Cain lounged in the doorway, watching as Belle pressed her hand to her belly and drew a deep breath, laughing softly at whatever Kelly was saying to her on the cell phone. Despite the clouds that had been hanging low over the forest, the threat of rain had dissipated by noon. Minutes away from walking his daughter down the aisle, so to speak, to hand her over to Kichiro Izayoi for safekeeping, Cain couldn't quite muster the smile that he knew she'd want to see.
"I wish you could be here, Kel . . ." Belle said as a note of wistfulness entered her tone. "I always thought that you'd be my maid of honor."
'She looks beautiful,' Cain thought almost sadly. The dress was lovely, of course. Fitting snugly to her waist where the fabric flowed into a wide skirt held out by yards of netting and starched petticoats, she looked every bit the princess she'd always pretended to be.
"Squirrel can't believe that I landed---what did she call him? Ah, yes . . . Dr. Hottie."
Cain snorted at that, and Belle turned to smile at him. "I've got to go. Daddy's here." Flipping the phone closed, she set it on the table and stepped forward to straighten Cain's tie. "You look so nice. Kelly says hi."
"How is she?"
"She's doing well."
"Sorry she couldn't be here."
Belle shrugged as she patted the tie and stepped back, dress rustling in a whisper of fabric. "Me, too. I just can't believe you paid for Moose and Squirrel to come. Thank you, Daddy."
He tried to smile. "Well, if you have to marry Dr. Depravity, you should at least have your friends here to see it."
"Daddy . . . I love him."
He grimaced and heaved a sigh. "I'm sure you do."
She looked upset, and Cain grimaced. "I'm sorry, Bellaniece. If I thought . . ." He shook his head. "Tell me one thing: did you agree not to have children because it was something he wanted?"
Belle couldn't hide the momentary flash of guilt that flickered on her features before she smiled brightly and arched her eyebrows. "We discussed it. I'm fine with it."
"I'll be happy with him. You don't have to worry about me."
"And you'll be happy without children?"
Her smile faltered. "Yes."
He sighed and touched her shoulder before stuffing his hands back into his pockets. "You make a beautiful bride."
Cain nodded. "Of course you do."
"Kagome helped me get ready. Do you think . . .?" She trailed off and shook her head with a heavy sigh.
"Do I think, what?"
"Do you think Mother . . . Do you think she knows? Wherever she is?"
Cain smiled a sadly and nodded again. "Yeah, she does . . . She probably thinks Kichiro Izayoi is an ass-monkey, too."
"Daddy!" Belle exclaimed with a shake of her head but laughed. "But he's my ass-monkey, and I adore him."
Cain snorted. "Pfft. I still think he's an ass-monkey."
"Well, I'm about to me Mrs. Ass-Monkey, you know."
Cain made a face. "Oh, I know it. Don't think for a moment that he's not rubbing that in every chance he gets."
Belle giggled. "I love you, Daddy."
"You, too, my lady."
"And it's not like you'll never see me again. I'll see you all the time, right?"
He didn't miss the carefully contrived nonchalance, the slight draw of concern at the corner of her eyes. Despite the smile on her face she seemed sad, a little lost, and he forced a grin that he was far from feeling. "Of course you will."
Her smile wavered, and he sighed inwardly. "We're going to Paris for our honeymoon; did I tell you? Kichiro says it's beautiful this time of year."
"You'll like that. I hear shopping's good there."
"The city of love."
She giggled. "You should take Gin there someday. I'd bet she'd have a fantastic time."
"The architecture, the Louvre . . . largest museum in the world, right?"
Eyes flicking past him to light on the door when the soft knock sounded, signaling that it was time, Belle squeezed Cain's arm and hurriedly turned to check her lip gloss in the full length mirror.
"Are you sure you want to do this?"
She nodded, eyes shining as she slipped her hand into his. "I'm sure."
Heaving a long-suffering sigh, Cain shrugged but squeezed her trembling fingers. "All right then."
The guests were a wash of blurred color and sounds that made little more sense to Belle than the chirping of the birds in the forest. Everything seemed distorted, unnatural. She nearly stumbled. Cain caught her, bracing her with a hand under her elbow. She shot him a grateful smile and hesitated for a moment at the flash of suspect brightness in his gaze.
'What is it costing Daddy, to do this for me? To give me away?'
Those questions had tormented Belle for the last few days. Somehow she knew that it was harder on him than he would ever admit, and especially not to her. Sure, Cain smiled and laughed, joked and seemed to be fine. At the rehearsal dinner, he'd been cordial and calm. He even shook Kichiro's hand. Of course, he'd look like he'd rather choke the groom than do it, but at least he'd been personable, which was a far sight better than she could say for Kichiro. He had grumbled for the better part of last night about how much stupid he thought the old superstitions were when Belle had gotten her bag and had informed him that she would be spending last night with her father.
Cain had stayed up late while Belle had reminisced for hours about things long past: dancing in the rain, peanut butter picnics, roasting marshmallows, watching him work . . . Stealing another peek at her father, Belle swallowed hard as mistiness blurred her vision. He looked so melancholy despite the enigmatic little smile on his face, and she knew. Her happiness . . . It was costing her father a lot.
Refreshing her grip on the bouquet of pale lavender roses and lilacs, she tried to brush aside the feeling that her happiness was contingent upon her father's emotions. He didn't want her to know, did he? He'd tried to hide it from her for so long that it had become second nature, and she was the dutiful daughter, allowing him to believe that he'd done a good job of hiding it all from her . . .
The white canvas runner that lined the aisle between the rows of folding wooden chairs was littered with the fragrant petals of lavender roses. The tips of Belle's shoes peeked out from beneath the hem of the billowing satin, and when she lifted her chin, she smiled. Kichiro's bright golden eyes full of unmasked pride beckoned her forward, and on her right side, the hand of her father held her steady. The two men she loved most in the world . . . She had to give up one to be with the other.
Eyes darting to the right, her gaze locked with another pair of golden eyes. Gin smiled as she dabbed at the corner of her eye with a crisp white kerchief. Everything was riding on her, wasn't it? Her father's future . . . her father's desire to live . . . It was all up to Gin now.
'Come on, Belle . . . this should be the most beautiful day of your life. Don't dwell on things that you can't control. Think of Kichiro. Let Gin take care of your father.'
Feeling the courage surging through her at the chiding of her youkai voice, Belle lifted her chin, looked back at Kichiro who was waiting so patiently. Today was for him as much as it was for her. Today he'd know, wouldn't he? He'd know that she'd chosen him first, last, best, most.
Belle turned her head and winked at Moose. He nodded his approval as she continued her trek down the aisle. The only music was the sound of the late summer breeze in the leaves dancing above. Dappled in sunlight, Kichiro waited, the stark black of his tuxedo made even striking by the startling luster of his silvery hair. Ryomaru leaned toward his brother to whisper something that Belle couldn't hear. Kichiro glanced at his twin and mumbled something that made Ryomaru roll his eyes.
Stopping beside Kichiro with Cain standing between the two of them, Belle smiled as her father kissed her cheek through the veil. Belle squeezed his hand grasped tightly in his.
He finally smiled just a little. "You might be his princess, but you'll always be my lady," he whispered.
Belle blinked furiously to stave back the rising tears. "Thank you, Daddy," she whispered back.
Cain nodded and slowly turned to face Kichiro. "If you ever hurt her, and I swear on everything that is holy, I'll find you, I'll beat you, and I'll leave you for the vultures."
"If I hurt her," Kichiro said slowly, eyes lingering on Cain for a moment before moving to Belle's face and staying there, "I'll let you."
Cain stared at the hanyou, but finally nodded and squeezed Belle's hand one more time before stepping back and nodding at her.
"I hope you got a lot of sleep, princess," Kichiro murmured as Belle slipped her hand into his. "You won't be getting any at all tonight."
Belle grinned and leaned in closer. "Is that a promise?"
"You know, I'm not wearing panties," she ventured.
Kichiro stifled a groan as his face contorted into an exaggerated grimace. "Damn it," he hissed.
"Was it something I said?"
He snorted. "Are you trying to kill me, wench?"
She blinked innocently. "You're made of stronger stuff than that."
"Didn't my mother help you get ready?"
She rolled her eyes. "She did."
"Then you're lying," he accused.
"I put them on when your mother was in there, and I took them off after she left," she explained.
Kichiro didn't look impressed as he leaned toward her and sniffed.
"What are you doing?"
"And?" she challenged.
He made a face. "Can't tell. Too much clothing."
She was hard pressed not to laugh at him. "I thought so, too. Tried to get away with leaving off the crinoline, but no such luck."
"I ought to toss you over my shoulder and take you out of here."
"Your mother wouldn't be able to stand the scandal."
"She's endured worse."
Belle giggled. "Then it's a good thing I'm fibbing, isn't it?"
"Are you, really."
Belle sighed. "Do you think anyone would notice if I picked my butt?"
"Damn it . . ."
"Don't you think we'd be missed?" Belle teased.
"They'd wait for us," he drawled. "Can't have a wedding without the bride and groom."
"You really think so?" she asked as wicked light danced in her eyes.
Kichiro groaned as Ryomaru reached over to slap his brother's arm. "Are you gonna do this or not?"
Belle winked at Kichiro and stifled a giggle as her husband-to-be narrowed his gaze at her. "Let's get this over with," he growled.
Gin glanced around the quiet gathering as she sipped a glass of sparkling water and smoothed her skirt under the edge of the table. Belle and Kichiro were dancing, seemingly unaware of the guests who were watching them with a sense of quiet admiration.
"Weddings are beautiful, aren't they?"
Gin started and whirled around to look up at her mother. "It was lovely," she agreed as Kagome slipped into the vacant chair beside her. "Belle looks . . . fantastic."
"She does, and your brother looks very happy."
"An American wedding . . ." Gin mused with a smile. "I don't think he minded at all," she said, nodding at her brother.
"It's a well-known fact that weddings tend to be more for the women than they are for the men. Bellaniece is American. It stood to reason she'd want to honor her American heritage."
"Like Toga and Sierra's wedding."
"Like Toga and Sierra's wedding," Kagome agreed. "I imagine you'll want a Shinto ceremony when you do it?"
Gin shrugged, setting the water glass into the small condensation ring that had already formed on the white satin table cloth. "I hadn't really thought about that."
Kagome laughed. "Sure, you have. You used to tell me all about it, remember?"
"I guess I did," Gin murmured. "I forgot."
"So where's your friend hiding?"
Kagome rolled her eyes and leaned in closer. "Zelig-san. I haven't seen him since the wedding ended. Have you?"
"He danced with Belle awhile ago . . ."
Kagome nodded and tucked an errant lock of deep black hair behind her ear. "You know, I'm sure you could dance with him, if you wanted. Your father is convinced that he's harmless enough."
"Well, you've said it yourself: he's just your teacher, right?"
Gin couldn't help the tiny frown that furrowed her brow. "Right, right . . . That's right."
"And your friend?" Kagome asked pointedly.
"Oh, well, yeah . . . of course. My . . . friend . . ."
Kagome giggled softly. "Why don't you go find him? I'll bet he could use a friend right now . . . He probably feels like he lost his daughter."
Gin shook her head. "But he didn't; not really."
"Of course he didn't. That doesn't mean he won't feel like he did."
Smiling just a little as she stood up and straightened her dress, Gin skirted around the assembled tables and headed toward the glass doors that led into the Izayoi house, it took a moment for her to become accustomed to the silence inside.
She heard Cain's mumbled talking but didn't see him. Glancing around her childhood home, she finally found him in the loft that her father used as a study. Suspended over the living room by a few thick wooden pillars, the area was open and inviting with a row of sturdy bookcases lining the back wall. As Gin climbed the wide steps, she slowed her pace, not meaning to eavesdrop but unable to stop herself, either.
"Don't be stupid. I know better than anyone, what my obligations are."
Gin's hand tightened on the banister.
"I had to stay for my daughter's wedding, don't you think?" He paused, and she understood. He was talking on his cell phone, wasn't he? "Yeah, she did, and---what?"
She winced as she heard his heavy sigh, could tell from the muffled sound of his voice that he was rubbing his face. "Gin doesn't have anything to do with that. Leave it alone, Ben."
'I don't have anything to do with . . . what?'
'Doll, you shouldn't be eavesdropping. If he doesn't realize you're here, he will soon, and how will that look?'
Gin bit her lip and forced herself to climb the rest of the stairs.
"She just doesn't. Anyway, if you're done barking at me . . ."
He was facing away from her, staring out the high windows with one hand stuffed into his pocket while the other held the cell phone to his ear. "I'll figure it out; don't worry. Give me a few days to think it over, will you? A week or so . . ."
'What does he have to figure out? A week . . .?'
"Yeah, okay, I hear you. Cal Richardson's welcome to try it, if he thinks he can." Cain snorted and shook his head. "You think I care? The day I'm afraid of the likes of him is the day hell freezes over."
Turning at the sound of her voice, Cain tried to hide the wince on his features before she could see it. "Hold on," he muttered, lowering the cell phone and covering the receiver. "Are you okay?"
She nodded. "Yeah . . . um . . . I thought maybe . . . you might like to dance . . . with . . . me . . .? Unless you're busy . . ."
He smiled. "I think I could do that. Let me finish up here first."
"Okay," she agreed as Cain uncovered the receiver and lifted the phone to his ear again. "Listen, I have to go. I'll get back to you." Snapping the device closed and stashing it in his inner jacket pocket, he stepped toward Gin and carefully brushed her bangs out of her face. "I didn't get to tell you yet, did I? You look beautiful."
"You don't know you do?"
She ducked her chin to hide her blush, but Cain chuckled anyway. "No, but . . . It's always nice to hear."
Taking her hand as he trudged down the stairs, Cain couldn't help but grin when Gin peeked up at him. "You sure you want to dance with me? I'm just the father of the bride."
"I could do that . . . I mean, as the sister of the groom, I should make that sacrifice . . . for the good of the reception, of course," she teased back.
Cain laughed. "Wow . . . my baby girl's become a martyr?"
"Well . . ."
"Just for me?"
Gin's smile faltered as he stopped to open the door for her. "Always for you," she whispered as his words echoed through her head.
"I know better than anyone, what my obligations are. Gin doesn't have anything to do with that."
He didn't hear her as he led her back into the milling crowd and toward the area that had been cleared for dancing.
"Okay, Izayoi. Raise your hands slowly and step away from the bride."
Kichiro stopped dancing with Belle long enough to peer over his shoulder at the unwelcome intruder. "Been watching American movies again, have you?" he drawled.
Toga shrugged. "Maybe. Then again, your mother's complaining that you've been monopolizing Belle, so you know me . . . Always willing to go that extra mile for my darling Aunt Gome."
"I'm sure Mama understands," Kichiro retorted dryly.
Belle giggled. "Oh, but I want to dance with Toga."
She nodded. "I've been dying to." Leaning closer to her new husband but staring at Toga, she laughed. "He's really hawt."
The 'hawt' one flushed a lovely shade of crimson as Kichiro kissed his wife's cheek and let go of her. "All right, Toga. Just remember, she's going home with me . . ."
"Yeah, yeah . . . where are you going?" Toga demanded as Belle slipped her hand into his.
Kichiro shrugged. "Where do you think? A wife for a wife, right?"
Chuckling to himself as he scanned the crowd, nodding at guests he didn't rightfully know, Kichiro spotted Sierra sitting with Nezumi and Ryomaru near the bride and groom's table. Making his way around the outskirts of the guests to sneak up on Sierra, he leaned down to whisper in her ear. "So I hear your husband's gone astray."
She laughed and turned to look at Kichiro. "I suppose . . . He's a dog, you know."
"He's a dog-wannabe. Want to see a real dog in action?"
"Yeah, I think we've all seen enough of that," Ryomaru snorted. Nezumi smacked his chest to shut him up.
"Jealous much?" Kichiro shot back with an articulately arched eyebrow.
"Absolutely not," Ryomaru bragged. "My wench enjoys pleasing me."
"Not tonight, she won't," Nezumi grumbled as he cheeks reddened.
"Ouch," Kichiro winced. "Sucks to be you."
"She might say that now, but she'll be saying something completely different later."
Kichiro grabbed Sierra's hand and hauled her to her feet. "Let's get out of here, shall we?" he suggested, nodding at the couple who were still debating the issue.
Sierra shook her head then ruined the stern effect by laughing. "Ryomaru goaded Toga into dancing with Belle, you know."
"Toga doesn't like her?"
Sierra waved her hand dismissively as Kichiro pulled her into his arms to dance. "No, he likes her well enough. I think she scares him."
Kichiro laughed. "How is it that you didn't scare him off? Toga's about as shy as they come. He turns the lights off when you're in bed, doesn't he?"
"Nope . . . does that shock you?"
"When you're talking about Toga? Yeah, it does."
"Be nice, dog. He's more adventurous than you'd think," Sierra chided.
Kichiro's response was a pronounced snort. Sierra rolled her eyes.
"You sure you and Toga can't meet us in Paris? Save me from having to spend too much time with that baka brother of mine?"
Sierra sighed. "I wish! As nice as it sounds, I don't think I could stand to be away from the girls that long, and Toga . . . well, they're all such daddy's girls, you know."
"Yeah, but if you were there, I'm sure I could sneak a few minutes to be alone with you . . ."
Sierra laughed. "You're terrible."
"Terrible, no . . . bad? Certainly."
"Anyway, the two of you are supposed to be going on your honeymoon . . . why are Nezumi and Ryomaru going along?"
Kichiro snorted. "Belle thought it'd be fun . . . They're not going to be able to fly in until next weekend, so it's fine."
Sierra sighed as she watched her mate dancing with the bride. "Belle's gorgeous, isn't she?"
"I like to think so."
"I always thought it'd take someone really special to tame you, Kich."
"Yeah, but you picked Toga, remember?" he joked.
She smiled. "Of course I did. He hit my dog. It was only fitting that he should replace him, don't you think?"
Kichiro chuckled. "Absolutely."
Sierra grinned and started to say something but cut herself off as her eyes widened just before she winced. "Oh, that's not good . . ."
Following the direction of Sierra's nod, Kichiro turned in time to see Zelig Cain pull Gin into his arms to dance. It wasn't the dancing that bothered him. If that were the only thing, he'd ignore it since there was a good chance that the dancing was Kagome-sanctioned, and not even InuYasha would gainsay her over something like that. No, it was the look on his sister's face that might be the problem. If InuYasha saw just how Gin was staring at the North American tai-youkai, there was a good chance that his wedding would end up being something remembered for completely different reasons, altogether.
"Damn it, does she have to wear her heart on her fucking sleeve?" he growled as he let go of Sierra and glanced around to find his father in the fray. Considering himself lucky for the moment since InuYasha seemed to be deep in discussion with his mother, Kichiro started to head over to intercept the couple when Sierra caught his arm.
"Don't do it," she murmured with a slight shake of her head. "Look at her, Kich. She's happy."
"Yeah, she's happy. She loves that bastard, kami only knows why."
"Can't you let her? You and Ryomaru love her, right? Can't you let her have this?"
He sighed. "I'd leave it alone if she weren't staring at him like he's some sort of Adonis. If the old man sees her---"
Sierra sighed. "All right, but . . . just don't make it ugly, for Gin's sake."
"Damn it, you're as bad as Belle."
Sierra grinned weakly.
Kichiro rubbed his forehead as he glanced around again. There wasn't any other way to break up the dancing aside from cutting in, was there? Considering his feelings toward Cain, there wasn't really a way to avoid unpleasantness on that level, and he'd promised Sierra . . .
'Think, Kich, think! You're wasting time. If your old man sees Gin's face, all bets are off, and you know it . . .'
'You think I don't know that? What the hell am I supposed to do?'
Gazing at the musicians hired for the reception, he froze. If there weren't any music, there couldn't be any dancing, right? He sighed. 'Right . . .'
'So you're going to commandeer the poor guy's piano?'
Striding through the crowd and up onto the small stage that had been set up just for the reception, Kichiro snorted. 'Any better ideas?'
'. . . No . . .'
'Yeah, I didn't think so.'
"Care if I play a song for my new wife?" Kichiro asked quietly.
The leader of the band of musicians grinned. "Certainly not. Do you require accompaniment?"
He shook his head. "No, I've got it covered. Why don't you guys just take a break? Feel free to have some cake or something . . ."
Painfully aware that everyone was staring at him, Kichiro took his time adjusting a microphone over the piano as the soft rustle of Belle's dress; the click of her heels on the stage came closer. "You're going to play?" she asked quietly.
Straightening his back and glancing over to check on Gin and Cain, he smiled in relief since the two were standing side by side but not speaking. "You going to put out later?"
Belle giggled, her cheeks rosy from the excitement of the day. "Don't I always?"
He sat down on the piano bench and patted the empty space beside him. "Come on, Izayoi-san. Join me?"
Her smile started slowly, lighting the depths of her gaze as it spread over her features with an incandescence, a brilliance, a shimmering radiance that nearly took his breath away. Sometime after the ceremony, she'd removed the veil though she still wore her hair swept up in a configuration of curls that cascaded down her back from under the silly tiara he'd bought her for her birthday months ago. The sparkling stones set in the diamond and amethyst necklace and earrings he'd gotten for her in New York couldn't compare to the simple charm of her smile, and as he stared at her, he knew that in her he'd found his equal, his partner, his mate, and his heart, and his soul.
"Are you going to gaze at me all day or are you going to play a song for me?"
Kichiro grinned and shrugged as he played the scale a few times to warm up. The sounds of the milling crowd faded as Belle leaned toward him to kiss his cheek, and slowly, tentatively, he began to play the one song she would understand.
"I love you," she whispered, brushing away a single tear that trailed down her smiling face as he sat back, pulling his hands away from the keyboard.
"You'd better," he mumbled, cheeks reddening slightly as applause startled him.
She kissed him and giggled, slipping her hand into his. "What do you say we wrap things up here?"
"Oh? In a hurry to get somewhere?" he asked, glancing around to see if the distraction had worked. Much to his relief, Cain was talking to Sesshoumaru while Gin stood on the other side of the crowd with InuYasha.
She grinned. "Well, as nice as this is, I can think of a few things that might be nicer still."
"It's your day, princess. We can stay as long as you want. I've waited this long."
"I don't want to make you wait anymore," she admitted.
He pulled her to her feet and grinned. "It's okay, Belle. We've got forever, right?"
Her smile widened as a happy blush dusted her cheeks. "Right."
'She's Got A Way' copyright Billy Joel.
This chapter is dedicated to those who helped to stop a plagiarist. The 'author' in question thought it'd be okay to use my story as well as my character, Kichiro, for her own story and changed Ryo to Kyo (or something similar, or so I've been told), and changed his girl to the daughter of the Chinese tai-youkai … Luckily she only got a chapter done and posted when she chose to remove her story. However, she has not been banned, and is still able to post AND to leave reviews to taunt me that she still has an account. For this reason, I will NOT be updating this fiction on Fanfictionnet, and I have not decided if I will keep my fics hosted on that site or not. Any site that allows a plagiarist to keep their account should be ashamed.
Final Thought from Kichiro:
… No … panties …?
Blanket disclaimer for this fanfic (will apply to this and all other chapters in Justification): 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.