the general direction of the Izayoi house.
Bas shifted Bailey from the right side to his left, absently tugging on the little white fur hood that was perched atop his downy head. The tiny silver bell sewed to the top of the cap jingled merrily, catching Ryomaru’s attention and forcing the hanyou to do a classic double take. “Oh, for the love of kami . . .” he muttered, waving a hand at the pup. “Who the fuck put that on there?”
Bas rolled his eyes but grinned. “Sydnie thought it was cute,” he pointed out mildly.
“He ain’t a fucking cow,” Ryomaru grumbled with a shake of his head. “Putting damn bells on the next fucking tai-youkai? Keh!”
Bas ignored Ryomaru’s condemnations and gave the bell another little flick with his claw. “So . . . gonna tell me what the hell you’re doing out here?” he prodded.
Mikio let out a deep breath, unable to resist as he reached over to give the bell a flick, too. Bailey squealed happily just before jamming his mitten-covered hand into his mouth. “We’re waiting to see if Toga has any luck in finding out why Mama and Papa are fighting.”
Bas considered that then shrugged offhandedly. “Well, aren’t they usually fighting?”
“Yeah, it’s different this time,” Mikio insisted.
Bas didn’t look like he was buying into it, but he finally shrugged again as Ryomaru, in a fit of irritation, cut the bell off Bailey’s hat and tossed it aside. Bas rolled his eyes. Bailey just blinked at his great-uncle. “So you sent Toga in there? Why didn’t you guys try to find out?”
Kichiro snorted. “We did. Didn’t work—obviously.”
“Hmm, looks like it didn’t work for him, either,” Bas remarked as Toga slipped out of the house and slowly shook his head.
“Well, balls!” Ryomaru hissed.
Mikio slowly nodded.
“Uncle Yasha said that everything’s—and I quote—fine—fucking fine . . . so get the hell outta here,” Toga said as he drew abreast of the gathering.
“Kami, you suck,” Ryomaru grumbled, draping his hands on his hips and shaking his head at his cousin.
“Losing your touch, Toga?” Kichiro goaded.
Toga narrowed his gaze and pinned each of the twins with a somewhat bored expression. “I told you it wouldn’t work, if you’ll recall.”
“So what are we going to do next?” Mikio cut in before the discussion degenerated any further.
“Keh! Send the pup in there . . . Mother’s a sucker for pups,” Ryomaru suggested.
“Maybe, but that won’t really get an answer out of them, don’t you think?” Bas argued.
Kichiro clapped Bas on the shoulder. “Can’t hurt, can it?”
“You know, I’m morally against the idea of using my son to try to trick Grandma,” Bas pointed out as he started toward the house.
“Just shut up and do it!” Kichiro hissed.
Bas kept walking, nodding to indicate that he’d heard his uncle though he didn’t respond.
Heaving a sigh, Kichiro shifted his gaze to the side, staring at Toga for several long moments. “Did you even try to find out, or did you just go in there and tell him that we’d sent you?”
Toga wrinkled his nose. “I was subtle,” he insisted.
“Baka,” Ryomaru muttered under his breath, reaching over to whack the back of Toga’s head.
Toga must’ve realized what was coming, and he ducked just in time. Luckily for him, Ryomaru missed, but he didn’t miss Kichiro, who swung around to glower at his brother. “What the hell was that for, bastard?” he demanded.
Ryomaru snorted. “Keh! That Toga-fucker ducked,” he explained.
Kichiro didn’t look like he was going to buy the explanation. A moment later, his hand shot out, grasping Ryomaru’s nipple and twisting hard.
“Oww-w-w!” Ryomaru howled, spinning away from Kichiro’s iron grip-of-doom. “Nipple stud—nipple stud—nipple stud—nipple stud!”
“Baka—baka—baka—baka,” Toga muttered.
The twins glanced at each other then at Toga, who was still watching the house with avid intensity. Mikio blinked and barely had enough time to hop back as the two older Izayoi brothers lunged at Toga. One minute, the current Japanese tai-youkai was standing there, completely oblivious to the mayhem heading his way. The next minute, he had his dignity down around his ankles.
Mikio let out a deep breath and shook his head as Toga yanked his pants pack up and glowered at the twins. “You’d think that you’d have outgrown that,” he grumbled.
Ryomaru grinned unrepentantly. “Yeah, you’d think.”
Too bad no one got a chance to retort. A sudden rattle in the barren tree branches above gave way to a chorus of pained cries. A heavy ‘thump’ atop his head, and Mikio saw stars as he gripped his head and uttered a low groan.
The stars cleared slowly, and Mikio grimace as he found himself staring at the blatant irritation on his father’s face as he glowered at each and every one of them. “What the fuck do you all think you’re doing?” InuYasha demanded.
Ryomaru was the first to recover enough to answer. “Just . . . hanging out, old man,” he mumbled, rubbing his head where InuYasha’s fist had connected.
InuYasha snorted. “Mind your own fucking business,” he growled, crossing his arms over his chest and looking entirely formidable.
The four exchanged significant looks. Kichiro cleared his throat. “Okay,” he allowed, having gotten over the sting of InuYasha’s impromptu ‘correction’. “How about you tell us why you and Mama aren’t seeing eye to eye?”
“Keh! Get the hell outta my forest, pup,” InuYasha snarled as he pivoted on his heel and started to stomp away.
Kichiro cleared his throat. “But . . . uh . . . we live here, old man,” he pointed out a little too reasonably. “At least, some of us do . . .”
For a moment, Mikio really thought that InuYasha was going to come right back and thump them all once more. Instead, though, he muttered something that they were all better off not hearing before he moved on.
“Guess he figured out what we were doing,” Kichiro remarked after InuYasha had disappeared into the house once more.
Toga let out a deep breath and nodded. “Are you going to give up?”
Ryomaru snorted. “Hell, no,” he retorted. “Now I really, really wanna know what’s going on . . .”
Mikio heaved a sigh, idly scratching his head as he stared at the house, too. “Yeah,” he said. “Me, too . . .”
.:December 17, 2071:.
“So . . . Kichiro, Ryomaru, Bas, and Father all went in there, got nothing except a good thump on the head, and you want me to take a shot at it now, too?”
Ears flicking just slightly as he gazed steadily at Mikio, Inutaisho Mamoruzen—Gunnar, to most everyone—somehow managed to look bored as well as a little condescending. Mikio shrugged. “Uh, yeah.”
Gunnar nodded slowly. “And why would I do that?” he countered.
Mikio stuffed his hands into his pockets, trying to ignore the brisk wind that had continued from the night before, even if it had dulled just enough to keep from feeling like a series of razor blades against his bare skin. “Because it’ll ruin the holiday if they’re still arguing on Christmas Eve, and your father really hates it when your mother’s Christmases get ruined.”
Gunnar opened his mouth to argue then snapped it closed when Toga nodded ever so slowly. “I do,” Toga agreed nonchalantly. “I really, really do.”
“Fine,” Gunnar uttered tersely.
Bas caught Gunnar’s arm before the latter could walk away. “Do me a favor, would you?”
Gunnar rolled his eyes but raised his eyebrows at Bas in silent question.
“Retrieve Bailey for me. Grandma sort of claimed him.”
He actually looked at Bas as though he’d just sprouted another head. “He’s a baby, Bas. I don’t do babies, remember?”
Bas made a face. “Don’t be stupid, Gun. All you have to do is bring him out with you. You’ll have him in your arms all of, what? A minute? Get a grip.”
Gunnar didn’t look like he wanted to comply, but he finally nodded curtly and walked away.
Mikio cleared his throat. “You actually trust him to bring out Bailey?”
“As long as he doesn’t drop him, sure,” Bas replied.
“Bailey’ll be scarred for life,” Mikio predicted.
“Nah,” Bas said then sighed. “Well, maybe . . .”
To be honest, Mikio didn’t really expect Gunnar to have any more luck than anyone else had thus far. In fact, he was starting to wonder whether or not anyone actually would. His last great hope was Gin, of course. InuYasha had always had a soft spot for his only daughter, after all. She wouldn’t be in until tomorrow, though, and it was luck that she was able to get a flight on such short notice, in the first place . . .
But he really was getting desperate, no doubt about it. Gunnar had showed up shortly after Bas’ defeat. He’d arrived this morning, maintaining that his mother had insisted, and he couldn’t ignore her, now could he? Certainly not.
“I brought coffee.”
Kichiro turned and smiled as Bellaniece stepped out of the foliage behind the gathering with a very large thermos of coffee and a stack of Styrofoam cups.
“Thanks, princess,” he said, taking the thermos from her and turning the cap.
“You mean, you guys still haven’t given up?” Nezumi, Ryomaru’s mate asked, as she held out a thin, cardboard box of pastries.
“Aren’t you supposed to be picking up Sami at the airport?” Kichiro suddenly asked.
Bellaniece heaved a sigh but smiled. “They’re not coming after all,” she explained. “Sami called to say that Tanny was fine—until they got her onto the plane, and it started to move. The poor thing freaked out, and they ended up having to bring out the rollaway so that they could get off. The passengers were a little upset since they all had to disembark and wait in the airport while the plane was re-readied for take off . . .”
Kichiro whistled and grimaced. “Damn,” he muttered, dumping coffee into the cup that Bellaniece was holding out.
“Poor little thing! Her first real Christmas and everything,” Bellaniece went on, handing the filled cup to Mikio and presenting an empty one. “I guess it can’t be helped, all things considered . . .”
Mikio figured that was true, too. Tanny . . . well, he’d been told that the child was still a little skittish when it came to being out and about in the public, so it wasn’t entirely surprising. After spending so long in the research facility where she was born, she really was making remarkable progress, as far as he could see, and while he’d been looking forward to seeing Sami and meeting both her mate as well as her adopted daughter, he understood why she wasn’t going to be able to make it, after all.
“Where’s Sydnie?” Nezumi asked Bas as he reached for a pastry.
“Planes are hard on her. She’s sleeping off a headache at Mom and Dad’s house,” he explained.
“And you’re hanging out in the forest?” She looked around suddenly, confusion marring her brow. “Where’s Bailey?”
He shrugged. “Well, I was going to make the rounds, but Grandma got a hold of him . . .”
Nezumi nodded. “Yeah, she used to do that when Morio was little, too.”
“Are you guys going to camp out here or something?” Sierra asked as she joined the group.
Toga slipped an arm around her and kissed her forehead. “No . . . At least, I don’t think so . . .”
Sierra rolled her eyes but hugged Toga back. “You know, if they haven’t told you anything, then they’re probably not going to.”
“They’ll crack sooner or later,” Ryomaru grunted with a determined edge in his voice just before he downed an entire cup of steaming hot coffee. Staring down into the empty cup with a slight frown, he shook his head. “You know, this would have been better if you’d grated up some cinnamon in it . . .”
Bellaniece laughed. “I’ll try that next time,” she promised.
Kichiro snorted. “Kami . . . Cooking tips from Ryo . . .”
“At least you don’t live with him,” Nezumi grumbled. “I made him an egg the other day, and he had to re-cook it . . .”
“Oi, wench,” he growled.
“Ah, look . . . Gunsie’s been shot down, too . . .” Bas broke in, nodding in the direction of the house.
Mikio looked. Sure enough, Gunnar was stomping toward them, sans Bailey, with a rather pronounced scowl on his face. Shaking his head when he spotted the rapidly growing number of people gathered within the relative obscurity of the trees, he sighed. “You realize that at this point, they know what’s going on,” he pointed out.
Kichiro shrugged. “Yeah, we figured. Eventually they might give in, though, since they know that we’ll keep trying.”
Gunnar flicked an imaginary bit of lint off the sleeve of his overcoat. “Or hell will freeze over,” he countered. “Face it: Uncle Yasha has gotten stubbornness down to a science.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Bas grumped. “Where’s my son?”
To Mikio’s surprise, Gunnar actually grinned. “Aunt Gome said that if you want him, come and take him.”
Bas grimaced since he, like everyone else, wasn’t about to go in there and challenge Kagome. “Damn . . . Sydnie’s gonna kill me if I go back to Mom and Dad’s without Bailey . . .”
“Serves you right for trying to use your pup to get them to ‘fess up,” Ryomaru gloated.
Bas sighed and rubbed his face in a completely defeated sort of way.
“Well, why didn’t you tell me you were having a family reunion out here?” Morio grouched as he stomped out of the trees, dragging his mate along behind him by the hand. “I’d have brought some coffee or something.”
“God, no,” Meara interjected, quickly shaking her head.
“I make killer coffee,” he quipped.
“In every sense of the word,” she shot back sweetly.
“I made some, and no one’s died from drinking it . . . yet,” Bellaniece pointed out.
“Oh, thank you,” Meara said, letting go of Morio’s hand in favor of accepting a cup of good coffee.
“So what are we doing out here?” Morio drawled.
Gunnar frowned at his cousin for a moment before pinning Mikio with a marked stare. “Didn’t you send him in?”
Mikio shook his head. “No . . . Hadn’t thought of it.”
The rest of them slowly turned to eye Morio carefully, each of them pondering in their minds, whether or not they actually thought that he’d have any better luck.
“Oh, sweet!” Morio exclaimed, grabbing a pastry and shoving damn near all of it into his mouth in one bite. “Arigato, Mama-san,” he garbled, crumbs dropping from his gaping maw.
Nezumi stared, nonplussed, at her son. “Just like your father,” she muttered.
Ryomaru, not to be outdone, snatched a pastry, too, but he managed to shove the entire thing into his mouth. “Uh-uh,” he burbled. “I got a bigger mouth . . . among other things . . .”
“Wow . . . and that . . . is my twin,” Kichiro grumbled with a shake of his head.
“Oh, is Bailey with you?” Meara asked, touching Bas’ arm to gain his attention.
Bas nodded and then grimaced. “Yeah, but Grandma sort of . . . Well, we’re pretty sure that she’s holding him hostage.”
Meara giggled and started to hurry away.
“Bring him back with you if you can spring him!” Bas hissed in a loud whisper. He grimaced when the front door opened and InuYasha stomped out, passing Meara with little more than a nod to indicate that he’d seen her. Not surprisingly, he made a beeline toward them, planting himself in front of them with a no-nonsense look on his face.
“Oi, ol’ man,” Morio said. He still hadn’t finished the pastry in his mouth. “’Ant ‘ome ‘offee?”
InuYasha snorted. “You three: baka, baka’s twin, and son of the bastard. Come with me.”
Kichiro, Ryomaru, and Toga exchanged almost worried looks—probably because in the length of time since he’d last been out there, InuYasha had found the time to don his sword.
“Something on your mind, old man?” Kichiro asked innocently.
“Keh! If you got enough time to loiter in my forest, then you got enough time to practice.”
“But, um, what about them?” Toga hedged, nodding at the younger men as he tried his level best to look completely innocent.
InuYasha snorted again. “Oh, they’ll get their turns, too. Now move it.”
“You know, Uncle, if you beat me, you’ll be tai-youkai,” Toga pointed out as he reluctantly followed InuYasha.
“I ain’t gonna beat you,” InuYasha grouched. “Just gonna beat on you, pup.”
“And somehow, that just doesn’t make me feel any better,” Toga grumbled.
“This is so nice,” Morio said, slinging an arm around Bas and Gunnar’s necks as he wheedled his way between them. “We never get together like this anymore.”
“Yeah, there’s a reason for that,” Gunnar replied acerbically, trying to shrug off Morio’s grasp.
“It makes me feel so warm and cozy inside . . . kind of like having gas . . .”
Gunnar tried harder to shake off Morio. “Baka.”
Morio grinned. “I love you guys!” he gushed. Mikio flinched just in time to avoid seeing Morio smack his lips against Gunnar’s cheek.
“Don’t even think about it,” Bas warned, shoving Morio aside when the miscreant turned to look at him.
Morio grinned. “Just like old times, eh, Mammy? Except you’re not Bas’ girlfriend anymore.”
Gunnar whipped around to go after Morio. He laughed and quickly ducked behind his mother, sparing a moment to give her a loud, slurpy sounding kiss on the cheek.
“Go in there and see if you can get any information out of Grandma,” Bas interrupted before Gunnar could deal Morio any real damage.
Morio shook his head. “Why? What kind of information?”
Mikio twiddled his twitching left ear and leaned back against a stout tree trunk. “She and Papa aren’t exactly talking.”
He blinked. “You don’t say . . .”
“Just go see if you can find out anything,” Gunnar added. “I’ve got better things to do than standing around the forest, waiting for Uncle Yasha to beat the hell out of me.”
As if in confirmation of Gunnar’s assessment, the distinct clank of metal meeting metal rang out in the distance. Mikio grimaced. True enough, InuYasha didn’t normally beat on Mikio since he wasn’t exactly what one might consider to be ‘dexterous’. Still . . .
Morio hitched his shoulders as he stared at the house as though he had to steel his resolve before making the trek. “All right,” he said at length, glancing back at them. “I’m going in.”
“Grandma’s going to tear him up and leave him for the scavengers,” Bas predicted as Morio strode away.
“Yep,” Gunnar agreed.
“Aunt Nezumi might miss him,” Mikio remarked.
“Just a little,” Nezumi muttered.
“Now, boys, you’re going about this all wrong,” Bellaniece pointed out. “Just going in there, demanding answers doesn’t work. You need a woman’s touch.”
“I really don’t think I like where this is going,” Nezumi put in.
“That’s right,” Sierra agreed, stepping over beside Bellaniece and giving her shoulders a fortifying squeeze. “And Belle, here, will show you exactly what she means—if Morio makes it out alive, that is.”
They didn’t have too long to wait, either. Five minutes later, Morio was back, but at least this time, he had a nice plate of rice balls and what looked to be a thermos of tea. “Grandma says that it’s supposed to get cold again, so we’d better go somewhere warm before it does,” he told them.
Bas sighed and reached for a rice ball. “Well, that figures.”
Gunnar snorted but took a riceball, too. “Did you even ask if anything was wrong, Morio?” he demanded.
Morio grinned. “Yeah, but she started talking about the weather and about how big Bailey’s gotten—you know, right, Bas? That pup of yours is already as big as a battle tank.”
“Sydnie says she likes big puppies,” Bas replied, cheeks pinking slightly.
Gunnar snorted. Morio grinned. Mikio cleared his throat and pretended not to understand the double entendre.
Bellaniece giggled and set the thermos of coffee on the ground nearby. “Come on, ladies. Let’s go show the boys how it’s done.”
Nezumi looked like she’d rather do just about anything than to go along with the rest of the women. Unfortunately for her, Sierra linked her arm through Nezumi’s right one while Bellaniece linked her arm through Nezumi’s left, effectively trapping her as the trio headed out of the trees.
Morio chuckled. “Poor Mama,” he murmured in a tone that was less than sympathetic. “Oi! Don’t eat all the rice balls!”
“You snooze, you lose,” Bas shot back, stuffing another rice ball into his mouth.
Mikio sighed, staring at the house with a marked scowl on his face. Somehow, he doubted that the women would have any more luck than they had . . .
.:December 18, 2071:.
Mikio grimaced as a flash of light erupted from the sword held tight in his father’s hands, reverberating outward in a spiral of energy and motion, only to be cut off short when the streak of electric green shot out, wrapping around Tetsusaiga’s blade. The earth shook as an explosion rumbled through the forest, and in another blinding flash of light, the gargantuan fang was neutralized by Sesshoumaru’s energy whip.
“I fucking hate you,” InuYasha snarled as he stepped back abruptly and slammed the useless, rusty sword into the scabbard strapped to his hip.
Sesshoumaru’s expression didn’t change despite the marked brightening in his eyes. “The feeling is mutual, baka,” he replied dryly.
InuYasha snorted. “Keh! Damn the old man, anyway,” he muttered.
Mikio had been told a long time ago that it hadn’t always been so. Sesshoumaru didn’t have the ability to nullify the transformation when they’d been younger, and it was only something that he’d been able to develop over time. Kagome surmised that it was likely that their father, the great and powerful Inu no Taisho, had wanted there to be a way for the brothers to be forced to deal with each other without having to resort to violence to do it. As Sesshoumaru gained power, as InuYasha grew older and therefore better able to control the power contained in the sword the two had reached the proverbial stalemate.
“The likes of you will never defeat This Sesshoumaru,” he taunted.
“We’ll see about that, bastard,” InuYasha growled. “Suppose you tell me why you bothered to show your ugly mug in my forest?”
“Tell me why you and the miko are not seeing eye to eye,” he challenged.
Draping his hands on his hips, InuYasha glowered at his half-brother, and Mikio turned his face away seconds before his father’s eyes lit on him. “Dunno what you’re talking about,” he muttered.
Mikio felt his ears smash down against his skull, and he grimaced.
He hadn’t exactly meant to mention the problems to his uncle. He really hadn’t. But he’d gone to work earlier in the day, unable to concentrate on the basest of tasks. By noon, Sesshoumaru had demanded to know, point blank, exactly what was eating at him. Mikio had been reluctant, but he’d finally told Sesshoumaru what was going on, completing the tale with the fact that not even the women and their apparent ‘winning strategy’ had gotten Kagome to crack . . .
But the worst of it? Aunt Kagura had overheard the tale, and, while Sesshoumaru might well have been willing to let InuYasha and Kagome to work it out themselves, Kagura, apparently, wasn’t so likeminded . . .
“You realize, right? If things really are that bad—if Kagome kicks him out—where do you suppose he’ll ask to stay?”
Sesshoumaru stared at her for a full minute before responding in a very clipped tone, “Right outside her door, knowing that baka.”
Kagura rolled her eyes. “And if it gets worse than that? What if he asks to stay with us? I wouldn’t mind, of course. He is your brother, after all . . .”
Sesshoumaru narrowed his eyes—the first crack in the Great Wall, or so it would seem. “That will not happen,” he stated flatly.
“It could,” she pointed out. “I mean, he did stay with us for awhile, if you’ll recall. When he first came through the well, he stayed with us then.”
Upon first glance, it would seem that Sesshoumaru wasn’t budging. Mikio didn’t miss the slight narrowing of his uncle’s eyes. “He would rather bite off his nose to spite his face than to ask me for anything,” he insisted.
Kagura shrugged and smiled almost politely. “As his brother, you should probably offer to let him stay here. After all, it would be the proper thing to do, all things considered.”
Sesshoumaru dug his claws into the desk. It groaned obscenely in the otherwise quiet office. “I have spoken, woman,” he said in as close to a grumble as Mikio had ever heard from him.
The polite smile widened into something akin to a victorious smirk as she headed for the door. “Of course you have, Sesshoumaru. I think I’ll have one of the girls ready the guest room, just in case.”
Ten minutes later, he and Mikio were carefully tucked away in Sesshoumaru’s luxury sedan, heading across Tokyo toward InuYasha’s forest.
“Is that right,” he challenged. It wasn’t a question.
“Not a damn fucking thing,” InuYasha snarled, crossing his arms over his chest in a complete show of arrogant belligerence.
“Then keep your business away from my house,” Sesshoumaru warned.
There was a distinctly uncomfortable silence as the current Inu no Taisho stared at InuYasha for a moment before turning on his heel and stalking away. Mikio considered trying to slip away, too, but that thought vanished when he felt his father’s formidable gaze light on him once more.
“What’re the odds that you didn’t have a damn thing to do with this?” InuYasha demanded curtly.
Mikio shifted nervously and tried to keep his ear from twitching. It didn’t work. “Well . . . I-I . . .”
“Keh! Know something, pup?” his father went on as though Mikio hadn’t spoken at all. “Your mama and I can figure things out on our own. You got that?”
Mikio could feel the blood drain from his face, but he forced himself to nod, anyway. “Y-yes, sir,” he mumbled, shuffling his feet in the dirt.
“And another thing,” InuYasha went on, his words gaining volume as they tumbled out, “there ain’t a damn thing going on, pup, so forget about it!”
Mikio forced himself to nod, trying to ignore the myriad of moments that flashed through his mind: moments when he’d tried to become as inconspicuous as possible while his parents argued and fussed over him; over a tripping incident or an inadvertent slip . . . Too many times when he’d instigated fights without even trying, and now . . . “S-sorry, Papa,” he said in a voice barely above a whisper.
InuYasha snorted, sparing another moment to glower at him before stomping off toward the house.
Mikio watched him go through a veil of his eyelashes and sighed. Everything InuYasha had said . . . it was the same stuff he always said to ‘reassure’ Mikio that they weren’t arguing over him . . .
.:December 18, 2071:.
“And they’ve been fighting ever since then?”
Mikio grimaced but nodded, tugging lightly on his left ear.
Gin wrung her hands and glanced up at her mate for reassurance. Cain made a face but pulled her close against his side. “Well, that’s not good . . .” she fretted.
“Maybe your mother’s just finally figured out that your father’s a jacka—” Cain began.
“Cain!” she chided, slapping him lightly in the center of his chest.
“Nah, she figured that out a long time ago,” Ryomaru interjected with a shrug. “This is pretty serious.”
“So I thought, you know . . . maybe Mama or Papa would tell you,” Mikio went on, ignoring his brother and brother-in-law’s commentary.
Gin nodded slowly. “Okay,” she allowed thoughtfully. “I’ll give it my best shot!”
Cain heaved a sigh as Gin hastily kissed his cheek and darted away. “I hate to say it,” he drawled slowly as he scratched his chin, “and I do mean I hate to say it, but . . . but I think I’ve got to agree with InuYasha on this one.”
The assembled men all turned to gawp at the North American tai-youkai. “Come again?” Bas blurted incredulously.
Cain rolled his eyes. “I mean, it is their business . . . Ever consider that you are all making it worse?”
Eyes lowered, unable to meet Cain’s direct gaze—even Gunnar, surprisingly, was in on this one. “It’s not like their normal, err . . . moments,” Toga explained. “I mean, they’re not talking at all. If they were yelling at each other or something, then I wouldn’t worry . . . we wouldn’t worry . . . but it isn’t.”
They were all out here, weren’t they? Mikio, Ryomaru, the ass-monkey, Toga, Bas, Gunnar, Morio . . . and from what he’d already overheard, even Sesshoumaru had been called upon to intervene, not that it had done any good at all. Cain shook his head, leaning against a tree to wait with the rest of them.
“Oh, come on, Griffin! Grandpa’s even said that he respects you, so—”
“Somehow, I find that entirely too hard to believe,” the surly bear-youkai remarked acerbically.
Isabelle waved her free hand as she dragged her unwilling spouse through the trees to join the rest of them. “Well, okay, not in so many words, but he did imply it . . .”
Griffin spotted Cain and shot him what could only be described as a pleading sort of look—or at least as close to pleading as Griffin Marin ever managed to get. “Talk some sense into her, will you?” he growled, jerking his head rather pathetically in the general direction of his mate.
Isabelle hurried over to kiss Cain’s cheek. He, in turn, swatted her rear end. “Leave him alone, Bitty,” he scolded mildly.
She grinned at the reprimand. “It’s for a good cause,” she argued.
“It’s enough that you let the boys talk you into it. Don’t drag him in, too.”
“At least she didn’t threaten to take away hero points if you didn’t help out,” Gavin Jamison grumbled as he stomped into view with Cain’s daughter, Jillian, in tow.
Jillian giggled and leaned up to kiss Cain’s cheek, too. “Now, Gavvie, you did try, and I gave you more hero points for that—and a really nice reward last night.”
Gavin snorted and turned a little red as he snapped his mouth closed and tried not to look too embarrassed. “Where’s Evan?” he asked in a very obvious effort to change the subject.
“Shit . . . is that little fucker coming, too?” Bas asked. “He doesn’t know how to fix problems; he only knows how to cause them.”
“Now, Bas, he is your brother, and your mother likes him, too,” Cain reminded him.
Bas heaved a sigh and shook his head since he probably didn’t understand how that could possibly be any more than Cain, himself, did. “Let’s hope they’re talking before he gets here, then.”
“Well, that doesn’t look good . . .”
Cain turned to look in the direction that Kichiro was watching, only to see Gin wandering away from the house in the clearing with her arms crossed over her chest as she chewed on her lower lip. Her ears were drooping—sticking out to the sides in a very clear indication that all did not go as planned. When she stopped in front of Cain, however, she refused to look at him, sticking out her bottom lip in a marked pout.
“Well?” he prompted when she offered no explanation.
Wrinkling her nose, she bobbed her shoulders in a curt shrug. “Mama told me to . . . mind my own business,” she admitted.
To his credit, Cain didn’t laugh. He didn’t even crack a smile—something that really ought to have earned him some kind of award, given the circumstances. He pulled her against his side and kissed the top of her head. “Let them work it out for themselves,” he stated once more, albeit gently.
“Mikio’s right,” Gin went on with a determined shake of her head. “There is something strange going on in there.” She turned to Cain, her eyes aglow with a sheen of determination as she slapped her balled up fist into her open palm. “We have got to find out what it is!”
He stifled a groan. No doubt about it, the woman tended to discover her Izayoi stubborn streak at all the wrong times, didn’t she . . .?
“Gin . . .” he began then sighed. He might as well have been talking to a wall for all the attention she paid him.
“Let’s see . . . who hasn’t asked them yet?”
The boys exchanged looks then shrugged. “Just about everyone has,” Mikio allowed, looking thoroughly defeated.
“I say you should just let them alone,” Cain said loudly.
“What about Bellaniece, Nezumi, and Sierra?” Gin asked, completely ignoring his suggestion.
“Yesterday,” Ryomaru said. “No luck.”
Gin tapped her cheek thoughtfully. “Well, did you try using Bailey?” she queried at length.
Bas snorted. “Kind of.”
“And that didn’t work?”
“Gin, would we be out here if the Bailey plan had worked?” Kichiro countered calmly.
“Oh,” she breathed. “I guess not . . . but that would have worked on me . . .”
“Yeah, that’s what we thought, too. Took all day to get him back, as it was,” Bas muttered.
Gin blinked. “You mean, Mama wouldn’t let you have him back?”
He shrugged. “Sydnie had to go in and retrieve him.”
“Oh . . .”
Letting out a deep breath, Cain pushed away from the tree and turned to leave. Sooner or later, InuYasha and Kagome, both, were bound to lose what little patience they had, and he aimed to be far, far away when they did.
“Zelig-sensei! Where are you going?”
Cain didn’t stop as he dug his hands into his pockets and shrugged his shoulders to adjust his coat. “The house, Gin,” he called back.
“But . . . but Mama and Papa . . .”
“They’re fine, you know. And they’re adults—or at least your mother is, but it’s cold out here, and I, for one, would rather be somewhere warm.”
She sighed, her upset tingeing her aura. Cain almost turned back, but forced himself to keep moving. No, this entire situation had ‘disaster’ written all over it, as far as he was concerned . . .
Besides that, Gin had taken the time to make him a very nice double chocolate layer cake before they’d gone to bed last night, and he fully intended to eat it all before any of his pups or grandpups showed up to try to steal it . . .
.:December 24, 2071:.
“‘Dashing through the snow . . . lookin’ for a lay . . . o’er the streets we go . . . down to ol’ Broadway . . . The girls are looking phat . . . pink satin and fishnet tucks . . . I popped a woody in the car . . . and they all just wanted a f—’”
Cain smacked Evan upside the head as he passed the miscreant son of Satan on his way to the kitchen in the festively lit Izayoi house. “Finish that and die, Evan,” he warned.
Evan grinned unrepentantly at his father without missing a beat on the acoustic guitar he’d brought along.
“Well, it’s not as uncomfortable as I figured it’d be,” Shippou remarked, sidling up beside Cain as he nodded toward InuYasha, who was being mauled at the moment by his seven month old grandson. Bailey apparently thought that the hanyou was a jungle gym, and InuYasha didn’t seem to be inclined to correct this misconception, either. “Aiko said she struck out, too.”
“Oh, she did, just like the rest of them,” Cain said, nodding toward the other side of the room where Toga, Ryomaru, Morio, Gavin, and Alexandra’s longtime boyfriend, John were completely enthralled with a racing video game. Bas and Gunnar stood nearby, conversing—probably about work—in quiet tones. The women were in the kitchen, probably driving Kagome crazy as she finished up the meal. Sesshoumaru and Seiji, Aiko’s husband, stood nearby, conversing quietly with Griffin, who looked like he’d rather be anywhere than talking to the Inu no Taisho while Evan and Kichiro—two of a kind, in Cain’s unbiased opinion—played twisted versions of classic Christmas carols for their own entertainment.
In all actuality, though, the tension between InuYasha and Kagome wasn’t that strong of a thing, probably because they were nowhere near one another and hadn’t been all evening.
In fact, the only one who seemed to be feeling any of the tension at all was Mikio. Sitting by himself near the fireplace as he stared pensively into the flames, the young man looked entirely introspective and maybe just a little sad . . .
“Did they talk you into trying to find out what was going on?” Cain couldn’t help but ask.
Shippou chuckled and sipped some wine before answering. “Sure. Got a good thump for the trouble, too.”
Cain shook his head, not entirely surprised to hear that.
“Eh, it’s been awhile since that’s happened,” Shippou went on with a careless shrug. “Almost forgot how badly those hurt, you know.”
“You can forget something like that?”
The kitsune grinned. “No, but it sounded good, right?”
Rolling his eyes, Cain chuckled as Shippou lifted his glass in silent salute before moving off to break up the conversation between Sesshoumaru and Griffin—probably saving the bear-youkai, anyway.
Kagome hurried into the room, sparing a moment to smile at her guests before she headed toward her mate. “InuYasha, would you mind bringing in a bit more firewood? It’s getting a little chilly in here.”
“I’ll get it, Mama,” Mikio said as he slowly got to his feet.
Kagome’s thin smile widened considerably. “Thank you, sweetie. Such a good boy!”
Mikio smiled back just a little, but the expression faltered after she turned to head back toward the kitchen again.
Cain frowned. It was his considered opinion that Mikio tended to be a little too sensitive to his parents’ moods. Hell, even if he was Gin’s brother, he wasn’t much older than their own son, Bas, and in the years that he’d watched Mikio grow up, Cain knew well enough that his physical shortcomings had somehow been ingrained into his psyche.
Without thinking on it too long, Cain followed Mikio out of the house and into the brisk night air.
“You all right?” he asked as he stopped behind the young lawyer.
Mikio shot Cain a rather nervous sort of glance and sank down on the pile of wood stacked neatly beside the house. “M-me? Yeah, I’m okay,” he muttered.
“Sure about that?”
Letting out a deep breath, Mikio’s ears twitched nervously as he lifted his gaze to the horizon of trees that stood in blackness against the glow of the city beyond. Not for the first time, Cain noted the strange calm that had always existed here, as though Tokyo wasn’t nearby. Somehow, the hustle and bustle was easy to forget in this place—an easy explanation as to how it could be that those two—InuYasha and Kagome—had managed to raise a daughter like Gin, and a son like Mikio . . .
“Mama . . . Mama didn’t want me to move out of the forest,” Mikio said quietly, breaking the companionable silence that had fallen between the men. “I mean, she didn’t say so, but . . .” He shrugged, his gaze dropping to the barren ground. “Y-you know something funny? Gin always said that Papa was the one who didn’t want her to move to Maine with you, right? But Mama . . . she holds on so tightly . . .”
Cain nodded slowly, hunching his shoulders slightly to shield himself against the rising wind. “And you think that this whole thing is because of you? That their entire disagreement is because you wanted to move a couple miles away from the forest?”
Mikio shot him a guilty sort of glance then jerked his head once in a nod. “They never tell me, you know? When they’re fighting over me, they never tell me . . .”
“But you know.”
“Of course I know.”
Cain sighed and rubbed his forehead. He’d figured it was something like that. He knew well enough that both InuYasha and Kagome meant well. He might not care for InuYasha, but that didn’t mean that Cain believed him to be anything other than a good, if not rather unorthodox, father, even if he’d never actually ‘fess up to it. Still, it baffled him that they really didn’t see what they were doing to their son in their collective desire to do right by him. Then again, maybe they were too close to see it.
“I just . . . I just want them to stop,” he said in a half-whisper, as though he were talking more to himself than to Cain. “I’m so . . . so sick of it . . .”
A half-formed memory that was more of a fleeting image than anything else flashed through Cain’s mind: a little boy, huddled on the beach with his hands up, covering his ears during a summer visit years ago . . . Mikio had inadvertently fallen out of a tree and skinned his knee. InuYasha had maintained that he’d be just fine. Kagome, true to form, had launched into full-out mothering mode. An argument had ensued, and Mikio must have sneaked out the back door because when Cain had finally come out of the trance he’d been in while working on a painting in his studio when the raised voices rose too high to ignore, he’d spotted the boy on the beach, and later, he’d painted it . . .
Pushing himself to his feet, Mikio shook his head. “M . . . maybe I should just move back here,” he mused. “If it’d make them stop fighting . . .”
Cain grimaced. “You know, I don’t think you should,” he remarked. “Your parents—both of them—need to realize that you’re not a pup anymore.”
Mikio didn’t look convinced, not that Cain could blame him.
But a sudden anger rose in him, too—anger that InuYasha and Kagome could be blind to Mikio’s upset—anger that Mikio would let it go on and on; that he would rather do whatever his parents wanted instead of explaining to them that it was something he just needed to do. Clapping Mikio on the shoulder, Cain gave his brother-in-law a little squeeze. “Just don’t jump to conclusions, Mikio. Maybe you’re wrong about everything.”
“Maybe,” Mikio said weakly. He didn’t sound like he believed Cain.
Cain forced a little smile and turned to go.
The women were finally out of the kitchen. Cain had to wonder if Kagome had shooed them away. Gin tended to do that, finding that it was simpler for her to do things than it was to try to work around everyone else. She, however, was over with her father, coddling Bailey and smiling sweetly at the man who didn’t look old enough to have a full-grown daughter, let alone grandchildren or even great-grandchildren. Cain paused for a moment, smiling as he watched her. Something about Gin imbued him with a sense of peace. She always had . . .
With a shake of his head, he headed for the kitchen.
‘Thought you said you weren’t going to get involved,’ his youkai taunted.
Cain snorted. ‘Pfft! I wasn’t going to.’
‘So why are you?’
“I just . . . I just want them to stop. I’m so . . . so sick of it . . .”
‘Guess that’s as good a reason as any . . .’
‘Sorta what I thought, too.’
“Oh, Cain . . . do you need something?” Kagome asked, glancing up from the pot she was stirring on the stove.
Stuffing his hands into his pockets, Cain leaned in the doorframe almost casually. “Got a minute?”
She shot him a quick glance and a rather polite smile as she tapped the spoon against the edge of the pan and set it down. “All right,” she said lightly.
Cain nodded. “Look, I’m not going to ask you what’s going on between you and InuYasha. It’s none of my business, and I can respect your privacy.”
She looked like she was going to deny everything.
Cain sighed and pushed away from the door. “Thing is, Mikio . . . He thinks it’s all about him. He thinks that you’re upset that he moved into the city.”
“Why would he think such a thing?” Kagome blurted, shaking her head as if she just couldn’t fathom it.
Cain shrugged. “Does it matter?” he countered gently.
She opened her mouth to respond then snapped it closed again as a hint of a flush crept up her cheeks. “No . . . no, I suppose it doesn’t . . .”
.:December 24, 2071:.
“This is the last of them,” Mikio said as he set the glasses beside the sink.
Kagome smiled up at him—a true, genuine smile. “Thank you. You didn’t have to stay and help clean up. Why don’t you go on out there and visit with your brothers and sister?”
“It’s okay, Mama. I don’t mind.”
Her smile widened just a touch before slowly faltering as she continued to stare at him. When a thoughtful frown replaced the joyful expression on her face, he nearly grimaced. “Mikio . . . I think we need to talk.”
He blinked and shot her a guilty sort of glance. Something about the seriousness in her expression almost frightened him, didn’t it? “W-what about?” he heard himself asking, fighting to resist the urge to tug on his ear.
Letting out a long, deep breath, Kagome stared at him for a moment before drying her fingers on a pristine white towel and taking his hand to lead him out of the kitchen. To his surprise, she walked right over and shut off the television, much to the surprise and slight chagrin of Kichiro and Ryomaru, who were still playing the video game that had preoccupied them for most of the evening.
Not for the first time, Mikio noted that the only ones who had remained were his siblings. Even their mates had already gone home, and he had to wonder now whether that was by accident or design. He had a feeling that it was the latter.
Kagome drew a deep breath and gestured for Mikio to sit. He did, taking the empty chair beside the sofa. “I asked your mates to go home,” she said, casting them each an apologetic sort of smile before her eyes flicked to the side—toward InuYasha, who was leaning against the fireplace with a completely inscrutable expression on his face. “I think . . . I think that your father and I . . . Well, we owe you an explanation.”
The twins exchanged looks. Gin looked rather anxious. Mikio reached up to smash his twitching ear against his head.
Kagome sighed. “Mikio . . . we weren’t upset that you chose to move into the city,” she went on. “I’ll admit, I was worried, but that was your choice, and it’s okay.”
He shifted uncomfortably and swallowed hard, forcing himself to nod since that seemed to be what she wanted.
“In fact, it really has nothing to do with any of you,” Kagome explained, rubbing her hands together in a decidedly nervous sort of way.
“Way to chew it up and spit it out, wench,” InuYasha grumbled. Mikio glanced at him, only to stop and stare when he saw the hint of pink staining his father’s cheeks.
She narrowed her eyes at her mate, her own face reddening just a touch. “Then why don’t you tell them?” she countered. “Unless you forgot, that is.”
He snorted. “I didn’t forget,” he growled. “I’d never forget something like that! You’re the one who was supposed to keep track of it! It’s not my fault when you should have reminded me like you do every other time!”
Mikio glanced at his siblings. Judging from the expressions on their faces, they were pretty well as lost in the conversation as he was. They also didn’t look like they were going to say a thing about it, either, which was all right, considering he wasn’t brave enough to, himself . . .
Pink was fast approaching red, though Mikio had a feeling that the color was accredited more to Kagome’s rising temper than embarrassment. “You’re such a jerk!” she sputtered, balling her hands into fists at her sides. “It’s not that big a mystery—not when it comes around every single month!”
Somewhere in the back of his mind, Mikio realized that it was probably a good sign that they were yelling at each other again. Too bad he was still trying to make sense of what they were yelling and having no luck . . .
Kichiro sat up suddenly, his eyes widening as a curt laugh escaped him. “Oh, kami . . .! You’re not saying . . .?”
Kagome blinked and stared at the younger of the twins, and for some reason, her face reddened just a little more. “W-w-well,” she stammered.
InuYasha snorted and rolled his eyes, though his face was just as ruddy as Kagome’s. “Yes, yes, that’s exactly what she’s tryin’ to tell you,” he growled. “She’s gonna have a pup.”
Dead silence greeted InuYasha’s statement. A moment later, the blur of silvery hair and a high-pitched yelp to accompany it erupted as Gin launched herself at her mother, catching her in a tight hug. “Really? Really, really? Oh, that’s so fantastic, Mama!”
Kagome laughed weakly and hugged Gin back for a minute. Then she let go and stepped back as her smile faltered, leaving behind a strange sense of sadness in its wake.
“What’s the matter?” Gin whispered. “Mama?”
Kagome sighed and suddenly flopped down on a thickly cushioned ottoman, burying her face in her hands. “He . . . he doesn’t want it,” she muttered, her voice muffled.
Four heads swung around to pin their father with incredulous looks. InuYasha, himself, looked a little shocked—and a lot angry. “What?” he bellowed.
“Well, you don’t,” Kagome went on in a tiny voice. “All you said was that I should have reminded you, that it wasn’t your fault, remember?”
“Don’t be fucking stupid!” InuYasha shot back hotly, his fingers doing overtime as he fiddled with the now-defunct prayer beads hanging around his throat. “Guess I shoulda remembered that being pregnant affects your brain, too!”
“Well, you did!” she retorted.
“Yeah, and you said that you didn’t fucking want a pup, so what the hell was I supposed to say?” he bellowed.
Kagome blinked in confused surprise. “When did I say that?”
“Keh! When you were bitching because you wouldn’t be able to go to Maine next spring!”
“That’s not what I meant!” Kagome insisted. “All I said was that we’d have to change our plans, was all!”
“That’s the same fucking thing!”
“No, it’s not!”
“Yes, it is!”
Kagome uttered a frustrated growl, but the next thing out of her mouth surprised everyone. “Oswuari!”
He flinched, ears flattening, then blinked and snorted very loudly. “Keh! That don’t work anymore, wench!”
“I could change that, you know,” she threatened, finally lifting her face from her hands.
“You probably shouldn’t be upsetting Mama while she’s pregnant,” Kichiro pointed out reasonably. He was the only one with a grin on his face. Go figure.
InuYasha snorted again. “I ate your damned curry! What else did you want me to do?”
“You could have acted happy, you jerk!” Kagome bellowed.
“Happy? I’m fucking ecstatic! Can’t you tell?” he snarled back.
Kagome stared at him for a minute as if she was trying to figure something out. InuYasha, standing with his hands crossed stubbornly over his chest and his signature scowl in place, rolled his eyes. The tension was rising higher and higher, and Kichiro sighed, starting to rise from his seat, to intervene, if for no other reason than to calm down their mother.
And suddenly, she laughed. It was the first true, heartfelt laugh that Mikio had heard from her in days. InuYasha eyed her like she’d just lost what was left of her mind, but he wrapped his arms around her when she stood up and ran over to him.
Kichiro sank back down, his grin widening. Gin hugged herself and made a happy little squeak. Ryomaru looked visibly relieved, and Mikio? Well, he was wondering if he had some Rolaids in his coat pocket . . .
“You’re really happy?” Kagome asked, leaning back to look up into InuYasha’s face.
He let out a deep sigh, his ears flattening for just a moment. “Yeah, I’m happy . . . as long as he don’t end up like one of those two—” he waved a hand at the twins, “—or marry some bastard who thinks he’s gonna take her halfway around the fucking world.”
Gin giggled at the reference to Cain.
Kagome laughed weakly and leaned against her mate’s chest. “I’m happy, too,” she said.
“W . . . wait . . .” Ryomaru drawled as a rather horrified expression donned.
“What’s the matter?” Gin asked, perching on the edge of the sofa and leaning in close to inspect Ryomaru’s face.
He grimaced like he’d just eaten something really, really bad. “That means you two . . . ugh!”
“They’ve done that a few times, Ryo,” Kichiro pointed out quietly.
InuYasha snorted, his face reddening even more. “Oh, get the fuck outta here!” he growled.
Kagome giggled as her children filed over to hug her. Ryomaru, for the most part, still looked rather grossed-out. “It ain’t that they did it,” he explained in a grumpy tone. “It’s that they’re making it so fucking obvious . . .”
Kichiro rolled his eyes and propelled his brother toward the door.
Mikio slowly got to his feet and approached his mother as Gin, still giggling, hurried out of the room.
Kagome hugged him but caught his hand before he could turn to go. “Mikio . . . I’m sorry,” she said softly, reaching out to touch his face.
He smiled. “I’m happy for you, Mama, Papa.”
“Good,” InuYasha said. “Now get the hell outta here so we can have some privacy.”
Mikio chuckled—it felt like it’d been a long time since he’d done that—and followed his siblings out of the living room.
“Not nearly as bad as it could have been,” Kichiro said as he handed Mikio his coat.
Ryomaru snorted indelicately and pinned his twin with a fierce scowl. “Bad enough,” he retorted. “Old sex. That’s just nasty.”
“I heard that, Ryo,” InuYasha’s voice carried from the living room. “You’d better be outta here when I get there or I’ll show you how fucking old I really am . . .”
Ryomaru made a face, throwing open the front door and grabbing a squealing Gin around the waist to toss her over his shoulder as the four siblings hurried out into the night.
“Merry Christmas,” Kichiro said, glancing at his watch as they reached the road leading away from the house.
Mikio grinned and peered back over his shoulder in time to see the porch light go out behind them. “Yeah,” he said with a laugh as a couple of fat snowflakes fell to touch his eyelashes. “Merry Christmas . . .”
Extra special thanks to my betas for working with me on this, and extra special thanks to vayne for contributing the really awesome fanarts to accompany this oneshot!!
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Final Thought from Mikio:
… That was the reason they were angry …?
Blanket disclaimer for Silent Night: 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.