A/N: This chapter includes the main A/N and fun trivia facts related to it at the end.
Chapter 12: Kaede's Home For Children In Need
"Well," Miroku stepped ahead of both his companions, gesturing forward with a dramatic sweeping flare. "Here it is!"
The building wasn't anything spectacular or distinctive, Kagome thought, considering the extraordinary purpose it served. They were standing in front of an average two-story house painted a soft slate blue with wide bay windows and a low cement perimeter wall. On the bottom floor, opaque layered-lace curtains were drawn shut, the only noticeable privacy barrier since the front yard was far too small for trees or shrubbery (barely four feet from sidewalk to door). A simple stone pathway cut through the bare dirt "lawn" to an even smaller wood porch. After all Miroku's hype, the girl couldn't help feeling a little under-whelmed, but perhaps that was the point. Nobody would suspect this unassuming place like they would, say, a large compound in the countryside or an affluent secret society headquarters.
"This is suppose to be some kinda special sanctuary?" Inuyasha scratched his temple quizzically, projecting her unimpressed sentiment as well. "Doesn't look that much different from any other house I've seen."
"And that, my friends, is the genius of it!" Miroku declared, while confirming Kagome's earlier suspicions. "It doesn't look any different, so no one believes it is… the best hiding spot is the one right under everyone's nose, after all."
"Makes sense," the hanyou nodded thoughtfully. "Good tactics at any rate."
"Well, what are we waiting out here for?" she butted in impatiently. "Are you going to show us the inside of this special ordinary house, Miroku, or what?"
"But of course, my lady," he led them down the short path, up three sturdy porch steps, and lifted a closed fist to knock when-
"Miroku!" the door swung open to reveal a hale elderly woman, long grey hair hanging past her waist in a functional ponytail. "I'd know that smug self-assuredness anywhere. And who are your friends?"
"Kaede-sensei! I see you're looking healthy as ever!" Mirkou greeted fondly.
Kagome and Inuyasha could only stare at the oddity before them in wary silence. Kaede certainly pulled off the sweet little old lady look convincingly: with her warm smile, simple ankle-length brown skirt, and pastel pink crochet shawl. Even the decorative patch over her right eye, despite its peculiarity, didn't detract from act. No, what really set their hairs on edge was the way that one remaining eye swept over two complete strangers with a familiarity bordering on recognition. The hanyou felt an unconscious growl rumble along the back of his Adam's apple, his pitch low enough that Kagome was the only one in human hearing range.
"No need for alarm, children," the old woman chuckled, responding to the distress they didn't speak. Her voice was gravelly, well-used, but welcoming. "I'm hardly someone to be afraid of and we have much to discuss… but come," she waved them inside her humble abode. "Those words are best said inside over a cup of tea."
The interior didn't do much to dispel the outside illusion. A well-polished hardwood floor and hanging scrolls of nature themed ink paintings gave the entrance hall a very traditional feel. The kitchen Kaede led them to had a similarly homey vibe; though the stove, oven, and other appliances were quite modern, everything else from the doily curtains (with matching tablecloth) to pastel painted walls fit the stereotype of sweet-old-grandma's-house to a tee.
"Please, take a seat," Kaede smiled warmly at her guests, pausing for a moment while the three teens took her invitation. Inuyasha fiddled briefly with the brim of his red baseball cap before he sat at the table, electing to keep the article on for now. "I'll join you as soon as the kettle's on."
"You're in for a real treat. Kaede-sensei makes a mean cuppa," Miroku embellished the foreign slang with an appropriately butchered British accent. Kagome rolled her eyes while Inuyasha mouthed the unfamiliar word, confused.
"Trust me, Inuyasha. It's best not to ask when he does things like this," she muttered from the corner of her mouth. He could only nod in agreement, already well acquainted with Miroku's special brand of eccentricity. No small feat considering the short time since they'd met.
"Quit teasing, you!" Kaede materialized behind the boy in question, tea tray in hand, and gave him a solid swat to the back of the head. "I hope you like Earl Grey… it's one of my favorites, if the imp's jest didn't already give that away. I lived in Oxford a few decades back and developed quite a taste for it."
"That's fine, thank you," Kagome accepted her cup graciously. Inuyasha sniffed his tentatively, before deciding the strong bergamot flavor wasn't for him and sliding the full cup away. Miroku shook his head with a lamentable, "you don't know what you're missing," sipping his own tea elegantly.
"I'll take your word for it," the hanyou hissed back at him. Both females at the table couldn't help sharing a typical exasperated glance over the antics of men.
"So you lived in Britain, Kaede-sensei?" Kagome inquired, curious to learn more about this strange woman who Miroku lauded, yet left her oddly unsettled. "Were you there for work? Miroku told me you were some kind of teacher…"
"I can see why Miroku would say that, but I'm not a teacher strictly speaking," the old woman chuckled in amusement only she seemed privy to. "I earned my PhD in biopsychology some years ago, hoping to gain understanding of the impressions I received from others on a more corporal level. Teaching is just something I fell into. It's the ultimate fate of the doctorate crowd, I suppose."
Inuyasha almost asked what she meant by "biopsychology" and "doctorate crowd," but bit his tongue on the question when both Kagome and Miroku appeared to understand the terms. Soon as he came to that decision, a single beady brown eye zeroed in on him with a discerning level of perception.
"Did you have a question for me, young man?"
"Oh! I'm sorry!" Kagome gasped, blushing over her inattention. "I forgot to mention… Inuyasha's a bit… unfamiliar with certain aspects of modern life."
"Oh? That sounds like it just may be a more interesting tale than mine."
"How did you know that?!"
Both women jumped at the hanyou's outburst. Kaede held her hand up in a calming gesture before Kagome had even registered the panicked suspicion in his expression.
"How did I know you had a question?" the elder voiced for clarification. A stiff, jerky head movement conveyed Inuyasha's confirmation. "Why, I felt your curiosity of course. Surely Miroku has already told that I'm a mutant… and what my abilities are?"
Miroku gulped as all other occupants at the table glared at him with varying levels of disapproval. Rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly, he chuckled under their scrutiny.
"I… just didn't want to spoil the surprise, Kaede-sensei. Discovery is one of the last and greatest joys in life, after all."
"Pest of a boy! What am I going to do with you?" she sighed before turning her attention to the two confused teenagers. "To put it simply, I'm an empath. I can feel the emotions of every sentient creature around me in a twenty-meter radius. I can also influence a person's feelings, but I prefer not to exercise that skill unless it's a life or death situation… emotion control is too much of a moral grey area for my comfort."
"Ah," Kagome nodded. All the little quirks in Kaede's behavior that set her on edge earlier suddenly made sense. Except, "So you felt Miroku at the door… but how did you know it was him and not someone else?"
"Because everyone feels differently. We can generalize emotions, but no one experiences happiness or sadness quite the same way… or to the same degrees for that matter. I've spent enough time with the rascal here to recognize the way he emotes."
"And you can do that for everyone?" the girl asked, somewhat impressed. Beside her, Inuyasha continued to glare warily.
"With enough time and exposure… it's the same principle as recognizing someone's handwriting, or a voice over the phone," Kaede took a deliberate sip of tea. "But enough about me, I'd like to know what brings you here. I can make an educated guess since you came with Miroku… but assumptions are such a dangerous habit to fall into."
"Yes," Kagome exchanged a quick glance with Inuyasha, silently offering the temperamental boy a choice. He gave a barely perceptible nod, trusting her to make this decision for them. To tell their story (and all the sensitive information that entailed) the way she felt it needed to be told. The girl could only bite her lower lip and nod in kind, touched beyond words by his show of faith in her.
So Kagome began to talk. She started with the embarrassing manifestation of her powers several months ago, Houjou's cruel public rejection, and the developing friendship between her, Miroku, and Sango. Inuyasha listened intently, seeing as many of these details were news to him as well. Miroku (wisely) only interjected a couple times, usually to lighten the mood when the teenage girl hit a particularly difficult section of her tale. Next, she spoke of the attack and Inuyasha's subsequent rude awakening. Much to the hanyou's relief, she continued to refer to him as a 'youkai,' leaving the option of revealing his full heritage open to him. Kaede frowned briefly when she mentioned Kagura's proposition, but otherwise let the girl continue. Finally, she reached the end with her grandfather. Hiten's assault was glossed over in the wake of that emotional onslaught. The older woman didn't press, probably (Kagome figured) because she could feel just how fresh this pain was. Her words petered off as things came to a close, and the teenagers at the table all seemed genuinely shocked that a whole hour had passed since they started.
"Well, that was quite a tale," Kaede sighed as she rose slowly from her seat. "You must be parched. Would you like more tea?"
"Yes, thank you," Kagome accepted the offer gratefully. "You know," she began to ponder aloud while their host set a fresh kettle on the burner, "Telling it like that… I just noticed how those attacks all conveniently happened right after that Kagura woman gave me Gumo-san's invitation. Have you heard of anything like this before?"
"Not quite," Kaede answered cryptically from her place by the stove. "I've had my suspicions about Gumo for some time… but, groundless rumors and your verbal confirmation just now are the only evidence I have towards proving his mutant status."
"I see," the girl deflated a bit at the (apparent) lack of knowledge.
"I've never known you to put much stock in rumors, Kaede-sensei," Miroku observed thoughtfully. "What tipped you off?"
"A couple incidents," the old woman said after several silent seconds. "A few years ago, an old friend of mine called in a favor… his daughter had grown into the typical rebellious teen phase, but around the girl's sixteenth birthday those expected outbursts were suddenly accompanied by… strange happenings. I scheduled an appointment immediately, suspecting from the vague details her father gave me that I had found a young mutant who needed help. Our first talk validated my speculations. Unfortunately, we didn't get a chance to speak again. I had planned to build trust before making my offer, but when I arrived for our appointment the next week, her father informed me that a representative from Gumo Industries had suddenly appeared and offered the internship of a lifetime. The girl was already gone, since her new job required her to live on-site. Though the idea of a multi-national corporation offering highly desirable positions to a high school student raised alarms, I had no proof. So, I congratulated the family, left, and kept my ears open."
Kaede returned to the table with a tray of fresh steaming cups before continuing, "It wasn't long before I discovered Gumo has an odd habit of collecting troubled youths… teenagers who all displayed unusually abilities or traits shortly before garnering his attention. Meeting the man last month only added further weight to my theories."
"When was this?!" Kagome exclaimed at the same time Miroku said, "At that convention you attended?" The empath chuckled at their simultaneous statements.
"Yes, we were both invited to speak at the same convention," she confirmed. "We work in different fields obviously, so I didn't see him outside a quick formal introduction backstage, but that was long enough for me to get a sense of the man. He's… cold like a void, with an electromagnetic charge pervading his presence… giving off a sensation similar to what people refer to as 'a chill up the spine.' Usually, my empathy only registers ASPD patients this way, but his was much more pronounced than I thought humanly possible. While shaking his hand my powers flared up painfully, then seemed to sputter and dim until he left the room… almost as if they had overloaded and short-circuited merely by being in his same vicinity. I had a horrible headache the rest of the day."
An uneasy quiet permeated the kitchen. Then, Miroku spoke.
"That's odd… and discerning," he leaned back in his chair with a scuffled squeak of wood against linoleum.
"Very," Kaede agreed. "There is something wrong with the man- that much I am certain of. But, without solid proof, my hands are tied. I can only keep a diligent eye on him… and wait."
"How… how many mutants has he taken?" Kagome asked, hands trembling slightly as she realized just how close she'd come to being another part in his twisted little collection. If it wasn't for Inuyasha, Hiten would have abducted her easily. Heck, he might not have needed to; those masked thugs in Inuyasha's Shrine probably would have finished the job last week.
"It's hard to say, Gumo is quite proficient in discretion," the older woman sighed, taking a long sip of her tea. "At least ten since I've begun watching him. Fifty or sixty altogether is my educated estimate."
"He's building an army," Inuyasha said bluntly. "Why else would he be gathering so many?"
Everyone tensed in varying states of anxiety.
"Sixty is hardly enough for an army," Kaede pointed out, though she didn't counter his claim.
"It's a start."
"But for what purpose?" Miroku interjected. "Is he planning to create some sort of terrorist Brotherhood like Lehnsherr did in America? Sixty is enough to get the ball rolling (so to speak) on that ambition. Or, are his motivations more self-serving? He is a businessman, after all."
"All questions I have asked myself multiple times over the course of my observations," the older mutant responded to her younger charge.
The conversation probably would have continued in that disheartening, circular vein, if a bang from the front door didn't suddenly echo through the entire house. Kaede made a soft noise of fond exasperation as the doorknob bounced loudly off the plaster wall. Pattering of quick, little feet running across polished hardwood floor followed immediately afterward.
Inuyasha and Kagome could only stare in undisguised curiosity as a veritable whirlwind of rust red and blue-green burst into the kitchen before skidding to a pell-mell halt. Several knife-thick seconds passed, broken only when the latter squealed in delayed reaction to the newcomer's cuteness.
"Awww… so cute!"
"I take it, from the enthusiastic entrance, that your trip to the park went well?" Kaede chuckled at the small child practically vibrating next to her. He was quite short, though (Kagome thought) his oversized clothing added greatly to that impression. A loose blue parka hung well past his knees; a turquoise newsboy cap (matching the baggy t-shirt under his coat) engulfed his head, resting low on his brow and almost completely covering his ears. A shock of red-brown hair stuck out at the back, brushing the nape of his thin neck. The boy lifted his chin to meet the old woman's gaze just then. His child-wide eyes, glimmering with barely contained excitement, were a startling unnatural blue-green shade.
"Ayame-neesan showed me how to do flips on the monkey bars!" he exclaimed proudly.
"Did she, now?"
All eyes turned to the kitchen doorway as said teenage girl entered at a more sedate pace. Her hair was a darker red than the boy's, and tied up in twin tails. Plain black leggings, a bright pink v-neck, and complimenting crop jacket painted her as someone with simple taste, but a definite sense of style. A couple weed flowers were tucked carefully behind one ear: obviously by tiny unsteady hands. She paused several steps in, green eyes narrowed suspiciously at the strangers sitting privy to their familiar moment.
"Shippou-chan, mind yourself. We have guests," she admonished gently, though her emphasis on the word 'guests' smacked of some sort of spoken code.
"Oh," the now-named Shippou shook his tunnel vision off and took a tentative step back to stare more easily across the table. The movement caused his dragging pant legs to ride up slightly, exposing russet furred paws instead of human toes for all of a split second. Inwardly, Kagome gushed.
"Who're they?" he inquired with an apprehension out of place with his previous puerile demeanor.
"Oh, excuse my manners," the older woman immediately apologized, gesturing between them in standard introduction form. "These two are my current wards: Ayame and Shippou Kobayashi. Ayame, Shippou, this is Inuyasha and Kagome. We were just about to discuss plans for their uncertain future when you walked in."
"Good afternoon, Ayame… Shippou," Miroku greeted, feeling left out amidst the fluster.
"It's been a little while, Miroku-sempai," the female redhead relaxed slightly, probably catching on to the fact these strangers were probably mutant guests. Shippou, on the other hand, continued to examine them: his focus particularly zeroed in on Inuyasha, going between the long white hair, clawed fingers, and animalistic slitted pupils. The hanyou in question met the kid's gaze head on with an intense yellow glare. Finally, Shippou nodded to himself, as if coming to some sort of conclusion of his own.
"You're a kaijin too, aren'cha?"
The room grew so quiet the rustle of lace curtains in the breeze became deafening. When the reaction did hit, it was instantaneous.
"Shippou-chan!" Ayame cried out, appalled. She raised a wavering hand towards the boy, but pulled back suddenly with a guilty expression.
"What have I told you about using that word?" Kaede scolded in a no-nonsense tone.
"That it's bad," he mumbled, hands clasped behind his back as he toed the floor nervously. "That I should say mutant instead."
"Good, and what do you say now?" the kindly old woman persona was gone, replaced by a strict (though not cruel) disciplinarian.
"'M sorry," the boy said contritely, bowing towards Inuyasha. "I won't call you that again."
The confused hanyou looked to Kagome and Miroku, both shifting awkwardly in their seats, for clarification. The dark-haired girl made a note to explain later (out of the child's earshot) about how a simple term, once used to reference folktales and a movie subgenre, was twisted over time into a mutant slur. While some used "kaijin" as a blanket insult toward mutants, it was more often attributed to mutants with physical abnormalities on top of their superhuman abilities. Human monsters. Judging by Shippou's concealing outfit and animalistic feet, his experience with the word was most likely as a self-identifier. That thought chilled Kagome.
"So, you're a mutant like me?" the child barreled on, innocent to the unease he stirred in the older generations.
"No," Inuyasha answered bluntly, and didn't seem inclined to elaborate further. Beside him, Miroku took a quick gulp of tea, probably to stifle a bout of inappropriate laughter, if his expression was anything to go by.
"Inuyasha's not a mutant," Kagome intervened. "But he's in the same situation we are… not exactly human either."
"Really?" Ayame inquired curiously, moving forward to take the last chair at the table. Shippou scrambled clumsily onto her lap, removing his hat and plopping it on the tabletop carelessly once he settled. Kagome gasped at the fluffy rust-colored hair and pointed elfin ears now fully on display. The mutant child stiffened, eyes gazing in dawning horror at the cap in front of him even as Ayame's grip on his middle tightened protectively.
"You… you're just too adorable, aren't you?"
They both visibly slumped, all remaining tension finally leaving the teenage redhead's posture. Her affection for the boy wouldn't allow her to fully be at ease before, at least, not until one of the strangers showed rarely given acceptance.
"I have a tail, too," he declared proudly, grinning in a way that showed off his baby fangs.
"Shippou-chan," Ayame sighed, exasperated, though the relief in her voice tempered the tone.
"I don't see a problem… he should start playing that card early, some girls are into that," Miroku commented with an all-too-innocent smile. "Ever hear of furries? They're quite prolific on internet forums."
"Quiet, you!" Kaede chided, punctuated with a well-aimed head swat.
Kagome rolled her eyes at the young man's unending perversity. Exchanging a look with her hanyou companion, she opened her mouth to tell their tale once more.
"Here's your room," Ayame announced as she led Kagome inside. Across the hall, Inuyasha was getting the same walk-through from Miroku and Shippou.
"It has all the bare necessities: closet's over there, dresser to your right, nightstand with lamp and alarm clock by the bed, and you share the bathroom through the doorway there with the room next door. If you need anything else, just let Kaede-sensei know and we'll see what we can do."
"Thanks, it's nice," the dark haired girl walked past the threshold, taking in the welcoming airy green colors and stained oak furniture. Truth be told, the decoration was rather motel-style bland, but a few personal affects would change that easily enough. "Who has the room next door?" she asked, hoping a bit selfishly she didn't share with a bathroom hog.
"Sango," Ayame replied before breaking out in a mischievous grin. "You should count yourself lucky… Inuyasha has to share with Miroku."
"Wait… Sango-chan and Miroku have rooms here?" Kagome frowned, confused. They both had homes to go back to-
"Well, yes. They train here and Sango's been teaching us some martial arts basics. The two of them crash here occasionally if it gets too late. Kaede-sensei knows about her… home situation, and offered a permanent place if things go too far south. It doesn't matter that she's not a mutant too… Kaede-sensei says turning her back on 'a youth in need' just because they aren't the same as her is no different from people who turn their backs to mutant teens on the street," the other girl ended her impromptu speech on a note equal parts grateful and bitter. Kagome blinked at the conflicting tone, wondering if Ayame had been one of those disregarded street kids, but felt the question on the tip of her tongue was far too intrusive.
"Sooo, how long have you and your brother been here?" she inquired instead. The awkward small talk gave way to awkward silence for a short while; then, Ayame spoke.
"Shippou's my cousin," she corrected. "He started calling me 'neesan' after I took him in… cared for him… not like my aunt and uncle set a high standard to begin with. Anyway," she derailed, clearly not comfortable discussing dysfunctional family matters yet. "We ran off about a year ago… been here about ten months. It's nice, I'm sure you'll like it."
"Thanks," Kagome nodded, genuinely appreciating the assurance, tacked on as it was. "I'm sure I will."
"Well, if you need anything… have anymore questions, I'm just across the hall with Shippou, two doors to your right. Feel free to give us a knock."
"Okay," she watched as the redhead hastily retreated from the uneasy atmosphere, closing the door behind her. Not that I blame her. Kagome circled the bedroom again, familiarizing herself with objects twice, thrice over. She played with the alarm clock, tested the mattress, switched the bedside lamp on and off- anything to fill time empty as the space she sat in. Finally, at a loss for further distraction, she leaned back to half-sprawl across the pastel green comforter. Depressing thoughts began to creep in then. I'm in this sterile room… still wearing the same clothes from yesterday because they're all I had on me. Futilely, she tried to remind herself how lucky she was. If they had left that alley just minutes earlier, or Mushin had stayed sober and done his shopping, she would have been condemned to the streets. Or whatever Hiten had planned for her. And I would have dragged Inuyasha along with me too. I'm being stupid… and selfish. Ayame and Shippou probably wished they had this kind luck in the beginning.
A loud crash sounded suddenly from the hallway, jolting the lost girl into an upright position. Inuyasha's boisterous yelling followed immediately after and she couldn't help smiling with a fond headshake. What the heck are those boys up to now? she wondered, walking through overpowering green and out the door to get answers.
Kagome had found the distraction she desperately needed.
Now, some A/N's!
Biopsychology: This is a field which basically combines psychology and neuroscience. Biopsychology examines how the neurotransmitters in our brains and biological processes effect behavior, emotions, and decision-making. I figured this was a good fit for Kaede... since she has been able to feel and understand others on an emotional level from a young age, I can see her becoming interested in decoding these impressions from more of a biological science view-point as she got older.
On Ayame and Shippou's Surname: Kobayashi means "small forest" and is an incredibly common family name in central Japan. I thought it was a fitting nod to both characters' origins in the canon material (Not to mention some subtle foreshadowing for Ayame, dun, Dun, DUN!). It's also the surname of Japan's infamous hot dog eating champion, so there's that unintentional bit of hilarity right there. Oh, and I guess if you want it to be a Star Trek reference it can be that too (damn, I really gave them quite a name to live up to, didn't I?)
On the Term "Kaijin": Kaijin literally does translates as "human monster," though some sources translate it as "super villain" since many popular super villains have inhuman abilities and have been referred to by this term. Historically, it was the name of a humanoid sea monster in Japanese folklore, but later became associated with a subgenre of tokusatsu (special effects) films. Kaijin movies feature humanoid monsters instead of the giant monsters popular in Kaiju films. Toho Studios' "mutant trilogy" The H-Man(1958), The Human Vapor (1960), and The Secret of the Telegian(1960) are good examples of Kaijin movies. I chose to use this term as a slur for mutants because A) I'm a geek and B) the way phrases and words can change/evolve from something innocuous or insulting to the exact opposite over time fascinates me.