A Father's Embrace

Chapter Forty-One

Gone

"Now, my precious Kagome, it's time to wake up."

The miko's eyes snapped open as she drew in a sharp intake of breath. Slowly, she sat up, wincing when a surge of pain stabbed through her forehead. Her eyes closed and she rubbed her temples, willing the discomfort away. The throbbing subsided after a moment, and she carefully reopened her eyes, taking in her surroundings.

She found herself in the room Shippo had given her the night before, bearing only a futon, a small table and a single cushion. Beside the futon she sat on, her backpack rested on the floor, accompanied by her bow and quiver. The room was still very dim, for the sun was just beginning to peak above the horizon, to wake the slumbering world. Though the window to her room faced south, a bit of sunlight made its way in.

Kagome remained sitting in bed for several long minutes, reflecting upon the very vivid dream she had woke from. She reached into her bag, pulling out the small leather pouch containing the shikon fragments, and emptied them into her palm. The three pieces gave off a faint glow, much dimmer than she had recalled seeing them in a great long time.

"The kakera are reacting with the rest of the jewel," a shadow of a whisper echoed in the back of her mind. She took her eyes off the jewel fragments, searching the room for the source of the voice when it spoke again. "The rest of the jewel must be close by... which means the beast is near as well..."

Hearing his voice a second time, Kagome instantly knew to whom it belonged. The man from her dreams. He was there to warn her, to protect her the best he could despite the spell that bound him. A sense of panic and dread began to fill the miko. She replaced the shards into the pouch, and tied the string attached to it around her neck. Then, she quickly dressed.

As she scrambled to put her clothes on while not making too much noise, she heard a pair of hushed voices from outside her room. She stilled her movements, and quietly made her way towards the thin door, straining to listen. She could make out two male voices from down the hall. She held her breath, ceasing any and all noise she could possibly create. Pressing herself as close to the door as she could manage without falling through it, she scrutinized the voices. Kazuki and Miroku.

"...I saw him..." came Kazuki's hushed voice.

"...Inuyasha?"

"Yes."

"Where is he...?" pondered the monk.

"...close to Reimai Valley..."

"...following Kagome-sama's scent... ...looking for her..."

"...tell her?"

"No... ...best not to alert her..."

There was a bit of mumbling before Kagome could decipher more words from Kazuki.

"Maiki-kun... ...she will... ...meet him..."

"Maiki-sama... ...will welcome him... ...keep our eyes out for Inuyasha... ...we'll run into him soon..."

Kagome gasped as she pulled away from the door. She couldn't believe what she was hearing. The man from her dream was right all along! Her alleged friends had already made contact with the beast, and were hiding it from her. Not only that, but they were planning on meeting him as well, just as her guardian had prophesized.

She finished dressing herself, snatched up her bow and quiver. She tiptoed back to the door, listening to see if the monk and slayer were still out in the hall. She could barely hear their voices, but that was all she needed to hear. She couldn't escape by conventional means. She spun around, and her eyes landed on the window. It was waist high from the inside. Scurrying over to the portal, she pulled the flap away from the opening and peered outside. It was approximately five feet to the ground. No problem.

She carefully lowered her bow and quiver as low as she could outside the window before she released them. They connected with the ground with a dull clatter. Barely audible. Then, she slowly eased herself out of the window. She sat on the ledge, spun her legs to the outside, and twisted herself onto her stomach, letting her legs dangle below her. With a heave, she shoved off the window and fell down to the ground, landing on her feet. Reclaiming her bow and quiver, she headed towards the front gate, darting between the trees and bushes of the garden, anything that could provide cover until she had left the estate.


A few moments earlier...

Miroku slid quietly out of his room, ensuring not to wake his wife, allowing her to sleep a bit longer. Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, he turned to face his son who had woke him unexpectedly early. Only the urgency in his son's whispered voice had convinced the monk to rise from Sango's side.

"What's troubling you, Kazuki?"

The boy took a deep breath. "I ran into a very powerful yokai yesterday..."

"Oh?" the monk's interest piqued. "How did you fare against it?"

"I didn't exactly fight him." The exterminator's eyes fell at the self-disappointment he felt. "Koryu pretty much handled him, but there was something about him..."

"What's that?"

"He wasn't... well, I don't think he was full yokai..."

"A hanyo?"

"Yes." His eyes rose to meet his father's once again. "But I don't get it. He was far too powerful to be a hanyo."

Miroku rested a reassuring hand on his son's shoulder. "Worry not. It is not uncommon for a hanyo to be stronger than pure blooded demons. Take Inuyasha for example--"

"I think I saw him..." the boy interrupted.

The monk took a puzzled look. "'Him?' You mean... Inuyasha? Are you sure?"

"Well, he looked just like Maiki-kun when she's shibunyo... silver hair and dog ears..."

"Where is he now? Why didn't he come here with you?" And then Miroku remembered, "Wait, what happened between Inuyasha and Koryu?"

Kazuki looked away, gathering his thoughts. "He... I don't know where he is now. Probably close to Reimai Valley somewhere. There was something... wrong with him. He looked just Maiki-kun, except for his eyes. They were so... red... He was feral, wild, vicious. Koryu fought him off though... sent him for a ride on a blast of lighting. I don't think he's dead though."

Miroku was silent for a moment, pondering the news. "So, Inuyasha has finally returned. But if what you say is true, then it's possible that his yokai blood has taken over. That would make sense since he doesn't have Tetsusaiga. Hmm... He must have been following Kagome-sama's scent trail. He must be looking for her..."

"Should we tell her?"

"No. Kagome-sama has been dealing with the memories of the unfortunate events of her past. We don't yet know what transpired between them, so it's best not to alert her to Inuyasha's presence, especially if he really is in his yokai form."

"Should we tell Mother?"

"I don't think so. She'd most likely tell Kagome-sama."

The junior exterminator paused a moment before inquiring, "What about Maiki-kun? She is his daughter. Don't you think she will want to meet him?"

"We aren't certain how Maiki-sama will react. Maybe she will welcome him with open arms, or maybe she will despise him. We should wait until we've gauged the situation. In the meantime, we'll keep our eyes out for Inuyasha, and maybe we'll run into him soon enough."


A few hours later, Maiki lazily stretched out her limbs under the warm blankets of her futon as sleep ebbed away and consciousness drifted in like a sailboat slowly floating into shore, propelled by the gentle breeze. She remained in bed a few moments longer, delaying the fact that she would have to get up. Aside from one particularly disturbing dream where she was the only available doctor in a hospital full of birthing mothers, she had had a quite enjoyable night's sleep. She opened her eyes to find the sunlight beating warmly onto the floor next to her bed, signaling an already beautiful day. Sitting up and stretching once more, she came to the conclusion that nothing could spoil this day.

She took her time dressing and combing out her hair, mentally wishing for a nice, hot bath, before scooting out of her room and heading towards the dining room. The sounds of several voices permeated through the door. When Maiki shoved the wood and paper structure to the side, she found everyone minus her mother present.

"Good morning, everyone!" she chirped in an unusually bright mood as she took a seat at the table.

Everyone had paused in the conversation at her arrival. Those who had been traveling with her recently, gave her odd looks at the sudden brightness in her demeanor, while those who had only met her within the past 48 hours returned the warm greeting.

But Kazuki couldn't help but reply, "It's about time you rolled out of bed. Father and I have been up for at least half the morning."

Maiki didn't bother sparing him a glance as she helped herself to some rice and tea. "Heh! Not my fault no one bothered to wake me. I don't get to sleep in so late very often. I'm usually up early for school everyday, except the weekend. And even still, mama usually wakes me up earlier than I'd like." She paused, scanning everyone's faces when she asked, "Where is mama anyway?"

It was Sango who answered. "She hasn't left her room yet. We figured she was tired and wanted to sleep longer, like you." The elder slayer then smiled as her eyes took on a distant look and she recalled, "When we were all younger, Kagome-chan was always the last one to get up. Once, Inuyasha had to dump her in a cold river before she would wake up."

Shippo released a greatly amused laugh, recollecting the memory as well. "Oh, man! Inuyasha got such an 'osuwari' that time! He must've been stuck in the ground for at least an hour!"

Maiki blinked perplexedly. "'Osuwari?'" she asked confusedly.

"The kotodama no nenju that he wore gave Kagome-sama the power to subdue him whenever he acted foolishly," Miroku happily explained with a lopsided grin.

"Yeah! Whenever Inuyasha acted like a baka, Kagome would 'osuwari' him and he'd instantly crash face-first into the ground!" the kitsune elaborated.

Now ever more confused about the nature of her parents' relationship, Maiki returned her attention to her food as she shoved a heap of rice into her mouth. She remained silent, choosing instead to listen to the conversation the others were having as the topic altered several times over the course of the meal. At some point, Soten had excused herself from the table when Yuten began to fuss, obviously ready for his next meal. When Maiki had finished her rice and tea, and her mother still had yet to arrive, she decided to go wake the slumbering woman.

When she arrived at Kagome's door, Maiki tapped softly on the wooden frame. "Mama? Are you awake yet?"

When the miko didn't answer, her daughter slowly slid the door open and peered inside. "Mama?" Her eyes fell upon an empty room. A quick scan of the room revealed that her mother's open backpack sat on the floor. 'Perhaps she's gone to take a bath,' she hoped worriedly. Without even bothering to shut the door, she ran down to the end of the hall, stopping at the last door.

"Mama?" she called out, unable to hide the fear and uncertainty from her voice. Her call was met with absolute silence. For the second time, she slid open the door, and for the second time, she was met with an empty room. Full-blown panic overwhelmed her.

"Mama!" she yelled as loudly as she could as she raced back down the hall. "Mama!" She crossed the main foyer, heading towards the dining room. She flung the door to the side, desperate to get in, where a room full of eyes landed on her upon her hasty re-entry. "Mama's gone!" she exclaimed before anyone could ask her what was wrong. In less than a second, all the room's occupants wore worried faces that matched the teenage girl's.

"Are you sure?" Sango was the first to ask.

Maiki nodded. "She's not in her room, and she's not taking a bath. I don't know where she went!"

Miroku rose to his feet. Though he was obviously as concerned as everyone else, he spoke with a calm, rational voice. "We should check her room over. That's where she was last known to be. Maybe we can find some clues to her disappearance."

Maiki nodded, and everyone filed out of the dining room and headed towards the miko's room. When they arrived there, most stayed out in the hallway. Maiki entered the room, but stopped just inside the doorway. She clenched the bottom of her sweatshirt as Miroku and Shippo looked over the room.

"There obviously is no sign of a struggle," the monk stated. "She was either abducted while she slept and was unable to fight off her attacker, or she left of her own free will."

The kitsune slowly walked around the room, taking sharp intakes of breath as she went. "No, she wasn't kidnapped," he corrected. "Her scent is the only fresh one in this room." Eventually, he had made his way over to the window, Kagome's scent leading him there. When he got there, he poked his head out the window for a moment before bringing it back in and turning to face everyone. "She left through here."

Miroku joined the kitsune, and stuck his head out the window as well. In the ground below the window, he could barely make out the faint impression in the dirt where a set of feet had landed. He brought his head back inside. "He's right. But why would Kagome-sama go out the window?"

"Maybe she's out in the garden somewhere?" Sango suggested hopefully. "Maybe she saw something that caught her eye and was too eager to take the door?"

"I doubt that," Maiki stated gloomily, her eyes downcast, vaguely staring at her mother's bag.

Kazuki scoffed. "And why would you come to that conclusion so quickly? You don't know that she's not out there."

"Because," she replied flatly as she turned her head to look up at the boy, "she wouldn't have taken her bow and arrows just to look at some flowers in the garden."

Everyone glanced over the room, realizing the girl was right. "Maybe she sensed something out there," Soten offered. "Maybe she went out there to investigate and thought it would take too long to go out the front door."

"If that's the case, then I hope she's okay," Sango muttered.

Meanwhile, Shippo had taken the liberty to jump out the window, where he began tracking Kagome's scent trail outside. Upon seeing him do this, everyone else headed towards the front door and joined him in the courtyard. As the kitsune followed the miko's trail, Miroku noted that he seemed to be moving from one bush or tree to another, always on the side opposite the castle. He continued this way until he reached the front gate. He stopped when he reached there, and stood up, looking out the castle walls.

"She fled," the fox replied dubiously. Miroku nodded grimly in agreement, confirming Shippo's conclusion.

Maiki blinked at the fox. "But why?" she pleaded, desperate for an answer, any answer. "Why would she run away from us?"

The kitsune turned to look at the shattered young woman, heartbroken for the girl's fear and uncertainty, and hating to voice the only answer he could give her. "I don't know..."

"We have to go after her!" Maiki demanded as she ran to Shippo. "You can follow her scent! You can find her!"

The fox looked torn. He wanted to help the girl, the daughter of the woman who had adopted him as a child, and in a sense, his foster-sister. He wanted to search for the miko who had cared for him so many years ago. He glanced up at his mate who stood away from the group, watching them silently with her child in her arms. He couldn't read the look on her face, but he knew what he had to do. He released a defeated sigh before he returned his eyes towards Maiki.

"I'm sorry," he whispered.

Maiki blinked confusedly, not certain if she had heard him correctly. In doing so, a single, tiny tear trickled from the corner of her eye, making it all the more difficult for Shippo to say what he needed to say.

Again he apologized in a low voice which only she could hear. "I'm sorry, Maiki-chan. I really wish I could help you, I really do. But I can't. I have to stay here with my mate and my kit. They need me. I've already screwed up so much with Soten... I can't afford to hurt her again. I was very lucky that she forgave me once. I cannot risk it again. I hope you understand."

The teenage girl silently stared at the fox for several moments. She looked as though she wanted to break down and cry. But just before doing so, her face morphed from fear and disappointment into anger and determination. She had decided that she wasn't going to be the helpless damsel in distress, and she had converted all her worry into anger.

"Fine then," she spat venomously. "If you won't help, I'll look for her myself." She turned towards the gate, and began to stomp away.

"Maiki-chan, wait!" Sango called to the girl's back, but she didn't respond. Sango chased after her. "You can't go out there all alone, unarmed, with no supplies! Please wait! We'll all look for her with you!"

The teenager stopped suddenly, having realized the truth of the elder slayer's words. Stress and frustration, fear and worry, anger and irritation all pent up inside of her, she didn't know what to do. Sango moved around to Maiki's front, so she could face the child. She tried to look into the girl's eyes, but Maiki's face was downcast, her bangs hiding half her face from view.

"It's okay, Maiki-chan," Sango gently reassured the teenager, pulling her into an embrace. "Your mama is okay. We'll find her. Don't worry. We'll find her..."

No matter how hard Maiki tried, she was unable to prevent herself from crying. She allowed the older woman to take her into her arms, and she wept. Despite Sango's attempt to comfort her, Maiki couldn't help the irrational, self-condemning thoughts to take root.

'Mama... she ran way... because of me. I knew she was afraid of me... because I remind her of him. Because when I'm a shibunyo, I look like him.'

From her spot in the middle of the courtyard, Soten couldn't help but to feel the young girl's plight. A pang of guilt ran through her, knowing that she was the reason her mate had declined Maiki's request. Had she not just given birth to her child the previous day, she would have eagerly allowed Shippo to assist his friends. However, the thunder yokai was still very weak from labor the day before, and was very vulnerable still. Until she had fully regained her strength, she would be dependent upon her mate to protect her and Yuten. But still, she had to do something to help Maiki, and an idea sprang forth.

"Perhaps you could ask the ookami yokai tribe for assistance. Ookami have one of the keenest senses of smell. Their den isn't too far away. In fact, their lands border mine to the north. I'm sure that Ayame-sama will send a few of her tribesmen to help you as a favor to me."

Hearing the thunder yokai's words, Maiki regained a fraction of hope, just enough for her tears to still. She pulled away from Sango, slightly embarrassed about her obviously puffy eyes and tear-stained cheeks. She used her sleeves to wipe away her tears. Not yet wanting to face everyone, and thus reveal the awful evidence of her upset, she simply spoke her agreement.

"Okay," she replied with a shaky voice.

Maiki's acceptance of the offer allowed a small grin to play across Soten's face. "Very well. I'll have Koryu take two of you--"

"Soten-sama!" interrupted the dragon, still in his miniature form. "Why is it that I have to take them? My loyalties and services are to you and only you. I must stay here and protect you during your time of weakness!"

The lady yokai closed her eyes and heaved an irritated sigh. Faster than anyone could blink, she snapped her free arm out to grab the hovering lizard around his neck and bring his face in front of hers. Her ice-blue eyes, dancing with an electrical charge, bore directly into the dragon's.

"You will do this because I demand it of you. Understand?"

"Yes! Of course Soten-sama!" Koryu croaked with a panicked voice.

Satisfied, the thunder yokai released him. Unfortunately, Yuten had sensed his mother's sudden shift in demeanor, and had become a bit upset. Soten cooed to the kit and rubbed his back. After a moment, he settled, and she continued her explanation.

"Koryu will take two of you to the ookami den. It should take about an hour to reach there. Ask for Ayame-sama. She's the leader of the ookami tribe. Tell her that I have sent you, and she'll be more than willing to help, as she and I have had an alliance for several years now. After you've spoken with her, Koryu will take you all back here."

Shippo nodded, agreeing with the idea. "So, who wants to go?"

Maiki finally turned towards everyone, despite the evidence of her tears. With conviction written on her face, she stated, "I am."

"Are you sure you're up to it?" Sango asked her gently.

She nodded. "I can't just sit around here waiting. I have to do something."

"Alright then," the exterminator relented with a nod.

"Okay, then who else is going?" Kazuki inquired impatiently, crossing his arms over his chest.

"I'll go," Miroku offered. "We haven't dealt with the ookami yokai in nearly two decades. It's probably not the best idea to send a yokai exterminator into the middle of their den and demand to see their leader. I just don't think that would settle well with them."

"Alright, then, it's settled," Soten replied. "As soon as you're ready, Koryu will take you."

Maiki nodded. She rushed into the castle to grab Tetsusaiga. In less than two minutes, she, Miroku, and Koryu were on their way.


Kotodama no nenju - Inuyasha's necklace, "power of the spoken word"

ookami - wolf

A/N: Fast update this time. What can I say? I finally hit some inspiration. And to all those who've been asking about Koga, I think it's safe to say that we'll be seeing him soon. ;) Again, I didn't edit or proof-read this much, so apologies in advance.