A/N: Greetings from Riverstyxx and GoldenGriffiness! This short story was originally uploaded on GoldenGriffiness's account, however we've since created a joined account for our co-authored fics and have instead uploaded it here. It was originally posted for Christmas, but now has become the first of a series we plan to write known as the Kitsune Chronicles. It's also been split in two (as oppose to the original oneshot) to make it easier to read. Enjoy!
There was a bitter chill in the air when Kagome woke from her slumber. The fire they'd slept around had gone out in the night and was now a smoldering pile of ashes that granted no warmth at all. Though her sleeping bag was thickly padded, she could still feel the cold that had awoken her. Across the other side of the pile of ashes that had once been a fire, the demon cat Kirara was curled around Sango.
'It must be warm beside Kirara,' Kagome thought, with the smallest inkling of jealousy. But a warmth near her chest reminded her that Shippo, the young fox child, was still asleep in her arms.
"It's cold this morning, isn't it?" Miroku said when he saw that Kagome was awake.
She sat up, cradling the sleeping Shippo in her arms, "Very. I've spent so long in this era, I guess I've lost track of the seasons. It must be winter, I suppose?"
"It must be with this sort of chill," Miroku was sitting propped up against a tree, his hands folded into the wide sleeves of his monk's robe. Sango, too, appeared to be awake, leaning against Kirara for warmth.
It didn't take Kagome long to notice that something was out of place. After scanning the camp site for another few seconds, she voiced that question that Miroku had been expecting.
"He's, uh…he's…" Miroku stuttered, averting his eyes from Kagome, looking exceedingly uncomfortable. Kagome's eyes narrowed in suspicion, and the monk realised he had no choice.
"He went searching for…for someone," Miroku finished lamely, as though he was trying to hide something.
Kagome raised an eyebrow, "Oh? Who?"
She didn't really have to ask. She had a sneaking suspicion that she already knew, and it caused a sinking feeling in her chest. That little burn of jealousy was there, too. Yes, she was quite certain that Inuyasha had gone searching for that person.
When Miroku didn't answer, Kagome muttered bluntly, "It's Kikyo isn't it?"
Knowing the secret was out, Miroku knew there was no use in hiding anything anymore, "Well…he caught her scent. I tried to tell him that seeking her out would do him no good, but you know how he is. I think he's worried about her. He hasn't seen Kikyo in a while now, you know."
Kagome sighed reluctantly, "I know, but…he doesn't have to desert us like this! Kikyo can look after herself, she doesn't need him running around after her. And I…we need him, too! He always does this. He promises he'll never leave me alone again, but then the first whiff of her he gets, he goes running off again! I wish he wasn't so…so…"
"Obsessed with her?" piped up a new voice as the newly awoken Shippo yawned and stretched.
Kagome looked down at the little fox demon, "maybe obsessed is too strong a word…"
But Shippo didn't seem to think so, "You know how he is, Kagome! He's always running after her and he never stops to think about us! I think he's obsessed, don't you, Miroku?"
But Miroku quickly held his hands up, shaking his head frantically, "leave me out of this, Shippo! I'm just the messenger!"
Kagome sighed. This day was already turning out bad, and she had only just woken up. The feelings of jealousy and rejection whirled around her gut, and the bitter cold was not helping her mood either.
"Obsessed or not, I suppose Inuyasha will return sooner or later," she sighed, "We just have to wait."
But it was a few hours before the half-demon did return, and by that time Kagome was bitterly cold and in a very bad mood. She saw him appear from the trees, his white hair easily making him recognisable. Kagome didn't even stop to consider his slightly despondent expression before she began her usual rant.
"Where have you been?" she asked, barely keeping a lid on her temper, "We've been waiting for you for hours! And it's freezing!"
Inuyasha look mildly abashed, but not much, "Sorry, I had something I needed to do."
He then strode right passed her without another word, much to Kagome's rising annoyance. She had been waiting here in the cold for him to come back for hours, and he wouldn't even tell her what he'd been doing for so long? The nerve of him!
"I know you were seeing Kikyo!" Kagome snapped suddenly, rising to her feet, "Why can't you just tell me what you were doing!"
Sensing a fight coming on, Sango, Miroku and Shippo edged inconspicuously away. Kirara mewled softly and stepped back. Inuyasha turned back to Kagome, the faintest hint of annoyance in his golden eyes.
"I was just…" he muttered, and then looked away, "I didn't find her anyway. I thought I caught her scent, but… I looked everywhere."
Kagome bristled with anger. She knew it wasn't fair on the half-demon, but right now that didn't seem to matter. He'd disappeared before she'd even woken up and spent hours searching for a priestess that probably didn't want to be found, while she had waited patiently for him. Why did he always do this?
"You spent hours out there while we waited here freezing our butts off for you to return!" Kagome snapped, "Why didn't you come back sooner?"
"What's the big deal?" Inuyasha snapped back, his short temper quickly getting the better of him, "I'm back now aren't I? It's not my fault you're cold, so quit taking it out on me!"
Kagome uttered a shrill noise of annoyance, "You're always running off after her! Why can't you wake up and see that she doesn't want to be found? And we need you, too, Inuyasha!"
"It was only a few hours!" the half-demon defended, his eyebrow twitching with anger, "Stop yelling at me! If I want to go find her to make sure she's alright, I'm perfectly entitled to do that! You weren't even awake when I left, you didn't need me then!"
"You don't get it, Inuyasha! What if something had happened to us! You said you'd never leave me again, but you always seem to go running off to Kikyo like some love sick puppy!" It seemed like Kagome's jealousy had reached breaking point. Never had she called Inuyasha that, and clearly it struck a nerve.
"Well maybe if you didn't yell so much, I wouldn't run off so much!" Inuyasha yelled back, his cheeks flushed with angry embarrassment, "And like you're one to talk! You're always flirting with that dirty wolf-!"
"So now you're blaming me?" Kagome snapped back, her voice shrill and high, "And Koga's got nothing to do with this! You're the one who chose to go running off after Kikyo! You're despicable, Inuyasha! How could you just leave us here in the cold like this?"
But Inuyasha had had enough, and the next thing he said was not something he had ever expected himself to yell, "Well maybe if you didn't wear so little you wouldn't be so cold!"
A stunned silence fell in the campsite and every eye stared at the half-demon, who too stunned by his own words to say anything else. Kagome's cheeks flushed a brilliant red, making her look as though she might explode. Inuyasha realised his mistake too late, and everyone winced as Kagome screamed the magic words.
Inuyasha didn't even have time to yell a protest before he crashed painfully into the hard ground, forming a shallow indent in the earth. All he could do was groan with his face pressed into the dirt. Kagome glared at his prostrate form with furious embarrassment as everyone else stared in shocked silence.
"I'm going home," Kagome announced suddenly, without any hesitation, and no one dared to argue.
Within seconds she was on Kirara's back, soaring back to the Bone Eater's well, leaving Inuyasha to nurse his own injured pride and everyone else to wonder when she'd return.
'It's true my school skirt is short, and you don't see any like it in the feudal era, but he didn't have to say it like that!' Kagome thought to herself after she'd waved goodbye to Kirara and clambered onto the side of the well, 'He's so insensitive.'
With another frustrated sigh, Kagome leapt into the dark abyss of the well. But she didn't hit ground. Instead, the familiar sense of weightlessness washed over her and she was surrounded by lights that reminded her of blue fireflies. Moments later, she found herself at the bottom of the well in the shrine house. Vaguely she could hear Sota's voice yelling something outside. It seemed she had returned to the present.
It took Kagome several minutes to clamber out of the well, and she was rather exhausted by the time she reached the top. Her mind was still full of bitter thoughts towards Inuyasha, not to mention embarrassment from his words, but those thoughts were briefly forgotten when she slid open the door of the shrine and looked outside.
The world was white. There was snow everywhere, coating the ground and adorning the branches of the sacred tree, covering the rooftops and the balcony. The air was freezing cold, but Kagome barely noticed as she took in the sight of what could only be described as a winter wonderland. She noticed her brother, Sota, chasing their cat, Buyo, around the yard.
"Wind scar!" he was yelling, cutting the air with the stick in his hand. Buyo mewled in response and scampered away through the thin layer of snow, prompting Sota to follow.
Smiling vaguely, Kagome picked her way across the snow-covered yard and headed towards the house. She waved at Sota as she passed, and he waved back before continuing to chase Buyo. Kagome shook her head at her younger brother's antics and stepped into the warmth of the house.
"Mamma!" she called, dropping her backpack in the hall, "I'm home!"
There was a patter of feet and Kagome's mother poked her head around the corner of the kitchen. Her eyes lit up and she smiled softly.
"Kagome! I'd hoped you'd be back for Christmas!"
Kagome's eyes widened as her mother hugged her fondly, "Christmas?"
"Didn't you know?" Mrs Higurashi let her daughter go, surprised, and then smiled once more, "You must have lost track of time in the feudal era. It's only a week until Christmas!"
Kagome was stunned, and slightly alarmed, "A week?"
"Are you going to stay here until Christmas?" her mother questioned hopefully.
But Kagome hesitated. She was still very annoyed with Inuyasha, and didn't particularly wish to return to the feudal era at this moment. But she knew that she couldn't just spend a whole week here! She had friends over the other side, too, and they needed her.
"I'd love to, Mamma, but…" Kagome hesitated, looking disappointed, "I can't. Everyone needs me over there; I can't desert them for a whole week!"
Mrs Higurashi looked rather disappointed by this news, "oh, but I'd hoped you would stay for Christmas dinner! We do miss you, Kagome. Perhaps you should take a break for a while. At least until after Christmas."
"Mamma, I…" Kagome sighed and shook her head, "I'd like to, but…"
Suddenly, a new idea popped into Kagome's head and she smiled an almost triumphant smile.
"I've got an idea! I can't stay here for the whole week, but I will come back here for Christmas!" but then Kagome's smile faltered, "But…I'd like to spend Christmas with my friends on the other side as well…"
It was a dilemma, but it was Kagome's mum who provided the answer with a warm and understanding smile, "You still can. How about you come home for Christmas Eve, and we'll have a slightly early Christmas just for you! And then you can spend Christmas day with your friends on the other side. How does that sound, Kagome?"
Kagome's face glowed with appreciation, "oh, Mamma, that's a wonderful idea! Thank you! I'll be sure to come home for Christmas Eve! I promise!"
Mrs Higurashi smiled warmly, "I'm always glad to help. Now how about you take your things upstairs and I'll cook you up something warm? Goodness knows you need it! It's awfully cold today! It already snowed this morning!"
But Kagome had another thought as she took her bag upstairs to her bedroom and dumped it beside her desk. Christmas was a time for giving.
"I have to buy everyone presents!" Kagome cried, throwing her hands in the air, "What am I going to get them all?"
So that was how, about an hour later, Kagome found herself wrapped in a scarf and trudging towards the shops on the search for Christmas presents.
Knowing that food was first and foremost in a particular hanyou's mind, Kagome hit a grocery store first. She had specifically chosen this store for its joke food. It had those little animals with brown jelly beans that came out their rear ends, coal candy, and ah, there it was! Just what she had been looking for!
There was a whole stand of it; various foods in fake dog- and cat-food cans. They came with label stickers that could be stuck over the original label. She scooped up several labelled "Ramen" and tossed them into her basket. On the spur of the moment, Kagome picked up a dog bone-shaped cake as well. She knew she was pushing Inuyasha even more, but the stubborn half demon had it coming, especially after that comment. She also picked out various cat treats for Kirara before heading to the exit.
As she was trotting briskly towards her next planned destination, something in the window of a pet shop caught her eye. As she stared at it, a devious smirk inched its way across her lips. A large dog collar dominated the scene; a huge black thing with bright red writing stitched across it. "Long live man's best friend" the stitching proclaimed in crudely formed letters.
The ugly collar had a prominent '75-percent-off' sign. Still grinning at her luck, Kagome strode into the store and proceeded to purchase the coal-black collar. She also picked out a pretty periwinkle-blue collar that read in dainty gold letters "I only look cute and innocent" for Kirara. Still grinning than devious smirk, Kagome left the store with yet another bag.
Heading to the shop she had originally planned for Shippo, Kagome purchased a lot of joke objects, as well as spinning tops and little wind up toys that she knew Shippo would like. If there was ever a person easy to shop for, it was Shippo. After all, he was still a child, demon or not.
As for the other two, Kagome had no idea what to buy for Miroku and Sango. What sort of gifts would her friends appreciate? Still pondering this question, she wandered over to a store to get some hair and face products for her modern day friends. For lack of better ideas, she also purchased an ornate comb for Sango and a bristle brush for Kirara. Now all that was left was to buy something for Miroku. But what?
Wracking her brains for an idea, Kagome's eye was drawn by a small bookshop across the road. She crossed the road, thinking vaguely of buying something for her mother, and entered the small shop. The first thing that caught her eye was a stand near the door with a large sign proclaiming 'History and Mythology' above it. As she browsed through the glossy-covered books, Kagome saw a title that sounded rather interesting.
'Japanese Feudalism' said the spiky black letters, and underneath was written 'A history of Japan and its Feudal Era' in smaller letters. Curious, Kagome plucked the book from the shelf. As she rifled through the pages, she saw several headings including 'Lords and Castles', 'Monks and Priestesses' and 'Mythology', as well as several subheadings. 'The Role of Monks' was the first that caught her eye, as well as the subheading in the Mythology chapter that said 'The Age of Demons?'.
"I wonder how accurate it is," Kagome wondered quietly, glancing at the back of the book, "Well at least our language hasn't changed in 500 years. Perhaps Miroku will find it interesting."
She tucked the book under her arm and perused the shop for a suitable novel for her mother. Minutes later she was back in the streets with the history book for Miroku, a romance novel for her mother, a book on ancient Japanese rituals for her grandfather, and a comic book for Sota. Kagome paused briefly at a stall to purchase a gaudy talisman that she knew her grandfather would adore, and then set off home with her several bags of purchased goods.
'A job well done, Kagome!' she thought to herself with a wide grin on her face, 'That's your Christmas shopping done!'
She returned home at a brisk walk, bags swinging from her arms as the chill wind whipped at her hair. When she reached the shrine, she paused to stare at Sota. Her younger brother had tied a white sock around the base of his stick, apparently an attempt at representing the fur guard of Tetsusaiga. A wary, snow-bedraggled Buyo was hiding behind a bush, tired of playing adversary.
Shaking her head, Kagome continued into her house, only to find Hojo being offered a cup of tea by her mother. A bead of sweat ran down her forehead. 'Oh great!'
"Kagome!" Hojo rushed up to her with a solemn expression, "I'm so glad you recovered from your rare form of Alzheimer's!"
Kagome stared at him, the bead of sweat grew a little bigger at his words, "Uhh...what?"
"I guess you're still not completely recovered," he said, concernedly, "I brought you something."
Kagome watched as Hojo fished a large red candle out of his bag and offered it to her.
"The scent of this candle when burning is supposed to unblock what somebody has forgotten!"
"Uhh..." Kagome could only stare blankly at the candle in her hands.
"I have to go now, I'm really sorry," he apologised, bowing his head, possibly taking her speechlessness as a by-product of the latest 'illness'her grandfather had told the school she had caught.
He rushed off, leaving Kagome to stare blankly after him, blinking dazedly for a few minutes before heading back inside.
"Mama," she pleaded, placing her bags of shopping and the candle on the table, "I'm sorry, but can you please try and, well, rein Grandpa in a bit? Alzheimer's for the love of the four!"
Her mother looked a little surprised, and more than a little confused, "the love of the four?"
"Yeah, I guess I picked that saying up in the feudal era," Kagome grinned, slightly embarrassed, "I'll explain where it comes from later, but right now I need to get packed for the other side."
"So soon?" Mrs Higurashi looked disappointed, "Oh, but you only just got here. Stay the night, won't you?"
But Kagome shook her head, shrugging apologetically, "Sorry, Mamma, but there's a lot of things that need to be done over on the other side. I really should head back. Inuyasha will probably come after me if I don't. You know how impatient he is. And, anyway, I'll be back here for Christmas Eve!"
Her mother smiled gently, "alright, I understand. If you must go, you must go."
"Thanks Mamma," Kagome sighed gratefully, as she began to rummage through her bags of shopping, "I've bought presents for everyone on the other side. Would you mind wrapping them for me?"
As she pulled the presents for her feudal friends from the bags, Kagome tried not to blush when she placed the large black dog collar on the table. But, thankfully, her mother said nothing about it.
"Of course," Mrs Higurashi agreed, "I'll have them ready for when you return."
"Thanks mamma!" Kagome smiled again, gathering up the rest of the bags and the other presents. She dashed up to her room, hid the presents in one of her desk drawers, and began to pack.
Inuyasha paced backwards and forwards in front of the well, his arms folded and his fingers tapping an impatient rhythm inside his kimono. He and the others had returned to the well to wait for Kagome's return, though they had no idea when that would be. Sango sat against a tree not far away, stroking the kitten Kirara in her lap. Miroku stood next to her, relaxed with his staff propped up against the tree.
Shippo, on the other hand, was sitting on the edge of the well, staring into the darkness. Every now and then, the young fox demon would look up and ask when Kagome was coming back, much to a certain half-demon's annoyance.
"When's Kagome coming back?" Shippo whined, for the fiftieth time. Inuyasha's eyebrow had begun to twitch in his annoyance.
"I don't know, Shippo," the half-demon gritted between clenched teeth, "Stop asking!"
The fox demon glared accusingly at him, "If you hadn't yelled at her, I bet she wouldn't have left in the first place. You can be so insensitive sometimes."
"Shut up!" Inuyasha snapped, raising a threatening fist, "She's the one who started it anyway!"
But Shippo stood his ground, hopping down off the side of the well, "If you hadn't gone running off after Kikyo, Kagome wouldn't have been upset! It's your fault she's gone, all because you can't make up your mind!"
"I said, shut up!" Inuyasha's yell coincided with a muffled thud as his fist connected for the hundredth time with Shippo's furry head.
Tears appeared in the corners of Shippo's eyes as a large red lump welled up where Inuyasha had struck him, and he began to wail. Inuyasha snorted and turned his back, folding his arms again.
"Inuyasha, there is no need for-," Miroku began disapprovingly, before his voice was cut off by another.
"Inuyasha!" snapped Kagome as she hauled herself up the side of the well, her voice booming angrily over Shippo's sobs.
Inuyasha froze, his eyes wide, as he turned to face the girl that had just clambered out of the well. She had a face like thunder, her eyes crackling with anger as she dropped her backpack on the ground.
"Sit!" she screamed, and Inuyasha was dragged forcibly down by the rosary around his neck. He hit the ground with a dull thud, uttering several curses under his breath.
"I've told you before not to hit Shippo! He's just a child!" Kagome snapped, ignoring his muffled mutterings. She bent over and picked up the sniffling Shippo in her arms. He stopped crying almost instantly, overjoyed to see her back.
"Kagome!" the fox demon cried, hugging her with his tiny paws, "You came back!"
"Of course," Kagome winked, and then shot a nasty look at Inuyasha who was pushing himself up off the ground, "Some people would be hopeless without me."
Inuyasha glared right back, "Feh, you're the one who's hopeless. And Shippo deserved what he got."
Kagome's eyes narrowed dangerously, "Inuyasha…"
The half-demon quickly shut his mouth and averted his eyes, knowing he was in danger of another 'sit' if he kept irritating her. Miroku and Sango approached; pleased to see their modern-day friend had return to the past.
"It is good to have you back, Kagome," Sango smiled, and Kirara mewled in agreement.
"We almost expected you to be gone for another day or so," Miroku added.
"Well," Kagome figured this would be as good a time as any to tell them, "I'm going back in a few days time, so I figured I better not stay too long."
As she expected, Inuyasha didn't seem too pleased with this revelation, "No way in hell are you going back there so soon! What could be so important, huh?"
Kagome took a deep breath and let it out slowly, calming herself before she turned to face the stubborn half-demon, "Christmas."
Everyone stared at her, wearing identical expressions of confusion. Kagome blushed when she realized that they would of course have no idea what Christmas was. It seemed it was time for a little explaining.
"Kris...mas?" Shippo asked slowly, clearly at a loss.
Kagome shook her head, "I forgot you wouldn't know. Well, time for storytelling!"
She clapped her hands in a business-like manner, and Shippo's eyes lit up in excitement.
"I love stories!" the fox demon cried, but as usual Inuyasha spoiled the fun.
"That can wait," the half-demon huffed, already striding away, "In case you've forgotten, we've got a job to do! We have to find Naraku, and the final jewel shards! So let's go!"
Kagome glared after him. She knew he was right, but he could at least allow her an hour or so to explain why she needed to return to her own time in a few days. Nevertheless, she picked up her backpack and began to follow after him.
"I guess I'll explain later," she told the others.
It was late afternoon, almost dusk, by the time they stopped and made camp. Sitting around a flickering campfire, Kagome decided it was time to explain. Miroku, Sango, Shippo and even Kirara were all gazing expectantly at her, but Inuyasha was lounging up in the branches of a nearby tree and didn't seem at all interested. Perhaps he was still sulking because Kagome hadn't spoken to him since they'd left the well.
"So, Kagome, what is this 'Christmas' you speak of?" Miroku asked.
"Well," Kagome paused, wondering how to begin. She supposed she'd have to go right back to the origins of the holiday.
"It comes from a common religion called Christianity," she began, trying to remember what her mother had told her a long time ago, "It is a celebration of the supposed birth of Christ, or Jesus."
"Christ?" Sango asked curiously.
"The son of God, or at least in Christianity," Kagome answered, wondering if that would mean anything. But Miroku nodded in understanding.
"When Christ was born he was given gifts by three wise men that followed the evening star to find him. The celebration of Christmas involves the giving of gifts between friends and family. It is celebrated on the day that Christ was born. People say that a jolly old man called Santa Claus, with his sleigh pulled by flying reindeer, flies around the world and delivers presents to everyone. It's only a story of course, but Santa Claus has become like a symbol of Christmas."
"What does this Santa Claus look like?" Shippo asked eagerly, his eyes glowing in the firelight.
"Well, he's big and he wears lots of red," Kagome tapped her chin as she thought, "And he wears big black boots and a black belt, and he has a long white beard and white hair, and he wears a floppy red hat on his head. They say he carries a huge sack of gifts over his shoulder."
"How very interesting," Miroku said as he formed an image of a large man wearing a red kimono in his head.
"Uh-huh," Kagome was now into the swing of it, "Every year for Christmas, people erect trees called Christmas trees in their houses and decorate them with hanging ornaments and lights. Presents are left under the tree and opened on Christmas morning. People also hanging stockings – they're like really, really big socks – in front of their fire places for Santa to fill with gifts."
"Why a tree?" Sango asked, and Kagome paused. She had never really thought about it, but she remembered her mother saying something to her a long time ago.
"I think…trees, especially pine trees, are a symbol of life. I think they're supposed to symbolise new life, but most people just see them as a symbol of Christmas, just like Santa Claus," Kagome explained.
She sighed and looked up at the sky, which was now turning navy blue as the sun sank below the horizon, "Christmas is a time, even for people who aren't Christians, for family and friends to get together and celebrate. It's only a week away and I promised mamma that I'd come back for Christmas Eve. So, that's why I need to go back in a few days. Do you understand?"
"Of course we do," Sango reassured her friend, "You need to spend time with your family."
"And even if Inuyasha doesn't understand, we'll make sure he doesn't stop you," Miroku assured her, "But when will you be back?"
Kagome's smile brightened, "Oh, I'll be back on Christmas Day! I wouldn't want to miss out on celebrating Christmas with all of you, too! After all, Christmas is a time for family and friends, and I've got presents for all of you!"
"You do?" Shippo was thrilled.
Kagome noticed a vague reaction from the half-demon on the branch and smiled a bit.
"What'd you get?" Shippo asked, practically bouncing out of his skin, "What'd you get?"
Kagome's eyes twinkled mischievously, "You'll have to wait and find out! That's the tradition!"
Shippo looked crestfallen.
"Oh please, please, please!" he begged, as any child would, as Sota was probably doing right now.
"You'll just have to wait," Kagome grinned, "In fact; I think we should celebrate under the sacred tree!"
Shippo's eyes lit up, "That sounds great!"
The young fox demon looked hyper at the thought of gifts, just like any average kid. Eventually, the group finally turned in, Kirara curled around Sango and Shippo in Kagome's arms.
About mid-morning, the group found themselves wandering in a random direction, hoping vainly they were going towards the final shard. They were travelling down an overgrown path, vine-like plants creeping across the track, as Shippo continuingly begged Kagome to tell him what she had bought for him. This irritated Inuyasha to no end. The result was Shippo getting whacked repeatedly on the head, which, in return, earned Inuyasha an impressive amount of 'sits'.
A few minutes later, the hanyou's ears twitched and he halted.
"What's that?" he muttered suspiciously, glaring into the overgrown bush.
Just then the whole place dimmed and a reminiscent blue swirl of flames light up the sky. Inuyasha and Kagome looked at Shippo questioningly. Shippo raised his hands disarmingly, "Not me, I swear."
Suddenly, from all around them, a young female voice echoed, "This place is not meant for mere hu- what, SHIPPO?"
The young fox demon's eyes widened, "Akira?"
The light returned and, out of nowhere, a young fox demon appeared. Unlike Shippo, this fox demon was in full fox form. Kagome guessed it was about Shippo's age, with dusky dark blue-grey fur, light blue-grey points and a snow-white underbelly. It had some minor bangs partly obscuring its blue-green eyes.
The fox demon ran towards Shippo, reared up on hits hind legs and was suddenly obscured by smoke. The smoke dissipated a moment later to reveal a young human girl with the black legs, tail and paws of a fox. Her black, unruly hair was held in pigtails, her bangs were similar to what she had as a full fox, and her long grey-blue ears tapered to a paler point.
"She's like Shippo!" Kagome stuttered in shock,
"Helllooo genius!" the new fox demon replied sarcastically. The peppy young female fox hugged Shippo, "I thought you were dead! What happened? We found your home blackened with ash, and couldn't find you, aunty or uncle anywhere! Why are you travelling with humans of all things?"
Shippo looked like he was about to tear up.
"What the hell?" Inuyasha interrupted rudely, "Shippo, who is this? Your cousin or what?"
"Inuyasha?" Kagome asked dangerously.
"Yes?" he replied, a little nervously.
Inuyasha hit the ground face-first once again.
"Urrr," he groaned, "What was that for!"
Kagome looked away pointedly, "Figure it out yourself!"
Miroku nudged Sango, "I don't think she's forgotten that outfit comment quite yet." Sango nodded agreeably until she noticed Miroku was, as was his want, invading her personal space.
"Uhhh…" Miroku rubbed the red hand-shaped mark on his face – a frequent occurrence where he was concerned.
A bead of sweat ran down Kagome's head. 'Great first impression we're making,' shethought,embarrassed.
"Well, Akira, is this where you live?" Shippo asked curiously, possibly trying to divert her attention from his friends' embarrassing habits.
"Close by," the young vixen demon answered distractedly, still eyeing the humans warily, "But, Shippo, how did you end up travelling with humans, and with a demon slayer at that?"
"Well…" Shippo sobered, thinking of his deceased parents, and quickly changed the subject, "Can I visit Aunt Kazuo and uncle Miwa? I haven't seen them in forever!"
The newly met vixen's eyes sparkled, "you're kidding right? They would skin me alive if I didn't bring you over!"
"What about my friends? They can come too, right?" Shippo asked nervously, glancing back at Kagome.
"'Course they can, if you're sure they're safe."
"Look here!" Inuyasha snapped, "I sure don't like how you're talking about us when we're right here! But, Shippo, we have no time for any of this, and we sure as hell won't waist any here!"
"Inuyasha!" Kagome yelled, yet again, "SIT!"
She dipped her head graciously to Shippo's cousin, "we will be happy to except your offer. Please ignore my friend here, he enjoys being contradictory."
"Uh… Thanks, I think," said the peppy little vixen demon, raising an eyebrow.
"How far away do you live?" Shippo asked curiously.
"Not far," she replied, pointing a paw along the path, "Fifteen minutes."
A few minutes, a few slaps, and an ample amount of 'sits' later, they finally arrived at a small cave set into the cliff face. There was a small fire in the middle of the clean sandy floor and a couple of fox demons, one leaning against the other, stood by it. They were both currently in full fox form. One, whose fur was coal black with a slightly lighter underbelly, sat with her eyes closed and appeared to be asleep. Even as a fox she had prominent bangs. The male she was leaning against was rusty red with a tan underbelly, though his paws were black as jet. The tips of his ears were dark brown, and his opened eyes were an identical green to Shippo's.
Shippo ran up and hugged the rusty red fox demon, "Uncle Miwa! I've missed you!"
Shippo's eyes were streaming with tears.
"Shippo," the fox growled, though only the fox demons present could understand him in his animal form, "You're alive! Where're your mom and dad?"
Shippo began crying uncontrollably, something the fox father wasn't accustomed to. He had barely ever known Akira to cry, or Shippo when he came to visit. He looked at the young demon helplessly, unsure of what to do. Luckily for the father fox, his mate had awoken and, seeing Shippo upset, she quickly changed to her human form.
Unlike her daughter, she had mastered the human guise so that the only thing that differed from a mortal woman was her slightly tapered ears. She was thin, with pale ivory skin and pitch black hair that flowed to her waist. A long, leaf-green gown hid her feet. Her eyes, revealed to be a deep sapphire blue, were half obscured by her long bangs and full lashes. She drew Shippo in and hugged him.
"Shippo," the vixen soothed.
Unfortunately, Miroku ruined the moment; he rushed towards Kazuo, only to receive a well deserved whack over the head by Hiraikotsu, Sango's giant boomerang-esk weapon.
"Pervert," muttered the demon slayer.
"As always," agreed Shippo with a small hiccup, starting to recover from the reminder of his parents' death.
"Shippo," whispered the mother fox, stroking his hair soothingly, "do you feel ready to talk now?"
"A-as I'll ever be," the young fox mumbled between hiccups, though he didn't look ready at all.
"Sango," Kagome murmured suddenly, placing a hand on the demon slayer's shoulder.
"Yes?" Sango whispered back.
"Can you take Shippo outside please? I'll explain about his parents; he doesn't need to."
Sango nodded wordlessly in understanding and strode towards the young fox demon. She held her hand out towards him and he looked at her through watery eyes, questioningly, the mother fox's arms still wrapped protectively around him.
"Will you come with me Shippo?" The demon slayer asked gently, "I want to talk to you."
Shippo sniffled and nodded, "o-ok."
He hopped out of the mother fox's arms and placed his tiny paw in Sango's hand. The demon slayer picked him up carefully and strode out of the cave, ignoring the staring eyes of everyone except Kagome. Kirara mewled softly and trotted after her, leaving Inuyasha, Kagome and Miroku alone with the family of demon foxes. For a moment there was only silence – uncomfortable silence – until the mother fox stood up.
"You seem to know Shippo well. Perhaps you can tell me what has become of his parents and why he has chosen to travel with humans," her eyes strayed to Inuyasha, "and a half demon. I am Kazuo, what do they call you?"
Kagome felt a blush rise to her cheeks, "I'm so sorry, I should have introduced myself! My name is Kagome."
Kazuo's eyes seemed to scrutinise her closely for several seconds, "You wear strange clothes, Kagome."
At that comment, Kagome felt her face grow hot with embarrassment. Inuyasha's previous comment was far from forgotten, but this fox demon only seemed curious.
"I'm…not from around here," Kagome replied, with a nervous laugh, knowing that her face was now as red as Inuyasha's robe.
Kazuo smile gently at her reaction, "forgive me, Kagome, I did not need to embarrass you. Who are your friends?"
Kagome opened her mouth to answer, but froze when Miroku suddenly darted in front of her, and clasped his hands around Kazuo's. The motherly fox demon stared at the monk in surprise and confusion, while Kagome noticed that the male fox had stiffened slightly.
"My name is Miroku, my lady," the monk swiftly introduced himself, "And may I say that I have never met a woman more lovely than you, demon or not!"
Kagome sighed and pressed a hand to her forehead. Miroku never changed, no matter how many times his lechery got him into trouble. If Sango hadn't left with Shippo, Kagome was sure the monk would already be wincing on the ground with a lump on his head, courtesy of Hiraikotsu. As it were, no one was there to oppose him, except Inuyasha.
"That'll do, you rotten lecher," the half-demon grumbled, "Remember that she's already got a mate."
At this, Miroku gave a nervous laugh and jumped away, rubbing the back of his head in a sheepish way. Kazuo just stared at him, and Kagome noticed that the male fox had relaxed again. Blinking, Kazuo turned her eyes on Inuyasha.
"And what do they call you, half-demon?"
Inuyasha scowled. Kagome always knew how much he hated being called a half-demon, especially by full demons like Kazuo.
"Inuyasha," he muttered grudgingly, and said no more.
Kagome noticed that neither Akira nor the male fox had said anything for a while. She wondered for a moment what the male's name was, trying to remember what Shippo had called him.
"Excuse me…" she asked timidly to the rust-red fox, "What is your-?"
"Miwa," the fox grunted, cutting her off before she could finish her question.
Kazuo smiled gently, "Now that we are introduced, I must ask you of Shippo. Please, we care about him, and we must know what has happened to Miwa's brother."
Kagome's heart sank. It was not good news that she was about to disclose, and she hoped that the fox family wouldn't take it too badly. At least Shippo wasn't here to relive the death of his parents. Her hesitation must have been obvious, for Akira quickly became impatient.
"Well, what are you waiting for?" the vixen asked, "Aren't you going to tell us what happened? You already sent Shippo out, so hurry up and spit it out! What happened, and why is Shippo travelling with you?"
Kagome sighed and looked away, "I'm sorry, but…what I'm about to tell you is not good news."
Kazuo's eyes were full of sadness, and Miwa suddenly stood up. A puff of smoke obscured him for a moment and suddenly a man, not a fox, was standing there. He was taller than Kazuo, but not by much, and his rust-red hair almost reached his shoulders. The deep green robe he wore did not conceal the impressive muscles he sported, and a pair of rusty ears poked out from beneath his hair. A pair of bright green eyes stared at Kagome, his expression serious.
"Something happened to my brother, didn't it?" Miwa asked, his voice deep and gruff.
Kagome couldn't bring herself to look away from those captivating green eyes, "yes…your brother was…he was killed."
Kazuo uttered a tiny gasp and covered her mouth with her hands, while Miwa merely closed his eyes briefly, like a warrior willing away his pain.
"How did it happen?" Miwa asked after a moment, reopening his eyes.
It took several minutes for Kagome to explain that Shippo's father, Miwa's brother, had been slaughtered by a pair of demons known as the Thunder Brothers, and Shippo had been seeking them for revenge. She explained how she and Inuyasha had helped Shippo exact his revenge on the murderers, and how the young fox demon had been with them ever since.
"So my brother is dead," Miwa sighed, turning away, "At least he was avenged. I should thank your for helping my nephew to avenge his father – my brother."
Kazuo was blinking away tears, but to no avail as they streamed silently down her cheeks. Akira had merely looked away, as though she was afraid that, by looking at her mother's tears, she too would start to cry. She refused to cry.
"What…what happened to his wife? Where is Shippo's mother?" Kazuo asked softly, whipping away a tear that had rolled down her cheek.
But Kagome shook her head, "She was gone before he met Shippo. He…he told me she died before his father was killed. I do not know how, though."
"She was not a well fox," Miwa said suddenly, "Always weak and fragile. A simple disease could bring her to her knees, almost like any mortal. Perhaps her body finally gave out. At least she did not have to witness her husband's murder."
Kazuo clasped her hands together and turned away, letting the tears run freely down her cheeks. She couldn't say anything else, but Kagome knew that the motherly fox wished she could have been there for Shippo – and she wished that she could have been there in his mother's last moments, as least to say goodbye.
"We are the only family Shippo has left now," Akira muttered, glaring at the ground.
"I'm sorry," Kagome whispered, her own eyes stinging with tears, "I'm sorry I had to bring you this news."
"Do not be sorry," Kazuo murmured, smiling through the tears, "You have brought Shippo back to us – alive. That is more than we could ever ask."
That phrase caught Inuyasha's attention, though for the others the implicated meaning seemed to escape them.
'Damn! Kagome,' he thought angrily, 'are you so blind, or do you want Shippo to leave?' He shook that off before he said it; even he, thick-headed as he was, could see it was uncalled for.
Kirara appeared at Kagome's feet. She tilted her head questionably and let out an inquisitive "meow?"
"Give us a couple more minutes," Kagome said in a whisper to Kirara.
"Well," Kazuo sighed, shaking herself, "I better start cooking. I have two young ones and guests to cook for!"
To Kagome's shock Inuyasha started growling, quiet enough so that only she could here. He hadn't missed the suggestion that they were guests, while Shippo was not.
Kagome looked at him, shocked.
"What do you think you're doing?" she whispered in a tone that suggested a 'sit' in every syllable.
Inuyasha, unsurprisingly, shut up quickly. But he still wished to start ranting at the pair of foxes.
'Did they avenge Shippo's Dad?' he thought angrily, 'NO! Did they look after Shippo all this time? No!' Inuyasha knew he was being unfair, but the thought of losing Shippo was too much to take. However aloof he pretended to be, he loved the young demon dearly.
Kagome noticed Inuyasha's clenched fists as well as his narrowed eyes. 'What's gotten into him?' the young miko wondered, but didn't ask. Instead she kept a close watch on him for the next few hours, in case he did something strange.
Those next few hours were passed peacefully, though not entirely cheerfully, as the knowledge of Shippo's parent's deaths still weighed heavily upon them. Kazuo cooked them a strange soup of leek and tubers that Kagome found rather enjoyable. Shippo, however, having become used to the food that Kagome brought back from her time, found it rather dull. Nevertheless, the young fox demon ate without complaining, through he found himself longing for the 'ninja food' that Kagome usually cooked for him.
"Do you enjoy it, Shippo?" Kazuo asked anxiously, and Shippo couldn't bring himself to say otherwise.
"I-it's great," the young fox demon replied, slurping up the last of the soup quickly as though to prove his point.
The motherly demon smiled gently, "Now that you're here, I can make it for you every day if you want."
Inuyasha, who had been silent for quite a while, shot Kazuo an angry look at those words – a look that was not missed by the eagle-eyed Kagome. What was with him? Next to her, Sango had suddenly stopped eating and was staring at Kazuo and Shippo. Kagome nudged her gently.
"Something wrong, Sango?"
The demon slayer glanced at Kagome and quickly shook her head, "no, not at all."
But when Kagome looked away, Sango stared glumly at the remnants of soup in her bowl and wondered, 'Did Kazuo really mean it that way? Does she intend Shippo to stay?'