Youko stopped his run, growling dangerously into the night air. The scent of Kitsune was all over this ningen village. Kitsune were very secretive creatures by nature, and if one was in contact with humans this extensively it meant they were enslaved.
Youko grinned insanely, one thing the humans of this village should learn; kitsune stick together.
Over time, the village was filled with rumors. Occasional flashes of silver and white had been seen frequently and the villagers were frightened. No one could shake off the sense of killer intent near these sightings and many started believing it to be an omen of death to come.
It was a week later when the shard hunting group came back to Kaede's village. Tired and bedraggled, they proudly showed the elderly miko Kaede their gathered jewel shards. The jewel was growing in Kagome's hands; and the purity of her soul was causing it to glow as if it were one of the very stars itself.
Youko walked through the tree branches like he was soaring, the wind playing with his hair and clothing. He'd been away for a treasure gathering; he'd allowed himself to go because his job before had been to frighten the villagers and collect information on the keepers of the kitsune. The rumors he had heard had led him outside the village into the countryside.
A kitsune was traveling with the shard hunting group of this village. And if rumors were correct so was a miko-in-training. This made Youko's blood rage. A miko-in-training usually had to practice binding spells, and for a kitsune to not be with their own kind was horrifying.
Kitsune needed a certain amount of affection. Unlike other youkai, kitsune specialized in illusions and soul magic; they needed a firm sense of self and a high level of confidence. Kitsune – unlike any other demon – created a loving and compassionate environment in their homes and villages. A kitsune in a ningen village wouldn't get this type of emotional feeding- humans despised youkai.
A kitsune raised by humans always had no working magic, their soul being oppressed and sometimes broken down so they would obey their mortal masters.
If this village had a kitsune then they would soon be disappointed to learn it couldn't use its magic.
Youko shivered. 'Then they'll be used as bed slaves.'
The downside to being a beautiful race was always the slavery ring. A young demon would be scarred for life, and its kind would be hard put to help him survive when or if he was released.
Youko was torn from his musings by the scents that now permeated the air around his village. They were back.
Shippou listened to the conversations around him as they entered the village. He was seated on his Kagome's shoulder, so he had the best perch for eavesdropping. The majority of her hair hid him, and people always let their guard down around the respectable, if strange, miko. They believed Kagome to be somewhat sub-human he guessed. 'Oh that's just our miko, she can't tell anyone.' Shippou paused in his vindictive thoughts. 'Oh better yet miko-sama- IT can't tell anyone. It wouldn't want people to stop trusting it now would it?'
For all the position of miko was respected and revered it sure got shit for gratitude.
Shippou guessed he could understand Kikyou's distress over her plot in life.
Kagome though, 'she always seems to get the short end of the stick.' Shippou started playing with her hair and extending his senses further from his perch. He sighed morosely. Shippou understood the pressure of an education, Kitsune are notorious for their cunning but no one seems to realize that they need schooling to develop that skill. 'Idiots.'
But Kagome realized it…somewhat. She was still human after all. And she was trying so hard.
Shippou knew that she was getting schooled five days of the week in her time, and with it being the future they probably had more to school on every day! Then Inuyasha dragged her here so she had to learn all about our ways of life. Talk about pressure.
So she continued to smile and prate oblivious but she got no gratitude from anywhere… 'Other than me of course!'
As usual the group had found two small shards thanks to Kagome's skills, and as she often times had to do she had been the arrow that turned the tide of the battle. 'But nooooooo, not even Sango had congratulated Kagome.' Miroku had even refrained form his usual storm of compliments to get a grope in spiel.
'Of course, who'd expect Inuyasha to thank her for all the time she puts in?' "An Idiot would, that's who." Shippou mumbled absentmindedly into Kagome's hair.
She turned her head and gave him a bemused smile, by now she was used to his snippets of rants that he let out during his bouts of maturity.
He grinned sheepishly in return and watched her eyes dull as she turned her head back to the worn and beaten path under her shoes. She tensed up even more as the villagers watched she and the group make their way to Kaede's hut, and she raised her head high and walked proudly under their scrutiny.
He was not oblivious to the fact that the villagers were more than enthusiastic about their return. He supposed he'd have to wait until everyone found out why 'til he could know. He sighed. Being mature was sooo boring sometimes.
Kagome laughed quietly under her breath, a low whistling chuckle that told him she guessed the direction of his thoughts.
He smiled as they entered the hut, taking care to hide his face in her hair. It wouldn't do for the villagers to wax terrified of the little kitsune. Everyone knew that kitsune were tricksters at heart, and Shippou had a grand time watching them watch him and wait for the other shoe to drop.
His snicker was cut off from the villagers as the door covering fell into place.
Youko felt his youki bleed out from his person and sighed as he sensed some innocent children flee from their game near the forest. Reining in his killer intent he calmed himself down with meditative breaths.
It was a kit.
He had barely caught site of the mumbling child sitting on the woman's shoulder. He had been cleverly hidden in the mass of her hair and it had been hard to smell him out with the heavy scent of magic surrounding her already.
She was the miko.
That the kit was near her person further solidified his convictions. If the miko was still being trained then her binding spells would still be weak, and weak spells usually created a leash for the bound to the binder.
Youko could feel the hairs on his body stand on end- his tail and ears had already been tensed for work. Slowly and silently, he made his way to the shrine area of the village.
Trailing the group he caught the kit's dark expression and the tenseness of the miko's shoulders. Only his hair moved with nature as he studied the whole group.
the villagers generally stayed out of their way as much as they openly appreciated their presence.
the monk had his shouki steadily circling around him to sense any threat to his person.
the Taijiya (and he only found that out after a lot of rumor mongering) was storming her way from the group to the relative peace of the forest.
the Hanyou with his subduing spell grumbled in his trek to the old and almost shabby hut at the edge of the shrine grounds.
the kit was clinging to the miko as he glared out at the villagers from his relatively safe and hidden perch.
and the miko (in her clothes of station despite the rumors surrounding her) was walking stiffly with a cold expression upon her face.
Youko sighed as he shook his head. He'd be back tonight.
Kurama groaned awake from his sleep and could feel Youko's grumbling about how early mornings were getting. A wry smile made its way onto his lips, only to slip off again as he recalled the dreams of last nights sleep.
Youko stilled to contemplate Kurama's thoughts.
As no answer came forth from the Silver Spirit Kitsune, Kurama made his way about his morning rituals. Shower, brush his teeth, pull his hair back, slip in his weapons; the general morning sacraments any demon fighting teenager would do. Today he didn't have to do much, just attend school, dodge his fan club and talk to Yusuke about the next case.
Kurama could already tell how school would go, and to dodge the fan club all he would have to do was slip into the mall for about five minutes then slip out to the park. Yusuke was the unknown variable.
The day went by fast and Kurama actually only had to stay in the mall for three minutes before his stalkers lost themselves in the crowds. He'd found Yusuke during his lunch break, he'd been skipping school in the park, and had found out that Kurama wasn't needed on the case they were currently working on.
If he was, they would be able to contact him anyway.
Kurama smiled gently as he took a deep breath. He and Youko were in agreement: head to the nature park to relax during their free time as long as they could.
Silently, Youko drifted through the roads of the village, not even the guard watch caught a flash of his silver hair. He held back a snicker at their ineptitude in the face of his skills and consequently had to scold himself to focus on the task at hand.
He went to the huts lone window without any mishaps, even with the amount of dogs they kept and trained in this village.
Peering into the relative dimness of the huts main room he could make out the figures of the group in their various states of rest. The only movement he saw was the directionless shifting of slumber, and he wondered at their ease in such surroundings.
Everyone was to be treated as an enemy.
He took note of everyone's positions, hoping to discover the kit being kept in some corner where it would be possible for him to misguide the spell and take the kit to one of his strongholds. If this was a miko being trained it would be fairly simple to do so.
Youko scowled as he spotted the kit, right in the arms of the sleeping miko. She seemed to be the only one who was on guard in their group- and he had to wonder at the fact that it was supposed to be everyone else that was fully trained.
The scent of fear was slightly clinging to the general area the two were in and Youko growled out his displeasure into the still air.
'I'll have to capture the miko to get the kit.'
So he'd have to wait.
Shippou shivered with his whimper as he awoke from his nightmare. Kagome shifted awake beside him and he had to thank Inari that she always had her guard up.
She was always able to sense his fear and wake up to sooth his nightmares away.
Kagome was very worried about him, he could tell. She had been waking up for him the past seven nights while they were on the road, as Shippou kept having the same nightmare with slight changes.
She had tried everything: singing him to sleep, cuddling him while awake as to watch over him in his sleep, giving him warm milk and honey before bed….she had even talked about washing her bedding so that the smell of his fear wouldn't be on it anymore.
She had this theory that his dreams were being repeated because of the scent stimulus to his consciousness.
Shippou wouldn't let her leave long enough to do it while they were on the road.
'If she knew what the dreams were about she'd probably just hold me and never let go…right?' Kagome was cooing soft words of comfort to him but he still couldn't take his mind of his nightmare.
He was always alone there.
Kagome would always be the last to leave, but she wouldn't leave willingly. 'Oh no. If someone wanted to take my Kagome away from me they would have to tear her away, bloodily like they do every night in my dream.' Shippou shivered again, he could feel his tail shaking with his emotions.
Shaking his head he tried to calm down and forget his nightmares. 'Kagome always has a light guard up, she can't be caught. Then again, she would throw all her guards away just to protect me….'
Shippou was drawn out of his thoughts as Kagome shifted. He felt himself being lifted up from her side as she rolled onto her back. A sense of comfort overcame him suddenly and he had to strain through a sleep fogged mind to realize that she had him lying across her chest with her heartbeat in his ear.
He smiled as her hands soothed out his tail and massaged his back. A whispering song came from her lips. 'I think that was the one about the mother and her….' Shippou drifted into sleep.
It took a few weeks before Youko actually found the miko alone. Her comrades hadn't let her do anything by herself; the monk had even gone with her when she went to do her wash!
She was gathering herbs, the rather large reed basket held securely under one arm while she lifted branches out of her way with the other. He waited; it wouldn't do for her to scream so close to the village.
As she walked a smile slowly blossomed on her face, and her pace picked up into a light jog and then a full out running lope. For a moment Youko thought that she had sensed him, but no. 'She's running for the joy of it.'
He could guess that mikos were not supposed to be so exuberant in the village's eye, and he probably would have liked the girl who could run with a grin that sunny -Except for the kit.
So when she finally found a convenient patch of herbs in the forest and placed her basket down to search out her needs he tensed in anticipation and renewed anger.
'Think of the kit Youko. If you free him then he will be able to run with a smile on his face.' He paused as she took a deep breath of the earthy forest air with a dreamy smile on her face. 'The kit should be able to do this! The human won't matter in the long run. Think of the scent of fear! Think of slaves!'
Then she took out the pelt of a full-grown kitsune and spread it among the roots of a rather large tree. It smelled like the kit.
A low growl ripped itself from his throat. The miko tensed and reached for a small dagger stuck into the reeds of the basket's weave. 'Oh no you don't!'
She only gave a small cry of pain as his body weight forced her into the rough ground. He had almost wanted to spare her, if only for her simple joy in nature; but the kit should be the one he was thinking of, and now he was angry at himself and furious at this human girl.
Slowly he looked over the female, she wasn't wearing her traditional robes of station, but she was still wearing a rather modest kimono. He had to wonder how the rumors of her odd and indecent way of dress came to be from this child.
She snarled at him as she caught her breath. A hand came up from nowhere and almost clipped him in the head with a rock. He caught it and forced it down, snarling back with a guttural growl.
Slowly he ran a claw down her cheek; just a cut mind you, he still needed her to tell him what spell was used on the kit- and maybe weaken her spirit while he was at it.
"Foolish mortal!" His snarl stopped her struggles and she turned her angry eyes up to his. For a moment he was startled at the rich emotions that colored the normally dull blue a sapphire but he shrugged it off. "If you created such a weak spell to hold the kokitsune then you must be very inept." All her struggling ceased and the fire left her eyes.
Lifeless pools of blue reflected his stoic features.
A flicker was visible, just one emotion. "A spell…?" It was a halting whisper, as if she really didn't understand what he was saying.
"Idiot! The pelt! The kit! You are training to be a miko are you not!" He growled out in frustration when all he got was an innocently confused look and a wince when he reflexively tightened his grip on her wrist.
"I'm…training. Though I have no clue what you are talking about." He soft words were once again spoken hesitantly. He almost backed off.
But she snapped her wrist out of his hold and renewed her struggle more fiercely. He felt the blood run along his right cheek from a scratch by her pitiful human nails. His eyes narrowed and he tensed his muscles, his body naturally reacting and making him more physically intimidating.
Her body recoiled instinctively but her eyes remained their flat emotionless shade.
When his blow landed on her right cheek they only widened minutely at the pain he knew must be intense for a human mortal- a woman at that.
Shippou had been shaking ever since Kagome left. He had a very bad feeling.
He knew Inuyasha was only acting on his instinct against the rumors they had heard, and Shippou knew that Kagome was tired of their babysitting.
Miroku had even had the gall to claim himself meditating by the river when she went to wash her possessions and their bedding. His Kagome was not a stupid woman, and Shippou knew that she felt weak when they did such things for her. And she could always tell.
He could see it in her eyes now. It was more prominent. With no gratitude from the villagers and their group for her healing and no thanks for the little things she did; and now with them looking constantly over her shoulder and undermining her guard, her eyes were listless.
Shippou grimaced when he thought about it and tried to convince himself that she wouldn't feel good if even he went to check on her, even though she usually loved seeing him no matter the cause.
She treated him as an adult with his own opinions; he should respect her wishes and do the same.
Besides, she'd gone out to fix Father's pelt. She'd been trying to surprise him he was sure, as the pelt had gotten musty and dry sitting in the hut all this time. He knew she'd be going out to an herb patch and using one of her futuristic but simple techniques to get it all shiny and fresh looking again.
He thanked her for that.
And since she was doing him such a service, it wouldn't be right for him to barge in on her time.
But he could feel something wrong on the air, and just as he had almost convinced himself he was just being paranoid…he felt it.
The abrupt snap of her panic rushed along his senses, and the subsequent pang of pain that rushed through her body followed by humiliation was distinct in his mind.
He was gone in a blur.
Youko was sharply pushed by a relatively small object, and it was only the surprise of such an act that made him roll off the woman.
It was the kit.
He paused to contemplate. If the kit was under a protect spell, then he would have to kill the woman to set him free. If it was so then there'd be relatively little hassle and the kit could grow into a fine strong Kitsune.
Youko could see that.
"Kagome! Are you okay!"
"Shippou?" The miko slowly sat up and tried to reach out for the kit. He frowned disapprovingly at her and stepped in front of her.
"I knew I shouldn't have let you alone." The miko flinched slightly, but enough for both kitsune to catch it, and Youko watched with detached wonder as the kit clapped his hands over his mouth in deep shock.
"I didn't mean it like that!" His voice was a yell and a plea in one.
"What," Youko growled out, "is going on here?"
The kit turned to him and glared…he glared- at him! "What are you doing in our village?" His voice had strengthened.
Youko pondered then spoke. "I heard the rumors of a kit in a weak binding spell. I saw your father's pelt. I chose to intervene." His voice was steely, the rage at such audacity towards the noble kitsune race making his blood boil anew.
"There is no such thing happening here!" The kits voice was sharp with reproach. His features softened and his voice soothed out. "But I thank you."
The miko moved to sit up, and the kit himself moved near her weak form to help brace her with his considerably smaller body.
"I believed that a kit needed to be taken into his society again. That he was bound and oppressed by the mortals."
He could see that this wasn't the case; now that he was watching the two interact. The boy had a fiery spirit, and it was only growing in her presence. He had a great soul, and his optimism had colored his aura a bright and fiery mix of colors he hadn't even seen before.
The miko looked up at him and he felt that he was being evaluated for something.
The kit smile at her and turned to him. "I'm Shippou of the clan Kaikei-gakari, this is my boon. My father was Hokomaru and my mother was Hosekiko. It is a considerable honor to meet one such as your skill." The kit bowed as the miko smiled slightly and settled against a tree.
Youko was stunned by the kits manners and felt it only suitable to return the traditional Kitsune greeting. "I am Kurama of the clan Youko, this is my boon. My father was Ginmaru and my mother was Hisuiko. I too find pleasure in meeting one such as you."
Shippou grinned up at him. "This is the miko Kagome, she took me in when my parents were murdered." Youko flinched.
His actions had been unacceptable…
"This is the miko Father accepted as mine."
Youko blanched. It was rare for a Kitsune spirit to come back and choose a caretaker for their young; and it was even rarer for it to be a human.
But a miko?
The miko sighed tiredly. "Shippou, I have an idea." The kit helped her reset the basket that had fallen over and watched her handle the pelt with great care and reverence. "You once told me that kitsune create a certain environment for their young…" She gently placed some fresh herbs on the pelt before she folded it carefully, "I see a crossroad for you."
Shippou stilled and glanced at Youko. Youko himself was squinting at the miko, trying to figure out how a mostly uneducated ningen could be thinking this fast about an 'alien' culture.
"I give you a choice Shippou." She smiled and gently cupped his cheek before picking him up only to set him down between the two adults. "I feel that you need to grow up in a more natural environment, but I also need you to remember my words. You'll do this for me won't you?"
The kit nodded determinedly even as Youko could see fresh tears gathering in his emerald orbs.
"Follow your heart and your instincts; never think through something important or life-changing…" Shippou started only to finish with the miko's voice in harmony. "This way you'll be able to look back and say 'I have no regrets, I made the right choice.' And people will always know exactly where your heart lies."
The miko smiled gently and picked up her basket, placing the neatly folded pelt on the top and started to walk away. She waved back over her shoulder and the last glimpse both kitsune saw of her was her sapphire eyes, magically standing out in the shades of the forest.
It was only Youko who heard the kit whisper to the wind, hoping for it to reach the miko. "Okaa-san…"
And it was only Youko who heard the miko whimper and crumble far up the path, and only he felt her lean against the forest trees in her grief.
Youko looked to the young kit, only to find him staring up at him with a questioning face.
"She loves me." Youko nodded. "She takes care of me." Youko tilted his head and stayed silent. "She needs me." Youko paused in any action, finding it rather shallow to answer so genially to the depth of emotion the young kit was displaying.
He took a deep breath. "As she said, you have a choice."
Youko was only mildly surprised to see a cunning gleam enter the kits eyes- after all, he was a kitsune.
Shippou had felt a great weight on his shoulders when his mother had left, and it had only lifted when he looked behind her words. 'Well, mother wants me to listen to her, and then she'd better be expecting something totally unorthodox and unexpected.'
Because, that's how things that his Kagome did usually turned out.
He turned his face away from Youko as he thought it out. Yes, it would work, and in the end he still was listening to her. 'Never judge…'
'Learn from mistakes…'
'Accept people as they are…'
Well, he could understand the never judge part, as every member of their group had hurt Kagome before she accepted them. She forgave them, and she learned how to relate to other people in this era, and …
Shippou could feel a sly grin make its way onto his face.
"Kagome-okaa needs me to be her laughter, and I need you to be my trainer." He bowed up with a smug grin. "You can learn about me and her and we can learn from you."
He nodded decisively. 'This is perfect. Operation Uncle under way.'
Youko smirked good-naturedly at the kit and mentally congratulated him on his plan. It was purely kitsune to be able to look at a situation and get the best possible outcome for oneself and make the others feel pacified. 'Strong kit…'
Youko made a show out of his contemplation, drawing one hand up to his chin and staring off into space. "Well…"
The kit grinned. "You'll get to solve a really interesting puzzle. And Kagome-okaa has a good education and might even be able to teach you something in return for training."
Youko was hooked at the word puzzle, but still… "I'm not so sure."
Now the kit had the gall to smirk at him! "You'll find out what I believe is the greatest treasure!" It was a trap, pure and simple. And Youko took the bait.
He found his head nodding genially at the word 'treasure' and was even surprised by the kits happy exclamation of joy along with his exuberant tail wagging.
Excitedly the kit started bouncing off the trees and chattering about the villagers and his little tricks that kept himself amused. Youko was pleased to note that his quick-witted nature wasn't oppressed or sarcastic; it was exactly as a young kit should act.
It only took a moment before they found the miko, contently sorting out the gathered herbs and rubbing them into the pelt occasionally. Youko was shocked to see sheen come back into the pelt, and was even more shocked when the miko looked up.
Her eyes were completely blank.
Then they saw Shippou.
The kit had become oddly quiet and he was gazing steadily back at her. A slow comforting smile mad its way onto his face. "You didn't think I would, did you?"
She let out an abrupt breath that sounded something like a sob and a sigh all in one. Shippou's eyes went glassy with emotion and he threw himself into her arms when she opened them to him.
Youko found himself feeling like the intruder. The emotion in this moment was almost suffocating in its intensity, the only thing that saved him was the level of acceptance he saw in their movements- and the 'thank you' the miko mouthed to him over the kits head.
Shippou grinned at Youko as he entered the hut with sopping wet hair and a scowl. He had joined the group no more than a week ago and he already was fitting in.
Sure there was always the initial trouble; what with Sango's natural defensiveness around males and Miroku feeling threatened by the naturally beautiful male…and Inuyasha just feeling threatened …
Okay, so it wasn't exactly fitting in.
Shippou just knew that his Kagome had been the one to get Youko wet and he had to wonder what he had done to deserve it this time. Youko getting wet was the equivalent of Inuyasha getting sat.
Sure, it happened less often but the cause and result was the same.
Youko had the worst luck around Kagome. She always happened to have water handy when he pissed her off.
Youko growled at his grin. "Be silent kit."
Shippou grinned even more.
Youko was fighting off a grin himself, but he needed to maintain his pride to some level. Kami knows the miko had already knocked his ego down a notch or two.
He sighed; training the kit was a pleasure and being around the miko was always fun, but the villagers and the rest of the group were… not intimidating, but overwhelming. The kit was always easing the tension of the group, and he guessed he had the miko to thank for that.
Shippou was always ready to learn, even eager to do so. The miko had been teaching him well, and in some areas he was more advanced than Youko himself! The kits understanding of science was astounding, but his mathematics and figuring skills were greatly lacking.
"Anything new today?" Shippou asked with an innocent expression.
Youko rolled his eyes. "I managed to piss off your mother again kit…but you should already know that." The sharp glance he sent the kit only made him let out his laughter.
He liked the kits laughter, it wasn't his little chuckle or gusty giggle, it was the laughter he usually had only heard the miko make him do. It was free kind of laughter, one of no worries, and it made him wonder how hard the miko had worked to preserve it.
He pounced on the laughing kit and started to tickle him mercilessly.
…If only to get another laugh out of him.
He had learnt their stories during his brief stay already. The kit should be bitter and vengeful, yet he was happy and laughing and playing and smiling. The miko was always working and had to juggle two separate lives, yet she was always kind and patient and learning and loving.
They made the perfect family, and they needed no father or husband figure to make it so. Youko almost envied them.
"Uncle! I give! Mercy!"
Except for this.
They had accepted him into their family; he was the older brother she never had, just as he was the uncle the kit always wanted. He smiled as he stopped his effort and drew the tiredly panting kit into his arms.
He could almost swear that no treasure was worth more than this.
Shippou was sleeping in his arms now, the kind of dead sleep he'd been having since the miko had prayed over him and spent a whole afternoon holding him and whispering endearments into his ears.
It would take a very large boar demon to wake him up.
So he set Shippou down on the small coverlet Kagome always set out for his day naps, and he left the hut.
Just in time to witness another fight between the two founders of this merry group.
"Please! I need to see my family! I need to restock on ramen too…" Youko grinned as he caught the bait in Kagome's voice, and he only grinned more when he saw the hanyou falter in his tirade.
"No!" Oh kami, that one was so stubborn.
"We need to find the shards Ka-go-me. Or did you not notice that there are less and less and that means more and more for Naraku." Youko bristled at the insult to Kagome's intelligence.
But when he looked in her face he flushed with anger. Her dead eyes were back.
"Inuyasha, I'm going." And she turned to leave.
Inuyasha growled and jumped in front of her. "Not without an escort you're not." He stomped in the general direction to the portal of her home. "Kami knows what kind of trouble you'd get yourself into…." His voice trailed off out of hearing but Youko could make out the vague mumblings of getting beaten up by a pretty-boy fox and some other mutterings about her getting kidnapped and always having to be looked after.
Youko only watched and wondered as she left in Inuyasha's trail.
And he made a decision.
Kurama strolled casually through the park until he found the perfect tree. It was a relatively old tree, and the vibes coming off were sending soothing flares along his youki and his human soul.
He settled against it, and took his amusement in watching the various unique people walk by under his scrutiny. There were so many interesting people and so many fascinating emotions. It was always interesting to watch and wonder.
'Oji! He said the bad word again!'
A vague form of a kit squirmed bashfully in front of him. He laughed.
'If it was so bad why don't you tell me so I can punish him?'
The kit leaned up to whisper in his ear. 'I can't.'…and turned his head away with a deep blush.
He laughed, ruffling the kits hair as he picked him up and swung him around, only to glimpse the woman who was watching them and smiling…
Kurama was abruptly pulled from the memory as he shocked himself with the emotional response to these two beings.
Something was going to happen.
When Kagome came back, all tired and weary looking Inuyasha hounded them until they were all on the road. Shippou glared at his back from his safe perch on his Kagome's shoulder.
He could only glare, and comfort the miko. Kami- she really, really, really needed someone to show her how much they cared.
Youko stole up beside them and Shippou glanced only briefly at him before returning to his Kagome and weaving his hands through her hair. He would give any comfort he could.
His tail ended up wrapped around her neck, and his hands were enthusiastically playing with her hair, tiny braids and twists and loops forming out of the thick mass that adorned her head.
She smiled at him and stroked his tail, and she giggled at the purring noise that rumbled from his chest. He only grinned smugly, although it kind of came out demented and dreamy due to the sensations she was creating.
Youko laughed and he only rolled his head lazily along her shoulder to look at him, his tongue hanging out of his mouth much like a content puppy's. Youko had this gleam in his eyes and Shippou had a feeling that his prayer would be answered.
It was going to get good.
Youko waited until the hanyou finally let them settle down for the night before he pulled both the kit and Kagome off to the side. This was nothing unusual, as he sometimes grabbed Kagome to help him train the kit in his powers. And it helped Kagome too, when they meditated and manipulated their spirit energy he could see the light of understanding lit up her eyes when she finally grasped a concept someone else had tried to ingrain into her.
The problem with her is that she had a very large soul and a very small body. It was difficult for her to manipulate such a large power source with so little space to work with, and her soul was constantly shifting with her inherent powers. If she learned to manipulate her soul better there would be no limit to the things she could accomplish.
So he was going to train her, and she wouldn't get hurt anymore. Not by an opponent and not by anyone who told her she was weak.
Her previous teachers couldn't have been able to sense what was wrong with her, only kitsune could see an aura. Her teachers could only sense her power, and they automatically assumed that she would be exactly like all those other powerful spiritual people. It always ended with a frustrated teacher and Kagome sensing their underlying emotional distress over her. Utter Chaos.
So when he started to guide her through some meditative exercises, and told her a new breathing pattern to help her concentrate, she only smiled at him gratefully.
Shippou grinned up at him from his seated position.
So the days passed, and their bond grew. Youko now entertained thoughts about how other people would look in on their merry family. The group had grown accustomed to their presence, and Kagome smiled.
She smiled a lot.
Youko grinned thinking about her. She was growing so strong…and she was even occasionally surprising him with her cunning and the battle strategies that she thought up. His little sister was assimilating some of their kitsune characteristics: the mischievous nature, the grinning eyes, the unnatural grace, the purr-like drawl of their voice…
Youko couldn't wait until the ceremony.
Shippou grinned at him from his perch on his shoulder, playfully growling at him before he ran away as fast as he could, his little tail wagging behind him with his excitement.
Youko gave chase, only for the weaving drunk path to come up short when Shippou took shelter on the miko's shoulder. She turned to glance at him warily before she continued walking. Through this he noticed, with a touch of pride, the tensing of her muscles waiting for an attack, and the power surge into her shield.
His Kagome was now a fighter.
He occasionally had bouts of guilt at taking away her innocent sprit, but she always happened to look at him at just the right time; silently reminding him that she would have broken under the pressure of everything else if he hadn't done anything.
She always thanked him.
When they stopped for the night the little family made their way to the forest, exactly like they did every other night. Only this night…this night was important.
It was to be a bonding ceremony, one to make their souls recognize each other and claim each other as true family.
When unrelated beings did this, their youki and instincts would respond on the same animalistic level whenever danger and their family was involved. And as Kagome was always saying…your instincts never lead you wrong.
Shippou watched his new family, well not so new. They'd completed the bonding about three weeks ago, but the heady rush of belonging that swerved its way along his senses was always like the exhilarating rush of something new.
They related so well together now, as their souls reacted to each others and made them feel each others presence as the boon it was.
Shippou smiled the Buddha zen-like smile that Miroku always tried to accomplish.
'Youko, Welcome to my greatest treasure.'
Youko was tired and bedraggled, the blood form their battle clinging to his clothes and skin and making him itch. But he couldn't stop.
He wouldn't stop.
He needed to get Kagome to the well.
"Youko…please! Let me stay….Onegai!" Even her voice was weak with strain form yelling out her grief.
"No." -Just as his voice was gruff with emotion and pain.
She sensed this and her cooling hands smoothed out the planes of his face as her magic swirled around him and eased his discomfort.
He kept on running.
"Why do I need to go back?" She whispered brokenly.
His answer was distracted. "You got injured, and your quest is over."
A quiet sniffle brought his eyes down to her broken expression as he moved swiftly through the wind.
"I'm sorry! I didn't mean to be weak! Please don't send me away!" Her cries got louder, and her grip on his clothing turned into the clutch of someone believing they'd never see someone precious again.
This action caused Youko to stop, the rather abrupt movement jolting Kagome and making her hold onto him tighter.
He could hear her broken whispers amongst her sobs. "Please…I'll be better…PLEASE…don't send me away…Shippou…Youko, please…"
His soul almost broke.
He hadn't known this woman when he had first hurt her, and now that he did he wished he never had that memory to grace his minds eye. But the truth was he had hurt her, and it had only added to her pain that she experienced.
She was not worthless, and she was a beautiful young miko with a kind and gentle spirit and a sharp mind. Yet she had all theses insecurities, making him growl out at the idiots who had helped them grow…him included.
His growl caused her to sob. "I'm sorry! I didn't mean to make you mad at me!"
Youko started off again, wordlessly offering his apologies into the night air. "I'll take care of Shippou," her glassy eyes turned to stare up at him. "You need to live where you belong, and I swear I'll always remember you."
Her sapphire eyes, her mystery, her power, her kit. This was His family.
The greatest treasure.
'Heh, clever little kit.'
She sniffed in his arms and curled into his embrace. And for the last time, what he felt to be for the rest of eternity, he held his sister in his arms and shed the tears he had always held in.
Shippou looked up at Youko as they walked, it had been a few years and Shippou now reached about mid-chest on the spirit fox.
They were on the run again.
Youko's 'treasure-collecting impulses' had driven the hunters onto their tails and they had had to move their base to the next safe-house Youko had hidden in the country-side.
Shippou smiled wistfully; if only their family could survive long enough to see each other again. He knew for certain that Youko was thieving to put of his anxiety.
Kagome had been pushed away for her sake, and they didn't know how she had reacted when she had gotten to her side of the well.
Shippou sighed. They had made the right choice. He knew this for fact. But Kagome always took the blame on herself for every little thing, and he knew for fact that their actions probably broke her heart.
'Poor Kagome…' Mom.
So they continued their walk, the silent camaraderie they had developed thanks to their bond and their past easing Shippou into the natural stillness of it all. He stopped.
'Everything's too quiet.'
Youko stopped with him, being drawn out of the self-damning world where he viewed and reworked his actions since meeting the mysterious miko, his sister, and her kit. Where he tried to find a way he could have accomplished things differently and where he wished he wouldn't feel so guilty.
But he noticed.
They stood back to back, their faces schooled into the calm indifference Shippou used to associate with Sesshoumaru. He brought up his hands into the defensive stance Youko and Kagome had ingrained into his very body, and he only took a second to glance out of the corner of his eye to see Youko in the very same defensive stance.
Their battle was short, oddly stilted, and intense. The pack of hunters left no room for mistakes and when one tried to get Shippou from his back and Youko let his guard down enough to help, they got him.
The blood slipping from Youko's prone form was oddly surreal to the kitsune. But both had been traveling for years, and both had learned many techniques.
They'd get out of this.
"I'll find her."
Shippou nodded and disappeared into the forest. Only to watch as the hunters mercilessly attacked the already downed form of a man whom all respect should go to.
He watched as Youko's soul slowly pulled itself from his body, and the ghostly after image of his face smiled and winked at him before it drifted away in space and time to find the last piece of their family.
Shippou knew that when he did, he'd find him.
They would be together again. No matter what had happened in between.
And SHippou could wait.
After all, he'd always been taught… 'Patience is the key to everything. Poer without patience is nothing. Patience is like your mother, who never lashed out at those who judged her for and incompetent. And…patience just happens to help in my line of work.'
Shippou grinned at the memory of the soaking Youko had gotten when Kagome had found out he'd told the impressionable young kit that.
Oh yes, he could wait, and he would learn.
His mother would be very surprised.
…and hopefully…she would remember that they were family. She could believe again and know that they never gave up on each other, no meter the circumstance.
And no matter how much time it takes.
Kurama watched the girl in curiosity; she had a pair of headphones on, listening to Discman and bobbing her head to the music. Her clothes weren't punk or prep, but rather a regal mix of old Japanese style and new age.
Her slippers were exactly like the old slippers of the higher-ups during Youko's time, and her dark jeans were adorned with the ribbons the gently-born ladies loved to wear around their ankles at the courtly gatherings.
The flowing mass of hair wasn't exactly free, as it was twisted and bound with elaborate braids of ribbons and ancient jeweled pieces.
Her outfit and style would catch anyone's eyes with the way the old and new meshed into a pleasing masterpiece fit for the cover of any magazine.
Although what caught his attention most of all was that her eyes were closed. With this handicap, she moved through the park full of people with grace and surprising ease.
Already, she had dodged quite a few wayward people drunk on their joy and merrymaking and even one grumbling business man, and her body was just making its way around another person and towards him. She walked past and a brilliant smile lit up her face.
"Hello Youko!" and she kept on walking.
If only for a few steps…
She stopped mid-stride and walked backwards towards him. Bowing deeply she muttered out her apologies with a pink tinted face. "I'm so sorry! I thought you were…." She cut herself off and actually looked up into his face.
Her eyes were sapphires, a kitsune worthy treasure.
Her eyes suddenly lit up as he looked in them, and the Machiavellian gleam that he saw made him nervous. "Come here." She gave him no other choice as she grabbed his arm in a surprisingly strong grip and dragged him to a lone bench in a secluded part of the park.
"So, how'd you get yourself into trouble now Youko?"
Kurama was shocked enough to let Youko surge to the surface, his eyes only turning golden to signify the change.
"Hunters." Was his simple reply.
Her expression was suitably vindictive. "Oooh, not them again!"
He could feel his curiosity getting through to the silver kitsune, 'Youko…who is she?'
"Kagome, I see you met my other half."
She gave him a look that turned all together too devious. "I believe I actually met your better half Youko. Who'd have thought?" Her voice purred out.
Kurama felt Youko sifting through old memories even as he grinned back at the female and poked her side. She laughed softly and that heralded the memory surge.
The small woman was blurry and vague, but her smiling face was coming into focus and he felt himself sitting up from his resting spot.
'Onii-chan. I need you to take Shippou out into the woods for the day.'
'Mmmhmmm.' His sleep-fogged mind took a while to assimilate her words and when he was finally awake enough to answer her appropriately she was laughing and running down the path away from him.
"I missed you."
He could feel the contentment of his soul as two bodies snuggled into his side to watch the stars. A childish giggle caused him to look down at the young kit beside him, and soon a feminine hand entered his sight as the female reached out and stroked her fingers through the kits hair.
His family, his.
"You wouldn't believe all the difficulties I had with your kit."
'I believe in karma, that fate will deal me what is fit.'
'And what do you believe you're due?'
The smile she turned to him was self-depreciative and full of longing. 'Certainly nothing that I have right now.' She told him in that soft whisper of a voice that was meant for joy and laughter. 'I certainly am not deserving of such kindness and joy from the fates. After all, I am the catalyst of most of the major horrors from Naraku…'
She was abruptly pulled into his chest by his arms and he caged her there with gentle hands. 'You, are, my, sister. Don't let anyone- even yourself- believe that you don't deserve the joy and happiness-' Whatever he was going to say was cut off as they heard the muffled shuffling of tiny sleep-leaden feet.
The kit entered their line of sight, yawning cutely and fisting his hands in his eyes to wipe away their sleep induced vagueness. 'I couldn't sleep…hug?' Came his groggy voice and childish plea.
The woman in his arms relaxed into her natural mothering role and opened her arms to the kit.
They sat their in companionable silence. Until the kit broke it with another childish and innocent comment: 'I love you both….' The miko shook; with a sob or a laugh, he couldn't tell. 'Can mommy sing a lullaby?'
Youko smiled as her voice rose to greet the night stars, she was content. So he was as well.
He looked down at the slumbering kit, snuggled up to his mother's heartbeat and sleeping contently.
He had all he needed, all that was important here in his arms.
"But he grew up fine, and I bet he's waiting for me to contact him now that I have found you."
A miko stood poised for battle, her broken bow hanging limply from her hand and a stray arrow gripped in her other. A kit sat upon her shoulder, his tan tail snapping back and forth against the inky silk of the miko's flowing hair.
The kit was set upon the ground and he nodded with a proud smile up at the miko when she stood to face their enemy.
He could see the battlefield.
Blood, bodies, and magic.
She ran through it all, and he laughed at her.
He wasn't laughing when her miko charged arrow was imbedded into his neck, and he wasn't laughing when her free hand shoved its way into his chest and came out with his heart and some jewel shards that had been on his person.
"How did he feel?"
The smile faded from the miko's face as she took in their wounds, the sky rolled and crashed with thunder and he could taste the rain, coolness in his throat and sharpness on his tongue.
She would have to leave.
"You can probably arrange a meeting to visit him."
The kit looked up at him in grim resolution. 'Do you think she'll get over this?' He looked away briefly as he shuffled his feet. 'She doesn't really have anyone else to rely on.'
He felt his hand reach down and ruffle the silky mess of the kits hair. 'She's strong.'
The kit smiled. 'I know,' he looked towards a dry well overflowing with vines, 'but she is not infallible.'
"Thank you." The miko breathed out. She reached a tentative hand out to him, her hand stilling only inches away from his face before her eyes dulled and she moved to pull her hand away.
Yoko quickly brought up their hand to grab hers, holding her warm flesh against their cheek. He could feel their mouth opening to from a question, it never got asked.
"I feel…like if I touched you, you wouldn't be there. I waited for years to see your face, hoping and worrying and …doubting." She took a deep shaky breath. "And that was the hardest of all- do you ever…doubt…Youko-kun?"
Kurama could feel Youko almost recoil in his mind, the odd sense of detached shame and regret filling his soul.
So Youko spoke: "I only regret that we received little time to spend in our family, and that you never got the full explanation for our actions."
Kurama was coerced into coming to the surface, and the young woman pulled her hand away as his green eyes stared back out at her in curiosity. "You're the miko Kagome then."
"Hai, I am." A shy glance was thrown up at him from underneath thick lashes and even thicker bangs. Her hand extended out as a small grin formed on her lips. "I'm soul-sister to Youko."
"My human name is Shuichi Minamino, my friends call me Kurama."
Her smile wavered at this, and Kurama watched the emotions play across her face.
"I haven't seen my soul-brother in a long while, and I wouldn't mind getting to know him- no matter what form he takes." A vulnerable gaze met his inquisitive stare. "You wouldn't mind…" Her gaze flickered away briefly, "would you?"
'What a person you've become.' The faint breath of awe filled his mind as Youko's vision filtered along the surface.
He could see her soul.
"I believe that I would enjoy that."
She looked up at him in surprise before she closed her eyes and smiled.
The colors were dancing along her form, the size of her soul too great to hold in the petite form; but the controlled ease in which it flowed around her spoke of practice and restraint, of time and effort.
Gently he guided her by her elbow to the ice-cream shack by the parks entrance, and he enjoyed her quiet squeal of delight when he bought her favorite flavor for her- at the insistence of Youko and his memories.
They spent most of the day just talking and getting to know what had happened and changed in each other's lives, and Kurama found himself drawn to the shy and modest miko his youkai half had claimed as sister. She had this little blush for when he complimented her and this little smile for when she noticed something about him that she was particularly proud of.
She had had a refreshing laugh when he had spotted some members of his fan club and he had to duck out of sight behind the corner of a building.
And now she was walking under his arm as they made their way to the shrine grounds.
It was just his luck for the detective group to be resting near the path they were taking.
"Woah!" Yusuke's loud exclamation announced their presence to the content siblings. Slowly the shock and wonder disappeared from the faces of his friends and he could feel Kagome shaking with suppressed laughter at their questions.
Finally one question rose above the clamor. "How did you actually get her? I would have thought that the actually good prospects would have been scared away by your fan club!"
She lost it.
Her laughter – as beautiful as it was - left the group staring oddly at her and wondering at her sanity. Botan took a hesitant step forward, ignoring the worried hands of Keiko and Kuwabara. But even Hiei and Yusuke went on their guard when the brilliantly colored shield made itself known to their senses when Botan approached too close.
Her laughter stopped, only the occasional giggle slipping out from behind the hands she had clapped over her mouth to stifle them.
Kurama opened his mouth to explain to his friends, but her hand was over his mouth and her pleading eyes were turned up to him. "Can I? Please, please,please,please?" Oh dear…
She drew herself up to her full height, a rather unimpressive five feet and one inch, and the Reikai Tantei shifted away from her powerful personality. "You don't know me…but I'm Youko's sister!"
Did he forget to mention that she was a kitsune at heart?
Shippou grinned contently, his family was together again. He hadn't been very surprised when Youko came back in a mortal body; despite all the misgivings he had about the certain technique he needed to use to accomplish this.
He had been very surprised at the finesse Kagome had achieved with her soul work.
He had been training for over a hundred years around the world and she just came into his life and proved to him that he was still her kit and he still had much to learn. He was glad of it.
His memory of them had been preserved; the seemingly omniscient beings that had taken him in as family were still powerful and kind and laughing. Youko was, as usual, powerful and beautiful in both of his forms, and Kagome kept muttering – good naturedly mind you - about kitsune and their vanity.
Kagome herself though, the beautiful and oblivious miko had grown more stunning over the time lost between them. He could barely recognize her if it weren't for her aura.
But then he noticed her hands, the gentle way she held everything and touched the lives. Then her smile had emerged, the warm and caring smile he remembered lulling him into sleep. And finally he had seen her eyes, she had to push away her thick bangs from covering them, but he could never mistake those eyes.
They were sapphires once again, the stunning blue emotions that colored them reflecting the waves and ripples on her soul.
'We're family again.' The strange half-smile formed on his face, he could tell. And his mother glanced at him before smiling gently and drawing him into a hug, one that told him that – once again – she knew what he was thinking about.
Youko watched his family with pride. He was sure that they had shocked many people with the announcement of their relation, and Koenma had a fit of worry when he realized that the infamous Youko Kurama had taken in a family.
It had been pretty easy after that to convince him to let them have a reunion.
Kagome was holding Shippou as if he was still a pup, and he was sprawled out over her lap as she sat on the opulently cushioned couch in Youko's safe-house.
Shippou's eyes were glazed over with pleasure as their miko's hands weaved through his tail and rubbed his ears gently. With his tongue hanging out and his dazed expression he reminded Youko of the days traveling with their group of old comrades.
How times have changed.
Shippou wasn't a kit; that much was obvious with the way he carried himself and the reputation he had developed, one worthy of one of Youko's kin.
Youko reflected and pondered for a moment, listening to the silken sigh of her hands in the kits fur, and the gentle whisper of their voices talking as if they had never been separated.
He had his greatest treasure with him now. He had solved the mystery of Shippou's secrets and her puzzle, and he couldn't find any other accomplishment in his memory that gave him this sense of contentment.
His family was strong, and they were even stronger when they knew they had each other.
He glanced into their faces and found them looking at him with a gleam he remembered from their traveling days. He only had time to tense his muscles before they pounced.
Raw power and strength was held in check while they play and wrestled and ended up tickling and then found themselves languishing on the pillow covered floor in their exhaustion.
They were close, lying sprawled cross each others laps and arms with Kagome sitting and running her fingers through their hair.
Shippou snickered; Kagome smiled and bit her lip to hide her giggle. Youko just steadfastly ignored them.
After all, she hadn't stopped her ear rubbing, and as long as she was doing that who would care if his foot was twitching like some common dogs? Or that the purr coming from his chest matched Shippou's ecstatic rumbling from her tail petting.
He looked into their faces as they relaxed in each other's presence, they were together again. The grins on their faces and gleams in their eyes caused him to laugh.
'Oh yes, they were together again. They had better warn the rest of the world…'