Disclaimer: I do hereby disclaim any rights and responsibilities for the characters in this bit of mischief…especially those who are given to showing off. A nod of recognition is bent towards Rumiko Takahashi for her creative prowess.
Dedication: Many expressions of fondness and thanks are bestowed upon she who is my beta and my friend—the incomparable Fenikkusuken.
Souta Higurashi lay sprawled on his back across his bed, stocking feet crossed at the ankles, dark eyes thoughtful. He threw a soccer ball straight up into the air with a measured thrust, then caught it as it dropped back towards his face. He was testing to see how close to the ceiling he could get without actually connecting. The idle game of toss seemed to be the extent of his ambitions for the day thus far. It was Sunday morning, and he was avoiding his homework with quiet determination. His navy backpack lay slumped on the desk chair. Algebra and English language books were tumbled together in a pile on the floor. He'd finished most of it the night before anyhow, so he deserved the break. After all, it wasn't every day someone turned fifteen.
For years Mama had teasingly called him "the man of the family," and Souta had always believed her. The older he got, the more seriously he took his role. He'd only been twelve when he'd gained a height advantage over his Grandpa. Last year, he'd surpassed both Mama and Kagome. Somehow, looking down on those he loved best had brought out a strong desire to protect them. Souta felt responsible for his family. He wanted to be strong for them.
Pausing in his idle pursuit, Souta ran his fingers through the length of his hair. Kagome had been teasing him lately, saying that he was trying to look like Inuyasha. Souta didn't think he'd let his hair get quite that long, but it did brush against his shoulders when it wasn't pulled back into a tail. His sister had also pointed out that most of the shirts hanging in his closet were red. That didn't mean anything. He just happened to like the color red. It had nothing to do with his sister's hanyou companion.
Souta resumed the easy repetition of lobbing his soccer ball into the air as he collected his wandering thoughts. Something was nagging at him, and he was trying to sort it though. It wasn't a problem, really. Just the smallest feeling of…dissatisfaction with his lot in life. His life was…well, it was dull. He was a normal middle school student. He had a normal enough home, normal grades, normal friends. Today was his fifteenth birthday, but there was nothing especially special about it. Oh, Mama had made his favorite cake, and he'd chosen what they were having for dinner tonight. There would be presents—clothes and books and maybe a new video game. All very nice. Comfortable, homey, dependable—just not terribly exciting.
Now Kagome, she had something really amazing happen on her fifteenth birthday. Scary, but amazing. And her whole life was anything but normal. She could travel back and forth through the old well to the feudal era. She'd met real life youkai. She'd fought in actual battles. She'd adopted a kitsune. She'd flown on the back of a fire-cat. She had these amazing spiritual powers. And she was in love with a hanyou, and would probably marry him one of these days. Or whatever it was that youkai did to claim their mates. Souta's mind quickly veered from that particular subject. Too much information about Kagome's love life was never a good thing.
Needless to say, it all sounded so much more interesting than the life he lived here in modern-day Tokyo. What I wouldn't give for something more interesting to happen. What, he wasn't sure, but it would have to be better than this.
From somewhere downstairs, Grandpa's voice was calling, "Souta? Souta, I need to talk to you, m'boy."
Souta poked his head out of his bedroom door. "Yessir?"
"I have something for you—for your birthday. Come down."
Souta padded downstairs, wondering what his Grandpa's gift might be. He and Kagome had both been the recipients of some pretty strange artifacts in the past, and had learned to be wary. As soon as Souta stood before his aging grandfather, the old shrine keeper started in. "You're fifteen now."
"Yessir," Souta affirmed.
"When I was fifteen, I'd already begun training for the priesthood. Why I remember the day I…."
Souta tried hard not to roll his eyes while his Grandpa began reminiscing. If there was one thing Grandpa loved, it was telling stories. Lengthy ones. Some were a little interesting, but most seemed like a lot of nonsense to him. "…and so you see, that's why he'll be coming by this afternoon. It's high time you got started. It's my gift to you. Well, a part of it."
"I'm sorry, what?" Souta rejoined, confused.
Grandpa sighed mightily and gave the young man a piercing look. "How much did you tune out?"
"Umm…most of it. Sorry, Grandpa."
"Let's try this again. Pay attention, boy!"
"It's time for you to start your training."
"But, Grandpa, I don't want to…."
"And," interrupted the old man, "to that end, I have arranged for you to have a teacher."
"What kind of teacher," Souta asked, eyes narrowed. "I already have too much schoolwork."
"You need training in the priestly arts."
"Priestly arts?" echoed the boy.
"Yes, yes. What, do you think I just make all this stuff up?" inquired Grandpa.
"Well…yeah, kinda," admitted Souta under his breath.
"Your new teacher will be arriving at two o'clock this afternoon, and you'll begin training with him three days a week."
"What kind of stuff am I supposed to be learning," asked Souta resignedly.
"Oh, eventually there'll be meditation, prayers, sutras, chants, spells…."
Souta groaned, "Grandpa, that sounds so bor…"
The old man plowed ahead, ignoring the protestations. "But I think the first thing you'll be learning is defense and weaponry. A priest has to know how to protect himself. After all, there are many dangers we face…."
Souta brightened noticeably, interrupting Grandpa's latest ramble. "Do you mean, like, swords and stuff?"
"Ah. You like that idea, do you? Thought you might," chuckled the old man. "Follow me."
The aging shrine keeper led the boy towards the small storage shed behind the main shrine. This small building housed many old and important artifacts which had been part of the Higurashi shrine for decades…even centuries. Shelves were piled with wooden crates and cloth-wrapped bundles. Some were sealed with sutras, some merely labeled in neat calligraphy. Grandpa began rousting around, poking his head into dusty nooks and around cobwebbed corners, mumbling to himself all the while. "I know it's here somewhere. I saw it just the other day. Told him I would make sure to give it to you before…. Ah! Here it is!"
Grandpa extracted a long bundle from a dark corner, and Souta eyed it keenly. His face fell slightly when he realized it was far too long to be a sword. Grandpa began unwrapping the object, peeling back layers of soft cloth. In a moment, Souta could see the end of a thick metal rod, tarnished with age. Curious in spite of himself, he reached out to touch the staff. "What is this, Grandpa?"
"It's a shakujou," Grandpa stated proudly. "Used it myself when I was a young man. Priests in our family have been trained to defend themselves with a staff like this for centuries. It's a tradition."
As he spoke he unwrapped the last bit of the bindings and the top of the shakujou became visible. There was a musical clatter as six metal rings fell from their tangled shroud to slide down and rest against the staff. "Here. Clean this up m'boy. Shouldn't take you too long, and it'll need to be ready before your lesson. I've got some polish and clothes here somewhere." Grandpa returned to rummaging around on the shelves, producing the needed materials.
Souta groaned, but did as he was told.
Genko Osusuki arrived punctually, jogging easily up the long flight of steps to where Souta waited with Grandpa under the red shrine archway. Whatever Souta might have been expecting, it certainly wasn't the young man who bowed deferentially before them. Tall, slender, with the deep coloring of one who spent much of his time out of doors, Osusuki-sensei accepted Grandpa's formal greeting with ease. He wore loose pants of nondescript blue and a simple white kosode. A thick mane of brown-black hair was pulled back in a careless topknot. Two long wooden staffs were propped jauntily over one shoulder, and a stack of shallow clay bowls was cradled in his other arm.
Grandpa Higurashi nudged Souta forward to present him, "Osusuki-sensei, this is my grandson Souta Higurashi. He is ready to begin his training."
Penetrating dark eyes assessed him, and Souta swallowed nervously under their scrutiny. His fleeting moment of uncertainty evaporated when the new instructor's face broke into a friendly smile and, much to Souta's surprise, he winked. "It is a pleasure to meet you, Higurashi-san," Osusuki-sensei greeted in a warm baritone. Though his words were suitably formal, there was a friendliness in his tone that set Souta immediately at ease. Maybe this won't be so bad after all.
Grandpa led their little group across the shrine compound to the small courtyard in the furthest corner of the grounds, near the house. It was out of the way enough that their first practice wouldn't disrupt any visitors to the shrine. Souta had swept the area just an hour ago in preparation. "I'll leave you two to your lesson," said Grandpa, and he walked off with a casual wave over his shoulder, heading towards a group of tourists.
Souta shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot, unsure what to say or do. Osusuki-sensei was casually appraising their surroundings and moved to unburden his hands. Turning to his young pupil, he clapped his hands together in a casual call-to-order. "So," he said eagerly, "Do you have the shakujou?"
"Yes, sensei." Souta scrambled over to a corner in the wall where he'd left the staff leaning earlier. Returning, he presented it to his teacher.
"Good," Osusuki-sensei hefted the jangling staff in one hand, studying the ornate top with a fond expression. "What do you know about this kind of weapon, Higurashi-san?"
Souta screwed up his face in thought, looking at the gleaming metal he'd only just finished polishing. "It's a traditional staff, carried by monks and pilgrims. It's a walking stick that can be used as a weapon," he finished with a shrug.
"Well, that's true enough," commented Osusuki-sensei, "This particular shakujou has been in your family for years…centuries in fact."
"How do you know?" asked Souta.
"Hmm. Our two families have had an… arrangement for a very long time. Someone from my clan has always trained the priests in yours. It was a promise made a long time ago. And now it is your turn to learn the arts of the priesthood."
"Oh," returned Souta. "I didn't know. Well, until today."
"Then let's get you acquainted with your heritage, shall we?" Giving the shakujou a little spin that set its rings to dancing again, he went on. "This can actually be a formidable weapon." Noticing Souta's skeptical look, Osusuki-sensei smirked. "Unimpressed by the humble monk's staff? Let me guess—you'd rather have a sword?"
Souta dropped his eyes and shrugged, but didn't deny the truth of his teacher's words. Osusuki-sensei chuckled, "Hmm. Tell you what. Let's see if I can't…elevate your opinion of your shakujou. Give me a minute." He handed the staff back to the boy.
Osusuki-sensei began moving around the courtyard, placing the ceramic bowls he'd brought with him in various positions. One on a bench, a few on the ground, a couple along a low wall. As he walked, he talked. "Have you noticed how ornate the finial of the shakujou is? That one is especially nice—well-proportioned, expertly crafted, and very strong."
Souta merely nodded when his sensei checked to see if he was listening. "Well, have you noticed the point at the very top?" Souta's eyes sought the feature out, and he raised one hand to touch the graceful pinnacle. "That," resumed Osusuki-sensei, "makes one humble staff into one deadly pike. With a forceful thrust, that point can do some serious damage."
The teenaged boy seemed to be giving this some thought, and his sensei continued. "Now, have you noticed the edges of the large, divided ring?" Souta turned to look again, flicking the little rings with one finger in passing as he inspected the larger curve. It had been honed so that the crescent edge on each side was as sharp as a blade.
"That staff has seen its share of battles, and those edges are deadly. When a staff such as this is used properly, it can cut down almost anything in its path."
Finished setting out his assorted clay bowls, Osusuki-sensei returned to face Souta. "May I borrow your shakujou for a few minutes, Higurashi-san?"
"Well, sure. Yes, sensei," agreed the boy.
Osusuki-sensei accepted the shakujou and strode to the center of the courtyard. "You might want to step back a ways," remarked the young sensei with a twinkle of mischief in his eyes.
Souta backed his way over to a tree and sat down against its trunk, waiting to see what his new teacher had in mind.
What began was a slow sequence of thrusts and sweeping passes with the staff. Osusuki-sensei was a lithe man, but possessed of a wiry strength, for he controlled the heavy weapon with ease. The instructor was light on his feet, and soon the lunges shifted into whirling leaps. Within moments, Souta gazed astonished at a wild dance of quick turns and spinning steps. Osusuki-sensei was obviously enjoying himself, and would periodically shoot a glance Souta's way to see the boy's reactions. He's showing off! Souta grinned at the man's audacity.
The demonstration became even more dramatic when his sensei timed swift kicks to the movements of the staff. It whirled about his body, humming through the air, its rings singing—metal against metal. Osusuki-sensei's speed increasing steadily, and he added a series of gravity-defying vaults. When Souta let out a little gasp at one point, he noticed Osusuki-sensei toss a little grin in his direction. He's good, but he doesn't take himself very seriously.
Tipping his head to one side, Souta tried to make sense of the individual moves that made up this complex choreography. Could I really learn to move like this? At that moment, the playful acrobatics on display turned fierce. Souta nearly jumped a foot when Osusuki-sensei pounced on one of the clay bowls he'd set up earlier. With one sharp blow, the clay target shattered with a crash. Now the aggressor, his sensei demonstrated just how much force could be placed behind the shakujou's blows. He thrust its point with precision. He brought down its butt with a snap. He struck out with its crescent edges. And with each blow, a very satisfying explosion of potshards skittered across the ground. When the final target had met its demise, Osusuki-sensei landed lightly in front of Souta, bowing deeply and presenting his weapon back to him. Souta scrambled to his feet so he could take the shakujou onto his own extended palms. The measure of respect he had for the weapon—and for his new sensei—and increased significantly. "Thank you, sensei."
Just then, Kagome came walking across the courtyard toward the front door of the house. Souta knew she must have just returned from the feudal era because her yellow backpack was slung over one shoulder. Souta grinned. Kagome never misses my birthday. As she made her way up the sidewalk to the front door she waved cheerfully, "Hi, Souta! Happy Birthday!"
Souta returned the gesture, calling a reply. "Hi, sis! Thanks!"
Turning back to his teacher, he was confused by the look on Osusuki-sensei's face. Surprise, awe, and…sadness? He cleared his throat, and Osusuki-sensei startled out of his thoughts.
"So…is that your sister?" he asked casually.
"Yeah," Souta replied cautiously. Osusuki-sensei still had a really weird look on his face. "Um…she's already kinda got a boyfriend, y'know," he warned. Best to nip it in the bud.
His teacher turned back to him, obviously surprised by the implication of his statement, then chuckled. With a glint of mischief, he simply said, "You don't say?"
"I thought you'd run a dojo or something," Souta remarked as he stood outside the small storefront while Osusuki-sensei unlocked the door. The shop was located on a quiet side street just a couple blocks from the Higurashi Shrine. In the window stood an intricate wood carving of a traditional shishi lion, head down as it crouched to attack. "Cool!"
"No, I don't train on a regular basis. That's just something I do as a friend of the family." Osusuki-sensei finished with his keys and held the door open for Souta. "I am just a humble wood carver," he said, lightly.
The entire room was lined with shelves, and glass cases along two walls housed smaller items. In one corner was a low table laid out with a woodcarver's tools. The whole room smelled of wood shavings and lacquer. Curious, Souta began to wander around the room, inspecting the various pieces. "Did you make all of these, sensei?"
"Yes, I did," came his teacher's replay from the corner. Souta glanced over and saw that Osusuki-sensei had dropped down in front of his workspace and was already giving his current work-in-progress an appraising look. Free to explore, he wandered over to one of the glass cases.
"It must have taken a long time to make all of these."
"Mm. I suppose so," came the non-committal response.
The case before Souta was filled with netsuke carvings—tiny perfect replicas of various animals. The figures were detailed, and Souta was amazed at the expressiveness on the faces of each little creature. Foxes, wolves, dogs were predominant. He must like canines.
Souta moved silently along the shelves, drawn to a series of intricate figures. Osusuki-sensei must have a thing for legendary creatures. These are all youkai. There were tanuki and tengu and bakeneko in large numbers. A larger piece featured the forest guardian releasing wolves from his mouth. A little further along, there was a whimsical little cat with seven tails and a diamond pattern on its forehead. Next to that was a kappa, peeking out from among some reeds. Most of the figures were either animals or youkai, but there were a few human figures as well. Souta's favorite was of a girl sitting with a lapful of flowers. He made his way along the shelf on another wall, enjoying the lifelike depictions of the animals of the zodiac, all in a neat row. In the far corner, he found the figure of a ferocious dog, head thrown back in a howl. Souta blinked when he realized the dog was missing a leg. When Osusuki-sensei cleared his throat, the young man realized that his teacher was watching him closely.
Souta smiled and moved on towards a stand with various carved beads strung together to form necklaces. He poked at them, then paused in complete surprise. The boy felt Osusuki-sensei move closer to see what captured his interest. "See something you like, Higurashi-san?"
"Uh, yeah," Souta said, extracting one particular necklace from among the others. "Actually I do. Can I buy this one?" It was a necklace of carved wooden beads, each perfectly matched sphere stained a deep blue-black. At regular intervals, the pattern was interrupted by a pale fang, whittled from bleached wood.
Osusuki-sensei quirked one eyebrow at the boy, but merely said, "Interesting choice."
Moving towards the stairs at the back of the store, teacher beckoned student to follow "Shall we get our lesson underway?"
The room above Osusuki-sensei's shop was basically empty. There was a chest in one corner with a futon folded on top of it. Souta wondered at the spartan feel to the room, but shrugged it off. It certainly made it easier for the lessons to proceed. They'd been practicing for a few weeks back at the shrine, always with simple wooden bo-staffs. They were lighter than the shakujou, and more practical for training. Souta had gradually built up some confidence under Osusuki-sensei's direction, and so the lessons were becoming more of a challenge. Souta's teacher collected two staffs from where they leaned in the corner and tossed one to him. The young man caught it in midair, just in time to bring it up and fend off his sensei's descending blow. Souta grunted under the force of the unexpected attack, but quickly gathered his wits.
"A warrior has the stealth, control, and lightning attack of the fox," declared Osusuki-sensei, twisting to thrust the end of his staff towards the back of Souta's knees. Before his teacher could knock his feet out from under him, the boy hopped to one side and made a lunge of his own.
"A warrior has the light footwork of the stag," taunted Osusuki-sensei, as he danced back out of Souta's reach. While the boy's extension left him vulnerable, his teacher darted in and rapped his ribs. Souta reset his feet and flipped his hair out of his eyes.
With a startling yell, his teacher plowed straight towards him, swinging his bo overhead. Souta braced himself and met the blow, finding himself face-to-face with a grinning sensei. "A warrior has the explosive power of the boar."
Again Souta pushed his teacher back and took up a defensive stance. Barely giving him time to think, Osusuki-sensei was on him again. A quick twist and shove and Souta found himself disarmed. With a smirk, his teacher intoned, "A warrior has the grasping power of the hawk."
Souta had had just about enough. His temper was rising with the sting of embarrassment at being bested so many times in succession. Fox, stag, boar, hawk. What was next? Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee? Souta retrieved his fallen weapon and tried to concentrate on his opponent's next move. It came fast, and he hardly had time to think. Instead, Souta simply reacted.
Time seemed to slow as the boy felt something well up inside him. A pulse… or maybe a tingle… but with an enemy bearing down on him, ready to strike, Souta threw his hands up to ward off the blow. In an offhand way, he noticed that the staff in his hands was glowing. Then Osusuki-sensei connected, and all hell broke loose. The air around them exploded in a silent concussion, throwing both backwards. Souta had the wind knocked out of him, and it took him a minute to catch his breath and regain his feet. He groaned and stood, turning to ask his teacher what had happened. What he saw stole the breath from him again.
Souta knew that the person sprawled out on his back had to be Osusuki-sensei, but it didn't look much like him. He stared, dumbfounded. The differences between the one he was looking at and the one he'd come to trust were staggering. Black-brown hair had changed to rich auburn. Ears now sported elfin points. Fingers were claw-tipped. And most spectacular was the tail—no, tails that fanned out across the floor. Souta counted four long, tapered tails, the same russet hue as his sensei's hair and silver-tipped. It took a moment for the young Higurashi to connect what lay before him with the facts that lay in his head. He knew what this was. Kagome had talked about it so often. This was a youkai. His sensei was youkai! Whoa.
Souta scooted over and knelt down next to his teacher, patting his cheek lightly and calling, "Osusuki-sensei? Sensei? Are you alright?" The stunned youkai groaned softly and struggled to open his eyes. Souta leaned further over his mentor, concerned by the sluggishness of his responses. When Osusuki-sensei opened his eyes, Souta couldn't help but give voice to his amazement this time. "Whoa." The eyes that gazed warily into his were not the dark eyes he was accustomed to seeing. Green. Sensei's eyes were a startling shade of green. This is so cool!
"You're a youkai, aren't you!" Souta announced, cheerfully. "Kagome said there weren't any youkai left in our time. She is going to freak when she find out she's wrong. I can't wait to tell her!"
Osusuki rubbed his face with one hand, then held it in front of him, so that Souta couldn't fail to observe the sharp claws that tipped each finger. "You're not frightened?" he inquired of the boy.
"Nah." Souta paused for a second, then tilted his head, "Should I be?"
The youkai sighed, "No, Higurashi-san, you have no reason to fear me."
Osusuki-sensei struggled to sit up, and Souta hurried to assist him. The youkai shook his head a bit to clear it and tried to pull himself together. "I haven't dropped my illusion in front of anyone in decades." He eyed the boy before him speculatively. "That was quite a burst of power you let loose, you know."
Souta forced a little nervous laugh and rubbed the back of his neck. "Yeah, I was going to ask you about that. What happened?"
"Apparently, I underestimated you," responded Osusuki-sensei wryly.
"What kind of youkai are you?" blurted out a very curious Souta.
Osusuki gave a wicked little fanged smile, and challenged, "You can't venture a guess?" Four red tails flipped up to tickle his nose, making Souta jump.
"Oh, right. Fox?"
"That's right, or kitsune. Either one will do."
"Hey, wait a minute. You're a kitsune?" Souta was making a few quick mental adjustments, remembering the look his sensei had given his sister during their first meeting. "You're a fox youkai! You wouldn't happen to be…."
"Please, Mom!" begged Souta urgently. He'd begun his campaign on his sensei's behalf as soon as he'd gotten home. Just knowing that Shippo was here, in their time—he had to do something. Souta would have been hard-pressed to explain exactly why he was reaching out to the youkai, but he was dead set on pulling the lone kitsune into their family circle. Shippo belonged with them.
Mom was not going to be a problem, he knew. Souta's only real concern was Grandpa. But in order to win the eldest member of the household over, he figured it wouldn't hurt if he and Mom could present a united front. "We've gotta do something. He's all alone over there. You should see his rooms—they're empty. And the look on his face—he misses Kagome, Mom. He's lonely." Souta could see the sympathy well up in his mother's gentle face, and plowed ahead, pressing his advantage. "And he's so cool. And he's practically family—didn't Kagome say she adopted him when he was little? He's like, your grandson! He belongs with us. Couldn't he come stay with us here at the shrine, please?"
Mrs. Higurashi's astonishment at Souta's wild story of transforming youkai had slowly melted into curiosity and quickly given way to acceptance. Good old Mom. She voiced the last of her hesitance with a concerned expression, "Are you sure he would want to come, Souta?"
Souta nodded firmly, "I think he would, if we asked."
That evening, the two decided to broach the subject cautiously with Grandpa. Souta wasn't sure what to say. The old man who yelled "Demon begone!" and hurled useless sutras at his sister's boyfriend hardly seemed likely to welcome a full youkai into the family fold. Maybe sensei could just keep up his illusion and Grandpa wouldn't notice? Souta doubted that would work. Osusuki-sensei wouldn't come if he wasn't assured he was wanted by everyone here.
Mom was smoothing things as best she could. They'd had Grandpa's favorite dish for supper, which always put the old man in a good mood. She could hardly wait to meet the youkai "grandson," and had agreed to help Souta talk to Grandpa. Mrs. Higurashi carried tea to the table and gave Souta a warm smile of encouragement. Souta took a deep breath and forged ahead. "So, Grandpa. What do you know about kitsune?"
If Grandpa was surprised at having his opinion asked on matters for which he was usually tuned out, he didn't show it. "Kitsune, eh?" He stroked his beard thoughtfully before setting out a few commonly known facts. "They're the tricksters—masters of illusion who enjoy their bits of mischief. Very powerful as youkai go, and they become more powerful the older they become. You can tell how old a kitsune is by the number of tails they have. The most powerful kitsune are the nine-tailed foxes."
Grandpa paused to take a sip of his tea before adding thoughtfully. "Kitsune will often set themselves up as the friend and protector of a shrine or of a family. The emperor himself is said to be guarded by a family of kitsune. You know, there is a legend about this shrine being under the protection of a kitsune guardian. Very unusual for a shrine not dedicated to Inari. If you look carefully at the carvings on the inside of the shrine doors, you'll see several depictions of kitsune peeking out in odd spots."
Grandpa got a faraway look in his eyes. "As a matter of fact, my great-grandfather claimed to have actually seen a three-tailed kitsune sitting in the branches of Goshinboku when he was a boy. It's a lucky thing, having a kitsune around a shrine," finished the old priest with a satisfied smile.
Souta chuckled nervously. "Uh, about that, Grandpa."
The next day while Souta was in school, Grandpa went to speak with Osusuki-sensei on behalf of the Higurashi family. Souta's stomach was tied in nervous knots all day. He fairly flew home, anxious to know how things had gone. Souta never found out exactly what had been said, but when he raced up the shrine steps and skidded into the house, his sensei was seated at the table with Grandpa and Mom. The grin that broke across his face was filled with happy relief.
Two weeks later, life had fallen into a comfortable routine with the newest addition to the Higurashi household. Osusuki-sensei still maintained his dark-haired persona, so the young man was easily explained away as a "cousin" from the country who'd come to help out around the shrine. Mrs. Higurashi welcomed Shippo as another son to fuss over and feed, and the lonely kitsune basked in the warmth of her mothering instincts. Grandpa had warmed up to the kitsune as well, still a little amazed by the fact that this was the very same sensei that had trained him in his teen years. The old man seemed pleased the reconnect with his childhood mentor, and took wicked delight in calling the centuries old kitsune "m'boy."
As for himself, Souta felt as if he'd gained an older brother as well as a friend, and though he'd been invited to call Shippo as such, Souta stuck stubbornly with sensei. Souta had helped Osusuki-sensei move all his carvings from the storefront around the corner to one of the outbuildings on the shrine grounds. Grandpa offered to sell Shippo's beautiful carvings in their gift shop, and Mrs. Higurashi cooed over the beautiful artistry of "her boy" as she set them up on display in niches along the walls. Souta's lessons continued in the courtyard every afternoon when school was out. They were all happy with the new arrangement, but they also all knew that they were waiting. Waiting for Kagome.
They were seated around the dinner table together when Kagome finally came home from her latest trek into the Sengoku Jidai. There was a soft slap of the door and a cheerful call from the front hall before she trooped into the dining room, Inuyasha trailing behind. "Oh! Excuse me, I didn't realize you had company!" exclaimed the young woman, bowing politely.
Mrs. Higurashi spoke up quickly. "Not at all dear! Welcome home."
Grandpa piped up then, "This is Osusuki-sensei, Souta's instructor. He's been teaching Souta the skills he needs to be in the priesthood."
Souta watched as Kagome's face registered momentary panic. Having just realized that Inuyasha was standing beside her, she tried to hustle him out of the room before the stranger among them could take note of his strange clothes and twitching ears. "We'll just go…."
Osusuki-sensei winked at Souta and rose smoothly to his feet. "Please, don't leave on my account." He bowed over her hand, then leaned forward, smiling flirtatiously into her eyes. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Higurashi-sama."
Kagome flustered, leaning back slightly though her hand remained captured by the handsome young stranger. Souta smirked at her confusion and wondered what kind of reaction this would get out of Inuyasha. It didn't take long to find out. From behind Kagome, a low growl began to rumble through the room.
Souta wasn't surprised by Inuyasha's angry glare. He'd always been very possessive about his big sister. Osusuki-sensei was unfazed by the gimlet eye. In fact, the disguised kitsune seemed to be enjoying his little stunt, and let loose a growl of his own. Inuyasha's eyes widened comically, and his ears swiveled wildly, trying to pinpoint the source of the threatening reverberations.
Cursing, he pushed himself between Kagome and the sensei. "Get back, Kagome!" he demanded as he put a warning hand on Tetsusaiga's hilt. Fixing flashing yellow eyes on the newcomer, he thrust his face forward until they were nose to nose. "Back off, you bastard. Don't touch Kagome!"
Osusuki-sensei was unperturbed by the hanyou's posturing. In fact, the kitsune's eyes twinkled wickedly. He glanced over his shoulder at Souta, who covered his mouth to keep from laughing out loud. He's showing off again. Sensei turned his attention back to Inuyasha, and he quirked one eyebrow before drawling, "Is that so…dog-breath?"
With that, Shippo loosened just enough of his fox magic to allow a little of his youkai and his true scent to pervade the illusion that surrounded him. Kagome, sensed the change in the room immediately. Realizing that there was youki coming from the man before them, she ventured to ask, "You're youkai… aren't you?"
Inuyasha had frozen, then he lifted his head and sniffed. Opening his mouth to speak, he hesitated, then snapped his mouth shut again. Souta looked on as Inuyasha turned to Kagome, "You recognize him?"
"What do you mean, Inuyasha?" asked the confused woman. She turned to look carefully at Souta's sensei, searching her memory for any youkai they might have met in their travels. He didn't resemble any of their acquaintances. Furrowing her brow, she simply shook her head at the hanyou.
Inuyasha grunted and turned back to the youkai. "You can't fool me or my nose…runt."
Souta snorted, pulling Kagome's attention back to her brother. "What's going on here, Souta? Who is this?"
Souta just looked up at the kitsune, "You'd better just show her, sensei. You know you want to."
There was a ripple, and Souta enjoyed the looks of amazement and awe on the faces of the rest of his family. This was definitely the first time Mom had seen Shippo in all his glory, though if he made out the look on Grandpa's face correctly, the old man had already seen the fox's true appearance. Inuyasha's arms were crossed over his chest in feigned indifference, but Kagome was thoroughly stunned. Her eyes fairly popped and her mouth had fallen open at his unexpected transformation.
Shippo was a lot to take in. Taller even than Inuyasha, the kitsune looked down into the young woman's face. He brought one claw-tipped finger up to her chin and gently closed her gaping mouth for her. He saucily returned her startled look, green eyes dancing in enjoyment over her flabbergasted reaction. "What's the matter, Momma? Don't you know your own kit?"
The kitsune acknowledged the name with a bow and a discrete flourish of his four long tails. Kagome looked him up and down one more time before she gave a little giggle and moved forward for a quick hug. "You certainly got tall," she whispered into his chest, shaking her head over the strangeness of seeing her kit all grown up.
Shippo swallowed heavily and muttered a gruff, "Yeah."
They all settled down around the table again, and Mrs. Higurashi came back from the kitchen with a fresh pot of tea and a plate of cookies. Kagome had settled herself close by her kit's side, and her fingertips kept brushing lightly against his arm. Recovered from her shock, Kagome bubbled with questions. "So let me get this straight. You've been just down the road and around the corner all this time?"
"Yep," said Shippo simply.
"Why didn't you come see us sooner?"
"It wasn't the right time yet. If Souta here hadn't walloped me with a burst of spiritual powers, I probably wouldn't have revealed myself to you for a while yet. He sorta forced my hand," responded Shippo.
"So you would have come forward eventually. What were you waiting for?" Kagome asked quietly.
Shippo hesitated and shrugged. "I was waiting for you and Inuyasha to come back here to stay. I wanted to wait until you were done traveling back to the feudal era before introducing myself." This made Inuyasha and Kagome exchange surprised looks. "Tell me, how much longer before Miroku and Sango's baby is due?" he inquired.
"Just a few weeks, if everything is normal," replied Kagome.
"Hmm. Soon then," mused Shippo.
"Wait, you mean Inuyasha and I stopped coming back? We've talked about settling on one side of the well or the other, but we haven't made a decision yet." Kagome blushed a little. "We're planning to get married, Mom."
"That's wonderful, dear," the older Higurashi woman enthused, and came around the table to hug her daughter.
Inuyasha rolled his eyes at their feminine twittering and turned to the fox youkai, "Might as well tell us what you know, runt."
"I guess there's no harm in telling you now. Shortly after Miroku and Sango's first baby was born, you and Kagome decided to stay here in the modern era. You said your goodbyes, and I stayed with Miroku and Sango. They raised me, more or less. After they died, I stayed on with their oldest son, who'd trained to be priest in the shrine at Edo. I stuck around when his son took over for him, and so on. I kinda got passed down like a family heirloom." Inuyasha smirked at that, and Shippo grinned back.
"Eventually, when youkai started becoming more and more scarce, I made an arrangement with Miroku's great-grandson. I would keep an eye on their shrine and family from a distance, and could be called upon to aid in training the next generation in learning to wield his shakujou." The kitsune shrugged. "It's not so unusual for kitsune to be guardians. I've been close by for centuries now, just waiting around."
"Wait, wait, wait," interjected Kagome. Souta could tell she was putting two and two together. "Let me get this straight. You have been training Miroku's descendants to use his shakujou."
"And you're here now to train Souta."
"Doesn't that mean…?"
"Sure does. Kinda funny, isn't it? You're Miroku and Sango's descendant—a grand-daughter several generations removed."
"Sango is my ancestor? And Miroku is my…omigosh! That hentai!" Kagome giggled. "He groped me!"
Inuyasha snorted. "Good thing I didn't castrate him for doing it, too." He eyed the tall kitsune. "So, what are you gonna do now?"
Souta stood up then, placing himself protectively in front of Shippo with a little growl. "Don't you get it? He's been waiting all this time. Waiting for his family… for you guys." Souta had always considered himself the man of the family, and even though he was the youngest male in the room, he asserted himself like the alpha. "Sensei is staying here, with us," Souta stated with finality. "He's already moved in."
Inuyasha's eyebrows shot up at Souta's fierce declaration of loyalty, then gave him an approving smirk. "Course, kid. That's the way it should be." He cuffed Souta's shoulder gently, then inquired, "Do you mind if I join your pack too? Seems like you might be stuck with a hanyou pretty soon."
Souta pretended to consider it carefully, then answered with as much seriousness as he could muster. "I suppose that'd be okay. If you're willing to teach me how to use a sword?" he finished with a hopeful lift to his tone.
"We'll see kid. I'd say you've got your hands full with this sensei of yours for the time being."
Souta turned to look up into Osusuki-sensei's beaming face and grinned. It's amazing, the way my whole outlook on life has changed in just a few weeks. It was as if Kagome's adventures had rubbed off on the whole family, and now he was included—surrounded by the stuff of legends. 'Normal' for the Higurashi family had just undergone a redefinition. Home would always be a comfortable, homey, and dependable place—but it was also terribly exciting.
End Note: This oneshot was written in response to the Live Journal community iyfic(underscore)contest and their challenge for Week 76—Rarely Seen Character. 6,852 words. Shippo's pseudonym, "Genko Osusuki" comes from kitsune legend. It is said that the goddess Inari was attended by a pair of foxes, a black male and a white female. That male kitsune's name was Osusuki. Genko, is one of the various classifications of kitsune. It refers to a black fox, which is usually seen as a good omen.