Actions

Work Header

Toshiro

Chapter Text

He was panting. The sweat that poured down his face instantly clung and cooled to his tattered shirt. He'd been running for what felt like an eternity, but was actually only a few hours. The cold soil no longer stung his bare feet as he ran; he could barely feel them anymore. He knew that there were little splinters of wood rooted under the claws of his toes, that they were no doubt still bleeding, but he didn't care. It didn't matter.

He didn't matter.

'Worthless hanyou.'

'Disgusting little puppy.'

'Abomination.'

Their words cut deeper than the gashes that graced his arms and legs and back. Sharper than the two missing claws on his left hand. Hurt worse than the hours of torture he'd endured for being something he had no control over.

He broke through the trees with an exhausted gasp, making it only a few shaky steps before he collapsed atop a hill that looked out over a small village.

He could see the blurry shape of the moon shining off of water filled fields that overflowed with rice. He could just make out the smells of fires emanating from the little huts that were dotted about. He could faintly hear other kids running through the village with a sense of ease he'd never known.

And before everything went dark, he could vaguely see a crimson clad figure adorning the roof of one of the wooden homes in the distance.

Chapter Text

"But why can't I have pocky for breakfast?" The kitsune whined again as Higurashi Kagome handed him his bowl of soup.

Kagome sighed. "We've been over this, Shippou. Pocky isn't breakfast food and-"

"And ya don't need anymore damned sweets." The irritated hanyou cut in from across the room. "It's all going to your fat head."

"Inuyasha!" Kagome chided.

Sango, the youkai slayer, shook her head disapprovingly from her place beside her husband.

"What? The little brat needs to know when no means no! You spoil him Kagome."

"I do not!" Kagome snapped back.

Inuyasha scoffed with a roll of his golden eyes. "You so do."

"You do. . . a little." Miroku spoke up with a sheepish smirk, quickly shutting his mouth when the miko shot him a seething glare.

"See? Even the pervert knows it." The hanyou said with a smug grin. "If it'd been up to you we would have had to roll the kit around while we hunted down the rest of the Shikon no kakera."

"I'm not fat! And I'm not spoiled!" The young kitsune in question cried out. He turned his back on the hanyou, a defiant nose in the air and his arms crossed over his chest. "At least I don't act like a jealous baka whenever Kouga comes around!"

Kagome heard Miroku try to muffle his laughter into his robe, and she knew that if she'd heard the teasing sound then so had the volatile half-youkai.

Heat flooded Inuyasha's face in embarrassment, and before she could stop him Inuyasha had jumped the short distance across Sango and Miroku's hut and thumped Shippou on the head, hard.

Tears instantly welled in the child's jade eyes, his bottom lip trembling as he held the sore spot on his auburn head with both of his little hands.

"Inuyasha no baka!" Shippou yelled as his tears spilled over. He ran out of the hut on quick paws, the sound of his crying left in his wake.

Inuyasha looked from the swinging curtain that acted as a door, to the three sets of eyes that looked at him in varying degrees of exasperation.

"What?" He grouched defensively. "The runt was asking for it!"

Kagome swatted his arm, shaking her head as she stood from her place beside him.

"Oi! What the hell was that for?"

Kagome ignored his question, but said over her shoulder instead, "Sometimes you really are clueless." Before she shot out of the hut in search of the weeping little youkai.

0:0:0:0:0:

Shippou was nowhere to be found. She'd checked through the village, asked the local children if they'd seen her youkai ward, and even checked around Goshinboku but had come up with nothing each time.

Inuyasha was such an idiot.

He didn't realize how much his words could hurt the kitsune child. Shippou, though he'd never admit so, looked up to Inuyasha a lot. And though the irritating hanyou acted like more of a bullying older brother most of the time, she knew that Shippou looked to Inuyasha like a surrogate father. Kagome knew that Inuyasha's often careless words meant more to the kitsune than almost anyone's in the world.

It wouldn't be the first time that baka didn't realize what was staring him in the face. Kagome thought with an inward sigh.

Her feelings for him were so obvious.

Even almost two years after their battle with the evil Naraku, and the final death of the miko Kikyou, Inuyasha still seemed like he could care less about her at times. She'd thought that after their battle with their nemesis was over, and after Inuyasha had time to grieve for Kikyou again, that he'd realize what was always there. That she was always there, that she had always cared and protected him in a different way than he her, that she was the one who loved him more than she did herself, accepted him in all of his irritating hanyou glory.

But instead they'd spent the last few years gathering the remaining Shikon no kakera. Spent it avoiding all talk of feelings and intimacy, arguing and screaming at one another over trivial things. Inuyasha was always too preoccupied, too distracted with gathering the jewel shards to even take a moment to talk with her unless he was picking a fight. Never mind realizing how she felt.

Even now, with the complete jewel dangling from a silver chain around her neck, the hanyou's only concern seemed to be figuring out a way to purify the damned thing.

Maybe he was in a rush to be rid of her.

She could never bring herself to tell him how she felt anyway. At this point she was almost sure he didn't feel the same. Kagome knew how deeply he loved Kikyou. She remembered how he'd wept and howled to the skies the night she'd died again in his arms. And although she wished more than anything that she could forget, she remembered the love that was so painstakingly obvious in their final kiss.

Kagome winced at the memory and shook herself.

Stay focused, girl. Gotta find Shippou before he gets himself into trouble.

She'd been through Inuyasha's forest for close to an hour before she decided to try to get a better look from a familiar hill. Maybe if she looked down from the vantage point she could see Shippou's bright reddish head bobbing among the villagers. She hoped that she'd find him playing with the village children, all thoughts of Inuyasha and his rude mouth far from his mind.

Kagome stopped abruptly in her frustrated stride when she came from the cover of trees, and took in the small, crumpled figure lying on the hill's peak, a splash of color in the snow. She took a hesitant step closer to see what happened to be a small child, not much older than Shippou by the looks of it.

She clamped her hand over her mouth to muffle her gasp of horror as she inched closer.

The unconscious boy had dozens of long, deliberate cuts along his skinny arms and legs. Blood was caked on the side of his face that she could see, dried down his neck and disappearing into the tatters of a filthy haori. His lips were blue with cold, no doubt from being out exposed to the elements for so long. His hair was midnight black like her own, but matted with knots and dirt and cut in disarray; some strands reaching the middle of his back, while some barely reached his shoulders as if he were attacked by a scissor youkai.

Atop his hair sat two small, black, drooping puppy ears. The overwhelming urge to rub his fuzzy ears was quelched immediately when she saw that the right little triangle was cut savagely along its edge. The appendage ended in a jagged, zig-zag like pattern on it's right side. Kagome could tell that the wound was very old by the pale pink skin that took the place of fur, instead of the bright angry red the rest of his wounds held.

"An inu hanyou. . ."

The boy's ears twitched at her whispered words though he did not wake.

She closed the distance between herself and the child, blinking back tears as she knelt by his side. She barely felt the chill.

Who could have done this to the poor thing? Why would someone want to hurt a child so badly? She couldn't imagine what kind of heartless monsters were responsible. Up close, she could see the dark circles beneath his eyes. They were a bruising purple against his toffee brown skin, as if he'd never had a good night's sleep. She could see his hollow cheeks and pronounced cheekbones as if he hadn't eaten in days, the black and blue marks that mottled his flesh under the dried blood.

At first glance the child appeared to be dead, but Kagome could still sense his weak youki. He was alive, but his spirit was battered and beaten almost beyond recognition. Kagome felt her heart breaking and, holding back a sob, she placed a gentle hand on the little hanyou's back.

As soon as her hand touched the boy his eyes snapped open. The intense hostility and fear she saw in his amber gaze broke her heart further. The hanyou jerked away as if her touch burned, launching himself back across the small space of the hilltop and causing Kagome to fall onto her backside.

He issued a low growl of warning, began to rise into a crouch as if he were ready to spring at her.

"H-hello." Kagome said lowly, keeping her voice calm as to not frighten the child further. "Are you alright?"

The boy pulled his lips back in a feral snarl. "Don't touch me. Don't ever touch me."

Kagome held up her hands in front of her in a placating display.

"I'm not going to hurt you, I promise. Who did this to you?" She asked, feeling tears well up in her eyes at the deep anger she saw in his.

He ignored her question, choosing to growl at her again instead. He moved closer to her, stalked her. His ears were plastered into his hair in rage. He looked angry enough to kill. Kagome scooted through the snow  away from the prowling boy.

She felt no fear, just an unending sadness. She'd never seen a child so young carry so much hate in their heart, and though she knew that it wasn't at her directly it still hurt to see.

"I can help you. What's your name?" She tried again around the growing lump in her throat, hoping to distract the boy from his anger.

It didn't work.

He pounced at her with a furious cry, flurries sent flying by his lunge only to be caught in mid air by a flash of red that appeared from nowhere.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Inuyasha barked down at the young woman sitting in the snow.

He held the squirming little hanyou in the air with one hand by the scraps of his shirt.

"Inuyasha," Kagome breathed in relief. Maybe he could talk some sense into the child. "He's hurt. We need to take him to Kaede's."

"I'm not going anywhere with you!" The child screeched, struggling against the larger hanyou's hold on him to no avail.

"What the fuck did you think you were doing, pup? Attacking Kagome like that?" Inuyasha snapped at the boy. "You'd be lucky if I don't gut you this second."

The child didn't back down, meeting Inuyasha's glower with one of his own. He bared his teeth at the older hanyou and swiped his little claws at Inuyasha, aiming for and missing his face.

"Oi! Watch it, you little cretin!" Inuyasha hollered as he shook the child in reprimand for his attempted attack.

Kagome quickly got to her feet and tried to take the boy from the seething baka. Inuyasha pulled the child higher into the air, out of Kagome's reach, and continued to joggle the little hanyou for spite. "Stop that, Inuyasha! He's just a kid!"

"Mind your own business!" The child said furiously, turning his angry glare on Kagome again and growling at her.

Inuyasha shook him harder. "Growl at her again pup and you're gonna get the thumping of your life." He threatened dangerously.

"Inuyasha! Cut it out," Kagome said desperately. "I need to treat his wounds. We need to get to Kaede's!"

Both pairs of golden eyes turned to look at her in shock.

The older of the two spoke up first as the younger tried and failed again at trying to claw Inuyasha's face off.

"Are you stupid, wench? This little runt," Inuyasha smacked him upside the head with his free hand for emphasis. "Just tried to kill you, and now you want to take him home?"

"He didn't mean it! I scared him!" She defended quickly, trying again to nab the little hanyou from her irritating best friend.

Inuyasha moved him out of the way again, in the process moving her behind his back while he glared at the stewing child dangling from his clawed hand.

"I did mean it," The little half-youkai spit. "I knew what I was doing. And I'm not scared of some stupid human!"

Kagome gasped at the vehement in his high voice. And for the second time that day she was too late at grabbing onto Inuyasha's arm before he struck a child.

The loud thump on the little hanyou's head echoed off of the trees and Inuyasha dropped him roughly on the ground.

"Oww! What the hell, idiot!" The boy yelled as he rubbed the lump growing under his dirty hair.

Inuyasha moved so quickly Kagome didn't have a chance of stopping him before he hit the child on the head again.

Thump!

"Watch your mouth, you little pest." Inuyasha snarled lowly. "And if ya ever speak to Kagome like that again you'll be getting more than a good thumping."

The boy glared daggers at the hanyou that towered over him, but wisely kept his mouth shut.

Kagome shook her head at the violent display. She moved slowly around the irate older half-youkai to sit on her legs in front of the youth, ignoring Inuyasha's growl of warning for her to stay back.

She wasn't angry at the child for his mean words, or at the fact that he'd try to attack her; she just wanted to help him, to understand him.

"What happened to you?" She asked softly, tilting her head to try to catch his eye. "Where are you from?"

The little hanyou looked like he wanted to snap at her, but the low rumble and pointed stare from Inuyasha stayed his tongue. So instead he looked away and grumbled, "I'm fine. And it doesn't matter where I come from, just know I'm not going back."

Kagome nodded understandably. "I wouldn't want to go back to a place where I was hurt either."

"I'm not hurt! I said I'm fine, human." The boy bit out, his eyes flashing with disgust.

Inuyasha growled menacingly and took a step toward him, only to stop when Kagome glared at him quickly over her shoulder. He stopped with his infamous 'Keh' sound before he folded his arms into the sleeves of his haori and continued to watch the child closely.

The boy's honey eyes darted around, as if afraid to hold their gazes for too long.

"Okay. . . Can I at least know your name?" Kagome asked patiently, willing the boy to look her in the eyes again.

"Why do you need to know my name?" He asked, his posture guarded and suspicious.

Kagome smiled sweetly. "Well you're so cute, I can't help but want to know your name. Plus, it's polite to ask. My name is Kagome, and my baka friend here is Inuyasha."

The child snorted in a very Inuyasha-like fashion before muttering, "Tshro. . ."

"Come again?"

"He said his name is Toshiro, wench." Inuyasha said with a roll of his eyes, before directing his attention to the younger hanyou. "Ya' know, for someone named 'intelligent' that sure was stupid of you to attack a powerful miko."

Toshiro turned and looked at Kagome skeptically. "You don't seem like much of a miko," he shook his head in blatantly doubt, what was left of his bangs dangling into his eyes as he said, "You don't even have a weapon. What kind of miko doesn't have a weapon?"

Kagome heard Inuyasha snort at her side, but she just closed her eyes.

She tuned him out, tuned everything out, as she focused the way Kaede trained her to and reached deep down inside herself. She felt her miko's aura pop and pulse with energy in her bones and, eyes still closed, she called her spiritual power up to just beneath her skin.

She heard Toshiro's low gasp as he sensed it

She opened her eyes, letting her aura die down with a small smile on her lips at the little hanyou's wide eyes.

"So if you're a miko. . . Why didn't you defend yourself when I attacked you? I would have killed you." Toshiro said bluntly.

Inuyasha tensed dangerously at the child's words, sparking trepidation in the kid's eyes as he glanced nervously between the large hanyou and miko.

"She wouldn't hurt a pup." Inuyasha said, his tone serious for once. "Even one stupid enough to try to attack her. If she wanted to she could have purified your ass in a second, pest. Don't forget that."

"I just don't understand why she didn't then. . ." Toshiro muttered, more to himself than to the two adults who looked on at him in puzzlement.

Did he expect to be beaten? Kagome thought.

She saw the way he sat with his arms wrapped around himself unconsciously, as if he were bracing himself for a strike that could come at any moment. Did this child suffer the same way Inuyasha had as a child? He sure did act like the hostile half-youkai Inuyasha used to be when they first met five years ago; angry, guarded, eyes and ears always moving anxiously and looking for signs of danger. Where were his parents? Was he orphaned?

Kagome felt a fierce surge of protectiveness shoot through her, a burning sort of emotion swirling in her stomach. The same mix of concern, and love, and fury that had enconced her the day they'd taken down Hiten and Manten and had taken in Shippou. She clenched her hands against the thick fabric of her wet jeans, her blood boiling at whatever or whoever had caused this little boy so much pain.

She shook her head to clear it before focusing back on the boy across from her, who was still deep in thought.

She cleared her throat to bring his tawny gaze back to her. His face was stoic, but in his eyes Kagome could see the pain and the fear he was trying so hard to hide. She wanted to help him, and there wasn't a bit of hesitation in her heart as she opened her mouth and asked in her most persuasive voice:

"Would you please come back to the village with me?"

Toshiro stiffened, his eyes taking on a cautious light.

He shook his head in confusion as he asked, "Why?"

Kagome smiled openly.

"I want to help you. I promise that me nor my friend here," She gestured to the watching hanyou beside her. "Will touch you against your wishes. I can treat those wounds of yours if you wanted. And get you cleaned up and fed, are you hungry?"

Toshiro nodded his head once slowly, his uncertainty clear as he glanced back and forth between Kagome and Inuyasha.

"Am I free to go. . . After I've eaten?" The little hanyou asked hesitantly, eyes wide as if he expected them to say he'd be held captive.

"You're not our prisoner, runt." Inuyasha said with a snort.

"But I'd hope you would want to stay with us," Kagome interjected quickly. "You would always be fed, and clothed and cleaned. You would be taken care of."

"I don't need anyone to take care of me." Toshiro said stubbornly.

"Yeah, well we could use your help too." Inuyasha spoke up to Kagome's surprise. "We're youkai exterminators in a sense; we get requests to help villages and we often attract a lot of bad attention along the way because Kagome protects the Shikon no Tama. You obviously can put up a fight, pup and it blows sometimes being the only one actually capable of kicking some ass in our pack." The larger hanyou smirked down at the girl glowering at him. "So you wouldn't be getting coddled, you could earn your keep by helping us keep the baddies away."

Toshiro looked intrigued despite himself.

Kagome was astonished at Inuyasha's offer. She hadn't thought he would refuse of course, but had not expected him to try to convince the boy to stay in his own way.

She glanced up at the hanyou, and saw the same anger she felt echoed dimly in his golden eyes. Sure, he was angry that Toshiro had attacked her, but she could tell he was more angry that the little boy had obviously been treated similarly to how he had been when he was young.

"Pack?" The boy mimicked a second later, as if Inuyasha's words had just sunk in. "There are more of you?"

"Yes, we travel with a kitsune a little younger than you, a monk, and a youkai slayer." Kagome said.

She saw recognition flicker in Toshiro's eyes.

"Shikon no Tama. . .You're that miko?" He asked incredulously. "The incarnate of the miko Kikyou? The one who killed Nuraku?"

Kagome felt her cheeks pink at Toshiro's slightly impressed expression. "Yep, that's me. Though I couldn't have done it without my friends."

"And you're a brother of the fang, right?" He asked Inuyasha, gazing at him with a respect that wasn't there a second ago.

"You're damn right, I am. The better brother, too." Inuyasha grinned, his fangs gleaming in the early afternoon light.

"I heard you hacked the youkai of the Western Lands' arm clean off." The little hanyou said, childlike excitement shining in his eyes for the first time since they'd met.

Kagome thought it strange that a child would get so excited about such a thing, but before she could wonder any more about it she heard Inuyasha boast proudly at her side.

"I sure as hell did!" He said as he set his clawed hand tenderly on Tetsusaiga. "The poor bastard didn't stand a chance."

"Cool." Toshiro said dreamily, his body relaxing a bit.

Kagome rolled her eyes at Inuyasha's pride at maiming his brother, then turned back to watch the small hanyou who still looked up at Inuyasha as he recalled the story of how Sesshomaru lost his arm in their battle at their father's grave. Before Sesshomaru regained his arm after obtaining Bakusaiga of course.

Toshiro had moved to sit how Inuyasha often did; his knees apart and his small hands on the ground between them, clenched in the early winter snow.

He was completely enamoured by Inuyasha's tale, his fuzzy ears rotating in the direction of the older hanyou, showing that Inuyasha had his complete attention. She smiled a little to herself as she watched Toshiro's tension lessoned bit by bit. He was so cute, even matted with dirt and blood she cooed internally when his cheeks dimpled as he smirked at something Inuyasha said. She couldn't help herself as she reached a hand to the distracted young hanyou, intent on rubbing one of his cute little ears.

But right before she could grasp his left one his ears folded back to hide in his hair, and his head snapped in her direction. His eyes hardened immediately, a low snarl slipped between now clenched teeth.

She let out a low gasp, quickly retracting her hand back to her person as Toshiro glared at her dangerously.

"Don't. I told you not to touch me." He reminded her in a hard voice. "Not ever."

His gaze then went to the larger hanyou who had stopped his story and was watching him warily as if he would try to attack Kagome again. Toshiro shook his head quickly, as if clearing his mind before he turned his golden eyes back to the miko, all traces of the smiling child now gone from his face.

Inuyasha took a purposeful step forward, placing himself between the younger hanyou and Kagome. He cleared his throat loudly, claiming the boy's attention again as he folded his arms back into the expansive sleeves of his haori.

"So do you want to come with us or not, runt? You can stay out here and let whatever did that to you," He gestured to Toshiro's battered body. "come for you again, or you can come with us where you'd be looked after, and have a place to learn to fend for yourself."

Kagome watched from the gap between Inuyasha's legs as Toshiro weighed what the older hanyou had said carefully. The young hanyou's dark brows were furrowed as he considered his options for a few minutes, before he finally looked up to his senior, skepticism in his eyes.

He nodded slightly at Inuyasha before he rose slowly from the grass and said: "Alright. . . I'll come with you."

Inuyasha reached back for Kagome's arm to pull her up beside him as he still stared attentively at the boy who barely stood to his hip. Inuyasha then started making his way into the forest, Toshiro hesitantly walking beside him, Kagome following behind the two in relief.

"Fine, but there are gonna be some ground rules twerp." Inuyasha stated in a no nonsense tone as he walked, one of his ears turning behind him as if making sure the miko was still there. "Firstly, you will not under any circumstances raise a claw to Kagome. You do one time, pest and you're gone. You got that?"

Toshiro's eyes flicked back quickly to the woman in question, who in turn gave him a small smile. He didn't return it as he turned back to the older hanyou.

"Fine." He echoed.

"The same goes for the rest of our comrades, no matter how annoying Shippou gets or how much that perverted monk deserves it. . . don't do it. And secondly, if you're going to travel with us, and maybe even live with us, you have to do your part. That means gathering firewood, and hunting, and above all else protecting our pack."

Kagome smiled at the two, taking in the way both of their shoulders were set back proudly as they moved, the stubborn set to both of their jaws. 

She felt such pride at Inuyasha's acceptance of the boy, and she wondered again if it was because Toshiro reminded him of himself.

"Tch. I know that." She heard Toshiro say irritably to the older hanyou, who let out a, "Keh. And don't forget it, pest." in response.

Kagome's smile widened. They looked nothing alike, with Inuyasha's sharp nose and Toshiro's toffee skin, but she couldn't help but think that they mirrored one another. They were more similar than she was sure either of them would ever admit or even notice.

She wondered how the rest of their friends would respond when they came home with Toshiro. And she wondered if given time, would he learn to let his guard down and to trust them.

Chapter Text

Toshiro followed the hanyou called Inuyasha into the small village he'd seen from the hill the night before, the miko at their heels. He felt his stomach turn in knots as they walked through the busy town, wary of every person they passed. He took in the strange way humans all greeted the miko and Inuyasha, with smiles and warm greetings and even hugs, and he resisted the urge to shrink into a ball when they would pass curious glances his way. Humans were cruel creatures, ones who despised those different from them and wouldn't have a second thought about killing a hanyou. . .at least that's what she had always told him.

He shook his head quickly of the thoughts; it would do no good to think of her now. Thoughts of her brought up confused feelings of love and hatred, terror and admiration that he was not ready to face. At the moment the young hanyou had to focus on not growling or baring his fangs at the many humans who kept looking his way. He could almost feel the disgust behind their false smiles. They made him nervous, made him feel surrounded.

"Relax, pup." A husky voice said.

Looking up, he saw that it was the older hanyou who had spoken to him. His voice was soft and reassuring though he looked straight ahead and his face held no emotion. His chin was canted up with a confidence Toshiro didn't understand.

But still he felt his body relax of its own accord at Inuyasha's words, and the little hanyou wondered what it was about the other that made him feel so safe. Maybe it was the fact that he'd never met another of his kind, or that Inuyasha seemed to exude a quiet strength he had only seen once before. Whatever it was, it irritated him. He was taught that to survive he had to be cautious of others, hanyous and youkai and humans alike. Given the chance they wouldn't hesitate to put him in the dirt. He had to be vigilant, merciless, and distrustful.

Yet here he was, following this hanyou and his miko into unknown territory.

Katsumi would not be pleased.

He was brought from his thoughts when they approached a hut, one slightly larger than the ones he'd seen on their trek through the village. The miko, now ahead of them, pushed aside the dividing curtain and walked into the hut. Chatter could be heard through the opening and the smell of something that made his stomach growl furiously, but still he hesitated as he neared the door. He glanced over his shoulder and internally debated if he should just tuck tail and run, but Inuyasha's voice stopped him.

"Don't even think about it, pest." The larger male said, looking down at the smaller with a black eyebrow raised daringly. "We had a deal remember? Don't chicken out on me."

Toshiro bristled, he hated being accused of being afraid. It pissed him off even more so when it was true.

He growled at the much taller half-youkai.

"I'm not chickening out on anything." He bit out with a bravado he truly didn't feel. "What do I have to be afraid of from a bunch of stupid humans anyway."

Inuyasha snorted in response, grabbing the pup by the scraps of his shirt and shoving him into the hut as he said, "Then get the hell in there tough guy."

Toshiro stumbled into the warm space, throwing a seething glare over his shoulder at Inuyasha as all of the chatter in the hut ceased. He turned slowly to face the people gawking at him from around the room, being careful to push down his rising fear and nervousness as he looked each of them in the eyes. He would show no fear, he would not back down. . . .even if his heart was beating a mile a minute.

His alert gaze immediately found the miko -Kagome- who was sitting next to a pretty human woman with long brown hair and a soft smile. Beside the human woman was a human man, one dressed in dark monk robes with a small smirk on his face and a curious glint in his dark eyes. Next was a very old human woman with a patch covering one eye and grey hair. Taking a sniff at her Toshiro could tell that she too was a miko, though not one as strong as Kagome. Lastly was the kitsune who lay next to the old woman on his belly. He had been writing on a piece of paper with strange colored utensils until Toshiro walked in. Now he stared at him in interest, his auburn head tipping to one side, a long fox tail swishing behind him inquisitively.

They all sat around a fire pit in a loose circle, bowls of something delicious smelling in some of their hands.

Inuyasha moved to sit against a wall near Kagome as Toshiro sniffed at the enticing smelling food coming from a large pot. His tummy let out an angry growl at the mouth watering aroma.

Kagome was the first to speak into the loaded silence.

"Toshiro, I'd like you to meet Sango, Miroku, Kaede, and Shippou." She said with a smile, gesturing to each of her companions.

They let out a chorus of greetings to him and he flushed slightly and murmured an uncomfortable, "Hello." In response.

"We were just having lunch, young one." Spoke the old woman warmly. "Would ye like some stew? Sango is quite the cook."

Despite the rumbling in his stomach, the little hanyou shook his head and said a quiet, "No, thank you." Before making his way over to the older hanyou and sitting beside him in the same fashion; legs and arms crossed, back against the wall where he had clear views of everyone in the room and the door.

He instantly relaxed a little with his proximity to Inuyasha, and almost snorted at himself for his body's ridiculous reaction.

Everyone watched his movements, and for some reason looked shocked to see him chose to sit next to Inuyasha. Toshiro wished that they'd stop staring. It took everything in him not to growl at them to turn around and eat their damn lunch. The other hanyou let out a grumbled, "Keh." at their surprised expressions.

Kagome began to make two large bowls of stew, handing one off to the kitsune with a knowing smirk. Together the miko and the kit approached the hanyou duo, Kagome handing the larger bowl to Inuyasha with a light blush before returning to her seat, and the kitsune stopping in front of Toshiro with a nervous smile on his face as he held out the bowl in offering.

"When I eat all of my food, Kagome gives me pocky." Shippou whispered to the little hanyou conspiritally. "Maybe if you eat all of yours, she'll give you a box too."

Toshiro's face screwed up in confusion at the other child's words, but still he took the bowl and chopsticks and began slurping gratefully at the hearty stew as the kitsune plopped down on his other side.

"My favorite kind is strawberry pocky."

"What's pucky?" Toshiro grumbled around a mouthful of noodles.

"Pocky." Shippou corrected with a small laugh. "They're a really yummy treat Kagome brings back from her time, there are all kinds of flavors. There's chocolate, and banana, and blueberry, and vanilla. But she only lets me have them when I'm good, if I misbehave, I can't have any sweets and. . ."

He went on as if Toshiro had the slightest clue what he was talking about. But instead of responding to the strange kitsune, Toshiro continued to devour the rest of his food and listened intently to the other boy tell him about all kinds of treats Kagome and the others gave him, unaware of the adults around the hut watching them with small smiles on their faces.

Chapter Text

The hanyou made sure his expression was one of boredom and indifference while his ears listened intently to the idle chatter between the two children beside him.

He was sure that Shippou was talking little hanyou's head off, and he caught himself before he growled at the kit to lay off and let the newbie adjust to his new surroundings. Inuyasha couldn't figure out what it was about the runt, Toshiro, that seemed to make him so attentive.

It was stupid honestly; he had no reason to be so attached to the pup so quickly. Especially given the fact that the boy had tried to attack Kagome.

But still Inuyasha still noticed whenever the pup shifted slightly in discomfort, he found himself hoping that the fear would lessen in the boy's scent, and he hoped that the others would treat him kindly.

Maybe it was how bad the pup was beaten, or he saw himself in the pest, or maybe it was because Kagome wanted to care for him so he'd automatically found himself becoming attuned with the young hanyou just as he had found himself doing with Shippou all those years ago.

He flicked his golden gaze to the girl who sat surrounded by their friends, a smile on her beautiful face and her warm brown eyes sparkling as she talked with the taijia.

Inuyasha fought down the familiar pang of longing that gripped him whenever he looked at the human of his affections, telling himself once again that it was for her own good that he kept his feelings to himself; it would only hurt them both should he tell her that he loved her only for her to be whisked away back to her time once they'd found a way to purify the jewel she carried around her neck.

He sighed lowly, his ears drooping a bit at the depressing thought.

He couldn't imagine a world in which Kagome was not by his side. He'd spent almost every day with her since she'd awaken him from Goshinbouku and had spent nearly all that time denying his feelings for her.

They had scared him at first.

Surely someone like him didn't deserve someone so pure, so unbelievably good. Who was he, a male with no name or money, a lowly half breed, to lay claim to such a perfect creature.

But he could never deny the complete contentment he felt when she was near, no matter how much they railed at one another, no matter how many times he'd chased her home just to follow her through the well and bring her back.

Being with her felt right.

She filled the hole in his chest caused by his mother's death and all the heartbreak that had surrounded him regarding Kikyou. Kagome had instead filled him with warmth and a consuming love that he'd never experienced before.

Inuyasha had loved Kikyou, truly and destructively and carelessly. But he had come to realize that their love had been unhealthy, and had always, always been conditional.

In the beginning, before Onigumo and Naraku, when he had been just a lonely male who loved a miko, she had wanted him to change who he was. She was a priestess, something holy and above, and wouldn't have had him if he remained a hanyou. And he had been more than willing, had hated his half nature so much that he would have given it up for her.

In the end, her resurrection had warped what she'd felt for him, and turned that old love into a kind of burning ownership. Kikyou had despised Kagome, had tried to drag Inuyasha into Hell with her. That was not the claim of mates, not the love shared between the living. She had been vengeful, and jealous, and didn't care if she hurt Kagome when Inuyasha ran to her call countless times.

Kagome had never asked him to change.

She taught him to love himself, to be proud of being a dual nature. She had helped him ease the bitterness he'd felt toward Toga for perishing before dai youkai could teach his son about his culture, and taught Inuyasha to cherish the human compassion he had tried so hard to quell before. She cared for him even with his temper, and brashness, and occasional shows of incredible violence.

She never took a choice away from him, no matter if it broke her own heart.

He still didn't believe he deserved her.

But there was no way he could deny his feelings anymore. No way he could look her in those amazing, expressive eyes and not feel his heart gallop in his chest. She belonged with him, she was his mate, and anyone or anything who tried to take her away from him would be introduced to his Tetsusaiga, Kami be damned. His youkai blood agreed with him on this one thing and this one thing alone.

Mine.

There had to be a way to purify the jewel and stay with her. Inuyasha knew that if he had to choose between the forest he called his home with no Kagome, and the strange, loud world where she came from with Kagome that he would undoubtedly choose the latter. As long as he was with her he didn't care where they were, much less when.

But until they purified the Shikon no Tama there was no telling what would happen, and though the hanyou didn't fear much these days he did fear the unknown. Until he was sure that she wouldn't be taken away from him, he had to control himself. He couldn't let himself hope. So, he fought back his feelings the only way he knew how, the way he had back when he didn't know how to let Kikyou go, being an ass to her and pushing her away.

I wouldn't be surprised if the wench hated me by now. He thought sullenly, his ears drooping even lower.

"Inuyasha, are you alright?"

He then noticed that he was still staring at Kagome, her brow creased in concern. His face pinked as he turned his head in the opposite direction of the girl, eyes closed, chin jutted out proudly.

"I'm fine wench, why the hell are you staring?"

A huff. "You're the one who was staring, baka."

"N-no I wasn't!" His face turned a darker shade of red. "Ain't like there's much for me to stare at anyway."

He heard her low intake of breath and immediately regretted his words. Kagome's cheeks burst into an angry red and she stood from her spot, yelling a righteous, "Sit, boy!" before she huffed and stomped out of the hut.

Inuyasha smacked into the hard floor, a low growl emanating from his clenched teeth as he fought against the subjugation spell. "Oi! Don't you walk out, get back here!" He yelled after the girl, managing to rise onto his elbows though the damn necklace he wore still weighed him down.

A low chuckle sounded across the room, and Inuyasha turned his glare on the monk who was failing miserably at hiding his smirk.

"You sure have a funny way of showing affection, my friend." Miroku said, causing Kaede and Sango to giggle along with him.

"Shut the hell up, Monk." Inuyasha snapped, finally pulling himself up from the hardwood and following Kagome out of the hut with a growl.

0:0:0:0:0:

Toshiro's head tilted curiously as he looked after the two who'd stormed out of the warm wooden house. Why'd Inuyasha growl at him for speaking to the miko crassly, and then insult her himself?

Toshiro was raised by inu youkai and, though it was at arm's length, he knew that that wasn't the way one was supposed to go about courting a female. Maybe hanyou customs were different?

The humans around the room were still snickering amongst themselves, then the kitsune spoke up beside him in an annoyed voice.

"He's so dense."

"Does he always speak to his mate that way?" Toshiro asked carefully, trying not to squirm when everyone turned their amused eyes on him.

"They are not mates," Miroku corrected kindly. "Though I'm sure they would be if Inuyasha were not so stubborn."

Toshiro knew that they were not officially mated, he could smell it on them, but there was no mistaking the possessive way he'd seen the older hanyou behave toward the miko, the way the male's eyes and ears tracked her wherever she went.

He didn't say as much though, contenting himself with listening to the strange assortment of people that sat around him.

"It's not Inuyasha's fault, he does not know how to express emotion well." The old miko said.

The monk snorted. "He knows how to express anger quite well."

"And jealousy." Shippou said with a small laugh, the others joining in.

What reason would he have to be jealous? Was there another who was after his miko? Toshiro had planned on staying silent, he much preferred to observe than to speak and he wasn't nearly as comfortable around these people without Inuyasha, but his curiosity ultimately got the better of him. As it unfortunately often did.

"Is his miko seeing someone else, then?" He asked Shippou seriously, deeming the young kitsune the easiest to talk to, as he was the least of a threat should Inuyasha's pack attack him.

His mind immediately thought of the negative outcomes he could face for following strangers into unknown territory, years of suspicion and paranoia beaten into him. But despite the constant unease he felt around these people, he found himself disliking like the idea that Kagome would mate someone else. It was obvious to him that she belonged with Inuyasha.

Why he cared at all though, he didn't know.

"There's a youkai by the name of Kouga who seeks Kagome's hand. Have you ever heard of him, Toshiro? He's the wolf clan leader."

It was the taijia who spoke up. Toshiro turned his tawny eyes warily to the human woman, not at all swayed by her pretty face. He knew well what youkai slayers were capable of, and her soft brown eyes did little to make him forget.

"No. The wolves reside in the North." He said without further explanation.

"And where are you from, my young friend?" Miroku pressed.

Monks were just as dangerous as mikos. He'd only heard of their spiritual powers, but he knew that they could end a youkai's life just as easily as a slayer if not more so. But Inuyasha trusted them, and he had somehow become tasked with their protection. Surely it wouldn't hurt to think of them as people, rather than possible enemies? Would it really hurt anything if they knew?

He immediately retracted the last thought; of course, it would hurt. Katsumi would not hesitate to punish him if she ever found out, and probably kill Inuyasha and his pack if he told these strangers of her and the others' whereabouts. Powerful as this rag tag group of people may be, they would be no match for her. Katsumi made the fabled Naraku look like an ant youkai by comparison.

So, he wiped all expression from his face and gave a short, clipped answer.

"The South."

The slayer smiled. "We're traveled in the south quite a bit, any particular area?"

"Not one you'd know of." Toshiro glared at the bamboo curtain, wondering where Inuyasha had run off to and wishing he'd return so the male's pack would leave him be.

They seemed to understand his reluctance to speak and thankfully dissolved into a chatter amongst themselves, all of course but the kitsune sitting next to him who continued on as if he hadn't noticed Toshiro's tone.

"Kagome doesn't like Kouga or anything." He assured the hanyou, as if Toshiro had asked. "He always tries to hold her hands and stuff when we run into him, and never listens when Kagome says she isn't interested. The way Inuyasha reacts is so funny."

Toshiro blinked. "Why doesn't Inuyasha just kill him?"

The rest of the group seemed to stiffen at Toshiro's bluntness, but his question rolled off Shippou's back like water. He seemed perfectly at ease talking with the half youkai. Toshiro idly wondered why the kitsune let his guard down so easily around someone he barely knew.

"Kagome won't let him. You've seen what those beads around his neck can do." He chuckled before saying, "As persistent as Kouga is, she doesn't want him getting hurt. She's way too nice."

Nice enough to allow another youkai to challenge Inuyasha claim? In inu youkai culture the female is almost always submissive to the male, and any who tries to challenge the male for his mate would be killed without question. But Inuyasha's miko had power over him, and he allowed it? Toshiro wondered whether this was custom for inu hanyou, or if Inuyasha and the miko were just weird.

He figured it was the latter, as he was taught that hanyou did not have mates to begin with.

Shippou seemed to see the questions burning in Toshiro's eyes and continued talking as if the pair of them were old friends.

"Kagome is the best. She took me in five years ago when I was orphaned and has been like a mom to me ever since."

Toshiro's eyes widened slightly. A miko who adopted a youkai? This woman just got stranger and stranger it seemed. He had to admit though that he was kind of impressed, from what he was taught humans -mikos and monks especially- hated youkai. Their sole purposes were to kill them, but this group who'd found him apparently didn't think that way.

If the kitsune had been raised by these people, surely they couldn't be all that terrible.

"Don't you ever want to be around your own kind?" He asked the kit cautiously.

Shippou shrugged easily in response. "Kagome is my mother, Inuyasha is like my father though I'd never admit to him that I see him that way. Sango, Miroku, and Kaede have taught me and cared for me and protected me. They've never cared that I was different, and I've never cared that they were. This pack is my family."

The kitsune beamed at the smiling adults across the room, not one ounce of hesitation or doubt in his voice during his small speech. Toshiro's eyes wandered around the cozy hut, taking in their comfortability with one another with a furrowed brow. The kit then fell into easy conversation with the others, leaving Toshiro to ponder over all Shippou had said.

He crossed his arms over his battered chest, ears unconsciously flicking as he lost himself in thought.

Family. . . Is this what one looks like?

Chapter Text

The wind blew through the trees, the lingering scent of tears in the air causing the hanyou sulking in the God Tree to whine.

He looked over the snowy planes toward the empty Bone Eaters Well, trying with all his might to will Kagome back through it. He could always go after her and apologize, if only his pride would allow it. He hadn't meant to hurt her feelings, he never did, but if that lecherous monk and annoying kit knew how he felt they'd never let him live it down. He wasn't ready to face his feelings and, call him infantile for it, he especially wasn't ready for the kind of teasing his pack would dish out. He was sure Kagome would 'sit' him to Hell if he killed the two.

Another whine slipped between his lips, his ears folded back against his head.

He missed her.

Whenever she went through the well Inuyasha felt like the branches of Goshinbouku in the mid of winter; cold and bare. Over the years every time she went back to the noisy world she came from it felt like a hole was opening in his chest. No matter if he knew she'd return or not, the fear and panic he felt at her absence almost always left him nearly crippled in depression.

He missed her, and it was his fault that she was always running away from him. It was his fault that he always smelled sadness in her sent. He may have been dense from time to time, but he wasn't stupid. He knew that she felt something for him, had known it even when they were collecting jewel shards. And he knew that he had done nothing but hurt her.

He was supposed to protect her, not send her crying back to her time over and over.

"Kagome . . ."

"What are you doing?"

With a yelp Inuyasha fell from his high perch, landing on his back in the cold snow with a thud.

He'd been so caught up in thoughts of Kagome that he hadn't even scented the other hanyou's approach. He growled menacingly up into the large honey eyes that stared down at him in confusion.

"What're you tryna' do, give me a heart attack?!" He snapped as he pulled himself up on his elbows, shaking snow out of his ears.

"It's not my fault you weren't paying attention." Toshiro huffed, crossing his arms over the tattered cloth that covered his chest.

"Shut up, you pest."

Inuyasha pulled himself to his feet and stomped his way back toward the village, trying to ignore the pup who followed closely at his heels.

"So, what were you doing up there?"

"Minding my own damn business."

"Why'd you look all sad?"

Inuyasha flushed. "I-I wasn't sad about anything!"

He could almost hear the smirk in the younger half youkai's voice as he said, "Well you sure looked sad to me."

"Do you ever shut up?" Inuyasha snarled as he moved a snow laden branch out of his way, purposely letting it go just as Toshiro passed under it.

He grinned evilly when he heard the boy sputter and shake the freezing snow from his head.

"Hey! You did that on purpose!"

"Yeah, and?"

"You just don't want to tell me why you were sad."

Inuyasha grumbled. "Jeez, you talk almost as much as the damned wench."

"Where is your miko, anyway?"

He whirled around on the dirty young hanyou, who only blinked up at him in curiosity. His arms where still crossed loosely in front of him, his matted head tilted to one side as he regarded his senior, his cut ear flicked the remaining snow off as he waited for Inuyasha to answer him.

"She's not my miko. She's not my anything." Inuyasha blushed again. "Why the hell aren't you with the others anyway? Were you trying to dip out on us?"

He watched Toshiro turn pink under his bruises.

"No!" He barked, his round cheeks puffing a bit. "Your pack kept asking me questions. I had to get out of there before my ears exploded."

Inuyasha regarded the pup for a moment, then snorted as he turned in a different direction than the village. He didn't looking back to see if Toshiro followed as he said, "So you decided to come and talk my damn ears off? Thanks, pest."

He heard Toshiro scoff quietly.

They traveled in silence for a while before the ever-curious pup spoke up at Inuyasha's side.

"Where are we going?"

Inuyasha glanced down at the dirt and blood encrusted boy, at the way the tatters of his shirt stuck to the cuts on his chest and arms, at the hakama he wore that Inuyasha assumed had been white at one point, and he grumbled, "Hot springs."

"Why?"

"Because you stink."

"I do not stink, you baka!"

"Kami, do you ever stop talking?!"

He heard Toshiro growl lowly and he rolled his eyes.

0:0:0:0:0:

When they reached the nearby hot spring Inuyasha was assaulted by memories of Kagome; this was the closest spring to the village, and since the wench insisted on bathing all the time he'd spent hours here over the years guarding her and trying not to peek at the miko as she splashed and talked his head off.

He felt himself redden at the recollections and tried to shove thoughts of Kagome out of his mind.

He made his way straight to the water's edge, stripping off his haori and undershirt and listening to his companion take hesitant sniffs of the air around the heated pool. Smart kid, to inspect an unknown area before making himself vulnerable. Inuyasha noted when the pup deemed the area safe. As he removed the rest of his clothes Toshiro stepped almost silently up beside him, peeling the scrap of a shirt out of his healing injuries with a wince.

Inuyasha again felt the stabbing anger he had when he'd met the pup, after he'd gotten over the urge to kill him for attempting to attack Kagome. He'd met other hanyou over the years who were treated poorly -Shiori and Jinenji were still close friends of his- but never like this. As a pup he himself had been shunned, and ridiculed, and even beaten sometimes by particularly nasty villagers, but never . . . tortured.

His glower darkened as he watched Toshiro sink his bare body into the steaming water.

Not only were his arms and chest battered, but his legs and back and chest were crisscrossed with red gashes as well. His hands and feet looked huge against his skinny ankles and wrists. His ribs stood out hauntingly. Two of his claws were missing and the ones that remained looked brittle and weak.

Inuyasha laid his clothes on a nearby rock before he waded out into the water, hissing lightly against the sting of the water as he sat himself across from the pup who seemed lost in thought. They enjoyed the warmth in silence, Inuyasha idly washing the sweat and grime from his skin while Toshiro soaked his dirty hair before running his claws through it.

It was a while before either of them spoke.

"Why did you bring me here. . . really?" Toshiro asked softly.

Inuyasha threw an empathetic glance at the pup as he scrubbed at his arm pit.

He understood all too well the fear and suspicion in Toshiro's eyes.

"Not everyone has ulterior motives, pest." He grumbled softly. "And it ain't a good idea to walk around smellin' like blood. Didn't anyone ever teach you that?"

He saw Toshiro shoot him a wary look before the boy submerged himself in the spring. His black hair floated along the water's surface like ink. Inuyasha couldn't help but smirk at the childish evasion tactic, but he knew what the runt was trying to say, 'Too personal, don't ask!'

He wouldn't press too much, he knew that unless he was ready the pup wouldn't talk.

When Toshiro came up for air his cheeks were flushed, the blood that had encrusted itself on his light brown skin washed away. The black and blue bruises along his cheeks stood out startlingly against his honey colored eyes, a shade or two darker than Inuyasha's bright ones. His hair was plastered to his neck and back, his ears weighed down against his head from the water.

When Inuyasha glanced to his right ear he felt a sharp pang of puzzlement and fury; it wasn't common for a hanyou to scar. For Toshiro to have that prominent, zig-zag like wound most likely meant that whoever or whatever had done it, had cut away a part of his ear over and over until the nerves there could no longer heal. Inuyasha had a sudden, overwhelming urge to sharpen his claws on something. Only when Toshiro spoke up again did he unclench his teeth.

"Where did the miko go?" Toshiro asked in a small voice.

Inuyasha took a deep breath as he leaned back against a smooth rock, crossing his arms comfortably over his chest. "Back to her home. She's not from around here."

The pup nodded. "I've heard the stories. They say she comes from a distant land no one can follow her to except for you. Where does she come from?"

A familiar warmth filled his chest at the thought of the miko, a small smile pulling at his lips. "She comes from the future."

Inuyasha waited for the shock to show on the pup's face, but Toshiro just nodded again and waited for Inuyasha to continue. The larger hanyou sighed at the ever-curious glint in the smaller's eyes before he launched into the story of the girl from the well, and the half-youkai pinned to the base of Goshinbouku by a sacred arrow. Throughout the retelling Toshiro's attention didn't divert or lessen as one expected of a child, and he only interrupted to ask the occasional question.

By the time Inuyasha had finished their fingers and toes were pruned.

"Wow. . . I didn't know mikos were that powerful." Toshiro almost whispered, his voice awestruck.

"Yeah, she's really amazing." Inuyasha sighed again, though this time with longing.

When the hell was the wench planning on coming back? If she wasn't back by morning he was going after her.

"You love her."

Inuyasha's already flushed face turned even darker, his eyes going wide.

"What the hell do you know about love, pest?"

"I've seen love before. I know that you love her." He wasn't asking, his voice wasn't unsure.

He said it as simply as if he were stating that the sky was blue. His eyes were hard and clear, a wisdom in them that Inuyasha rarely saw in a child.

"Why aren't the two of you mated?" Toshiro pressed.

"Why do you ask so many damn questions?!" Inuyasha's threw his arms up in exasperation, they slapped loudly back into the water.

He shrugged his bony shoulders. "I can't help it."

"Nosey little brat." Inuyasha grumbled, warm up to his ears despite his attempts to look indifferent. "Things are complicated."

"Aren't they always." The pup said, suddenly sounding a thousand years old.

Inuyasha met his gaze, his blush fading to be replaced by concern. In Toshiro's eyes Inuyasha could see untold stories of pain, and an unadulterated sadness. The large hanyou felt the surge of protectiveness return, and in that moment he wanted to hunt down what had hurt Toshiro more than he had ever wanted anything. No pup should look that defeated, that weary. After a moment Toshiro seemed to realize that Inuyasha was looking in his eyes and looked away quickly as if to keep the larger hanyou from finding out his secrets.

"Let's head back to the village." Inuyasha rose from the steaming water, his muscles much looser and the smell of dirt washed away from his skin.

He heard Toshiro wade after him, and they dressed in silence. When Toshiro went to put back on the scraps of his shirt Inuyasha yanked the tattered, filthy material out of the pup's hand and tossed it aside. He threw his fire rat haori into Toshiro's confused face.

"What're you giving me this for?"

"Keh." Inuyasha pulled on his undershirt. "Do you want to freeze? 'Cuz I'll take it back if you don't want it."

He watched as Toshiro fingered the thick material of the haori, a pucker above his brows.

"I don't want your pity."

"It's not pity, runt. And I ain't letting you keep it." Inuyasha rolled his eyes at the boy's stubbornness. "It's just a loan so relax and put it on, we ain't got all day."

"Fine."

When Toshiro was done wrapping the haori around himself, the material almost reaching his knees and the sleeves swallowing his hands, they trekked through the darkening forest back toward the village.

"Inuyasha?"

The larger hanyou groaned dramatically. "What now, pest?"

He looked down at the dark-haired half-youkai walking alongside him, his cheeks were puffed out and pink against his skin, he looked toward the trees as if he couldn't meet Inuyasha's eyes.

"Thanks." He finally ground out.

"Keh." Inuyasha flushed again, looking in the other direction and trying to ignore the warm feeling in his chest that for once had nothing to do with his chest that for once had nothing to do with Kagome.

Chapter Text

Kagome sighed into her pillow, fighting to keep her eyes closed.

After a much-needed bath the night before, and Mama's home cooking, she'd fallen blissfully asleep in her plush bed. It was rare that she got to sleep in her bedroom, and though it wasn't the night sleeping under stars that she was used to, it was familiar and comforting.

Her unconscious was filled with dreams of the hanyou she'd come to love, the hanyou she sometimes wished she could get over. But she knew that she was as likely to stop loving Inuyasha as the sun was likely to rise in the West. He was always just out of reach in her dreams, drawing her in with his liquid gold eyes and getting farther away the more desperately she reached, just as he was when she was awake.

She sighed again as awareness tore through her, ripping her rudely from oblivion.

She blinked her bleary eyes a few times, shivering into her pink comforter as an early winter wind blew through her open window. She hadn't expected to stay the night here; Inuyasha almost never let her stay in her time for long without him. He usually came bounding through her window, demanding she go back to the Feudal Era and work on finding ways to purify the Shikon no Tama. When she dug her foot in he'd spend the night here with her, curled up on her floor or even sitting upright at the end of her bed sometimes. He always closed the window behind him. She sat up in bed and yawned, stretched out her stiff muscles and wondering what had kept him away.

The digital clock on her nightstand flashed 11:05 am and Kagome gasped.

She should have been back by now. Mornings started early in the Feudal Era, and Kaede was sure to be wondering why she was late for her daily miko training.

She jumped up, throwing open her closet and tossing clothes onto her bed; jeans and sweaters, not the usual short skirts she wore. Winters in the past were harsh, and over the years she learned that saving herself from hypothermia was more important than trying to catch Inuyasha's eye in her frilly skirts and thin tops.

It's not like the baka has ever noticed anyway.

She pulled on a pair of dark blue jeans, a pink turtleneck, and her worn brown hiking boots.

She shoved the rest of her clothes into the gigantic yellow bag that had managed to survive the years, along with a few books -romance for her and kindergarten workbooks for Shippou- and was rushing down the hall when a sudden thought gave her pause.

Toshiro.

When she'd found the little hanyou all he'd had on was a filthy hakama and a ripped-up shirt.

She dropped her bag in the hall and spun around to her little brother's room. Souta was fourteen now and all long arms and legs, but she was sure he still had some of his clothes from when he was younger tucked away somewhere. She pushed open Souta's door and wrinkled her nose, it smelled like boy and body spray.

He had manga strewn all over the floor, posters of cars and his favorite anime characters on all the walls around his unmade bed. She grimaced at the mess, shaking her head and made her way to his closet. Unlike her own, his clothes were in bunched up piles, pants thrown with shirts and socks and -disgustingly- underwear. She prayed that it was all clean as she suppressed a groan and dug through the mountain.

At the very bottom she found a few t shirts that looked about Toshiro's size, grabbed them up, and ran from the room as if Souta's boy germs were out to get her. She sighed as she made it back to her bag, shoving the five different color t shirts she'd managed to grab into it as well as she made her way downstairs.

As she made her way through the house she heard her mother's soft humming. She smiled, placing her bag on the kitchen table and hugging her mother's back.

"Hi, Mama."

Her mother made a surprised little sound and turned, eyes wide. Looking at her not so little girl, she smiled warmly, the skin around her eyes crinkling a little as she did.

"Hello dear, I hope you slept well?"

"I slept great, but I've gotta head back."

Her mother nodded, returning to the sink where she had been washing a pot. She'd long since accepted the fact that much of Kagome's life was 500 years in the past, as long as her daughter was kept safe and happy she was happy.

"I'm surprised Inuyasha hasn't come grumping that you stayed the night." Her mother said with a small laugh.

"I know, right?" Kagome was in the cabinets, pulling out the stashed boxes of pocky for Shippou, the granola bars for Miroku, the chocolate cookies for Sango, and the chips and ramen for Inuyasha. She idly wondered what kind of snacks their new member would like as she continued, "I'm assuming he's stayed behind to look after Toshiro."

"The little hanyou you told me about last night?" Her mother's brows raised. "Really? Since when does Inuyasha do such things? Don't get me wrong dear, he's an amazing person, if not a bit crass sometimes, but he's never been particularly fond of children has he? You always tell me that he and your little kitsune bicker like cats and dogs."

"You're right about that, but this feels different. You should have seen his face when he thought no one was looking, mama. He looked at Toshiro like he was looking at a piece of himself." She sighed, a warm feeling in her chest as she remembered how she watched him watch the children the day before.

Five minutes before she'd sat him and ran away.

She grabbed the heavy wooden mixing bowl she'd gotten for Kaede from under the sink, stuffing that in her bag too. "He's Inu hanyou, and you know we hardly ever run into any inu youkai. I feel like Inuyasha will be good for him, and vice versa. I'm hoping that'll be the case anyway."

"I hope so too, dear." Her mother's eyes softened. "I know you guys will take good care of him. Every child needs a mother and father, and you two have done so well with Shippou over the past few years. And Shippou needs a sibling, the two of you would have waited until the poor thing was full grown before giving him one."

"Mom!" Kagome's face heated. "You make it sound as if we're together!"

Her mom's face was all innocent, except for the smug glint in her brown eyes. "Well, aren't you?"

Kagome's face burned. She groaned at her exasperating mother before she slung her gargantuan bag over her shoulder. She gave her mother a quick hug and kissed her on the cheek, still red to the roots of her hair. She hurried for the front door.

"Bye, mom!"

"Be safe, honey!" She heard her call as she rushed to the well house.

Kagome was sure her mom was grinning.

She rolled her eyes, still trying to calm her still racing heart as she shifted the bag over her shoulder again and jumped into the well, the time slip opening under her effortlessly and sending her back to a place that seemed more like home.

When her feet touched the bottom of the well in the past she groaned.

How the in the world was she supposed to drag her backpack up the ladder? Inuyasha always jumped her and the bag out of the well, and on the rare occasions that she had to use the ladder Miroku had made for her she still had never had to lug the bag up with her.

She sighed, mentally preparing herself for the pain she was sure to feel in her back later and hoisted herself up the first few rungs. She grunted with the effort, finding it irritatingly difficult but too stubborn to go get Inuyasha and ask for his help; she was still kind of mad at him.

As she tried for the third time to make it up the ladder she felt the weight of the bag slide from her shoulders. She looked up, expecting to see gold eyes looking down at her but gasped when she met bright red ones instead. In her shock she dropped from the ladder, landing on the bottom of the well with an, "Oof" and a puff of dust. She looked back up at the gigantic cat that floated in the air above her, the straps of the backpack held carefully between her sharp teeth and her two tails swishing.

"Kirara!" Kagome huffed. "You scared the daylights out of me!"

The fire cat youkai growled what Kagome took to be an apology before she flew to the top of the well to deposit the bag. When Kagome didn't immediately follow Kirara stuck her head into the well, her head tipping to the side and a small grumble coming from her lips as if asking why Kagome was taking so long.

"I'm coming, I'm coming."

She pulled herself up the branch and vine ladder, and when her boots crunched into the soft snow around the well Kagome sighed. Feudal Japan was always beautiful, but the past in the winter was like another world. A thick white blanket covered every tree and rock, the serene quiet a welcome reprieve from the busy streets of modern-day Tokyo.

She took a deep breath of the clean, crisp air.

Beside her a rush of fire blazed up, the snow around it melting instantly to show bright green grass underneath. Kirara had transformed back into her smaller form. She looked up with wide eyes as Kagome hefted the heavy bag onto her back.

"Mew."

"I missed you too, Kirara. Where have you been, you silly girl?" Kagome started toward the village, the fire cat keeping pace easily next to her. Kirara mewed again as if in answer.

Lately the cat youkai had been disappearing for days on end only to show up again out of the blue as if she'd never left. Sango had nearly lost her mind when her partner went missing the first time, a whole three days without the youkai who was always with her. But as the months passed Sango became less and less hysterical when Kirara went off on her little adventures; she knew Kirara could take care of herself, though the knowledge rarely kept her from worrying.

Kagome made it to the village, and as she walked -giving absentminded smiles and greetings to the villagers who beamed at her- her eyes went instantly to the wooden house sitting all on its own; Inuyasha's hut.

He'd built it two years before, when Miroku and Sango had married. It was larger than any other hut in the village, though it wasn't really 'in the village'. It stood proudly on the outskirts, far enough away from the actual village to have a semblance of privacy in a small clear area with Inuyasha's Forest at its back.

When she'd asked Inuyasha why he'd built it he'd gotten angry and defensive.

He'd said he had a right to a house just like every other person, but Kagome knew that couldn't have been the case; he was more comfortable sleeping high in the branches of a tree than on a futon in a confining cabin. But still he'd said that it was his place to do with what he damn well pleased.

And then had had the gall to insist that Kagome stay there too.

When she'd asked why he'd barked that she'd look clingy and desperate always either sleeping in the newlyweds' home or Kaede's, and that he could better keep an eye on her from his own. She'd 'sat' him for the comment and ran home, but still her and Shippou slept in the hut most nights when they were in the village. Shippou even had his own room.

Her bow and arrows, along with her clothes, Shippou's toys and workbooks, and the extra modern-day food and healthcare supplies, were stashed away there too.

She shook her head at the thought of the confounding hanyou, pushing the bamboo curtain to Kaede's aside and stepping into the hut.

"Kagome!" A tuft of fur launched into her arms, Shippou grinning and snuggling under chin. "I missed you!"

She grunted from the extra weight he added with her bag still on her back.

"I missed you too, Shippou."

"Oi." She looked up from the kit in her arms to Inuyasha, who sat against the back wall as usual, his eyes hard. "What the hell took you?"

"I fell asleep." She snapped, already irritated with his crass tone. "Kami forbid I want to stay the night at home. If it was such an issue, why didn't you come get me?"

Inuyasha's eyes flickered to his right unconsciously before they narrowed back on her.

Kagome followed his gaze and landed on Toshiro, her eyes widening.

He was sitting with his back to the wall as well, legs crossed as he glowered down at a piece of paper he was scribbling on with a blue crayon. He was scrubbed free of blood, the black and blue spots dotting his face lighter than they'd been the day before. He wore Inuyasha's haori, it pooled around his now clean white hakama. The large sleeves were rolled up to bunches on his elbows, as not to get in the way while he colored. The cuts along his arms -and the ones shown on his collar thanks to the too big shirt- were bright pink and healing against his toffee skin.

Kagome started when she noticed that Toshiro's once long and matted hair was now cropped short and clean, the soft looking black spikes sticking out close from his head and around his hanyou ears.

He seemed not to have noticed Kagome's entrance, but she was around inu hanyous long enough to know that his ears being turned in her direction meant that he was listening.

Inuyasha hopped gracefully from his spot beside the boy to his feet, still glaring as he made his way over to her and slid the yellow bag from her shoulders. "You belong here, wench."

"With me!" Shippou piped up excitedly. Kaede chuckled by the fire pit.

"Ya shouldn't throw yourself at her like that, Shippou." Inuyasha growled. "You could have hurt her."

Both the kit and the miko tensed, waiting for him to thump Shippou on the head. But instead the large hanyou gave the kit a stern look, flicked his nose with his index finger, and went to sit himself down by the fire with Kagome's backpack.

The miko looked down at Shippou in confusion and saw, unbelievably, that Shippou's jade green eyes were watering.

His bottom trembled as he looked up at her.

"I'm sorry, Kagome." He whimpered.

She cooed, lifting him a little to nuzzle his nose with hers. "It's ok, honey. I know you didn't mean any harm."

The kitsune giggled at his adoptive mother, sniffling and leaning in to kiss her cheek before he jumped out of her arms and ran over to sit beside Toshiro. Kirara followed the kit, sniffing curiously at the new hanyou who in turn gave her an equally interested look. The two youths spoke lowly to one another, one smiling and the other with a small frown on his face.

Kagome smiled as she watched Toshiro reach a hand out for Kirara to smell and went to sink down beside Inuyasha, who didn't acknowledge her except for a flick of his ears in her direction.

Kaede gave her a look across the fire.

"Ye missed your training this morning, Kagome."

"I don't even know why she needs to train." Inuyasha snorted at her side. "I protect her."

"You can't always protect me, baka. I have to be able to protect myself." Kagome bowed to her teacher. "I'm sorry, Kaede. I'll train twice as long today."

The old miko smiled.

"Keh."

Kagome rolled her eyes, then turned to the bag between her and Inuyasha.

"I brought gifts!"

At the mention of presents she heard Shippou yelp, then heard his paws scurry across the packed floor before he jumped onto her lap. She turned and saw Toshiro make his way hesitantly over. He plopped down on Inuyasha's other side and gave Kagome a perplexed look. She dug into the bag around the squirming kitsune in her arms.

"A new mixing bowl of for Kaede."

Her teacher smiled wide as she accepted the gift. "You're much too kind."

"New workbooks and pocky for Shippou." The kit squealed, snatching up his goodies and bouncing off of her lap to show Toshiro his new things.

"A few clean shirts for Toshiro."

The little hanyou looked up in shock at the miko, his bangs falling into his big eyes. Kagome reached over Inuyasha to pass Toshiro his new shirts. He took them slowly, still looking at Kagome in confusion.

"You didn't have to get me anything." He said seriously, an odd tremble in his voice as he sat the shirts in his lap.

Kagome's heart clenched. "I wanted to. Be sure to tell me of any treats you may like, I'll bring you some of those too."

Toshiro blushed lightly, he glanced quickly to Inuyasha before he looked back to Kagome with a dip of his head. "Thank you, miko."

Kagome's heart swelled.

She was so happy that he'd accepted her gifts, and she wanted more than anything to reach over and hug him to her chest and rub his cute little ears, but she refrained. She knew he wouldn't like that, and she was determined for him to be comfortable around her. He wasn't like Shippou, who thrived off of affection. He needed his space, and hopefully he'd come to like her on his own.

She smiled warmly at him before turning back to her bag.

"Snacks and sutras for Sango and Miroku." She glanced around the hut, noticing for the first time that they weren't there. "Where are they?"

"They've gone to the slayer's village." Inuyasha said.

"Without Kirara?"

She glanced at the saber youkai, who was coaxing Toshiro into playing with her as she flicked her tails at him repeatedly. A look of concentration covered his round face as he tried again and again to nab one of her fluffy tails with one of his hands, the other held tightly onto his new clothes.

Shippou giggled and stuck a stick of strawberry pocky under his nose. Toshiro took it, a cautious look in his eyes as he nibbled on the end. A small smile pulled at his lips as he responded to something Shippou said, his cheeks dimpling as he extended his new shirts out for Shippou to look over.

The warm feeling in Kagome expanded.

"Kirara was gone when they left." Inuyasha's voice pulled her attention away from the two adorable boys.

"Oh." She turned back to her bag. "Well, I brought you ramen and chips!"

Inuyasha's ears perked comically. She handed off the treats to her best friend, who blushed and mumbled, "Thanks, wench."

"Where does Kirara go when she leaves?" Toshiro questioned Kagome's surprise, his voice more confident than before.

"No one knows," Kagome said. "Kirara is a little mystery."

He tilted his head. "Does anyone ever follow her to find out?"

"We all have our secrets, young one." Kaede said as she mixed herbs in her new bowl.

Toshiro frowned at this, before turning back to Shippou as the kit tried to claim his attention again. The saber in question laid her head on her paws as if oblivious to the people talking about her, her tails still swished against Toshiro's side as he accepted another stick of pocky from his companion.

Kagome could have sworn the youkai was smiling.

Chapter Text

Toshiro kept himself low to the ground, nose to the cold earth.

He tried to sift through the crisp smell of snow to find the earthy scent he was looking for. He'd almost caught the rabbit before but had tripped over a snow hidden tree root in his haste and lost its trail. . . again.

The hanyou bit back his low growl of frustration, leaping into a nearby bush to try to wait the creature out. He tried to ignore the strange feelings of wind and short, soft hair on the back of his neck and suddenly remembered when he'd let Inuyasha cut it. . .

0:0:0:0:0:

"No."

"Keh."

"No!"

"Stop being a wimp!"

Toshiro flushed, crossing his arms over his chest, unaware of just how comical he looked swimming in Inuyasha's haori. They were still making their way back to the village after their bath and had been walking in comfortable silence until Inuyasha had suggested he cut Toshiro's hair.

"I'm not being a wimp!" The little hanyou growled. "I just don't want your dirty hands in my hair."

If Toshiro were honest with himself he would have said that the thought of anyone touching him at all gripped him with fear and launched him back into memories of a dark, damp room.

"You look stupid with your hair all chopped up like that." Inuyasha smirked down at his companion, making scissor motions with his clawed fingers. "Just let me clip off a few inches."

"No!"

"Keh." The larger hanyou rolled his eyes, his tone turning conversational, as if he didn't care one way or another if the smaller kept his hair ragged. "It's just gonna keep growing unevenly if you leave it that way."

Toshiro puffed his cheeks in annoyance, casting his eyes into the dark trees and grumbling under his breath.

It wasn't that he didn't want it cut, he did. It was a constant reminder of a past he'd decided he wanted to forget. He just couldn't stand the idea of someone touching him. He would have cut it himself, but his claws were still too brittle to cut through a leaf let alone his hair.

Years of malnutrition had left his body weak, broken. But he was always taught that hanyous weren't meant to be strong in the first place. They weren't meant to live healthy lives, happy ones.

He'd believed that until he'd met Inuyasha, whom he'd once believed to be a myth.

He suddenly wanted desperately to be rid of his long hair, he wanted desperately to be have all ties to the life he'd known cut. He'd never before challenged the things he'd been taught to believe, but he suddenly wanted to find out for himself if they were actually true or not. He wanted to be brave and strong like Inuyasha.

"Fine."

The other hanyou blinked down at him in surprise.

Toshiro blushed as he stopped himself in front of his senior.

"Just. . . just make it quick, alright?!" He pinched his eyes shut.

"Keh."

Inuyasha circled to the back of him and Toshiro felt his anxiety rise. He didn't like people at his back. When he felt the grab at the ends of his hair he couldn't help the small whine that escaped him, despite the other hanyou's gentle hold. He tried to bite back his panic, but a barrage of memories rushed at him; mocking laughter, tugs and yanks at his scalp, razor like claws at his ear. His whine escalated and he unconsciously tensed when Inuyasha got a better hold on his raven locks.

"Pup, relax." Inuyasha said in his gravelly voice, tone soft. "I'm not gonna hurt you. You've gotta trust me."

Trust him? Toshiro didn't know the half-youkai from a pile of dirt. Why should he trust him? What made him different from them? What would stop the hanyou more than twice his size from hurting him if he so chose? Then Inuyasha suddenly made a strange, rumbling sound from the pit of his belly, not quite a growl but not quite a purr. The sound was as commanding as it was calming, and Toshiro felt his rigid stance instinctively relax a little. Before he could question the weird sound or his reaction further he felt the pressure at his head disappear with a quick 'flick' of Inuyasha's wrist.

He realized a moment later that the other hanyou never actually touched him.

He watched in amazement as ebony strands fell around his bare feet like black snow, the remaining hair on his head falling just against the back of his neck. He felt lighter, like a weight had been lifted from his shoulders in more than just a physical way.

He smiled, dimpling in his first real smile in a long, long time.

He turned to the older hanyou, surprised to see the concerned look in Inuyasha's bright eyes.

Toshiro flushed furiously, trying to push down the ridiculously grateful feeling he felt toward his new companion.

"Thanks." He grouched out, collecting himself and trying to make his face stoic again.

"Keh." Inuyasha spun on his heel toward the village, his pinked cheeks unseen in the darkness that surrounded them. "Couldn't have you walking around with me looking like that."

Toshiro smirked, walking beside him with his arms tucked into the massive sleeves of the fire rat haori and the unfamiliar breeze grazing the nape of his neck.

He somehow knew that that was Inuyasha's way of saying you're welcome.

0:0:0:0:0:

A flash of white dashed past Toshiro's hiding spot.

Toshiro growled under his breath, berating himself for his wandering mind as he took off after the retreating rabbit. It'd gotten a head start in his moment of distraction and Toshiro dived after it in bush after bush.

His frustration made him clumsy, and before he knew it he'd lost track of the crafty little creature again.

Dammit. He slammed his fist into a nearby tree, muttering angrily to himself when snow landed in his hair and ears and traveled down the back of his purple T-shirt.

He sighed dramatically, flopping onto his back in the soft white powder and succumbing to his exhaustion, if only for a few seconds. It took exactly three of them before clawed feet were next to his head.

A thud sounded as Inuyasha dropped from his perch in a tree and into the snow beside him.

"What the hell was that, pest?"

The young hanyou turned his head to look up at his mentor's scowl. His nose was scrunched up in agitation, his lips turned down in a frown.

Toshiro groaned, turning his head again to past Inuyasha and up into the branches of the trees overhead, focusing on the little specks of blue sky he could see through them and trying to ignore the disappointed glower pointed at him.

"Well?"

He flicked his honey eyes back to the other hanyou, wincing internally when Inuyasha growled. "I got distracted, okay?"

"Ya can't afford to be gettin' distracted!" Inuyasha snarled, his arms crossed tightly over his broad chest. "What if we needed food, huh? What if you were the only one capable of hunting? What if you got separated from the pack and needed to fend for yourself?"

Toshiro rolled his eyes before gazing again into the trees.

He'd been getting the same lecture for the three weeks since his training had begun.

He couldn't help that he got distracted often. He was constantly bombarded with best forgotten, painful memories, and recently with more pleasant ones. Like sleeping on his very own futon in Inuyasha's house. Or tasting crisped potatoes for the first time. Or the few challenging, but interesting, reading lessons he'd gotten from the miko Kagome. Not to mention that the only other time he'd been in the forest was when he was running through it to escape.

The sights, the smells, of Inuyasha's Forest was so unlike anything he'd ever experienced that he couldn't help but get lost in it all sometimes.

"Oi! I'm talking to you!" Inuyasha kicked snow onto the boy's face.

Toshiro sputtered as he sat up, his ears folding back as he shot a glare at the other hanyou.

He knew he had no right to be irritated with his mentor, but he'd rather be angry than acknowledge the guilt that swirled in his stomach at disappointing Inuyasha. It shouldn't have mattered what the other thought of him, he shouldn't have cared, but for some reason Toshiro felt shame whenever Inuyasha was upset with him. The longer he was around him the longer he felt this strange want . . . need to make Inuyasha proud.

He rose to his feet, scratching at his cut ear absently and avoiding Inuyasha's glare.

"I'm trying. Lay off."

"Keh." Inuyasha grumbled, stomping past the little hanyou. "Try harder next time."

"Tch." Toshiro shook snow from his person, falling into step beside the hanyou who was studiously ignoring him.

They walked along a worn trail that was becoming increasingly familiar to Toshiro thanks to their daily training and hunting trips.

In the few weeks since he'd been with Inuyasha's pack they'd developed a routine; Inuyasha would wake Toshiro from his nightmares before the sun came up, he'd take him out into his forest where they'd spend an hour mock hunting, which consisted of Inuyasha hiding bits of the miko's cloth or one of Shippou's toys and having Toshiro sniff them out, and then an hour actually hunting for breakfast.

After they caught breakfast, rarely actually killed by the younger hanyou, they would go back to Inuyasha's hut where Kagome would prepare their meal and Inuyasha would give Toshiro and Shippou a writing lesson in the room the two children now shared. Toshiro found writing difficult, but he was determined to catch up with the kitsune even though the younger child had much more practice.

Then they would sit around the fire in the main room of their spacious wooden house and eat, followed by Kagome's miko training, Shippou's goofing off, and Toshiro's continued hunting lessons.

They'd meet up with the mated humans and the old miko for lunch, and then after that Toshiro was subjected to hours of physical combat training with his sergeant of a teacher.

He grimaced at the thought of the mock battle he would undoubtedly have with Inuyasha later.

Inuyasha never really hurt him, hell he made it a point to never actually touch him, but still dodging and fending off rocks with nothing but a makeshift wooden sword was hard. His mentor was never cruel, but he was strict and never took it easy on him. He pushed Toshiro to work his hardest every lesson, to go beyond the limits placed on him by shadowed figures from his past, and limits he placed on himself. Toshiro often left training with pink spotted bruises where he'd been too slow to avoid Inuyasha's blows under his shirt.

They barely bothered him though; he'd sustained much worse injuries in the past.

Inuyasha told him constantly that be needed to prepare, that be needed to be ready and able to defend himself and the pack at a moment's notice.

But since Toshiro had taken up refuge in the village there had been nothing but peace.

"When are we going out on a job?" Toshiro pulled himself from his head, blinking honey eyes up at Inuyasha.

The large hanyou snorted, his eyes closed as he walked. "You can't even catch breakfast, pest. What makes you think you're ready for a job?"

Toshiro puffed his chest. "I can handle a job!"

"You let that puny rabbit run right under your nose!"

"I got distracted!"

"You can't get distracted, Toshiro." Inuyasha's voice took on that stern tone the hanyou pup was becoming accustomed to. "One wrong move while we're hunting rouge youkai and you or someone in the pack is dead."

"I'm not afraid. I can handle myself."

Inuyasha growled, gripping the smaller half-youkai's shoulder and spinning him around to face him.

The terror that would have gripped him three weeks ago at someone's touch didn't come, just a mild discomfort. He was only able to handle Inuyasha touching him though, the times Shippou and the monk had tried had made him gnash his teeth and had gotten him thumped.

"Are you listening to me?!" The grip on his shoulder tightened a fraction. "You can't keep disappearing into your head, pup."

Toshiro sighed, his ears drooped. "I know."

"Do you?" Inuyasha pressed. "Things aren't just dangerous for you out there. When you agreed to be a part of this pack, you agreed to protect this pack. You can't do that if you're off in Lala Land!"

Toshiro felt thoroughly chastised.

He suddenly couldn't meet the other hanyou's gaze. His eyes burned as he glared holes in the snow.

With a sigh Inuyasha released him, turning back toward the village and tucking the pup under his arm. Toshiro was momentarily surprised by the comforting gesture but said nothing about it for secret fear that he'd be pushed away.

"Just. . . just try harder. You got that, pup?"

Toshiro sniffed, wiping his nose on arm. "Yeah."

"Good! Enough of that mushy crap, let's get some breakfast."

Inuyasha pulled away from him and Toshiro watched in amazement as he turned from teacher and friend to menacing predator.

Inuyasha's expression turned calculating, his bright eyes flicking in every direction and his nose lifted to the breeze. Toshiro blinked and Inuyasha was gone in a flash of crimson, his long silver hair flying behind him as he went after something the young hanyou couldn't see. Toshiro let a smile tug at his lips as Inuyasha emerged from the bush a minute later with two fat rabbits dangling from a clawed hand.

He silently vowed that tomorrow he would catch breakfast on his own.

"Tch, show off." Toshiro rolled his eyes.

"Let's see you do it next time then, ungrateful little brat." Inuyasha snapped before he sunk down into the snow, skinning and gutting his kills with an ease that only came from someone who'd done it a thousand times.

"Tch."

Toshiro crouched in front of him as he worked, his wide eyes taking in every detail of Inuyasha's process. Inuyasha hadn't yet let Toshiro clean their kills once they were caught; he said they needed to be spotless of fur and insides or the miko would pitch a fit. Toshiro found it strange that Kagome got upset when the animals they killed looked like animals, but then again he thought Kagome was strange. Nice enough. . . but strange.

"Let's go, pest. I'm hungry."

The walk the rest of the way to village was short and fast.

The villagers they passed smiled down at him and he forced himself to nod in acknowledgement in their directions. The people of the village were happy, annoyingly so. They were always smiling, and laughing, and the children were always trying to get him to play. He didn't trust them.

He didn't trust anyone but Inuyasha.

The six-foot hanyou in question tossed aside the dividing curtain that separated his home from the outside world, pausing a second to allow Toshiro in before him before he called out gruffly to the miko that Toshiro heard rummaging around in one of the rooms connected to the main living area.

"Wench! Breakfast! Get cookin!"

Kagome came from room she and Inuyasha shared, padding barefoot across the hardwood floor of the hut and rolling her eyes as she pulled her thick black hair up into a high ponytail.

"What do you think I am, your personal cook?"

"No, stupid woman. You're my m-" Inuyasha cut himself off with a flush, glaring daggers at the boy who'd chuckled at his near slip too low for the human to hear.

"Your what? Your maid?! Well I'm not, you baka!" She huffed at the hanyou who stood glaring from the doorway. She stomped over to him and snatched the meat out of his hand before making her way back to the fire pit in the center of the room. Her death glare turned sweet as she looked to Toshiro. "Good morning, Toshi."

The young hanyou blushed at the silly nickname the miko had started calling him by a week before, nodding to her with a quiet, "Good morning."

He heard Inuyasha finally find his voice and yell back at her as he walked into the bedroom beside Inuyasha's. "Oi! Did I say you were my maid?!"

"No, but you implied it!"

Shippou was sitting on his futon, his coloring books and crayons strewn around in the sheets, his tail swishing contentedly. He seemed oblivious to the bickering coming from the main room. Toshiro smirked as he flopped down on the bed that sat on the other side of the room from the kitsune's, sinking back onto his soft pillow with a sigh as he took the picture book he'd been looking at the night before from under his pillow.

"No, I didn't! Women are supposed to do the cooking!"

"In my time the responsibilities are shared, Dog-boy!"

"Keh! I hunted it dammit, you want I should cook it and wipe your ass too?!"

Both kit and pup looked to each other across their bedroom, smiling wickedly to themselves at Inuyasha's simple-mindedness. They both knew what was coming next.

"Osuwari!"

The boys laughed, Toshiro snickering lowly and Shippou holding in his giggles with his little hands covering his mouth. His paws kicked in the air as he rolled on his futon, trying to keep his laughter from reaching the volatile hanyou that was no doubt still eating wood.

"What the hell is so funny?!" The hanyou snarled loudly, his voice getting closer. "You two better be starting on your writing lesson!"

Shippou skittered to the low table that sat in the middle of their room.

Toshiro rolled his eyes and took his time to sink into the cushion next to the kit. He knew when Kagome used her strange command that the only thing that was really hurting on Inuyasha was his pride. If he'd just mate the miko instead of constantly insulting her then maybe he wouldn't get 'sat' so much.

Inuyasha was almost to their bedroom when Toshiro's ears flicked toward the front door. A second later someone rapped restlessly on the wood of the hut before entering, the smell of anxiety reaching Toshiro even from the distance.

Shippou and Toshiro emerged from their room to stand behind Inuyasha, who glared at the intruding villager.

"Inuyasha! Kagome!" The man braced his hands against his knees as if he'd run miles to reach them. "There's been a message from a village in the Western Lands. A village has been under attack by youkai for days, their children have been getting taken!"

Kagome gasped.

She hurried to the fatigued villager to offer him a drink of water before her blazing eyes met Inuyasha's across the room. Toshiro felt her aura crackle around her, and he shivered. Inuyasha nodded to the miko, his face grim as she talked quickly and quietly to the man about details of the village and its location. When the villager thanked them with a low bow and left Kagome ran into her room, coming out seconds later with her quiver strapped to her back and her bow in hand.

Toshiro noticed then that Shippou had gone back into their room to gather a small bag of snacks and his illusion tools. Toshiro looked up at the hanyou who still stood in front of him, fear and excitement thrilling through him at the same time.

Inuyasha grinned ferally over his shoulder at the smaller hanyou.

"Looks like you'll be going on your first job sooner than I thought, pest."

Chapter Text

According to the messenger the village Kagome and her friends had to help was about four days travel on foot.

They would have made it there in half the time, but when Kagome had gone to round up the rest of their party she'd learned that Kirara had again disappeared. The fire cat had been gone over a week this time, and Inuyasha hadn't been able to scent her anywhere nearby. That meant that Inuyasha wouldn't be able to run with Kagome on her back, and that Sango, Miroku, and the children wouldn't have the luxury of riding on the transformed youkai's back.

So, Kagome packed her bag full of medical supplies and food, Sango sharpened Hiraikotsu and donned her taijia bodysuit, and Miroku grabbed a stack of sutras and his shakujou before they began their journey.

Now they were half a day toward the Western Lands, the forest alive and talkative despite the cold weather.

Miroku and Sango led the group, their heads bent in conversation, small smiles on their faces. Behind them walked a silent Toshiro, his ears twitching with every new sound coming from the trees around them, his bright yellow t shirt standing out like a small sun against his brown skin. A grinning Shippou was talking to the black-haired boy beside him, his clawed hands moving excitedly as he told Toshiro about one of the many adventures from when he and the others were collecting the Shikon no Kakera. Bringing up the rear was Kagome herself, her bow and quiver of arrows strapped to her back. Inuyasha walked at her side, as brooding as always, with a hand on Tetsusaiga's hilt.

Kagome glanced at him and was caught off guard again by just how handsome he was.

His silver-white hair blended almost effortlessly in with the snow that covered the ground and trees, the pink inside of his ears standing out in a way that made her long to rub them. Over the years his dog ears had gotten a bit bigger, stood up a bit straighter as he grew. He'd lost most of the baby like roundness in his face, his cheekbones high and proud. He had a light dusting of dark facial hair along his strong jaw and had grown to tower over Kagome.

She hadn't noticed these little changes in him, as one doesn't when they're around someone almost every day.

He'd grown from a teenage boy to a young man before her very eyes.

She wondered if he'd noticed the changes in her as well; like how she'd decided to stop cutting her hair and how it hung, thick and long, almost to her waist now. And how all the walking and fighting over the years had made her toned and strong. And how she'd too shot up a few inches, though she still only barely stood to his shoulder. And how finally -finally- her body had changed from a girl's to woman's, her curves subtle but bountiful and her bust full.

Probably not. She thought with a roll of her eyes.

Her eyes flicked to her best friend and she noted that Sango had also filled out, her frame tall and willowy in a way that often made her lecherous husband drool. Said perverted monk had grown into a strapping young man himself. Miroku's shoulders were broad and strong, his muscles almost as pronounced as Inuyasha's from years of battling rouge youkai and wielding his staff.

He too wore a youkai slayer suit under his monk robes; Sango had crafted the black and purple accented armor for him a year before from the hide of a python youkai. He was still a bit uncomfortable in the skin-tight material, deciding to wear it under his usual clothes for the protective properties they offered. He still wore the bright blue prayer beads around his right hand too, in spite of the Kazanna curse disappearing the day they'd struck down Naraku.

Kagome's eyes wandered to Shippou next.

With a clench of her heart she realized that he had also grown in subtle ways. He was taller than the kitsune she'd met five years before, though he was still about half a head shorter than Toshiro. His tail had lengthened and darkened to the orange-red color of his fur vest, the tip of it white and disappearing against the snow laden ground with each swish. His pawed feed had also grown, the prints left in his wake much larger than those of the little kit she'd first taken in.

She knew that youkai and hanyous aged much differently than humans, but those little changes made her ache for the boy who was able to sit perched on her shoulder without fear of falling off.

"Why are you lookin' like you lost a friend, wench?" Inuyasha spoke up beside her.

She turned sad eyes to him, her hands balled up in front of her.

She sighed. "Shippou has gotten so big."

"Not by much." Inuyasha snorted, readjusted the large yellow bag on his shoulder. "He's still got a long way to go."

"But he's not a baby anymore, Inuyasha." She said, her voice almost trembling. "He'll be grown up and ready to leave on his own in a blink of an eye."

The large hanyou stared at her, his brow furrowed.

When he spoke again he sounded confused.

"When we took the runt in he wasn't a baby, Kagome. And why would you think he'd leave you? He wouldn't up and leave his mother."

"But I'm not really his mother . . ." Kagome breathed dejectedly.

"Keh," Inuyasha looked away from her with a scrunch to his nose. "Stupid human. When you took him in, cared for him and protected him, you may as well have adopted him. Youkai bond strongly to their families, blood or not. He's thought of you as his mother since the day we took down Hiten and Mantin. We'll be lucky if we ever get rid of his annoying ass now."

Kagome smiled despite Inuyasha's grumpy tone, his words immediately making her feel better. A part of her also warmed at the way Inuyasha said 'we', but she decided not to mention it.

He probably hadn't even noticed the slip up.

"So, does that mean you're his father then, Dog-boy?" She teased instead.

"As if!" Inuyasha scoffed. "I can't be anyone's old man. I'm hardly someone a pup should look up to."

"Well that's not true. You're not a bad guy, Inuyasha, as much as you pretend to be. Plus, I'm sure if Shippou put his mind to it he'd become a great hunter and fighter under your teaching. Look how well you've done with Toshiro these past few weeks."

Inuyasha glared at the ground, crossing his arms into the sleeves of his haori, his face ablaze. "That's different."

"How so?" Kagome challenged.

"Cuz the pest ain't got no choice but to learn to defend himself! He's gonna be fighting his entire life over something he couldn't control."

Kagome frowned, knowing that he was right.

Even after they'd managed to defeat Naraku two years before and had saved countless villages from attacks by human and youkai alike since then, from time to time they still ran into a human or demon who belittled Inuyasha because he was not all one or the other. Luckily most knew not to trifle with him now with his reputation known far and wide, but Kagome knew that when they sometimes did encounter those harsh words that they still hurt him, no matter how much he said otherwise.

Toshiro was in for a life full of ridicule and would have to develop a tough skin, if he hadn't already.

Though Kagome sensed great sadness in the little hanyou, something told her that it would take much more than words to get under the often calm, calculating boy's skin.

Aside from their initial meeting Toshiro had barely raised claw nor voice at any of them. The few exceptions being when Shippou played around a little too much and forgot that the hanyou did not like to be touched, or when Miroku pestered the ravenette about where he came from.

She still did not know the young hanyou all that well.

But she knew that he was incurably inquisitive and very, very observant.

His deep golden eyes seemed to see everything. And though he still preferred to watch and listen, he had moments wherein he got excited about something and became very talkative and showed Kagome a glimpse of the child he hid behind his constant glower. She loved the rare times when he let himself be a kid, when he let his guard down a little and allowed himself to play cards with Shippou or hide and seek with Kirara.

She didn't know what had happened to him in his past, and she wouldn't press, but she was glad that he seemed to be much more comfortable around them now than he had been three weeks ago.

He accepted food and gifts politely from them now, whereas for the first week he'd been with them he'd been suspicious and cautious over the things they'd offer him, always wondering what they wanted in return.

He was no longer the gaunt, frail boy she'd found either; his belly had distended and now had the roundness a young child should have. His cuts and bruises had healed and disappeared all with the exception of a few especially nasty gashes that had turned to pink scars on his back that he had surprisingly let Kaede treat.

He had started asking questions more and more recently; about the moon's cycle, about her world on the other side of the well, how the villagers planted and tended to their crops, about the other lands and different people she learned about in school, and most surprisingly. . . about art.

When she'd realized his interest in paintings she'd brought back a Van Goh picture book for him from her time. He'd sworn to keep it safe and away from the villagers or any strangers. He'd come to her the next morning, his golden eyes shining in rare excitement and asking a million and one questions about the man who'd created the paintings. She'd wanted to squeeze him to her chest so bad, he was so cute with his dimples and twitching little ears, she'd barely contained herself.

She gazed now at his ramrod straight back as they walked, a small sigh escaping her lips as she made a mental note to give him the Claude Monet picture book she had left over from an art history class somewhere in her room.

Then as they walked through a large clearing she saw Toshiro's little puppy ears perk up at the same time she felt a youki approaching from the east.

It was large, and violent, and coming fast.

"Guys!" She called, pulling her bow into her hands as she faced the trees.

Her friends moved quickly into action, all except Shippou who ran to cling onto Kagome's leg and Toshiro who just stared wide eyed at the tree line.

Inuyasha pulled Tetsusaiga from its sheath in a sweeping gesture, stepping in front of Kagome and calling over his shoulder.

"Oi, monk! Get your ass up front, it's time to play." He said, never taking his eyes off of the trees.

"It's been quite a while since we last fought, Inuyasha." Miroku smirked, twirling his shakujou. "I hope you can keep up."

"Keh." Inuyasha cracked the knuckles of his free hand. "I'll end up saving your sorry ass, no doubt. You may as well hang back and protect your wife and Kagome."

"His wife," Sango spoke up, stepping up between the men with her Hiraikotsu at the ready. She pulled her slayer's mask over the lower half of her face, her voice becoming muffled by the thick metal. "Is more than capable of protecting herself, thank you."

Kagome stayed behind her bickering friends, placing herself in front of the children and swallowing back the drop in her stomach that always came with an incoming battle.

She notched back an arrow just as a massive bear youkai lumbered into the clearing.

"Cease your incessant babble." The youkai grumbled impatiently.

It was in its humanoid form, its enormous fur covered body upright and standing at least seven feet tall. It's human looking hands ended in long, red stained claws.

"Give me the Jewel of Four Souls, before I end your pitiful lives."

"As if we'd give the Shikon no Tama to a weakling like you."

The youkai turned its glowing yellow eyes on Inuyasha. "Do not speak to me, half breed. Your very existence is born of weakness."

"Keh." Inuyasha rolled his eyes. "That was original."

Sweat beaded on Kagome's forehead when the youkai looked to her, his eyes zeroing in on the jewel dangling around her neck. She aimed her arrow at its heart in warning, her arms tense and hands steady. Her power surged up inside her, crackling and buzzing and waiting to be released.

"Leave now youkai, before we are forced to kill you." Miroku spoke up calmly, pulling the bear's attention away from Kagome and the children.

It laughed. A deep, rumbling laugh that shook the trees that surrounded the expansive clearing. "You, slay me? I thought that monks were meant to be peaceful."

Miroku's mouth twitched. "I tend to get a bit cross when someone threatens my family."

"Maybe I won't kill the wenches," It shrugged it's hulking shoulders. It's eyes raked slowly over Sango and then Kagome in a way that made the miko's lip curl. The youkai noticed her disgust and smirked, pulling at its lips and showing the razor-sharp teeth behind them. "Maybe I'll take them for myself and use them the way human women ought to be used."

Inuyasha growled dangerously. His grip on Tetsusaiga was so tight his knuckles bled white, his ears were laid back against his head. Kagome risked a glance at him and almost started when she saw his eyes flash red quickly and jagged purple marks appear on his cheeks.

In a heartbeat his youkai markings disappeared, his eyes turning back to their familiar gold though the fury there did not lessen.

"Hella nasty, bastard. I'll gut you like a fuckin fish if you even look at her again." He snarled, his voice more beast than man.

"Is she yours, hanyou?" The youkai looked amused. "What is a thing like that doing trifling with a thing like you?"

Despite the situation Kagome felt her face burn.

Inuyasha's growl deepened.

"Come find out." He taunted.

With a roar the bear lunged across the space between them, a massive paw aiming for their huddled group. Kagome and the others scattered, jumping out of the way of the youkai's attack just as it connected with the ground and sent snow and rocks flying.

0:0:0:0:0:

Toshiro pulled himself up from the ground with a wince, the snow and dust around him settling. He'd just managed to dodge the bear's claws, and his elbow ached from landing on it.

He looked around the clearing, anxiety filling him when he found the rouge youkai righting himself where the pack had stood just seconds before.

He saw that Sango and Miroku stood on one side of the bear, their weapons readied and their faces hard. Inuyasha stood on its other, with his sword held in both hands and a constant growl streaming from his clenched teeth. Kagome and Shippou were nearest to Toshiro, now at the bear's back.

The miko quickly pulled herself from the snow and dirt, her eyes flickering to them to ensure that they were alright before she scrambled to find her fallen bow.

Shippou rubbed a sore spot on his head as he sat up.

Toshiro was momentarily surprised at the relief he felt at finding that they were all unhurt. He shook his head, chastising himself. He needed to focus on the enemy. It was talking to them again.

"The lot of you are quite agile for a bunch of mortals and half-breed scum." The youkai hummed conversationally, it's claws lengthening at its sides despite its almost entertained tone. "If you all were full-blooded youkai you might have actually been a threat."

"I'm a full-blooded youkai, you baka!" Shippou snapped reflexively, his hands going to cover his mouth a second later when the bear turned it's glare on him.

"That you are, little fox." The bear fell to all fours, slowly stalking toward him. "And you will make me a fine pair of gloves."

"Shippou, you idiot!" Inuyasha called from behind the youkai, running to keep up with it as it gained speed, racing toward the two children who stood unprotected.

Toshiro quickly judged the distance between the bear, Inuyasha, and Shippou, determining that the older hanyou wouldn't make it to the kitsune in time as the beast ran with determination at the trembling kit. The humans were racing to intercept the youkai as well, calling out for Shippou to run. The miko had found her bow but searched frantically in the snow for an arrow a small distance away. None of them were going to make it in time.

Toshiro's body moved before he gave it permission to.

With a second to spare the hanyou leapt in between Shippou and the rouge youkai, managing to rake a clawed hand down the left side of its face at the same time the bear's intended strike to Shippou tossed him across the clearing like a rag doll. He cried out as he smacked into a large oak, pain blossoming in his side where the youkai's claws had punctured his skin.

He struggled to sit up, his left ankle aching from landing on it.

The youkai turned to him in annoyance, its left eye closed and swollen, four deep red gashes running from the fur above its eye to its chin and dripping blood into the snow.

"That all you got?" Toshiro smirked around a shuddering breath, a hand pressed against the blood soaked and shredded side of his shirt.

He struggled to stand, using his free hand to support himself against the tree but crumbled to one knee as his ankle screamed in protest.

"Insolent half breed!" The bear snarled, going to charge for Toshiro before a flash of crimson landed in its way.

"You stupid pup!" Inuyasha barked over his shoulder as he brought his sword down on the youkai, cleaving off one of its hands and ignoring when it roared in pain. "You could have gotten yourself killed!"

Toshiro winced as his wound throbbed with the beat of his heart, casting a thankful glance at the unscathed Shippou before he snorted at his mentor. "I'm alive, aren't I?" he said even as his blood dripped into the snow.

"Toshiro!" Kagome ran to him, Shippou on her heels. She slid onto her knees through the snow to his side, her eyes wide and panicking. Her hands moved around uncertainly, wanting to help but not wanting to upset him with her touch. "Are you ok?!"

"I'm fine." He mumbled around a wave a pain.

The wound didn't matter, he'd begin healing soon. All that mattered was that Shippou was safe. Through his pain he wondered at the worry he'd felt. What had made him rush to protect the other child? He wasn't even sure he liked the kitsune, never mind trusted him. And yet his first instinct had been to put himself in danger before allowing the younger boy to be hurt.

He pushed thoughts of him turning soft to the back of his mind, focusing on watching the rest of the battle and keeping his breathing steady.

The youkai was swinging its remaining hand around wildly, its furious roars shaking the snow off of the trees as Inuyasha and the humans dodged its attacks again and again. Kagome's concerned voice turned into a dull thrum in Toshiro's ears as he watched Inuyasha's pack fall into a nearly flawless synchronization.

Sango jumped high above the beast, throwing her Hiraikotsu expertly and landing in a graceful crouch as it turned end over end through the air, slicing cleanly through the rouge youkai's other paw just as it attempted to strike Inuyasha. Miroku swung his shakujou in a wide arc, sweeping the wailing youkai off its feet as Inuyasha raised his blade above his head, his back tense and the mighty fang gathering wind around it.

"Kaze no Kizu!" He bellowed, slamming the sword down into the ground as blinding waves of energy raced from the fang and toward the bear, leaving melted snow and gouged earth in its wake.

The rouge youkai was enveloped instantly in the attack, its dying yowl echoing through the clearing. When the Wind Scar dissipated all that was left of the bear was a pile of dust that blew away in the breeze.

Toshiro's awe at their skill was short lived, as a shadow almost immediately moved to stand over him.

Inuyasha glared down at him furiously, his voice like a whip.

"What the hell was that, pest?!"

Toshiro winced, from his mentor's tone as well as from his side throbbing.

"I was protecting him." He panted defensively, casting an annoyed glance at the miko who still fussed over him.

The monk and the taijia jogged over, covered in a light layer of sweat.

"That was very brave of you, Toshiro." Sango said as she pulled her metal mask from her face and tied it to her sash, her lips turned upward in praise.

"Don't fuckin' encourage him!" Inuyasha snapped at her, his hands fisted on his hips. "He could have died!"

Shippou stood beside the young hanyou silently, his eyes wide and afraid at the blood covering Toshiro's side. He wouldn't meet Toshiro's eyes, his own ducking a second later in shame. Toshiro wanted to be annoyed with him, but all he felt was relief that the other boy was unharmed.

"He did what we all would have, had we been close enough." Miroku said reasonably. He turned to Toshiro, nodding to him gratefully. "You did well, my young friend."

Toshiro found the energy to blush at all the compliments, even with his side and ankle still in smarting.

"Keh." Inuyasha grumbled. "It was stupid. I would have made it."

"Enough, Inuyasha." Kagome warned, her voice holding that dangerous 'I-will-sit-you-to-Hell' tone. "Please hand me my bag, his wounds need to be bandaged."

Toshiro felt panic rise within him when she reached for him, momentarily pushing his pain to the back of his mind.

"No!" He flinched away from her outstretched hand, a flash of guilt assaulting him at the hurt expression in her eyes. "I. . .I-"

"It's fine, wench." Inuyasha mumbled, taking the yellow bag from Shippou who had dragged it over. "I'll get him patched up. Go help the others set up camp for the night."

Kagome nodded with a clear of her throat, not meeting either of their eyes as she followed the others away.

Inuyasha hunkered down next to Toshiro, digging through the massive bag and grumbling to himself about 'impulsive pups'. Toshiro was confused, he thought that Inuyasha would be happy that he'd protected the kit. Everyone else seemed proud of what he'd done. He looked from the rest of the pack who were gathering firewood, to Inuyasha who was now glaring at him.

"I don't understand." Toshiro said as Inuyasha gripped his wrist, tossing his blood-stained hand away from the gashes on his side. Toshiro hissed as the movement pulled at his side. "I thought you wanted me to protect the pack."

Inuyasha wouldn't meet his eyes, busying himself with pulling little bottles out of the yellow bag as he grumbled, "I do."

"Then why are you upset with me?"

Inuyasha motioned for him to take off the ruined t shirt and Toshiro did, groaning lowly as the deep scratches stretched and he still waited for an answer.

He didn't get one right away.

Inuyasha sprayed something stinging into his wounds and Toshiro winced. He didn't need stitches, as his skin was slowly knitting itself back together already, but Inuyasha dabbed away the drying blood and dirt with a fluffy piece of cotton. Then the male slapped a large white patch on Toshiro's side to stop the bleeding and Toshiro yelped and glared at him. Inuyasha paid him no mind as he moved to smear a strange smelling goo on his ankle, the pain in it numbing a bit as he wrapped what Kagome called an 'ace bandage' around Toshiro's injured ankle, his brows furrowed and his lips downturned.

Toshiro hissed his impatience when Inuyasha pulled the bandage a bit too tight, frustrated that his mentor was pissed off when he'd thought he did a good thing.

"Well?" The boy pressed, flexing his foot when Inuyasha sat back to eye his handy work.

The older hanyou sighed, waiting until he was finished putting away the rest of the medical supplies before he spoke.

"I'm not upset with you." He said, his voice quiet.

"But you yelled at-"

"I yelled at you," He cut the younger hanyou off, his golden eyes bright and hard in the dying sunlight. "Because you put yourself in danger. It was stupid and. . . I thought you fuckin' died or something when you went slamming into that tree."

Toshiro's lips parted, his eyes going wide at the revelation. His voice was disbelieving. "You were worried about me."

"Keh." Inuyasha snorted, his ears folded back, and his face flushed. He dug into the bag and pulled out another of Toshiro's t-shirts for him to put on, throwing the red shirt into the younger inu-hanyou's face. "Don't scare me like that again, you little pest."

Toshiro beamed, a warm feeling filling his tummy to the brim as he carefully pulled on his shirt. He nodded to the male, still unbelieving that Inuyasha had cared enough to fear for his safety. No one had ever cared what happened to him before.

He struggled to follow the older hanyou to his feet, stumbling a bit when his ankle shook. Inuyasha's hand shot out to steady him, latching onto his elbow to keep the pup from falling on his behind. Toshiro shot him another surprised look, trying to smother his grin unsuccessfully at Inuyasha's flushed cheeks.

"Keh. Clumsy pup." Inuyasha grumbled, shouldering the yellow bag and making his way toward their companions who now sat around a fire in the middle of the clearing.

The male looked to the younger over his shoulder, his voice gruff. "Are you coming pest?"

Toshiro used the tree splattered with his blood to steady himself, taking in the rag tag group of people who kept shooting him smiles across the space between them.

Shippou had saved him a seat in their circle, his green eyes huge and grateful to his friend. Miroku smirked at him before responding to something his wife said, her impressed grin making Toshiro uncharacteristically want to thump his fist against his chest. Inuyasha settled into the dirt beside the miko, thumping Shippou on the head for his foolish outburst before he leaned over to whisper something in Kagome's ear. Then she too gave Toshiro a small, shy smile across the clearing. She beckoned to him with her hand at the same time Inuyasha called out again impatiently.

"Let's go, pup!"

Toshiro sighed, the tingling in his stomach spreading to the rest of his body.

He'd done a good thing, and he realized with a smile that he'd do it again if it meant that he could keep this warm feeling. It was nothing like he was used to, and nothing he wanted to give up.

He pushed himself off of the tree, dimpling at the unimaginable thought that he had saved someone. Even as his side ached, and his ankle throbbed from his weight. He had saved someone.

He limped toward his friends, grinning wider as Miroku got slapped across the face and Inuyasha and Shippou began to bicker. His voice rang out proud and confident for the first time in his life.

"I'm coming!"

Chapter Text

Shippou was conflicted.

As he and his pack moved through the forest he was uncharacteristically quiet, lost in his thoughts.

On one hand he felt shame for his outburst the day before. He'd distracted Inuyasha and the others from the fight and had put them all in danger. He'd cowered when the bear youkai had come for him, and because he had been too terrified to defend himself Toshiro had gotten hurt.

But on the other hand, a part of him was glad he'd frozen up. Not because he was proud of his actions or happy that his friend was hurt -definitely not that- but because the altercation seemed to have given Toshiro a confidence he didn't have before.

Usually during dinner Toshiro would sit a bit apart from the rest of them. He'd eat quietly and watch them with those piercing eyes of his, never saying a word.

But last night after Inuyasha patched him up, he'd limped over with a wide, fanged smile the kitsune had never seen before. He'd sat down next to Shippou almost happily and had actually laughed at one of Miroku's stories. Even bruised and bandaged he didn't brood, he didn't scowl, he didn't glare at Shippou for sitting too close or blame him for his wounds. If anything, he seemed to be proud of his injuries, more alive than any of the others had seen him thus far.

Though he did get irritated when Inuyasha had forbid him from joining the hunting trip for dinner, he accepted the older hanyou's order with surprisingly little argument. He knew he was in no condition to keep up.

The most surprising thing though had been when dinner was done, when the fire had died down to embers and Kagome had sent Shippou and Toshiro to bed.

When they were in the village it'd taken a week to convince Toshiro to sleep in Inuyasha's hut instead of outside at the base of a tree, his back straight against the bark and his ears high and alert even as he slept. He'd refused to be in such an enclosed space with one exit, he'd refused to sleep in the same room as someone else, even if it was Shippou.

When Inuyasha had finally convinced him that it'd be safer inside than out still he'd insisted that his bed be as far as possible from the other child.

So, it was as Kagome was tucking Shippou into his pallet for the night that Toshiro had shocked them all when he'd hesitantly approached them.

He'd met Kagome's eyes, as if afraid he'd be told to go away, and when she'd smiled at him he blushed and crawled onto the pallet beside Shippou, pulling the blankets up around his shoulders and placing his back against the kit's in an almost protective gesture without a word.

The others had collectively stopped breathing, shocked that he'd willingly put himself so closely to another. He never allowed himself to sleep near anyone else.

He never allowed anyone but Inuyasha to touch him.

Tears had risen in Kagome's brown eyes. She'd quickly wiped them away before they fell and moved to sit at the base of a nearby tree. Miroku had wrapped an arm around his wife's waist, pulling Sango closer to his side as they watched the boys with almost longing expressions. Inuyasha sat perched in the branches of the tree above Kagome, the corners of his lips tilted up and his eyes moving from the drifting boys to Kagome with a look of almost peace.

Shippou had smiled to himself, snuggling deeper into the warmth of the covers and the boy at his back, curling his tail around Toshiro's injured ankle in a silent thank you.

He'd never had someone his age to look up to. And though he often played with the other village children he had never had a true friend. Before Shippou fell into comfortable unawareness he couldn't find it in himself to regret his cowardice. If it meant that he and Toshiro would become friends, even family, he'd do it again without a second thought.

He'd always wanted a big brother.

"Are you listening?" Someone said beside him.

Shippou shook himself, bringing his head back to path they were walking along and the young hanyou who looked at him in annoyance.

"Sorry." He said sheepishly. "What did you say?"

Toshiro rolled his eyes. "And Inuyasha calls me absentminded "

Shippou's eyes widened. "Did you actually just make a joke?"

"I'm not made of stone!" Toshiro's cheeks turned pink.

"You could have fooled me."

"I can be funny." The other child grumbled, his ears folding back against his head.

"Oh yeah?" Shippou challenged, his jade eyes gleaming wickedly. "Prove it!"

Toshiro's face hardened in determination.

After a moment of glaring at the kitsune he slowly moved to press two clawed fingers to his nose, pushing his nostrils up before he snorted loudly like a pig. Shippou burst into disbelieving laughter, gaining the attention of the adults that walked in front of and behind them.

They all smiled at the cackling boy and his still snorting companion without comment.

Shippou hadn't expected the hanyou to do something so silly and completely out of character. He wiped the corner of his eye and laughed harder when Toshiro's ears folded down to further sell his pig impersonation. When the kitsune was finally able to catch his breath, Toshiro looked smug.

"Told you I'm funny." He said as he crossed his arms, his puppy ears twitching as they perked back up.

"Yeah, looking." Shippou grinned a moment before he startled, suddenly worried he'd offended the other hoy.

Toshiro smirked at him, no trace of resentment held in his honey eyes. "Says the baka with the bow in his hair."

Shippou gaped before bursting into laughter, his tail brushing against the back of Toshiro's legs as it moved happily. He wanted to shove his friend playfully for the jab, but he refrained, not willing to push the half-youkai too far.

Toshiro had been nice to him all day.

He was always polite, cordial, but today he was nice. Helping Shippou put away his pallet, letting him see his prized picture book that he kept tucked into the waist of his hakama, and actually engaging in conversation instead of Shippou talking constantly at him and receiving only grunts or glares in response.

He wasn't about to push him; this new pleasant Toshiro could disappear at the drop of a hat and Shippou had pulled teeth and risked his life to get this far.

"You should start training." Toshiro said conversationally, his arms still folded over his bright red t-shirt.

"Why would I do that?"

The tawny color in the hanyou's eyed froze in a second. In less time than it took to blink all of the hesitant friendliness bled from Toshiro's eyes to be replaced by a cold, clinical glare.

"You didn't defend yourself yesterday. You were reckless. You were afraid and allowed that fear to become weakness." He said sternly. "You could have been killed."

Shippou winced, a new wave of shame washing over him.

"You're right. . . I want to, but I-I'm just not sure I'd be much of a fighter. I've never been much help in battles besides using my illusions as distractions. I can't even hunt."

"Then train with Inuyasha and I." Toshiro shrugged easily, some of the frigid tenseness fading from the set of his shoulders. "You'll learn. You're more than capable."

"You really think so?" Shippou looked up through his auburn lashes, insecurity swirling in his tummy.

Toshiro shot him a quick glance, his eyes still hard and serious and his voice flat. "I don't say things I don't mean."

"I-I'll think about it." Shippou mumbled uncertainly and looked over his shoulder at Inuyasha, who only smirked at him.

0:0:0:0:0:

"Shippou wants to train." Inuyasha said lowly to the woman beside him.

Kagome gasped, her brown eyes bright. "How do you know?"

He jerked his chin to the two boys, one beaming and the other with a small smile on his face. Inuyasha had, of course, heard their entire conversation and he couldn't deny how proud he felt at Shippou for wanting to step up, and at Toshiro for encouraging him to do so.

"He's unsure still. But he'll do it, and he'll be fine. He just needs to be a little more confident in himself."

"That's great!" Kagome clapped, grinning over at him. "They'll be kicking youkai butt in no time!"

"Don't chew it to death, wench." Inuyasha rolled his eyes. He would never admit it but, the thought of Shippou and Toshiro facing a youkai, even accompanied by him and the others, set him on edge. They were nowhere near ready to see real battle yet. They were still so vulnerable. "The pest still has trouble with just rabbits, and the runt ain't got no real training at all yet. Let's just get them through this job first. "

"Look at you, being all protective." She grinned, reaching over to tweak his ear and ignoring when he flushed and tried to jerk away. "If I didn't know any better I'd say the big bad hanyou has a soft spot for kids."

"Good thing you know better." He grumbled.

Kagome giggled and Inuyasha reveled in the sound, in the fact that he'd been the one to make her laugh. Something in his chest clenched when she smiled at him. He allowed himself a small smile, his worry about the pups taking a backseat as he physically held himself back from brushing a flyaway strand of hair from her face. Kagome's shoulder brushed against him as they walked, small jolts of electricity shooting through him with each unintentional touch.

His instinct to claim her came at the most unexpected times.

When she smiled dazedly at him when he pulled her from one of her daydreams, when she cried over the sick and injured, when she yelled at him for something stupid he'd said. His need to provide for her, to protect her, to have her was sometimes almost too much to bare. He fought with himself every day for control, and as they drew on he found it more and more difficult.

The jewel around her neck gleamed in the afternoon light, mocking him. He frowned at it, his hands closing into fists. He tore his gaze away from her with a look of disgust, glaring at the ground and cursing himself and the damn thing keeping him away from his mate.

There may have been a time when he'd wanted the jewel for himself, but now he just wanted it gone.

Kagome noticed his sudden change in mood and quieted, her brow creasing in hurt before she too looked away with a small sigh. Inuyasha could smell the sudden salt in the air and he knew she was fighting back tears. Her aura beat against him accusingly, heavy with the weight of his rejection.

This had to stop.

He couldn't keep up this indifferent act much longer.

They needed to purify the jewel before he pushed her away one too many times. . . And she decided that he wasn't worth the effort anymore.

He almost whined at the thought.

"Ka-"

A familiar stink drifted across his nose at the same time Kagome stiffened beside him, his mouth snapping shut around her name and her eyes suddenly far away.

They both felt the youki moving toward them.

The contained, arrogant aura that surrounded the youkai caused Inuyasha's own to rear up in agitation. The children had stopped in front of him, Shippou rolling his eyes and Toshiro frozen in what smelled like shock. Inuyasha didn't have time to debate why that was before his bastard of a brother emerged from the trees.

The Lord of the West moved with a grace that annoyed Inuyasha to no end.

His armor shone in the patches of sunlight that broke through the trees, his steps careful and measured. His boots somehow made no sound as he crunched through the snow. He walked between Sango and Miroku without a glance at either of them, his imp and human girl at his heels.

Jaken looked irritated as usual, his large eyes narrowed.

Rin beamed at them all, her eyes especially bright when she looked to Shippou and curious when she took in the still hanyou at his side.

Sesshomaru stopped a few feet away from his half-brother, his eyes cold and his lip already curling.

"Half breed." He said by way of greeting.

Ever since Sesshomaru had assisted them in slaying Naraku Inuyasha and the dai-youkai had had an uneasy peace.

They didn't fight as much, unless the bastard mumbled one too many snide comments or if Inuyasha felt like getting a rise out of his stupid face. On some occasions the youkai would appear in the village out of the blue, leaving Rin in Inuyasha's and Kagome's care for days and sometimes weeks on end while we went off to handle whatever business required the Inu no Taisho's attention.

Though that seemed neglectful to some, Inuyasha knew that Sesshomaru did so to protect her and that him leaving his human ward with them was as close to trust as his brother would ever get.

Inuyasha took a step closer to Kagome instinctively, placing a hand on Tetsusaiga's hilt as he nodded. "Bastard."

"What brings your stench into my lands?"

Kagome cleared her throat, "We're going to a village on the Southern end. Our helps been requested there."

"Apparently a band of youkai has been abducting their children for weeks." Miroku added from his place beside his wife.

"Hn."

"You guys ain't gotta explain yourself to him. If the bastard was any real Lord we wouldn't have to come here and clean up a mess in his own territory."

Sesshomaru looked down his straight nose at him, his moko-moko sama and long silver white hair flowing in the breeze. "I care not for the matters of humans."

"Keh." Inuyasha stared pointedly at Rin as she and Shippou talked quietly. The kit gestured to Toshiro, but he wasn't giving either of them an inkling of his attention. "Coulda' fooled me."

When Sesshomaru followed his brother's line of sight his eyes immediately went not to his adopted human, but to Toshiro, who still stared wide eyed at the dai-youkai with his hands clenched into fists at his sides.

Their gazes held for all of two seconds, but in those two seconds Inuyasha felt Toshiro's youki quiver, smelled fear and anxiety pour off of him in waves. His brother's cheek twitched as he stared at the young hanyou before he turned back to Inuyasha, looking almost bored. Something in his expression made Inuyasha uneasy, the uninterest in his amber eyes almost seeming forced.

Before he could ask his bastard of a brother what was eating him the imp at his feet screeched.

"Milord! Milord!" He waved his staff of two heads at Toshiro, who growled dangerously at the small youkai in return. "Isn't that-?!"

Sesshomaru placed a booted foot firmly on the frog youkai's neck, effectively squashing him and cutting off his tirade. Inuyasha raised a brow as the others looked between the hanyou pup and the Inu no Taisho.

Toshiro seemed to squirm nervously under their stares.

Sesshomaru stared carefully blank eyes at his brother.

"Do you two know each other?" Sango asked, her brown eyes wide and curious.

The dai-youkai scoffed quietly. "Be not a fool. This Sesshomaru knows not such filth."

Inuyasha growled, his curiosity drowning in his sudden fury. "Watch your mouth, before I watch it for you fucker."

"Profanity is used as a means of expression by lesser beings, Inuyasha. So, it surprises me not that you'd resort to such uncouth language."

The hand on Tetsusaiga twitched. "Don't you ever insult Toshiro. Try it and I'll rip off your arm again."

"Do you wish to challenge me, baka? Over the honor of a worthless welp?" The Inu no Taisho's demon marking grew jagged, his eyes turned pink. He moved a hand to rest on his own sword, Bakusaiga. "If you think so little of your life, This Sesshomaru will end it for you."

Inuyasha felt his hackles rise.

He didn't care if his ass of a brother insulted him, but at the disrespect of Toshiro something deep and instictuall inside him called for blood. He felt red begin to bleed into his eyes with the beat of his heart, his markings surface on his skin. His youkai demanded retribution for the slight against its kin. No one insulted what belonged to Inuyasha. Not his mate, not one of his pups. The beast inside of him paced angrily, begging to be released and to tear into who had dared disrespect what it'd claimed.

His grip tightened on his fang, his lips pulled back to bare his lengthened fangs.

Before he could draw his sword Kagome stepped in front of him, blocking his way to his brother and making the feral thing inside of him all the more furious.

"Cut it out, you two!" She demanded, whipping her hand back and forth to glare at each brother and placing a hand on both of their chests, attempting to push them apart.

Neither moved an inch.

Inuyasha felt the fire in his blood magnify, every thought leaving his mind as his eyes zeroed in on Kagome's hand.

"Stop touching him." He snarled dangerously.

Kagome looked up at him in confusion, her hand clenching slightly into the inu youkai's haori.

Inuyasha growled and Sesshomaru looked slightly disgusted.

"Do listen to the baka. Touch not This Sesshomaru unless you wish to lose that hand, miko."

"The fuck did you just say to her?!" Inuyasha roared, gripping the hand still resting on his chest and yanking Kagome behind his back. "What, she's not good enough to touch you or somethin?!"

Amusement and. . . Satisfaction? Lit in Sesshomaru's eyes.

They faded back easily from the warning pink of transformation to their usual distant gold, the dual youkai markings on each of his cheeks returning to their usual shape.

"You contradict yourself, half breed." He turned on his heel and headed back toward the shadow of the trees, his voice dismissing. "Do what you must and remove yourself from my lands."

"Oi! We ain't done! Get back here and fight me, bastard!" Inuyasha raved, Kagome holding onto the sleeve of his haori in order to keep in from lunging at Sesshomaru's retreating back.

His youkai calmed despite his tone with his brother's distance, his eyes turned back to their bright gold, the purple markings on his cheeks melting back into his skin.

Miroku and Sango watched in amusement as the inu youkai passed them without a backward glance at his brother. Rin threw her arms around the neck of a blushing Shippou in goodbye, turning next to the stunned Toshiro prepared to do the same to him.

Seconds before she crushed the hanyou into a hug Sesshomaru called out to her.

"Rin. Come."

Toshiro seemed to snap out of his daze at the Inu no Taisho's voice. He jerked back from Rin's outstretched arms as if she were about to attack him, his eyes wide and flickering from the girl to Sesshomaru.

"But I was saying goodbye to Tosh-"

"Now, Rin."

The little girl deflated, "Yes, Lord Sesshomaru."

She followed after him, looking over her shoulder at Toshiro with confusion in her eyes. Jaken pulled himself from the snow, his staff waving around frantically as he ran to keep up with his lord.

"Milord! Milord! Please, don't leave me!"

And then they were gone, Inuyasha left struggling to reel in his temper. Kagome's grip on his arm tightened, her touch doing nothing to calm him for once. In his mind's eye he saw her hand resting on his brother's chest and felt an unreasonable rage.

He whirled on her, forgetting that his friends and the children were but a few feet away.

"Why'd you have to get in the middle of it, wench?" He barked at her. "You shouldn't have gotten involved."

"I was trying to help." Her cheeks burst in color at his tone, her hands going to rest on her hips. "Why do you always have to fight with him?"

"Why'd you have to touch him!?"

"Why do you care?!" She yelled back.

"Keh!" He turned from her, crossing his arms over his chest and his nose turned toward the sky.

"Baka!" Kagome fumed at his back, stomping a foot angrily before she walked in the opposite direction Sesshomaru had taken. "We don't have time for this."

Sango cast Inuyasha an exasperated look before she jogged to catch up to her best friend, wrapping an arm around the smaller woman's shoulders. Miroku made his way to Inuyasha's side, a small smirk on his face.

"Do you think that was completely necessary, Inuyasha? She was only trying to keep peace between you and your brother."

Said hanyou gave the monk a death glare. "Save your infinite wisdom, lech. I don't want to hear it."

He stomped off after the women leaving the amused Miroku, still blushing Shippou, and the brooding Toshiro to trail after him.

0:0:0:0:0:

The peace and quiet contentment that had filled everyone from the morning had disappeared by days end.

Since Sesshomaru's appearance Inuyasha and Kagome hadn't spoken a word to each other, Kagome choosing to walk ahead of the group with Sango and leaving Inuyasha grumbling beside his best friend to bring up the rear.

Shippou was used to them fighting, and he knew that their silly spats never lasted; they'd be back to normal in a day or two.

What worried him was the sudden change he saw in Toshiro.

Ever since the Lord of the West had shown up his friend had again become stiff, formal, cold.

He'd shunned all attempts at conversation since Sesshomaru's departure, and when Shippou had accidentally brushed his tail against him later in the day Toshiro had glared down at his appendage like he'd wanted to bite it off. The kitsune figured that maybe Toshiro had been frightened of the Inu no Taisho and had tried to assure him that he'd have nothing to be scared of as long as the others were around.

"He's really not so bad." He'd said to the silent hanyou as they ducked under a half-fallen tree. "He seems like a jerk -well, he is a jerk- but Kagome and Inuyasha would never let him hurt us. You don't have to be afraid of-"

Toshiro had spun on him, his eyes golden fire and his top lip pulled back over his fangs. "I'm not afraid of him."

Shippou had taken a step back, "O-okay."

The malice in his aura and the smell of fear in his scent had told him that Toshiro was definitely afraid of something, whether it was Sesshomaru or something else entirely.

They spent the rest of the day's journey in uncomfortable silence, Toshiro glaring at ground, his ears never lifting from his short hair.

Now they were gathered around a fire in a clearing, only a day's travel from the village they were requested to help.

Miroku and Sango sat beside Shippou, their heads bent together and their voices low hums. They were the only ones it seemed who were more or less unaffected by the anger and frustration that came off of their companions. Inuyasha had went hunting on his own again, dropping the meat at Kagome's feet upon his return before he bounded into a nearby tree to glare at the setting sun. Kagome cooked and distributed the meals without a word, sitting on Shippou's other side with her food and her back to Inuyasha. Toshiro sat across the fire, his legs and arms crossed and his clawed fingers tapping restlessly against his bicep.

His food sat untouched in front of him.

His face was screwed up, his brows furrowed as he glared at the fire unseeingly.

Shippou sighed, placing his barely eaten meal at his feet before he pulled his legs to his chest and rested his chin on his knees.

Why was Toshiro so distant again? Was it something Shippou had done? Maybe he really had been offended by the kitsune's joke. Or maybe he was upset that Rin had tried to touch him earlier. But that wasn't really her fault, she didn't know that he didn't like to be touched.

Shippou watched the older boy through the crackling of the flames that separated them, wanting more than anything to go sit beside and talk to his friend, but afraid he'd just piss him off more.

The kitsune sighed quietly again just as the monk beside him spoke up with forced cheerfulness.

"Anyone want to tell a story tonight?"

No one so much as looked at him.

Sango smiled encouragingly at her husband before she cleared her throat.

Slow eyes turned to her, everyone weary for their own reasons but expectant.

"Have I ever told you the story of how Kohaku and I defeated a dragon youkai in the Northern lands?"

Murmured no's echoed around the clearing. Miroku wrapped an arm around his wife's waist and she leaned against him as everyone waited for her to begin, but before she could Toshiro spoke up across from them.

"Who's Kohaku?" He asked numbly, reds and yellows from the fire and setting sun reflecting in his eyes.

It was the first thing he'd said since their encounter with Sesshomaru, since he'd snapped at Shippou.

Not even a bad mood seemed capable of quelling the hanyou's curiosity.

Sango smiled warmly at him, causing the hanyou to blush lightly though his frustrated expression did not change.

"He's my brother. He's currently traveling, working as a taijia himself."

"Why isn't he with you?"

"He prefers the open road, discovering new lands as he helps people. We used to travel a lot, but since we've beaten Naraku we don't do so nearly as much. He's too much of a free spirit to be held in any village, and he relishes the freedom he's regained."

Toshiro nodded at her, accepting her explanation without another word.

Sango began her story, but Shippou hardly listened. He couldn't seem to take his eyes off of the young hanyou. The kitsune sensed something off with him. Toshiro being rude, he could tolerate. Angry, he could stand. But this frustration, this nervousness, this. . . Fear was unlike what Shippou had become used to.

Toshiro didn't seem to be listening to the story either, his eyes leaving Sango every few seconds to glare in one direction or another, his fingers beating almost constantly against his arm, the black puppy ears atop his head twitching irritably. Like he was jumpy, paranoid.

It wasn't until the sun finally disappeared behind the trees that his movements stopped all together.

No one but the kitsune seemed to see Toshiro stiffen, no one saw his eyes change color quickly before settling back on a fearful dark gold. No one but Inuyasha would be able to smell the sudden anxiety exuding from the young hanyou.

Shippou glanced up at his father figure and saw that he too was now looking at Toshiro, a grim understanding in his eyes.

When the other boy's eyes changed again he rose quickly from his spot in the dirt, stumbling a little.

Sango's story died on her lips as everyone looked to Toshiro, confused.

He gulped visibly, the smell of fear coming off of him spiking before he took off into the trees as fast as he could, his still healing ankle hardly deterring him.

"Toshiro! Where are you going?" Kagome called out, moving onto her knees and reaching out a hand as if she could pull him back.

Inuyasha dropped out of his tree, landing lightly next to the miko on the balls of his feet.

"Let him go, Kagome." He said seriously.

"Was it something I said?" Sango asked worriedly, her sharp eyes scanning the tree line for the little hanyou.

Shippou rose to his feet, his paws carrying him a few unsure steps toward the direction his friend had disappeared. He couldn't be out there alone; it was way too dangerous, and he hadn't even take a weapon. Who knew what creatures lurked in these woods, what youkai or bandits could find him alone and vulnerable.

The adults around him continued to question one another, the kitsune hardly hearing their words through the worry twisting in his stomach.

"Why did he run off?"

"Where'd he go?"

"It's getting dark, Inuyasha. What if he gets hurt?"

"One of us should go after him, right?"

They continued to toss questions between them.

Inuyasha said nothing, meeting Shippou's eyes across the clearing before sending him a slight nod.

The kit's green eyes hardened in determination.

While the others were distracted he quickly grabbed Sango's wakizashi from where it lay in the snow and took off after the other boy. As he made it into the cover of the trees Inuyasha's steady voice reached him.

"Toshiro hasn't gone far. Shippou will handle it."

And he would.

His grip tightened on the blade in his hand, and he swore to himself as he sniffed out his friend that tonight he would be the one to protect Toshiro. He would be the one to keep the bad things away, he would be the one to offer reassurance to his friend during his night of vulnerability.

Shippou's nose led him to a small cave not a quarter mile away from their camp. It was nestled against a snow-capped hill, inside he felt Toshiro's weak youki becoming harder and harder to sense as the half-moon rose in the sky. The kitsune padded carefully to the mouth of the cave, sniffing around for any predators before he stood at its entrance, staring into the darkness.

"Toshiro?"

He heard a low gasp from inside the cavern, and the smack of bare feet against rock before his friend came partially into the light.

Half of his face showed, the other shrouded in shadow.

One dark blue eye blazed in disbelief and fury. His dog ears were gone, a small human ear just visible under his black hair. He bared his teeth at the other boy in warning even though his fangs were no longer there. When he spoke, he sounded the angriest Shippou had ever heard him.

"What are you doing here?"

Shippou moved from foot to foot uncomfortably, suddenly feeling silly with Sango's weapon.

When he didn't speak Toshiro's cobalt eye darted to the blade in his hand, then back up to his face in suspicion.

Hard blue met panicked green.

"You've come to kill me, then? Is that why you're here? I can promise you that just because I'm human doesn't mean I'll be an easy target. I'll-"

"No! No, no you've got it all wrong!" Shippou waved his hands in front of him, the wakizashi glittering in the moonlight. "Why would you think something like that?"

Toshiro growled, ignoring his question. "So why, then?"

"To. . . To protect you." Shippou mumbled.

"Tch. Speak up, kitsune! I can't hear as well with these stupid human ears."

Shippou straightened his spine, his grip tightening again around his borrowed sword's hilt. "I said I'm going to protect you."

The blue eye widened slightly. The scowl on the older boy's face softened a fraction. He didn't speak for a long time. When he did it was a quiet, almost whispered word.

"Why?"

"B-because," Shippou blushed, swallowing back his hesitation. He reached his free hand up to tug on a pointed ear, kicking a paw at the small rocks and snow at his feet. "Because I owe you. And because I'm your friend. . . Because you're my brother."

He watched as several emotions flit across Toshiro's one visible eye; shock, suspicion, hope, fear, happiness, reluctance. The temporary human then glared quickly, accusingly, up at the moon before he turned and went back into the darkness of his cave.

Shippou sighed, taking his silence as acceptance. He sank to the cold ground just inside the cave's entrance, his back to its opening and his sword laid across his lap.

He kept himself awake and alert, determined to be ready to attack at any moment should someone or something tried to come for his friend. Nocturnal youkai and animals hunted for their breakfast, thankfully never coming too close to where the boys hid. If Shippou concentrated he could still hear the crackling of their camp fire, the low hum of the voices of his family.

The twinge of uncertainty he felt at his ability to protect himself and Toshiro disappeared knowing that they were close by.

The night creatures calling to one another and the labored, unsteady breathing of the hanyou at his back was all Shippou heard for a very long time. When Toshiro's breathing finally evened out Shippou thought that he'd fallen asleep, but his voice rang out from the darkness of the cave, soft and quiet.

"You called me your brother."

Shippou nodded, keeping his eyes trained on the trees. "That's what I've started to view you as. That's what I hope you'll become."

Toshiro's breathing hitched. ". . . You barely even know me."

The kit released a white puff into the cold night as he sighed. "I want to know you. I want you to know me."

"Why. . ."

Shippou shrugged. "Everyone needs someone."

"And what makes you think I have no one? What makes you think I want to know you." Toshiro snapped, his voice sharper than the edge of the wakizashi Shippou held in his grasp. "What makes you even think I need you here now? I didn't ask you to come. I don't need you to look out for me, to protect me. I don't need anyone."

Shippou scoffed quietly. "You forgot tonight was your human night."

A pause. "How did you kn-?"

"You acted all weird when Sesshomaru showed up." Shippou cut in, stretching his legs out in front of him. "I still don't know what that was about but anyway, you got all spacey, and jerky, and lost in your head like I've realized you do when you're upset. You got that stupid pucker in your forehead and you growled at me whenever I tried to talk to you. You were so stuck thinking about whatever the hell you were thinking about that you forgot it was your night of vulnerability until literally the last minute. And you called me reckless."

The other boy didn't respond.

Just the sounds of his breathing and the whistle of wind through branches met the kitsune's ears for what felt like hours. Shippou's tail swished behind him patiently, gliding against the cold rock of the cave. He felt the presence at his back come closer, the warmth of the body behind him scoot nearer from the darkness.

"You're right." The hanyou said finally. "Sometimes I get so . . ."

"Distracted?"

"Tch."

Shippou smiled to himself.

He knew he was right. As observant as the hanyou was, as quick thinking, he got distracted by his own thoughts more than anything. And to a hanyou. . . Being unfocused could mean your life.

Shippou felt fear shoot through him, along with a vicious protectiveness that surprised him. What if someone came after Toshiro while he wasn't paying attention? What if his absentmindedness cost him his life? Shippou wouldn't allow it.

He promised himself then that he'd get stronger, he'd protect his friend on the one night he was unable to protect himself.

Shippou cleared his throat. "How about you let me look out for you on half-moon nights, and I'll agree to train with you and Inuyasha?"

"I don't need you to-"

"Yeah, I know." Why did he have to be so difficult? "I know you don't need me to protect you. But wouldn't you feel better knowing someone had your back on nights like this? I know I would."

The warmth at his back moved closer. "I don't see what I get out of this deal. You get the training and I get what? To be indebted to you?"

Shippou rolled his eyes. "Are you always such a pain?"

"Yes." Toshiro said seriously.

"Well you can either agree, or I can just follow you on half-moon nights and annoy you until the sun comes up."

Toshiro then moved to sit behind Shippou, moving the still swishing tail out of his way as he plopped back to the ground, pressing his back up against the other boy like he had the night before.

"Tch." A yawn. "You do that anyway."

Shippou chuckled, pushing back against his chosen brother and smiling to himself when Toshiro pushed back. They stayed that way all night, covering each other's back. For the first time Shippou felt needed, felt like Toshiro's trust in him made him strong. When the taller boy's head lolled against the kit in eventual sleep Shippou knew that while he didn't regret his cowardice from the day before, that he'd never allow himself to be in that situation again.

He would become stronger. He would protect his family no matter what.

For a less than a second during the night Shippou thought he'd sensed another youki close by, a familiar one, but it was gone in less than a breath and he shrugged it off to his imagination.

He straightened his spine no less, his ears and nose straining to sweep the area around him constantly. His eyes stayed wide open all night, letting the older boy rest against him.

Shippou's hand stayed gripped on the wakizashi's hilt until the sun rose.

Chapter Text

Inuyasha had stayed up all night, uncomfortable with the pups being out of his sight even though he could clearly smell them, hear their low voices, not even a half mile away from camp.

So as Kagome had crawled onto her pallet, curling toward the warmth of the fire, Inuyasha had taken his place at her back, arms and legs crossed on the cold ground, ears high and on alert against anything that went bump in the night.

He'd been tense, his body wound tight and ready to spring into a run should the boys get themselves into trouble.

He had known that the pups were safe, that there wasn't a creature around that would challenge his agitated youki. It crackled and pulsed all throughout the night, anxious to ensure the safety of its kin.

The only disturbance had been when he'd felt his brother's youki nearby, but it'd faded in less than a minute. Inuyasha figured that the inu youkai had been patrolling, these were his lands after all.

Inuyasha's youkai urged him to go check on the pups, just in case, but his human side knew that he was being paranoid and that the boys needed this time. The fact that Shippou had not run crying back to camp meant that Toshiro had allowed the other boy to stay, meant that he chose to share a very vulnerable part of himself with another. That was monumental in and of itself. Inuyasha had never shared his human night with anyone but his mother, not even with Kikyou.

Until, of course, Kagome came along.

He sighed.

He knew he'd been an ass to her, so he was grateful that Kagome hadn't shooed him away from her side when she'd crawled into her blankets the night before. He wouldn't have gone anyway, but still he was relieved. Saved him from another argument.

It was just something about seeing her touch his brother so familiarly . . . it still made him grind his teeth. She should not have touched Sesshomaru that way, shouldn't have touched him at all. She didn't belong to him. He was the only one she was supposed to touch so comfortably, but Inuyasha was too much of a coward to stake his claim.

It was his own fault, and it was his own uncertainty that kept him from marking her.

He was sure his brother knew that she was his, he was sure that the inu youkai would never disrespect him that way by trying anything. . . But still. Seeing them touch was enough to send his youkai on a rampage.

Inuyasha knew that he was unjustified in his anger, that it was unreasonable, but that didn't stop him from being an ass.

He sighed again as he caught the small pig he'd been hunting, killing it in one clean swipe. He gutted and cleaned robotically as the sun rose, in a hurry to bring breakfast back to camp so that he could be there when his pups got back.

He froze, claws raised over the pig carcass.

When had he started to think of the brats as his own?

He vaguely remembered when his youkai had surfaced the day before, when that feral part of him had claimed the pups as its own to defend.

He supposed they were his in a sense; he fed them, and protected them, and made sure they were clothed. . . But was he ready to take on the responsibility of two pups? Could he. . . Hadn't he already been doing that?

For the past five years he'd taken care of Shippou; he'd taught him right from wrong, taught the runt to read and write, taught him to respect those who deserved respect, to defend those who couldn't defend themselves.

For the past month he'd tried to do the same with Toshiro.

He never thought he would be a father, he'd never thought he'd live long enough to even entertain the idea.

He'd spent a large part of his life running from youkai, fighting off those who wanted to kill him simply because he was born of two natures. He had always assumed that he'd be dead before he was ever given the chance to find a mate and settle down. He never allowed himself to imagine having pups of his own, a family of his own.

He did so as he walked back to camp, his kill thrown over his shoulder.

In his mind's eye he saw Kagome seated by their hut's fire, a hand resting gently on her distended belly. She smiled lovingly at the two boys seated across from her, one with black puppy ears held high, the other with a red foxtail flicking happily behind him.

The image warmed his chest.

After Mother died he hadn't found anything truly worth living for, hadn't had anything worth protecting, until Kikyou. Until Kagome he hadn't cared about taking risks in his fights, never cared about making it back home.

He hadn't even had a home.

Until Shippou, and now Toshiro, he had never felt the protectiveness that now encompassed him on occasion. He worried for the kit, and he worried for the hanyou pup they'd found. What would happen if he was finally struck down? Who would teach the pups how to fight, how to hunt, how to protect themselves and those they loved? He was responsible for the them, it was his job to make sure he stuck around to ensure they grew up to be the males they were meant to be.

He felt the weight of this responsibility settle heavily on his shoulders.

He wouldn't fail them.

He broke through the tree line and was brought up short by what he saw; Kagome, kneeling by the smoking remains of the fire, smirking down at the two boys who sat attentively in front of her as she explained how to pronounce a word in the children's book she held in her hands.

It was almost like his daydream, except where his pup should have been growing her stomach was flat and toned beneath the bulk of her pink pull over.

The instinct to claim her assaulted him again as she responded sweetly to something Shippou said. Inuyasha suddenly wanted more than anything to grab her up and run off to where no one could find them, to mark her as his own.

Her soft brown eyes met his wide ones over the children's heads, and she smiled hesitantly at him. He stared back, the gold in his eyes smoldering and pleading at the same time, begging her to forgive his idiotic outburst from the day before, begging her to understand that he needed her, begging her not to give up on him.

She nodded minutely and he knew he was understood, he knew that if anything else he was forgiven.

He grunted a good morning to the monk and taijia who came from the opposite side of the clearing, arms full of firewood and faces blazing. Inuyasha rolled his eyes, trying his hardest not to imagine what they could have been doing out in the woods to cause his best friend to sport that stupid grin on his face.

"It's a good morning indeed." The lech hummed, placing his wood next to the pit before taking the rest from his still blushing wife.

Inuyasha scoffed. "Pervert."

He made it to the trio seated in the grass just as Kagome put the children's book down, he hunkered down beside her as she ended her lesson with the pups.

"That's all the for now, boys." She smiled when Toshiro snatched the book up from its place in the dirt. "We'll be heading into the village for our job today, so we won't be having another reading lesson until it's over."

Shippou nodded, used to the routine.

Toshiro still stared down at the book in his hands, a look of intense concentration on his round face.

"Can Shippou help me until breakfast is finished? I want to be able to get through this book on my own." He turned golden eyes up to Kagome. "Please?"

Kagome blinked at him. "S-sure. If Shippou wouldn't mind. . .?"

She looked to the kit, who gave a fanged smile and bumped his shoulder with the taller boy's beside him.

"I don't mind! You've been doing really well, nii-san. We can go over it during our walk to the village too."

The smaller hanyou blushed but said nothing, nodding to the kit before they both rose to settle again a little while away.

Inuyasha stared wide eyes at the two boys, at how comfortable they seemed with one another.

Shippou sat crossed legged in front of the hanyou, holding the book up as Kagome had, a comically serious look on his face as he began at the beginning again. Toshiro crossed his legs and wrapped his clawed hands around his ankles, his brows furrowed and eyes focused.

They paid no mind to the gaping adults.

"Did I just hear Shippou call him-?"

"Yeah." Kagome cut Sango off, her eyes watering. "Yeah, you did."

Inuyasha smirked at the pups, the warm feeling returning to his chest. His pups. He flicked his gaze to the still smiling woman beside him, his mate. His family.

The jewel winked at him from the dip in Kagome's collar and he bit back a growl.

Not his, not yet.

He shoved his kill into Kagome's hands.

"Get cookin', wench." He huffed before he rose and bounded into the tree nearest the boys to watch them.

The miko rolled her eyes, a small laugh in her voice. "Whatever, Dog-boy."

0:0:0:0:0:

"No, but good try. 'H' is silent in the word 'rhyme', so you don't have to pronounce it."

Toshiro nodded, committing the information to memory. "Like in the word 'honest'."

"Exactly!" Shippou beamed.

They'd been going over the story page by page repeatedly ever since they'd left the campsite this morning.

Shippou was a surprisingly good teacher, Toshiro thought. His often flippant mood mellowed during his role as instructor, taking his job to aid his chosen brother seriously. He was patient. And he never got offended when Toshiro's frustration got the better of him. He let the hanyou figure things out on his own, lending a hand when needed but never being overbearing.

Toshiro appreciated it immensely.

He knew he wasn't the easiest student, but Shippou and the miko never got upset with him. Neither they nor Inuyasha had ever belittled him for not knowing the things someone his age ought to know, they didn't mock him when he made mistakes or asked silly questions.

Toshiro was suddenly flashed back to a cold, dark room.

The tatters of his shirt stuck to him like a second skin, his cheek swollen from when he'd been back handed across the room. His ear wept red into his dirty hair familiarly, dripping down his face to mix with the blood flowing from the cuts along his bird like chest.

He panted, recovering from the blow to the head he'd gotten for crying out.

His arms shook from holding up his weight, but he refused to collapse.

Not yet. . . there was something he wanted. Something he needed to ask. He knew that he shouldn't, he knew that he was too stupid for it and that he wouldn't understand anything, but still he wanted it. He knew that he'd be punished for asking, but still he had to.

He had to try.

He turned dull eyes to the remaining youkai in his room, the others gone about their day after dishing him out their daily dose of torture.

"Can I have a book?" He mumbled, down casting his eyes quickly when the male turned to look back at him.

"What on earth do you want a book for?" The inu youkai chuckled, rubbing his red stained knuckles on his haori carelessly. "You can't even read."

"I-I'd like to learn." His voice was small, he kept his eyes on the boots of the figure who towered over him. "Other children can read."

The black boots marched through a puddle of his blood to him, still shaking on his hands and knees.

Toshiro winced when a sharp clawed hand grasped at his face, pushing purposely into his bruises. He chin was roughly up and he was forced to meet the eyes of his tormentor. The inu youkai glared scornful golden eyes at him, his top lip curled in disgust. Strands of his dark brown hair had escaped his low ponytail, sticking to the green, cutting youkai markings on his face with sweat.

When Toshiro whimpered the claws on his cheeks pressed in harder, breaking skin and making the ever present smell of blood in the room all the more potent.

"You are not other children." Orochi sneered, his breath hot on the small hanyou's face. "You are barely even a person. You are a maggot. A worthless maggot who only breathes because Lady Katsumi wills it so. Maggots do not need to know how to read. They need only to be parasites, to gorge themselves off of the backs of others."

The hanyou knew better than to shed a single tear.

Toshiro was tossed dismissively onto his dirty blanket, the only thing in his small room not soaked completely in his blood.

He cowered into it as Orochi approached him again, placing a booted foot firmly on his left hand. The armored inu youkai pressed his weight down and smirked when he heard the just healed bones in Toshiro's finger snap under him.

Toshiro bit down into his split lip, willing himself not to cry out, knowing that he'd be beaten all over again if he did.

"Do not ask for such a silly thing." Orochi raised his foot, looking smug. "Remember your place. If this happens again I'll be sure to make Lady Katsumi aware. We both know she will do much worse that I."

"Yes, sir." Toshiro mumbled, bringing his broken hand to his chest and casting his eyes down respectfully.

"Good maggot." The inu youkai cooed mockingly, making his way out into the lit hall.

Toshiro exhaled shakily when the door slammed so hard the small lantern on the wall fell, shattering into little pieces and plunging him into darkness.

When he was sure Orochi had gone he allowed his tears to fall, let them drag blood and grime silently down his cheeks. He shifted carefully, trying not to jostle his broken hand as he dug under the grey, hole filled blanket beneath him. He pulled out the piece of parchment no larger than his palm from where it was hidden.

Luckily there was no blood on it.

It was his prized possession, his only possession.

He set the small, fading painting carefully beside him as he curled on his side. He stared at the image of the beautiful inu youkai female with deep, ruby hair like he did every night.

He pretended that her soft smile was for him, that the long, elegant hands folded in her lap ran through his matted hair. He closed his eyes and pretended he was anywhere else. He pretended that his mother was alive, and that he would one day escape from this hell, and that there was more to life than beatings and blood.

All of these things, of course, were untrue.

"Are you listening, big brother?"

Toshiro blinked, momentarily stunned when he found himself under a bright sun instead of a cracked ceiling.

"Sorry. . . " He mumbled, scratching his cut ear unconsciously as he tried to shake the memory away. "I'm listening now."

Instead of continuing with the next line of the story Shippou tilted his head at the other boy. "You okay? You're lookin kinda pale."

"Tch. I'm fine."

"You sure?" Shippou looked behind them to the miko and Inuyasha. "Kagome has medicine in her bag. It's gross, but it helps if your stomach is u-"

"I said I'm fine, Shippou." Toshiro said a little harder than he intended.

Guilt washed over him at the flash of hurt in the jade eyes of the smaller boy.

He needed to work on being nicer to the kit, he was supposed to be his older brother now, not a jerk.

"I'm sorry, kitsune." Toshiro sighed. "I just got caught up in my head again."

Shippou nodded understandably.

But he doesn't understand, Toshiro thought, no one does.

No one ever would.

He pushed the memories away again, determined not to let his past life spoil his new one. He wasn't that person anymore, he told himself, he never wanted to be that person again.

Before he could tell the shorter boy to continue his lesson something small and sharp pricked Toshiro's neck, causing him to slap against the skin there in irritation.

"What the hell?"

He looked at the palm of his hand where a small flea youkai with grey hair was flattened. The little youkai puffed back to its normal size, grinning up at the hanyou and waving two of its arms.

"Salutations." It said.

"Myouga," Shippou rolled his eyes. "Did you have to stick him?"

"You know this thing?" Toshiro held the little youkai between two fingers, flexing them and ignoring when the flea squeaked in protest. "Do you want me to kill it?"

"No! Please don't!" The flea cried, little drops of sweat forming on the top of his bald head. "I was merely saying hello!"

"By sucking my blood?" Toshiro raised a black brow, flexing his fingers again. "That's rude."

"In my defense, you are rather tasty. . ."

"Oi! What's going on?"

Inuyasha sauntered up to where the boys had stopped, his arms folded into the sleeves of his haori. The rest of the pack followed suit until Shippou and Toshiro were surrounded by the adults, the still squirming flea held tightly in the young hanyou's grip.

"This thing bit me." Toshiro held the old youkai out for Inuyasha to inspect.

"Lord Inuyasha! Save me!"

"Keh! You should learn to keep your dirty stinger to yourself." Inuyasha rolled his eyes. "You're lucky the pup didn't squash you."

"I could not help myself!" Myouga wailed. "He looked so appetizing! And his blood, my Lord! I've never tasted anything like it! It's so-"

Toshiro flicked the flea into a nearby pile of snow, a dismissing "Tch." leaving him as he did.

"Serves you right." Shippou smirked.

Kagome giggled into her hand as Inuyasha plucked the grumbling little youkai out of the snow, settling into a squat and plopping the saturated youkai into the palm of his hand.

"Was there something you wanted, Myouga? Besides to irritate Toshiro."

"Can I kill him?" Toshiro asked again, his eyes trained on the trembling flea youkai with laser focus.

"He's our friend, pest. We don't kill our friends." Inuyasha reached over to flick Toshiro's nose with his index finger. "No matter how annoying."

Toshiro crossed his eyes, looking down at the tip of his nose with a disgruntled frown. His ears folded back against his head against his will. His cheeks flamed. He didn't know why, but that poke at his nose bothered him more than ten thumps to the head.

He felt scolded, as if he'd been punished.

Why did he suddenly feel. . . Ashamed? Why did he feel like he wanted to-to cry? That was ridiculous. It made no sense. He would not cry because of a stupid pluck to the nose. . . Yet still he felt he wanted to. Toshiro forced back the unreasonable stinging in his eyes, blinking rapidly when he heard Inuyasha speak again.

"Why are you here, Myouga?"

The flea bounced anxiously. "To warn you, my Lord!"

"About?" Inuyasha growled impatiently. "We don't have time for a guessing game, we've gotta get to the village!"

"This is about the village, sire! I have come to learn the nature of the youkai causing trouble. They are hyenas."

"Hyenas?" Miroku repeated, taking a step closer.

The flea was nodding his shining head. "Yes. It appears that a clan of hyenas has migrated to the Western Lands in search of new prey. They stirred up quite a bit of trouble in the North, attacking human villages in attempts to kidnap their young before being driven out by Kouga and his pack." Inuyasha growled at the mention of the wolf. "Their alpha is a ruthless female by the name of Leiko."

"Why the fixation with human children?" Sango asked, her arms crossed under her chest, her face hard.

"It is said that she likes to collect them in large quantity, sometimes keeping them for days before she devours them." Myouga said grimly. "She feasts on the young ones and leaves the scraps to her subordinates to fight over. She is a cold and deadly youkai. She is rumored to have even killed her own cubs, along with her mate."

"When was the last attack on the village?" Sango asked, all business.

"Approximately four days ago." Myouga said. "She sends out her clan to attack at night, they bring the victims to her lair. It is rare that she shows herself, she relies on her men to do her dirty work."

"How long does Leiko usually keep the children before she hurts them?" Kagome's asked frantically.

"I've heard that she keeps them alive up to five days."

Kagome gasped, a fire igniting in her brown eyes. "We may still have a chance, we don't have much time. We have to stop her!"

"We will." Inuyasha rose from his crouch, his free hand closing around Tetsuaiga's hilt. He dropped the flee on his shoulder, where he he sat with his legs crossed. "She ain't gonna live much longer to hurt anyone else."

Everyone nodded fierce agreements, Toshiro along with the rest of the pack.

Toshiro felt disgust turn his stomach, downing out the embarrassment of being scolded. One's mate and pups were sacred, supposed to be held above all other, even among a pack of creatures. To hear that this female not only hurt unsuspecting, innocent children. . . but her own blood. . . Toshiro had lived through that terror.

And he had been told that he deserved it.

He had been taught that the feeble ought to be prey, that their weakness deemed them no better than dirt regardless of blood ties. Katsumi had beat into him almost every day of his life that it was the duty of the strong and able to torment those who could not defend themselves.

A month with Inuyasha and his pack and Toshiro knew that everything he'd been taught was a lie.

Orochi's grin flashed in his mind's eye and the pup felt fury mix with the repulsion and sadness twisting inside of him.

The pack started moving again, walking quickly through the foliage with newfound purpose. The adults talked battle strategy while Toshiro fumed over how stupid he'd been to believe Katsumi all those years.

"Myouga, where are they holding up? I know you know." Inuyasha said eventually, everyone struggling to keep up with his long legged strides.

The flea gasped the silver hair beside him to keep from falling off. "I actually don't know, my Lord. That was the bit of information I was unable to acquire. I know only that their base is to the north of the current village they have been harassing."

"Fat lot of use you are."

"Such disrespect! I'll have you know that I worked my thorax off for the information I was able to get!"

"Keh."

They reached the village in record time, the sun still in the sky when it came into view.

Tired looking women worked in the rice fields, sending wary looks their way as they walked along the long road to the village.

Whispers followed them all the way to the it's center.

A crowd had formed, women pushing frightened children behind their backs, hard faced men standing in front them. Toshiro felt unease rise in him. Too many unfamiliar faces, too much tension, too many people glaring at them. Children pointed at his ears behind their mothers, whispering to one another.

He bared his teeth reflexively, and then struggled to calm himself when he saw that the rest of Inuyasha's pack was relaxed and stoic. Inuyasha stood at the head of the pack, the miko at his side. The monk and taijia flanked them, Shippou and himself standing in between the two pairs protectively.

A short, grey haired man made a noise in the back of his throat and the humans quieted.

They parted their crowd, making a path for the old, frail man. The wrinkles in his forehead weighed down his eyes, he held himself up by an old walking stick.

When he stopped in front of Inuyasha and Kagome he bowed low.

"You must be our saviors." He said in a gravelly voice. "Please excuse my people's suspicion, for we have suffered many nights at the hands of strangers."

The miko bowed in return, her voice taking on a soft tone that Toshiro found oddly comforting. "We understand. We mean you and your people no harm, I assure you."

The old man nodded. "I am the headman of this village, Futoshi."

The rest of the pack murmured hellos, all except Inuyasha who stared critical eyes around the village.

Toshiro didn't speak, because Inuyasha hadn't.

"My granddaughter is among the children that were captured four days past." The elder continued, his voice raw with emotion. "My daughter is stricken with grief and will not come from her bedchamber. She has begun mourning already, but I believe that Emiko still lives. Please, return them to us."

The villagers gathered around the headman murmured quiet pleas moments before men, women, and children bowed low to them. When they rose they all looked to the pack with wide, hopeful eyes.

Toshiro felt uncomfortable with the attention, his ears flicking and face heating. He glanced at Inuyasha and saw that the male was more or less unfazed by the recognition. The pup worked to school his own features into one of focus as well when his mentor spoke up.

"Old man," Inuyasha said. "If we're going to get them back we have to move now. Do you know where the youkai lair is located?"

The headman scratched his grey head. "I know only that they take the children north of here. But I do have a piece of armor from one of the youkai, a scrap that one of my men managed to acquire while fending them off. I am sorry I cannot be of more help."

"Keh." Inuyasha growled as he accepted the cloth, quieting when Kagome placed a hand on his arm.

"Don't worry, we have enough to work with. Thank you." She said.

"Thank you, Priestess." Futoshi said sincerely. "We will leave you to your work. Should you need anything please do not hesitate to find me."

The crowd dispersed, going about their daily tasks with a little more vigor now that help had arrived. Villagers smiled at them when they passed, children waved to Shippou and Toshiro.

Shippou waved back, Toshiro didn't.

"Since no one knows the whereabouts of the youkai den, I think it's best if we split up." Sango said as the pack turned into a huddle.

Miroku nodded his assent, a hand resting on his chin in thought. "We should scour the surrounding area and meet back here in an hour. If Sango, Kagome and I search with Shippou, Toshiro, and you, we could cover a larger area with three pairs and use your senses of smell to track the hyenas. What do you think, Inuyasha?"

"Fine with me." The large hanyou grunted, nose still pressed to thee scrap of armor. "But one hour and no less, the sun will be setting soon and we shouldn't stay separated in a territory we don't know. If you sniff out the youkai come back to the village and wait for the rest of us. Don't engage alone, we don't know how many of those bastards are out there."

Everyone nodded their assent, Toshiro a little more hesitantly than the rest.

This is it, he thought, I'm going to face rouge youkai.

He was going to help people, he was going to fight.

Excitement and nervousness twisted his stomach.

"Can you handle this, pest?" Inuyasha asked, passing the bit of cloth to the younger hanyou.

"Yes." He said as he raised the material to his nose.

Dirt. Sweat. Blood. Death.

"Good." Inuyasha raised a brow but nodded and turned to the pack. "Shippou go with Miroku, Sango with Toshiro, and I'll go with Kagome."

"Hey, how come you get to go with Kagome?" Shippou protested, accepting the fabric from Toshiro.

"Because I said so." Inuyasha bared his teeth in a threatening smile.

"I could always go with Kagome." Miroku suggested with a smirk.

"Over my dead body, lecher!" Inuyasha growled, taking a step in front of said miko. "I'm going with Kagome."

Kagome and Sango sighed.

Shippou rolled his eyes.

"Can we go now?" Toshiro said impatiently.

"Keh." Inuyasha grasped onto the miko's wrist and towed her after him, toward the forest to the north.

The miko shot an exasperated look over her shoulder.

The rest of the pack followed with small sighs.

When they hit the forest's edge they split up, the one's with youkai senses leading the pairs. Toshiro kept his nose to the wind, as Inuyasha had taught him, and sniffed for the unpleasant smell that had clung the hyena's clothing.

He looked momentarily over his shoulder at the slayer and caught her eye, she smiled encouragingly at him. A patch of sun broke through the trees, giving her a small halo and lighting up the brown of her eyes. Pretty human, he thought his face aflame and his heart skipping a strange beat. She was soft looking, and warm, and nice and—This was not the time!

He shook his head, turning toward the wind again and shoving everything but the stench of hyena from his mind.

He eventually lost himself in his task, a part of him still aware of the taijia keeping close at his back.

They traveled in silence until they passed through a small clearing and a twig snapped in the distance, off to their right in the shadows. Both hanyou and slayer snapped to attention, Toshiro baring his teeth at the trees and Sango pulling Hiraikotsu from its strap on her back.

"Stay here." Sango said in a voice like steel.

Toshiro didn't have time to protest before she was gone, darting in the direction of the sound.

After a few minutes the hanyou felt nervousness creep up on him, uncomfortable with being alone in such an unfamiliar place. He should go after her. She was a human. He was supposed to protect her, to fight with her. What if something harmed her? Why was she taking so long? What if-?

An amused voice said from the shadows just ahead of him. "What's this?"

Toshiro tensed and glared into the trees, at the shape lurking there.

"Show yourself." He growled.

"What are you doing out here all alone, hanyou? It's dangerous around these parts." The figure chuckled, moving into the light.

A hyena youkai. He was tall but hunched over, a spotted paw-like hand resting on the ground as he stopped. His eyes were two different colors; one a dirty yellow, the other a rusty red. He had a long, jagged scar on his neck showing above his armor that led all the way up to his furry, dirt speckled cheek. He smiled widely at Toshiro, his teeth yellow and pointed.

The hanyou shifted into a fighting stance, straightening his spine and his ears and pushing the tremble of fear felt way down.

The hyena laughed a whooping, crazed sound.

"Are you going to fight me, puppy?"

"I'm going to kill you." Toshiro said through his clenched teeth, proud when his voice didn't shake.

"You're adorable." The hyena snickered. "You wont't be of much use to Lady Leiko, so I may as well kill you. I think I'll almost regret ending your life."

The youkai pulled a curved blade from the sheath at his waist, the sound of the metal scraping reminding the hanyou that he was unarmed. He had not been allowed to fight with steel yet. He glanced quickly at his claws. They were healthy, and sharp, and had nearly gouged out a bear youkai's eye.

He wasn't completely unarmed.

The hyena lunged with a manic laugh, swinging his blade and nearly beheading Toshiro. The pup felt a sharp pain blossom on his cheek, tasted the copper of his blood as he leapt a safe distance away. He pressed a hand to his face, letting his blood seep over his claws as the hyena turned to face him with a deranged grin. Toshiro flicked his claws in the direction of the youkai, trying out the attack he'd practiced with Inuyasha only once before.

"Hijin ketsusou!"

Red crescents hurtled toward the youkai, the razors of blood demolishing a tree as the hyena dodged it. His eyes darted to where the male landed lightly a distance away and Toshiro quickly pressed a hand to his still bleeding cheek before flinging the attack at the chuckling youkai again.

Again, he dodged.

"Not bad, hanyou, not bad at all." The hyena said with a fanged smirk. "You managed to kill a tree."

Toshiro growled dangerously, his fear lost to the fight. "You're next."

"You couldn't kill me on my worst day, you disgusting little puppy."

Toshiro felt his blood boil at the words.

He dived for the youkai with a furious snarl, swiping at him blindly. The hyena blocked each of his attacks with his blade, laughing at him all the while. Toshiro hissed at the vibration of steel against his claws, frustration sweeping through him as the male blocked a strike Toshiro sent for his neck.

Toshiro wanted to kill him. Toshiro would kill him.

He was not disgusting. He was not-

The hyena brought his blade down in a clean sweep, slicing through the skin of Toshiro's arm like butter. The hanyou jumped away before the sword cut too deep, the pain barely registering in his mind as his vision turned a hazy pink.

"You're getting sloppy, boy. Didn't daddy teach you how to fight? Or was daddy too ashamed of his little abomination?" The hyena chuckled, licking the blood from his weapon lazily. "Or maybe mommy was the youkai?"

Toshiro growled loudly, settling himself into a crouch and almost tasting the hyena's blood on his tongue.

"Oooh I struck a chord, didn't I?" His broken eyes gleamed wickedly. "Did the bitch abandon you?"

Toshiro felt an uncomfortable heat creep up his spine but was too far gone in his fury to really register it. He felt a burn under his skin, his rage a tangible taste on the back of his tongue.

The youkai had spoken of his mother.

He would die.

Toshiro would end his life and bathe in his blood.

He was going to die.

The hanyou prowled toward the cackling youkai. The male had thrown his head back in hysterics at Toshiro's wrath, his blade resting in the snow carelessly. Toshiro's lips pulled back over his fangs, ears pressed flat into his hair, his body tensed to pounce and in the creature's sniveling life for daring to mention the hanyou's mother.

He'd rip out the hyena's throat with his teeth.

But before he could lunge something shot out from the shadows, a yellow band of energy whipping out to wrap around the hyena's neck.

Toshiro stopped cold in his tracks and stared, the fire receding in his veins in shock.

The youkai gasped at the thing choking him, his multicolored eyes going wide in fear. The band tightened around his neck, burning his hands where he clawed at it desperately. With a sharp pull from the end of the whip the youkai's head popped from his shoulders, bursting into dust and blood along with its body and landing in a harmless heap on the forest floor.

Toshiro panted disbelievingly, adrenaline coursing through him as he watched the yellow whip retreated back into the trees. He hesitantly scented the air, but all he could smell was charred hyena.

Another figure moved slowly from the shadows and his body locked up.

"You should be more careful." A deep, monotone voice said.

Toshiro instantly relaxed.

"It's you."

Sesshomaru stepped into the clearing, the bright pops of color on his clothes stark against the white and grey of the forest around them. His boots scuffed the remains of the hyena as he made his way toward the stunned hanyou, his gait as unhurried and graceful as ever.

Toshiro could only stare for a minute.

"What-what are you doing here?"

The Lord of the West raised a single brow, his right hand still slightly glowing.

"Is that how you thank someone who saved your life, boy?"

Toshiro sunk to the ground with a wince, his injuries stinging as they healed. He held a hand to his bleeding arm and sighed. "Thank you."

"Hn."

They stared at each other quietly for a moment. Sesshomaru's eyes were a bright golden, just like Inuyasha's, and just as probing. Toshiro forced himself to meet the Lord of the West's stare, a history from what felt like a hundred years ago between them.

"They know not who you are," The Inu no Taisho rumbled. "My baka brother and his troupe."

It wasn't a question, but still Toshiro shook his head. "No."

"Will you tell them?"

The hanyou looked wary eyes up at Sesshomaru. Instead of answering he said, "You didn't tell them."

The inu youkai scoffed quietly. "This Sesshomaru cares not for your affairs, half breed."

That wasn't always the case.

It hadn't been the case mere moments ago either, but Toshiro didn't mention that or the other time they were both undoubtedly remembering. Toshiro stared at the ground, wondering why he hadn't pieced together who this youkai was back then.

"She will come for you."

Toshiro blinked at him in surprise. "She doesn't care enough to come for me."

Sesshomaru's voice was even, was sure. "She will come for you."

"I'm not going back. I'm never going back there." He swallowed thickly. "Will you tell her where I am?"

Sesshomaru just looked at him coolly, then turned on his heel as the snapping of twigs sounded nearby. He made his way soundlessly toward the trees again, his voice still devoid of emotion as he said again, "This Sesshomaru cares not for your affairs."

"Thank you." Toshiro said as the Inu no Taisho disappeared, knowing that he could still be heard. "For everything."

"Do not die, half breed." Sesshomaru's voice said from the shadows, "I will be cross if you waste my efforts."

Toshiro smirked as the voice faded, knowing that the youkai would keep his secret.

As soon as Sesshomaru's moko-moko sama cleared the tree line Sango burst through the other side of the clearing, her weapon poised and her teeth set in a snarl.

"Toshiro! Are you ok?" She asked, immediately taking in the blood stained boy and the unmistakable pile of youkai ash with wide eyes

He pulled himself to his feet, assessing his injuries. His cheek had healed to a faint scratch, and his arm had stopped bleeding. He very well could have died, but the Lord of the West had saved his life.

Again.

He stared the place where Sesshomaru had been moments ago, then turned to Sango with a reassuring smile.

"I'm fine." He said before walking off, his nose to the breeze, determined to continue his mission and pretending not to notice the confused look on the taijia's face.

Chapter Text

"Are you sure, pest?" Inuyasha asked for the third time.

The sun was setting behind the trees, the villagers rushing to get into their homes before night fell. The pack was gathered on the outskirts of the village, ready to move out at the smaller hanyou's word.

Toshiro had followed the musty scent left behind by the hyena he'd fought until he and Sango had come to a large cave.

The young hanyou and the slayer had ducked behind the bush down wind, far enough away as to not be scented by the dozens of youkai prowling the dark entrance, but close enough for Toshiro to see, to smell. The oblivious hyenas in the clearing surrounding the entrance were splayed about, some watching the trees but most lying around without a care in the world.

The mouth of the cave was a large circle cut into the side of a mountain, deep into it a small glow lit like a heart. Faint traces of fear, of tears, could be scented from deep within the cave. The children were in there.

They were still alive.

Toshiro growled, pulling himself from the memory to glare up at his mentor. "I know what I smelled."

"Trust him." Kagome said disapprovingly, her bow gripped tightly in her hand.

"He's right, Inuyasha." Sango said. Her foot tapped restlessly, making the sword and mask strapped to her hip clank together slightly. "I saw the cave, I saw the light inside it too. Though I couldn't smell what Toshiro had, I trust he's telling the truth. We should move. Now."

"Keh." Inuyasha snorted, shoving the pup between his shoulder blades, urging him to lead the way into the forest. "It ain't that I don't trust the pest, I just wanted to make sure."

"We're sure." Sango said as they walked. "We ran into trouble on our search and I stupidly left him alone. I went after a sound we'd heard and by the time I got back to Toshiro he was standing beside a pile of hyena ash."

Sounds of disbelief rang through the group, sounds of praise.

Inuyasha glanced down at Toshiro and raised a brow to him. "You took out a youkai on your own?"

"Tch." Toshiro flushed beet red, keeping his eyes on the path they walked.

He didn't want to admit to the others that he'd had help. He also didn't want to bring up Sesshomaru being there because then they'd wonder why the seemingly emotionless Lord had helped him, and then they'd start asking how he knew the dai youkai in the first place. They'd seemingly forgotten about their encounter from the day before and the young hanyou intended on keeping it that way. . . At least for now.

Toshiro would tell them who he was eventually, he just wasn't ready yet.

He felt an increasingly familiar presence come to walk at his side and nodded at the kit in acknowledgement. Shippou gave him a small, proud smile, fangs peeking out under his top lip. He bumped his shoulder with Toshiro's softly, like he'd done that morning. The hanyou was glad his panic at the touch didn't rise, just a small discomfort in the back of his mind. Just like with Inuyasha.

He wondered why he could tolerate their touch and still not the others'.

He smirked at the boy who'd decided to be his little brother before focusing back on leading the pack to the hyena lair, and his first real fight.

0:0:0:0:0:

The younger hanyou turned to his companions when they made it to the hyena's hideout, a smug grin on his face.

It was nightfall, and they'd stopped just out of earshot and smelling distance of the enemy that waited for them.

Inuyasha gave Toshiro an irritating ruffle of his hair, the boy's ears flattening against the unexpected show of affection.

"Good job, pup." The larger half youkai said with a smirk before turning to the other adults to discuss their plan of attack.

Shippou turned to him, his green eyes bright in the darkness.

"You nervous?" He asked on an exhale.

Toshiro didn't make it a habit of lying, hated to in fact, and only did so when he felt he absolutely had no choice. So, he didn't force a bravado that he didn't feel into his voice.

"A little."

Shippou smiled, his voice confident. "We'll be fine. This'll be a piece of cake."

The kit reached out a fist to the hanyou, who in turn looked down at it in confusion. With a dramatic sigh and a roll of his eyes Shippou grasped Toshiro around the wrist, closing the other boy's fingers to mimic his own before making his fist tap lightly against the hanyou's.

Shippou laughed at the older boy's bewildered expression.

"It's called a fist bump."

Toshiro stared focused eyes down at his still clenched hand, his ears flicked.

"What's the point of it?"

"It can mean good luck, or good job, or can be a show of affection." The kit rolled his eyes again. "Don't chew it to death, just-"

He bumped his fist against the hanyou's again, and grinned when Toshiro gave him a small smile.

"Oi, pups! Get over here."

Shippou shot Toshiro one last smirk before they made their way over to the waiting adults.

They'd made room in their circle for the boys to stand amongst them, and Toshiro was suddenly overwhelmed by the sense of belonging he felt. These people who barely knew him always ensured he was involved whether it be in something as simple as dinner conversation or standing in their huddle, or something as important as saving the lives of captured children.

The hanyou grinned to himself, the warm fuzzy feeling in his belly completely out of place with the tense atmosphere surrounding him.

"Pest!" His head snapped to Inuyasha, a little irritated with himself for answering to the name. "You listening?"

Toshiro's ears folded back. "No."

Everyone chuckled, Inuyasha blew air loudly out of his nose.

"Get it together, pup. We're moving out. You and the runt stay behind me and Miroku, but in front of Kagome and Sango. You will not engage in battle unless absolutely necessary, and you will listen when we give orders, whether they be to run or to help. Got that?" Inuyasha raised a black brow, daring the smaller hanyou to oppose him.

The pup swallowed. "Understood."

Inuyasha gave him a fanged smirk. "Good. Let's go."

And with his words the pack sprang into action, leaving Toshiro stunned for a moment before he scrambled to keep up.

Miroku yanked his robes from his body, revealing the skin tight black and purple taijia suit underneath. He burst through the trees, previously dozing hyenas startling with high yelps and scrambling limbs. He pulled blessed sutras from his belt, flinging the papers at the enemy youkai nearest him. They yowled in pain, the sutras burning their skin where they stuck. He waved his shakujou in an arc, knocking down two hyenas before smacking the golden weapon down on the head of a third.

Inuyasha swept Tetsusaiga from its sheath, the mighty fang gleaming in the moonlight. He slashed at the charging hyenas, cutting them away one by one as they finally realized the attack and advanced on the pack. A small group of enemy youkai attempted to surround Inuyasha, and Toshiro watched with wide eyes as his mentor grinned at the menacing hyenas, his silver white hair blowing as the wind did. He raised the blade over his head before swinging the fang in a wide arc, his voice bellowing from him.

"Kongousouha!"

Diamond spears flew from the blade, shards gleaming in the moonlight as they found home in five youkai and sprayed Inuyasha with blood. Toshiro ducked the diamond shards that had come flying in his direction. When he righted himself, he found Inuyasha grinning wider through the carnage that dripped from him.

The two males slowly but surely made their way to the mouth of the cave from which dozens of hyenas continued to exit, their teeth gnashing and foaming, killing intent glowing in their bright eyes.

The pack was the eye of a storm, the adults spread out but surrounding Toshiro and Shippou, who kicked and clawed away youkai who managed to make it past the protective walls of their older pack members.

Sango was just behind the younger hanyou, throwing and catching her Hiraikotsu expertly, slashing out at the spotted youkai with her wakizashi, mowing down hyenas with ease. One youkai managed to dodge her short sword and dashed for Shippou, who blasted his fox fire in the face of the enemy, causing the growling beast to fall back, clutching at its burning face. Sango took its moment of distraction to slice her wakizashi through it cleanly. It howled in pain before it crumpled to the ground and turned to ash and bones.

Kagome was beside her best friend, a strange pink glow engulfing her entire body as she shot off arrow after arrow with deadly precision. Her miko's aura surrounded each of her arrows, the sacred light searing through the hyenas and leaving not a speck dust behind.

An enemy youkai tried to lunge for her and she quickly held up the hand not holding her bow. Her face scrunched in grim concentration, and then a bright beam of pink light went down her arm before shooting out of the palm of her hand and hitting the hyena square in the chest. It looked down in fear at the sacred light that was spreading through its body, burning it from the inside out, before it yelped and exploded into ash and blood.

As Toshiro raked a claw down the face of a growling youkai he noticed that Kagome didn't smile as Inuyasha had when he defeated an enemy; she looked upset, sad even. Even with all that these monsters had done Toshiro realized, as she quickly wiped a tear from her face, that the miko didn't like to take life.

They were almost to the mouth of the cave now, Toshiro watching Kagome from the corner of his eye. He saw three hyenas surround her and was shot through with anger and protectiveness. How dare these creatures try to hurt her, this miko who belonged to Inuyasha and wept tears for their enemy.

She was forcing back two of the youkai but the third was trying to make its way behind her, to attack from her blind spot. Toshiro felt heat creep up his spine, his eyes stung. He raised a hand and clawed at the air, flinging an attack at the laughing youkai.

"Sankon tetsusou!"

He smirked when he saw his youki blades sliced through the hyena before it could leap at the miko. He moved closer to Kagome, leaping to plant his bare foot in the face of an enemy that got too close. The hyena stumbled back into one of the youkais Kagome was keeping at bay and she used the moment to purify them both with a sacred arrow.

She smiled over at Toshiro and he shot her a grin before lunging at yet another snarling hyena.

Was there no end to these things?

They were just outside the cave now, the walls wet and corroding, the smell of blood emanating from it so strong that Toshiro had to fight the urge to cover his nose.

The pack had fanned out, and it wasn't until he heard a scream that he realized that Shippou was no longer beside him.

He whirled around quick enough to see Shippou dragged into the cave.

The adults all turned in shock but were fending off too many youkai each to move to save the kitsune without being killed. He was being held by a massive hyena with one eye and a disgusting grin. The male clamped his red stained hand over the kitsune's mouth, using his other hulking arm to pin Shippou to his body.

The kitsune had tears in his wide green eyes and a bloody gash above brows.

"Shippou!" Toshiro roared.

Toshiro felt anger pump through his blood, fury.

He leapt with a feral cry at the youkai blocking his way to his brother, cutting one's throat and kicking another in the stomach with a speed that blurred the dark forest around him. He ducked and dodged past hyena after hyena, pushing his way through the horde of bodies and racing after the youkai who'd disappeared into the heart of the chasm.

A voice stopped him.

"Toshiro!" He turned back to the mouth of the cave. The adults of the pack were fighting with newfound vigor, cutting down youkai in their hurry get inside. It was Inuyasha who had called out to him. He didn't look back as he swung his blade over and over, and his voice was hard and demanding. "Go get our runt back."

Toshiro nodded, his eyes hardening. Two youkai lunged for him and he punched one in the jaw with all his strength and dodged the claws of the other. He dashed down the tunnel toward the light, following the scents of tears and fear and Shippou.

He noticed that he wasn't being followed.

When he came into the large, circular room like structure deep in the cave he realized why.

Chapter Text

The room opened up into a huge, round chamber, stalactites hanging from the roof of the cave like pointed teeth.

Toshiro blinked against the sudden brightness after the dark of the tunnel.

Lanterns were hung all around from the walls, lighting the room to day like brilliance

He took everything in slowly, his mind moving almost sluggishly.

On the far left side of the room was a huddle of filthy children bound together with their hands behind their backs, tears and dirt and snot and blood smeared on their faces. Directly across the room from Toshiro was the youkai who'd taken Shippou. He dangled the hanyou's unconscious brother from his rust colored claws like a trophy. His one open eye glared at Toshiro in outrage, the other scarred and forced shut. Just behind the hyena Toshiro could see a patch of darkness cut into the wall; another tunnel leading deeper into the mountain. And to the far right of the room was what at first glance looked like a woman.

But she wasn't.

Leiko, the hyena clan leader, was in her human form and humming an upbeat tune to herself.

Her ears were large and rounded, spots covering her brown skin from her neck down into her bloody, tattered pink kimono. Her hair was long, and brown, and streaked through with dark spots. She sat back against a pile of red spotted pillows, small bones strewn around her feet. She was beautiful. . . or would be if she weren't covered in dirt and the blood of innocent children.

When she noticed Toshiro glaring at her from the entrance to her chamber her happy humming cut off with a small sound and she grinned a sharp toothed grin, her violet eyes going wide in surprise.

"Kawaii!" She exclaimed, clapping her hands together and spitting the small bone that dangled from her lips to the floor.

Toshiro's ears twitched in confusion.

The hyena holding Shippou captive rolled his good eye.

"Can I keep him, Tadao? Oh please?!"

The one eyed youkai's mouth twisted distastefully as he moved across the room toward her, his gaze never leaving Toshiro. "I think he belongs to someone already, Lady Leiko."

The Alpha pouted, and Toshiro wondered idly if the female was sane. There was a crazed, almost childlike longing in her eyes as she stared at the hanyou. One that unnerved him and made him itch to get the limp Shippou away from her as fast as he could.

He flicked his eyes to the trembling children and he frowned.

He had to keep the hyenas busy until the pack could get to them; no way in hell would he be able to fight both youkai alone and get them all out alive.

"But I'll take such good care of him!" Leiko was whining, bringing the hanyou out of his head "Tadao, please! I want him!"

So not sane then, Toshiro thought grudgingly. She's talking about me as if I'm a toy on a marketplace shelf.

The youkai Tadao gave a bone weary sigh, dropping Shippou carelessly at his lady's feet in a small pile of blood before turning to glare at the hanyou. Toshiro's hackles rose. If his brother were hurt he'd make the one-eyed bastard pay for it tenfold.

"Boy, my lady requests your company." The youkai said in a hard voice, taking several steps forward and gesturing to the pup with an impatient hand.

"Your lady can go screw herself." Toshiro growled, widening his stance in anticipation. "Give me back the kitsune, and let the humans go."

"Rude." Leiko puffed her cheeks. "Tadao, why won't he play with me?"

"What do you care of human children, hanyou?" Tadao frowned at Toshiro instead of answering his leader. "They no doubt do not care about you."

Toshiro glanced at the children he was supposed to save, taking note of how they cowered into one another from his gaze.

They were afraid of him.

They saw his ears and the deep golden of his eyes as what they were; proof that he was not human, proof that he was not like them, proof that he could hurt them if he so wished. He hated the fear in their scents, hated that they looked at him as if he were a monster.

Shippou moaned lowly behind the hyena warrior and Toshiro's head snapped back to his enemy.

He bit back a growl.

Keep them talking.

It wouldn't be too much longer now. Though he still heard the battle waging behind him, it sounded as if the pack were getting closer.

"I don't care about humans." Toshiro said honestly, slowly. "But my pack does, and we've been charged with rescuing these children. So, you should release them and my brother before the rest of my pack comes and hacks you to pieces."

"Brother?" The warrior laughed as Leiko gnashed her teeth, her eyes flashing.

"They want to take my toys, Tadao. They can't take them. I haven't even played with them yet."

Her voice had lost all its childish curiosity, her tone as sharp as razors. She stood from her pillow throne, her dark tail swishing behind her and brushing against Shippou's head.

The children across the room whimpered.

"Be at ease, my Lady." Tadao assured, an almost annoyed edge to his voice. "They will not make it past our forces."

"Don't underestimate Inuyasha." Toshiro snarled.

Tadao's eye widened. "Inuyasha, you say?"

The sudden hunger in his yellow eye unsettled Toshiro.

"He'll kill you." The pup said.

"Oh, I doubt that." The hyena grinned, his teeth gleaming in the lamp light. "Are you his welp? I do not smell the blood of the Inu no Taisho on you."

Tadao spoke of Sesshomaru with a burning hatred, and the hanyou couldn't help but wonder what the Lord of the West had done to the youkai. Maybe the Inu no Taisho had carved the hyena's missing eye out of his fat head. Toshiro found himself fervently hoping that that was the case.

The hanyou pushed aside his curiosity and dark wishes, taking a step to the side as the youkai took another forward, a careful look on his face.

Bide my time.

"Why do you care whether I'm the Inu no Taisho's kin?"

The hyena cracked his knuckles, his voice deadly. "I will kill all connected to that flea ridden mongrel. I intended on hunting down his half-brother and slaying him as well. How fortunate I am to have him come to me himself."

Toshiro bared his teeth, livid at the threat against his friend. "You'll have to go through me first."

"Is that so?" The massive hyena barked another laugh. "Am I to be afraid? Do you expect me to shiver in my boots? You could only wish, half breed."

"I wish you'd choke on your own tongue." Toshiro snarled. He took note of his opponent inching closer and took another deliberate step to the side. "It would make my job much easier."

"Tadao! I want to play!" Leiko snapped, flopping back into her pillows . "Bring me something to play with. Now."

"As you wish, Lady." He spit.

And he lunged for Toshiro, his claws outstretched.

Toshiro jumped out of the way just in time, swinging his claws out at the hyena as he did and cursing under his breath when Tadao ducked his strike effortlessly. The male spun on a heel and kicked out at the hanyou, catching him in the gut and sending him flying across the room. Toshiro slammed into the wall of the cave with a groan, pebbles falling to the ground with him as he did.

This youkai wasn't like the others he'd faced tonight.

Toshiro struggled to his feet, forcing down the wince that threatened to escape him as his still healing side twinged.

He glanced quickly at Shippou as he rose. The kitsune was still unconscious at Leiko's feet. The hyena alpha thankfully paying no mind to him as she was watching Toshiro and Tadao with glee filled eyes.

"Your alpha is insane." Toshiro said to his opponent conversationally as he and the hyena began to circle one another.

Tadao chuckled without humor. "She is a bit eccentric, yes."

"Tadao! I want to play!" She whined across the room, kicking her feet against her blood stained pillows like a child.

Toshiro watched resentment flash quickly across Tadao's features at her voice, resentment not aimed at him. Interesting, Toshiro thought as he ducked a swipe of the warriors claws, a plan formulating in his mind. It seemed that Leiko's loyal servant might not be so loyal after all.

He could work with this.

"What was that look about?" Toshiro poked before he jumped for the youkai.

The hyena only snarled in response before he dodged, though not quite quick enough.

Toshiro's claws raked against the youkai's arm, coming away with blood and scraps of cloth under his nails.

The hanyou landed on the balls of his feet and spun to face his enemy.

"Do you hate her?" He mock whispered, making a show of covering the side of his mouth from the alpha.

He smirked when he heard Leiko gasp from her seat, and as he watched Tadao's face twist in fury.

"Shut your filthy mouth." The youkai growled.

He lunged for the hanyou's neck, claws outstretched and sloppy. Toshiro back flipped out of reach, landing in a crouch a mere few feet away from the captured children.

They cried out, moving back into their huddle and as far away from the hanyou as they could get. They trembled and snotted when he glared at them. Toshiro rolled his eyes before leaping back into the center of the room. Better not to bring them to a bloodthirsty murder's attention.

Tadao swiped at Toshiro again and when he ducked the hanyou used the opportunity to sweep his leg out and to knock the hyena off of his feet like he'd done with Inuyasha in training a hundred times. He was shot through with pride when the hyena landed on his back with a surprised, "Oof."

He knew what he did next was risky, and arrogant, but Toshiro couldn't stop himself from peering over the fallen warrior.

The pup tilted his head, blinking at the youkai innocently.

"I guess I understand; she is a total nutcase. But it's more than that, isn't it?"

Tadao roared, drowning out Leiko's exclaim of indignation. Toshiro barely had time to jump back before claws grasped to gouge out his eyes. Two claws nicked him, catching him under his left eye. The pup hissed in pain and felt warmth drip down his cheek. He smelled his own copper scent mix with the ones of the captured children, the ones snotting in a huddle and the ones long dead.

He grinned and didn't reach to wipe the blood away.

Whatever was between the hyena alpha and her warrior was not the loyalty of packs.

It was hatred, resentment. . . weakness.

Across the cavern Tadao righted himself, panting heavily and glaring at Toshiro with an anger that could melt stone.

"Is it because she's a murderer?" Toshiro questioned lightly, ducking right, then left, then right as the youkai sprang and swung at him over and over again. All the while Toshiro continued to talk at him as if the hyena were not trying to cut off his head, as if they were having tea. "No, that can't be it. You're no better than her. It's because you want Alpha, isn't it? Well, if that's the case why don't you just mate with her? I bet she'd be pretty once you wash the guts and death from her scent. Though I'm sure you'll end up like her last mate. Did you know him?"

He heard Leiko growl in outrage along with Tadao at his last question and he knew he'd struck a chord. He risked a glance over at her to ensure that his brother was untouched. The alpha had risen from her pillows again and was glaring at him, her eyes bright with fury and madness.

"You've no idea what you're talking about." She snarled as her warrior tried to use the moment to press his advantage.

Toshiro dodged a clawed hand and kicked out at the other. He heard bones crunch under the force of his foot and he smirked. He used the youkai's broken wrist to propel himself across the room, pushing off of it and landing at the mouth of the tunnel he had first come through. He heard his pack still fighting, but they were so close.

Only a little longer.

"You worthless maggot."

Toshiro's world stopped at Tadao's words.

Heat rapidly shot up his spine with the force of a freight train, a searing rush that shot straight for the dark place in his mind where he kept all of the memories he'd tried to forget. Toshiro turned wide, blank eyes to the one eyed youkai.

Tadao's face was twisted with thunderous hatred, a hand clamped around his broken wrist.

He yanked the bones back in place, growling at the hanyou all the while.

Thoughts of his mission, his pack, himself burned away to ash in Toshiro's mind, his blood pumping slow and boiling through his body like lava. Instead something wicked, something dark began buzzing in his head. Something began whispering to him, muffling the hyenas words as Tadao began speaking again.

"You should have been drowned when you were born. Your kind should not be allowed to walk this earth. The sight of you makes me sick,"

His words didn't register on the hanyou. In his head, the word played over and over. Maggot. Maggot. Maggot. Toshiro could suddenly feel Orochi's claws on his skin, Katsumi's breath on his damaged ear. Maggot. He felt the fire in his head travel down his arms and legs, felt his eyes burn and a searing along his cheeks.

The hissing in his mind formed into a voice.

One with a single command.

Kill.

"But not nearly as sick as I feel when I look at you." The warrior had spun on Leiko as he finished. She stared back at him with disbelief, her tail twitching.

Tadao had turned away from him, and in Toshiro's mind he did so because the youkai thought of him as no threat. Thought he was harmless, thought he was no better than a bug beneath his boot.

Maggot.

Kill him.

Toshiro's head lowered, his hair covering his eyes like a black curtain. He felt like he was on fire, and he found himself reveling in it. It began to consume him, burning away all thoughts but the one now pounding against his skull like a heartbeat.

Kill him. Kill him. Kill him.

"He was my brother." Tadao was snarling at the female. "They were my kin, and you slew them. Your own family."

"Tadao. . . Why are you saying this?" She asked incredulously. She reached out a red stained hand, as if begging him to understand. Confusion lit in her deranged eyes. "They broke, Tadao. I was only playing with them. . . and they broke. Now I need new toys."

"Toys." The hyena spit in disgust, now completely unconcerned with the hanyou slowly nearing his back. "That is how you view us all; as meaningless play things. You don't deserve to be Alpha. You never did. I've endured you all this time when all I've wanted was to rip out your traitorous throat. And once I'm done with this filthy hanyou, I'll have your head and this clan."

When he turned back to Toshiro, the hyena didn't even have time to blink before he felt something thunk against his boot.

Tadao looked down saw that it was his own arm, twitching in a growing pool of blood.

The youkai's head snapped back up at Toshiro, who stood mere inches from him now, head still down. Red coated his right hand like a glove, a malicious grin was forming on his face. Navy colored inu youkai cut jaggedly across the hanyou's cheekbones.

Holes looked to be burning into his t shirt and hakama, and Tadao watched with wide eyes as smoke rose from those spots on the boy's skin, from his hair, as if he were burning from the inside out.

"What," The hanyou growled lowly, "did you call me?"

"Tadao!" Leiko wailed. She took several steps forward, but she did not run to catch the hyena youkai as he fell to his knees. Her violet eyes widened in shock as she watched her warrior press a hand to the bleeding hunk of flesh that used to be his left shoulder.

Kill her.

She preyed on human children, the voice told him. Weak, defenseless, stupid human children who could not fight back. Toshiro could fight back. Toshiro could turn her to ash. The fire in his blood pulsed hungrily.

His hazy eyes flicked to the children, who began crying openly at his glance.

Kill them.

They would grow to be hunters. They would grow to hate him. They would grow to have pups and teach them that same prejudice. Why shouldn't he rid the world of garbage before it began to stink? Why shouldn't he end them here and now? He took a step toward them, and was halted by a small, broken voice.

"T-toshiro?"

Shippou was blinking awake, bringing himself shakily to his hands and knees behind the alpha who glared at the hanyou.

His eyes widened when he took in his chosen brother.

Kill him. Kill. Kill.

The voice was so much louder, the heat so much hotter. And Toshiro couldn't fight through it, he didn't want to. He liked it. Why shouldn't he kill them? Why should he save humans who never wanted him, and spare youkai who never had spared him?

Maggot.

The word played over and over like a mantra. Orochi, Katsumi, all those who had shunned and tortured and beaten him flashed in his mind's eye. Why shouldn't they burn? Why should any of them be allowed to live?

Maggot.

Something monumental snapped inside of him, the little rationality he had left consumed by flames and hatred. He felt fire pool just under his skin, felt it trying to break free and destroy all that he wished. He thought he could hear crackling under the rush of blood in his ears but decided it unimportant when something inside of him roared.

Burn them all!

As if Leiko could hear the voice in the hanyou's head, her eyes flashed.

She pulled back her lips over her fangs in a manic version of a smile, her claws lengthened at her sides.

"You want to play?" She chuckled darkly.

Start with her.

Toshiro took a step forward, the burning and the voice drowning out everything else.

All he knew was fire, all he wanted was blood, all he needed was death.

Kill. Kill them all!

The hanyou pup and hyena female lunged for one another simultaneously, meeting in mid-air with fangs, and flames, and claws, and insanity between them.

Shippou screamed.

0:0:0:0:0

"Motherfuckers!"

Inuyasha brought Tetsusaiga down on another youkai, cutting cleanly across the hyena's chest. He jumped carelessly over it as it crumpled to the ground with a yowl, slicing through two more youkai who'd managed to corner Kagome with his claws.

"Thanks." The miko said grimly, wiping her arm across her brow before she notched back another arrow.

Inuyasha's brow creased in concern even as he turned to face more enemies.

Kagome was tired; they all were. All of the humans were covered in sheens of sweat, the sheer numbers of the hyena youkai wearing them down though they fought furiously. There weren't many left, but the bastards were making it a point to block their way into the deeper part of the cave.

Inuyasha felt his blood boil.

His pups. He needed to get to his pups.

He felt his youkai pacing impatiently in the back of his mind, begging to be released so that he could just end this. Tetsusaiga pulsed in response, beating back Inuyasha's blood so that the growling turned into low, anxious grumble. He pushed against the pull of his feral side, forcing himself to focus on how get past the enemy without putting his pack in danger. The hanyou would easily be able to get rid of the hyena pests using the Wind Scar, but the power in the attack would no doubt bury them all alive.

The tunnel they were forcing their way down, seemingly carved into the mountain by bare claws, was narrow and had just enough room for the pack to fight without bumping into one another. They were boxed in, Inuyasha and Kagome clearing their way into the mountain, Sango and Miroku keeping the beasts at their backs at bay.

Hold on, brats. I'm coming, just a little more. He thought with an internal snarl.

"Inuyashaaaa!"

Everyone stopped at the screech, human, and hanyou, and hyena alike.

All eyes widened at the heartbroken, petrified sound that echoed from further into the cave, shaking dirt from the ceiling as it reached them.

A second later all eyes turned to the hanyou just as his eyes flashed red.

Shippou.

Shippou!

His youkai was roaring furiously in his head now, all thoughts of rationality gone and demanding that no more time be wasted. With that one scream the hanyou felt himself pulled under by rage, by protectiveness, by thirst for the blood of all who would dare cause his pup to sound so anguished.

Not even Tetsusaiga could hold Inuyasha back as his markings surfaced, as he launched himself at the dozen hyenas in front of he and Kagome and killed them all in less time than it took to exhale. As he turned from the carnage he'd created and he glared at the remaining youkai with blazing red eyes, daring them to challenge him, begging them to give him a reason to bloody his claws further.

"Get. Fucking. Lost." He managed to growl around his lengthened fangs. "Or you'll be wishin' for death long before I give it."

There was a pause, and then the mass of youkai shivered visibly. Then as if they all had one mind, they ran back toward the entrance of the cave with yelps and tucked tails between them.

Inuyasha huffed before turning to sprint down the tunnel, his feet slapping loudly against the blood soaked earth. He heard his pack on his heels, heard them yelling his name, but that was of no concern to him now.

Pups. Pups. Pups.

As he pushed himself to move faster, run harder, the scents at the far end of the tunnel made his hair stand on end. He smelled blood.

Blood, and tears, and fire.

Fire?

Inuyasha skidded to a stop as he came into the large cavern.

A part of his mind immediately assessed that the captured children and Shippou were relatively unharmed, each on either side of the large circular room. Another part noticed the single, muscled arm sitting in a puddle of blood on the ground, and the dragging trail of red that led from it into another tunnel leading further into the mountain. The largest part of him, however, watched in shock as a female hyena fought wildly with a youkai possessed, flame engulfed hanyou in the middle of the room.

From Toshiro's skin rose fire. Fire. As if his fury had manifested into flames, and those flames covered every inch of him, burning only his garments as he and the Alpha female tried their best to kill one another without any regard to their audience. His midnight black hair swayed amongst the flames like smoke, not a single strand on his head singed.

Toshiro was swinging blindly at the female, his eyes ruby red and irises a frightening pale green. He had navy blue, zig zag shaped youkai markings along his cheekbones and curving down his arms and around his wrists. Inuyasha saw as he snarled at the female that his fangs had grown, and as he swiped a curved hand across Leiko's chest that his claws had done so as well.

Toshiro's hakama and t-shirt were riddled with holes, pieces of fabric burning off of him still as he fought savagely with Leiko. His growls were deafening. His eyes focused only on his chosen prey, burning brighter as the Alpha cackled and met him blow for blow.

Leiko laughed even as blood welled from the wound, returning the blow in kind and raking her claws across the little hanyou's cheek. Still he kept fighting, as if he was past the point of feeling pain. The hyena was just as seemingly unbothered by the blistering burns Inuyasha saw decorating her hands and feet.

Tetsusaiga pulsed again, stronger this time.

Inuyasha felt his youkai recede just as a small figure came rushing right into his back.

"Toshiro?"

It was Kagome. She and the others had caught up with Inuyasha and were watching the spectacle with wide eyes. The larger hanyou snapped back to the fight when Toshiro was kicked across the room, landing in a crouch only inches from the kidnapped children. They cringed away from his flames and wailed.

"Miroku!" Inuyasha barked out as Toshiro leapt back at Leiko with a war cry. "Go to the human pups, put up a barrier around them. Now!"

"I'm on it!" The monk turned slayer sprinted across the room, shushing and cooing to the kids as he pulled blessed sutras from the purple sash around his waist. A moment later a translucent barrier formed around he and the children like a bubble, flying bits of rock and dirt from the still oblivious fighters bouncing off of it harmlessly.

Sango jogged over to where Shippou was kneeling by a pile of bloody pillows without prompting, sinking to the floor beside him and pulling the openly weeping kit into her lap to check his injuries. He winced as she touched at the slash on his forehead, but his eyes didn't move away from Inuyasha.

"Save him. . ." He heard the kit whimper, his eyes dancing between the larger and smaller hanyou fearfully. "Help him, Inuyasha!"

Inuyasha nodded grimly before turning back to the heated madness in the center of the room.

Toshiro was holding Leiko off but he was covered from head to toe in bloody gashes. He fought tirelessly regardless, the blood from his wounds sizzling as it hit the cave floor below.

Leiko seemed to be enjoying herself, even if she was just as beaten and burned as Toshiro was bloody.

Inuyasha seemed to have been taking too long to act, as he hadn't even taken a step before something hot whizzed past his cheek.

He saw a bright pink-white light slam into the alpha female's chest just as she was thrown to the ground by the young, bloodthirsty hanyou. Leiko pulled herself into a sitting position, turning sad, childlike violet eyes on her attacker just before the light erupted like a sun. Leiko died in a scream and burst of sacred energy, the purification so strong that Sango moved to shield Shippou as he yelped.

Toshiro was sent smacking into the far wall by the blast.

The flames on his body went out as he went limp on the ground.

Inuyasha blinked at Kagome just as she was lowering her bow. She was drenched in sweat and panting heavily. Her eyes were brown fire, the most angry and afraid Inuyasha had ever seen them. And though her arms shook, she didn't hesitate as she slung her bow onto her shoulder and raced across the room to the unconscious Toshiro.

Inuyasha followed closely at her heels as she knelt beside the young boy, fat tears rolling down her flushed face. The hanyou was swept through with so much relief and pride he thought he might burst.

He heard Miroku still comforting the human pups, speaking to them in a low calm voice. He heard as the monk asked if they were all alright, and as he asked their names. Inuyasha was glad to hear Emiko's name among them.

Inuyasha looked to Shippou across the room. "You okay, runt?"

The kit sniffed, looking up from the protection of Sango's arms.

"I-I'm fine." He said, absentmindedly wiping away the drying blood on his forehead with his sleeve. "Is he going to be okay?"

"He's going to be fine." Kagome said tiredly. "I was sure I wouldn't hit him, I was sure he wouldn't be purified. He's just a little stunned. That's the only reason I did it. Right, Inuyasha?"

She sounded surer than she looked.

She turned her big brown eyes up at the hanyou as if for assurance. He grunted, kneeling beside her and the unconscious boy. He didn't doubt her for a second, and though Toshiro was out cold his youki was present if not stronger than before.

Kagome gave him a watery smile.

Then she did the absolute worst thing next.

She placed a tender hand on Toshiro's back with a relieved sigh and almost immediately the boy lit up in flames like a match. She pulled her hand back with a startled squeal, her hand bright red and blistering as Toshiro pulled himself into a crouch.

"Kagome!" Inuyasha yelled.

He yanked the wincing young woman savagely behind his back, then turned to glare furious eyes at the still transformed boy not two feet away from him.

Toshiro's flames flickered, his red flashed, and he bared his teeth at Inuyasha in challenge. Inuyasha's youkai was warring with itself. Defend your mate! It roared, and in the same mental breath, Don't hurt your pup! Inuyasha bared his teeth back at the boy, fighting his own rampaging instincts.

He chose to flick his ears up tall, growling a warning to the fire engulfed pup. It was an authoritative sound that announced that he was alpha, and that if the pup pushed too far he would be punished severely. The younger hanyou would instinctively know to back down, would immediately understand what Inuyasha was snarling at him as he shielded Kagome from his bright red and green eyes.

Toshiro understood the warning, but he didn't back down.

He lowered himself further into his crouch, as if preparing to spring himself at Inuyasha and Kagome.

But he never got that far.

Inuyasha pounced on him, pinning the boy to the ground with a knee firmly planted between his shoulder blades. He snarled loudly at the squirming young hanyou, going to grab at the skin at the back of Toshiro's neck and shaking hard. Inuyasha ignored the way the flames coming off of the boy burned his leg and hand, ignored the faint guilt he felt for having to force Toshiro to submit to him. But the boy would either submit, or Inuyasha would kill him with his own hands.

Not even one of his pups would be allowed to be a threat to his mate.

Thankfully it didn't come to that.

With one last snarl, and one last tug at the looser skin at Toshiro's nape, Inuyasha felt the boy yelp under him and go limp. The bright orange and yellow flame that covered his body flickered like a dying camp fire then went out, leaving only smoke to rise from Toshiro's skin.

Inuyasha sighed lowly as the searing pain in his hand and leg let up, as the burned and blistered skin immediately began to heal itself, as Toshiro fell unconscious again.

"Kami. . ." Sango murmured into the following silence, one hand over her mouth and another over her heart. "What was that?"

Inuyasha looked down at the boy still beneath him.

His inu youkai markings had disappeared.

If it weren't for the fact that he was beaten bloody, and that his clothes were nearly charred off of his body, Inuyasha could have almost believed that the pup was sleeping peacefully.

He rose from his position over Toshiro, his haori blackened and singed around his wrist, a large hole burned away in the knee of his hakama. Inuyasha glanced over at Kagome, warring emotions shooting through him as he watched her cradle her scalded hand to her chest. Guilt, confusion, rage, concern, relief. All of these fought for dominance in Inuyasha as he finally spoke up in a hard voice.

"I don't know. But I'm going to fucking find out."

Chapter Text

He was lying on something warm. Something soft. Something that smelled of wildflowers, and dried tears, and comfort. Toshiro nestled further into the warm source, nuzzling into the soft fabric he rested against and fighting to stay unconscious.

He didn't want to wake up yet.

His body ached terribly, his head felt as if it were seconds away from splitting in half. And he knew deep down that he'd done something terrible. Deep, deep in his mind he knew he'd done something he'd be ashamed of, though his memories were hazy and he didn't remember exactly what.

Doesn't matter. Want to sleep more.

He felt himself fading and stuffed his nose into the pleasant smell by his face. Pain and guilt didn't matter. Shame and regret and fear didn't either.

He just wanted to sleep. . .

Right before he was pulled under again he heard a rumbling voice.

"Are you ever going to put him down, wench?"

Before he could wonder just who Inuyasha was referring to, or hear the response to his grumbled question, he slipped back into a heavy and fitful sleep.

0:0:0:0:0

Toshiro jolted awake from a vivid dream of blood and fire.

His hair was plastered to his head with sweat, his breathing heavy and short. He felt tears in his eyes, and the hands that gripped at the blankets around him trembled.

He tried to focus himself, closing his eyes and trying to push the dream to the back of his mind; it wasn't real. It wasn't real. He opened them when his heartbeat finally slowed and took in his surroundings.

He was in a large room. One with sliding doors and a large bathing tub in the corner.

Small flames flickered from lanterns attached to the walls, leaving the room dim and warm.

 The hanyou pup winced and looked away from the fire light.

He remembered everything. Storming the mountain with the pack. Shippou being captured. His fight with Tadao. The way that something had snapped inside of him when the hyena had called him that word. His loss of control, ripping off the warrior's arm, the demanding voice in his head, and how all he had wanted was to kill Leiko, to kill everyone.

How he'd turned on innocent children, his own brother, and even Kagome.

Toshiro’s ears flattened as he finally worked up the courage to look at the figure sleeping beside him on the plush futon. Kagome was snoring softly, her hair splayed around her in a wild tangle and her body tucked as if she had been cradling the hanyou to her while they slept.

Her bandaged hand had dropped from around his chest to his lap when he'd shot up, white gauze wrapping her right hand from her fingertips to past her wrist.

He felt terror, disgust, and panic blast through him. But he found that those feelings were not because of her touch, but because he'd hurt her. He was the reason he smelled healing skin and medicine coming from her covered hand. She had not been hurt by their enemies, not by the dozens of lackeys they'd fought nor by the alpha that she'd taken out in one shot, but by him.

From the first day he'd met the miko all she'd done was try to help him, to win his trust. Kagome was just as much the pack's alpha as Inuyasha, and Toshiro had never shown her the amount of respect she deserved.

She could have easily killed him when she'd found him in the beginning, could have disregarded him like so many others he'd run into during his escape from his past. But she took him in. She greeted him with the same warmth as she did with the rest of her pack; not as if he were a nuisance or burden she'd taken in out of duty, but as if he were family.

She encouraged him, taught him, sheltered, fed, and clothed him. She had shown more motherly affection toward him in the span of a month than he'd received in his whole life. She didn't have to do any of it, she didn't have to care for him. Yet she did.

And he'd hurt her.

Toshiro watched Kagome, confused by the slight part of her lips, the look of utter contentment on her face.

How could she stand to sleep beside him? How could she tolerate his touch after he'd caused her pain, after he'd turned his fangs on children? How could she be so forgiving? He'd tried to attack Shippou. Would the kitsune ever forgive him? Toshiro didn't believe he deserved such kindness.

He deserved to be punished, deserved to be squashed like the maggot he was.

His eyes stung with the force of holding back his tears.

The pup almost winced when he heard the bamboo door slide open, the pad of bare feet on the thick tatami mats. He didn't look up at Inuyasha as the older hanyou stopped in front of him, only continued look at Kagome's sleeping face.

Toshiro didn't think he could meet his eyes, so he lowered his ears in submission and waited for Inuyasha to dish out his justice.

Inuyasha stared at him silently for a long time, and Toshiro felt himself become more and more nervous under his gaze.

"She stayed with you the whole time." The male said eventually.

Shock went through him, halting his uneven breaths. Toshiro turned blurry eyes on his mentor's feet, not daring to look him in the face.

"Why would she do that?" He whispered.

"You were restless. And you were calling for your mother in your sleep after. . . Everything." Inuyasha rumbled lowly. "She didn't want to leave you alone."

Toshiro swallowed nervously.

He didn't think he'd ever talked in his sleep before, none the less about his mother. . . But even so, after what he did, why would Kagome reach out to comfort him?

He still stared at Inuyasha's feet as he asked, "Why would she care? Why would she -after what I- I just don't. . . I don't understand."

Inuyasha regarded the little hanyou quietly, watching the usually poised boy stumble over his words. He watched as the pup wrapped his arms around his middle, as if he were in pain. As his ears folded back against his head, further beckoning his submission. Toshiro held himself as if bracing for a lash, but Inuyasha had also noticed that the pup had yet to move Kagome's arm from his person.

Toshiro’s tawny eyes darted in every direction but the one in which the older hanyou stood.

"Why haven't you looked at me since I walked in?"

Toshiro visibly swallowed.

He wouldn't beg for forgiveness he didn't feel he deserved. He'd accept his beating without protest, as he had always been taught. The hanyou pup raised his head, not to look Inuyasha in the eyes but to tilt his head back and bare his throat to the older half youkai. He pinched his eyes shut, waiting for a blow that would never come.

Inuyasha's eyes widened. "You think I'm gonna-? You actually think I'd hit you?!"

Toshiro said nothing and just waited, his eyes closed tight and his claws gripping tightly onto the blue t shirt someone had put him in.

"I'm not going to fuckin' beat on you, pup!" Inuyasha struggled to lower his voice when Kagome shifted and groaned lowly in her sleep. "Why would you think something like that?!"

After a moment Toshiro relaxed his tense position. He knew Inuyasha wouldn’t lie, so he released his shirt and hesitantly met his dark golden eyes with the bright furious ones that looked down at him.

Anxiety swirled in the pup’s tummy no less, shame.

Inuyasha's clothes were repaired as if Toshiro had never burned through them.

His right hand no longer held burns or blisters.

"Why the hell would you think that?!" Inuyasha barked again.

Toshiro's ears stayed plastered to his hair as he mumbled miserably, "I hurt her. . ."

"Yeah." Inuyasha's eyes flashed. "And ya better have one hell of an apology ready for her when she wakes up. You're on my shit list until further notice, pup, but I'd never raise a claw to you that way. "

"I will apologize. . . I-I never meant to hurt her, or anyone. Shippou, h-he must hate me. . ." Tears welled in his eyes again against his will as he sniffled.

Toshiro had to fight back a whimper at the idea that he'd lost the only brother he'd ever had. The thought of Shippou's expressive green eyes glaring at him in disgust made his stomach flip.

Inuyasha sighed, then sank onto the floor on Kagome's other side.

The male folded his arms into the sleeves of his red haori, and amber eyes met over an obliviously sleeping miko. Inuyasha's were concerned, angry, but tired. He had heavy bags under them, ones that made Toshiro curious about when the last time his mentor slept.

The younger hanyou didn't even know how long he had been unconscious, or even where they were. They stared at each other in the quiet room, the only sounds to be heard were the quiet flicker of the lanterns, and the distant sound of chirping crickets.

"Shippou doesn't hate you." Inuyasha finally said into the silence.

Toshiro's ears flicked uncertainly and he looked away.

"He doesn't blame you for what happened," Inuyasha continued assuredly. "None of us do."

The smaller hanyou nodded minutely, glancing down at Kagome as she shifted closer to him. Her bandaged arm moved to wrap around his small waist, her legs curling up to bump against his own. Toshiro felt a slow warmth fill him as she cuddled closer, warmth, and shame, and protectiveness. He didn't think her touch would bother him much anymore, and he was glad for it.

"Has your youkai ever surfaced before?" Inuyasha pulled him from thoughts of his changing heart, his mentor's watchful eyes on Kagome's movements.

"Is that what that-that voice was?" Toshiro felt himself shiver just remembering the bloodthirsty thing that had taken control of his actions.

Inuyasha nodded, a sad look in his eyes. "That ‘voice’ you're talkin' about is our youkai nature manifested, our instincts, our blood. Hanyou's have a harder time controlling it.”

"Is it always so. . . destructive?" Toshiro didn't want to feel like that again, that angry, that mindless. "Do we always want to kill everything when we lose control?"

"Not always." Inuyasha's look turned haunted. "But it's in a hanyou's nature to turn feral once our youkai surfaces, a consequence of being mutts I guess. Full blooded youkai can manage their instinctive urges much easier than we can. I've done horrible things, hurt lots of undeserving people, back in the day. . ."

"You can control it now?"

"Mostly. That part of us is something that can never be truly tamed, pup, just sated. Sometimes I still struggle with mine."

"H-how do you satisfy it?" Toshiro mumbled, afraid of the answer.

Would he have to burn down a forest to please it? A village? Would he have to kill?

"Keh.” Inuyasha seemed to be blushing for some reason. “Our instincts are canine, pest. When it's wants aren't mass murder they're usually pretty basic. Food, sleep, it's pack, and. . . it's mate."

"I saw when your eyes flashed red. When I hurt her." Toshiro’s gaze flicked down to Kagome again. "Did you want to kill me?"

Inuyasha gave him an almost thoughtful look. "No."

Toshiro swallowed. "A-and your flames?"

There was a pause.

A curious glint forming in Inuyasha's eyes before he said slowly, "I've never seen anyone burst into a ball of fire like you did, pup."

The male’s voice was low and cautious, as if he were talking to frightened animal.

And he partly was.

Toshiro blinked at him, not immediately understanding what the older male meant. And when he did he felt like he was going to throw up.

So, I am a freak, Toshiro thought bitterly, an abomination even among my own kind.

He felt it now, Inuyasha called it his youkai blood, buzzing in the back of his mind with his upset. Toshiro felt its heat slowly pumping through his body, making his blood thrum in a way that frightened him. He felt sweat bead at his nape and was all the more frightened when he felt the chaotic energy in his veins pulse like a heart. The pup began hyperventilating, his breath coming out of him in desperate little gasps.

He was a monster, a revolting beast who needed to be put down. He could hurt someone again! He had no control over this inferno inside of him, he had no control over-

"What's wrong with me?" Toshiro whispered brokenly to himself.

He felt a tear slip from his eye and winced when he heard it sizzle as it hit the futon below him.

"Toshiro." A voice spoke.

The hanyou pup raised panicked eyes to his senior.

Inuyasha's brows were creased in concern. He'd raised himself into a crouch, preparing to yank Kagome away from the boy's side in a moment's notice. Toshiro's heart clenched. He didn't want to be a danger to her, to anyone! He didn't want this!

Though Inuyasha's body was tense, his eyes wary, when he spoke again his voice was calm.

"I want you to look at your hands."

Toshiro gave the larger hanyou a confused look but did as he was told. The pup blinked away the blurriness from his eyes, his breath  becoming sharp and shallow at what he saw; He seemed to be alight from within, a faint glowing just underneath his skin like a dying fire. Each time he inhaled the dim light seemed to glow a bit brighter, making the toffee color of his skin glow like embers. Each time he exhaled the strange light muted.

From his arms, hands, and even his feet tiny tufts of smoke rose to curl into the dark room.

Toshiro jerked his head back to Inuyasha's face, fear shooting though him like a punch to the gut.

"I'm gonna-!"

"No, you're not." Inuyasha said in a hard voice, his eyes brokering no argument. "You're going to take a deep breath. And you're going to try to relax."

Toshiro stared, taking in the way Inuyasha looked him straight in the eyes, his surety and trust grounding the little hanyou.

He nodded slowly, closing his eyes and taking in a shaky breath. Toshiro imagined himself in a cool pool of water, the flames in his body doused by Inuyasha's belief and his own will. He felt it's resistance, felt the pyretic energy pop and crackle as it tried to break free of his skin.

The pup stayed quiet, focused for several minutes before he exhaled slowly, forcing down the heat until all of the fire was pushed to the bottom of his belly, a dull and unimposing flicker inside of him.

When he opened his eyes and looked down at himself again, the orange-reddish glow was gone.

"I did it." Toshiro breathed.

Inuyasha nodded. "I knew you could."

The little hanyou swelled with happiness at Inuyasha's proud smirk, but still felt fear somersaulting in his belly. He still felt the flames within him, they were nowhere near gone. It was like his youki was crouched and waiting to go berserk, waiting for the moment Toshiro lost control of his emotions again.

He could feel the sizzle of it under his skin.

Would he always feel like this?

"It'll get easier, pup." Inuyasha said as if he could read the other hanyou's mind.

Toshiro shook his head, gripping at the blanket still pooled in his lap.

Kagome pulled herself closer to his side in her sleep.

"You don't know that. You said yourself that you've never seen someone do what I can."

"Just because I haven't seen it doesn't mean it doesn't you’re the sole exception." Inuyasha shrugged. "I sent Myouga to find Sesshomaru a few days ago, I'm sure we'll see the pompous asshole again before we leave his territory. I'll ask him what he knows of your abilities then."

"We're still in the Western Lands?" Toshiro did not miss that Inuyasha had sent Myouga away several days before. He had apparently been unconscious for a while.

"Well we couldn't just tote your ass back to Musashi." Inuyasha snorted. "You're heavier than you look, pest."

Toshiro glared at him.

Inuyasha smirked again and slid to the floor, sprawling out beside Kagome and balancing his head on a hand.

Toshiro's ears flicked, his worry that Inuyasha and the others would shun him taking center stage in his mind again. Inuyasha said they weren't angry now. . . but what if he lost control of this thing inside of him again and ended up doing real damage to someone? The pack would hate him and expel him out when he had just started to feel at home within it.

He dreaded the thought.

He had to get control over this-this fire that burned even now inside of him. If he didn't, he'd end up as alone and afraid as he had been the day Kagome had found him.

He'd rather die than feel like that again.

"Are you-are you sure you're not angry with me?" Toshiro looked up through his thick lashes at his mentor.

"I am angry." Inuyasha said lowly, his voice rumbling. "You fucked up, pup, but it wasn't your fault. I don't blame you, but I am angry that you hurt Kagome. That you yourself got hurt."

Toshiro's ears drooped. "What can I do to make it right?"

Inuyasha laid back on the floor, his arms crossed under his head. Toshiro followed suit as he waited for his answer, laying back onto the pillow he'd apparently been sharing with Kagome. He pulled the blanket up around both of their shoulders carefully, and didn't protest when the miko smushed him into her chest. She smelled nice.

So long passed before Inuyasha spoke again that Toshiro had begun drifting off to sleep.

"You're gonna hate me, pup." He said finally.

Toshiro blinked worriedly, his long lashes brushing against the wool of Kagome's sweater. "Why?"

"You're gonna show me that you can control your youkai. You're gonna show me that you won't let what happened three days ago happen again. And until you do you're gonna be training your ass off, morning, noon, and night. Got it?"

Toshiro's mouth set into a scowl. He knew that Inuyasha was deadly serious, but so was he. He could do this. He would learn to control his strange youkai. He never wanted to feel the way he had, never wanted to be a danger to his pack, ever again.

My pack. 

It was the first time he had ever thought of them that way, and actually meant it. The first time Toshiro had thought of Miroku, and Sango, and Kagome as pack, not just by their given names or identifiers, 'the humans' or 'the miko'.

It was the first time he thought of them not as a group of people he’d been tasked to protect, but as his family, as something that belonged to him.

He was slipping fast, Kagome's warm arms and warmer aura swathing him in a blanket of temporary peace. Toshiro’s mind quickly blanked of his worries, his eyes too heavy to hold open much longer. His body was still tired, recovering.

Before he fell blissfully unaware he heard a voice whisper in the back of his head. But this time it was not bloodthirsty; this time it was possessive, determined, even a little afraid.

My pack. Mine to protect. From enemies, from self. Mine to convince. Mine . . .

0:0:0:0:0:

Kagome yawned, her eyes squeezing shut and arms stretching above her head.

Or rather one arm; the other had a black haired hanyou holding it down.

She blinked bleary eyes down at her captor. They widened in shock when her mind processed her predicament; Toshiro was wrapped around her like a vice, both arms and even a leg folded around her left arm as if he were holding a teddy bear. His cheek was squished against the fabric of her sweater, making the open little 'o' of his lips misshapen.

She smiled, a warm flutter in her stomach.

His little drooped ears flicked when someone moved behind her. She turned her head and saw that Inuyasha was there again, watching her and Toshiro with a strange expression.

His amber eyes were soft and bright in the darkness of the room.

"Who knew he was a cuddler?" She whispered, a small smile still gracing her face.

"Keh." Inuyasha turned onto his side toward her.

He looked exhausted. His eyes were half lidded, dark circles under them.

"Have you still not slept?"

He snorted lowly. "Sleep is for the weak."

"You need to rest, Inuyasha." She rolled her eyes. "You've barely slept a wink in the past three days."

Kagome shifted, moving to turn her head more comfortably toward the older hanyou. The younger one grumbled in his sleep and moved with her, unwilling to release her arm.

She giggled at him, then noticed Inuyasha's brow furrow as he watched Toshiro as well.

"He's fine, Inuyasha." She assured in a whisper. "He's been out cold for a long time, but I'm sure he'll wake up soon."

Golden eyes flicked back to her. "He's already woken up. I spoke with him a few hours ago."

"Oh. How did it go?” She narrowed her eyes. “You didn't hit him, did you?"

"Keh." Inuyasha propped his head up on his hand. "You have no faith in me, wench."

"Inuyasha. . ."

Said hanyou rolled his eyes. "Relax, woman. I didn't hit him."

"So, what happened?"

Inuyasha's look turned almost uncomfortable.

He squirmed a little and scratched at the light scruff at his jaw. "He submitted to me again."

"You said you didn't hit him!" Kagome gasped.

"I didn't!" Inuyasha's voice raised an octave. "When I heard him shuffling around in here I came in to check on him, and when I did he wouldn't even look me in the eye."

Kagome could hear the slight hurt in her best friend's voice as he continued.

"I didn't force him to. I didn't pull rank. I asked him what was up and he just. . . submitted. He submitted to me with this broken look in his eyes, he exposed his throat for me and just sat there. . . Waiting for me to lash out at him."

Kagome cast sorrowful eyes down on the little boy still clinging to her arm.

Why would he think Inuyasha would do that? Who had hurt him so badly that he expected to beaten for something he had no control over? Kagome's eyes watered, her chest clenching painfully.

She spoke around the lump that had formed in her throat. "And then?"

"Keh." Inuyasha scrubbed the sleeve of his haori across his eyes. "I told the little shit that it wasn't his fault, and that none of us were mad at him for what'd happened. It was apparently his first time transforming, so he was really freaked out and thought that we'd shun him. I told him that his youkai is something that he can learn to control, and that he's gonna be training his scrawny little butt off with me until he does. We spoke about his flames, and I saw first-hand the signs of him losing control so now I know what to look for if it happens again. And he knows he has a lot of ass kissing to do with the both of us before he's forgiven."

Kagome scrunched up her nose. "He doesn't have any ass kissing to do at all."

"The hell he doesn't!"

"It wasn't his fault, baka!"

"Regardless of the situation, Kagome, he has to learn that if he threatens our pack again he will be punished! He has to learn that what happened can't happen again."

"I'm pretty sure he's learned his lesson, Inuyasha! Whatever that mean dog thing you did to him was, seemed to do the trick!"

Inuyasha gave her a hard look. "I was punishing him, wench. He could have killed you. And I'll do it again if he steps out of line! He has to learn his place."

Kagome puffed her cheeks, the rational part of her mind telling her that she didn't know much about inu youkai culture, and that she had to trust that Inuyasha was doing the right thing.

But that didn't mean she liked it.

"I think he's been punished enough." She finally whispered.

Kagome took note of how the little hanyou in question had tightened his grip on her arm, as if he could sense her upset. When she looked over at Toshiro she saw that his face was twisted in a grimace, his brows furrowed and eyes closed tight.

The miko hesitantly ran two fingers of her bandaged hand over his soft cheek, both a great happiness and great sadness filling her when she felt him relax under her touch. His puppy ears drooped adorably, and a small snore emanated from the back of his throat.

Kagome watched him with a morose smile, letting the low sound of his breaths and warmth from his skin soothe her.

When Inuyasha spoke up again his voice was hushed, almost disbelieving.

"You love him. . ."

Kagome's head jerked back to Inuyasha, wide browns meeting his wider goldens in surprise.

Inuyasha's cheeks looked suddenly flushed in the dim lamp light, his tall fuzzy ears flicking. His eyes were probing, depthless, and awestruck.

Kagome felt her own face heat under his stare.

"You love him." He said again in the same strange tone.

"Of course I do." Was her immediate response.

Something lit in Inuyasha's eyes at her whispered word, confusing Kagome further by the intensity his gaze.

Of course she loved Toshiro.

Inuyasha looked at her like she'd given him an answer to a question he'd been dying to know, like she'd given him a gift. But why would that be? Why wouldn't she love Toshiro? The boy was strong, and brave, and smart. He was honest, though sometimes to a fault. She had watched him grow so much in just a few short weeks. He was-

Inuyasha reached out to her, cupping her cheek with a clawed hand and reaching down to seal his lips soundly to hers.

Kagome made a small sound of surprise, her eyes blowing wide. . . then all thoughts of Toshiro left her mind completely.

Inuyasha was kissing her and his lips were soft, and warm, and desperate.

She didn't know why this was happening, what possessed him to do so, but she thanked Kami that something had. She felt herself melt into his touch as his hold on her tightened, her eyes fluttering closed and her heart hammering against her chest. Her free hand came up to tangle in his hair and she grabbed on for dear life, using the soft silver strands to anchor herself. He parted her lips with his own, his breath hot and dizzying as it washed over her.

He pulled back slightly, and she felt the loss of his lips like the removal of something vital. She felt it like a part of herself had been taken away, and she was two seconds from pulling him back to her and kissing him until she forgot her own name.

But his look have her pause.

Inuyasha’s gaze was bewildered, as if he didn't understand what’d happened either, as if he had no control over his actions. His eyes were huge and dilated, the amber color there just a golden rim.

His lips were but an inch from her own, and when he spoke again she felt the brush of them against her.

"I-I didn't mean to-You-I-I shouldn't have-"

But she didn't give him the chance to finish.

Kagome pulled him back down to her, crashing her lips to his again, unwilling to hear him say that he regretted it. She didn't want to hear that she wasn't who Inuyasha really wanted, that she wasn't Kikyou. All she wanted was to kiss him and forget everything else for a while.

In this moment Inuyasha wasn't distant, he wasn't cold, and he needed her as much as she needed him.

Kagome poured all of her pent up feelings into this kiss, begging the him to see what had always been in front of his stupid, gorgeous face. A low growl rumbled in the hanyou’s chest at her fervor and just as he began to part her lips with his tongue another sound froze them in their tracks.

Inuyasha pulled away again quickly, looking across Kagome to Toshiro like he'd completely forgotten the boy was there.

Kagome turned with him, Inuyasha's soft hair tickling her cheek, and saw to her confusion that Toshiro had his teeth bared in his sleep. Low snarls were coming from between his teeth and his brows scrunched in anger. His hold on her arm had turned deadly, and his ears were perked and twitching.

The larger hanyou scoffed and disentangled himself from Kagome, shooting Toshiro an irritated look as he did.

The little half youkai stopped his unconscious growling after a minute, loosened his grip on her a fraction, and resumed drooling peacefully on Kagome's sweater.

The miko steeled herself, then hesitantly looked to the hanyou beside her, desperately wishing that he felt what she had.

Inuyasha flicked his eyes away from hers the moment they met, his expression unreadable and his mouth working.

His ears folded back against his head and Kagome felt her stomach drop.

"Go back to sleep, Kagome." He murmured, still not meeting her eyes.

She felt the weight of his rejection press heavily on her chest.

What was the point of even kissing her if he didn't want to? Just because she was here?

Convenient, her mind whispered to her bitterly.

She willed back angry tears and laid back down on her futon with her back to him.

Inuyasha sighed miserably and she wanted to scream.

Baka, baka, BAKA!

Kagome scooped Toshiro into her embrace and cuddled him for dear life, trying to draw some sort of comfort from the little hanyou to no avail. Toshiro let out a small sigh himself, but one of contentment, and the miko could have sworn she heard Inuyasha growl behind her.

Neither one of them spoke for the rest of the night, their bodies tense and their hearts hurting.

Chapter Text

Inuyasha's eyes peeled open sluggishly, his head cloudy and body heavy.

His ears immediately perked and rotated around as he sat up, instinctively taking in his surroundings. He'd done so every morning of his life since he was a pup, since Mother died.

The lantern flames had all went out, leaving the room dark and chilled. Inuyasha could hear the chirping of birds outside of the Headman's home, and the soft padding of his pack's feet against the tatami in the main room.

Kagome was still asleep, her back to him and her body curled tight under the blanket around a lump Inuyasha assumed to be the pest. His heart started to feel heavy too as he watched them, his ears drooping.

He shouldn't have kissed her the night before.

Not because he regretted it, or he hadn’t wanted to, but because that was now literally all he could think about.

When he'd forced himself to pull away from her it had taken every ounce of his will power not to crush her back to his person. Inuyasha’s youkai had raged inside him for hours, furious at the loss of its mate's touch.

When he'd finally fallen asleep he'd tossed and turned all night, his dreams filled with the memory of Kagome's lips.

How many times had he told himself that he wouldn't act on his feelings? How many times had he argued with himself that distance from her was for the best? All these months, years, of refusing himself what was rightfully his and for what?

One look from Kagome and his control was non-existent.

And the look wasn't even at him.

It was the way she'd looked at Toshiro. That all-encompassing, heart stopping look in her eyes as she'd gazed at the half youkai who'd try to kill her not once, but twice. She'd used the very hand that he'd burned. . . and comforted him. She wasn't afraid or disgusted by his abilities.

She'd clung to him for days, chasing away his nightmares, holding him when he cried out in his sleep.

She'd treated the little half breed most would have turned their noses up at like he was her own blood pup.

Inuyasha couldn't take it.

He'd wanted her, wanted to claim her, to mark her as his own so that everyone would know she was his. Inuyasha had wanted her to look at him with those guileless brown eyes and be told she loved him too. But she couldn't, and wouldn't, because he'd pushed her away again.

It's for the best. It's for the best.

Inuyasha repeated this in his head like a mantra as he rose from his spot on the futon they’d shared.

Until they got rid of that stupid fuckin' jewel he would not lose control again. No matter how loud his youkai screamed at him to do just that, no matter how much he desperately wanted to.

She could be taken away.

If she left him the pain would be one thousand times worse than when he’d thought Kikyou had betrayed him, because he knew deep in his bones that Kagome was his true mate. There was a chance that she would disappear with the jewel. . . and then Inuyasha would shatter. Better to save himself the heartache now than later.

That was what he tried to convince himself every morning, and what he believed less and less every night.

Inuyasha went to take a deep breath, and then paused with a foot suspended in mid-air.

He whirled back around to Kagome and inhaled again. Taking a step around the sleeping miko the hanyou saw that it wasn't Toshiro she was squishing to her chest at all, but the pillow the two had shared through the night. The hanyou pup was nowhere to be seen.

Inuyasha frowned and stomped out of the room, closing the door quietly behind him and marching past the other guest rooms in the large house, sniffing all the while. Toshiro's scent led him down the long corridor and was hours old.

He felt irritation and panic crawl up his spine as he came into the main living area.

Inuyasha could hear the Headman and his family's soft snores on the other side of the house. It was barely sun up, but his pack had been early risers since their days of hunting the Shikon no Kakera.

Sango and Miroku were seated on plush cushions in the middle of the room, talking quietly to one another. Shippou was on his back, the storybook he looked at held above his head. They all turned to him when he walked in.

"Good morning, Inuyasha." Miroku said pleasantly, leaning back on his hands.

The male grunted at the monk/taijia, his nose and ears still straining for signs of his pest. The smaller hanyou wasn't in the house at all, his scent went right out the front door.

Inuyasha turned to Shippou.

"Where is he?"

He heard Sango ask 'Who?' but he wasn't paying attention to her. Shippou slowly sat up, his jade eyes huge and guilty. He sat his book down and wrung his hands.

"He told me he wanted to do it himself." The little kitsune looked up at him through his lashes. "He told me he would be back real soon. . . he promised."

"Why didn't you get me?" Inuyasha barked, then struggled to collect himself when Shippou winced. "He could be anywhere, and he doesn't have control of his youkai! He could hurt someone! Where did he go?!"

He smelled Kagome before he heard her shuffling down the hall, and he tried to ignore the jolt her scent caused in his chest. Maybe if he pretended last night never happened he could gain control of himself again, maybe he could look at her without the constant urge to cover her in his own scent.

Kagome yawned loudly and brushed past him without a look in his direction, and Inuyasha pretended it didn't hurt.

She sunk to the floor beside Shippou, immediately pulling the kit into her lap before finally blinking her sleepy eyes at the tense hanyou.

She yawned big, blinking sleep away before she asked, "What are you yelling about, baka?"

"Toshiro appears to have run off." Miroku said for him.

That woke the miko up.

"What? When?" Kagome's hold on Shippou tightened a fraction. "Where did he go?"

Inuyasha growled again. "That's what I'm tryna figure out, woman."

"When did he wake up?” Sango asked worriedly.

"Last night." Grumped Inuyasha. "I fell asleep for one second and the little fucker runs off."

"He'll be back soon!" Shippou assured, his head turned to Kagome and his voice sure.

"He'd better or I'm thumpin’ ya!"

"You are not thumping him!" Kagome whirled on him, her hair and her eyes wild. "It's not his fault!"

"How about I thump you then?" Inuyasha bared his teeth. "You were the one holdin' him all night! How the hell didn't you realize he'd snuck off?!"

Kagome shot to her feet, her face red and Shippou dangling from her arms. "Well I didn't see your super hanyou senses noticing it either, baka!"

"Keh! I was asleep!"

"Keh!" The miko mocked bitterly. "Sleep is for weak, remember?"

His face flushed in anger and before he exploded at her he heard the front door quietly slide open.

All eyes turned to the little figure standing in the doorway, to Toshiro.

The pup looked at them all in surprise, his cheeks and the tip of his nose bright pink from the bite of cold outside, bits of snow still clinging to his hair and clothes. One of his hands still rested on the bamboo door, and from the other dangled a rabbit carcass.

The little hanyou's face reddened further when he noticed Inuyasha's eye on it.

"You did it!" Shippou exclaimed into the silence.

The kitsune wriggled from Kagome's grasp and landed softly on his paws, then ran to the little hanyou, ushering him inside as he looked over the kill.

The rabbit was gutted and mostly cleaned, tiny bits of fur still clinging to it.

"Tch. I said I would." Toshiro muttered. When Shippou reached out a hand to touch the rabbit the hanyou pulled it out of his reach. "Don't touch it!"

All the adults watched with wide eyes as Toshiro then turned to them, the blush never leaving his face. He jut his chin out and marched into the warm room, his kill held firmly and his eyes determined.

He stopped directly in front of where Kagome still stood, her mouth parted, and dropped the kill at her feet with a resounding plot. He then dropped to his knees in front of it, folded back his ears, and looked up through his long dark lashes at her.

Inuyasha gasped.

Sango and Miroku looked perplexedly at one another.

Shippou smiled.

Kagome shot the older hanyou a panicked look as she sunk to her knees on the other side of the rabbit, her eyes huge and confused. Inuyasha moved to her side and squatted beside her, a small, proud smirk forming on his face as he looked at the still kneeling hanyou pup.

"Inu-Inuyasha?" Kagome whispered, her eyes darting from his smile to Toshiro's worried face. "I don't. . . I don't understand what's happening?"

"He's brought you his first kill." Inuyasha said warmly, just loud enough for the others to hear. "He's recognizing you as his Alpha. He's. . . apologizing."

As if to back up Inuyasha's explanation, Toshiro reached out a hesitant hand and went to grab at Kagome. The little hanyou shot the older a questioning look and, when Inuyasha nodded at him, Toshiro closed the distance between his hand and Kagome's and wrapped his fingers around her bandaged wrist. Kagome inhaled sharply and the little hanyou's honey gold eyes flicked to her worriedly and he loosened his hold, afraid he was hurting her.

He used his other hand to move her fingers to his liking; extending her pointer finger and balling the rest into a fist.

Everyone collectively held their breaths as Toshiro moved her hand and poked himself in the middle of his forehead with her finger. His eyes never left hers as he did this, and Inuyasha watched in awe as tears formed in his amber orbs and he returned her hand safely to her lap.

Toshiro was still gazing at Kagome, his look afraid and hopeful at the same time.

Kagome looked down at her still pointed finger in confusion, and then to Inuyasha with a question in her eyes.

"He-he just gave you permission to punish him." Inuyasha tried to clear the lump in his throat before he continued. "Youkai rarely punish their young physically so a pluck to the head or nose, a grab at their scruff or ears, is how they're usually disciplined. He just asked you to forgive him, he's. . . trying to cement his place in the pack. He's submitting to you."

Kagome's eyed widened at him, and then it was like Inuyasha didn't exist at all.

With a watery smile Kagome reached out and yanked Toshiro from his kneeling position and into her arms. The little hanyou let out a surprised little squeak but didn't protest as she hugged him tight around the neck and buried her face between his puppy ears, crying softly all the while.

"Of course I forgive you, Toshi." She said into his black hair. "You've been a part of our family since the beginning. You never, ever have to worry that we'll turn our backs on you. This pack is your family. You will never be alone again."

Inuyasha smiled as Toshiro turned to silly putty in her arms, his clawed hands going around her waist and gripping onto her pink sweater as if he were afraid someone would rip him away.

The rest of the pack looked on at the two with soft smiles. Sango wiped a stray tear away. Miroku patted his wife lovingly on the back. Shippou, grinning widely, trotted over to where Inuyasha still squatted and stood in between the large hanyou's legs. Inuyasha moved to sink fully to the ground beside the still hugging duo, pulling Shippou securely into his lap with one hand and ruffled his hair with the other.

The little kitsune blinked at him, and then positively beamed.

Then Kagome's stomach growled loudly and broke through the serenity of the moment.

Toshiro pulled back immediately at the sound, his eyes misty but concerned as he looked up at the miko. "You're hungry."

Kagome's look turned sheepish as she said. "Yeah, I guess I am."

The hanyou pup hopped off her lap, quickly picking up his forgotten kill.

"Eat." He said simply, holding the meat out to her.

Miroku chuckled at her bewildered expression.

Inuyasha cleared his throat, Toshiro's ears flicked in his direction. "Go to Sango, pest. She'll help you cook it for Kagome."

Toshiro nodded at him, that determined look back in his butterscotch eyes, and then padded over to the taijia. Shippou wiggled out of Inuyasha's hold to join the two as they, along with Miroku, settled around the fire pit.

Inuyasha turned to Kagome, the warm feeling in his chest and his desire to kiss her suffocating.

She smiled shyly at him, her eyes not really meeting his, then moved to sit around the fire with others.

Inuyasha watched with pride as Toshiro cut rabbit meat into sizeable strips with his claws, his eyes flicking to Sango every few seconds to ensure that he was doing it correctly. Kagome sat on his other side and the little hanyou shifted closer to her as he worked, Shippou climbed onto her lap.

Inuyasha rose himself and headed to the still open door, then glanced over at his family as they smiled, and giggled, and talked at one another. Not one of the idiots realized that one rabbit wouldn't feed them all.

"Keh." He snorted with a smirk, then went off to hunt down the rest of their breakfast.

0:0:0:0:0:

The Headman and his daughter had thanked them profusely before they left, showering them with food for their journey and good will.

Emiko had hugged both Shippou and Toshiro, and Inuyasha was proud of the pest for not shoving the human pup off of him. He just grimaced and held himself completely still until the little gap-toothed girl pulled away.

As they'd walked back down the long road and into the forest they left cheers and hollers of thanks behind them from the villagers.

They'd traveled sevral uneventful hours after that, the sun throwing gleams of light off of the snow and the forest alive around them. They had quite a way until they were home but none of them seemed to mind the walk, still high on their victory.

Miroku and Sango walked ahead of the pack, the pups in the middle and talking excitedly about all the training they'd be doing when they got home. Or rather, Shippou talking excitedly and Toshiro listening to his companions chatter with a small smile. Kagome walked beside Inuyasha silently, her eyes on the boys and her look dreamy.

She looked happy, but Inuyasha had not missed that she'd barely spoken to him since they left the village.

Inuyasha wished that there was a way for him to apologize, for him to make her understand that he wasn't pushing her away because he didn't want her.

How could he tell her that she was his mate, but that he would not claim her? How could he tell her that she was everything he had ever wanted, but her being taken away was everything that he had ever feared? He just couldn't make himself do it. Every time he tried his throat closed up as if a hand were wrapping around his windpipe, preventing the words he desperately needed to say from leaving his mouth.

Inuyasha was snapped from his depressing thoughts and to attention when feel of a familiar, lazy aura reached out to him. The hanyou kept walking awhile, intent on ignoring the call, but the youki quickly got nearer, more insistent.

He rolled his eyes and turned to his miko, halting her with a grab at her arm, before raising his voice so the others could hear as he said, "I'll be back! My brother and I need to talk. Keep moving, I'll catch up."

Inuyasha noticed that Toshiro shot him a look of surprise, and worry, and he knew that the little hanyou and Shippou wouldn't have been able to sense his ass of a brother; Sesshomaru had long ago learned how to mask his youki, and how to project it out to those he wished.

The hanyou darted off, following his brother's arrogant aura to find him standing alone in the shadow of a large tree, his face impassive.

Inuyasha made a point of looking around. "Where's your entourage?

The Lord of the West gave him an unamused look. "You sent your annoying vassal for me, brother. What is it you want?"

"You know him."

Sesshomaru didn't insult Inuyasha by pretending not to know who the hanyou meant.

"Hn."

"And I'm gonna take a leap here and guess that you ain't gonna tell me how." Inuyasha was rewarded with his brother's flat look and sighed, folding his arms into his haori. "Do you know what he can do?"

The inu youkai raised a single sharp brow.

"His youki manifested as flames." The hanyou answered in a hard voice. "He lost control during our job, his youkai surfaced, and the pup almost roasted us all alive. If you won't tell me where the hell he came from, at least tell me if you've heard of inu youkai having this ability because I damn sure haven't."

Sesshomaru's eyes had widened slightly, but quickly covered his momentary look of surprise.

He spoke after a moment.

"It is rare, but not unheard of. The previous Inu no Taisho's youki could also manifest in this way."

"What?!"

"How you know not your own father's abilities shows just how ignorant you are, half breed." Sesshomaru drawled. “Our father had a trove of exceptional abilities at his disposal.”

Inuyasha growled lowly. "How the hell was I supposed to know that? I never fuckin' met the old man, and you sure as hell never shared any heartwarming stories!"

The inu youkai snorted. "Your own sword has the ability to wield fire, baka."

"That came from absorbing Kinka!"

"Your sword would not have wielded his power if it were not already familiar with the element."

Inuyasha furrowed his brow, glancing down at the sword strapped to his hip.

After a pause he said, "Why aren't you goin' around spouting fire then."

"You and I did not inherit Otou-san's ability."

Inuyasha ran a hand through his hair in frustration.

He could barely hear his pack anymore as they moved farther and farther down the forest trail.

"Did Toshiro inherit it, then? His mother was the youkai, right?" He remembered hearing the pup's whimpering in his sleep a few nights ago; small, high pitched inu sounds that pups instinctively made when distressed and calling out for their mother.

"Hn."

Inuyasha burned with questions Sesshomaru obviously had no intentions of answering.

Fuck it, he'd try anyway. "Who was she?"

Sesshomaru's lips turned down slightly.

He didn't look as if he wanted to speak but he eventually did. "She was a very powerful youkai."

"Was?"

"She's dead."

Inuyasha felt like pulling his hair out. "Why won't you just tell me how you know Toshiro, you bastard!"

To the hanyou's surprise his brother's look turned soft, thoughtful. "He does not wish me to do so. He will tell you when he is ready."

Inuyasha’s eyes widened.

Since when did the bastard do as he was asked? Sesshomaru was fond of Toshiro, that much was obvious. Inuyasha had never seen that look in the inu youkai's eyes unless he was talking about Rin.

And as much as he wanted to argue and beat the answers out of his brother's damn face, he had to respect that the Inu no Taisho was honoring the pup's wishes.

"Keh."

"Did you kill Leiko?" Sesshomaru asked conversationally.

The pride in Inuyasha’s voice was palpable. "Kagome did."

"Hn." The youkai hummed. He regarded his younger brother for a moment, then said suddenly, "She's too good for you."

Shock went through Inuyasha before he bristled. "The fuck did you just say?"

But the Lord of the West was already turning on his heel, his hair and Mokomoko-sama flowing in the wind. He threw a suggestion over his shoulder as he strode into the trees, his voice still devoid of emotion.

"Seal his youki, as father did for you. Until the boy learns control, he is a danger."

"Keh!" Inuyasha snarled at his back. "I know that, I don't need you to tell me how to look after my own fuckin' pup!"

He didn't see Sesshomaru's small smile at his words as the Inu no Taisho shot off of the snow laden ground and into the sky. Inuyasha curled his lip at his brother's retreating figure, then turned at a run to catch up to his family.

"Fucking bastard." He seethed, irritated that he hadn't gotten as much as he wanted from his ass of an elder brother.

But at least he knew now what to do next, and exactly who he needed to go to for it to get done.

Chapter Text

The evening of their first day of travel their camp site was ambushed by a band of possum youkai looking to take the Shikon no Tama for themselves. The pack had dealt with the vermin accordingly, all of course except Toshiro who Inuyasha had refused to let fight.

They were attacked again the following afternoon by a massive boar youkai, but again Toshiro was told to stay out of the way, to stay safe, to keep his emotions in check while the others killed the beast.

The older hanyou had not been joking about making the smaller train harder, and until Toshiro had better control of his youki he would not be allowed to participate in battles. So the black haired hanyou spent the early mornings, afternoon lunch breaks, and times before dinner during their journey training with his mentor.

He was made to practice his tracking across twice the distance he usually had to.

He was made to mock hunt and battle with Inuyasha, and occasionally Shippou, twice as long.

On the morning of their final day walking home Toshiro slipped up. Shippou had been instructed to transform into a rabbit and Toshiro was to chase down and pin him. Shippou's lesson was to avoid being caught. After almost an hour of being unable to capture the kit-rabbit in the blue bow Toshiro's frustration had gotten the better of him and he'd lost control of his youki for a split second.

He had not turned into the bloodthirsty demon that had since haunted his dreams, but a thin film of fire had emerged to dance across his skin, leaving singed patches in his green t-shirt and scorching footprints in his wake, effectively scaring the daylights out of his brother when Shippou had glanced over his shoulder.

Toshiro had gotten a flick to the nose and a lecture for it.

The rest of their travel home was uneventful.

They'd finally made it back on the afternoon of the fourth day.

 

The young hanyou never thought that he'd be excited to the village. Never in a million years had he thought that the sight of the small town’s rice fields and small wooden huts would make him think of home.

Smiles and waves of welcome greeted them as the pack made their way through the village to Kaede's. Children running and playing shouted Shippou's name, Toshiro's name much more subdued on their tongues as they passed.

The pup’s ears drooped a little.

Was he so mean that the other children were afraid of him? What would they do, what would they think, if they found out about his ability? Would they fear him? Be disgusted by him?

An elbow prodded the young hanyou on his side, pulling Toshiro from his thoughts.

He flicked his eyes beside him and saw that Shippou's green eyes shone with a playful glint.

"Race you?" He grinned.

Toshiro rolled his eyes. "Are you serious?"

"Well if you're that afraid that you'd lose. . ." Shippou drawled, but when the kit glanced back to the hanyou he found that Toshiro had already taken off, throwing a smirk over his shoulder as he ducked around a village woman's legs.

"Hey! You CHEATER!”

Shippou took off after his brother, giggling madly and leaving the adults behind.

The young hanyou grinned as he skidded to a stop in front of Kaede's hut, secretly proud of himself; he'd followed the scents of herbs and miko almost effortlessly through the village and was able to find it on his own. Shippou was a minute or so behind him, a sheen of sweat covering his skin and his breath coming out of him in quick pants.

The kitsune leaned against the hut and glared at his barely winded companion.

"Are you sure you're not half cheetah youkai?" The redhead grumbled.

Toshiro snickered smugly. "When you start really training, maybe you'll stand a chance of keeping up with me."

"Pfft. When did you get so cocky?." Shippou snarled playfully, moving the curtain on the hut aside to enter Kaede's home. "Sore winner."

Toshiro snorted as he followed. "Is that even a thing?"

But Shippou didn't respond, smiling broadly at the old woman who was braiding sage into thick bundles and humming to herself.

"Hello Kaede!"

She grinned at the boys as they sat across from her.

Toshiro inclined his head respectfully.

"I take it ye mission went well?"

"Of course it did." It was Inuyasha, his voice boasting as he came into the hut directly behind Kagome. "Poor bastards didn't stand a chance."

Kaede chuckled as the two seated themselves, her good eye soft and knowing as she watched Toshiro shift closer to Kagome's side.

"Where are Sango and Miroku?" She asked after a moment.

"They went back to their hut to recuperate." Kagome said. "Poor Sango looked so tired."

Toshiro silently agreed.

During their journey home the hanyou had noticed that the slayer's steps started lagging the longer they walked. She wasn't seriously injured in any of their battles, but the pack had had to make more stops to allow her to rest than they had on their way to the village in the West.

He had also noticed a strange, subtle change in her scent.

He made a note to ask Shippou if he'd also smelled the difference later.

"I'd be tired too if I had to swat that pervert offa my ass every five seconds." Inuyasha was grunting.

"Language, Inuyasha." Kaede chided automatically before she continued. "Kagome, will ye be training before dinner?"

The young miko nodded studiously. "I was actually thinking of having Toshiro join us."

The hanyou in question flicked his ears up, his eyes going wide in confusion.

It was Inuyasha who spoke up with a scrunch to his nose, "What the hell would he benefit from miko training?"

“Kaede has me meditate for half of our training time. It's helped me control and channel my miko's energy a lot over the years. I bet it would be good for Toshiro, it could help him focus his youki.” Kagome shot Inuyasha a glare. “Maybe you should join too baka, Kami knows you still lack self-control yourself."

Inuyasha growled and snapped his teeth and Kagome chuckled.

Kaede looked concerned though, her brown eye on Toshiro. "Did ye transform young man?"

"Yes." He swallowed. "My youki turns into flames when I lose control of myself. It is dangerous, and I must not let it happen again."

The old miko looked impressed by the conviction in his voice and nodded.

"Meditation does wonders for one's impulse control. Ye are more than welcome to join us if that is what ye wish, Toshiro."

Toshiro flicked his eyes to Inuyasha, who still looked unsure and embarrassed, then to Kagome who gave him an encouraging smile.

His eyes turned back to Kaede assuredly.

"It is."

"Great!" Kagome clapped. "We can get started as soon as I get back."

Inuyasha's eyes narrowed. "And where the hell are you going?"

"Home, baka." Inuyasha's lip curled at the word. Not the insult, the little hanyou suspected, but the word 'home'. "I need a bath, and we need more supplies. Plus, Toshiro needs more clothes."

"The clothes I have are fine." The boy in question tilted his head.

Kagome patted him on the knee, the young hanyou becoming momentarily distracted by the seemingly thoughtless touch. "All you have are t-shirts and half of them were destroyed, Toshi. Even though I know hanyous are more durable than us humans, you should still have warm clothes."

Toshiro's cheeks pinked at her thoughtfulness.

"What he needs are clothes made for a youkai." Inuyasha grunted. "Your puny human clothing won't do much to keep him warm, plus he'll burn right through them the moment he loses his shit."

"Language, Inuyasha." Kaede's eye narrowed sternly.

"Keh."

"I'm getting them anyway." Kagome flipped her thick hair over a shoulder before she rose from her spot. She leaned down to plant a big, wet kiss on Shippou's giggling cheek, then squeezed Toshiro's shoulder lightly. 'I'll be back before dinner, boys."

"You better fuckin' be or I'm dragging you back by your ankles!" Inuyasha barked as the woman left the hut with a roll of her eyes.

"You shouldn't talk to her that way." Toshiro said sharply, surprising even himself as everyone turned wide eyes to him.

"Awe, he's protective now." Inuyasha sneered at the smaller hanyou's blush, rising himself and crossing his arms into his haori. "Why don't we put this energy you found to mouth off to good use? Time to train."

Shippou whined. "But we just got here!"

"And now we're just leaving." Inuyasha marched out of the hut without a backward glance. "Let's go pups."

Toshiro allowed himself a low, "Tch." but rose to follow the older hanyou into the cold.

Shippou groaned dramatically and threw a pleading glance over his shoulder at Kaede, but the old miko just chuckled into her hand and wished them good luck.

0:0:0:0:0:

Toshiro was panting, his dark blue t-shirt sticking to him with sweat. Shippou was under him, his nose and brows scrunched in frustration as the older boy held him pinned to the snow by his arms.

His blue bow was loose and his hair was a wild, auburn tangle around his head.

The young hanyou turned his eyes to their overseer for approval, and in the vain hope that Inuyasha would end their combat Training for the day.

The white haired male nodded his head from his perch in a tree, eyes bright in the waning sunlight, and then grunted out, "Again."

Shippou groaned, and Toshiro bit back a growl as the two sprang apart and back to their respective corners of the clearing behind Inuyasha's hut.

The two boys circled one another, teeth bared and claws extended. Toshiro watched Shippou's feet, knowing that while he was physically stronger, the kit was fast and used his smaller size to his advantage.

"Eyes up, pest!"

Just as Toshiro sent a glare his mentor's way Shippou leapt across the small clearing and clawed out at him. The hanyou barely had enough time to duck. Shippou used his momentum to throw himself over his crouching brother, rolling out before finding his feet under him again.

"It would also be smart to keep your eyes on your opponent." Inuyasha drawled impatiently.

Toshiro hissed lowly. "Well, if you'd shut up."

"Oi! I heard that, you little shit!"

Toshiro ground his teeth, ignoring the other hanyou and launching himself at Shippou's midsection only for the kitsune to spin out of his reach and smack him upside the head. The smaller boy bounced on the balls of his paws, covered in a sheen of sweat with a smug smirk and glinting jade eyes. His long tail flicked tauntingly.

Toshiro did growl this time.

"Stop concentrating on a single area! Always focus on your opponent as a whole. You have to be able to anticipate his movements and react to them as they’re happening."

Toshiro grudgingly followed his mentor's sharp words, watching how Shippou feinted left, then right, then left. The kitsune pushed him back a step with a sweep of his claws, his face set in determination as he leapt for Toshiro again. The hanyou met the attack head on with a near roar, and just as he wrapped his arms around Shippou's middle the other boy disappeared in a puff of smoke.

Before Toshiro could react he was shoved to the ground, a sharp knee in the middle of his back and a wicked chuckle breathing against his nape.

"You little sneak." The hanyou snarled into the snow, his sweat rapidly cooling as he panted for breath.

He heard Inuyasha jump from his tree with a soft thud, the crunch of his bare feet in the snow as the older male stopped beside the still pinned Toshiro and the grinning kit.

Inuyasha crouched in front of Toshiro, his eyes a bright gold against the purple sky.

"Never expect your enemy to play fair." He said seriously. "We're done with hand to hand for now."

The pressure against the hanyous back disappeared, and then there was a small hand in his face.

He took it, allowing the other boy to help him to his feet.

Shippou was grinning like a maniac, his breathing hard and his hair plastered to his head. As irritated as Toshiro was that the kit had managed to pin him a good six times in the past two hours, he had to admit that his brother's glee was infectious.

"You're learning fast." He smirked as they followed Inuyasha around the side of their hut. "Even though you snuck me."

Shippou snorted. "I'm a fox youkai, illusions are my only advantage."

"I wouldn't call that your only advantage, though it is a pretty good one.” Toshiro placed a thoughtful hand on his chin as he went over their mock battle in his head. “You're quick on your feet, and your small frame and feminine clothing could easily cause someone to underestimate you. I did."

"Gee, thanks." Shippou rolled his eyes with a tolerant chuckle.

"Oi!"

They were standing by the front door of their hut, the warm fire inside beckoning Toshiro inside. Inuyasha stood beside the doorway with his hands fisted on his hips and an impatient look on his face. It was nearly sundown and Kagome had yet to come back. Toshiro had no doubt that that was why Inuyasha had gotten more and more grumpy throughout their training.

"I'm gonna go get Kagome, the wench should have been back by now." His eyes shot in the direction of the forest, and to the well that resided inside of it. "Stupid woman. I want the two of you to go straight to Miroku's and stay there until I get back with your moth- with your Kagome."

Toshiro's eyes widened in shock as Shippou tried to hold in his snickering.

Inuyasha's bright red face was an indicator of the kit's failed attempt if there ever was one.

"Keh! Move it, runts!" And then the hanyou was darting off, his hair and haori trailing behind him.

The boys made their way leisurely to their instructed destination, stretching their tired muscles as they walked.

Toshiro still reeling from Inuyasha's almost slip up.

"Was he-was he about to call the miko our mother?"

Shippou giggled. "Yeah. You wouldn't believe how many times I've caught him almost calling her his mate. I honestly don't know how she hasn't realized yet."

But Inuyasha's slip of the tongue wasn't what had stunned the young hanyou, it was the intention behind it. He had only been with this pack for a little over a month and was just getting used to the idea of them thinking of him as one of their own. Did Inuyasha and Kagome think of him as their own? 

He knew that they had both had lain claim to the kitsune, but him?

Toshiro had never had parents; he had never known his human father, and the only reason he knew what his mother looked like was because of the old tattered painting that he'd stolen and was no doubt ash by now.

No one had ever claimed him in any sense. . . no one but Katsumi. And she had told him that the way he was treated by her was normal, was how a hanyou ought to be treated, and that he should expect nothing more from any sensible being. He was a useless half breed after all, a burden. No one would ever want to claim him as their own pup.

Except Inuyasha and Kagome apparently had.

"You've got that stupid look on your face again." Shippou said suspiciously. "What're you overthinking about now?"

"He-they claim me?" Toshiro stuttered, his brows furrowed in confusion.

He tried to push down the ridiculous bit of hope that fluttered in his chest, tried to snuff out the way the fire of his youki danced in his veins in excitement.

They didn't, couldn't claim him. Not like that. Not like they did with Shippou. Maybe it was convenient to have him around, but they couldn't want him as their pup. Why would they want a rude, temperamental, unfocused, unskilled maggot. Katsumi said that she was the only one who could ever love him. Katsumi said that he was an abomination and would be a fool to think someone would ever want him. Katsumi said that the only place he would ever belong was at her feet. Katsumi said-

"Duh."

Toshiro whirled on the kitsune, who had stopped his stride to give him an equally confused look.

"You haven't figured that out yet?"

"But-I don't under-"

The kitsune threw up his hands. "What is there to misunderstand? Kami, please don't tell me you're as dense as them! I'm the youngest! Why do I always have to be the one to state the obvious?! You're. Pack. And even more than that, you're my brother."

The young hanyou swallowed and scratched at his cut ear nervously, at the mark that reminded him every day just how useless he was.

"But why would they want me?" He asked in a small voice.

"Why not? You're smart, and strong, and kinda funny under that constant frown of yours." Shippou shrugged, watching his paws leave prints in the snow as they began walking again. "Inuyasha and Kagome may be too blind to see what's right in front of them, but you don't need to be. The four of us, we're a family. I've felt it since the day we ran into Sesshomaru. And dammit, I need help getting those two to finally realize it!"

Toshiro just gaped at the shorter boy, at how he could sound so sure about accepting a near stranger into his makeshift family.

Katsumi and Orochi's voices were like a whispered poison in the back of his head, telling him not to believe Shippou, that no one in their right mind would ever want him, telling him that he would only bring pain to these people. But Toshiro shoved the thoughts deep down, tired of keeping his distance, tired of holding himself back from this kitsune who had claimed him without hesitation, and the pack who treated him like he mattered.

Even if those phantom voices were right. . . even if the pack did end up rejecting him, he was determined to enjoy having a family as long as he could.

All throughout Toshiro's epiphany Shippou had continued to yammer on, his arms waving around him as they maneuvered around village men and women. The sun was setting fast and the villagers were bustling about, gathering ingredients for their dinners and rounding up their children.

" . . . I mean, do you know how many times I've tried? Do you realize how hard it is getting our parents to realize that they're our parents?! NO! Kagome is a saint don’t get me wrong. I don't know how she puts up with Inuyasha in the first place. He's such a prideful baka. He behaves like our dad; claims us, protects us, feeds us, trains us. But you know what he did when I slipped and called him father a year ago? Do ya? He thumped me! He only really stopped thumping me on the noggin’ when you showed up! The baka pushes his own mate away, acts like he doesn't care about her, but the moment someone touches her he's all growly and ready to spill blood! Do you know how I know he claims you? Huh? You are literally the only male I've seen touch Kagome he hasn't tried to kill, beside myself of course."

An unexpected peel of laughter bubbled up from Toshiro's belly at his brother’s frustration.

Though Shippou grinned at the sound, the kit continued in an exasperated manner.

"The sad part is that I'm not even kidding. He still goes after Miroku sometimes and he's mated for Kami's sake." He slapped a hand to his forehead for good measure.

"Speaking of the humans." Toshiro jumped at the opportunity to change the subject; he needed time to process all that his talkative companion had said. "Have you noticed a strange smell coming from the taijia?"

They'd finally made it to the married couple's hut, and as Shippou pushed aside the dividing curtain he looked over his shoulder and said, "Yeah, I've smelled that scent before on some of the breeding females in the village. It's because Sango's pregnant."

There was a shatter inside the hut, and both boys whipped around to face the topic of their conversation. Sango had dropped a clay bowl, spilling the contents of their assumed dinner on the wooden floor, her hands were pressed against her mouth and her eyes were as wide as the ocean.

"I'm what?!"

And then, from his place seated by the fire pit, Miroku fainted.

Chapter Text

When Inuyasha had finally returned, dragging an irritated Kagome behind him, he'd seen the pups and the taijia all in a panic; Sango in a corner, silent tears streaming down her face and a squished kitsune in her arms. Shippou was trying desperately to free himself from the slayer's death grip, but for all of his youkai strength he was unable to get away, squirming and squealing for help when he saw Inuyasha and Kagome stop dead in the doorway. Toshiro was kneeling over Miroku's unconscious body, slapping the deliriously grinning monk repeatedly on the cheek.

A week had gone by since Shippou had inadvertently told Sango that she was carrying her first pup.

 Inuyasha had known of course but was going to let the humans find out for themselves. Humans always got so sappy when it came to new pups, he’d figured he’d keep his nose out of it.

Leave it to his talkative brat to let it slip.

When Miroku had finally woken up, and Kagome had managed to pry her kit from her best friend, the couple had been so ridiculously happy that they hadn't let go of each other for the rest of the evening, and most of the following day.

Inuyasha envied them.

"What're you thinking about?" Someone whispered.

Inuyasha cracked open his eyes, releasing a heavy sigh as he regarded the hanyou pup who was peeking out of one of his own golden orbs across from him.

"About how stupid I was to let you talk me into this." He murmured back, quickly snapping his eyes shut when he felt the swat of a bare branch against the back of his head.

"No talking!" Kaede barked. "Concentrate."

"Keh."

He took a deep, calming breath, willing his hackles to relax. He followed the wise woman's instructions and tried to quiet his mind, not just for his pup's sake, but because the hag kinda knew what she was talking about. Though he had much better control over his youki than he used to, he had to admit that he was having an easier time controlling his baser urges after just a week of meditation.

The old miko had turned out to be quite the militant. There was no talking during training, no giggling, no complaints. One was to become aware of every speck of their energy, to will it to pool in various areas of their bodies, to shove it deep down inside themselves and then to drag it up to just beneath their skin over and over.

He was never allowed to sit in when Kagome did her miko training before and the hanyou had never understood why. Now he did; even the slightest sign of distraction was snuffed out by Kaede and her surprisingly stinging switch. The old woman had an eye like a hawk, and ears that rivaled his own.

And the pups claimed that Inuyasha he was bad.

Every afternoon before lunch for the past week the hag had collected Toshiro to train with Kagome and because of those big, pleading eyes the boy had convinced Inuyasha and even Shippou to take part in the daily torture after the first day.

They sat around the fire pit in the middle of Kaede's hut, the blaze high and filled with calming herbs, the bustle of the village a distant thrum, the old priestess marching around them, sometimes murmuring calming words and sometimes popping one of the twitching pups or the distracted young miko with her Kami-damned stick.

Inuyasha was one more smack away from snapping the thing in half.

They had been at it for over an hour when Inuyasha heard Shippou's stomach growl clear across the fire. Before the hanyou could stop himself he was on his feet and declaring the training over, his youkai taking on its new strange paternal edge and demanding the kit be fed.

He was out of the door before Kagome opened her eyes and on his way into the thick of his forest.

He was surprised when he heard the soft patter of the pups tailing him a moment later.

"What're you brats doing?" He grunted, not even bothering to turn around as he darted through the village.

He did slow though, allowing the pups to catch up to him, to flank him on either side.

"We want to hunt." Shippou panted.

"You just got through training, and I put the two of you through the wringer this morning. Go home."

They had been awoken before dawn to mock fight with wooden swords and claws until their limbs ached. Inuyasha had taken their whining and groaning in stride, and when they were half way done their morning training he spoke to them of their growth, how they were already slightly faster, a smidge stronger. Neither pup complained after that.

Neither pup turned around now.

Inuyasha smirked, pushing himself a little faster and acknowledged the bit of pride he felt when they kept up with him.

"Keh."

Once they were under the cover of trees their hunt lasted less than twenty minutes and Inuyasha noticed, not for the first time, that the pups had extremely competitive natures.

That’s a good thing though, he thought.

They goaded each other, challenged each other, pushed one another's limits.

When Shippou had managed to climb a nearby tree and take down a large bird Toshiro's face had screwed up a second before he took off, dragging two fat rabbits back with him through the bush upon his return. Shippou scowled at his peer's kill and then scented and tracked down a boar. Even though Inuyasha was impressed at his gall, he knew that the kitsune wasn't yet ready for such large game and killed the beast himself before the brat got hurt.

In the end they had enough meat to last the lot of them at least a week.

Inuyasha slowly walked them through the steps of gutting and cleaning, guiding and correcting as they each carefully cleaned a rabbit. Inuyasha skinned and gutted the rest of their kills in no time and then they were back off through the trees and into the village to show Kagome.

The miko was in the garden behind Miroku and Sango's hut, pulling up vegetables for their meals before they were on her, shoving the meat in her face and demanding her attention.

"Okay, okay boys!" Kagome said over their loud calls of her name, gently slapping their hands away as they crowded her space. "Not all at once!"

"Look, Kagome I took down a bird!"

"Tch, my rabbits are better."

"Well I hunted down a boar! It's way bigger and better than your rabbits!"

"Keh! I'm the one who took down the stupid pig. And I'm the one who hauled the damn thing home!" Inuyasha grumbled with aforementioned kill on his shoulders.

"Boys!" Kagome laughed. "I'm very proud of all of my big, strong hunters."

Not one of them could help the way their chests puffed out in pride.

Or the identical, simultaneous, near blinding grins they gave her in return.

Inuyasha knew that he was behaving like a pup, knew that the slayer was seated beside them, giggling into her hand as they vied for the young priestess's attention. But he could help it no more than the boys could. It was in their instincts, they were canid youkai after all; it was in their nature to want to prove to their female, their mother and mate, that they could provide and care for her, to prove that they were strong and smart and capable.

He thought of Kagome with the titles without even meaning to and found that they didn't bother him nearly as much as he tried to convince himself they did. He didn't attempt to stop the blush that stained his face when Kagome smacked a wet kiss on his cheek, the weight of the boar on his shoulders becoming as light as air.

She leaned in to show the same affection to each of the pups, and even Toshiro was unable to completely quell his preening under the miko's attention.

"You've got three handsome men bringing you gifts, Kagome." Sango finally spoke up, smiling warmly. "I'm jealous."

"You wound me, wife." Miroku was walking down the dirt path that led around their house, his nose scrunching when he noticed the bloody meat dangling from the hands of the other males. "Why would you want such horrid offerings? The flowers I pick you are much prettier."

"Keh!" Inuyasha took the meat from the boys, stomping past the monk to stash their food in his friend's hut. "She can't eat flowers, ya useless lecher."

Miroku's response was something stupid he was sure, but Inuyasha didn't hear it as he busied himself trying to cool the fire in his blood. His instincts were roaring at him, clawing at the restraint he was so proud to have in place, demanding that he go back and kiss the smile off of Kagome's face.

His youkai was high off of its chosen mate's attention, and desperately wanted more of it.

And earlier I thought of her that way again, as my mate. And as their mother. If I keep this up I'll jump her mid-sentence. I have to keep myself under control. I will keep myself under control until we purify the jewel.

His youkai growled in challenging disagreement, pacing back and forth in that dark space in the back of Inuyasha's head.

He was distracted from his internal struggle by a sudden prick on the end of his nose.

He crossed his eyes, his lips turning down as he took in the flea getting fat off of his blood.

"Ya got two seconds before I flatten you."

The little youkai detached himself with a small pop, leaping to perch on the hand that gripped Shippou's plucked bird.

"Good afternoon, Lord Inuyasha! You taste especially happy this afternoon."

"Keh. What do you want, Myouga?"

"We didn't have a chance to discuss the battle before you sent me for Lord Sesshomaru." He said conversationally. "I heard word that the lot of you took down Leiko and her clan quite easily."

"Most of em'. Some of the bastards got away, but you'd know that if you hadn't run away like a coward."

The flea sweat dropped. "I'd suddenly remembered that I had urgent matters to attend to."

"Convenient." Inuyasha snorted.

"It's true, my Lord!" The old youkai squeaked. "During your battle I sent word to master Totosai. I assumed because of the nature of your newest ward that the young one would need a sealing sword, and only after you left the West did Totosai send Mo-Mo to me with a note agreeing to commission the weapon. Toshiro will need the seal soon, Master Inuyasha, for I fear that his control will be tried sooner than you wish."

Inuyasha stopped in his tracks, his face turning serious as understood the warning in the flea's tone. "Has word of his flare up spread?"

Myouga nodded grimly. "The hyenas who survived have been heard telling the story of their battle with your pack, my Lord. And their new leader, Tadao, saw young Toshiro burst into flames himself and has been whispering about the events of that day to the youkai underworld."

Inuyasha's brow furrowed as he hefted the boar off of his shoulders and into the hut's storage space. The monk would smoke it and the rest of the meat later.

"The bastard is pegging him as a threat."

The flea nodded again. "Word is that Toshiro's transformation is something to behold, that it is a fierce and frightening power. Tadao had his arm ripped off by a mere pup, they say, and a hanyou pup no less."

"What the fuck is that supposed to mean?" Inuyasha's head snapped to him, not bothering to smother the growl inching up his throat.

Myouga balked at the sound.

"I meant no offense, my Lord. I only meant to reiterate what was being said about the young master."

"They can all meet my Tetsusaiga is they have an issue with my pup."

"They know that he is under your protection, and not many would challenge your claim to the boy Master Inuyasha."

The irritated hanyou growled. "Where is that fucker Tadao, now?"

"Rumor has it that the hyena has run to the South. No one knows where exactly, or why. Most of his remaining clansmen have scattered across the territories."

Inuyasha resumed his trek back to the garden and to his pack, pausing to mindlessly wash the blood from his claws in the little stream that kept Sango's crops so beautiful.

He took an unsteady breath, willing his hackles to lower and the instinct to hunt down the one eyed bastard to calm. If Toshiro was being labeled as a threat youkai would come after him regardless of what Myouga said about no one challenging Inuyasha's claim. Despite the boy's cunning Toshiro was young, vulnerable, and already more powerful than some youkai three times his age with his flames.

A target.

Just being born a hanyou was excuse enough for the bastards of youkai society's underbelly to want to kill the pup. Add onto that the fact that the pack harbored the jewel, and they were in for a world of shit.

Inuyasha would cut down anyone who tried to take his pup.

And the he wasn't stupid enough to think that Toshiro would take the threats lightly.

The pup had started to become annoyingly protective of Shippou after his human night. After he brought Kagome his first kill he lit up under her praise and affection, always kept an eye or an ear in her direction. After the haircut Inuyasha gave him all those weeks ago, and the trust and patience the older hanyou had given the younger since, Inuyasha was surprised and flattered when he noticed that the pest's eyes cut to him before he made most decisions.

Inuyasha knew that regardless of whether Toshiro knew it or not that he had instinctively accepted the pack as his family.

Toshiro watched his chosen brother's back, vied for his chosen mother's attention, sought out his chosen father's approval. He was more attentive to and open with Sango, more tolerant of Miroku and his nonsense.

If anyone posed a threat to the pack now that the pup unconsciously had claimed them all as his own. . . Kami help them if Toshiro’s flames decided to come out and play again.

"When is Totosai gonna be done making the sword?" Inuyasha finally grunted to the flea.

Myouga shook his head. "He hasn't started it yet."

He glared at the little youkai. "Why the hell not!?"

"He wants to use your fang as material, Master Inuyasha. And meet the young fireball before he forges the blade. My visit is not just a social one, Mo-Mo's note also instructed me to retrieve you and the boy and bring you to his Eastern den."

"Keh! Why didn't you just say that to begin with you pain in my ass!"

He flicked the flea off of his haori and stomped off to round up his family.

0:0:0:0:0

Inuyasha told them that they were to leave for the East immediately, that they were going to meet a swordsmith friend of his who would make Toshiro a sword to contain his youki.

They had been walking for the better part of the day, the sky a light purple and snow flurries falling into the young hanyou's hair. Toshiro lifted his nose to the breeze, smiling softly to himself as snowflakes melted on his flushed cheeks.

Sango and Miroku had decided to stay in the village, the human male not comfortable with his mate walking the two days into the forest now that he knew she was carrying a pup and Kirara had yet to return.

And even though Toshiro was a little uncomfortable with the thought of his pack being separated he couldn't deny that he was kind of. . . excited.

He had been practicing for weeks with sticks and roughly made wooden swords.

He and Shippou mock fought for hours every day.

He was still made to practice the basics of tracking and hunting at every dusk and dawn, but Toshiro knew that he was faster, stronger, and more experienced than he had been when he found the pack.

He had even become a bit more comfortable with the fire that seemed to always zing in his veins, more comfortable with himself.

Toshiro’s body was healthier than he ever remembered it being, his mind even more so.

His youki felt more like a part of him now rather than a foreign, outside threat. The meditation training that Kagome and the Keade put him through was doing wonders for his self-control. He'd spent hours becoming familiar with the fire, learning what emotions and memories made it flare and flicker, which made it dull to embers. It was like another being inside of him, one he was slowly getting to know, and one the pup wasn't as afraid of as he had been in the beginning.

He had even been able to summon a tiny flame the day before and contain it to the palm of his hand. When Shippou and Kagome had given him proud praises and claps his fire had turned into a warm rumble in his chest.

He felt good.

He felt. . . happy.

Regardless of the flea youkai who kept giving him strange looks from his seat on Shippou's head.

"Is there something on my face?" Toshiro frowned at the balding youkai.

Said flea started, blushing as bright as the red hair he perched in at being caught staring. "Not at all, young master. I was just lost in thought. . ."

"Tch."

"Don't pay him any mind, Toshiro. Myouga is probably just contemplating his next escape route should we run into trouble." Inuyasha grumbled from his place beside Kagome.

"Such disrespect! Lord Touga would have never treated me this way."

"Keh! Be thankful the old man kept your coward ass around."

Toshiro's head tilted. "Touga. . .?"

"He was the previous Inu no Taisho." Kagome said to the confused pup when he looked over his shoulder at her. "Inuyasha's father, and Myouga's previous employer."

"You say it as if Lord Inuyasha pays me, Lady Kagome." The flea grumped, crossing his two sets of arms.

"Oi!"

"Why not just work for Sesshomaru?" The hanyou pup's honey eyes found their way again to the little youkai.

Myouga was already shaking his head. "As much as I respect the Youkai of the West, Lord Sesshomaru is much too cold. Inuyasha is very much like his father, if not a bit crasser."

"Ya got one more time, ya old bastard."

"What was Lord Touga like?" Toshiro asked, ignoring his still sputtering mentor.

Kagome was giggling, comforting the irate older hanyou with soft pats on his arm.

"Honest. And fair. And charming when he chose to be. As stubborn as an ox and as tough as a nail. And warm. . ." Myouga cut his eyes over to Toshiro again, giving him that strange look. "You actually remind me a lot of him, young one."

"Tch." Toshiro blushed lightly, ears flicking.

He had heard stories of the previous Lord of the Western Lands, but never of his name. Whispers of how he was a just and loveable Alpha, and a powerful and fearsome warrior.

Katsumi had always harbored a deep hatred for the inu youkai male and didn’t hesitate to threaten all who dared utter the late youkai's praises with death. He had never known why. Most times Toshiro was too broken to bother paying attention to her rants, but they always seemed especially venomous when she knew that he was listening. She spoke of the Western Lord as weak and inferior, as idiotic and a failure to his people. For what great leader would put a human above his subjects? Who would lower themselves to such filth? What mighty Lord would fall to the likes of a beast that was ended by a mere hanyou?

Toshiro remembered her laughing when others told and told the story of how the Great Dog Youkai had met his end.

He remembered feeling a flicker of anger at her scorn, fury from somewhere deep, deep inside of him.

"It's getting late. I smell a spring nearby, we're setting up camp in the clearing ahead." Inuyasha grumbled. At Kagome's excited gasp he spun on her. "And no baths!"

The miko puffed out her cheeks and rolled her eyes.

She stomped away from the hanyou and wedged herself between a now smirking Toshiro and a giggling Shippou.

"Stupid dog man, never lets me do anything." She pouted childishly.

Toshiro chuckled at the woman's whining, letting his painful memories melt back into that dark space in his mind. There was no point in thinking about that time in his life, of her.

If he didn't see the hateful inu-youkai for a thousand years it would be too soon.

He was opening his mouth to say something to hopefully comfort the woman at his side, and to hopefully irritate the other hanyou, when a wind blew through the expanse of the clearing they'd stopped in for camp and he snapped his mouth closed.

A strange, unfamiliar smell swept past the pup’s nose.

A nimble youki was making its way right to them, strong, and fast, and focused.

Toshiro's hackles rose in wary and confusion as Inuyasha let loose a feral growl behind him.

"Oh Kami, here we go." Shippou rolled his eyes and sighed loudly through his nose. Toshiro noticed the kit shift closer to Kagome's side despite his nonchalant tone.

"What do you me-"

"Heyyy Kagome." A whirlwind of brown fur and black hair stopped right in front of the miko, who's smile at the newcomer was indulgent, if not a little exasperated.

"Hello Kouga."

Toshiro glared.

So this was the Alpha of the northern wolf clan. He was tall, and muscular, and he had a mischievous light in his blue eyes. And Toshiro immediately disliked him. His scent was mixed heavily with that of a female and of smaller, younger wolves. He was mated and had pups and yet he was leaning into Kagome's personal space.

He was way too close for the young Toshiro's liking.

The young hanyou let out a small snarl along with Inuyasha's much louder one when the wolf reached out to grasp Kagome's hand without her permission.

"I've missed you." The wolf said softly, looking in her eyes as if they were the only two there. "It's been too long since I've seen your pretty face."

Toshiro bared his teeth in warning, but it was Inuyasha who stomped forward and yanked the miko behind his back.

"Back the hell off Kouga."

The wolf rocked back on his heels, his nose scrunched up and smirk plastering on his face. "You're still around dogshit?"

Oh, Toshiro really really didn't like this youkai.

"I ain't going anywhere, you bastard. And neither is Kagome."

Toshiro huffed his agreement and the wolf turned to him, brown tail swishing in interest as he took notice of the hanyou pup for the first time.

"Would you look at this. . ." Kouga made a show of sniffing at him. "Another stray, Kagome?"

Toshiro growled lowly. "What of it?"

Kouga's eyes widened before he chuckled. "And a ballsy one at that."

Kagome sighed impatiently around Inuyasha's shoulder. "Leave him alone, Kouga."

"I'm just teasing." The wolf tried to ruffle Toshiro's hair but the pup folded back his ears and ducked out of reach, snapping his jaws at the outstretched fingers instead.

If Kouga had been a second slower in yanking back he would have had four less fingers.

The youkai glared at the hanyou pup, and Toshiro was rewarded with the slight look of irritation and shock the wolf gave him when Toshiro did not back down from his silent challenge.

"Oi, don't fuckin touch him!" Inuyasha growled, snapping the youkai's attention away from the seething boy.

"Like I care about some mutt." Kouga scoffed, dismissing the hanyou pup and turning back to Kagome. "When are you going to visit me at the den, Kagome? Ginta and Hakkaku keep asking about you."

Toshiro and Inuyasha's growls escalated, and a small part of the smaller hanyou was surprised when low kitsune snarls joined in.

Kagome moved around her three irritated males, ignoring their combined whines and growls of disapproval as she moved to stand directly in front of the wolf. Her back was straight and the warmth that Toshiro had become accustomed to bled out of the set of her shoulders.

"How's Ayame?" She asked bluntly.

Kouga had the decency to blush. "She's fine. Great. Back in the valley with the pups and the pack."

"Pups?" Some of the frigidness disappeared from her voice at the word. "You have babies?"

"Yup. Twins; a boy and a girl." The wolf lifted his chin proudly, grinning. Then he looked over the miko's shoulder to sneer at Inuyasha. "Too bad no one can stand you enough to let you sire their pups, huh dog breathe?"

"He has pups." Toshiro snapped before he could stop himself, eyes narrowed to slits. "And she has a mate, so you should back down."

All eyes turned to him in varying degrees of shock, but he didn't let their stares or the embarrassment of his blush deter him. He glared at the wolf with everything he had.

The male was behaving dishonorably. He had his own mate and pups and yet he was pawing after Toshiro's Kagome. After Inuyasha and Shippou's Kagome.

And the young hanyou had no intentions of letting the wolf step onto their territory.

The wolf's eyes widened for the second time before he burst into laughter.

"Is that so?" Kouga howled. "And who claimed her? You, and the pipsqueak, and the bigger mutt? Ha!"

There was a spark in the air, Kagome's back stiffening at the wolf's words.

Toshiro's eyes flickered with fire as he said in a completely serious voice, "Yes."

"And who's to say that she claims the lot of you?" Kouga wiped an imaginary tear from one of his eyes, his teeth flashing in a grin that bordered on feral. "Who's to say that she would ever even want to?"

The miko's aura crackled like lightning, and then she took a step closer to the wolf. She had to crane her head back to meet his stare, but the sudden surge in her power easily made up their difference in height.

Kouga sobered at the sudden viciousness that swirled in her aura, at the low, dangerous rumble emanating from the hanyou at her side who'd moved to block the wolf's view of the pups, at the ice that shone in Kagome's eyes as she said, "I do claim them. And you'd do well to remember that, Kouga."

Toshiro had never heard her speak so coldly, but he could have burst into happy flames at the words, at the claim that settled somewhere deep in his belly. He didn't let his attention be taken away from Kouga as he fought down a grin, as the wolf tried and failed to hold Kagome's gaze.

The youkai scoffed dismissively, even as his eyes showed just how much the priestess had unnerved him with her show of power, even as his head tilted slightly down in submission.

He took a wise step back.

"Get lost, before I hack you to pieces." Inuyasha's hand rested comfortably on the hilt of his blade, his tone the mirror of the frowning miko's.

Kouga's top lip curled as he flicked his gaze to the hanyou, then wilted as he again looked to the miko who's aura still popped and snapped with controlled fury.

"I'll uh-I'll see you later Kagome." Kouga said with a forced smile.

The wolf did not try to reach for her hand again before he sped back the way he had come, the slight tang of his fear lingering in his wake.

There was a moment of silence, and then the irritated flow of miko's aura calmed as Kagome let out a steadying breath, turning to see three pairs of eyes staring at her disbelievingly.

"What?" She blinked.

Then, as if suddenly remembering her words, her face burned brighter than Toshiro's youki.

Her wide brown eyes darted from green ones, then gold, then honey, and back to green before she squeaked and took off into the trees. Inuyasha stared dumbly at her retreating back for almost a full minute before dropping the yellow bag he carried into the dirt and murmuring for the pups to start setting up camp.

Stay put, he'd said dazedly, he would be back with their mother in a few minutes.

And then he took off at a jog after Kagome into the dark.

Chapter Text

I can't believe I said that!

Kagome was still shuffling through the dark forest, her hands pressed against her blazing cheeks and her heart still beating a frantic thrum in her chest. She didn't know what had come over her, but when Kouga spoke to Toshiro that way, when the wolf had looked down his nose at the little hanyou as if there was no way Kagome or anyone would ever want him had made something in the miko's chest crack.

And from that crack there had seeped a deep, molten, righteous wrath that she had never experienced. An anger so quick and consuming that Kagome had only held back from baring her teeth at the youkai with the strength of her will alone.

She'd wanted to smack Kouga around with her power, to pin him to the dirt and snow and demand that the wolf apologize to Toshiro, and Inuyasha and Shippou, for his insulting words. In that moment she'd felt like another person entirely. In that moment she'd wanted to hurt her friend for what he'd said, she'd wanted to make him. . . submit, and had been so close to growling at the youkai that she hadn't even realized what she'd said until he was gone and she could think a little clearer.

She could still feel the remnants of that fury swirling in her blood.

What in Kami has come over me?

Kagome knew herself well, she knew that she had felt anger, and protectiveness, over those she cared about but the. . . the possessive rage that she'd felt at Kouga's words was an entirely new thing to the young woman. Her miko's energy and something even deeper ingrained in her soul than that had surged and swirled at the wolf's insults, a vicious part of her that she hadn't even known existed surfacing to put him in his place, to make sure the youkai knew the consequences of slighting those that belonged to her.

And she knew without a doubt that she'd do it again if someone insulted one of her boys.

The miko exhaled shakily, her breath a small puff as she stopped by the stream Inuyasha must have scented earlier. The little waterway was half frozen and moving slowly around bits of ice, the moon shining down in patches through the hulking trees overhead. The soft, biting breeze was like a balm to her heated face.

Kagome felt herself flush even further when she remembered what Toshiro had said to Kouga.

She has a mate.

And there was no mistaking what the little hanyou was implying. But how could he think that she was Inuyasha's mate? What on earth had given Toshiro that impression? The older hanyou barely ever showed interest in her unless it had to do with the jewel, and their one and only kiss had never been repeated or mentioned again.

Inuyasha could barely hold her gaze most days, and yet Toshiro had said with certainty that the white haired hanyou claimed her.

It was impossible.

There was a rustle in the trees behind her and the miko whirled, her hands instinctively going to the bow slung over her shoulder, that strange awareness that Kouga had awoken pricking at the sound.

 She slowly lowered her hand when she saw that it was Inuyasha coming from the way she had, his eyes devastatingly bright in the darkness around them, his steps careful. The inu-hanyou stopped a few feet from her, his brows high and his eyes wide, his mouth opened and closed a few times as he stared at her, as if he had no clue what to say.

He took a few more slow steps forward and Kagome clasped her hands in front of her, trying to look everywhere but where his intense gaze still tried to bore into her own. His long hair was flowing in a gentle wind, the patches of moonlight that made the stream behind the miko beautiful made the hanyou heartbreaking to behold. His silver hair glimmered like star light in the breaks in the trees, his eyes as golden and blinding as the sun.

Why would he want her as his mate?

Kagome suddenly felt terribly small and foolish, that lightning storm that had her attacking Kouga turning into an uncomfortable rumble in her belly.

"Um. . . I-I'm sorry." She finally mumbled.

Inuyasha stopped his pursuit, only a foot or so away from her now.

His brow furrowed as he tilted his head to the side in confusion.

"What in hell do you have to be sorry for?" He asked, just as quietly.

The miko fought the urge to wring her hands. "I shouldn't have just-just claimed you like I was some mindless animal. I-I didn't have the right to-"

"But you did."

Kagome's breath halted.

When she finally met Inuyasha’s eyes she saw that they were huge, and completely serious.

"You had every right." He said on an exhale, his arms rigid at his sides as if he were restraining himself.

"I didn't though, Inuyasha." She sighed. "I know that. . . that I'm not who you want. I know-I know that you're not mine to claim. Not like the boys are mine. "

Inuyasha growled low. "Is that what you think?"

And just like that the storm raged again inside of her, that almost primal force rising in her blood at his question, at the incredulity she heard beneath his words as if he had given her a reason to believe otherwise.

Her head snapped to him, her eyes turning hard and her hands clenching so tight that her nails bit into her palms.

"Of course, that's what I think." She bit out. Inuyasha blinked in surprise, tensing at the vehemence in her voice. "That's what any rational person would think given the way you've treated me."

Inuyasha pulled his lips back from his teeth, his ears laying back, youki immediately rising and replicating her irritated aura, rearing for a fight. "What do you mean 'the way I've treated you'? Last time I checked I was the one who kept your big ass head your shoulders! I'm the one who protects you, wench. And it ain't like you make the job easy."

Kagome mimicked him, baring her teeth though she didn't realize it. "You know exactly what I'm talking about, Inuyasha. And you may have helped protect me physically, but you've left me with nothing but wounds emotionally. Don't claim that I had the right to say what I did, not when you act like you only care about the jewel being purified most of the time, not when you only pay attention to me when it's convenient for you."

The hanyou reeled back as if he'd been slapped.

Some part of Kagome knew what she said was cruel, knew that she should have regretted the words as soon as they left her lips. But she didn't. It was the truth, it was her truth at least. It was how she felt, how she'd been feeling for years, and how she refused to feel any longer.

She'd claimed him to Kouga, yes, but she'd also claimed those boys. And that declaration settled deep in her soul, deeper even than her one-sided claim on the hanyou before her. The responsibility, and fear, and encompassing love of pronouncing Shippou and Toshiro as her own was a heavy and world changing thing. If Inuyasha didn't claim her, refused to be honest and continued his distant games she'd be heartbroken, but there was no way she would continue to spend her time pining after him.

Not when Shippou and Toshiro needed her.

Not when they deserved a mother. They deserved to have someone they knew they could depend on no matter what, someone they could turn to when they were confused, and scared, and heartbroken themselves. She couldn't be those things for them if she was too busy being infatuated with someone who didn't reciprocate her feelings.

Those boys came before even Inuyasha now.

There was a moment of intense, unbroken staring. Bright golden fire met smoldering brown. The miko kept her chin high and her eyes directly on his, willing him to understand that she'd had enough, the storm inside of her refusing to let her back down, to submit. She felt Inuyasha's youki flare up and she steeled herself for the outburst that he was sure to come. . . but never did.

His youki unexpectedly deflated like a balloon, his shoulders and ears drooping as it did.

He broke eye contact with her, looking down at the ground between them, his hands clenched at his sides. When Inuyasha flicked his gaze back up to her own she saw pleading in them, and regret, but Kagome refused to break this time.

"I cannot. . . will not continue to make a fool of myself for you, Inuyasha." She said into the quiet, her spine straight. "Either you figure out what it is you want from me, and soon, or you lose me. This time for good."

And she brushed past him and back the way she came, leaving the hanyou standing by the stream. That strange new energy that flowed along her aura kept her from turning back, kept her from regretting all that she'd said even as her heart broke. It pushed her back toward the faint smell of wood smoke and toward her sons, even as tears began to drip down her cheeks.

0:0:0:0:0:

Toshiro awoke before the sun the next day to the smell of food.

Inuyasha had apparently gone to hunt without him or Shippou, and when the boys smelled the bird roasting they quietly detangled themselves from around their miko and went to sit by the campfire and the silent hanyou to eat.

Inuyasha didn't bother to say a word to them except when he barked quietly about saving food for Kagome.

After breakfast the boys sparred and tracked small animals by the tree line, waiting for their chosen mother to wake. When she did she gave both boys affectionate kisses on the forehead before going to eat her own breakfast, opposite from where Inuyasha still sat staring pensively at the ground.

By the time their campsite was cleaned up and their stuffed packed away in that gigantic yellow bag the young hanyou felt uneasy.

Toshiro had not failed to notice that the adults avoided looking at or speaking to one another. Had not failed to notice that when they walked through the brisk morning forest Kagome purposely placed herself on Toshiro's right side, and Inuyasha on Shippou's left. Had not failed to notice that neither spoke a word unless it was in response to he or Shippou, and even then boys' attempts at starting a conversation was so miserable that the brothers eventually fell into silence themselves.

They'd been too far away the night before for the ravenette to hear anything other than their muffled voices, but Toshiro knew that whatever had transpired between then had been bad. When Kagome had come back to where they'd left the pups her cheeks were red and splotchy and there had been tear tracks down her face.

Toshiro had taken the liberty to pull out her pink bed roll for her beforehand, and the moment she collapsed on it she'd burst into heart wrenching sobs. The little hanyou and kit were confused, and worried, and hurting because she was. They quickly lost their appetite, not bothering to inform her of the small deer they'd managed to take down and clean for dinner, or of the small fire pit they'd managed to set up. They'd just crawled under the blanket with her and curled tight to her sides as she cried herself unconscious.

The boys fell asleep before Inuyasha came back to camp.

Toshiro couldn't help but feel a little guilty.

Maybe if he hadn't tried to bite the wolf's fingers off the day before, she wouldn't have been so upset. The youkai was her friend after all. Or maybe if he hadn't told Kouga that Inuyasha was Kagome's mate, she wouldn't have gotten angry with Inuyasha. A small, poisonous voice in the back of Toshiro's head told him that maybe. . . maybe Kagome didn't want to be claimed, and that maybe she regretted claiming him to the wolf in return.

His healing heart threatened to crack again at the thought.

The rest of their journey to the sword master's den was a tense and uncomfortable one to say the least.

It was mid-afternoon when they came to a clearing littered with hills. The sun was bright, and after the shade of the forest the reflection of its rays off the snow caused Toshiro to squint. Cut into the side of one of the larger hills was a large hole; a cave lined with jagged stone, and ice, and dirt. Beside the opening a three-eyed ox pawed lazily at the snow, trying to get at the bright green grass hidden beneath.

Toshiro thought the cave looked like the mouth of a beast, and the smell of fire, and metal, and sweat that emanated from it made the pup's stomach turn.

He was shocked when he realized that he was nervous. The pup had spent the whole morning mulling over his part in Kagome and Inuyasha's argument and hadn't taken a moment to realize how monumental this visit could be for him. This youkai, Totosai, had to be centuries old and had forged some of the best blades known to the youkai world, some of the strongest.

Toshiro had heard whispers of the mighty Tetsusaiga, and the healing Tenseiga, even from the hovel in which he grew up. How strong, how wise, how intimidating this creature must be to have created such awesome weapons.

What if the Sword Master didn't think him worthy enough to wield his work? What if he regretted agreeing to forge it? Or worse yet, what if Toshiro gave the sword a bad name? The first ever to wield a blade made by the Smith only to disgrace it and its creator.

"You look like you're going to be sick." Shippou commented offhandedly, watching the way Toshiro's eyes darted around the cave as they entered it. "You should see his actual den, the one in the South. It's much cooler. It's on a volcano and is made from a youkai's skull."

Toshiro's turning stomach began doing somersaults. Great. Just great. This legendary youkai was going to chew him up and spit him out once he saw just who he'd be making a weapon for.

Shippou seemed at ease though, he didn't balk at the rows upon rows of daggers, swords, maces, spikes, and axes that lined either side of the cave as they walked. Kagome and Inuyasha led the way into the cave, the pups close behind. Even though the two were still ignoring each other from their spat the night before, the miko seemed perfectly comfortable as they ventured inward, where more and more weapons were thrown about in messy piles and onto shelves, where it got hotter the deeper they went.

The sound of metal hitting metal became louder and louder until the group came to a stop a few feet from a great fire, a long swinging hammer, and a short, bug-eyed, hunched over creature.

The youkai sat with his side to them, blowing flames from his mouth onto a hunk of blazing metal. He was too busy banging it repeatedly into shape with his hammer to notice their arrival.

"Old man!" Inuyasha tried to call above the clank of metal and the whoosh of flames, but the youkai didn't seem to hear him. "Oi! Pay attention, you old fart!"

Still the youkai blew his flames, his enormous eyes focused entirely on the work at hand. He banged and banged his hammer onto the red hot steel, the blade of a long sword beginning to form, his forehead scrunched and sweat beading where his eyebrows should have been.

Toshiro took a step around Kagome, craning his neck to look over the creature's shoulder, thinking that maybe the decrepit thing's master would be deeper within the cave, but he saw only packed dirt. This made no sense. Where was the gigantic legend of his imagination? Where was-?

"Master Totosai!" Kagome cupped her hands around her mouth.

The creature sucked the flames back into his mouth at the sound of her high voice, finally turning to blink at them when he swallowed the fire down with an audible gulp.

Toshiro's head tilted in obvious confusion.

"Huh? What? When did you guys get here?" The old youkai, Totosai apparently, asked before groaned as he rose from where he'd been crisscrossed on the ground. He placed his hammer heavy side down to lean on for support. His green striped hakama and haori were covered in soot. His eyes were three times the size of what was considered normal and had a blank, glassy look to them.

He was not what Toshiro had been expecting at all.

"We've been here for like five minutes, ya old coot. Didn't you hear me callin' you?" Inuyasha snorted, crossing his arms.

Totosai scratched at the bald, flaking spot on the top of his head. "No, can't say that I did."

"What're you working on Master Totosai?" Shippou padded closer to the still blazing blade the Smith had lain on a slab of stone. He reached a hand out as if to touch it but quickly pulled it back at the heat nearly seared his fingers.

"That? Just something to pass the time. . ."

"Aniki, come see!" Shippou called over a shoulder. "I can see little designs etched into it!"

The Sword Master turned his big eyes on Toshiro when the hanyou took a curious step forward at his brother's call. The hanyou pup immediately froze.

"You have an older brother, Shippou?"

"We took Toshiro in a few weeks ago, Master Totosai. This is the hanyou we need the sealing sword for." Kagome reminded sweetly.

The youkai's eyes roved up and down the pup's dirty white hakama and purple t-shirt, making Toshiro want to squirm under his gaze. He hobbled closer, using his hammer as a sort of cane. "The hanyou with the fire affinity. . ." Totosai hummed to himself, making a slow circle around the pup, poking and prodding with his bony fingers at Toshiro's back and arms. "Not very much to look at, are ya?"

The pup tensed further, his flicking puppy ears telling of his nervousness.

Totosai finished his inspection and stood directly in front of Toshiro, still staring over him with that dazed look. When the male attempted to reach out to pat Toshiro's short hair the pup pulled his head out of reach instinctively, uncomfortable with a stranger's touch no matter who it was. The little hanyou was secretly relieved he'd managed not to growl at the old man. The wrinkles on his forehead rose, but Totosai didn't comment on the response as he pulled his gnarled fingers back to his person.

He flicked his gaze up to meet Toshiro's deep honey ones and then, for a split second, the pup could have sworn that the vacant look melted away from the old man's bulbous eyes. The pup could have sworn that a look of intense recognition, disbelieving shock, and deep intelligence took its place.

But when Toshiro blinked the youkai was back to fumbling and looking lost.

"I need a bath." Totosai whispered conspiratorially to Toshiro, as if his pungent stench was a great secret.

The little hanyou took a casual step back and the senile old man cackled.

"Oi." Inuyasha marched forward and clunked the youkai on the head. "Focus, you basket case. When are you gonna start the sword?"

"Huh? What sword?"

"My sealing sword." Toshiro spoke up for the first time, his voice betraying his confusion with the youkai before him. "You said you'd make me a sealing sword."

"Oh yes, that sword." Totosai said before turning to Inuyasha with a deadpan look. "I haven't started it yet."

"We know that! That's why we're here! You told Myouga you needed-"

"Yes yes, I need two fangs."

"Two?" Inuyasha and Kagome repeated in tandem.

Totosai lowered himself back onto the ground, glancing again briefly at Toshiro as he fumbled around in a pile of daggers. He pulled out a small, shiny looking pair of metal tweezers and clanked them together with clear intention.

"Yes. I used your father's fang to make Tetsusaiga, pulled it straight from his mouth while he was in his true form. Almost threw my darn back out doing it too. You can't turn into a gigantic dog like your dad or Sesshomaru, so I'll have to melt down your fangs and mix them with reinforced steel to make the blades."

"Blade." Toshiro corrected without thinking.

Totosai turned his bug eyes on him again. "Huh?"

"You said blades as in two." He replied, blushing lightly at his loose tongue.

"Huh, did I?"

Inuyasha sighed loudly through his nose before he plopped down across from the youkai. "Get it the fuck over with."

And get it over with Totosai did. The old youkai pulled Inuyasha's mouth open without preamble, eyeing his canines considerably before reaching in with his tweezers and yanking out his top two with deft, practiced moves. Inuyasha grunted with the removal of each and Toshiro couldn't help but wince.

He'd had his fangs pulled before, though it had been under much less willing conditions.

The little hanyou pulled himself from his memories as Kagome spoke up. "How long will it take to make the sword Master Totosai?"

The youkai didn't look at her as he responded, too busy looking over the bloody fangs in the palm of his hand with an intensity Toshiro didn't understand. "Hmmm. . . two weeks?"

"Why so fuckin' long?" Inuyasha grumbled, a hand to his sore mouth. Shippou patted Inuyasha's arm comfortingly.

"Need to. . . need to listen for their voices before they can be made. Need to-" He broke off suddenly, turning his attention to the little hanyou. "Can I see your flames?"

Toshiro blinked, taken aback. "W-why?"

"It'll help the forging process, very important." Totosai said distractedly.

The young hanyou's ears flicked in uncertainty before he cast Inuyasha a questioning look. His mentor nodded, his hand still rubbing his smarting jaw, and Toshiro swallowed before turning back to the old man.

He took a deep, calming breath like Kaede taught him before reaching carefully inside himself for that zinging in his veins. His youki responded almost immediately, eager to try to break free of his skin, but Toshiro didn't let it. His brow scrunched with the effort of containing his youki and leading it to his right hand, only then allowing a small amount of wild fire to pass through his skin.

When he blew out a breath and opened his eyes a small red and orange flame flickered in his palm.

He looked first to Inuyasha and his miko, preening a little at their proud smirks. Then he turned back to the odd youkai and found the sword smith leaning toward him, staring at Toshiro's fire as if it would tell him the world's secrets.

Totosai stared intensely at the flame for a long time, so long in fact that Shippou began to shuffle impatiently on his paws, and Toshiro's youki began to sputter with his growing confusion and loss of concentration. Only when Inuyasha loudly cleared his throat did the old Master blink and sit back.

His eyes had widened even further if that was possible, and he glanced quickly back at the tiny flame once more before nodding his head to himself and looking up at Inuyasha.

His face twisted again in hazy confusion.

"When did you get here, Inuyasha? You better not have damaged Tetsusaiga again!"

Toshiro and his pack blinked in collective surprise before several things happened at once; Toshiro's fire flicked out, his youki again burying itself deep in his body, Inuyasha let out an enraged, "Why you!" and lunged for Totosai a moment before Kagome yelled out "Osuwari!" and Inuyasha was slammed to the cave floor, and Shippou let out a startled, "Ow!" and smacked a hand to his neck, where he'd felt a sharp sting.

"Two weeks! It's gonna take me two weeks!" Totosai called over the ensuing chaos, waving his hammer around haphazardly. "Now get out so I can work! And don't come back distractin' me before then!"

Inuyasha pulled himself from the dirt with a growl, baring his teeth though the threat was lost with two of his canines gone. It looked like the older hanyou seriously contemplated thumping the old man again, but instead he let out an irritated "Keh.", turned on his heel, and stomped out of the cave. Kagome apologized for Inuyasha's behavior before saying goodbye and following him out, a disgruntled Shippou and a puzzled Toshiro trailing behind her.

Shippou looked down at the hand he'd clamped to his neck, frowning at the bit of blood he found there.

Toshiro looked over his shoulder at the Totosai, his brow furrowed and his stomach in knots for reasons he couldn't quite explain.

The pack made their way out of the cave and back toward their home, the adults bickering and the young boys soon forgetting about the old youkai who would forge Toshiro's blade.

But Totosai stayed unmoving on his cave floor, staring after them long after they'd gone. He heard rather than saw his friend spit the red fluid he'd collected into a small bowl that had been hidden behind the slab of stone. Then Myouga carefully placed the bowl beside another also filled with blood, and beside that sat a rather large, duo-colored clump of hair.

When the flea finished he perched himself on the sword smith's shoulder.

"Well?" Myouga asked his oldest friend.

Totosai stroked his beard in thought, all of the demented confusion gone from his eyes.

It was a while before he answered.

"You were right." He said finally, lowly, still looking in the direction Inuyasha and his family had gone.

Myouga nodded gravely. "What will we do?"

"What we've always done, I suppose; help him." Totosai sighed deeply, looking back at the bowls of blood and then again out into the forest. "See what you can dig up on the boy, but be careful. No one, not even Sesshomaru, can know who he is. It could cost him his life."

The flea nodded his head again in agreement before he bounced off to see what he could learn about the little hanyou who had no idea just how special he was.

Chapter Text

Lord Sesshomaru had been seeing human villagers, and representatives from youkai factions in his territory, and emissaries from other territories all day; listening to stories of tragedy and revenge, providing food for humans who were struggling to make it through the cold months, putting to rest petty squabbles, accepting or denying this proposal or that.

He was tired, and a bit bored.

The youkai found his mind wandering to the strange little hanyou his brother now harbored and remembered how he'd met him.

0:0:0:0:0:

Sesshomaru didn't want to be there.

It was too hot in the South, the heat amplified by the stone fortress he resided in, and the youkai there were too touchy for his liking.

Never mind that he couldn't stand the current Lady of the Southern inu youkai.

Katsumi was an annoying, self-centered, demented female. She'd invited the Lord of the West there in an attempt to court him, to try to convince him yet again to take her as his mate. His consistent refusals of her attentions and the gifts she sent to his own palace weren't answer enough it seemed.

Sesshomaru had accepted the invitation anyway, knowing her intentions, if only for the fact that he needed the inu youkai from the South as allies.

The Southern Palace small but finely crafted, resting atop a hill that looked out onto the glittering ocean. Sandstone houses of every size surrounded the castle’s hill and expanded along the beach, making up a small but prosperous city. The land they occupied by the southern sea was covered in dozens of wards that were difficult for even Sesshomaru to break through, thousands of years of magic protecting them. They were a small, secret faction. Many of the youkai community were ignorant of their very existence.

There was no record of any creatures taking the castle from the ruling family.

Inside the castle there was rich gold and red finery everywhere you looked; tapestries and carpets and cushions and dangling jewelry and clothes. Inu youkai nobility milled about the great hall in which Sesshomaru sat, their eyes and hair any color one could think of, their skin all the same warm shades of toffee brown that made up the southern inu.

The inu youkai in the South were immensely powerful. Among them were great healers, fierce warriors, skilled smiths and builders, magic wielders. And some of the most beautiful inu youkai that Sesshomaru had ever seen.

But none were more beautiful, or more powerful, than the previous Lady of the South in Sesshomaru's opinion; Misa.

She had been a force to be reckoned with. Misa had been the best healer the South had ever seen, the kindest, the most patient, and the most vicious when provoked. She had not been as flashy as the current Lady; Misa’s tastes had been simple and elegant in muted silvers and deep blues. She had never worn a crown on her scarlet head.

The most extravagant piece of jewelry the late Lady had worn had been a small diamond circlet she let dangle from her right ear. Misa had been the embodiment of everything the Southern inu youkai were known for; strength, wisdom, intelligence, and beauty.

While other territories participated in wars regularly for power or territories, her people never suffered or wanted for anything under her reign. They let those who needed help into their sacred land, youkai and human and hanyou alike. Those who somehow made it past the Southern wards and posed a threat were dealt with swiftly and effectively by a small brigade of inu led by the Lady herself. While Misa was their Lady, she was one of the finest sword masters the Lord of the West had ever had the pleasure of sparring with.

Sesshomaru had always pitied her enemies.

Misa had refused Sesshomaru's repeated mating offer, choosing instead to take a pathetic human male when their offspring could have conquered all who opposed them. But the dai-youkai had respect for her, and her decision, and knew better than to try to eliminate his rival for her affection. She was one of few that Sesshomaru could call a friend, and she would have had his head mounted on a spike before he had even tried to track down her secret human.

Soon after Misa’s death Katsumi had been named the new Lady, a fact that Sesshomaru knew she had no qualms about. With her sister gone Sesshomaru heard that Katsumi was quick to amass a following, to isolate the Southern inu youkai from the humans. She ran them from the sparkling village that surrounded the castle, sending her followers to massacre all who refused to leave and their sympathizers, forbidding the union of youkai and mortals, and publicly torturing those who would disobey her.

Hanyous and humans could not step foot in her territory without meeting their deaths.

"Sesshomaru, dear you must be hungry." Katsumi turned to him, her green eyes bright and a little manic where as her sister's had always been deep and warm like moss. "Let me get you something to eat."

Sesshomaru didn't bother turning from the revelry as he said. "No, thank you."

The female pouted, her lips painted a bloody rouge to match sharp red markings across her cheekbones and the rubies decorating her done up raven hair.

Sesshomaru thought she looked ridiculous.

"At least let me get you a drink. You've been here for hours and yet you've taken no refreshments. I know the journey from the West is a long one."

"Hn." The Inu no Taisho replied noncommittally, watching youkai twirl together on the dance floor from his raised seat on the dais.

Katsumi snapped her fingers quickly, her eyes sparking and her voice turning sweet like poison. "Maggot, get us some drinks. And you know what will happen if you spill a drop."

A small, crumbled thing rose from a kneeling position beside Katsumi's throne, a thing Sesshomaru honestly hadn't noticed, as he'd let his mind slip into a wandering fog the moment he was in Katsumi's presence and her incessant chatter had begun.

A small boy, Sesshomaru noted with distaste.

A hanyou child by the looks of his ebony puppy ears and lack of inu markings. He wore a pair of tattered, red and brown stained shorts and an old undershirt in appalling condition. A black film of dirt and filth lay on the child’s skin like tar, under which countless black and blue bruises decorated his body like scales. And cuts. . . so many unhealed, angry red cuts along every inch of his body that Sesshomaru could see, slashing through the boys bruises and grime like tiger stripes. His feet were bare and filthy, the claws of his fingers and toes caked with dirt and cracked.

His right ear was mutilated and bleeding but the boy didn't seem to notice, or care, as he stopped in front of Katsumi's chair expectantly, his head down and his eyes blank.

"I'll take red wine. And you, my Lord?" She turned to Sesshomaru, batting her false eyelashes at him.

The male took a moment to answer as he looked over the inu hanyou again.

This boy. . . this boy was Katsumi's kin.

And the previous Lady’s welp, Sesshomaru was sure. The youkai could smell the familiarity of Misa's scent under the dirt and feces and blood that coated the hanyou like a second skin. Sesshomaru had heard of Katsumi's sister having a half breed pup with her human but had thought that it had died when the female had; during childbirth. Or so was the story. And yet here he was, just beginning his adolescence by the looks of him, battered, broken, and serving his aunt like a common slave when he rightfully should be the Lord of these lands.

Did the hanyou even have a clue?

Sesshomaru tried to will the boy to look at him -look at him dammit- but he would not. His gaze stayed on Katsumi's elaborate geta sandals with a look of detached misery, numbly waiting for Sesshomaru's order.

The youkai was sure to keep his disgust off of his face as he said, "Water."

And the boy slunk off without a sound, bobbing and weaving through the party goers with an ease that told Sesshomaru that the pup had done so plenty of times. Did the people know who he was? Were they okay with the rightful heir to their throne being treated in such a way, or did they not care because of his half-blooded nature?

The Inu no Taisho watched as several patrons shot the little hanyou pitying, helpless looks. And watched as another, a brunette male with green markings, purposely stuck out a foot for the boy to trip over. The boy went careening into a server in a great crash and some of the youkai laughed.

Sesshomaru was surprised by how hard it was for him to stay seated, how hard it was not to bolt across the room and grab the sniggering brown haired cretin by his neck and squeeze. The black haired boy rose to his feet and continued his journey to the back of the room, and to the drinks, without any expression.

Katsumi tsked beside him. "Stupid boy. Always so clumsy."

Sesshomaru cut his eyes to her, resisting the urge to curl his lip.

He had no particular love for humans, and even less for hanyous, but even he wouldn't treat his own blood in this manner. . . not a pup. Sesshomaru felt a sharp blast of fury shoot through him at the thought of his brother being treated in such a way, remembered what he'd done to the humans who had tormented Inuyasha before he'd gone out on his own. He imagined someone treating Rin, his defenseless, naive human pup, this way and his eyes flashed red.

Katsumi was too busy smirking at the back of the hanyou's filthy head to notice.

"The boy is your family?" Sesshomaru asked the female though he knew the answer, forcing his voice to be devoid of emotion.

"Technically, I suppose. My nephew." Katsumi said dismissively, pert nose scrunched in disgust. "Leave it to my idiotic little sister to bare a child with a useless human."

"Hn." Sesshomaru watched the little boy make his way carefully back to the dais, a cup in each hand.

His glazed honey eyes were focused wholly on the goblets he carried, as if his life depended on getting back to the dais in one piece. Sesshomaru wondered if Katsumi would hit him if he spilled the drinks.

He wondered if he'd let her.

"At least the wretch is of some use." The inu female giggled wickedly, smiling down at her long black nails when they glowed a slimy purple. "Toshiro is the perfect little stress ball."

Poison. Sesshomaru had almost forgotten that Katsumi was a poison user as well.

Those who knew of Southern inu youkai knew of Katsumi. She was born to a matriarchal pack that had ruled this piece of the South for thousands of years. She was born the oldest of two high born sisters but was passed over as heir when she was little more than a pup because she was deemed unfit to rule by her parents and those who held their ears. Too callous, too vain, too cruel they said.

Sesshomaru had no doubt that she tortured her nephew at her leisure, and was keeping her dead sister's child as some sort of sick trophy, as a toy.

The pup was taking his final careful steps toward where they sat when an unsuspecting female bumped into him as she threw her head back and laughed, causing Sesshomaru's glass of water to spill onto the hanyou's tattered shirt. Toshiro's eyes widened minutely, taking no heed when the blonde inu youkai apologized, and finally came to a stop in front of the Lord and Lady.

Sesshomaru saw Katsumi's reptilian smile from his peripheral, saw as she crooked a clawed finger at the pup.

Toshiro's chest began to move up and down rapidly, his ears twitching, but he moved forward without hesitation.

Katsumi's voice was soft like velvet. "Give our guest his drink."

The boy padded immediately to Sesshomaru and handed him the goblet, his hand shaking slightly.

He still refused to look up from the ground.

"Now me, pet."

And back he went, leaving bits of dirt and grime on the polished floor behind him. When Toshiro got within reach Katsumi's arm shot out like a whip to cup the pup's face. Sesshomaru tensed and noticed that a few of the youkai in the crowd did as well. The female dragged the boy closer, her smile never faltering and her claws digging into the pup's skin deep enough to draw blood.

The Lord of the West's own began to boil.

"My cup?" She whispered to him, cooed.

Toshiro's hand shook harder as he raised the golden chalice and she took it gently. Several more eyes turned to them, murmuring. Several smirks. Sesshomaru marked the faces of the latter.

Katsumi puckered her painted lips and pressed a light kiss to the boy's unwashed button nose, the nails embedded in his skin starting to glow that sickly violet.

When the pup whimpered Sesshomaru's control snapped.

"Enough."

He said it calmly, quietly, but not weakly. His voice was heard across the great hall, most of the crowd turning at the sound of it, the musicians in the corner pausing their song.

Katsumi raised her brows at him.

She let out an incredulous chuckle, her grip on the hanyou pup tightening a fraction.

"Apologies, My Lord. I'm afraid I misunderstand." Her eyes were like frozen grass.

Sesshomaru's jaw ticked, his patience gone and his anger like a coat on his tongue.

He weighed his options. It would do neither he or the welp any good to cause a scene here. Sesshomaru was in no mood to go to war with the Southern pack alone, and the boy would sooner die in the process. But he would do something. If for no other reason than that he respected the pup's late mother, that he owed Misa that much. This Sesshomaru would get the pup out, but he'd bide his time. . . for now.

So the male inhaled deeply, willing his youki to calm, silently thankful that he'd chosen to conceal it before passing through the Southern gates.

He made his expression one of superior boredom and impatience.

"Leave the thing alone, Katsumi. A hanyou is hardly worth your attention when you are in the presence of This Sesshomaru." He smirked slightly, knowing the thought of his interest would ensnare her. "I am much more entertaining."

It had the desired effect.

She dropped the face of the boy, laughing heartily and leaning back in her overly jeweled throne.

Her subjects joined in, chuckling uncomfortably themselves as the music again started to play. She said something coy that Sesshomaru didn't hear, but he curled the edges of his lips up accordingly.

No one paid attention to how the pup crashed to his bruised knees before their Lady upon her release, no one dared to look his way.

But Sesshomaru did, often, during his week-long stay in the Southern palace.

Every afternoon Katsumi held court for one ridiculous reason or another, every night she held a feast, and every day Sesshomaru wandered the expanse of the castle whenever he was able.

He familiarized himself with every exit, and room, and tunnel. He endured the Lady of the South's flirtations and countless drool stories, always keeping an eye on the hanyou pup she kept kneeling beside her chair, his head down and his eyes broken.

Sesshomaru took into account of the new gashes, and bruises, and scars that Toshiro donned each day. He noted how the jagged edge of his right ear almost never stopped bleeding. He took note of those who were all too happy to torment the pup when he was sent on this errand or that, those who grinned and snickered when Katsumi humiliated him, those who on occasion smelled like the pup’s fresh blood.

When the week was up, and the sun was low in the sky, Sesshomaru made his leave.

And he made sure that Toshiro made his as well.

0:0:0:0:0:

"Milord, the next visitor is here." Jaken screeched from the door.

Sesshomaru sighed, rubbing his temples as he shook off the memory.

"Show them in."

Loud boots could be heard from the corridor, and before long strode in a male that Sesshomaru immediately recognized, one that meant trouble. An inu youkai male with long, mouse brown hair pulled back from his angular face, and bright golden eyes. Across his cheeks cut swirling, dark green youkai markings. Over his leaf colored haori and hakama he wore extravagant golden armor.

The inu youkai from Katsumi's party, and one of her warriors.

He gave the Inu no Taisho a shallow bow. "Many greetings, My Lord."

Sesshomaru raised a single brow. "You're a long way from the Southern territory. . .?"

"Orochi, My Lord" The male smiled with forced politeness. His name fit him. "It was unfortunate that we hadn't the chance to become more acquainted during your visit to our lovely lands those months ago."

"Hn."

The youkai's grin turned feral. "Though. . . upon your leave, My Lady seems to believe that you've taken something that belongs to her. She desperately wants it back."

"Has she sent you to challenge me, Orochi?" Sesshomaru saw no point in denying that he'd freed the boy. He let his youki rise unbidden, let his threat hang heavily in the air. "You wouldn't live to tell her that This Sesshomaru has not what she seeks."

He was slightly impressed when the snake didn't balk.

"Of course not, Lord Sesshomaru." The youkai shook his head with feigned disbelief. "She simply wishes for her nephew's safe passage home."

The youkai of the West scoffed.

"Would it be safe to assume that you'll not tell me where he is, if it isn't here?" Orochi held out his palms pleadingly.

"You assume correctly." He curled his lip. "I have no idea where the pup is."

"As you say, My Lord." Orochi chuckled, his eyes holding a predatory glint. "It is of no consequence, I assure you. Lady Katsumi will have her possession returned to her soon."

And then the youkai bowed again, low this time, a mockery that made Sesshomaru bare his teeth. The other male only smiled again before stalking out of the room, undoubtedly to track down the young hanyou Sesshomaru had saved.

He'd assumed that Katsumi would come looking for her trophy, but not so soon.

Sesshomaru had helped the welp find his freedom, and now it was Inuyasha's job to make sure that he kept it.

The Lord of the West hoped that his baka of a brother was preparing Toshiro for what was to come.

Chapter Text

It was just before dawn, the sun reluctant to rise and Inuyasha's youkai yet to return to him.

He'd spent his human night indoors. Shippou had stayed at Miroku and Sango’s, helping the pregnant slayer with trivial things around her house that she was perfectly capable enough to do on her own. Kagome had stayed with Kaede, claiming to have had training to make up thanks to their journey. She always seemed to have some excuse to avoid him these days. Inuyasha pretended it didn't bother him.

Toshiro had not left his side.

Inuyasha knew that seeing him human would stun the pup, but he hadn't expected Toshiro to cling to him so much. The little hanyou had spent the whole night fussing over him like a mother hen, pestering Inuyasha to eat and drink enough, sticking close to his side, watching him like a hawk. His wide, burnt gold eyes had flicked from the grumbling temporary human and the door almost constantly, as if he'd expected someone to burst in and attack them.

Inuyasha had found his worrying a little endearing.

He glared at the boy between the ‘X’ of their swords now, Toshiro's ordinary iron blade blocking the blow Inuyasha dealt to him with his untransformed Tetsusaiga. The pup loosed a breath, glaring hard eyes up at Inuyasha as he pushed his weight against the two blades. Inuyasha smirked and pushed back, the boy losing a step even with Inuyasha in his human form, even with his senses dulled and his hanyou strength still gone.

Toshiro broke their blades apart and swung.

Inuyasha side stepped him, using the flat of his battered sword to sweep the little hanyou's feet from under him.

"Cheap shot." Toshiro growled before flipping onto his feet, shaking to loosen his shoulders and upset the snow on them.

Inuyasha flipped his blade in his hand once, loosening his wrist and feeling the sun finally begin to awaken at his back.

"Bested by a mere human?" Inuyasha grinned when the hanyou growled low in his throat. "You didn't honestly think you could beat me, did you pup?"

"I thought being human would humble you a little." Toshiro grumbled back.

Inuyasha barked a laugh. "Not a chance."

Since Toshiro was having his own blade forged, Inuyasha figured it was time to teach the pest how to use more than wooden sticks. And in the days that they'd been home Inuyasha had run him ragged.

He'd been teaching the pup how to hold his body, how to feint, lunge, parry, deflect, to become used to thinking of his sword as an extension of himself instead of merely as a weapon.

Toshiro had attempted to focus his youki into his blade on their second day of training and the fire in his blood had melted the iron within seconds, the material burning straight through the snow to cool and harden again on the damp grass. Inuyasha had had to give Toshiro another sword to wield from their stash in the hut until his own was ready and had growled at the boy for a better part of thirty minutes. Toshiro was told not to attempt that trick again with anything other than his sealing sword.

The pest glared at him the whole time they trained, but he never complained.

The pup lunged and Inuyasha met him head on, his steps a bit faster as the sky turned from a deep blue to a yawning purple. Their blades clashed, the clank of metal repeatedly hitting metal ringing in Inuyasha's human ears. They circled and parried and feinted around the clearing behind their hut, the sounds of morning birds their only company.

At last the sun broke through the clouds, and Inuyasha knew his youki had returned without the familiar whoosh of his energy awakening in his veins. Toshiro's brow furrowed as Inuyasha's dog ears reappeared on his head, as his eyes turned from a rich brown to a gleaming gold, as Inuyasha's strikes became stronger, faster, more graceful.

The pup cursed as Tetsusaiga transformed in Inuyasha's grip, as the older hanyou swung the blade and Toshiro rotated his body just enough so that only a few strands of his black hair were cut. Toshiro raised his blade to block the side swipe, yielding step after step as he faced Tetsusaiga’s full strength.

Inuyasha whirled his fang in an arch over Toshiro's head, bringing the blade to the back of Toshiro's exposed neck and stopping when he was an inch from the pup's brown skin.

He grinned maniacally, no longer winded and back in all his hanyou glory, his sweat cooling on his body.

"Good. Just not good enough to beat me."

Toshiro's lip curled in annoyance and amusement.

He batted the huge sword away from his nape with a scoff.

"Just you wait until I get my blade." Toshiro said, stretching his sore arms over his head. "I'll show you up then."

"You're about 100 years from showing me up, pest." Inuyasha chuckled, twirling Tetsusaiga once before sheathing it at his waist.

Toshiro snorted, sliding the sword into the holster strapped onto his back. "I bet Kagome could take you."

Inuyasha's heart gave an involuntary pang at her name.

It had been five days since they made it back to the village. Five long, miserable days and still Kagome refused to say more than a sentence to Inuyasha at a time. Not including the two days that it'd taken them to get home, two days in which she'd barely spoken a word in his direction, two days in which she only smiled when the pups were looking, she only looked him in the eye when she had to.

So seven days, and Inuyasha was sure that if he had to endure one more of Kagome being upset with him that he'd lose his mind.

"The boys are ready for their writing lesson."

"We're running low on firewood."

"I'm going to Sango's for the day."

Every time she averted her eyes, every time she shrunk away from him, every time she forced herself to smile in front of the pups, he felt like his heart was chipping away like old paint. And it wasn't like he could fall back on his usual anger and childishness in response to her acting the way that she was; she was right.

He'd been tiptoeing around his feelings for years, trying to keep the distance between he and the miko as far as possible until the Shikon no Tama was gone. Inuyasha always knew that one day holding back would come back to bite him in the ass, but after so many years of convincing himself that he was doing it for their own good it was hard to break the habit.

But no one had perfect self-control, least of all him.

And he knew that something had changed in his miko that day.

When they were confronting Kouga he'd sensed when something in her aura had shifted. He'd felt something primal in her when she'd defended Toshiro, something. . . almost animalistic. Female youkai were known to become vicious, dangerous creatures when their pups are potentially in danger, known to put down any and every possible threat without a second thought.

But Inuyasha never thought in a million years that he'd sense that maternal fury in Kagome.

Never in a million years had he thought that he'd feel that fury aimed at him. Inuyasha knew what she'd said under her words that night. That he was no longer the reason she kept coming back to the Feudal Era, that her world would no longer revolve around him. The pups were now her first, and most intense, concern.

He was proud of her for it, but it broke his heart all the same.

He flicked his ears, staring blankly at the sunrise until a voice drug him back to earth.

"Is it my fault?"

Inuyasha whirled on the hanyou pup beside him. Toshiro was staring at the rising sun as well, his fuzzy ears drooping sadly, the pink insides orange in the morning light. Inuyasha furrowed his brow.

"What're you talking about?"

Toshiro didn't look at him, throat bobbing as he swallowed. "Kagome is upset with you. Is it because of what I said to the wolf?"

"No. It wasn't your fault, pest. It was. . . it was mine." Inuyasha adjusted the sword at his hip unnecessarily. "She was-is angry with me, and me alone."

The pup flicked his large eyes up, the dark gold in them swirling like the fire in his veins. "Because you've refused to claim her."

Inuyasha shouldn't have been surprised at just how much the boy saw. Toshiro may have opened up a bit with the pack, but his quiet, watchful eyes still saw everything. . . saw more than any pup had a right to.

And so he replied honestly. "Yes."

Toshiro still watched him, his mouth a thin line as he wrapped his arms around his middle. "Why? She's a good person. And she claimed you. And Shippou. And-and me. As her own."

Inuyasha's heart ached at the disbelief and wonder in the boy's voice.

"Don't you want to claim her too?"

"Of course I do." Inuyasha immediately snapped, reining in his temper when Toshiro flinched. He sighed. "But if I do claim her, if I submit to my youkai and take her as my mate, and she's taken away from me. . . I don't know if there'll be any coming back from that. I wouldn't be any good to anyone. Not you, or Shippou, or myself."

The little hanyou nodded, the village starting to awaken in the distance.

Inuyasha could hear the village men sharpening their swords and sickles, readying to go on their morning hunt. He could hear the women in their gardens, picking morsels for breakfast. A gust of chilled wind made its way through the trees and Toshiro shifted closer to Inuyasha's side, his ears flicking toward the village, toward Kaede's home where his chosen mother would no doubt be waking soon.

"I claimed you. . ." The pup said lowly, just loud enough to hear over the din of song birds. "To the wolf. And you didn't reject it."

It wasn't a question, but Inuyasha knew what Toshiro was asking.

Kagome had clearly stated her claim as the mother of both the kitsune and the inu hanyou pup, but Inuyasha had never stated his own. But he'd known in his bones that the boys were his for some time now, just as he'd known Kagome was his. So Inuyasha looked to the pup, a small smirk forming on his face.

"Why would I, pest? You're mine, aren'tcha?"

Toshiro dimpled when Inuyasha placed a heavy hand on his head, between his flicking ebony ears. "Yeah, I guess I am."

"Can't say that I'd be a good father though, if we're being honest." Inuyasha snorted. "You'd be better off choosing someone else."

"I chose you. And you chose me." There was no more of the unsure, hesitant pup in Toshiro's voice right then. "And you chose her."

Inuyasha looked at him.

"You should talk to her." Toshiro shrugged like he didn't care either way. But Inuyasha had noticed how anxious the pup got when Kagome was upset. "Fix it."

"Keh, I guess." Inuyasha stretched before making his way around the hut and into the village, the pup at his side. "She'll probably sit me to hell."

"Probably. . ." Toshiro smirked as he shoved a hand up his blue t-shirt, scratching at a faint scar.

0:0:0:0:0:

The hanyous had tracked Kagome’s scent to Sango and Miroku’s and was taken aback when they saw the crowd surrounding the human’s hut. Villagers were peering into the front door and windows, whispering excitedly to one another. Men, women, and children all gazed into the wooden house with dreamy looks in their eyes and strange cooing noises leaving their lips.

Did Sango announced her pregnancy? Toshiro thought.

They weren't away on their latest journey that long, surely human pups took longer than a few weeks before they were ready to be born, right?

He looked up to Inuyasha with a question in his eyes but saw that his mentor also held a look of confusion on his face. The older hanyou paused only a moment before he marched up to the hut, his loud voice cutting through the squealing crowd like a knife.

"Move it! Oi! Back up, would ya? What's all the commotion abou-" He broke off with wide eyes, staring into the warm hut with a disbelieving expression.

At Inuyasha's arrival the crowd began to disperse, all with flushed cheeks and wide smiles on their faces. Toshiro heard two women chattering about how they would come back and ask Sango if they could keep one. Keep one!? Why would Sango give away one of her pups?!

The little hanyou's hackles rose in trepidation.

Toshiro felt himself become nervous, noticing that the other hanyou was still stuck in the doorway. Not much could stun Inuyasha into silence. Toshiro pushed through the grinning humans who paid him no mind, coming to peer around Inuyasha's leg with an inquisitive flick of his ears.

Kittens?

There were. . . Kittens. Miroku and Sango sat in the middle of the room, an incredibly tiny kitten in each of their arms being excessively cooed over. Sango's face was flushed in pure happiness, Miroku had comical hearts in his eyes. Kagome and Shippou laid across from them on their stomachs, giggling like small girls at the kitten that continuously tried to grab at the pieces of string they dangled.

Taking a step and a sniff into the room the young hanyou noted that they weren't regular cats at all, but feline youkai; all with two tails, all looking almost exactly like Kirara, who slept soundly by the fire.

"What in the hell?" Inuyasha had found his voice.

Miroku looked up, the deliriously happy look still on his face. "Aren't they precious?"

"Keh." Inuyasha huffed, going to sit as close as he dared to Kagome. "When did Kirara have pups?"

"We don't know exactly." Sango was rubbing her cheek against the little youkai in her arms, it purred lovingly at her in return. "They have to be a few weeks old at the very least. She just showed up with them today."

"I thought the cat was getting kinda chunky." The larger hanyou snorted, reaching a claw out for a kitten to sniff despite his tone.

Kirara raised her head off of her paws and gave him a glare.

Toshiro scoffed and sat against the wall as he usually did to watch his pack coo over the small creatures. This was what all the fuss was about? They were cats, not magic.

And here he thought he was getting a new pack member.

Many feline youkai prefer solitude once they reach maturity, they didn’t stay in packs like canine youkai did. When the little cats got old enough they were sure to go off on their own, find their own families and mates, maybe even their own humans like Kirara had.

The women's conversation from before suddenly made much more sense to Toshiro.

The pup was surprised when he was brought from his thoughts by a small hiss from the corner nearest him.

When Toshiro looked he saw a small tuft of black fur, angry eyes peering up at him from it.

"I wouldn't get too close to that one, aniki." Shippou said warningly. "He doesn't seem to like any of us very much."

Toshiro cocked his head to the side, regarding the small youkai as it stared holes into him.

It then unfolded itself from its defensive ball, padding careful steps and stopping directly in front of Toshiro, it's two tails twitching in agitation.

It didn't look like the rest of the cats; it's fur was the inverted colors of its mother; it's base black with cream colored markings only on its front feet, and diamond shape in the middle of its forehead. The only thing identical to its mother were its piercing red eyes.

The kitten in Miroku's arms mewed happily, causing the black little youkai to turn to glare at its sibling in betrayal. Its irritated gaze spoke volumes to the hanyou though it didn't speak at all.

Pathetic. It's eyes seemed to say as it watched it’s sibling be snuggled like a toy.

It turned back on Toshiro then, a challenge glinting in its bright eyes, two little black ears flicking.

I'll bite you if you even try it. It bared its teeth at Toshiro, a sharp hiss coming from between its tiny fangs.

Toshiro smirked, immediately intrigued by the small, pissed off creature.

It was male, like him, and a little antisocial, like him. And it wanted respect, like him. Toshiro made a show of sniffing at the cat, then bared his fangs back at the youkai in a feral sort of grin, allowed his youki to rise and let little flames flicker in his palms, showing that he had no intentions of treating the feline like a stuffed animal, showing him that he'd fight even a kitten if need be.

The little creature's eyes widened a moment, his hackles lowering as he sat on his haunches, a small flame flickering at his feet and tails before it went out.

His blood red eyes hardened, as if he had passed judgement on the hanyou.

And then he sneezed in Toshiro's face.

Toshiro chuckled, wiping off his cheeks with an arm before blowing a wet raspberry at the black kitten in revenge. The kitten's ears folded back against his head and he bared his teeth, but in his red eyes Toshiro could see humor and mischief.

He liked it.

You're not like the others. They seemed to say to him.

The pack gasped, watching in shock as the little cat that had try to cut their faces to ribbons then rubbed himself against Toshiro's crossed legs, marking the hanyou.

"He likes you!" Kagome exclaimed.

"I guess so." Toshiro said, watching the kitten as he rubbed himself against the hanyou over and over.

He reached a hesitant hand down and scratched between the little youkai's ears, causing pleased little flames to flicker against his feet again. His red eyes closed, his furry black ears folding back as he purred.

Toshiro smiled.

"He really does like you." Sango said with a strange look. "That little hellion tried to claw Miroku's face apart when he tried to touch it earlier."

Inuyasha snorted. "I'd try to kill the lech too if he tried to touch me with those tainted hands."

Everyone laughed, watching as said monk rocked a kitten in his arms obviously.

"But seriously, Inuyasha." Sango continued. "That kitten barely likes its own siblings."

As if to prove the taijia’s point, another of the small youkai came up to where Toshiro still stroked the black kitten, curiously sniffing at the hanyou's dirty hakama. When the black kitten noticed his sibling approaching his purring cut off with a gurgle, his eyes going immediately into angry slits, his sharp little fangs showing in warning. The little female squeaked and ran to hide behind Kagome.

"Mean little thing." Sango tsked disapprovingly.

The black kitten turned back to Toshiro, ignoring everyone else in the room and almost grumbled, his head butting against the hanyou’s stilled hand and his eyes irritated.

No one told you to stop.

Toshiro snorted but resumed scratching behind the little cat's ear as he said, "He's not mean, just picky."

"Well keep his picky ass over there." Inuyasha said, scooping the female from behind his miko. "That thing tries to bite me and I'm turning him into a pair of socks."

The black kitten glared daggers at Inuyasha, baring his teeth. The larger hanyou let a growl slip from deep in his belly and the black kitten mewed, his eyes going wide before he scrambled up Toshiro's shirt and head to settle between the hanyou's ears. When he was hidden in Toshiro’s mass of black hair, only his bright red eyes showing, he hissed at Inuyasha again.

The older hanyou laughed.

"You're all bark."

Inuyasha placed the purring female on Kagome's lap before he strode across the room and plucked the youkai from Toshiro's hair. The large hanyou plopped onto the floor, holding the little creature by the ruff of his fur and smirked at him.

The black kitten hissed in what Toshiro was sure was murderous intent and swiped his little paws at Inuyasha, claws out, and missed. His momentum caused him to spin lazily in the air, his anger never lessening as the onlookers around the hut chuckled.

Inuyasha scoffed before looking over at the ravenette.

"He reminds me of you."

Toshiro half smiled, watching as the kitten tried to claw at Inuyasha again and missed, forcing himself into another spin. He remembered the day he met Inuyasha and Kagome and he smiled fully.

"Because we both think you're annoying?" He jeered at his adoptive father.

"Keh." Inuyasha snorted before turning back to the kitten.

His expression turned serious, and he flicked the small youkai in the middle of the cream-colored diamond on his forehead.

The little cat's eyes went wide in surprise, and he mewed softly in submission. His previously two flicking tails tucked under him. Inuyasha huffed, and then placed the youkai back between Toshiro's ears, where he burrowed and looked grudgingly around the room.

"You're both brave." Inuyasha said as he reclaimed his spot by his miko.

0:0:0:0:0:

"What will you do with them?" Toshiro asked the taijia.

They’d spent the day in Sango and Miroku's hut, eating and playing with the small youkai that romped around happily. Inuyasha had even let he and Shippou skip training.

Kirara seemed happy to have her rambunctious pups off of her paws, Toshiro thought. She'd only awoken long enough to eat before falling back into a deep, peaceful seeming sleep.

Kagome, Shippou, and Inuyasha had gone back to their hut for the night, the kitsune noticeably between the two. Toshiro wanted to go with his family but was reluctant to leave for some reason, and had asked if he could stay the night with the human couple and the cats instead.

The slayer had her husband's head in her lap, three tired out kittens curled up and resting on his belly.

"Once they're old enough I'm thinking of having some of the village children look after them." Sango said. "I'm sure Kirara would like to have her babies nearby, and they're all very friendly. All except yours of course." She finished on a chuckle.

The black kitten had not left his side all day. When Toshiro had moved to sit with the pack for dinner the little youkai had curled up by his legs, close to the fire. And as soon as Toshiro had finished and gone to move the kitten had grumbled at being left behind before he scurried up the back of the hanyou's shirt and back into his hair, where Toshiro could now hear him snoring softly.

"He's friendly." The hanyou defended. "And he doesn't belong to me."

"I know that, but he doesn't seem to like anyone but you." Sango smiled. "Say. . . why don't you look after him for Kirara? I'm sure she wouldn't mind. You're family, and I don't think he would tolerate anyone else."

She looked to her small partner, who looked at the hanyou and the kitten asleep in his hair before she nodded with a mew.

"It's settled then." Sango nodded.

"Really?" Toshiro blinked at the females. "You'd trust me to care for him?"

Sango lovingly ran her hands through her husband's hair, smiling down at him when he snored in the back of his throat.

"If he trusts you, then why shouldn't I?"

Toshiro blushed, and could hardly believe it. Sure, he’d taken a liking to the little youkai throughout the day, but he never expected to be allowed to look after him.

It was quite the responsibility.

The hanyou felt excitement bubble in his belly at all he could teach the kitten, at all they could do together. He did not want to keep him as a pet, but as a partner as Kirara and Sango were. They could hunt together, train together, fight together.

The hanyou beamed.

"So what will you call him?" Sango's soft voice brought Toshiro from his musing.

He remembered how the small flames flicked at the kittens feet, how his eyes blazed like fire embers and how his personality burned brighter, and he knew.

"Moeru." Toshiro dimpled. "I think his name should be Moeru."

Chapter Text

When Toshiro awoke he was curled on his side in the main room of Sango and Miroku's hut. Someone had tucked a blanket around him and the kitten that had squeezed under his arm at one point in the night.

Toshiro blinked slowly, taking in the low fire across the room and the mother and other kittens curled up beside it. He could hear the deep human breaths in one of the back rooms. He could hear the waking chirps of hungry chicks in the trees outside.

The hanyou sat up, stretching his arms over his head and relishing in the popping of his stiff bones. He smacked his lips a little, wetting his dry mouth as he absentmindedly scratched at his damaged ear. Toshiro was only a little surprised when he turned and saw the black kitten that was to be his partner stretch out too before blinking bleary red eyes at him.

"I have to go home, it's nearly sun up and I have training." Toshiro said lowly before he cocked his head. "Do you want to stay with me? Your mother and Sango hopes the two of us will be partners."

The kitten glanced over at his sleeping mother and littermates before looking back at the hanyou, and then he sneezed. The little youkai stood expectantly and shook out his thick fur, giving Toshiro an almost impatient look all the while.

Well, let's go then. His eyes seemed to say to the hanyou pup.

Toshiro grinned and got to his feet, carefully making his way into the still quiet village. The kitten kept an easy pace at his side, dual colored paws silent in the dirt and gravel.

"You'll have to live with me, and train with me." He told the young youkai seriously. "We need to be able to fight together if we're to be partners after all. And I'll need something to call you. Do you have a name?"

The kitten shook his head, little black ears almost identical to Toshiro's folding back into his fur.

"What do you think of the name Moeru? It means 'burn'."

The youkai seemed to think about it for a moment before small flames flicked at his tails and feet, his red eyes glinted in approval.

Toshiro smirked. "I thought you might like it."

They trekked to the hut just outside of the village in a companionable silence. Moeru eyes darted this way and that, familiarizing himself with the village that would be his home, glaring a bit at the early rising villagers who smiled in their direction as they passed.

Toshiro thought it was strange, how Moeru didn't feel like a stranger to him despite only meeting the grumbly youkai the day before. It had taken weeks to accept and become used to his new family, but it felt completely natural to have the fire kitten trotting alongside him now.

When he pushed aside the bamboo curtain of his home Toshiro found his brother hunched over in the main room, their adopted father seated across from the dozing kit and staring at the door impatiently.

Inuyasha didn't look surprised to see Moeru at his son's side.

"You're late."

"It's not even sunrise." Toshiro said quietly, knowing that Kagome was still asleep. He kept an eye on the kitten that had begun snuffing around the hut curiously.

"Keh. Keep talking back and I'll make you run laps around the village until lunch."

Toshiro bit back his retort.

Moeru had made his way over to where Shippou was barely awake, his auburn head propped up on a hand and his eyes heavy. The sleepy kitsune reached out a cautious hand to touch the kitten and Moeru snapped his little jaw with a threatening gurgle.

"Don't hurt him." Toshiro growled, baring his teeth a little when the kitten turned to meet his stare. "Don't you dare hurt my brother."

Moeru glared for a second before the fire in his eyes melted. He huffed once at Toshiro and gave Shippou a resentful, not quite apologetic look before continuing his exploration of his new home.

"I ain't cleaning up after no cat." Inuyasha said as he stood and tucked his sword in his belt. "Your partner, your responsibility. He better not piss all over our house, or rip up our linens, or leave dead things around. And you better make sure he knows who to keep the claws away from."

Toshiro nodded his assent, but it was Moeru that Inuyasha stared down as he spoke.

The little youkai met his golden eyes and dipped his head, submitting again.

"Good. Now let's go, the three of you."

"Will you tell him to stop glaring at me?" Shippou whispered to his brother, pulling the inu hanyou out of his head.

The three of them were crouched in a large shrub, downwind to the small pig they were currently supposed to be hunting. Toshiro let the days old memory fade and lifted his nose to the chilled wind, trying to locate the exact location of their prey and ignore his companions. Until Moeru hissed at the kitsune from his other side.

He gave the fire kitten a stern look. "Knock it off."

Moeru glared back.

He's annoying. His ruby eyes said to the hanyou.

"He's mine." Toshiro growled. "Which means he's yours. We've been over this, and this is hardly the time."

They'd had the same half silent disagreement half a dozen times in the span of the four days that Moeru had been with them. The small youkai was insufferable. Moeru detested everyone who was not Toshiro at worst and was annoyed by the rest of the pack at best.

He hissed whenever Miroku got too close, he glared at Inuyasha almost constantly, and he growled whenever Shippou attempted to come onto Toshiro's side of the room the three of them now shared. Kagome, Sango, Kaede, and Kirara seemed to be the only ones beside Toshiro whom Moeru seemed to tolerate in any degree. Whether it was because the kitten respected them, or because they were females of the pack, Toshiro didn't know.

Even days after Inuyasha had pulled rank and made Moeru submit the feline glowered and sneered, and sometimes outright growled, at the village men, women, and children who came too close to him or the hanyou he'd claimed. He was never physically aggressive or threatening to anyone, but he grumbled and grumped almost constantly as he followed Toshiro to and participated in combat, and hunting, and meditation trainings. He glared and hissed at anyone who he thought was a threat, at everyone basically.

A small, furry, black ball of ire with no true intentions on backing up his bark with a bite.

He reminded Toshiro of a cranky old crone.

The feline gave him a look that only the hanyou seemed capable of understanding.

I don't want to be around him. We could have done this on our own.

"Well, I don't care." Toshiro whisper growled back at his irritating new partner. "You train with me, you train my way. If you don't like it go back to your mother and sisters."

Moeru was aggravated by his little sisters most of all. Whenever they went to Miroku and Sango's hut the three playful little females all raced to meet them at the door, their two tails flicking around happily and their identical eyes twinkling.

Alone, one of them never dared to bother the only male in their litter, but together, the little kittens often ganged up on Moeru, using their numbers to tease their only brother mercilessly; pulling at one of his black tails, pawing at him while he slept, outright tackling or biting him when his attention was diverted. They pestered him constantly. If he'd been dealing with their antics since his birth Toshiro couldn't entirely blame him for always being so grouchy.

The ebony kitten sucked on his teeth and looked away, knowing he'd lost.

"I thought so."

"It's moving." Shippou said suddenly, his body stiffening and his eyes far away as he listened, his tail swishing quietly through a pile of leaves. He looked to Toshiro. "Aniki?"

The hanyou nodded. "You take the right, Moeru the left. I'll take center. Like we practiced."

The three boys nodded their conformation before darting off to surround their prey before they pounced with a grace and coordination that not a single one of them noticed.

0:0:0:0:

Kagome sat in the shade of Goshinboku, the warmth of the bark against her back warding off the cold afternoon, a romance novel balanced on her knees.

The snow was starting to melt, leaving patches of slush and mud along the forest floor. The miko had brought a soft blue blanket from their hut to sit on, coloring pages and picture books spread out and awaiting the return of her boys.

My boys, Kagome thought and smiled.

The term warmed her chest. For so long she'd thought of Shippou as her own, and it had been as easy as breathing to accept and love Toshiro just as she had with the kitsune.

He was so different than the boy she'd found all those weeks ago; terrified, hurt from wounds both internal and external, guarded, enraged with the world.

Something had changed in him that night they'd run into Kouga. Toshiro was still, of course, his rather quiet, reserved self. . . but he was quicker to smile in the recent days. He was quicker to romp around and wrestle with Shippou, and now Moeru. He was more open to, and seemed to revel in, moments in which Sango would hug him, or Miroku would help him adjust his defensive stance, or Inuyasha would affectionately ruffle his hair.

But the biggest change she'd seen in him was in regard to her herself. Nearly two months ago Toshiro had gone for Kagome's throat, had snapped at her whenever she tried to touch or comfort him, had growled at her whenever she got too close. Now the pup's eyes immediately sought her out when he entered a room. He was the often the first to claim a seat beside her at dinner. He had even asked for something from her time a few days ago; a set of colored pencils that he now stashed under his pillow with his treasured Van Gogh book. He'd grown so much in the short time that she'd known him.

Both of her children had.

With Toshiro's appearance and influence Shippou had stepped up. The kitsune took his training with the hanyous very seriously. He had become stronger, and smarter, and even a bit more mature. Shippou had thrown one of his famous tantrums once, weeks ago, and Toshiro was quick to tell the red faced kit how the behavior was unbecoming of a warrior, how he should accept the rare 'nos' he got from his family as what they were, that he was better than petty tantrums. Shippou had apologized profusely to Sango for his outburst, bowing and begging forgiveness with his forehead touching the ground.

The kitsune had not thrown a fit since.

They were good for each other, Kagome thought. The kitsune taught Toshiro that it was okay to have fun, to laugh with others and be silly sometimes. And the inu hanyou taught Shippou that working hard was not a bad thing, that having pride in your skills, and having the discipline to practice those skills, didn't mean that one could not have a good time.

They had been out hunting for nearly an hour, by themselves for once after begging and insisting that they could do so on their own. They were becoming exceptional hunters under Inuyasha's tutelage, able to bring down and clean small creatures with almost no hassle.

Kagome had noticed that the boys often presented their kills to her after their hunts, proud smirks on their faces and their little chests puffed out in pride. Moeru had even started bringing food to her, although grudgingly. The little youkai had only been with them for a few days, but on the afternoon of the second he had gently placed a field mouse at her feet when Toshiro had presented her with a rabbit, glaring at the ground all the while.

Inuyasha said that because the children saw her as their alpha female, even Moeru would often pine for her approval and attention.

And it wasn't just dead things they gave her; A week ago Shippou had brought her a bouquet of wild winter flowers. He'd snuck off during lunch and spent almost an hour hunting and picking the fragrant peonies, his fingers littered with thorn pricks when he presented the bright pink and purple flowers to her. He'd then taken a couple of the large petals and carefully wove them into beautiful crowns for her and Sango to wear. The little kitsune had been so proud of his work that the two women had worn them for days.

Moeru had begun bringing her materials to fashion more of her sacred arrows the day that Toshiro brought him home; sharp, jagged pieces of rock to make her arrowheads, precise strips wood he'd carved off of maple and oak trees for the shafts, large white feathers the kitten had somehow plucked off of birds for the nocks. The fire youkai brought the material little by little, day by day, obviously taking care in what he chose to present to Kagome. Then he sat in front of her and watched intently as she created the ammo for her weapon of choice.

Toshiro had drawn and given her an astoundingly realistic portrait of herself just the night before. She knew exactly when he'd captured her; an unusually warm night when the pack had eaten dinner outside. He'd captured the flickers of fire light along her skin perfectly, had drawn the shadowed shape of Inuyasha's hut against the darkening sky, had combined colors to match the exact shade of brown as her eyes, had made the windblown blue black strands of her hair so detailed that for a moment she'd thought she could reach into the picture and brush them out of her double's eyes. She hadn't realized that night that he'd brought out his colored pencils and paper to recreate her, she'd had no idea that he was so talented.

Now Inuyasha was now brooding and silent in the boughs of the God Tree above her, sulking at being excluded from the boys' hunt for lunch though he'd never admit to doing so.

The silence between them was driving Kagome insane.

They'd barely spoken in over a week, and she didn't think she could take much more of the awkward pauses, the contemplative looks he shot her when he thought she wasn't looking. She'd spent many nights since their argument trying to pluck up the courage to talk to him, trying to force herself to turn and face where she knew he slept upright by their bedroom door, but she never could.

She was behaving like a coward and she hated it.

She knew that she needed to settle their spat, if not for their sake then for the sake of their boys. Shippou and Toshiro were not stupid, she knew that they often put themselves between her and Inuyasha, purposely antagonizing the hanyou or engaging the miko in conversation to ebb some of the strain they no doubt sensed. She could not continue to avoid this, no matter how much the idea of arguing with him again made her stomach churn.

The miko snapped her book closed, her brown eyes hardening in resolve. And just as she was about to call up to the hanyou above her, he jumped down of his own accord, landing in a crouch with his nose inches from her own. His golden eyes glowed with determination, his white ears flicked nervously on the top of his head.

"Stop being angry with me." Inuyasha demanded.

Kagome blinked, realizing that his thoughts must have gone in the same directions as her own in their silence. She tried to lean back to put some space between them but realized she had nowhere to go. So she mustered up that courage that had filled her the night she'd stood up to Kouga, straightened her spine, and glared back.

"Back up."

The hanyou’s eyes narrowed, but he obliged, his ears folding back as he rested on his haunches. Inuyasha started at her silently for a moment, his shoulders tense and his claws digging into the quilt beneath them.

"I want you to stop being angry with me."

"I want you to tell me what you want, Inuyasha." She retorted without preamble.

No dodging around the issue this time.

He curled his lip. "When did you become so forward?"

"When I realized that you wouldn't be." She crossed her arms over her grey sweater.

Inuyasha's cheeks pinked, cut his eyes away as he said, "You know what I want."

"Do I?" Kagome raised a brow in challenge.

Say it. She was having no more of this nonsense. She knew he had feelings for her, she wasn't stupid. She knew that he felt something for her even if it wasn't as deeply as she felt for him. But it was something. And he refused to acknowledge it. All these years, after everything they'd been through and still Inuyasha refused to acknowledge it. So she'd make him. She wouldn't keep playing this game. 

Say it.

Inuyasha bared his teeth a little, his temper rising to meet her own.

"You do."

Say it, baka!

Her aura crackled with her frustration. "Say it. Say it or go back into Goshinboku and let me go back to my book."

A deep growl vibrated in the hanyou's chest, his bright eyes going to slits. "You're really starting to piss me off, woman."

"And you're really becoming tiresome, man."

"Oi! The fuck is that supposed to-"

"Do you have feelings for me or not?!" Kagome yelled down at him, not noticing until then that she'd sprung to her feet.

Inuyasha blinked once at her in shock, twice, his ears folding back to hide in his hair at her exclamation. He rose slowly to his feet, towering over her again. His eyes were wide, and beautiful, and filled with heartbreaking longing.

Kagome wanted to punch him.

". . . Yes, but-"

"There is no but, Inuyasha." Kagome cut him off, letting her newfound boldness speak the words she'd always been so afraid to say. But she found that she wasn't afraid anymore. She'd faced much more terrifying things than her feelings in the past. "It's so simple. It may not always have been but it is now. There's you, and there's me, and there are those two amazing little boys that we chose to be responsible for."

He just stared at her, effectively stunned.

Kagome sighed through her nose, willing patience to cool the anxious thrum of her blood in her veins as she continued. "I'm not asking you to profess your undying love to me if that's what you think. I'm not even asking you to be with me if that's not what you want. I'm asking you to be honest for once about this, about how you feel. No avoiding, no games, no sarcastic crap."

Inuyasha swallowed audibly. "T-the jewel-"

The miko took a step toward him, craning her neck back a bit to meet his eyes. "Do you. Have feeling. For me. Or not." She enunciated each word, matching the intensity in his eyes with her own. "If you don't then you need to just say so I can-"

He cut her off with a tug, grabbing her by the waist and pulling her body flush against his a moment before his lips descended on her own.

Kagome felt more than heard his whispered, "Yes." against her lips, felt his heart slamming through their layers of clothes.

Her hands instinctively went up around his shoulders to feel them sag with relief as she kissed him back. She smiled against his soft, insistent lips, the tension and stress melting out of her as he wrapped his other arm securely around her. She pressed herself closer and was rewarded when Inuyasha let loose a low, rumble in his chest. The sound and the feel of his youki wrapping around her causing her to go pliant and giving in his arms.

"Kagome." He murmured her name between their lips, its sound like a blessing and a curse. "Kagome."

Finally. Finally, the miko thought. After five years of hoping and wishing, finally Inuyasha was ready to be honest with her, finally he was ready to see what she felt for him as what it was, maybe even accept her feelings. She opened her mouth under his own and the hanyou’s growl of approval had Kagome’s toes curling in her boots. Her hands traveled up to grip at the roots of his hair, and just as his tongue delved into her mouth-

"Kami, my eyes!" A voice shrieked.

The two sprang apart, their cheeks blazing and their eyes glazed as they took in the two boys staring at them, one in abject horror, the other in a beaming happiness. Moeru was seated beside his partner, nonchalantly licking his paws clean of blood assumedly from the dead boar a few feet behind them.

Shippou's hands were covering his mouth as if he were about to throw up. "Get a hut, Gods!"

Kagome was sure her face was as red as Inuyasha's haori. She giggled nervously and straightened her sweater, noting that Inuyasha still had a secure hand on her hip despite being pink up to his ears.

"Don't be rude." Toshiro flicked the smaller boy on the ear before turning to the embarrassed adults. His small smile was genuine and hopeful. "I think it's nice that she's accepted him as her mate."

Kagome's face twisted in confusion at the same time that Inuyasha's flush deepened even further. The male sputtered unintelligibly before he barked, "Ya don't know nuffin, you pest. We ain't mates yet."

"I never really understood the concept of mates." The miko said honestly before she turned in Inuyasha's arm to raise an eyebrow at him. "And what do you mean, 'yet'?"

"Well, because he intends on-" Toshiro began excitedly, but was cut off when a heavy hand pushed his head down.

The kitsune laughed, the youkai on his brother's other side rolling his red eyes.

"Be-because we're taking things one day at a time?" Even as Inuyasha said it uncertainty swam in his eyes.

Kagome smiled at him approvingly and the older hanyou sighed in relief.

Toshiro shot Inuyasha a death glare, his head still held down by the other hanyou's hand. But the look melted away into warmth when he saw his two adoptive parents staring into each other's eyes like they'd forgotten anyone else was there.

One day at a time, Kagome thought with a contented sigh as Inuyasha placed a light kiss on her forehead. She could do that.

Toshiro cleared his throat nervously, dislodging Inuyasha's hand with a shake of his head. He cut his eyes over to meet his brother's green ones. The kitsune nodded minutely before the hanyou pup swallowed audibly and asked, "D-Does this mean we can call you 'mother' and 'father'?"

Inuyasha began a fit of coughing. Kagome rolled her eyes at him before kneeling down to eye level with the two boys. She reached out gentle hands, running one through the hair of each of the squirming boys and even reached over to tweak one of Moeru's little ears despite the feline’s grumbling. She gave them her softest, most sincere smile.

"Of course you can call me 'mother', if that's what you want." She cut her eyes up at the still hacking hanyou, who coughed once more at her look before kneeling beside her.

"Don't call me 'father'." Inuyasha said after he cleared his throat, a horrified look in his eyes. Before Kagome had a chance to feel disappointed the male rushed on at the disappointment forming in the boys' eyes. "That sounds too old, and I ain't old. Call me-call something else."

Kagome caught the mischievous glint in Shippou's eyes right before the kit placed a thoughtful hand on his chin.

"Hmmm." The boy said dramatically. Toshiro sniggered, already knowing what nonsense his brother was up to. "What about. . . 'Papa'?"

Inuyasha sputtered predictably. "N-not that either, you runt!"

"'Daddy'?"

"No!"

"Well, what about 'Old Man'?" Shippou grinned. "I think that fits best."

"What?! I'll fit you in a ditch you little-"

And Inuyasha took after the kitsune, Shippou cackling in glee as he dodged his father's clawed hands and took off across the clearing. Kagome fell down in a fit of giggles, knowing that Inuyasha could catch the boy in a second if he truly wanted, that the older hanyou was just embarrassed if his blazing face was anything to go by. Toshiro plopped down next to her on the soft blanket, laughing openly as they watched Inuyasha yell and complain at the different names Shippou was still giving him as he was chased around and around. Moeru snorted and curled up on Toshiro's other side to sleep until dinner.

Kagome smiled at the picture her family painted and wondered if she'd one day ask Toshiro to draw them one to hang in their home.

Chapter Text

Things were good. Toshiro had a warm bed to sleep in every night, and a partner with whom he shared that bed, and a brother to bicker and play with, and food to fill his belly until he could hardly move. He had a taijia to teach him how to hold a dagger, and a monk who painted with him whenever he wished, and an old miko who helped him meditate to focus his youki well past training time.

He had parents. Ones who cared for him, who read him stories, and reprimanded him for drawing when he should be writing his alphabet. Who kissed his cheeks and ruffled his hair, but never tweaked his ears because they knew he was still uncomfortable with them being touched.

And things were good.

It'd been a few days since he was human again, and still the pup was shaking off the sluggish unease he felt on those half-moon nights. When his youki had pulsed in warning Toshiro's brother had given him a look, one of understanding and question before the hanyou nodded and the two had sped off into the forest, Moeru quiet of grumbling for once as he followed at their heels.

The pack now knew that Toshiro turned from hanyou to human being on the first half moon of the month, knew what to expect, and did not shout or worry when he ran from the village when the sun began to set. They understood that Toshiro's human night was something he was not yet ready to share with everyone, a vulnerable time he only felt comfortable sharing with his chosen brother, and now his partner.

Inuyasha and Kagome didn't question the boys; they respected that Toshiro needed Shippou and Moeru alone, gave them the space to support one another, and trusted them not to stray too far in case of an emergency.

The trio had found another small cave just into Inuyasha's Forest, and once the moon was high in the sky, the left half of its face dark, the hanyou felt the drain of his youkai leaving him for the second time since he'd found his family.

He was instinctively shot through with panic as his fangs retracted into his gums, as his eyesight clouded and the din of the forest turned to a dull thrum around him. But looking at the blurred shapes of Shippou and Moeru's backs at the mouth of the cave had calmed him, had allowed him to breathe through the anxiety that drowned him each time he transformed.

When it was over he'd sagged in exhaustion, struggled to keep his dark blue eyes open as the onslaught of the day's training took its toll on his human body. He'd dragged his feet to plop against his younger brother as they had that first half moon night, Moeru slinking over to curl against his side protectively, his red eyes watchful and awake as the boy fell unconscious with a hand holding onto his mutilated human ear.

It was dusk now, the sky shot through with purple veins as the sun began to set and the boy shook off the memory.

Toshiro and his partner were hunting. Not for food, they had plenty, but for practice, and in the hopes of expelling the nervous energy that'd plagued the hanyou since his parents left the day before.

The duo had decided to venture a little deeper than they usually would to hunt even with the knowledge that it was dangerous with Inuyasha away in Kagome's time, and that the moon was soon to rise above the trees, and that they technically weren't supposed to be out in the forest at all.

Maybe he was being a little reckless with his adoptive parents away until tomorrow morning, but the animals in the forest near their home knew the scents of the hanyou and saber kitten by now, knew to hide or run long before the two got the chance to track them down. And even without having Shippou to watch their back they were fully capable of going a little farther out on their own. The kitsune was busy helping out at Kaede's, where Toshiro and his partner were admittedly supposed to be themselves.

Where is that stupid cat? He thought as he stomped through the looming trees.

They'd split up to corral a flock of wild fowl, but his companion's scent went in the opposite direction than the one the birds had taken. Which was strange.

Moeru usually wasn't one to deter from a plan or set of rules; He growled when Toshiro tried to sleep in when it was time to train, he nipped the hanyou when he noticed his partner's mind starting to wander during reading or writing lessons, and Toshiro had had to beg the youkai to come out hunting with him when he'd told the old miko they were only going for a walk through the village.

Toshiro sighed through his nose, pushing his disobedience to the back of his mind and straining to hear the saber's light footsteps through Inuyasha's Forest.

They would be fine, no one would know. As long as he found Moeru quick, and they finished this hunt and got back home.

The pup knew that calling out for his partner would be unwise, it would not only scare their prey away, but tell the more nefarious things of the night his location. So Toshiro took a deep inhale to scent his partner instead. . . and froze at what he smelled on the cold wind.

His body immediately locked in instinctive fear, sweat beading on his neck. He-he knew that smell on the breeze, but it was in no way the feline's. Knew the scent as clearly as he knew his own but there-there was no way. . . No way.

The chirps and croaks and rustles of the forest suddenly quieted when a strong, violent blast of youki shot through the wood.

Toshiro felt a gasp catch in his throat and tried to will his body to retreat, to run, but it wouldn't. Not as that vicious scent grew nearer. Not as he watched in disbelief as Orochi strolled through a break in the trees as if he owned the ground he walked on. Not as he saw those wicked green eyes glint in silent promise. Not as the figure of his very nightmares smiled at him as if they were long lost friends.

The pup took in that familiar golden armor, those claws that had caused so many of the scars on his body, that snake like smile, and whimpered.

The inu youkai halted his stalk mere inches away, so close that the hanyou pup could scent the clinging smells of the Southern Land's sand and brine from his clothes, could feel the malice pouring off of the male's body in waves.

Toshiro's own body felt rooted to the ground, as if all of the fire in his blood had turned to leaden ice.

Orochi smirked at him for a few silent moments, his pine green eyes assessing the clean clothes, the rounded cheeks, before he casually said, "You've changed."

Toshiro winced at the sound his voice, averting his honey eyes as years of torture and humiliation and submission came crashing into him. How had he been found? Was Katsumi here? Why had he gone out of the village? How could he have been so stupid?

Orochi circled him, faint amusement lighting his tone.

"You look strong, and healthy. You've grown taller and cut your hair short. Such drastic changes wrought in just a few months. . ." The youkai mused before squatting down, reaching out to grip the stunned boy by the face. Toshiro swallowed a yelp as the male gave him a terrifying grin. "Your aunt was rather distraught at your disappearance. And I've heard the most interesting stories of you on my quest to bring you home. I wonder what Katsumi will think of her Maggot when I deliver him to her."

Silent tears began to flow freely down Toshiro's cheeks as those horrifyingly familiar claws pressed into his golden skin. Panic and terror wrapped tight around his chest, keeping him from speaking, from thinking, from breathing.

"Not even a hello?" Orochi shook the pup a little, his canines flashing. "I've come such a long way, and this is the greeting I get?"

The pup only swallowed and cried harder, squeezing his eyes shut.

Inuyasha, Kagome. . . please.

He didn't realize he'd whispered their names aloud until, like lightning striking, Orochi backhanded Toshiro across the face. The boy's head whipped to the side violently, his cheek instantly swelling and his bangs falling to cover his eyes. He heard the youkai stand and didn't fight when the male hit him a second time across the same cheek, the force of it knocking the hanyou pup to his knees.

"Who?" Orochi sneered hatefully. "Calling out for help, Maggot? Have you forgotten all that we've taught you?"

Another strike across the face, the other side this time. The inu youkai's claws nicked Toshiro's swollen cheek, the pup's tears stinging as they continued down his bruised face and into the open wound.

"You do not trust." Smack. "You do not beg." Smack. "You do not feel." Smack. SMACK.

Toshiro knew that he should be defending himself. Knew that by now all of his defensive training should have kicked in, knew that his youki should have been raging and roaring, but he felt nothing but numbing terror.

In his head he heard a voice that sounded like Inuyasha's growling at him to get up, to fight, to run, to do something.

But he couldn't find the will to do so.

Not as years and years and years of feeling inferior and useless snuffed out the fire in his blood like a candle, not as a steel toed boot dealt him a crushing blow to his middle, causing him to double over with a soundless cry. Not as Orochi grasped onto his damaged ear with just his claws and squeezed.

Not as he retreated to that corner in his mind that he hadn't had to live in for a long while, where he could not feel pain, could not hear the slurs and insults Orochi spit at him, could do nothing but wait until the torture stopped.

He deserved this for thinking he could be happy.

He deserved this for thinking he could ever escape.

"Did you think you could escape?" He heard Orochi chuckle distantly, saw him flick blood from his claws with his spotted vision. "Did you think these disgusting things I smell on you would care whether you live or die? They do not. You have always been, and will always be, nothing more than a maggot."

Maggot. Maggot. Maggot. The word rang through his head in a loathsome knell, a word he'd thought was his own name for the first years of his life, a word that he'd almost forgotten in his stolen happiness.

Orochi snatched up Toshiro by the neck, the pup letting his body dangle limply and his eyes go blank and unseeing. Maggot. Let him be beaten into a bloody pulp, let him be dragged back to the Southern Castle to spend out the days of his worthless life. Maggot. It was where he belonged all along; squirming at Katsumi's feet. Maggot.

He was a fool for thinking otherwise.

With his blurred vision he saw Orochi raise a fist and did not brace himself for the blow to come. But it didn't, for the silence of the forest was broken by a furious wail. Toshiro dropped heavily to the forest floor as he was released, Orochi yowling as a bright light slammed into him.

The pup found the strength to drag his foggy head up and saw that a black tuft of flame had launched itself at the inu youkai, wrapping itself around the male's raised hand and sinking razor sharp fangs in deep. Toshiro looked on in hazy shock as Orochi bellowed in pain and saw that it was Moeru who had latched onto the youkai's hand, three times larger than the kitten that burrowed in his hair at night, tails and paws aflame, his red eyes nearly glowing with rage.

Orochi collected himself enough to snatch the transformed cat by his ruff, his skin ripping as Moeru's fangs dragged through flesh and tendon. Toshiro could do nothing but watch as the inu youkai growled in fury and flung the feline away, Moeru flying through the air to smack against a snow covered bolder.

Toshiro heard the crunch of bone from where he'd dragged himself back into a kneel.

The grotesque sound was like a gong in his head, beating back the waves of pain and fear that threatened to choke him. He needed to do something, he had to do something. Toshiro could only see out of one eye, and his head spun with dizziness, and his lip was split, but still he felt that fire again spark low in his gut as Moeru's own flames winked out. As his partner's red eyes sparked in agony before they closed.

Himself being beaten into oblivion was one thing; he cared little for his own life.

But Moeru. . . Moeru was his partner, his pack. The saber had been by his side since the day they'd met, had seen him for what he was and had not thought less of him for being a hanyou, a maggot. Moeru had claimed Toshiro as his own despite the hanyou's temper, and moodiness, and distance. He deserved better than to die defending someone as useless as him.

The inu youkai male was stomping over to Toshiro's fallen friend, raising a booted foot to stomp down when the pup felt his youki snap to attention.

No.

"Leave him alone." His voice as was broken and raw, his knees and arms shook, but still he forced himself to stand.

Toshiro glared at Orochi with his black and blue and swollen face, with everything he had, as the male turned to him with a look of disbelief, foot still poised to crush Moeru's ribs.

"Excuse me?"

Toshiro's hands trembled as he balled them into fists, his youki anxious and afraid, but demanding he protect the youkai he'd claimed as his own. His own.

Mine.

"I-I said leave him alone." The hanyou managed to shift his feet apart despite the forest's spinning, managed to speak though it felt like breathing shards of glass. "Your fight is with me."

Orochi blinked once at his defensive stance before he burst into boisterous laughter, the sound making the hanyou's head pound. But the male moved his foot from above the unconscious saber, that was all Toshiro cared about.

"Fight? Is that so?" The youkai sniggered, running his shredded hand through his hair, not noticing or caring about the blood he tracked through it. "What have these stupid village people been teaching you? Don't fret, Maggot I think I killed it already."

Orochi sucked on a tooth, shoving Moeru none to gently with the toe of his boot. The kitten didn't make a sound, as if he were indeed dead. Toshiro growled deep in his chest, felt his youki whip out in warning to Orochi, felt his youkai markings burn onto his discolored cheeks as his temper flared.

The male turned with a smirk.

"The famous flames I've heard so much about?" Orochi cooed. "I should be so honored."

"Don't." Toshiro growled, more beast than boy.

It was all he could get out as anxiety and fury and fear swirled into a dangerous mix in his veins.

He felt his youki freeing from the confines of his body, flames begin to burn along his skin, in his hair, and let them come unbidden from his core. He heard the crackling of his clothes and the grass beneath him being set aflame, as the trees around them began to smoke. His youkai pounded in his blood like a heartbeat, drowning out his pain, and fear, and self-loathing.

Moeru. Moeru. Moeru.

Orochi cackled in surprise, Toshiro's fire highlighting the bit of madness in his eyes. He rested a hand on the honed sword at his hip, his brown hair quickly beginning to stick to his brow with the heat rising from the hanyou pup.

"Don't." Toshiro snarled again. Even as his blood sang in his veins; The youkai hurt pack. The youkai hurt you. Hurt him. Kill him!

The inu youkai's voice was soft, taunting, despite being surrounded by raging fire. "How you've changed, Toshiro."

The remaining rational part of the hanyou's brain cringed at his name on the youkai's lips, somehow sounding worse than the derogatory nickname he'd been given at his birth.

Orochi drew his sword slowly, eyes on every move and shift the flaming pup made. When that long, dangerous golden blade was pointed at him, Toshiro felt himself do something he'd never dared in his life.

He grinned at Orochi, bared his teeth at the older male in challenge.

The bright red and green of his transformed eyes begged the other to strike as the hanyou's youkai raged in his head. Let him come. Toshiro would tear him limb from limb for touching the feline he’d claimed. Toshiro would burn him to the bone and let the wind carry his ashes back to the Southern Lands.

Orochi's armor flickered in the firelight, his fangs set in a savage grin before he lunged, and Toshiro exploded in a ball of rage and anguish and despair and fire.

:0:0:0:0:0

"Toshiro!"

He was burning. Not his skin or hair, but his mind. He was lost in a haze of agony, and bloodlust, and fear. A single eye flickered open long enough to see the forest around him engulfed in flame, to see the snow and grass melted away, branches and leaves burning and falling around where he lay, the sky thick and suffocating with smoke and embers.

He knew immediately that he'd caused the forest fire, still felt his youki raging and lashing about the burning trees.

But he didn't care.

Moeru. Where is Moeru?

"Toshiro~!"

That voice, he knew that voice.

A hammer beat mercilessly inside his head as his good eye cut to the source of the voice, as he saw Miroku maneuvering his way through the hellish blaze to get to him, his face covered in soot and his eyes bright with dread. Moeru was dangling comatose and small again in his arms.

Something flashed in the flames behind the human.

Miroku. . . Behind you. . .

But the man was too busy dodging flames to get to him to see the twin sparks of green that flashed in a billow of smoke, smoldering in disbelieving fury. Toshiro did not have the voice to warn the monk as he burned and burned.

But Orochi did not attack. The youkai only bared his teeth at the prone hanyou pup in promise, eyes made all the more hateful by the burns and blisters covering half of the warrior's face.

And then he was gone, a green flash in a sea of red and gold and black.

And slowly, so slowly, Toshiro's youki began to return to him, the fire withdrawing to spool into his skin and burrowing deep in his bones as it sensed the threat's disappearance.

Toshiro barreled into unconsciousness just as Miroku crashed to his knees before him.

:0:0:0:0:0

They'd been gone less than two days, two, and the moment they emerged from the well and into the cold morning Kagome had stiffened. The glowing warmth that'd adorned her face from visiting her family had immediately vanished, only to be replaced by a fear and wrath so intense that the Inuyasha's hair had stood up on end.

He jumped them out of the well only to stop when he smelled what the miko must have sensed. Fire. And fear. And pain. All laced through the forest he'd called his home for years, all intertwined with the scent of the hanyou pup that he'd claimed as his own.

Inuyasha snatched up the still frozen Kagome and gunned it for the village, his mind moving a mile a minute, his eyes trained on the smoking trees in the distance. He willed his chest to move, made himself breathe through the panic that threatened to suffocate him.

You better be okay, pest, or I'm gonna kill ya.

They rushed through the village, through the men and women pointing and whispering at the smoke billowing from the forest as if they weren't there. Kaede's. The pups were at Kaede's, they were told to stay at Kaede's until he and Kagome returned. They were told to stay in the village.

What the hell happened?

He got his answer when he skidded to a stop in the old healer's doorway.

Sango begun weeping the moment she saw them, the monk holding her covered in burns along his hands and neck, his robes scorched and tattered enough to see the taijia suit he wore underneath. Kaede was in the corner, mixing healing contents in a bowl, her wrinkled face lined with worry and exhaustion. Shippou and Kirara were standing protectively in front of two figures huddled on a single futon, the kit's eyes lined with tears and his teeth bared at the door.

Shippou let out a shuddering breath when he realized the intruders were his parents, then he sagged to his knees, silent tears rushing down his cheeks that Kirara licked away.

Kagome shoved herself out of Inuyasha's arms and rushed to kneel by the crumpled, bandaged creatures in the middle of the room. Kirara moved with her to curl around the smaller of the two. . . Moeru, who was bandaged from head to tails, a splint encasing one of his hind legs, the black fur above his left eye shaved away to treat a wicked gash that would no doubt scar.

And Toshiro.

Inuyasha’s pup. . . his son.

Was beaten beyond recognition. His face was disfigured, mottled and swollen, bruised so dark it seemed black in some places. Several lumps along his cheeks had split open, the blood dried and caked with soot. His left eye was swollen completely shut, red stained bandages wrapped tight around his forehead. The usually shiny pink edge of his damaged ear was a mangled mess of dried blood and cartilage. Deep red marks wrapped around his throat like a sick necklace; fingerprints.

Inuyasha turned away, couldn't stand to look at the boy he'd grown to love so broken, couldn't watch his miko pull their pup into her lap and cry so hard she barely breathed.

He felt his heart fissure at the same time he felt his youkai rake savage claws down his spine.

WHO?

Miroku saw the question boiling in his eyes, saw his hands curl at his sides and his youkai markings flash on his skin.

The monk moved to settle in front of Kaede and her medicines, met his best friend's red stare with a wince. Shame and pain and grime lined his face. The man cleared his throat none too gently, his voice still grave and raw when he spoke.

"When Kaede told me that he and Moeru had yet to return I went searching for them through the village. I looked-I looked everywhere; the lake, marketplace, all to no avail. None of the village children claimed to had seen them. I-I'd just made it to your hut when I saw the smoke rising from the forest, and so I ran. I ran Inuyasha, into the forest, right into the fire, and found him burning as bright as a star in the middle of it."

But that still didn't tell him why Toshiro was beaten so badly, didn't tell him-

"Who did this to him?" It was Kagome, her aura crackling dangerously and her son cradled to her chest. She ghosted a trembling hand over the ugly bruises on Toshiro's neck, too busy assessing the unconscious pup to see Miroku turn his violet eyes on her.

"There was. . . a male amongst the flames. Trying to push through the blaze to get to Toshiro. Through the smoke I saw him grinning, a blade bright red and melting to the ground by his side. I did not see his face fully, but I saw swirling green of inu youkai markings upon his cheek . . . " Miroku swallowed. "And I heard him call Toshiro. . . that word."

The hut was so quiet that Inuyasha could hear Toshiro's low, labored breaths.

They all knew the word in which the monk meant.

Shippou had recounted the events of the hyena den for Inuyasha and the others in those days after the rescue, when Toshiro had been unconscious and recuperating. The clever fox had pretended to faint in Tadao's arms when he'd been snatched, and spent his time at Leiko's feet listening to their every word.

The word 'maggot', the kit had said, had triggered his brother's transformation with Tadao, had snapped the constant control the young hanyou had over himself and turned him into something bloodthirsty and merciless.

Shippou padded over to his miko now, eyes wide with fear as he climbed carefully onto Kagome's lap beside his sleeping brother.

This male. . . was no doubt someone from the pup's past who had come for him. Come from a past that Inuyasha admittedly had no clue about. He should have pushed the pest to talk about it more, should have known more about where Toshiro came from and how he'd ended up on that hill those months ago. He should have been there to protect him.

Inuyasha had been deemed a father for no less than a week, and already he'd failed.

He forced back the sound of his youkai roaring in his ears, made himself unclench his teeth to ask, "This male got away?"

The monk nodded, flinching a bit when Kaede smeared a thick salve onto his blistering throat.

"Young Toshiro has been in a deep sleep since Miroku found him." The old miko said calmly, though the wrinkles around her eye pinched with upset. "He expended a large amount of his youki, and sustained a fractured rib in the altercation."

A fractured rib. This youkai broke his son's rib.

Inuyasha was going to kill that motherfu-

"I'm going to kill him."

It was Kagome. Her hold on the battered boy tightened as every eye in the room turned to her, as every being held their breath. Pink miko's aura flicked dangerously behind her brown eyes, those of which were not clouded with grief and fear, but clear with promise, with death.

She did not reach to wipe away the tears that cut down her cheeks like knives.

"He won't get away with this, Kagome." Sango said, her voice like tempered steel despite her sniffling. "He will be dealt with, whoever he is."

But the miko had eyes only for Inuyasha, for the man who didn't balk or shiver in wary at the murderous anger in her eyes; he was sure his own burned with it.

"Find you brother, Inuyasha.” She said, her voice devoid of emotion even as she ran a hand through Shippou's hair “He can tell us what he knows of this youkai, maybe even where to find him. And when we do. . . he will regret laying a finger on our son."

Inuyasha's youkai howled vicious agreement.

Chapter Text

How you've changed, Toshiro. . .

The hanyou pup shot upright with a choking noise, feeling like large hands were wrapped around his windpipe. He tried to take in desperate lungs full of air around the splitting roar in his ears, the splintering ache that wracked him whenever he inhaled, but he couldn't. He could barely breathe, barely think past the tightness in his throat and the terrible stabbing along his ribs, could barely feel anything beyond mind numbing pain.

His entire being felt as if it had been trampled by an ox youkai, his head, his chest, and his many bruises pounding along with his rapid heartbeat. The sounds of his own breathing seemed far away with his again mangled right ear carefully, completely bandaged.

Orochi.

Orochi had found him. Orochi had beat him blind, and hurt his Moeru. He'd managed to wound the male, had somehow managed to run him off. But now Katsumi would find him, now knew where he'd hidden these months. Katsumi would hunt him down, and try to kill his pack for spite.

Gods, he couldn't breathe. Every stuttering inhale felt like he was swallowing shards of jagged glass. He could still feel the inu youkai's hand wrapped around his throat, could still feel him squeezing the life from his chest.

Gods, gods, gods!

"Toshiro!"

A dominating voice cut through his veil of panic, forced him to peel open his eyes where they had been squeezed shut. To see that he was no longer in a flame engulfed forest, was no longer facing his greatest nightmare. He was home, he was safe.

For the time being.

He was warm, a heavy blanket pooled about his waist, seated on a thick, elevated futon so soft he could cry. He was surrounded by familiar scents, by the comforting smells of his mother and father, of the family he'd chosen for himself. Their scents permeated every inch of the room he sat in-in their hut on the edge of the village. His brother's distant scent told him that Shippou had been there recently. Moeru's own was still heavy in the air close by, mingling with that of another.

He forced himself to look at her.

Kagome sat crisscross beside where he'd been laying cocooned on her bed. Her eyes were bright with distress, but also ripe with an authority that he had never seen before, that instinctively helped calm his racing heart.

Her hands still rested on her knees, as if she had been meditating before he shot awake. Her shoulders were slumped as she gazed at him, dark purple smudged under her eyes like old paint. Her long black hair was a ragged mess down her back, as if she'd run her fingers through it too many times to count and had not bothered to care about the knots that formed because of it. Her nails were bitten down to the bloody quick, her chest rising and falling unevenly as she met his stare.

He forced down a ragged, broken breathe as Kagome watched him, as he came down from his panicked high, as he saw her run a tired hand through her tangled tresses yet again.

His fault, Toshiro's mind whispered hatefully to him, it was his fault that she looked as if she'd trudged through Hell and back. He had been irresponsible, he had lied, and disobeyed them.

He was the cause of her pain. . . again.

He'd broken their trust.

The hanyou reached out a hand to brush her arm, but pulled back with a small yelp when pain barked along his midsection at the movement. He was familiar enough with the spearing pain to recognize it; his ribs had been broken. It would take a few more days for the bones to heal completely.

Kagome's brown eyes snapped from his bandaged, bare torso to meet his own immediately, and in them he saw her heart break as she took in his black and blue face.

Toshiro tried to smile at her, was sure it came out as a twisted grimace.

He tried to swallow, but gave up when the action only caused him to yip again in pain.

"You're awake." She said in a voice that broke the boy's own heart.

This woman really loved him. And he'd broken her trust.

"Mother. . ." His throat stained to get the single word out.

Her face crumbled at his utterance, and she wept. Ugly broken sounds of relief and despair shook her as she reached out to grasp his outstretched hand in both of hers. The miko pressed her brow to his knuckles and hiccupped, her eyes closing as wretched, wet sounds broke from her chest.

The pup found his own tears spill over his cheeks, felt them squeeze out of an eye that was nearly swollen shut. Toshiro didn't feel that he deserved her tears; he'd made her cry twice now. He still felt Orochi's phantom hands around his throat, could still feel his warm breath in his ear, telling him that he'd only ever bring the people he loved pain. Telling him that Katsumi had been looking for him, and now knew exactly where her run away pet had gone.

He felt hysteria begin creeping up his spine again.

Then Toshiro felt the brush of something warm against his side and cut his eyes over to the sensation, meeting the bleary ones of his partner. Moeru had a fresh, gruesome scar cut above his left eye, the fur around it low and growing. The feline limped as he settled himself down next to the hanyou pup, unable to completely muffle his wince as he curled his two tails around himself. But there was no accusation in Moeru's eyes as he gave Toshiro a once over, only a crushing relief that echoed the sound of the miko's sobs.

You're okay. The saber's eyes said to the boy. We're okay.

"I-I'm sorry." Toshiro managed to whisper to them both.

His fault. His fault. His fault.

Moeru only rubbed against his partner again in comfort as if the youkai heard Toshiro's self-loathing thoughts, his warmth a steady, unmovable rock.

It took a while before the miko composed herself, before Kagome dragged a hand across her face and the despair in her eyes slowly bled away.

Only for Toshiro to witness a fire begin to flicker there that put his own to shame.

"What were you thinking Toshiro?" She bit at him.

The hanyou blinked, startled.

"Do you have any idea how worried your father and I have been?" She shot to her feet, pacing back and forth in front of the boy and his saber kitten. Both of whom watched her with wide eyes. "You're so grounded. Do you know how scared we were?"

Toshiro swallowed back the pain and croaked, "I. . . I'm sorry Okaa-san."

"Sorry?!" She whirled on him, her hair wild and her eyes stern. "You were told to stay at Kaede's! I ought to scruff you into next week!"

The pup lowered his ears in immediate submission and shock. Kagome never yelled at him. Inuyasha was always the one who-

Kagome collapsed to her knees in front of him, her face hard and deadly serious even as she cried.

"Don't you ever put yourself in that kind of danger without your family again, do you understand me?"

"Y-yes ma'am."

"I mean it, young man." Toshiro was poked soundly on the nose. Twice. "If you ever scare me like that again I'll. . . I'll ground you for more than just a week."

Despite the moisture in his eyes, the pup's ears twitched.

He found the bravery to whisper, "G-ground?"

Was she going to bury him in the forest?

Kagome blinked at him once before a startled laugh came out of her. Some tension eased from her face.

Toshiro winced again in confusion, still a bit weary after being plucked.

But his mother's face had softened.

"It's a form of punishment, Toshi." She said, running a hand over his bandaged head in exasperated affection. He felt the strain around his heart loosen a bit at the loving touch. "One in which a parent takes things you like away from you for a time, to teach you a lesson."

His eyes widened further despite himself. He forced himself to swallow this time though it still hurt. "S-so you're taking-?"

"Your picture books." Came his father's voice from the doorway. Inuyasha leaned against the frame, the light from the main room casting him in shadow. "And your colored pencils and paints, and the stash of chocolate that you keep burrowed under your bed that you think we don't know about."

The hanyou pup had the energy to look sheepish.

Inuyasha stalked into the room, plopping down beside his intended mate with a huff.

He scooped Moeru off the bed without a look at his son, turning the grumbling cat to check his scarring face. Though the saber tooth had bandages wrapped around his middle and legs, the gash on his forehead seemed to be the worst of his injuries. The older hanyou pulled a small tin from his haori, and from it rubbed a thick, strong smelling salve onto the wound.

Moeru growled louder as he dangled from the male's hand, but didn't try to bite as Toshiro expected him to.

"You're not to leave this village for the duration of your punishment." Inuyasha said in a low, serious voice Toshiro rarely heard. "You're not to play with your brother, or Moeru, or the other sabers. You're to do your writing, and reading, and training, and help Miroku and Sango with chores while the lech heals from his burns."

Toshiro nodded once as shame burned along with the pain in his throat.

He watched his father work in silence, watched as his mother sagged onto her bottom in exhaustion, and was about to apologize again for his disobedience when another figure cast a shadow over the dim room.

"Otou." Came a low voice. "This was left at our door."

The kitsune padded into the room on silent paws, his eyes downcast and his shoulders stiff, his tail dragging behind him. In his arms he carried a wrapped parcel, one that he placed in Inuyasha's lap after the hanyou put Moeru carefully back at his partner's side.

Toshiro placed a steadying hand on the saber's back and tried to catch Shippou's eyes as the boy settled onto the floor beside their parents. But he failed as his brother intentionally cast his eyes aside, his nose scrunched and his lips a thin line. The face that had been so warm, so understanding, for the months that Toshiro had known him was closed off, cold in a way that shot a new wave of fear through the hanyou pup's blood.

"What is it?" Kagome was asking, peering over Inuyasha's shoulder.

Toshiro pulled reluctant honey eyes away from his scowling brother as Inuyasha took a sniff at the package. The male scoffed as he worked to unknot the brown cloth concealing the items within. "It's from my brother."

Four pairs of eyes turned to him as he pulled out, and held up, a deep blue haori. Pooled in his lap sat a matching hakama, and an undershirt of dark grey. As Inuyasha pulled out the pants, a folded piece of parchment fluttered onto the bed between them.

Moeru pawed at it curiously.

Kagome flicked his little ear to ward him off, and picked it up to read the elegant script scrawled there aloud.

"These garments are made of the hide of an Ikuchi youkai. They will assist the boy in controlling his flames."

"Shit." Inuyasha murmured. At his family's confused looks he elaborated. "An Ikuchi is an extremely rare youkai, are damn near myths. They're called the spirits of the sea, and are practically impossible to kill from what I’ve heard."

Toshiro fingered the thick haori now in his lap, marveled at the soft material, and at the dai youkai who'd gifted the clothes to him.

"But why would Sesshomaru go so out of his way for Toshiro?" Kagome voiced what they all were thinking.

Four eyes turned on the hanyou pup this time.

Toshiro noted that Shippou's were cold and hard like jewels, and tried not to shrink away from his stare. They all looked at him warily, with a suspicion that made the boy's stomach turn.

And he decided. . . that it was time he told the truth. He found himself afraid of the words, afraid that they'd finally shun him and bar him from their homes, but he found the will to speak around his smarting throat regardless.

"I am. . . I am the ward of the Lady of the Southern inu youkai." He swallowed back his pain, and watched as confusion dawned on their faces.

"I heard she was a recluse." Kagome said warily.

Inuyasha snorted. "I heard she was a fucking nutcase."

Shippou said nothing.

Toshiro's ears flicked. "She is my aunt. My-my biological mother was Lady of the Southern Lands before her, and upon her death my aunt took up her mantel. Katsumi. . . despises me. Has always despised hanyous, and those who sympathize with creatures like me. She. . . raised me," Tears slid down his cheeks at the loose term, at the memories that haunted him day and night. "At the castle, kept me as a play thing and taught me for years that that was all I was good for. And I believed her, until I met Lord Sesshomaru. Until I met you all.

"He saved me. He knew my mother, and allowed me a chance at escape from the horrors I lived through my whole life. Sesshomaru stepped in and saved me again the day we rushed the hyena den. If it weren't for him I'd be dead two times over."

There was a silence, a deafening silence.

Before Toshiro could beg them not to throw him out into the snow, Inuyasha spoke up carefully.

"Who was the male you were fighting in the forest the other day?" His voice was dangerously soft.

"O-orochi." Even saying his name caused fear to skitter down his spine. He was sure they noticed. "My aunt's most trusted advisor and sentinel. He. . . he personally gave me quite a few of the scars on my body. Katsumi herself scarred my ear."

He reached up to touch the sensitive, bandaged appendage as he spoke.

Miko's aura cracked once, violently, through the air. Toshiro cast his eyes down at the clothes in his lap as he bared his soul. "I was kept in a small room connected to my aunt's chambers. Only those she trusted were allowed access to them, the only ones in my land who knew where she kept me locked away. The only ones allowed to. . . hurt me as they wished. . . when they wished."

Inuyasha’s voice was broken and low. "So how did Sesshomaru get you out?"

Toshiro blushed despite himself.

"He showed up at the door to the room, smelling. . . strongly of her. When I snuck through my aunt's bedroom she was asleep, and all of the guards at her door unconscious. He told me only in which direction to run once I was free of the castle, and left it up to me to find my way out and away."

The pup coughed, the action causing him gasping, blinding pain. Kagome was instantly there, rubbing warm, soothing circles on his back. When Toshiro finally caught his breath he looked up to meet the blazing green eyes of the kitsune. His brother had not said a word to him upon entering, that is until-

"Kaede said your vocal cords are bruised." Shippou said so coldly that Inuyasha blinked at him. "You should refrain from speaking."

And then the kit got up and walked out of the room without a second glance, paying no heed to their mother's confused call for him.

To me. . . were the unfinished words Toshiro saw in his brother's eyes, and then wondered if he would ever be allowed to call the other boy that again.

Chapter Text

After Shippou had stormed out Inuyasha had carefully, so carefully, scooped the hanyou pup into his arms to carry to his bedroom. Even with his father's hold on him as gentle as possible Toshiro was unable to hold back his winces and yips as his healing ribs were jostled, as his throat sparked with each cry of pain.

Moeru had kept a watchful, wary eye as he'd limped along beside the hanyous. The feline swallowed his own little sound of discomfort when he hopped onto the elevated futon to curl onto his partner's pillow.

When Toshiro was laid on his bed, and his secret snacks and painting books indeed confiscated, he had only his Moeru to keep him company.

And his thoughts.

Almost two days, Toshiro learned, he'd been unconscious. Two days in which his adopted father had scoured the forest around their village, relentlessly checking and double checking to ensure that Orochi was indeed gone from their land.

The youkai's scent had led straight toward the south and disappeared completely when Inuyasha crossed the unseen border into the Southern Lands, as if by magic.

The four days after Toshiro awoke would have been some of the most miserable of his life had it not been for Moeru. While Inuyasha and Kagome came by for reading and writing lessons, and meal times, they were often gone throughout the day with training or helping villagers or small youkai hunting jobs. The saber barely ever left Toshiro's side.

Not when Toshiro shot awake night after night from nightmares of Katsumi torturing him or his family, while Orochi and his cabal laughed on. Not when the pup struggled out of bed every day to relieve himself. And not when he'd finally broken down and wept, his fear and shame leaving him in horrid, hiccupping sobs. The kitten had allowed Toshiro to cry into his fur, a steady, deep purr keeping the boy grounded and in the present.

The saber had kept him calm through his constant worry and foreboding. Orochi had no doubt made it to the hidden Southern Castle by now, why his aunt hadn't come storming into the village with her poison claws and tongue Toshiro didn't know. Why hadn't she unleashed her small army of inu youkai onto their village? Why hadn't Orochi come with his band of cruel faced lackeys, those who had taken pleasure in beating and humiliating him for his whole life?

All while he healed Toshiro drove himself nearly crazy overthinking.

But even his fear of Katsumi and Orochi, even his humiliation at him losing control of his youkai again, was pushed to the background of his mind when he was faced with the fact that Shippou hadn't come home once; not to meals, not to check on him, not to lessons, and not to sleep.

Toshiro wasn't naive enough to believe that he wasn't the reason.

Shippou had never ever been angry with him. In the few months he had been with his new pack the kitsune had been wary, yes. Had been distant sometimes. But never. . . cold. He had never avoided Toshiro's eyes, or curled his lip at the other boy like he'd done those days ago.

Had never actively avoided him.

The hanyou pup felt the absence of chosen brother like the loss of a limb, like a part of him he'd taken advantage of and hadn't realized he needed until it was gone. Toshiro had come to know Shippou's laugh, his warmth, his very presence as something constant. He didn't know when exactly it had happened, but the hanyou had come used to looking at his side and seeing his brother standing there.

And the thought of never standing beside him again made a special, awful sort of fear bloom in Toshiro's chest.

When the early afternoon of the fourth day came Toshiro was determined to find his brother and mend whatever had become trained between them. He had been able to remove all the gauze and tape keeping him together. His throat no longer burned when he breathed, and the edge of his damaged ear had healed back into shining, pink skin.

He had been testing himself, his breathing, his ability to stand and then take small steps without his side barking in sharp stabs of pain. He had finally managed to walk the distance across his room without gasping, and so he pulled on his new clothes with a purpose.

The hide of the Ikuchi was crafted into a heavy, thick material. The deep, dark blue color of it reminded Toshiro of the bottom of the ocean. The arms and legs of the clothes had seemed much too long when he'd held them up, but somehow fit perfectly around his ankles and wrists when he pulled them on. The cloth of his hakama was snug against his ankles, the sleeves of his haori billowing and spacious enough for him to hide things in. The dark grey under shirt fit close to his body and was soft and cool against his skin.

He wondered if his clothes would regenerate as Inuyasha's did, he wondered how exactly the clothes of a sea youkai would help him to control the flames his youki manifested into.

Once he was fully dressed Toshiro walked careful steps out of his home and into the winter day, glad that his bruises had mostly faded, and the agony of his splintered ribs had dulled into an ignorable ache. Moeru padded by his side as he headed directly to Sango and Miroku's, his own bandages gone and the scar above his left eye scabbed over.

The trek through the village was short, the day bright and the air brisk.

Toshiro did not face the whispers and jeers of the villagers as he thought he would at his explosion a week before; a few village women stopped him to ask if he was feeling better, and a few children had even asked if he'd join them for a game of ball later. When he entered the human's hut he was feeling a little less uneasy and was met immediately by the chatter of three excited kittens.

He allowed himself a small smile as he kneeled to greet them, wincing a bit at the lingering twinge in his side.

"Hello, girls." He nearly cooed to the sabers.

Moeru sat on his haunches with a roll of his eyes, dutifully enduring his sister's excited mews and loving rubs.

"It's good to see you up and about."

It was Miroku.

The hanyou tried not to gawk at the monk as he walked deeper into the wooden hut, the female sabers crowding around their grumbling brother at Toshiro's feet. Miroku's hands were heavily bandaged, the right side of his neck and jaw littered with blisters and peeling red skin; healing burns. He had forgotten how slowly humans healed. Toshiro's ears immediately buried themselves in his hair as the monk grinned at him, a gauze wrapped hand scratching the back of his neck sheepishly.

"Don't look so guilty—" Miroku was laughing, but it was too late.

Before the man could take his next breath Toshiro was kneeling before him, forehead to the floor in submission and apology.

"I'm so sorry!"

The saber kittens all took a step back in surprise, all except Moeru of course, who stuck close to his partner's side in his vulnerable position.

Toshiro stayed prostrated on the floor, shame and regret coursing through him like blood. Miroku was family, was like the uncle he had never even thought to imagine or want. It was Toshiro's own recklessness that had gotten him hurt, that had almost cost Sango her mate.

"I'm sorry." He said again against the wood.

It was a minute, and then two, and then Miroku's voice rang out calm and clear and warm.

"Sit up, Toshiro."

And the hanyou slowly rose into a kneel, his hands clenched onto his hakama nervously.

"I did not mean to put you in danger. I-I was wrong to disobey my. . . my parents,", He couldn't help but choke on the words, on the emotions that swelled in his chest. "and I know that. I put you at risk. I put the pack, and the village at risk."

Miroku sat with his legs crossed, his shoulders were relaxed, and his eyes were soft with patience and understanding.

"You made a mistake. Albeit one that temporarily cost me my beautiful skin. . ." Miroku chuckled dryly. "But you learned from your mistake, and my skin will heal. I am not angry with you."

The slayer placed a heavy hand between Toshiro's ears, ruffling his dark hair affectionately. The hanyou pup blushed, reveling in the willing affection shown to him and lost for words, not sure how to accept the forgiveness being offered. He didn’t deserve these people.

Moeru chose that moment to scramble up Toshiro's back and settle in his hair, nipping at Miroku's hand to make the monk remove it. The saber grumbled into Toshiro's scalp, nestling down to blend into his partner's raven locks and finally escaping his pestering sisters.

Miroku and Toshiro chuckled lowly.

"Toshiro!" Sango came from their bedroom, smiling bright at the pup. "It's so good to see you! How are you?"

"I'm better." He said to her seriously. "I am sorry that I risked your mate."

"Thank you for your apology, Toshiro. Though my husband is quite durable, I would like him around to help me care for our child."

The female sabers ran to circle around her feet, making the taijia take careful steps. As she moved to settle down beside her husband she placed a bracing hand on her belly, which Toshiro noted was slightly distended. His ears flicked curiously around the watching saber in his hair.

"Is it normal for human females to carry so large at a few months?"

Sango blushed indignantly and Miroku tried to muffle his snort in his robe.

His wife smacked his shoulder.

"I-I'm not sure, to be honest." Sango said when she recovered. "This is my first pregnancy."

He opened his mouth to respond but became sidetracked by a scent he hadn't noticed lingering in the warm hut; his brother's scent.

He then noticed a familiar sound coming from the back of the house.

"Maybe there are two pups." Toshiro hummed distractedly to the slayer.

Both humans went red at his proclamation, but he didn't notice.

He was already rising, following the sound of exertion and the smell of sweat.

He found Shippou in the small garden behind Sango and Miroku's home, a sword in his hand and his haori sticking to his back. His fur vest was thrown haphazardly in the grass nearby. The kitsune swung his blade once, twice, a low grunt leaving him each time with the force, his feet shifting into one offensive stance and a next.

Toshiro watched his brother silently, wondering when the right time would be to approach him, and how. Did he just ask Shippou outright if he hated him now? Should he tap him on the shoulder? Or should he just leave the kit be and allow him to come and talk when he was ready.

All while he pondered Shippou trained, fighting the wind and the shadows the trees made on the ground.

Moeru eventually got bored enough to leap from his perch on Toshiro's head and trot back into the hut with his sisters and the humans.

It was several minutes after that that Shippou finally spoke.

"I know you're there."

Toshiro cleared his throat awkwardly.

Shippou turned to face him, placing his blade to rest on a shoulder. He looked different than when Toshiro had met him; a bit stronger, a bit older. He held himself with his chin canted up in a confidence that wasn't there a few months ago, and his eyes were hard and unfriendly.

"I wanted to talk to you."

Shippou snorted diversely. "Clearly."

Toshiro's ears folded back a bit. Though he deserved his brother's ire he wasn't used to this sarcastic, crass version of Shippou. Even still, Toshiro could not help the wave of affection that washed over him. This was his little brother, and he would not lose him, and Toshiro was not leaving until they spoke.

He straightened his spine.

"Look." The hanyou said firmly. "I know that you're angry with me, and you have every right to be. I know that you're upset that I put Miroku and the village in danger, that I lost control of my youkai again. I didn't-I didn't—"

Shippou laughed. A mocking, hard laugh without any humor at all.

Toshiro's face flushed in embarrassment and anger.

"You have got to be the dumbest smart person I've ever met." He said coldly.

At Toshiro's confused look Shippou curled his lip.

"I'm not angry with you for losing control! I'm angry with you because you left me behind you idiot." Toshiro blinked, because those were tears in Shippou's eyes now, tears of rage and betrayal struggling not to fall. "We are brothers. I thought that was made clear. We are a team. And yet you left me behind and almost got yourself killed."

Toshiro tried to swallow but found his mouth dry.

Shippou stabbed his sword violently into the dirt where it stuck, point down.

"You should have told me. . . I could have come along and-and helped. I could have watched your back, the way I am meant to. Maybe you wouldn't have gotten so hurt or been so afraid knowing I was there. Maybe we could have fought that bastard Orochi off together. But you took that choice away from me. You lied to me."

Shippou dashed an arm across his eyes, the jade filled with fury and hurt.

"You are the only brother I have ever known. I meant it when I called you family. Families trust one another. Brothers trust one another, above all else."

"I-I trust y—"

"Do you?" Shippou dared, baring his teeth a little. "Why is it so hard for you to be open with us? With me? Your last human night I told you my story. I told you of Hiten and Manten, of Inuyasha and Kagome saving me, of how I wept for hours cradling my birth father's pelt to my chest. I hadn't heard a speck about your past before the night you woke up."

Frustration and fear and anger boiled over in Toshiro's blood, his heart. Shippou didn't understand, none of them truly did. They didn't live through the nightmares he still had, the screams he smothered in his pillow at night, the scars that still smarted along his back and chest and everywhere. They didn't understand because—

"It's not the same!" He snapped before he even realized what was coming out of his mouth. But the words wouldn't stop there, they burned coming out of him like lava or his youki.

"You have no idea what I've been through, what I've endured at the hands of my own people and my own blood. You've had two fathers. I've never had one. I've never known kindness, or love, or patience before this pack found me. I was raised in darkness, told I was lower than dung my entire life! I don't open up because I am afraid—" Toshiro's voice broke around his tears, and he saw that Shippou's own had broken free as well. "I am afraid that if I tell you everything, tell you how little my life meant to my own people, that you all will finally realize that I am not worth the love, and patience, and kindness that you've shown me. And then this story book fairy tale will be over, and I will wake up back in that dark room."

The hanyou clenched his chest, his breathing labored and painful, his emotions drowning out the ache of his healing ribs. He noticed distantly that his youki had broken free of his skin in his upset, little flames licking along his arms and legs.

His clothes were unscathed.

Tears tread steadily down Shippou's face, his eyes sorrowful but challenging.

The kitsune plopped down in the grass next to his forgotten sword, sniffled, and crossed his arms.

"Tell me."

Toshiro took a shuddering breath and slowly sank into the grass across from the other boy. He gulped once, swallowing back the bit of hesitation and habit that had him gripping the darkest parts of his life to his person, that had kept the stories tucked away in that dark of his mind all this time. But this was Shippou, and he was ready to bare his soul in all its cracked and broken parts to him and only him. To trust his brother above anyone else.

And so. . . he did.

Toshiro told Shippou everything. Even when his voice shook with the telling of the poison that Katsumi used to damage his ear day after day, even when he raged at how he was beaten for entertainment at parties and dinners, even when he cried as he told of the old damaged photo of his birth mother that he'd kept tucked away, that he may never see again.

Shippou never looked at him with disgust, never curled his lip or cursed his name, never chuckled.

Just listened with rapt attention.

Raged when he raged, cried when he cried.

And when Toshiro's tale was done in its entirety, his every secret told to the boy across from him, Shippou laid a comforting hand on his shoulder. The kitsune’s eyes had long lost their hard edge, his lips trembled even as he smiled around his tears. But his voice was clear, and steady, and a solid rock against the river of fire in his blood as he looked at his brother and said,

"Don't ever lie to me again."

0:0:0:0:0:

Toshiro woke up the next morning smothered in blankets and Moeru.

"Gtoffmface." He mumbled around a mouth full of black fur.

His partner grumbled but moved back to his side of the pillow the two of them shared.

The hanyou was content, rested.

He hadn't had nightmares in the night and was sure it was because of his family.

After he'd talked with Shippou the two of them had trained, Toshiro finding a sword for himself and the brothers clashing over and over in the garden. The lingering hurt, fear, and shame had leaked from his heart to his sword, the kitsune's emotions combating his own as they fought for the better part of the afternoon.

They'd dragged themselves sore and dripping sweat back home, grinning like idiots. Kagome had smiled at the sight of the brothers; arms thrown across the other's shoulders, breaths heavy and eyes exhausted. Inuyasha had barked at them to get cleaned up for dinner, but Toshiro could hear the relief under the gruffness in his voice.

Shippou had returned to his bed that night, and a weight had lifted from Toshiro's heart.

When the hanyou cast his eyes over at his brother now he saw that the kit was awake and leaning up on an arm, smiling like a mad man. His auburn hair stuck up in every direction with his bow thrown into their closet, his eyes were still half lidded with sleep.

"You get your sword today, brother."

Toshiro released a shaky breath. "I get my sword today."

It had been two weeks since they'd been to commission Master Totosai to make Toshiro a sealing sword. His youki danced in his veins in excitement at the thought of his own sword, a spark of golden flame dancing in his eyes as he grinned back at his younger brother.

Preparing for the trek to the youkai's den was quick and chaotic; Kagome rummaging around in their stashes of supplies and stuffing her backpack, Shippou stuffing his pockets and face with food, Moeru pacing and anxious with the thought of his first venture out of the village, Inuyasha needlessly sharpening Tetsuiga and his eyes following his family around their hut.

Toshiro felt oddly bare without one of his colored pencils or picture books tucked into his waistband or sleeve, so he tucked a small dagger into his clothes just to give himself something to do.

They set out before the run was fully awake, Miroku insisting he and his wife stay behind despite her protests.

The trip was quick and mostly uneventful, at least by Toshiro's standards.

He and Shippou and Moeru trained before lunch, and the three of them were permitted to hunt dinner as long as they stayed within earshot of Inuyasha.

When they'd returned with a doe they'd walked into camp to see a sight that warmed Toshiro's heart, and made Shippou squeal in embarrassed outrage; Inuyasha leaning against a fallen log, Kagome settled between his raised knees and leaning back against his chest as she read a book. It was a simple, but intimate sight.

One Toshiro immediately itched to draw and promised himself that he one day would. He knew exactly what colors he'd mixed to make the bright gold of Inuyasha's eyes as he gazed down at the unaware miko, he knew how he'd make the fire light reflect off of Kagome's book cover look almost real. He couldn’t wait until his grounding was over and he got his supplies back.

Their dinner that night was interrupted by a hyena youkai half out of his mind. He’d stumbled into their camp, reeking of sake and claiming to have been sent by Tadao. That was a name that Toshiro had nearly forgotten, and quickly remembered when the gangly youkai lunged directly for him. Inuyasha had quickly restrained the male and, unable to get Tadao's supposed whereabouts from him, dispatched the beast with a swipe of Tetsusaiga’s blade.

Toshiro had been shaken by the encounter, and only Kagome's warm assurances and Moeru curled against him were able to lull the hanyou pup to sleep and silence the dying hyena cackle that rang in his head all night.

They made quick work of the rest of their journey and found themselves at Totosai's eastern den by lunch the next day.

Toshiro quickly forgot the ordeal from the night before as his family walked into the Totosai's home. The cave was cold, quiet, much different than the sweltering heat and clanging of a hammer that had come from it the first time Toshiro had come to meet the sword master. His pack trekked into the cave without much ceremony and found Totosai's body curled around a long bundle of cloth. . . asleep.

A deep, rumbling snore escaped his throat, and an obscenely large snot bubble grew and shrank with his breathes.

"Totosai!" Inuyasha called.

When the old man made a strange warbling sound in his sleep and turned over, taking his strange bundle with him, Inuyasha snorted in his throat.

Toshiro shared a glance with his brother and they chuckled under their breath.

Kagome walked up to where the youkai slept on an old futon, prodding him gently on the shoulder with a finger. "Master Totosai, wake up."

Still he didn't.

"Oh for the love of—" Inuyasha unsheathed Tetsusaiga, and poked the smith none too gently in the rump with the pointy end of his fang.

"OW!" Totosai shot up, his eyes popping open and his bit of white hair disheveled. "What's the big idea!?"

The old man looked this way and that, his head moving so fast Toshiro worried he'd give himself whiplash.

"It's just us, you old fart!" Inuyasha yelled while Kagome patted Totosai's head like she might do Shippou's or Toshiro's own. "Wake the hell up."

Large, round eyes finally focused on the lot of them. "Yer late, Inuyasha! And rude at that."

A scoff. "Just give us the damn sword, old man. I don't need your lectures."

Said old man went about getting up, mumbling to himself about ungrateful inu hanyou and cracking his back.

He then placed the large bundle he'd been spooning with at Toshiro's feet, and gave the boy a knowing, sleep addled smirk.

"Open it."

The pup hesitantly went down to his knees in front of the parcel, his heart beating a mile a minute and his hand shaking a bit as he reached out. He sensed Shippou kneel beside him, and felt Moeru jump down from his head to watch the unveiling as well.

Toshiro pulled back the old, worn brown cloth and uncovered a long, sheathed blade. As he went about unpeeling the tight cloth wrapped around the blade it fell off to the side, revealing another laid directly under it.

"Two. . .?" Toshiro's ears flicked as he looked up at the sword smith.

Totosai was squatted across from him, knobby hands braced on his knees. The youkai ginned at him, completely overlooking the inquisitive looks Kagome and Inuyasha sent his way.

"Go on." The youkai said softly, nodding at the boy. "Take a closer look."

They were sheathed in a tough, brown scabbard so dark it was almost black. The pommels were wrapped in a grey, strange smelling fabric. Inlaid in one handle was a deep red crystal in the shape of a crescent moon, in the other lay a blue. Toshiro instinctively picked up the one with the red stone, fascinated by and drawn to it for reasons he couldn't explain.

"But I don't need two swords." He murmured to himself, partially lost in the feel if the weighted blade in his hand.

Totosai nodded. "You're right. You don't. The other is for young Shippou."

Said kitsune's head popped up with a jerk, his mouth open and his hand still resting on the scabbard of the other sword where he'd been looking himself.

"M-me?" He whispered in awe.

"You made Shippou a sword?" Inuyasha raised an eyebrow. "So that's why you yanked two fangs outta my mouth, you rotten liar."

"Not a sealing sword like Toshiro's, but the boy needed a proper weapon." Said the old man sagely, ignoring the jibe. He smiled at the pair of brothers again. "Pull them free."

The adults and saber kitten looked on as both boys slowly stood and pulled their blades from the scabbards with a sense of amazement. Toshiro couldn't help but feel that as his sword came free his youki jumped in excitement and interest. He felt like his youkai cocked its head in curiosity, intrigued and delighted by something new, something strong. Something that was specifically made to handle the flames he wielded.

He looked to his brother, wondering if the kitsune felt the same. But Shippou's eyes were wholly trained on the blade in his hand, and after a long moment his green eyes flicked to his brother's.

He felt it too.

The swords were identical. Long, single edged, wicked looking katanas. The fabric encasing the pommels were warm to the touch, and Toshiro was finally able to identify the strange smell coming off it in strong waves; Inuyasha and Kagome's scents. The only difference between the two were the crescent moon shaped crystals settled into the handle of the blades; Toshiro's was a churn of burning reds, and Shippou's a swirl of vibrant blues.

There was something strange about the crystal, and as Toshiro took a closer sniff he noted-

"Why does this smell like my brother's blood?" Shippou asked in alarm, concern etched onto his face as he nosed his own sword.

"Uuhh?" Totosai picked at a piece of flaking skin on his head. "Because it is."

Toshiro looked at the old man as if he were insane, which probably wasn't far off. "Then why is his blue?"

The youkai grinned with his missing teeth. "Dramatic effect."

Inuyasha bonked the old man lightly on his head with a fist. Kagome erupted into a peal of delighted laughter, Shippou and Toshiro too busy marveling at their new swords to join in.

It was a moment before the commotion died down.

And when it did Totosai rubbed at his sore spot and said,

"In these blades I imbued not only your own youki, but that of your brother, and your adopted parents. They are equipped to withstand your youki and none others, and as your own youki enters and exits the katana it will will the essence of your chosen family into your person. In doing so, you will begin to smell like one another, scent of one another as true families do. Over time a stranger will not be able to tell that you are not of blood kin."

Toshiro blinked, touched by the youkai's strange gesture.

"Why would you do that?" Inuyasha asked, unable to hide the impressed look on his face.

The youkai was silent so long that Toshiro wondered if he would ever answer. And when he did he blinked slow, bulbous eyes up at Inuyasha, and then at the rest of their family and said, "Do what?"

This time even Inuyasha laughed, though he did so only after he thumped the sword master on the head hard enough to knock the old man to the ground. Kagome pouted at Inuyasha's abuse of the old man and yelled out "Sit!" so that the hanyou followed the youkai into the dirt. Shippou and Toshiro erupted into giddy cackles. Moeru padded to where Totosai and Inuyasha lay grumbling in the dirt, sniffing curiously at the former before sneezing in his face.

Toshiro beamed at his brother over their swords, green eyes echoing the excitement he felt in his bones. They trusted one another above all else, they had twin swords, and they would even begin to smell of one another soon. They were a family, and no one could tell the hanyou pup otherwise now.

He couldn't wait to learn how to properly wield his blade so that he could cut down anyone who dared to try.

Chapter Text

Months passed. The snows and biting cold of Edo dissipated, the gleaming white of winter fading to be replaced by warmth and sun. Goshinboku's branches filled with heavy, hearty leaves. Inuyasha's forest again became a riot of color and scents as Spring made Her appearance.

Toshiro had never gotten a chance to appreciate the beauty of the Southern Lands. The warm, salt scented air or the shimmering beach he sometimes glimpsed through windows from the Southern Castle. He'd admired the hidden city from a distance, but never got a chance to appreciate its loveliness up close. Never got to run his toes through the white sand beach along the city's edge, or splash through the shallows with the inu youkai children who's laughs sometimes echoed all the way up to the walls of his gilded cage.

Toshiro thought Musashi in the spring was even more beautiful than those glimpses of the Southern Land if he were being honest with himself. He loved the heavy smells of leaves and soil in the forest, the colors and habits of its many creatures, the bustle of the village's small marketplace, and the pounding of children's feet through the dirt. He loved lounging in the boughs of Goshinboku, and the feeling of the warm sun on his back as he trained.

And he'd trained a lot.

He and Shippou had spent the rest of the winter months pitting their new twin swords against one another, training day and night behind their home, under Goshinboku, in their adopted father's forest. Inuyasha taught the boys how to wield true blades properly; how not just to attack but to defend from even multiple assailants, how to respect their swords not just as sparing tools, but deadly steel that could injure or take life when needed.

They were still made to train their hunting and tracking skills, but they had turned it into a sort of game each morning and night; who could mask their youki the longest? Who could get closest to their prey before the creature noticed? Who could use the earth around them to hide their scent from the others?

Moeru often won in all regards.

Shippou said that the saber's naturally surly attitude helped to keep him hidden.

And though they still practiced meditation and youki control training three times a week, the trio were banned from combat training at Kaede's; they had gotten a bit out of hand during one of their bouts a month or so ago and had trampled and singed her herb garden. Kagome had gripped each of their ruffs for their carelessness, and after the boys had apologized to the old miko they were made to clean and replant all that they had destroyed.

Toshiro smirked down at his blade now, at the katana that was as much his partner as Moeru had become. Said sabertooth had grown quite a bit over the winter months himself, and was dozing off lazily in a tree nearby.

Akakaen, Master Totosai had named the sword. The Red Flame, for the color that blazed from it when Toshiro focused his youki into it. Shippou's twin sword AoKaen, or The Blue Flame, was named for the same reason. The sword master told the brothers that the katanas would evolve as they did, and as they grew in ability their swords would as well. Toshiro didn't really understand what the old loon meant, but he was grateful for his sealing sword all the same. He was grateful that he no longer had to fear transforming against his will, that his sword would keep that bloodthirsty part of him in check. And he was grateful for the strange way the weapon had changed his scent, made him smell like the family he'd chosen.

The family that had chosen him.

Toshiro led his youki into his katana and grinned when the blade lit up like a campfire, the silver metal not wavering an inch, the red crystal inlaid in the hilt lighting up from within. It was extraordinary. It seemed to hum with energy, his fire swirling in an orange and red dance along the blade to an unheard song. The hanyou pup tightened his grip on the soft fabric around the handle, the scent there still strong of his parents, and his eyes met those of his brother's across the clearing. Shippou did the same to his own blade, his bright blue foxfire like a beacon to Toshiro's red.

The kitsune smirked.

"I'm ready to call it quits for the day when you are, big brother."

Toshiro twirled his wrist once, twice, eyes on his youki as it made patterns in the dying sunlight.

"Is the pup tired already?" He grinned wickedly.

Shippou's eyes glinted with familiar challenge, widening his stance as his opponent did.

"Hardly, princess. I just thought to save you the embarrassment of beating you again."

"Tch." The hanyou snorted before they were on each other.

Blazing blades, sparks of blues and purples and reds and oranges clashing over and over as the bothers blocked and parried and went for intentional openings. Whenever they trained it was like a dance; they were perfectly matched, the two of them. Toshiro's brute strength not always enough to beat out Shippou's quick mind, the kitsune's light feet not always enough to beat out the hanyou's observant eyes. They were like the sun and moon; opposite, powerful entities on their own, but strong enough to blot out the sky when in synch.

When the two sprang apart they were drenched in sweat, and laughing, and exhausted.

"Another draw?" Toshiro panted, quirking a black brow.

Shippou's shoulders shook with breathless amusement. "It looks like it."

They came to learn that their scabbards were made of a special kind of wood, from the bark of an ancient tree youkai. Inuyasha said that the scabbard itself was a sort of youki controller, and would be nearly impossible to break. The tree from which the bark came was named Bokusenou, and Toshiro wished to meet the old youkai and thank him properly one day.

The boys sheathed their blades into those scabbards, Shippou's tucked into the waist of his hakama, and Toshiro's strapped across his back.

Inuyasha must have noticed Toshiro's preference for carrying his weapon, because the day the pup had received his blade Totosai had also given him a specially made back holster. The strange, flexible band that cut diagonally around his chest could be attached to his scabbard without buttons or straps, and was made of the same near indestructible bark of Bokusenou. Moeru had taken an experimental swipe at the cord and, though Toshiro's hakama and undershirt shredded under the saber's claws, the holster had not retained a scratch.

Their youki tunneled back into their persons at their will, Toshiro's flame burrowing deep in his bones to flicker harmlessly as they stretched and sighed, another afternoon training coming to an end.

Moeru hopped down from his perch in the tree, his paws hitting the grass silently before he led the way home through the forest, his tails flicking contentedly behind him. They began their trek home for dinner on muscle memory, not having to try to dodge this tree or that scrub, but their ears always alert to the sounds around them as the sun began its descent .

"You're getting lazy, cat." Shippou called ahead to Moeru's back. "You've been sleeping through training all week."

The two still had a rocky relationship at best, but Toshiro was glad that they could now at least be in a room together without someone getting bit.

"Why don't you spar with me after dinner?"

Moeru looked over his shoulder, making sure the kitsune saw him roll his red eyes.

Toshiro could see the expressive words in them, as always.

Not on your life, runt.

Shippou scoffed as if he could see the sabers silent words as well. He pushed back sweaty strands of hair that had escaped his ponytail, his lip curled up in provoking sneer.

"If you're afraid just say so, fluffy. I know I whooped you pretty bad last time we went at it."

Moeru whipped back around, those red eyes narrowed to slits now, and Toshiro chuckled at the obvious taunt. A taunt he knew his partner would and undoubtedly did rise to when he bobbed his head once at the kit in acceptance of the challenge.

Shippou grinned in wicked delight and Toshiro sighed.

Moeru flicked his tails at the other boy with a huff as he continued on.

"When is this stupid rivalry going to end?" Toshiro asked as the three of them made their way through the village, smiling at this villager or that as they went. "I'm tired of hearing the two of you bicker across our room in the middle of the night."

"When your partner stops being such a grouch." Shippou sniped.

And even as he said it Moeru trotted off of their dirt path and to a toddler who'd fallen onto her bottom trying to chase after a ball. Her chubby hands grabbed handfuls of dirt in dismay, lip wobbling and tears welling in her big eyes. The saber snuffed in the baby's face, tickling with his wet nose until the child giggled and hugged his muzzle. Moeru used the grip to help the pudgy human pup to her feet.

When Shippou cooed at the two of them, and only when the child tottered happily off did Moeru hiss and charge at the kitsune. Shippou squealed and took off, his mischievous laughter trailing behind him as he dodged and ducked men and women and Moeru's claws. Toshiro chuckled under his breath, chasing his brother and partner deeper into the village they called home.

Their pack had already filled Miroku and Sango's home when they got there, the smell of rice, and boar, and jasmine tea filling the space and causing Toshiro's stomach to growl furiously.

Three sabers rushed to the trio's side as they fumbled over one another into the warm space.

Moeru was not the only saber to have grown in the winter months. His sisters had grown as well, and their personalities with them. There was Ryoka, the largest and most daring of the sisters. Miho, who had recently begun to prefer sleeping under the cover of trees and seemed the wilder of the siblings. And Kaaru, the timidest of the sisters. She stuck close to Sango’s side, always seeming to keep an eye on the slayer and her growing belly.

Kaaru and Miho greeting the brothers with rubs against their legs.

Ryoka greeted her own brother by plopping on his back and nipping at his ear.

Though Moeru was noticeably larger than his sisters, Ryoka seemed the only of the three who was not intimidated by their older brother, and who enjoyed a good tussle. Moeru's growl of warning went unheard as usual as she chewed on his ear happily, and within the span of a breath the two were rolling across the hut floor, growling and swiping at one another.

Shippou chuckled at the rolling balls of fluff, side stepping them as they came his way before he grinned at their watching family. Miroku himself manned their dinner over the fire pit, Kagome keeping watch at his shoulder, though both of them chuckled at the sabers' antics. Inuyasha sat closely beside the humming Kaede, who was attempting the show the hanyou how to mash a variety of herbs into a healing paste. Their father had been glaring over at the trio since they'd entered, his mouth now opening to bark at them and say,

"You're late." A poke on Toshiro's forehead from Sango, her disapproving tone at odds with the warmth on her face. "You all were told to be here before sunset."

Toshiro folded back his ears in sheepish apology, but couldn't help his little smile as he watched the pregnant slayer poke at his brother's nose, and then struggle to crouch and dish out her justice to Moeru as well. The saber kitten kicked his sister off of his belly and, noticing Sango's struggle, eventually took pity on the woman and with a roll of his eyes propped himself up on her knees to butt his skull against her extended finger.

Moeru dropped down to his paws and dipped his head in submission to the taijia, Ryoka choosing that moment to tackle her brother from behind.

Sango chuckled as she struggled back to her feet.

Toshiro stared in awe at her. Her skin glowed in the warm lamp light of the wooden hut, a hand resting on her huge belly protectively as she righted herself. His airy statement those months ago had turned out to indeed be correct. Though Sango was barely halfway through her pregnancy her belly had grown much larger than most of the breeding women Toshiro had seen around the village. He could even hear two separate heartbeats within her if he pressed an ear to her tummy, something he had admittedly done weeks ago when he first discovered the sound during a quiet night he'd spent with the humans.

Two new members of his pack would be born in just a few months, two little ones to play with, and teach, and protect. The hanyou pup had almost vibrated with excitement when he'd found out, and since couldn't help but fuss over Sango when she insisted on doing things he was easily capable of helping her with.

Kagome had called him a mother hen on more than one occasion, and each time she did he "Tch"-ed at her and blushed. The teasing didn't stop him from keeping an eye on the slayer just in case she and the pups needed him though.

Inuyasha's dirty look brought Toshiro back to the present, and out of the warm fuzzy feelings thoughts of new pups gave him.

"Where were you?" The male asked in a hard voice.

"Tch. Where I always am." Toshiro gestured to the sword hilt peaking over his shoulder. "Training."

"Yeah, well smartass you were supposed to be-"

"Focus!" Kaede chopped Inuyasha on the head with a stiff hand, her lips down turned. Toshiro smirked as he watched his mentor and father swallow a growl, wilting a bit at the old miko's glare. "Ye need not worry about the boy. Ye need to learn how the basics of first aid. Kagome will not always be there to patch ye up, Inuyasha."

A scoff. "Of course she will be, hag. She's going to be my ma-my Kagome."

Two separate chuckles went off in the room, Inuyasha shooting his adoptive sons cursory glances at the sounds. Toshiro ignored his father and rushed across the room to help Sango settle onto a cushion, but he caught the small smile Inuyasha was giving to the pink faced miko, and the pup felt all was right with the world.

0:0:0:0:0:

It was well after sundown, Inuyasha's sons and miko finally tucked into their home for the evening.

Their walk from Miroku and Sango's had been quiet and content until the boys rushed behind their home for a previously decided sparring match before bed. Kagome had watched Shippou and Moeru go at it happily, cheering both the kitsune and saber on with equal fervor. Toshiro had watched in his usual pensive way, his eyes tracking his brother and partner's movements and evaluating them, comparing their fighting styles to his own.

Moeru had turned out to be the victor of their little bought, since they'd fought with no weapons and Moeru was the better of the two in hand to hand.

Kagome had kissed both exhausted males on their sweaty foreheads before ushering everyone inside to wash and get ready for bed. Toshiro could be heard from the front room going over where Shippou could have done better in the mock fight. Inuyasha had smiled at the sounds of his family settling down; Kagome padding about their bedroom, Shippou digging through the closet the boys shared.

When the tired, exasperated laughter of his sons filled their home he'd felt himself fill with a disgustingly happy, domestic warmth.

The boys had emerged from their room donned in their pajamas and ready for their bedtime story. Toshiro wore a soft, cotton pink t shirt, a pair of black night pants with little lightning bolts all over them pooling around his ankles. Shippou wore an oversized red shirt that reached down to his knees, a hole cut out of the back of it for his tail. Kagome had emerged wearing one of Inuyasha's own t shirts and a pair of cotton shorts.

The sight of her in his clothes had made that warmth turn into a simmer, and made him smirk with satisfaction.

Now Kagome was nestled between his raised knees, her voice warm and feather soft as she read the boys a story about a tortoise and a hare. Shippou and Moeru were dozing off, exhausted after their match, a squished Toshiro between them. The kitsune's drooping head ended up on his brother's shoulder, the saber kitten half sprawled across Toshiro's lap. The hanyou pup was awake and alert as always, his eyes trained on his mother and his ears ever perked. He loved a good story, and Inuyasha knew he wouldn't sleep until he heard its ending.

Kagome made a little shuffle to get more comfortable and Inuyasha had to repress a contented sigh. Things had been better. Since that day under Goshinboku they had been taking small steps; holding hands here, a kiss on the cheek there, longing looks across a room that they sometimes got lost -and caught- in. The first time Miroku had witnessed the hanyou showing affection there had been relentless teasing, but a good thump and growl had shut his best friend's mouth. Though he was still a little reluctant to show his feelings in public, he would be damned if he was embarrassed about the way he felt about Kagome. And by some miracle, she let him shower her in little affections.

By some miracle, she felt the same way.

He ran a hand through her thick hair, his gut tightening when she made an absentminded hum in the back of her throat as his claws grazed her scalp.

Allowing himself to show her affection and dote on her had sated his youkai so far, but he knew the beast in him would not be satisfied until the woman was wholly his. Soon. . . If they could purify the jewel soon, he'd mark her.

Just as he went to place a soft kiss on her temple he felt a sharp prick at his wrist. Before he could go to swat away the mosquito, a flea spoke up instead.

"Ah, young love."

Four heads whipped to the small voice, Shippou too far gone against his brother to notice or care.

Moeru growled low in his throat at the intruder, and while Toshiro lowly calmed his partner Inuyasha curled his lip at the pest perched on his knee.

"What the hell do you want Myouga?"

The old youkai gave a sheepish grin, two of his little arms waving.

"Good evening Master Inuyasha, Lady Kagome. How fares thee on this beautiful spring night."

"Keh."

The miko patted Inuyasha's other knee consolingly, sensing his irritation. He was comfortable in the little bubble his family had created, and didn't appreciate it being popped, not even for his vassal.

"We're doing well, Myouga." Kagome was saying calmly, though there was a familiar edge forming in her eyes. "Are you here with news?"

Inuyasha tensed.

Though these past months had been peaceful, none of the pack had forgotten what had happened to Toshiro that night. It had taken the pup weeks to get back to his usual self, to the boy that laughed openly and spoke above a whisper, and since he'd told them his story he had avoided all other talk of his past life like the plague.

But that didn't mean that Inuyasha and Kagome had forgotten what had been done to their pup, or what they learned he'd endured before they'd found him. Inuyasha scoured the forest in all directions daily for that bastard Orochi, and Kagome had begun taking on more offensive training lately for if she ever had to defend her family.

When, Inuyasha. She'd corrected him one day while he watched her practice with a whip made of her miko's aura. When I have to defend my family. Not if.

Inuyasha had begun to recognize that steel spark in those brown eyes for what they were; maternal fury.

"Actually, I am. Lord Sesshomaru sent me with an invitation to his home."

Inuyasha scoffed. "I sent you after that bastard nearly four months ago. Now he decides he wants to see me?"

"I'm sorry, Master Inuyasha! I could not find him! And when I did, Lord Sesshomaru was way farther south than he usually travels."

Inuyasha saw black puppy ears flick in his peripheral.

"The south?" Toshiro asked warily. "Why?"

The flea shook his head. "I'm afraid I know not, young Master."

"So he goes around, galivanting about who fuckin’ knows where when we needed him, and now he thinks he can just summon us as he sees fit?!" Inuyasha griped.

Myouga sweat dropped, scratching at the back of his head nervously.

"I'm truly sorry, Master Inuyasha. I relayed your urgency once I found him, but—"

"It's not your fault Myouga." Kagome said, shooting Inuyasha a disapproving look. "Thank you for finding him for us. We'll start packing for the trip in the morning and be on our way."

"Can we stay behind?" Toshiro shot out, upsetting the sleeping kit on his shoulder. Shippou shot awake with a loud, confused snort his brother paid no attention to. "We could help Miroku and Sango protect the village."

Inuyasha shot his son a strange look.

Toshiro sat cross legged, clawed hands wrapped tightly around the pajamas at his ankles. He'd worn the youkai clothing Sesshomaru had sent him nearly every day, as youkai clothing hardly needed washing. He saw himself how the pup carefully removed and folded the clothing at night and set it reverently aside for morning. Inuyasha thought that the pup would want to go see Sesshomaru, thought he'd be eager to thank the male that was now his family. But his shoulders were tense and his ears were twitching.

Why wouldn't he want to go with them?

"No." Inuyasha said slowly.

"But—"

Firmer this time. "I said, no pest. You're coming with us."

That stubborn look entered the pups eyes, his black ears folding back a bit in indignation.

"We can handle staying on our own for a few days, I don't see why—"

"No"

"Please."

"No."

A low growl. "We're strong enough to—"

"Fuck no."

"Inuyasha!"

Shippou blinked fully awake at Kagome's voice. Toshiro cast his adoptive mother a beseeching look, who turned that look on Inuyasha himself.

"Don't you look at me like that, woman. I said no."

Kagome sighed patiently before leaning fully back and resting her head on his shoulder.

"It's only a few days away. We would be back before you know it, and you know Miroku would never let anything happen to them. I'm sure they can handle it. You've taught them so well."

Oh, the miko was laying it on thick. He knew that they'd trained for months and months, but Inuyasha just wasn't comfortable leaving his pups where he couldn't reach them with that fucker Orochi still at large. He hadn't even gone through the well with Kagome since the incident those months ago. Kagome herself had barely gone.

Kagome bat her long eyelashes at him and the hanyou's heart stuttered. Inuyasha went pink up to his ears and thought maybe it would be oka—

Then he caught the victorious little smirk curling at Toshiro's mouth. In a second the love struck glaze faded from him, and Inuyasha was again the strict father figure he was becoming.

"No." He said firmly.

"But-but you were about to say—" Shippou began to whine, but was interrupted.

"Have both of you brats forgotten that that bastard Orochi is still out there?"

Inuyasha watched as Toshiro winced a bit at the name, at the fact that over the past few months the pup had probably allowed himself to believe that the snake was gone for good. That his old life had finally settled in the past, and he could ignore it and focus on his life with his new family. But Inuyasha knew he had not forgotten.

He would never forget.

"Of course they haven't forgotten Inuyasha." Kagome said solemnly.

"And have either of you pests forgotten that the last time one of you fought in battle that Toshiro turned into a literal ball of fire."

Toshiro's lip curled in irritation and shame at the memory. "I can control it much better now and you know it." He snarled. "I have my sealing sword now. And I've done the meditation and control training nearly every day since my flare up."

Inuyasha snorted, and just to prove his father wrong the hanyou pup cupped his hand and willed his youki to manifest. His family watched as small flames began to surface in his palm, and then wind around one another to take shape. Within seconds the flames had formed into the shape of a small butterfly, one that flapped its burning wings and lifted from Toshiro's hand. It fluttered about the hut, connected to Toshiro by a single strand of flame like a leash.

"Extraordinary." Myouga mumbled in awe.

Toshiro landed his little creation on Kagome's nose and the miko did not flinch, the fire did not burn her. Before Inuyasha could growl at him the pup released his hold on his youki and the molten butterfly disappeared in a small curl of smoke.

Inuyasha rolled his eyes when Toshiro shot him a smug grin. Kagome giggled. Myouga clapped his four little hands in a small applause.

"This power is mine to control, I know that now. And though I don't know everything about it just yet, I know that I can shape and control it to my wish."

"That's all good and well, but my answer remains the same. You two are not taking on any missions by yourselves yet, and Kagome and I are not leaving you to defend the village. You're coming with us and that's that. Go to your room."

Toshiro's eyes flared in honey mutiny, a small rumble in his chest. Shippou's tail flicked in irritation, his brotherly solidarity commendable but not changing the hanyou's mind. Inuyasha stared them down, daring the pups to push him on it. Toshiro averted his gaze a moment later, hissing through his teeth and rising to stomp his way to his room. Shippou and Moeru followed after him tiredly.

Inuyasha took a deep, steadying breath. Thank Kami his hair was already silver; he was just beginning to learn that fatherhood was sure to turn him grey otherwise.

0:0:0:0:0:

The palace of the Inu no Taisho was not quite what Toshiro imagined it would be. In his head he'd pictured an imposing, cold place. One of quiet, and discipline, and distance. With storm clouds overhead and lightning crackling in the distance and crows croaking in bare trees. But as his family crested a hill the hanyou pup indeed found a castle, but a small one nestled into a lush valley alive with trees and color and life.

The air was ripe with the smell of spring fruits. An obviously tended garden laid just outside the gates of the estate, thriving with color. A doe and her pup bathing in a shaft of sunlight in the grass, birds chirped and sang happily in the grove of trees surrounding the area, and there was absolutely no way in hell that Sesshomaru lived there.

But Inuyasha pushed forward, grumbling under his breathe with his hand securely in Kagome's.

Jaken was waiting for them at the main gate.

"How dare you keep Lord Sesshomaru waiting!" The frog thing squawked. "He called for you four days ago!"

"And it's five days travel from Musashi to here, you idiot." Inuyasha bonked the youkai on the head. "Shut yer trap and take us to my brother."

Jaken narrowed his bulging eyes at the lot of them, but turned and led the pack through the immaculate house, grumbling and complaining about insolent hanyous all the way. Small youkai of many different natures scattered about the castle, carrying pots or candles or linen. They all dipped their heads at the pack as they passed, stopping to be screeched at by Jaken occasionally.

Natural light filtered in through many high, carved windows. Soft violet and blue tapestries and carpets decorated the large hallways, and the many rooms Toshiro managed to peek into as they passed. The hanyou pup noticed the repeated motif of a crescent moon and figured that it must be the sigil of the Inu no Taisho's house.

Toshiro put a hand on his sword's hilt in slight awe that he'd been allowed to wield it as well.

They eventually found Sesshomaru seated in a dining area at a small, low table surrounded by dozens of cushions, a cup of tea in his hand and his brow raised in annoyance but expectation.

Rin waved happily by his side; her own tea forgotten.

"Shippou! Kagome! Inuyasha! Toshiro!" The girl beamed, jumping from her seat to wrap her arms around the miko's middle. "It's so nice to see you!"

"Rin. Remember your manners."

The girl blushed and bowed to the dai youkai, dipping again to the pack in apology before sinking back into her pillow. She cleared her throat and bowed her head in an attempt to be demure, her voice struggling to be serious.

"Welcome to our home." She said, cutting her eyes to her father figure for approval.

"Hn." A small nod. "Better."

The human cast Toshiro and Shippou a look and giggled into her hand. Toshiro didn't miss his brother's blush, and filed it away for later.

"I was wondering when you would burst in, baka." Sesshomaru said coldly, but cast his eyes to the other pillows around the wooden table expectantly. "Sit."

"Don't tell me what the fuck to do."

Toshiro swallowed a nervous chuckle at his father's immediate rebuttal, and followed as he and Kagome sank down on the waiting, plush cushions.

Sesshomaru watched as Moeru climbed his way up Toshiro's arm and settled in his hair, an act that had quickly become tradition. The Lord of the West eyed the haori he'd given Toshiro, watched as small rips caused by saber claws sealed themselves over instantly.

"I take it the clothes are doing their job." He noted.

"Yes." Toshiro swallowed and bowed his head. "Thank you for the gift."

"Hn. Have you seen its power yet?"

Toshiro tilted his head, careful not to drop his partner. "I-no, I haven't."

Shippou took a break from sipping his tea. "What power?"

The Lord of the West hesitated, a question in his eyes as he looked to the hanyou pup. Then he cast a look to Inuyasha and Kagome, who were watching the exchange with careful eyes.

"I told them everything." Toshiro said quietly.

"I see." Sesshomaru dipped his head, before looking Toshiro over again with a more critical eye. "The edge of your right ear is redder than when last I saw you, and you have a new scar on your chin. Tell me what happened."

Toshiro took a deep, steadying breath. He knew that Sesshomaru would ask, and had been mentally preparing himself the whole trip there. He slowly recounted the events of that night those four months ago; how he’d disobeyed his parents, how Orochi had found and hurt him, how he had burned a chunk of Inuyasha's forest to cinders in his panic.

With each word he uttered, his voice grew softer. Only Moeru's purring against his skull and his brother's supportive shoulder pressed against him helped the hanyou get through the story.

When he was finished he had to force himself to look up through his lashes at Sesshomaru, shame lashing at him anew for his weakness. This was why he'd wanted to stay in the village. He did not want to see Sesshomaru curl his lip in regret for saving his life, he did not want to be told again that he'd screwed up. Toshiro knew it all already. He expected the stoic male to look disgusted with him, disappointed and regretful for saving his hanyou life all that time ago.

But he didn't.

Sesshomaru's face was as still as ever, but his golden eyes had taken on a near soft quality. Toshiro then understood belatedly that the Lord of the West, for some reason, cared for him. In the strange way that he cared for anything. Distant, ever cold. . . but he cared. The pup blushed and looked into his teacup.

"I didn't expect him to make a move so quickly." The male said after a moment.

"What do you mean?" Kagome said warily.

Sesshomaru lifted his own tea to his lips, took a dignified sip before he continued. "The snake showed up here some months ago, inquiring to the whereabouts of Toshiro."

"You saw him, and didn't kill the bastard where he stood?!" Inuyasha bared his teeth in outrage, half out of his seat.

"Calm yourself, baka. I am the Lord of the West before all, and I could not strike Orochi down in cold blood. It is not my job to—" He broke off, his nose wrinkling a bit. He looked to where Shippou and Toshiro sat quietly, listening to them go back and forth before, in confusion, he said, "They smell like me."

Toshiro watched Inuyasha blink, presumably remembering that while Shippou and Toshiro now smelled like him, they would also be taken for the Inu no Taisho's kin as well.

Same blood and all.

"Totosai did some shit to their swords. They're mine now and they smell like me." Inuyasha dared his brother to degrade them for it with a show of teeth. "Stands to reason they'd stink of you a little too."

"Then they belong to me as well it seems." Sesshomaru rumbled, a flicker of an unknown emotion in his eyes. Toshiro's heart leapt, even as the male’s eyes narrowed. "Did you not think to inform me of this change, baka?"

Inuyasha snorted. "What's it to ya? Not like you're the doting familial type. You just said this wasn't your problem."

"If the kitsune and hanyou are now of my blood, then that makes this my problem."

"They're my sons, you bastard. I can take care of them plenty."

A roll of eyes identical to those of Inuyasha’s. "Obviously not."

"OI!"

"Hey, enough." It was Kagome, her posture impatient and her aura sparking to set her own eyes alight. Toshiro's ears folded back instinctively at his mother's tone. "I didn't come here for a game of who do the boys belong to. They are all of ours now. And a youkai came into my village and attacked my son, and I want to know what you know of him."

Sesshomaru spent a minute just looking at her, his face as emotionless as ever. Then,

"Revenge suits you miko."

Shippou and Rin giggled uncomfortably. Kagome blushed at the bit of amusement in the youkai's voice, though she didn't back down from his stare.

Toshiro almost smiled, but heard the growl building in his father's chest.

Inuyasha spoke around clenched teeth. "And I want to know what exactly you told Orochi when he came to you."

At the accusing tone Sesshomaru narrowed his eyes. Rin shifted at his side.

"I told him nothing, you imbecile. Though I cared not for the boy when I released him, the pup is still of my lost friend. And apparently my nephew." The dai youkai said the last word with a strange curl to his lip, as if he were tasting the way the word sounded.

"You didn't know that when that piece of shit came here askin' questions."

"But I am not so cold as to send a lunatic directly your way."

Inuyasha laughed humorlessly. "This from the same fucker who left me on my own after Mother died."

Sesshomaru's eyes flashed red once, a quick blast of youki making Toshiro's ears fold back again and Moeru growl.

"You know nothing."

"I know that we can hash this bullshit out later. I have no objections to shoving Tetsusaiga up your ass when you wanna go." Inuyasha ignored the glare Kagome shot him. "Now you need to be telling us how I can get my claws into Orochi and Toshiro’s aunt."

The Lord of the West took a deep, resigned breath. He pinched the bridge of his nose momentarily, reigning in his urge to whack Inuyasha Toshiro thought. When the male opened his eyes everyone leaned forward a bit in preparation, even Toshiro himself. Though he hated Katsumi and Orochi more than anyone, he couldn't deny that he was curious about how the Lord of the West came to know the people who’d raised him.

"This Sesshomaru was. . . friends with the Lady of the Southern Inu Youkai before Katsumi."

"Toshiro's mother." Kagome supplied, her eyes big and sad.

Toshiro's heart clench. The battered photo of his mother flashed before his eyes.

Sesshomaru knew his mother. Toshiro didn't even know her name. He knew that she was powerful, and beautiful, and loved. But the inu youkai of the South never dared to mention her in Katsumi's presence. And where she went, Toshiro had always had to follow.

Inuyasha snorted in disbelief. "Who'd have thought you were capable of making friends."

Sesshomaru glared murderously at his brother before turning back to Kagome.

"Hn." A nod to the miko. "We grew up together, she and I. Our mothers were friends before hers died in battle, and mine retreated to her castle in the sky. We remained friends even after we both took up our mantels as Lady and Lord of the South and West. Misa even visited me here a few times when she was carrying you, Toshiro."

A look to the hanyou pup, one that Toshiro could have sworn showed a bit of sadness. He fought back the swell of tears building behind his eyes. 

Misa. Her name was Misa.

"M-my father." The pup croaked. "Did you know him as well?"

Sesshomaru gave a single shake of his head. "She stayed away from the human as much as possible as to not bring him danger but. . . it didn't matter in the end."

Toshiro squeezed his eyes shut against what Sesshomaru implied. Dead then. His father, his mother both dead. His only photo of her was buried beneath filthy, torn blankets in a cell. He didn't even know what the man who sired him looked like. Had the human even want him? A single tear slid down his hot cheek, grief for the family he’d never had a chance to know coursing through him.

Shippou placed a warm hand on Toshiro's shoulder and the pup met his brother's gaze. The kitsune was weeping for him, big, open tears in his green eyes for a pain they shared. Orphans, both of them. Shippou glanced to where Kagome and Inuyasha watched them with concern and love shining in their eyes and Toshiro understood. They had lost a family, but they'd gained one as well.

Toshiro swallowed his broken heart, pushing down his grief for another time.

Sesshomaru had been watching him the whole time, and allowed the pup to collect himself before continuing.

"After Misa's passing I had no reason to visit the South. Even less with Katsumi and her band of bigots then in control. She told everyone that the pup Misa carried died with her, and ran the hanyous and those who loved them out of her territory. Those she hadn't killed of course. Katsumi has always been wretched, even when we were pups. Orochi has always been a coward, but a clever one. He's been licking at Katsumi's heels since we were whelps, whispering in her ear, fueling her hatred and poison. It surprises me not that he took to beating on a helpless pup."

Inuyasha's eyes shone with a deadly calm. "Where can I find them?"

Sesshomaru leaned down to whisper something in Rin's ear. The human girl beamed and scampered from the room; no doubt eager to be free of the tense conversation. Shippou and Toshiro looked at each other in confusion, but Sesshomaru was already answering their father.

"If Orochi has retreated to the South, you cannot. I visited the border of the Southern Inu lands, testing their wards. They are not as strong as they were when Misa ruled, as many of the magic users fled when she died, but it would still be nearly impossible to enter without an invitation from the Southern Lady herself."

"Tetsusaiga can handle those flimsy barriers." Inuyasha cracked his knuckles.

Sesshomaru was already shaking his head. "You misunderstand, baka. There are centuries upon centuries of wards keeping that stronghold hidden. If I hadn't already been there I may not have been able to even find it. Getting in will be no easy feat."

"So what do we do?" Kagome groused in frustration.

Rin came skipping back into the room, grinning at Toshiro and Shippou happily. She bowed to her father before announcing, "Your rooms are ready."

At Inuyasha's incredulous look Sesshomaru merely sucked on a fang. "It is getting late. Stay the night here and we can figure out what to do at a later time."

Toshiro smiled hopefully at the very word his father growled at.

"We? So you're actually gonna get offa your pompous ass and help us? Tch."

Sesshomaru only looked to Toshiro and Shippou. His bright golden eyes were in no way warm, but they were not the frozen ice Toshiro had become accustomed to. The pup would even dare say he saw the Inu no Taisho's eyes spark, just once, with fondness. That equated to damn near a hug in Toshiro's book. The pup grinned at his new uncle, but only the corner of Sesshomaru's lips twitched upward before sipped down the rest of his tea.

"They are my nephews after all."

Chapter Text

Rin gave the brothers a tour of her home, chattering happily away as she pointed out this painting or that statue and its history. Shippou nodded vigorously beside the human girl, his tail swishing behind him as the four of them adventured about the castle. Rin showed them the many guest rooms, the giant kitchen manned by dozens of busy youkai, the eastern garden that bloomed with color and smell and ripening fruits, and the massive, grassy area behind her home that Sesshomaru used for training. It was a wide clearing, a rock garden and small stream bubbling on its western side and leading into the thick of the forest. Sesshomaru’s home was truly beautiful.

But all of the wonders of the Western Palace paled to the artwork strung about.

Toshiro’s breath caught with each new piece he saw.

Illustrations of devastating battles, beautifully vivid landscapes, and images of great white dogs all hung about in stunning color and detail everywhere he looked. Oil paintings, carvings dug right into the stone of the palace walls, tapestries that were hand stitched and bigger than Toshiro and Shippou’s room at home. It was all magnificent. It all made his artist’s heart nearly stop.

Rin paused again as they traversed through the main foyer, explaining to them how it had taken a master weaver nearly three summers to complete the enormous rug that covered the expanse of the floor. It depicted inu youkai of every shape and color in a wild, feral sort of romp, some with great large ears, some with curling wild tails, some with short stubby legs. The youkai all pranced about the carpet together in their true forms, a mash of inu culture that was now all but disappeared.

It had made his hand and heart twitch for his colored pencils and paints.

Toshiro, of course, had never been allowed to indulge in his creativity when he lived with his aunt in the South. He hadn’t even known he’d loved art back then. He’d stare hours at the stories told in the artworks around the Southern castle, imagining himself a free fawn in a forest or an eagle youkai loose in the sky. . . what else was a captive hanyou pup to do? What other escape was there for him but colors and shapes and patterns that depicted freedoms he would never experience?

When Kagome and Inuyasha noticed his pension for the arts they’d encouraged it immediately; His adoptive mother almost always brought him back paints and brushes and charcoals from her time, his adoptive father almost always stopped in the marketplace on his way through it to get the pup more parchment or wood or cloth to paint or draw on.

The pack displayed his creations with a pride that made Toshiro blush.

Kaede had asked him to paint the pottery around her home. He’d spent days on her many mixing bowls and vases, creating pictures of arrows and Shinigami in vibrant reds and whites to pay homage to Kaede’s lost sister Kikyou. Miroku and Sango had allowed him to paint the two wooden cribs that the monk had built for his pups. Toshiro painted one in patterns of trees like Inuyasha’s forest, different shades of greens used to depict shafts of light breaking through in some areas. On the other he’d used yellows and pinks to create a sunrise, the brightest yellow at the center of the crib like a heart.

Rin was leading them through another long hallway when an image struck Toshiro out of his memories, stopped him dead on his feet.

It was a painting that covered almost the entire expanse of the western wall, bright and colorful and terrifying. It portrayed a battle. Hundreds of creatures stood at Toshiro’s height, wielding all manner of armor and weapons; youkai, by their pointed ears and claws. There were boar youkai with their bovine noses, and serpent youkai who’s forked tongues were out as they roared, and eagle youkai who’s wings were depicted bloody and beautiful in detail.

Above all the fighting flew two great, huge beasts. On one side of the sky flew an inu youkai with a single navy stripe across each cheek. It's gigantic paws were placed to look as if it were jumping from cloud to cloud, it’s mighty fangs bared in a savage sort of laugh, the white fur of its back trailing behind it like a cape. Bloodied arrows stuck out of the youkai’s fur and armor and still it grinned, it’s red and green eyes fixated on the massive dragon youkai that swirled in the sky opposite it. The dragon’s purple hide was scaled in so much detail Toshiro was sure that if he reached up to touch it, it would be rough under his fingers. The white and blue mask perched atop the dragon’s head gleamed as if hard as glass, the dangerous smirk painted there made Toshiro shudder.

Toshiro’s eyes cut back to the snarling inu youkai and he took a dazed step closer to the image, his head cocked to the side as a strange mixture of emotions crowded his chest.

He knew this youkai.

Deep in his gut, in his soul, he felt a piercing sense of recognition that he didn't understand. Toshiro stared into the paintings pale green and red eyes, becoming lost in the strange familiarity he felt until a voice snapped him to attention.

"This is one of my favorite paintings in the whole palace; The Battle of the Western Lands. Not many knew that the previous Inu no Taisho had a love of art as well as combat." Rin said proudly, stepping up beside the hanyou to gaze up at the painting. "He actually painted quite a bit of the artwork hung here. But I think this one is the most devastating. Lord Touga captured himself so well."

Toshiro whirled around, his head spinning with the motion. "Himself?"

Rin nodded her head with a small noise, her hands clasped behind her back.

"This was the great youkai in his true form, one in which he took to rid the Western Lands of the cruel Ryukotsusei and his ilk.” A glance at the terrifying dragon grinning back at the inu youkai. “This was the battle that started it all. . . and led to Lord Touga’s eventual demise."

"That's amazing." Shippou whispered in awe, appearing at Toshiro's other side. His head was craned back as he took in the mural. "I would have never pegged the Inu no Taisho for a painter. But then again who would've thought Lord Grouchy Pout here to be such an amazing artist too."

The kitsune nudged his brother with a smirk. Toshiro shoved him away with an embarrassed chuckle, forcing himself to look away from the painting that called to him.

"You're just jealous you can barely draw a sword straight."

Rin snickered and just as the kitsune opened his mouth to snark back, a short youkai approached them with a clearing of his throat.

The children turned to the intruder, Rin already smiling and Moeru already grumbling in his natural suspicion against Toshiro’s scalp. The male was an Iriomote youkai, in his animal form but standing on two paws like a man. His ears were rounded atop his head, his eyes were big and golden brown. A spotted tail swished behind him patiently.

“Lady Rin, I am sorry to interrupt your conversation.” The feline said kindly, his face warm and contrite and whiskered. He dipped his head respectfully at Shippou and Toshiro before turning back to the human. “It is nearly dinner time, and the kitchen staff would like to know your preference for dessert this evening.”

Rin grinned and gave some response Toshiro didn’t hear.

The pup was too busy watching the youkai and the way he deferred to the human girl.

All of the servants in Lord Sesshomaru’s home seemed to be of woodland nature; deer youkai with climbing antlers, rabbit youkai with big feet and twitching noses, pheasants, and badgers, and racoon dogs. They had all lowered their heads in respect when Rin and the boys passed, some giving the human girl indulgent smiles and pats on the back when she’d deigned to wrap them up in tight hugs.

Toshiro marveled at the diversity that Sesshomaru kept in his home, and at how easily accepted Rin seemed amongst so many creatures different from her. Rin was technically the heir to this palace, Toshiro mused, even with her human nature. She was Lord Sesshomaru’s chosen child as Toshiro was Inuyasha and Kagome’s.

“Thank you so much, Koji.” Rin wrapped the cat youkai up her arms.

Toshiro smiled at how the male simply returned the embrace with no resentment or disgust.

“We’ll have it ready for you and your guests soon. As soon as Lord Sesshomaru is done with his meeting with Master Inuyasha and Lady Kagome, dinner will be served.” Again the male, Koji, bowed to Shippou and Toshiro before padding off down the hallway.

Toshiro’s ears flicked as Shippou and Rin started back up their chatter, but the hanyou pup’s mind was elsewhere now.

"What do you think they're talking about?" Toshiro interrupted whatever his brother had been saying to the girl. At the blinks he received he snorted. "Our parents? They said they'd speak of getting into the Southern castle later, but then kicked us out. What do you think they're talking about in there?"

Shippou crossed his arms and flicked his tail. "I don't know Toshiro, but don't you think we should leave it to them?"

"Tch. No."

"What exactly do you think we'll be able to do against that psycho Orochi and your aunt, anyway? We're pups."

"I'm not a pup." Toshiro glared. "I'm stronger now. And it shouldn't be down to them. I'm the one who brought this mess to our door."

Shippou narrowed his eyes. “Whatever you’re scheming, stop.”

“I’m not scheming anything.” The hanyou blinked innocently. “I just think that we have a right to know what’s going on. Don’t you?”

No.”

Rin cleared her throat daintily. The brothers looked to her, and she smirked a smirk that had Toshiro tilting his head. If he’d really thought about it beforehand it would have been obvious to him that the human was receiving training from Sesshomaru. She played the delicate heir well, but there was the makings of a warrior in the way she held herself; the cant to her chin, the challenging gleam in her brown eyes.

“There is. . . a way. That we could listen, I mean.”

The kitsune groaned. “Oh no, not you too.”

The hanyou pup grinned mischievously at the girl. "I like you."

Rin giggled, and both human and hanyou ignored Shippou’s sputtering.

“This is a bad idea, aniki! Sesshomaru will kill us, and worse mother will pluck us into next week! Toshiro, are you even listening to me?”

Toshiro just smirked at Rin and swept his arm out in a gentlemanly bow. "Show me the way, Lady of the house."

The kitsune called to their retreating backs. "Have you heard the saying about curiosity killing the cat?"

Toshiro threw a look over his shoulder, Moeru’s tail swishing against the back of the hanyou’s neck like a sentient ponytail. "I'm not a cat. And neither are you, Shipp."

Shippou shot pleading look up to the heavens, then groaned and raced to catch up with his brother and Rin.

She led them quickly and quietly around the palace until they came to a supply closet. Rin all but shoved them inside and closed the door, lighting a small lantern on the wall before kneeling to unveil a hidden crawl space. She removed the wooden panel carefully, deftly, showing the dark tunnel to the dumbstruck boys behind her.

“Dozens of these tunnels run through the castle.” She said quickly, quietly. “When I’m not in training, or lessons, or with Lord Sesshomaru, I’m usually skulking through one. Most of them are connected to other storing spaces, some of them lead to the kitchens or the indoor training rooms. This one leads to Lord Sesshomaru’s personal dining area.”

She beamed proudly at the brothers.

“So you’re a spy.” Shippou blinked in disbelief.

“I’m a human girl surrounded by youkai and hanyous, and I get bored.” Rin puffed her cheeks and blushed. “I don’t spy on people.”

Toshiro grinned. “Until today.”

0:0:0:0:0:

Moeru was grumbling disapprovingly against the hanyou’s scalp, but Toshiro shushed his partner with a scratch between the ears.

This was too good of a chance to let up.

Toshiro crawled closely behind Rin, Shippou bringing up the rear in the small space. They just fit, and had been following Rin through the cramped labyrinth of tunnels for a while. Unlike the rest of the house, which was alight and warm from every angle due to the countless stained glass windows, the tunnels were nearly pitch black and cool, the stone swallowing up every bit of sound they made as they shuffled through turn after turn. Toshiro didn’t know how long they crawled on in the darkness, but no sooner had impatience began to prick at his skin did he hear the faint mumble of voices.

Even Moeru stopped his grumping as Rin approached a dead end to the tunnel, the square ring of light around the hidden entrance showing the determined set of her chin. The girl removed the false piece of wall with stealthy, practiced hands, and the children crept from the darkness of the tunnel into the dim light of the storing closet in Sesshomaru’s dining area.

They hardly breathed as they righted themselves, stepping quietly and carefully around the shelves of extra pillow cushions and tea ware to creep as close as they dared to the closet door. The adults could be heard clearly through the varnished wood.

Toshiro, Shippou, and Moeru had agreed to conceal their youki when they entered the secret tunnels, and now it took an enormous amount of concentration for Toshiro to shield himself and listen to the adults bickering through the wall. The prick of sweat beading on his brother’s forehead told him that Shippou felt the same strain.

“We are not marching on the South.” Came Sesshomaru’s deadpan voice.

“This bitch sent her sentinel into our lands looking for a fight. Orochi put his claws into my son. This is an act of war.”

A long suffering sigh, “While your ire is understood baka, you are not listening. You do not know the inu youkai of the South, you have never fought them.”

Inuyasha’s scoff was loud and patronizing. “So you’re afraid,”

Toshiro’s strenuous hold on his youki nearly slipped when he felt Sesshomaru’s blast once in anger. “Watch your tongue.”

“Watch my—”

“What if war isn’t necessary.” Kagome interrupted calmly; her voice distant. Toshiro saw Shippou squirm at their mother’s voice. He stilled his brother with a glare before he turned back to the door. There was a pause before she pushed on. “You told us that Misa was widely loved, and that some of her people showed regret when they saw how Toshiro was treated.”

Rin and Shippou shot Toshiro compassionate glances. . . the hanyou hated it.

Through the haze of pain and sorrow he‘d lived in he remembered the quick, pitying looks. He remembered how, so rarely, he would receive secret smiles of encouragement or scraps of food tucked into his clothing as he moved through a room. He remembered sometimes waking to the usually filthy, bloody blanket he slept under washed nearly clean. He remembered those stolen, precious moments wherein a brush against his arm, or neck, or back was not to strike or humiliate him, but to silently tell him that he was not so alone, to remind him that not all touch was torture. Those far and in between instances, and his hidden picture of Misa, were all that had kept his mind from truly shattering all those years.

Were the blurred faces of those inu youkai the people who still loved his birth mother? Were those secret, small kindnesses the Inu of the South’s way of defying Katsumi?

Toshiro let out a shuddering breath, forcing himself to focus.

“Any regret they showed was shoved down by the fear Katsumi instilled in them.” Sesshomaru was saying, matter of fact. “Even though Katsumi tore apart families, isolated them from the outside world, murdered their friends and lovers and children. . .  We are canid. They will not rise against her without the push of a new Alpha to spur them.”

Another pause before the miko said quietly, “What about Toshiro?”

Kagome! No way in Hell are we—”

“Think about it, Inuyasha. Think it through.” Her voice was adamant now, beseeching. “He is next in line for the Southern mantle. He is by right and blood their Alpha and Lord. If they would not rally behind him, then who?”

Toshiro’s heart gave a shocked, terrified leap. He took an unconscious step closer to the door and Shippou’s hand shot out to grab onto his arm. He hardly felt it.

Him? Leader of the South? It was impossible.

Inuyasha growled dangerously. “We are not sending our son to be some revolutionary martyr for a people who sat back and watched him tortured for years.”

“You cannot blame them for not acting, baka. They are—“

A great crash, glass smashing against the stone wall. All three children flinched in their hiding spot as Inuyasha snarled, “You go take the Southern Castle, then.”

“I could take the South, were it my ambition.” Sesshomaru made an unaffected, indifferent noise. “But it is not. Nor is it my responsibility.”

The miniscule rumbling Moeru had been emitting in Toshiro’s hair hushed as they heard Sesshomaru rise, as the youkai’s nearly silent steps paced the length of the room.

“To believe that the Inu of the South would rally behind Toshiro is presumptuous and foolhardy. Regardless of his lineage, and regardless of the fleeting pity he was shown, many youkai will protest to having a hanyou for their Lord. It has never been done.”

Sesshomaru approached the supply closet and Toshiro and the others shrunk back, not even breathing. But the Inu no Taisho continued his lazy pacing past their hiding spot as he continued.

“It is risky. And I do not think placing a pup who bares hatred for the place of his birth at the head of it is wise. . . but the boy can be useful in another way.”

Toshiro’s ears flicked up around the saber in his hair. He heard his parent’s inquisitive sounds, but froze as Sesshomaru passed by the closet again, closer this time.

But again the male continued by.

“When we were barely grown Misa revealed something to me. Something that could help us get into the Southern land, and that could assist us in finally disposing of that wretch of a female, Katsumi. She told me that the secret to the Southern wards. . . is lineage. Only those who possess the blood of the ruling family can pass through those wards unseen or undetected, and only those of that bloodline are capable of letting outsiders into their land and past them. Toshiro, regardless of his dual nature, is capable of these feats being Misa’s true heir. He could be our way in.”

Rin and Shippou and Toshiro leaned forward, hanging onto Sesshomaru’s every unemotional word. Sesshomaru passed by their hiding spot a third time, and just as Toshiro leaned a little closer to the door, utterly transfixed on Sesshomaru’s words, a clawed hand shot straight through the wood.

Shippou let out a terrified screech, and Rin began immediately tearing up, as that clawed hand balled itself in Toshiro’s haori and yanked him out of the closet and into the dining area lit with the rays of the setting sun. Moeru’s claws dug into his Toshiro’s scalp as they were torn free.

Sesshomaru dangled the hanyou pup in the air. Toshiro’s heart slammed rapidly against his ribs, his eyes saucer wide and guilty. He could feel his parents glaring murderously at him from where they’d risen from their seats in the commotion. Moeru scrambled back into his place and was pressed down into his partner’s hair as if he could disappear.

They were so dead.

“Enjoying your exploring I see, nephew.”

Toshiro let out a nervous chuckle, grinning sheepishly up at Sesshomaru’s cold face.

“Pest, what the hell were you doing in the closet?” Inuyasha boomed in disbelief.  “Shippou, I can see you! Get your furry ass out of that tunnel and come out here, right now.”

 “Toshi. . .” Kagome’s foot was tapping a beat into the hardwood floor that sung of a firm pluck or two waiting for him in the very near future.

Toshiro gulped, his ears folded back into his hair, but he didn’t turn to watch as Rin and Shippou shuffled around the broken bits of door and into the room, or as his mother snatched Shippou up by the ear and whispered something to the kit that had him shaking. Sesshomaru still had him pinned with his glare.

"Did you not realize that while you two now possess the ability to conceal yourselves, that a human may not?" Sesshomaru drawled, gesturing to a pouting Rin, who was digging her toes into the rug and biting her lip. "Did you think that I wouldn't smell her, and assume you to be with her since we'd just sent the lot of you out of the room?"

Toshiro almost smacked himself in the forehead, but was still being dangled in the air like a rag doll. Shippou did the action for him, then was smacked again upside the head by their fuming father.

Toshiro cleared his throat. "Uncle, w-we didn't think—"

"No, you didn't." Sesshomaru barked, and dropped the hanyou carelessly onto a cushion before stalking back to his own seat. "The lot of you know better than this. If you wish to be treated full grown, then behave that way. This behavior is unbecoming of my kin.”

He glared at each of them, his bright gold eyes hard as jewels and his scent acrid with disappointment. Rin dragged her feet to her seat at Sesshomaru’s right, her eyes still downcast and her hands wringing. Shippou padded quickly over to sit beside his brother on the other side of the table, a hand rubbing at his red ear. Toshiro ducked his head in submission, feeling his parents’ ire beat against him as they too returned to their seats.

He was sure to get chewed out later, but even his shame at being chastised couldn’t quell the zing of his youki at all he’d heard. He could get back into the South. He could—

“Plotting?”

Toshiro’s head shot up. Sesshomaru was staring at him steadily, his back straight, a single brow raised. Toshiro swallowed audibly; his throat suddenly dry.  “What you were all discussing. . . is it true? Could I do it?”

Inuyasha was already growling, ready to snap until—

“Would you do it, were it asked of you?” Sesshomaru asked, ignoring the daggers his brother sent him. “Could you do it?”

The pup imagined sneaking back into the South. He imagined facing Katsumi, and Orochi, and all those who had hurt him again. He imagined laying waste to the land that had raised and ruined him, because he knew that if his new family were to wage war against Katsumi on his behalf that that shining beach village would surely fall. He knew that if he were to unleash his youki on the monsters who’d haunted him his birth mother’s city would burn to cinders.

And he knew that the youkai in his blood would not care.

But Toshiro was surprised at himself when he realized that the thought of seeing Orochi and his aunt again, of fighting them, did not bring him fear as they would have in the past, as they would have mere months ago. He felt only pity. . . and grim determination. And a hope that his father and uncle would spare those who had tried to help him in the past. Toshiro did not care if they turned the others, the schemers and abusers and power hungry who’d taken pleasure in his torture, to carrion.

His eyes and heart hardened.

“I can do it.”

Inuyasha was sputtering in disbelief, his dissent a color high in his cheekbones. Kagome looked proud, and worried, and a bit green. Sesshomaru just stared at him blankly, taking his measure. It was a long time before the dai youkai spoke again. And when he did—

"Come with me."

Toshiro blinked, and then scrambled from his seat as Sesshomaru briskly left the dining area without a look back. The feline youkai from earlier, Koji, was bringing in their food, but the Inu no Taisho shot past he and the other servants without a word. Koji shot them a patient look as they brushed by, his chin canted down, then continued on into the dining area to set up their dinner for their return.

The children struggled to keep up with Sesshomaru, but Inuyasha and Kagome at their backs helped them keep their pace. Toshiro shot a look of over his shoulder to his parents but saw that they too had confused, pensive looks on their faces. Where were they going? What did Sesshomaru want him to do? Inuyasha’s eyes met his own and the pup saw those same questions in his father’s eyes, and was reminded again of just how much trouble he’d be in for snooping when they got home.

Toshiro twisted back around.

After several turns they ended up in a darker, colder part of the Western Palace that Rin had not shown them. The hallways here were narrow, and was on a strange, downward decline. The grey stone floor was bitingly cold against Toshiro’s bare feet.

“Where are we going?” Rin finally whispered.

Sesshomaru didn’t look at them as he spoke, his voice as frigid as the air now clouding in front of them. His deep voice echoed off of the walls. “If you lot want to be adults, if you think you can handle all that my brother and I put up with as leaders of our lands, then we shall see.”

Toshiro’s hackles raised. The children looked at each other in wild confusion but pressed on, following Sesshomaru down a maze of hallways until they found a stairwell leading down into the ground. Sesshomaru spun on his heel, his eyes boring into each of theirs, the darkness at his back casting him in menacing shadow. Inuyasha and Kagome were murmuring uneasily to one another at Toshiro’s back, but did not protest as Sesshomaru backed down onto the first step. His eyes were unnerving in the dim hallway, bright, sharp points like twin suns.

Toshiro felt fear skitter up his spine at the hard gleam in his uncle’s eyes, and at the faint tang of blood in the air here, wafting up to them from the gloom of the stairwell.

Sesshomaru turned and started down the steps without preamble, a simple “Come.” His only command.

They followed him.

Moeru was grumbling against Toshiro’s scalp, his claws detracting and retracting against the hanyou’s scalp nervously. The pup reached up to scratch between his partner’s ears, more so to calm his own heart than the saber’s. As he went to drop his hand Toshiro felt Rin’s own shoot out and grasp his. He glanced at her in surprise and saw that her eyes were wide an unfocused; she couldn’t see in the dark. Toshiro gave her trembling hand a reassuring squeeze as they pushed on.

As they reached the bottom of the stairs they came to a single old, rusted iron door with a huge complicated latch embedded in it. Sesshomaru didn’t pause as he unlocked it and walked through, the dim light inside causing Toshiro to blink as his eyes adjusted.

His stomach lurched at what he saw and smelled when they entered.

It was a large, square stone chamber. Lanterns hung on either side of the door and nowhere else, the farthest corners of the room wreathed in shadow. Embedded in each wall were two sets of steel manacles, some stained with dry blood, many littered with scratches and knicks that told of past creatures trying futilely to break free. The floor was strewn with hay and filth, a single drain cut into room’s center.

The smell was nearly unbearable. Toshiro pressed the sleeve of his haori to his nose and tried not to gag on the odors of blood and excrement, his heart quickening as he struggled to keep himself from stumbling into that dark corner of his mind that held memories of a room so similar to this one.

Shippou too had his haori pressed against his nose. Rin’s eyes were wide and shocked and terrified, her hand still securely in Toshiro’s. Kagome looked disgusted and sick, her hands trembling and loose at her sides. Inuyasha’s face was hard and cruel in a way that was unfamiliar to the hanyou pup, his father’s golden eyes fixed with predatory focus on the only creature in the room that was not his family.

Toshiro followed his gaze and watched as Sesshomaru, unperturbed by the dank room or the blood coating the walls like paint, advanced toward a youkai chained against the north wall, his arms out and above him like a crucifixion.

It was a hyena youkai.

He was beaten bloody, the weak lamplight highlighting the ugly bruises on his furry cheeks, the skin around his wrists rubbed raw where he had tried to pull himself free. His left leg was turned at an odd angle where they lay sprawled in the hay, many of his fingers broken in more than one place.

Sesshomaru stood between the creature and his family and looked coldly at his nephew. "You want to be an adult? Approach him."

Toshiro swallowed.

Inuyasha’s incredulous growl echoed off of the stone walls. "There is no fucking way that my son is—"

"Hush, baka.” The Inu no Taisho flicked an impatient wrist. “The boy will not be harmed. I merely wish to test something.”

Toshiro glanced wide eyes at his parents, at the way that Kagome was holding Inuyasha back with her hand around his wrist. His mother nodded minutely at him to go on and so the hanyou pup turned and stepped closer to the hyena on shaking knees, images of Leiko, and Tadao, and the deranged hyena they'd found in the forest those months ago playing quickly through his head. But Toshiro reminded himself that he was not the quaking pup he had been when they’d stormed that mountain. Nor was he the uncontrolled beast who’d torn off Tadao’s arm in a blur of rage and bloodlust. He had spent months learning control, growing not just his knowledge of his power but of himself. He would not falter. And he trusted his family, his mother, and father, and brother, and uncle, not to allow this thing or any thing to hurt him further.

Toshiro straightened his back and carefully, calmly walked forward.

At a closer look Toshiro could see that the male was not unconscious after all, his eyes nearly closed and his breathing labored. He seemed to be stuck mid transformation; his clawed hands and feet furred and spotted, his mouth protruding in a snout, his tail a limp, dirty thing behind him. He wore a filthy undershirt covered in rips and blood, still healing gashes in every shape and size along his face.

“Youkai, raise your head.”

At Toshiro voice the creature gasped, a deep painful breathe expanding its lacerated chest. His head indeed snapped up, reopening a ragged wound on his neck, causing blood to leak steadily down his shirt front. The hyena didn’t seem to notice. His brown eyes instantly, hungrily focused on Toshiro.

"You.” He whispered, his voice dry and cracked from disuse or screaming. “It’s you. We’ve. . . we’ve been looking for you.”

Toshiro clenched his fists and stood straighter, even as dread skirted down his spine. He glanced over his shoulder to the adults, but the only reaction he received was a nod from Sesshomaru to continue, his parents too frozen with restraint. So Toshiro tilted his chin up at the hyena.

“Why?”

"You're. . . you’re her kin. He told us we were to find-to find you. . . Tadao. Tadao." A pained howl from the hyena at the name, longing and fear and agony in his voice. Toshiro clamped his hands over his ears and winced. “TADAOOO~!”

Sesshomaru swept Toshiro behind his mokomoko sama, his youki blasting once to silence the hyena with a yelp. The hanyou pup gripped onto his uncle’s fur, peering around at the creature with his heart hammering and his ears ringing.

"What does Tadao have to do with this boy?"

"Idontknowidontknowidon—"

Another blast of violent youki, the beginning gleam of Sesshomaru’s energy whip on his hand. The Inu no Taisho’s voice was as emotionless as ever, but Toshiro sensed the ice that laced his words and was unsurprised when the hyena wet himself in pure terror as Sesshomaru rumbled, "You do."

The chained male gasped wetly, his words rushing. "After Leiko we had nowhere else to go, we had no home and no land! We had no choice! There aren’t many of us left, and the Lady of the South offered us asylum. But she doesn't like us around, didn’t want us in her city. She made Tadao send us out like common grunts to do her dirty work, to hunt him, to-to bring him to her borders.”

Why?”

“I don’t knowww~” The male yowled, eyes wide and petrified on Sesshomaru’s faintly glowing hand. “She doesn’t tell us anything. Tadao doesn’t tell us anything, I swear! We were only told where to bring the boy if any of us managed to capture him, but he is clearly well protected.”

The hyena shot Inuyasha and Kagome a vile look, the wrath in his eyes melting when he looked again to the still, cool face of the Lord of the West.

“Hn.” Sesshomaru glanced over his shoulder where Toshiro saw that his family were all sporting expressions of disgust and fear. He looked down at his nephew, where the pup was still held onto his fur, where his saber partner was glaring at the panting hyena in pure hatred.

“Leave.”

Toshiro blinked. “But Uncle—”

“I said leave, unless you wish to bear witness to what happens next.” There was no grudging affection in the inu youkai’s eyes then, no love.

Toshiro took a shaking step back, eyes still on Sesshomaru as the male turned back to the hyena. The creature began to wail at the vicious sneer forming on the Inu no Taisho’s face. Toshiro knew that Sesshomaru was no torturer, that these were the feats that leaders of great territories sometimes had to make, that this situation was so much different than the one he’d been raised in.

Still his stomach wretched.

A trembling, clammy hand reached out to take his own and Toshiro turned, meeting the large, terrified eyes of his brother. The kitsune swallowed, his brow gleaming with sweat.

“Let’s go, aniki.” Shippou whispered.

Toshiro nodded woodenly, reaching out his other hand to grasp that of Rin, who had been quietly weeping. Inuyasha and Kagome ushered the children from the dungeon, the former’s eyes blazing in rage, the latter murmuring low words of comfort and ease into their ears. The moment they crossed the threshold the iron door slammed shut on a phantom wind.

Toshiro’s ears pressed into his hair as they hurried back up the cold, dark stairs.

The sound of the hyena screaming loud enough to reach them through the iron door would haunt the pup’s dreams for a while, he thought. As would the thought that his two great enemies had now joined forces, and they waited for him like looming giants in a place that had once been his home.

Chapter Text

It was late when Inuyasha finally entered the room his brother had given he and Kagome for the night, and the hanyou was tired in his bones.

He’d led his family back to Sesshomaru’s dining area after leaving that kami forsaken dungeon, and the Inu no Taisho had not returned to join them through their quiet meal.

Inuyasha would be lying to himself if he said there wasn’t a part of him that had longed to join the Sesshomaru in interrogating that flea bitten bastard, that craved answers and blood for all that the hyena knew about Katsumi and Tadao and the South, but the larger part of him had known that his pack needed him; His miko had been weary and stressed from their conversation with his brother, his niece withdrawn in an unfamiliar, completely rational, way. All throughout dinner Shippou and Toshiro had been stiff and still, their ears perked and straining as if to they were trying to hear the screams of the male being held far below the palace. His sons had not spoken or looked at him either, their scents soaked in fear and worry from all that they had heard and seen, the truth.

The truth of what faced their family by the Southern Sea. The truth of the lengths leaders and Alphas had to make to protect their lands, their people. The hard truth of all that they had witnessed this night. It was a reality that Inuyasha had hoped to spare his family from, at least for a while. Inuyasha had not hurt someone for answers in a long time, but he remembered the many times when he had done so. When he had clawed up his enemies to get what he wanted with no regard to the blood on his claws, and had reveled in the pain he’d wrought. And he was not so naive to believe that he wouldn’t become that male again to protect the people he loved.

Even still, he’d had to reign in the urge to shred Sesshomaru to pieces when they’d entered that room, for exposing his miko and his pups to the blood and gore of that prison.

After Toshiro’s run in with Orochi, Inuyasha had done all he could these months to keep his sons from the harsher things of the world. Sometimes that meant taking on smaller, less dangerous jobs. Sometimes that meant keeping his pack as close as they could to home. Sometimes that meant letting the boys have a day off from combat training to goof off and just. . . be. Shippou and Toshiro had already witnessed and gone through so much. They’d seen enough blood, been through enough torment, to last lifetimes. They deserved the chance to live without the weight of the world on their shoulders, to just be pups. Reckless, stupid pups who sparred like grown youkai well into the day, but when night fell could drop their swords and find comfort and laughter in their home and family. 

They deserved to have the happy childhoods Inuyasha did not have. And if he had to storm the South and slaughter Katsumi and her whole court himself to ensure that his sons got just that, he would do so gladly.

Inuyasha had feared that the sight of the strung up hyena would trigger memories of Toshiro’s past. He had been tense and ready to yank him from the room the moment he’d seen the male bloody and chained to the stone wall. But the pup had proved his mettle. He had proved that he would not let the torture he’d endured in the past control his present. He had approached the captive hyena with his back straight and his eyes hard and his voice clear, though Inuyasha himself had been nearly sick and shaking at the sight of his boy so close to someone who wanted him hurt, who longed to take him back to that youkai who believed she’d broken him.

Inuyasha was going to tear Sesshomaru a new asshole when he next got him alone for putting his pup in that position, and for suggesting that Toshiro breach the Southern inu lands alone. Even the thought of him doing something so dangerous made Inuyasha’s youkai howl, made his blood boil like nothing he’d ever felt, made him ache to sink his claws into the faceless inu female who haunted Toshiro’s dreams and Inuyasha’s waking thoughts. The pup wasn’t doing it. It was absolutely out of the question, no matter Kagome’s reasoning or Toshiro’s own resolve. They’d find another way.

They had to.

After dinner Inuyasha had walked the boys to their rooms while Kagome had escorted Rin. His pups were quiet as they settled down, still rattled from their experience and still ashamed at their being caught snooping about. Inuyasha was both furious and proud of his sons for their bravery, their gall, but he didn’t have it in him just then to yell at them. He had still tucked them into the futon they would share for the night, had still run his claws through their hair and pinched their noses. He had nearly choked on his words as he told them that he loved them, and then had growled low in his throat that if they pulled crap like they had again that there would be hell to pay.

They were still quiet when he slid their bamboo door closed, though he’d known they would not sleep for a while yet.

Inuyasha slid the door to his own room back and instantly felt the day’s hardship and tension bleed out of him, as it always did when he saw her. Kagome was seated upright on the single large futon in the room, angled away from him, her face far away and upturned to the moonlight beaming in through their window. Her thick, dark hair was thrown over a single shoulder as she tried and failed to braid it, her fingers tripping and tangling over themselves.

Inuyasha chuckled dryly. “Having trouble?”

Kagome turned, her cheeks still a bit pale from the day’s events, her eyes a kind of hollow that made Inuyasha’s chest clench. He scoffed as he propped Tetsauiga against a wall, then padded his way over and plopped down behind her, not hesitating before he pulled her small frame between his legs. He let out a great sigh when she gave up on her hair and leaned her weight back against him.

This, having her so near, was all that was right and good.

It was a while before either of them spoke, so busy were they in leaning into the other, in taking comfort from each other.

“Your sons are little devils.”

My sons, are they?” Inuyasha sniggered lowly. “You claimed them first, woman.”

She huffed and settled more comfortably against his chest, crossing her arms.

“I told Shippou I was going to make him sponge bath Kaede when we got home.”

Inuyasha blinked before he outright laughed, his mirth causing Kagome to jostle and shake against him. When she batted at him in outrage he laughed some more.

“Who knew you were so wicked, Kagome.”

She smirked a little, then sighed. “What your brother did. . . what he showed them. . . it was too much.”

Inuyasha sobered up a bit, emitting a low grumble in his chest at the distress still coating her scent. He tightened the arm he had wrapped around her waist. “I know it was. He’s a cold hearted bastard, but at least now we know that the hyena’s have aligned themselves with Katsumi.”

 Kagome shook her head. “That’s a whole other world of problems we need to figure out.”

“But not tonight.” Inuyasha grumbled.

Not tonight. Tomorrow they would speak to Sesshomaru about what else he’d learned from the hyena being confined beneath the keep, tomorrow they would plot and scheme and strategize how best to be rid of Katsumi and Tadao for good, and how to keep Toshiro away from the thick of the fighting. Tomorrow they would go home. But tonight. . .  tonight he didn’t want to think about risking his pack’s lives again, he didn’t want to ponder putting his son in danger, or think about how never in his life had he had so much to lose. Tonight he just wanted to be with Kagome.

Inuyasha came from his thoughts and smiled at the pensive scrunch of Kagome’s nose as she resumed her struggle with her hair. He pushed her forward and off of him with a grunt and she obeyed, a look of confusion on her face. Inuyasha said nothing, but swatted her hands away from her hair and pulled the long, midnight tresses back over her shoulder himself. He began running his claws through it, starting at the ends that brushed the comforter beneath them. A peaceful, intimate quiet enveloped them as she let him untangle her hair, her eyes closed and her brows eventually smoothing out.

At least it was peaceful until Inuyasha finally reached her scalp and Kagome let loose a sound deep in her throat at the feel of his nails against her scalp. His gut clenched at the sound, and he struggled to ignore the desire that began to pulse lazy and warm through his blood. She tilted her head back to give him better access, baring her throat to him unknowingly. His eyes immediately focused on the long column of her neck, his hands moving stiffly now as the moonlight cast her smooth skin in an almost ethereal glow.  

He swallowed and quickly moved on from massaging her head, tearing his eyes away from the submissive arch of her neck to focus on twisting her long, thick hair into two plaits instead, his large fingers deft and quick. When he was finished she turned to him with wide eyes, completely unaware of her effect on him, her hands feeling the tight patchwork of her braids.

“W-where did you learn to do that?”

“Keh.” Inuyasha shrugged, his blood warm with embarrassment and want. “Mother used to let me braid her hair all the time.”

Kagome blinked at him in surprise, but his own eyes had somehow become wholly focused on the small “o” of her full lips.

He shook his head to clear his hazy thoughts, reigning in his want to pin her to the futon and kiss her stupid. Though they had kissed a few times since that day under Goshinboku, those moments were far and few in between, and moments that Inuyasha admittedly tried to avoid. On those rare occasions when he had allowed himself to kiss her, he’d felt his youkai rip and rage inside of him, felt his youkai begging him to finally tell her what he’d known for years, begging him to finally mark her and take her as his own.

They’d been doing well with taking it slowly, and Inuyasha knew that that was what they needed after everything they’d been through. Letting his baser instincts have their way now would be less than helpful, no matter how his youkai yearned and whined for it every minute he spent in her presence.

Kagome yawned and Inuyasha huffed through his nose like a bull, pulling himself from his head again to lift their blanket and pull her with him as he went to lay down. They settled into their large futon, Kagome curled on her side, facing him with her cheek pillowed on her hand. He watched her nestle into their pillow, her low sigh close enough to wash over him. The eyes that met his were wide and still a bit far away, no doubt worrying over their sons, or Sesshomaru, or Katsumi, or everything

But even with everything going on around them, all that the hanyou knew that he and his family would soon face, he knew that in this moment he didn’t want Kagome’s mind to be far away. He didn’t want her fretting over things that could be saved for sunrise, he didn’t want her thoughts on anything but how right it felt to be with him. Just as he was thinking about how right it felt to finally have her so near. He reached across the futon and pulled her closer, so damn grateful that she didn’t pull away or protest. She cuddled into him and he marveled at the feel of her, at how after all of this time and heartbreak he could hold her like this.

His breathing nearly stopped when those far away eyes finally looked up and focused on him, the dark brown reminding him of warm things like firewood and the earth and home. She titled her neck back to watch him with a soft, thoughtful expression and he didn’t let himself hesitate as he reached between them to cup her cheek. His heart thumped unevenly in his chest when she leaned into him with a small noise, her eyes closing in trust and contentment.

There was no great instance in which his control snapped. There was no special words of his undoing, no event that sent his blood skyrocketing or had his youkai taking over.

It was just her, as it had always been.

Kagome. The girl who'd held his heart from the moment she released him all those years ago, the friend who kept by his side even when he'd given her every reason to turn away, the woman who took in children who had no home and gave them one and more without ever batting an eyelash. The miko who unflinchingly spoke of war and bloodshed when all she wanted was to heal. 

Leaning in to kiss her felt like coming home.

She was soft, and she was warm, and she was everything he had never let himself hope for. How many nights had he wished that he had the courage to press his lips to hers? How many times had he fantasized about this exact moment, where she kissed him with just as much passion, where her mouth was just as willing and loving against own? Her lips parted under his and he felt the warmth in his blood begin to simmer, felt desire begin to pulse thick and hot in his blood. Inuyasha groaned into her, rolling them until he was placed above her, his large hand trapping her head and her small one gripped onto his waist. Her mouth opened effortlessly under him and he let himself drown in the taste of her, in the feel of her tongue warring with his own, in the smell of her wildflower scented aura nearly purring as it danced with his own youki. She let out a small gasp when he shifted his hips against hers and he nearly came out of his skin, he nearly—

This is not taking it slowly.

Inuyasha ripped his mouth from hers with a low growl, forcing himself off of her and back onto his knees. Kagome was panting, her chest heaving and her lips swollen and red from his kisses. He could smell the arousal beginning to waft from her in soft, heady waves, yanking on the leash of his restraint. He could still taste her on his tongue. Her eyes were blown so wide he could hardly see the brown in them, her cheeks a bright, beautiful red. She looked up at him in shock, and embarrassment, and longing, splayed out onto their futon, her braids beginning to unravel from where Inuyasha had apparently been tangling his hands in her hair.

He wanted her so badly, and she was right there and willing—

When she reached for him he jerked back as if stung.

"K-kagome. I. . . I can’t. I need a moment.”

She sat up across from him, her hair disheveled and her face flushed.

“What is it Inuyasha?” Kami even her voice had his youkai spiking.

He struggled to find his voice.

“I-it's you. It's always been you, and I want to-I need to—”

Kagome tilted her head in confusion, an obviously canid trait she must have picked up from him, and that he doubted she even noticed. The sight of her doing it only made him want her even more. “Talk to me. Tell me what you need.”

He looked away from her, clearing his throat and forcing his instincts down. The last thing he wanted right now was to take it slow. And that was what they’d agreed, that’s what was right after all this time, what she deserved. But she had a right to know what she was getting herself into, what taking this path meant for someone like him, what taking it slow would eventually mean for a hanyou. What his intentions were. . .

“We’ve never talked baldly about. . . about mating. About what it entails and what it would mean if you chose to tie yourself to me. What that would mean. . . for us”

Kagome straightened in interest, her desire taking a backseat to her curiosity. Inuyasha almost laughed at the quick change.

She straightened the rumples from her shirt, smoothed back the hairs that had begun to cling to her forehead in their heated moment. “So tell me.”

The hanyou cleared his throat awkwardly, sinking to the futon to cross his legs and willing his blood to cool. He couldn’t look at her as he begun.

“When an inu youkai. . . hanyou, male, whatever. . . chooses their mate there are steps that they take before they seal the bond. First there is courting, wherein the male proves himself to be a good mate to his female.” The hunting presentations flashed in Inuyasha’s mind, how he’d always instinctively shown off when she watched him spar and fight. “Next is marking, during which the male publicly states his claim on the female through a bite and a resulting mark, which will fade over time if the bond is not completed. Then . . .”

“Then what?” Kagome blinked innocently at him and he blushed a dark red, coughing into his hand and forcing the words out.

“Then, if and when the female accepts, the two complete the bond. And because inu mate for life, when the bond is completed the pair are eternally tied together.”

“Compl—?” Kagome’ eyes widened in realization, her fair skin quickly flushing. “Oh.”

“I’m not trying to make a pass at ya or anything.” Inuyasha said quickly, cursing how his words tripped over one another. “But I’ve technically been courting you for months and. . . and I-I want to stake my claim on you. I want to mark you so my brother, and that perverted monk, and that shitty wolf all know my intention is to eventually take you as my mate. . .  if you’ll have me.” He finished lamely.

Kagome stared at him for what felt like hours. He drew himself up to meet her stare, forced himself not to squirm under her measuring look because he would not waver dammit. He was no longer the pup he was when she’d released him all those years ago. He was no longer the unsure, conflicted boy who didn’t know if he wanted to be human or youkai, to be with Kagome or follow Kikyou into hell. He knew who he was, and he knew what he wanted.

Kagome nodded her head at him and, with no hesitation whatsoever, scooted closer to him and tilted her head to the side, baring her neck to him in a way that called to the beast he had just calmed.

Inuyasha started. “K-Kagome you can’t just—You don’t have to—You don't know what this means!”

“It's a promise, right?” She met his eyes with clear brown ones, her brow scrunched in slight confusion. “That I’m yours and you're mine, that we’ll always be together.”

“Yes but—"

“So I accept your mark.”

“We don’t have to-I mean I would never expect you to—“

“I promised I would always be by your side, Inuyasha. We promised that . . . and if we make it out of this crap with Katsumi alive, then. . . then I see no point in rejecting what I want. I claimed you to Kouga, it only makes sense to let you claim me too.”

Inuyasha’s mouth fell open. He could feel his youkai stirring in excitement but he held himself completely still, afraid her words were too good to be true. She knew what this meant, now knew that for him this meant forever. He could hardly believe that she was so accepting of this, that she wanted what he’d hardly let himself dream for. But the miko tilted her head again, baring the long column of her throat in a submissive gesture that had Inuyasha’s youkai markings flashing on his skin of their own accord, her eyes open and trusting and full of love as she waited.

She was right. There was no reason to hesitate or doubt, not anymore, not when he knew what he wanted, and so it seemed did she. They had been together through hell and back, through battles and blood and heartbreak. They had always been together, and would always be. And now they were parents. They had always looked after Shippou together, but with Toshiro’s arrival a shift had come over all of them, like they had been waiting for the grumpy little hanyou’s appearance to complete their pack. They had both stated their claims on the pups who, thanks to Totosai, now smelled as if they were of Kagome and Inuyasha’s own flesh and blood. They were already a family.

She was already his mate and equal.

Inuyasha reached forward slowly, giving her ample time to change her mind. He carefully pulled her flush against him, his arms wrapping tight around her waist as he brought her close. He hesitated one more time, giving her a final chance to reject him, but she just leaned into him trustingly, her eyes closed and expectant. Inuyasha placed a sweet, chaste kiss onto her lips, beyond grateful that she had never given up on him, and that she would take his mark without an ounce of indecision. It was only right that he show her the same faith.

Inuyasha felt relief crash through him as he leaned down to finally seal his mouth over the juncture between her neck and shoulder, his youkai howling in victory and joy. She let out a small gasp and grasped tightly onto his haori at the feel of him on her neck, Inuyasha supporting her weight as she went limp and giving against him. His fangs lengthened just as he bit down, his canines piercing her soft human skin like butter, her blood like wine on his tongue.

His youkai immediately clawed at his ribcage at the taste of her. But he forced the instincts down, refusing to succumb to that part of him when Kagome had placed so much belief, so much trust in him.

He was careful to bite deep enough for his mark to take hold, but not too deep to truly hurt her. He could feel his youki flowing from himself to her through the bite, feel a part of himself latching onto and taking root in a part of her, claiming her as his and his alone. The nagging itch of his instinct begging him to bite deeper quickly became unbearable, and so Inuyasha released her with a pant, forcing himself to pull back, to stop. He put a bit of distance between them on the futon, licking her blood from his lips and struggling to push down that feral part of him that wanted to complete the bond now now now.

It took him a while to compose himself, so loud was his youkai raging in his ears.

When the rush of his blood finally -finally- dulled he looked up to meet her eyes, a part of him afraid and expecting to see disgust and fear on her face at his lack of control. But she only smiled brilliantly at him a moment before she threw her arms around his neck in a crushing hold, his nose buried against her throat and the bright, bloody indentations of his teeth. He licked the wound clean of blood, strange, inu sounds of comfort and reassurance that he had never before made in his life leaving him as he did. Already he could smell his scent mixing with her own, changing the shape and color of her aura to something all together them. He would keep his nose pressed against the mark forever if he could.

He pulled himself back again to inspect his bite, the skin around the mark already changing a bruising color. He pressed a soft, loving kiss against it and felt Kagome shiver against him.

He smiled.

Until she chose to claim him in that way, to complete the bond that was thrumming between them now like a vein or a heartbeat, then the bite would have to do. It would act as a blaring sign to everyone of their promise. It would tell everyone that she was spoken for, and that to pursue her meant not only to face his wrath, but the wrath of his pack. As was inu custom. She was his. After all this time his mark was finally on her and the world would know.

She was his.

0:0:0:0:0:

"Disgraceful."

A grunt and an easy deflect.

"Pitiful."

Twin growls of frustration, grunts of exertion.

"You two dishonor this family."

"Aaargh!" Shippou roared into the sky, but didn't lower AoKaen. He didn't dare. "What more do you want from us?!"

Sesshomaru flicked a leaf from his shoulder carelessly, not a smudge of dirt staining his white clothes or his moko-moko sama while Toshiro and Shippou were covered with it, shining with sweat and near heaving.

Sesshomaru had burst into their bedroom with the sun, his eyes as cold as ever and his shoulders as stiff. He barely allowed them time to open their eyes before he’d yanked their blanket from them, commanding they wash and ready. He’d ushered them to the dining area for a quick breakfast of porridge and fruit and fresh meat, and just as quickly rushed them to the back garden for a grueling combat lesson. They’d been at it for over an hour and they had yet to once get past their uncle’s defenses, while he’d consistently broken through their own as easily as a stone fell through water.

"Want?" The male said now with a raised eyebrow. "Nothing. What you need, on the other hand, is to learn to fight like the noble line you undeserving wretches now represent."

Toshiro could barely bare his teeth as he panted, "I was already born to a noble line."

"Not this one." Sesshomaru shot the hanyou pup a sharp look. "And This Sesshomaru shall not have his nephews waving their blades about like common mongrels."

Shippou's tail flicked once in irritated exhaustion. "Father taught us to fight."

"Hn. A common mongrel, as I said." He flashed Bakusaiga. "Raise your sword."

Toshiro growled low, stabbing Akakaen into the dirt at his feet. "I'm tired of training, Uncle."

The dai youkai curled his lip. "This Sesshomaru cares not, ready your weapon."

Toshiro shot the male a glare most would have died for. "No. I'm tired."

“You are making excuses.” Before the pup could retort the youkai pushed on, his tone impatient. “You are afraid of all you saw and heard yesterday. You are frustrated at your own helplessness.”

Toshiro felt his navy blue youkai markings flash once, even with his sealing sword so close by. His lips peeled back over his teeth in challenge. He was tired, and afraid, and stressed. He had hardly slept, and was in no mood to have his shortcomings thrown at him like daggers.

I’m done, Uncle.”

“You are done when I deem you so.” Sesshomaru bared his teeth right back. “You want not to be useless? Then use that anger. Hone it so that it does not control you, cannot muddle your little mind. Become a weapon that can keep this family safe. You will not resort to excuses and platitudes. You are not the helpless mess of rags you were when I found you. Fight.

Toshiro’s growl was menacing as he snatched Akakaen from the ground, the sword instantly lighting with his youki. Shippou mirrored his brother and Aokaen glowed with blue fire. The bother’s spared barely a glance before they darted forward simultaneously, falling effortlessly into synch.

Sesshomaru stopped Toshiro’s blade with his own, and stopped Shippou’s with his bare hand. The fire of Aokaen was kept from burning the youkai by the beginning glow Sesshomaru’s energy whip surrounding his hand. The brothers pushed forward, straining against the might of the Inu no Taisho to absolutely no avail. Sesshomaru shoved their blades down, knocking the boys off balance before he grabbed them up by their shift fronts and lifted them from the ground as if they weighed nothing. They struggled in his iron grip, Toshiro’s youki raging and shifting along the blade of his weapon as Sesshomaru knocked the brothers’ heads together with a hard clang. They cried out and Sesshomaru tossed them back onto the grass with a dismissive snort.

Toshiro rolled to his feet instantly, one hand balancing him as he crouched low to the ground, the other holding his sword aloft.

He may be afraid, of fighting the horde of hyenas, of facing Katsumi again, of losing his family, but Sesshomaru was right; he was not helpless. He would never be again. And he would not back down from a fight, be it with a simple human man or the Inu no Taisho himself. Be it a training session or a battle to the death.

He full on growled at his new uncle, who only looked back at him with an unimpressed set to his chin.

The hanyou pup did not give warning before he shot for the male again, not even looking aside to see if his brother had moved forward with him. He didn’t have to; he could predict Shippou’s movements as if they were his own.

Sesshomaru grinned as they charged him, and raised Bakusaiga.

By the time Sesshomaru let up the pair of brothers were splayed in the grass, and the sun beat down on them from its place at the apex of the sky. Their clothing was soaked through with sweat and their arms trembling, their blades no longer lit with flames or frustration where they were tossed to the ground beside them.

The Inu no Taisho didn’t even look winded.

“You both require more practice.” Was all the male said as he looked down his nose at them.

Shippou glared. “You call that practice? You almost killed us!”

Sesshomaru snorted lowly. “If your father could withstand this training, then so should you be able.”

Toshiro found the energy to lift his head from the ground. Barely. “You trained our father?”

“A long time ago.” Sesshomaru’s eyes were a bit far away. “He stayed in this keep for a time.”

Inuyasha had lived here with Sesshomaru? When had this been? And why did Inuyasha never talk about it? The questions were burning at the tip of Toshiro’s tongue, as always, but before he could form them—

“Oi! What the hell are you doing with my pups?” Came the brash, deep voice of the hanyou in question.

Inuyasha was stomping toward them, his eyes flashing and his sword already out. Kagome walked hand in hand behind him with Rin, the two females busy eating some sort of pastry they must’ve grabbed from the kitchens.

“Training.”

Shippou cut in “He tried to kill—ugh!”

Sesshomaru placed a booted foot on the kitsune’s back and Shippou let out a squeak of protest, his arms and legs flailing as he tried to free himself. Toshiro chuckled lowly, even as his heart still raced and his muscles refused to move.

Inuyasha swung Tetsuiga in a threatening flourish, his grin wide and toothy as he aimed his blade at his brother. “Let’s go, bastard. I owe you one for yesterday.”

Sesshomaru simply looked him over, then the woman who held his human pup’s hand, his nose twitching ever so slightly. Toshiro’s head tilted when Kagome went pink at Sesshomaru’s inquiring stare, and so he took a sniff of his own and his eyes widened at what he caught on the wind. His head immediately snapped to his brother to see if he had caught on as well, but Shippou was already smiling at him, his tail swishing excitedly and his eyes lined with tears.

Inuyasha had done it.

Kagome was marked and officially his intended mate.

They were a family.

“Oi, pups get the hell out of the way!” Inuyasha barked at them, no bite in his tone. “I gotta shove Tetsauiga up yer uncle’s ass real quick.”

Sesshomaru removed his foot from Shippou’s back and tossed his Moko-moko sama over a shoulder with an air of superiority. “As if you could.”

Toshiro grinned and rose with a groan as his father and uncle faced each other on the training field, the two males paying no heed to the pups who scampered out of their way. They only had hard, calculating eyes for each other.

Toshiro trotted to where Rin and Kagome sat in the grass to watch, accepting the extra pastry his mother offered with a smile. He tried not to stare at the medical patch covering her obvious mating bite, not wanting to make her uncomfortable. There was a part of him though, an obviously inu part, that longed to get a closer look at the mark, to sniff around it and ensure that his father’s youki had taken root, to make sure that this all was real and not some fever dream.

But he didn’t. He just stretched out in the grass beside Kagome, and glared at Shippou as the kit bent down to rip a part of Toshiro’s pastry for himself.

He growled and snapped his teeth at his little brother. “Get your own, scavenger.”

The fox just grinned at him with his stolen treat between his teeth, making sure to swat Toshiro on the cheek with his tail as he sauntered by to sit beside Rin.

“Tch.” Toshiro shoved the rest of the raspberry tart into his mouth.

As Inuyasha and Sesshomaru ran at each other, Kagome’s pestering hand found their way to Toshiro’s face, intent on wiping him free of crumbs and dirt. He groaned and pretended to be annoyed, when really he was pleased by the motherly attention. He liked that she cared about him being clean. When she finished her fussing he settled more comfortably onto his belly in the grass, his side pressed up against his mother’s legs and his eyes on the males who had been sparring as if no one else was there.

It was exhilarating to watch Sesshomaru and Inuyasha go at it. The pup was almost unsure whether or not the two were trying to truly kill each other by how quickly they moved, how close they repeatedly came to beheading the other. It was clear that both males were holding back, but still the trees groaned and moved from the forces of their blades, the wind changed direction on their command. He watched, and learned, and laughed at how his father kept up a steady stream of curses all throughout.

Toshiro could not wait until he and Shippou could fight on such a devastating degree. And he hoped that Sesshomaru would continue training them now that they were all family. There was so much they could learn from the dai youkai, even though Toshiro knew every lesson with him would be akin to a full on, bloody battle. He knew that Sesshomaru would push them harder than even their father, and realized that he was kind of excited at the prospect.

Chapter Text

They left the Western Palace when the moon was high in the sky, the night air warm and buzzing with spring and insects.

Sesshomaru himself had walked them to the gates, going on in his somber voice to Toshiro and Shippou about how to better their defensive stances, and how they should carry secondary weapons, and how, if they wanted to be effective warriors, it was important that they consumed more fresh meat and less sweets. Shippou had groaned with each new instruction, but Toshiro was grateful that his uncle cared about them getting stronger. So when the Inu no Taisho said he wanted them to run through the set of drills he'd written down for them at least three times a week Toshiro had quipped at the youkai with a smirk, "Why don't you just come to the village and oversee some of our training yourself, then?"

Shippou had glared at his brother in outrage, but the hanyou pup only stared up at the dai youkai. When Sesshomaru only gave a quiet, "Hn." in response Toshiro had beamed.

Inuyasha and Sesshomaru planned for the latter to come in a weeks' time, the former's hand securely in Kagome's as he barked at his older brother to train his sons right, and not to be late. Even growling and glaring at each other, Toshiro was sure it had been the calmest conversation yet he'd seen transpire between the legendary Brothers of the Fang.

Jaken had screeched at Toshiro and Shippou not to embarrass his Lord and master, Rin had squished Shippou to her chest in a hug so tight that the kit's face went red, Ah Un had nudged and snuffled at Toshiro's hair in a happy, snorting hello and goodbye. And then they began their travel home.

The five days back to Musashi was a leisurely endeavor. They were in no rush to get back to the bustle of the village, and taking on jobs, and combat and miko lessons, and plotting to infiltrate the Southern inu. The pup was sure that all the planning and scheming would resume when Sesshomaru visited their home in a weeks' time, and that he and Shippou would not be allowed to participate in said planning and scheming. But despite his parents' determination to keep him out of it, he knew that he had to find a way to help, and that was the very reason was why he doddled alongside his pack. Toshiro was in no hurry to make the decisions he knew he'd have to make when they got home. He didn't want to think about facing Katsumi after all this time, or fighting Orochi again when the male had so thoroughly broken him the last time they'd encountered one another. He just wanted a few more blissful, ignorant days of travel with his family.

He knew that Kagome and Inuyasha felt the same. Toshiro knew that they kept their pace slow whilst getting back to Musashi because they wanted time with just themselves and their pups. Kagome and Inuyasha had spent their journey home almost always pressed together, the hanyou's nose almost always sniffing about the scabbing mating bite on the miko's shoulder, Kagome always kissing his nose, or cheeks, or even his lips just because she could. Shippou had pretended to gag and gripe at the public affection, but Toshiro knew that the kitsune was just as happy as he that the two were intended now. While Kaede and Miroku and Sango and their unborn pups were indeed pack, the five of them were their own little family. When Kagome accepted the mating bite it meant that she intended to start her own family with Inuyasha one day, that she fully accepted not just the male, but Toshiro and Shippou as her blood and that she would one day bare Inuyasha more pups in the future.

Toshiro couldn't wait until then.

The hanyou pup had been happy to watch them, happy to witness the love that was so painstakingly obvious in how they looked at one another. It was in the gentle way that Inuyasha picked up Kagome around the waist to help her over a fallen tree, and in how she softly ran her fingers through his hair when he laid his head in her lap each night. It was in the way he sighed a like a lovesick fool when she read the boys stories, and when she blushed with pleasure and pride when she watched him run their sons through mid-day trainings. They were happy, and in love, and it filled Toshiro with a strange, bittersweet sort of warmth.

The way they looked at each other reminded him of the red haired woman who'd given birth to him, who'd stared with such love in her eyes at the faceless human man who'd painted her picture before Toshiro was ever born.

He ached for that tattered old photo of Misa sometimes.

He'd always felt in his gut that his father was the one to paint that picture, he'd always known it in his bones. Because who else would the previous Lady of the South have looked at with such adoration in her green eyes, who else would have brought that crinkling smile to her warm brown skin in such realistic detail? That photo was the only connection he'd had to his birth parents, the only reason he knew he got his nose from his mother, and why he had always assumed the blue eyes he sported on his human nights and his love of art had come from his father.

He felt a bit bad that now most times when he imagined his mother, he saw brown eyes in his mind instead of dark green, long black hair instead of a bright red that reminded him of things like strawberries and fall leaves, porcelain clear skin instead of a sun kissed, freckled umber. Misa had sired him, and would always be his mother, but Toshiro had never known her. He had never gotten a chance to learn about his family and culture from her, to learn to fight, and lead, and love. Kagome was the only true mother that he had ever known. And though he in no way regretted loving the miko as he did, Toshiro could admit only to himself that he sometimes felt himself a traitor to Misa's memory for his attachment to the human woman.

To honor Misa's memory he had to go South again. Even if the that meant Toshiro would again face the monsters who'd tortured him, he owed it to his birth mother to at least try. Toshiro knew that he had to find a way to convince Inuyasha and Kagome to let him go. He knew he had to do something. It was terrifying to think about, but it was his duty. Though he didn't want to be he was, by right and blood, the Lord of the Southern Inu, and that meant that he had a responsibility to help free his people from Katsumi and her cruel ways in any way he could. If that meant risking his life to let his pack cross into the Southern city, warded and hidden and protected by his blood, then so be it.

"Watch where you're going woman!" Inuyasha was barking at Kagome,

Toshiro came out of his head as his father righted the miko where she'd tripped over a tree root. She could have easily caught herself, but the pup knew that Inuyasha would take any chance to touch her that he could. He smiled at the two of them fondly.

They were only about half a day away from home now, beams of sunlight breaking through the forest's cover every now and then to warm Toshiro's face and neck. Shippou and Moeru were roughhousing a few feet ahead, the kitsune and saber chasing and tackling each other around the trees and shrubs and rocks.

Toshiro kept pace beside the lovebirds.

"So," he hummed conversationally. "when are Shippou and I getting a sister?"

"Hah?!" Inuyasha exclaimed.

Toshiro smiled at his father, oblivious. "I think a sister would be good for us."

"I don't want no dang sister!" Shippou called back from where he dodged a swipe of Moeru's paws. "Girls are gross."

The saber pounced, knocking Shippou into the dirt and sending the two into the forest in a ball of red and black fur.

"Excuse you!" Kagome called after them in indignation.

"Not you, mom." Shippou's head popped out of a bush, his grin sheepish and leaves in his har. "But little sisters are . . . well, gross."

"I think baby girls are adorable." Toshiro sighed dreamily. "They're soft, and sweet, and smart. We could teach her to fight and protect her."

Kagome smiled and pinched his cheek. "That's very sweet, Toshi."

"That's very gross, Toshi." Came Shippou's voice from somewhere in the wood. Toshiro growled and Shippou's responding chuckle bounced off of the trees like a specter.

"Who the hell said we were having another pup anytime soon anyway?!" Inuyasha had finally found his voice again, though it was hiked up three octaves.

Toshiro shrugged. "I was just saying, it would be nice."

Kagome grabbed Toshiro's hand, squeezing it lovingly as they walked along. Her hand was so small, the pup thought as he watched the way her fingers curled around his own. He was only half her height and his hands were nearly as big as hers. He felt strangely protective of her because of it. Toshiro knew that in a few summers he would be taller than her, maybe even Inuyasha's height. He would be strong, and trained well, and able to protect his chosen mother and any brothers and sisters that he'd have in the future.

He squeezed her hand back.

"One day, it really would be nice." Kagome regained his attention. "But for now, Inuyasha and I would like to focus all of our effort on making sure you and your brother have a good home. Okay, Toshi?"

Toshiro could sense that she and Inuyasha were a little uncomfortable about his line of questioning by the heat creeping up their necks, so he smiled in adoration up at his mother. He reached up on his tip toes to plant a kiss on her cheek before letting out a, "Yes, ma'am." and jogging forward to join in brother and partner in their romp.

Toshiro took off into the trees with a smirk, leaving the two adults stuttering and blushing at one another. He followed the scents twirling about the forest and found the other boys a whiles ahead, on the forest trail now, their eyes far away and their noses twitching. Toshiro trotted closer, cocking his head at their tense stances.

"Shipp? What's wrong?" Toshiro waved his hand in front of his face.

Shippou's eyes fluttered before focusing on his brother, his nose still expanding and contracting like he was trying to catch a scent on the wind. Moeru was doing the same, his brow furrowed and his eyes still glassy and distant.

"What's with the stupid looks on your faces?"

Moeru's tails were twitching in agitation, his whiskers quivering. Shippou's hand was clenching and unclenching around Aokaen, his own tail sticking up in the air like a dog at point. Toshiro began to feel uneasy.

"Okay. . . you're freaking me out now. Kitsune, what is it?"

The kit in question just gazed passed his brother again, his eyes looking beyond the trees and into the distance. A pinching fear began to form on Shippou's face, his lip trembling and his green eyes tearing up.

What in the world had gotten into them?

Toshiro followed his brother's line of sight and looked out into the trees, cast his senses out into the forest with a sense of trepidation. Then he felt something, smelled something faint. The hanyou cut his eyes above the trees, toward their home, and could just see tendrils of black staining the blue sky.

Something was wrong.

"Inuyasha, what's that?"

He and Kagome were coming up the trail now, and Toshiro knew it was only by Inuyasha's hanyou hearing that he heard Shippou's whispered words at all.

"What's what, runt?"

Shippou raised a shaking finger and pointed at the horizon, where Toshiro could now clearly see curls of black swirling in the sky from the direction of their home, where he could just scent the smells of burning wood. . . and blood.

His heart dropped.

They had to be miles away, miles, but the smell was unmistakable. Inuyasha's face curled up a second before he snatched up Kagome and took off without missing a beat, racing ahead to the small village they called home. His bare feet ate away what should have been hours' travel, Toshiro and Shippou Moeru struggling to keep up with him the whole way.

The rest of their journey home was a blur of green, and fear.

The hanyou pup could hear Kagome already weeping from her place on Inuyasha's back.

Something was wrong.

The closer they got, the more Toshiro began to feel what Shippou and Moeru must have first sensed. He could feel it in the air, in the way the hair on the back of his neck stood on end, in the way that his youki was lashing about in his veins. Something was very, very wrong.

Toshiro's mind ran a mile a minute, while his feet urged him after the red clad back of his father. What had happened? Who was hurt? Was everyone okay? For a wild, split second the hanyou believed the flames he smelled to be his fault, but he quickly dismissed it as impossible. They were gone for two weeks, and his youki was controlled and contained in his veins, even with his growing upset. Even when the small tendrils of smoke in the sky soon became gigantic, billowing clouds. Even when the faint smell of woodsmoke soon became the overwhelming stench of burnt wood and burning flesh.

They were nearly to the village, the smell of smoke suffocating, soot and ash stuffing itself up Toshiro's nose, pluming in the air and clinging to the trees and grass. Shippou was sobbing, his tears blurring his eyesight. He stumbled and cried out and Toshiro instinctively latched onto his brother's hand, willing him to keep up. Their father was already far ahead, already into the thick of the smoke and cinders that used to be their village.

They came upon their own home first, and Toshiro and Shippou and Moeru skidded to a stop.

An entire wall of their wooden hut was smashed in, their belongings broken and strewn about the shards of wood and burned grass. Shippou's toys were broken, Toshiro's picture books were ripped into colorful shreds. Their bedding, and food, and extra clothing was either burned to crisps or destroyed by what looked like a dozen pair of claws. The home that Inuyasha had built himself was half crumbling and destroyed.

It had taken Toshiro weeks to call that hut home, longer still for him to be comfortable in it. He had learned to read there, had learned his alphabet and how to write his name there. He had been told dozens of bedtimes stories, and been awoken from hundreds of nightmares by gentle hands. He had learned to trust in that hut, had learned to accept and love his family. And someone had demolished it.

Shippou was bawling as he looked on, his chest heaving as he struggled to get in air around the fumes and his tears. Toshiro coughed through the smoke, his eyes burning from both the smoke and his helpless rage. He shielded his nose with his haori, tugging on Shippou's hand where he still held it, urging his brother on from their crumbling home.

They had to find their parents. They had to find the rest of the pack.

Inuyasha hadn't stopped to take account of their belongings, hadn't stopped to see what personal possessions had been wrecked or stolen. He'd raced straight through to the heart of the village as his sons stood stock still at all of the destruction, past the many piles of cinders and wood the villagers had once called homes, past the marketplace down the dirt road smashed to bits of fabric and glass with Kagome held securely on his back.

The taste of soot and tears in the air clogged Toshiro's nose, choked him. The black clouds of smog that rolled through the village looked like angry, roiling black oceans. He could barely see three feet in front of him, he could smell nothing but fire and fear. Toshiro looked to Moeru for help and the saber nodded grimly before turning around, letting Toshiro grip one of his tails to lead the way through the dust and wreckage.

The hanyou pup looked around as his saber used his nose to find their pack, his other hand still clasping desperately onto Shippou's. The sight of the decimated village was like a scene straight out of one of Toshiro's nightmares.

The rice fields and gardens were trampled and uprooted, all of the villagers' spring harvest destroyed. Almost every wooden home they came across was smashed to hell, some no more than smoldering, black piles of rubble, belongings and possessions shredded or torn to ribbons or thrown carelessly into the river. Freed livestock moved around the wooden planks and rocks thrown into the roads in a frenzy, croaking and baying in anxious abandon, some calling over the lifeless bodies of their kin laid out in the open.

Toshiro followed his saber deeper into the village with a sense of horrified shock, wondering who had done this to his home, hoping to kami that Miroku and Sango and the pups were okay. Shippou was sniveling at his side, his eyes tracking the pattern of black clouds in the sky, his lips moving in silent, frantic prayer.

There were no one running about, Toshiro realized belatedly. There were no frantic villagers, or human bodies laid out in careless display. Beside the baying of the freed animals, and the smolder and pop of still burning homes, the village was eerily quiet. Any relief Toshiro might have felt at that was immediately swallowed by confusion. Before he could fear that his human villagers had been kidnapped he realized that Moeru was leading them toward the smell of the residents of the village, that through the haze and soot he could smell the humans of his home nearby.

He wondered if they had gathered together for safety.

He fervently hoped that every man, woman, and child was unharmed.

He realized how wrong he was when he got to their destination.

The saber led the brothers through toward the thickest of the smoke, toward the convoluted smell of men and women and tears, down a path that Toshiro had walked hundreds of times and hardly realized he was walking again until it was too late. His throat was paper dry from all the dust and gas, but still he felt seconds from throwing up his insides when they finally found their parents and the villagers in a tight crowd around Kaede's hut. One woman had a bloody, bandaged stump where her arm used to be, one little boy had a makeshift patch around where his left eye once was.

Many of them were bandaged, and burned, and bruised, but the villagers hardly made a sound. They just looked into the half destroyed hut where their miko lived. They stood in a circle around the smoldering wooden house, their backs to Toshiro and his companions, quiet, desolate sobs and the odd cry the only sounds beside the hanyou's own pounding heart and the distant sound of crackling wood.

His parents had reached the hut and the crowd well before they had.

Inuyasha had his head down, his hair covering his eyes and his fists clenched so firmly that his claws cut into his hands, thin lines of blood running down his tightened fingers unheeded. Kagome had been staring at the hut in shock but started and took a step forward, as if she were coming out of a stupor, then let out the most heartbreaking wail that Toshiro had ever heard. The villagers turned in alarm at the scream.

He prayed to the Gods that he never had to hear her make the sound again.

He knew only something unbelievably terrible would ever make Kagome sound so broken.

No. Please, no.

The miko let out another heart wrenching, fractured cry, as she shoved her way through the villagers, Inuyasha silent and weary behind her. Toshiro rushed forward to move at his parents' heels, his eyes darting to the faces of all the heartbroken humans he passed. All of their eyes looked empty, all of their faces pinched in grief.

Please, he thought uselessly as he pushed on, please . . . no.

They burst through what was left of the door and found the hut in ruin. Blood splattered the splintered wood like paint, piles of youkai dust littering the floor like rain. Broken arrows stuck out of the walls and were strewn about the floor, some of them bloody, some of them charred. The pottery that Toshiro had spent so much time painting were in broken shards all over, as if someone had taken special pleasure in taking Kaede's belongings and smashing them against the walls as hard as they could, then danced and stomped on the broken ceramic for good measure.

Miroku and Sango were curled on the floor and crying uncontrollably, Kirara and all three of the saber kittens curled around them. Toshiro couldn't even release a breath of relief that they were unharmed but for a few burns and scratches before he saw what made them weep, before he saw the heap on the ground beside them. The body.

Kaede.

The old woman. The legendary miko. The female who spent her life healing the people of this village, helping them. The mentor who trained Kagome, who'd surpassed the miko Kikyou in power and knowledge, who helped Toshiro control his youki and face his emotions. . . was dead.

She was lain on her back, surrounded by broken arrows and blood stains, her hands folded together under the sheet someone had covered her in. Though her face was smooth in peace, it was mottled with black and blue bruises as if someone had engaged her in a fist fight before they ended her life. The eyepatch Toshiro had never seen her without was gone, the scarred tissue that had once been her eye exposed to the world. The knowing, small frown that had always adorned her face was still there, the scrunches that were always on her forehead from concentration were smoothed away.

Toshiro could have believed, want to believe, that she was asleep. He could have convinced himself of it if it were not for the gaping, horrifying slash to the miko's right shoulder. Four long, deep, ragged claw marks tinged a sickeningly familiar purple cut through the old woman's bones and meat and tendon, her haori torn to tatters and still smoldering where the poison still clung.

No.

Everyone was crying openly. Inuyasha let his tears track down his face unbidden, and Toshiro distantly remembered when his father told him that men didn't let people see them cry, a howling Kagome was held securely in his arms, her arms banded around his waist and her tears soaking his haori. Sango had her arms thrown around her husbands neck, Miroku's own wrapped around her and her distended belly in protectiveness and mourning. Shippou was wailing loudly, crumpled onto the floor beside Kaede, her withered, cold hand grasped in both of his. Moeru was surrounded by his sisters, his eyes haunted as he tutted and comforted the other sabers.

Toshiro did not cry, could not cry.

He only stared at Kaede, and at her death wound.

He remembered the burn of that poison on his ear night after night, day after day. He remembered how, when Katsumi traveled and left the south and he was kept in his room, the pain of being without the toxin for days was more agony than receiving it every day, as if his body had become accustomed to the pain and craved it. He remembered when he stopped feeling pain on his ear there all together, his hanyou healing and nerve endings finally giving out after years of being fried over and over again. Toshiro stared at the bright purple poison clinging to Kaede's haori, knowing what pain she must have been in as she died, knowing that the poison would have seeped into the human's skin and stopped her heart in minutes that felt like an eternity.

The sight of that sick, violet color was like a signed note.

The knowledge that Katsumi had done this, destroyed the village and laid low his packmate, kept the force of his tears back. Because Toshiro had done this too. He'd been stupid enough to love these people, he'd been lonely enough that their words of friendship and family had made him forget what his aunt had always whispered in his ear after she burned it with her power, that he was the reason his mother was dead, that he would always be the reason people he loved moved on from this life.

There was no rage, his youki was as silent and cold as an abandoned hearth. There was only blame, and sorrow. He had done this. He had loved Kaede, trusted Kaede, and she had loved and trusted him too. And died because of it. Katsumi had come to his home, sniffed her out, and ended her life because he'd loved her. Katsumi had destroyed the only place of peace the hanyou had ever known, tainted it, knowing that Kaede was this village's heartbeat, and to take her away meant that Toshiro, and his family, and his village would never be the same,

Toshiro felt it, physically felt it, as his newly healed heart shred to pieces as he looked at the old miko's still face. Toshiro felt it as Katsumi reached all the way across Edo Japan and into his chest, gutting him like a fish and leaving his heart to flop around uselessly at his feet.

Kagome let out another deep, tragic cry and Toshiro felt himself retreat into the dark place in his mind at the sound. He had hoped that the dark corner would disappear over time, but now he knew that it would always be there. And he was glad of it. There he felt no agony, or anguish, or guilt. There he was not a runaway lordling or a grieving boy. There he was no one, nothing. Anyone, anything. There he could pretend that this day had never happened, there he could not hear his mother crying the shards of her heart out, or see his brother fisting his head so tightly as he wept that auburn strands rained down from the strain, or smell the herbs and medicine that still clung to Kaede's cold skin.

Toshiro fell to his knees where he stood.

And stared without seeing anything at all.

 

Chapter Text

"Try again.” Kaede said.

Toshiro growled, his frustration getting the better of him.

“I can’t do it.”

“Ye can.” Came her immediate, sure reply. “Thou youki is strong, but thou willpower art even more so. Ye can do this.”

Kaede had been taking him into Inuyasha’s Forest for training since his blow up with Orochi some weeks ago, believing that being surrounded by his father’s wood would encourage control. She knew the last thing Toshiro wanted was to cause another forest fire. Today they’d set up in a grove of trees, the rocks and brambles cleared away by the hanyou pup upon their arrival. Inuyasha had assured him that he should not turn feral again so long as he kept his sealing sword with him, but Toshiro had only had Akakaen for a few days and wanted to be away from the village. . .  just in case.

Toshiro glared at the thick candle he sat across from.

He was supposed to light just the wick with his youki, but he had been failing to do so for the better part of two hours. A lesson in precision and control, Kaede had said. He’d managed to singe the patch of grass he and Kaede had been sitting in, and had managed to set an entire bushel of shrubs ablaze too. The candle wick though? Not even close.

He glanced unsurely up at the old miko now, remembering how embarrassed he’d felt watching her put out his small bush fire with one of the pails of water he’d carried here, but she was just smiling at him, her legs and arms crossed patiently.

“Go on.”

He wrung his hands instead. “Aren’t you afraid I’ll slip up and burn you?”

Kaede laughed, raspy and from her gut. It made Toshiro smile. “No, child. I have faced many a thing in my long years. It would take more than a little flame to put these old bones to rest.”

Toshiro narrowed his eyes. That didn’t make him feel any better.

 But he made himself focus anyway, stared at the large prayer candle until his eyes crossed, called his flames to the surface until he flickered all over like a lantern and tried to will it beyond his skin. It was stuck to him, his youki. It resisted. Trying to get it to move away from his person and toward the candle felt like peeling off a thick, extra sticky bandage. But still he tried. And tried. And tried.

He’d thrown off his ikuchi haori an hour ago, and still his slate grey undershirt was dark with sweat and sticking to him from the strain. He rolled back a sleeve and called up his youki again, this time moving his focus to the single arm, hoping that the concentration to one area would make it a bit easier. His flames came up and out with no hesitation and no problem. That part, at least, was like second nature to him now.

Toshiro watched as his fire leapt and danced along his skin, his brows scrunched as he focused. The bright orange and yellow fire cast his caramel colored skin to a dark, earthy cocoa. His youki was beautiful, he thought offhandedly, alive, and entrancing, and frustrating. He tugged at it again, willing his flames to part from him.

Part from him dammit!

An immeasurable amount of time passed, and Toshiro watched on as the flame went from wiggling along his forearm like a worm, to nudging inch by precious inch into the air and toward the candle a few feet away. A thin strand of his youki eventually, finally, nearly reached the edge of the candle. . . only to snap back to him like an elastic band the moment he gasped in delight.

Precision and control indeed.

“Gods damn it!”

He pounded his fists down into the grass in frustration, paying no heed to the puffs of flame and smoke that curled from his hands has he did so. Toshiro damned himself again and pushed his hair back from his eyes, and cursed himself a little extra for leaving the colorful clips Kagome had given him at home; his hair was getting long again and was constantly in the way. Toshiro sighed heavily through his nose and smoke came from there too.

Kaede was laughing at his outburst.

He glared at the miko. “It’s not funny, sensei.”

“It is quite funny.” The old woman wiped a tear from her eye. “Ye art very much like Inuyasha. It is almost hard to believe that he did not sire ye himself.”

That warmed his chest. He liked to think that he was a little more levelheaded than his adopted father, but he couldn’t deny that being compared to the other hanyou made him feel proud. Inuyasha was strong, and kind, and didn’t give up even when he was faced with obstacles. He wanted to be like Inuyasha.

He pouted at Kaede despite all this, turning his nose up in the air. “I’m nothing like that baka.”

She giggled into her haori like Kagome would’ve. When she laughed, she looked so much younger, Toshiro thought. Her shoulder didn’t look so weighed down, the haunted light faded from her brown eye, the solemn lines in her forehead smoothed out.

 He liked making her laugh.

“Surely not.” Kaede said, her tone serious even as her eye twinkled mischievously. “Inuyasha would never let a simple candle cow him.”

 “I can light this stupid candle.” He said petulantly.

“Aye?” She canted her chin up and grinned at him. “Show me, then.”

            Toshiro’s ears folded back at the challenge. The hanyou pup huffed and turned back to his adversary, the candle cast in menacing light and shadow from the breaks in the trees up above. And he focused.

Toshiro woke up, blinking up into the boughs of Goshinbouku. He took a deep breath, letting the months old memory of Kaede fade with his sleep and his exhale. He missed her terribly. Her no nonsense personality, and her girly giggling, and even that Kami damned switch she’d often take to him when he lost focus. Toshiro was glad that he’d been given a happy memory to dream about for once. With everything going on he hadn’t really allowed himself to consciously miss the old woman. . . not since that day. Since that day. . . he hadn’t really allowed himself to feel much of anything.

Except for a dull, consuming rage. . . and impatience.

The two weeks since they’d come home had passed in a blur of funeral pyres and nightmares. He’d slept in the God Tree since the night of the attack, Moeru on the branch above him, Shippou beside him in a clever little nest the fox had made out of large leaves and twigs. Their own home was still half destroyed, a pile a wood and rubble that would remain that way until Inuyasha and Kagome were sure that the villagers were okay.

Toshiro wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Kagome had been staying in the village from dawn until dusk, helping calm weeping women and using the knowledge she’d gained from Kaede to treat those who had been injured when Katsumi and a small band of inu youkai had laid waste to their village. Inuyasha spent his days helping the village men remove debris from their homes and rebuild everything from huts, to market stalls, to animal pens, and spent his evenings supporting his intended mate, holding her as she cried night after night.

Toshiro and his brother had not trained at all. They’d spent the days since the attack at Sango and Miroku’s. The monk was gone most of the day, helping out with Inuyasha, and so the hanyou pup and kit joined the slayer each morning in gathering the village children and keeping their minds off of the despair and melancholy that had since coated the adults around the village like a blanket of snow. Shippou used his illusions to show them tricks and make them laugh, Toshiro taught them how to draw flowers and the saber kittens that kept them company, Sango -heavily pregnant as she was- read them stories, and hugged them close whenever one burst into confused tears, or another cried out for a family member that had long since been buried.

They worked together to keep them fed, and full, and occupied even when they themselves were lost and heartbroken.

Moeru joined Kirara at the village’s boarder, where his mother had appointed herself its protector. The two sabers parted from their partners and pack every sunrise to patrol around the village in their transformed states, their red eyes almost always watching into the trees, the fire at their feet and tails a flashing warning to those who would dare attack their home again.

While Toshiro and Shippou had returned to their temporary camp late last night, their parents had arrived even later. The hanyou pup hadn’t been able to sleep with them being away, and when they along with a lagging Moeru had finally arrived the three of them had trudged up to the tree as if boulders lay on their shoulders, the same solemn, gutted looks the whole pack had worn since Kaede’s funeral on their faces. Moeru was only half his mother’s size when transformed, but Toshiro knew his partner would fight until his flames went out to protect the people he loved. The saber was barely able to fly himself up to his perch in the tree before he out cold. Kagome and Inuyasha had barely said a word of greeting to their sons before they collapsed into slumber in the grass.

Toshiro sighed again and turned onto his stomach on his branch, an arm dangling into the open air, his eyes cast down to where his parents were passed out in exhaustion at the base of the God Tree. Kagome had her head pillowed in Inuyasha’s lap; a light blanket tucked around her. Inuyasha was propped up against the trunk of Goshinbouku, deep, dark smudges under his closed eyes and his hand still tangled in his miko’s hair.

It was hardly sunup now, the air already warm and buzzing with sound, a heavy fog blanketing the treetops. But it seemed to the hanyou pup that the forest had lost a bit of its color, a bit of its life. As if Inuyasha’s Forest knew that something vital was missing, both from their pack and from the world.

He flopped back onto his back again, restless. His movement sent the leaves shuffling around him, the thick canopy above a cool shade in what would surely be a hot day.

He raised his hand and called up his youki, moving and twisting his flames until the shape of a thick prayer candle rested in his palm. He pushed the candle up a bit, away from his skin, and watched it float there without a single tether of his youki to keep it in place. Half a thought had the little wick atop it lit and flickering.

The ease in which he was able to manipulate his flames now was the cruelest sort of irony. He’d spent months training with Kaede, day after day of the miko dealing with his outbursts, and frustration, and failure. Only for him to finally master it and himself, only for her to be brutally taken away from their pack, before she could finally see the fruits of all her time and patience.

But he’d make it up to her.

A plan had begun forming in his mind the day they’d found Kaede, a foolish, risky plan that began to twist and churn alongside him in that dark place in his mind. It would most likely get him killed, but that didn’t matter. He’d finalized it in these last few nights, when sleep had alluded him and the sound of his mother weeping had pushed back the dark place and replaced it with cool, calculating fury. He’d make Orochi pay for each tear Kagome shed. He’d make Katsumi regret ever stealing Misa’s mantel. He’d make up his failures to both Kaede and his sires by sending them company in the afterlife.

The hanyou pup snatched the fire candle from the air, and watched with cold eyes as his youki dissipate in a puff of smoke.

He’d begin tonight if things went as they should.

0:0:0:0:0:

The morning fog had begun to dispel by the time Sesshomaru found them there, moments after Inuyasha and Kagome had awoken, not a day later than he and his brother previously had agreed. No one rose to greet the Inu no Taisho as he approached the giant tree, Moeru didn’t even wake up long enough to hiss.

Sesshomaru looked on at their drawn and despairing facing, his nose twitching ever so slightly.

“What has happened?”

Shippou looked away at the sound of his voice, tears already sliding down his red cheeks at his uncle’s voice. He rolled over, burrowing further into his makeshift nest and putting his back to the dai youkai. Toshiro trampled down his scheming thoughts and reached across the tree to place a gentle hand on his brother’s head, murmuring low to him while he listened to their father’s reply.

“Katsumi attacked while we were with you. Kaede and a few other villagers were killed.”

Sesshomaru stiffened ever so slightly, his eyes going cold and hard.

“None of the assailants were caught?”

“Obviously, the fuck not. They were already long gone by the time we got home.”

“Hn.” Sesshomaru watched them blankly for a moment, before directing his attention to the boys high up in the boughs of the God Tree. “Come. We will train.”

Toshiro shot up in surprise, but before he could respond his mother spoke for him.

“Let them rest, Sesshomaru. We-we’ve all taken this really hard.” Toshiro could smell the fresh tears tracking down her face, and it whet a helpless rage inside him. “Let them rest.”

The inu youkai considered this, then turned to his brother. “I am to assume that they have not trained since the old woman’s demise.”

Shippou shuddered at the youkai’s cold indifference, Inuyasha was growling.

“You assume correctly, you heartless bastard.”

He nodded. “And I assume that this blow has not convinced you to resend the plan to infiltrate the southern keep?”

Yes.” Inuyasha’s youkai marking flashing with his impatience.

“Then I see no reason for them to abstain from training.” Sesshomaru turnedi on a heel, his mind made up. “They should train all the more because of it in fact, and so they will. Come, nephews.”

Shippou was glaring at him now, his tears tracking over the sleepless bruises under his eyes.  “We’re due at Sango’s soon.”

Sesshomaru spun back and shot the pair of them a glare so hot Toshiro could feel it from way up on his perch. “You’ve no duty but to me, and my patience is wearing thin. Come.”

Toshiro cursed under his breath, yanking Akakaen from where he’d wedged it in between two branches and leapt from Goshinbouku. He focused his youki into his feet and pushed his flames outward, using the hot air it created to cushion his landing. When he touched down, he was glaring up at the Inu no Taisho from a cloud of smoke.

Sesshomaru looked unimpressed. “How dramatic.”

Toshiro hissed like a feline at his uncle and stomped off, not looking back at his tired parents or his out cold partner or his frustrated brother. He would snarl and complain and stomp around during their training, he would make a show of being outraged at being taken from his new mandate with the village children. But of all of the emotions he hadn’t allowed himself to feel these weeks, impatience had not been one of them. Finally, Lord Sesshomaru had come. Finally, Toshiro could move forward.

Now all the pup had to do was get his uncle alone, and convince him.

This was what he’d been waiting for.

0:0:0:0:0:

Toshiro had no time for grief, or rage, or meticulous planning, because he and Shippou spent the morning and the better part of the afternoon trying not to die.

Their training had been absolutely brutal. Sesshomaru was not a male known for being consoling, or comforting, but Toshiro sensed that his uncle had allowed them to work through their feelings in the only way the Lord himself knew how; through action. He’d taken them deep into Inuyasha’s forest, and no sooner than they had reached a meadow filled with spring flowers and the smell of incoming summer did the Lord of the West disappear.

There was no warning before the first attack. Toshiro had almost been too slow releasing and bringing up Akakaen when Sesshomaru’s energy whip shot out from the shadows right for the pup’s face. He’d deflected it with a grunt of surprise and it retreated, only to shoot out again from the opposite direction, this time aiming for Shippou’s back. That was their training; the Inu no Taisho flitting between the trees surrounding the meadow, concealing his youki and location, flinging his energy whip repeatedly at the pair of brothers. There were times wherein their uncle would barrage them with attacks from all direction for ten minutes straight, and other times wherein he’d wait twenty and for one of them to lower their swords only for him slash his whip across an arm or leg. There was no telling which direction it would come from, or when the laser hot light whip would shoot out at Shippou’s side, or Toshiro’s neck. They could not see a glimpse of Sesshomaru’s haori or mokomoko-sama within the trees to give them warning.

They had had to rely only on their reflexes to block the blows, and each other.

Sesshomaru had announced the end of the days training by simply sauntering from the trees, his right hand still alight and not a drop of sweat on his person. Toshiro and Shippou meanwhile had been drenched with it and panting, their body and clothes riddled with little burns and cuts, some of the meadow flowers even dotted with their blood.

Toshiro had been so exhausted that when they’d gone to Sango’s for lunch, he’d passed out almost immediately after he’d eaten. He slept through the village children playing with the Lord of the West’s mokomoko-sama, and the great youkai allowing it. He slept through the commotion caused by Jaken and Rin arriving on Ah Uh, and how those children went from climbing all over the Brother of the Fang to cooing over the two headed dragon to Jaken’s outrage and dismay. And he almost slept through his uncle’s hunt for dinner for the lot of them, his chance to finally get the male alone nearly slipping through his fingers.

He shot awake with an inelegant snort, a disoriented line of drool clinging to his chin.

He was in the main room, Shippou passed out himself across the fire, his belly huge and distended, bits of rice from their lunch still clicking to face as he snored. Sango was coming from her bedroom, a hand on her belly and her pregnant waddle pronounced. She smiled when she saw Toshiro awake.

“Sesshomaru must have put the two of you through the wringer today.” She chuckled, then groaned as she went to settle herself onto the floor. “The last time you slept that heavily was when you’d gotten your paws into Miroku’s sake.”

Toshiro darted over to her, bracing her back with his hand and helping her ease to the floor. He chuckled dryly at the memory. “I was curious.”

Sango shot him a rueful look. “You often are.”

Once he was sure she was settled and comfortable Toshiro looked around the hut. The village children were gone. As were Miho, Ryoka, and Kaaru, probably gone off to patrol the village with their mother and Moeru. But—

“Where is Uncle Sesshomaru?”

Sango looked up from where she’d begun stitching a piece of green fabric, the beginnings of a small kimono it looked like. “Gone off to hunt us dinner. I was surprised he offered.”

Toshiro cursed under his breath, and then was out of the door before the words “I’ll go help him” even fully left his mouth.

He burst from the hut, the cool night breeze a balm against his flushed skin. He took a deep breath to center himself and his panic, and cast his senses out, hoping the youkai hadn’t gone too far. Nothing, not a speck of the Lord of the West’s youkai for Toshiro to follow. But upon a deep breath, the pup he found a hint of his scent on the air. He took off, both hoping to Kami that Lord Sesshomaru hadn’t gone too far, and glad that his parents were still busy tending to the villagers.

The hanyou was under the cover of trees before he knew it, the sound of crickets and light flickering of flying bugs the only breaks in the forest’s stillness. He padded as quietly as he could after his uncle’s scent, his heart a beating thrum in his chest, his darting around trees and shrubs sending an errant rabbit skittering away, the knowing, bright eyes of an owl watching his every step.  

Even knowing his uncle’s scent, it was difficult for the pup to follow him into the forest. He was like smoke, Toshiro thought, even his scent was light, and quiet, and disappeared on the wind even as the pup smelled it.

But Toshiro found him eventually, thank the Gods.

Sesshomaru was below a cluster of trees, his back turned and utterly still. Somehow, unbelievably, even his silver white hair and moko-moko sama blended in with the trees and night. There was a dead buck by the Lord’s feet. Toshiro stooped low to the ground, careful of branches and brambles as he heard thumping in the foliage ahead. A moment later Ah Un emerged from the trees opposite Sesshomaru and trotted to their master, Jaken at the dragon’s knee with reins in hand. The frog youkai and the Great Dog murmured to themselves for a few minutes, too low even for Toshiro to catch on the wind. Until Sesshomaru spoke up in a voice the pup could hear, but his words were not directed at his vassal.

“I know you’re there.”

Toshiro’s breathing caught, but he stepped from under the shrub he’d been crouching in without hesitation. He wasn’t the least bit surprised that he’d been detected. He’d released the containment of his youki the moment he’d gotten far enough away from the village. There were no prying ears here, be they hanyou or youkai, that was all Toshiro cared about. So, he stepped from the brush and approached his uncle, head held high.

Sesshomaru was stroking one of Ah Un’s heads, his back still to his nephew. Jaken was staring at Toshiro is shock.

“You!” The frog youkai screeched, breaking the quiet calm of the sleeping forest. “Why do you follow Lord Sesshomaru?!”

The pup cleared his throat. “I need to speak with him.”

“Lord Sesshomaru will choose when and if he speaks to you, lowly hanyou. Go awa—AH!”

Toshiro shot a ball of his youki at Jaken’s feet, his ears folding back and his teeth bared as he grinned darkly. “Learn to shut your mouth.”

“How dare you!” Jaken was hopping back and forth, batting at the little flames that licked at the ankles of his hakama. “Insolent half-breed, disrespectful little—"

“Be silent, Jaken.”

The Lord of the West finally turned, his head canted a bit sideways in question. He ignored how his vassal gaped at him, and eyed the hanyou pup warily.

“What is it you want, Toshiro?”

Toshiro looked hard eyes up at his uncle and raised his chin.

“I need your help.”

The Lord of the West turned to him fully. “Is that so?”

The pup refused to swallow nervously, he wouldn’t. “I have a plan, and I trust you.”

“Lord Sesshomaru cares not for your stupid pl—”

Toshiro lifted a hand and let his flames engulf it, let the imp see clearly the threat in his eyes. He didn’t like hurting people, but he had no time or patience right then for his uncle’s pet. The inu youkai must have sensed this, because he sent his vassal and dragon off with a dismissive wave of his hand. Toshiro put out his flames and ignored the loud, wet raspberry Jaken sent his way as he led Ah Uh into the forest. When they finally disappeared from sight and scent Sesshomaru turned to his nephew again, his arms folded behind him, the very picture of intelligence, and strength, and intimidation.

Toshiro swallowed down in his doubt. “I need you to do something for me.”

Sesshomaru sighed lowly, as if he could already tell that this would be a conversation better not had. “This has to do with Katsumi’s attack, and that old hag’s life.”

Toshiro growled at the insult, “Kaede was innocent.”

“And yet that did not stop your aunt from laying her low.”

“Tch.” Toshiro dashed an arm across his eyes. He didn’t have time to cry. If he wanted this to work, he had to try, and he had to try now. “Tomorrow is my father’s human night.”

Sesshomaru raised a single brow, not even deigning to ask why that was important. Toshiro swallowed, and pushed himself forward, his voice near trembling.

“And-and I listened well. . . really well, when Kaede did medicinal and herb training with my mom.”

“The point, nephew?”

“The point is that the oleander flower is poisonous, but in small or diluted concentrations. . . like mixed in food. . . can induce dizziness and sleep.” He got out in a rush.

The Inu no Taisho blinked at him, the only show of shock and realization that the youkai would let slip. When finally spoke his voice was, dare Toshiro say it, disbelieving. “You mean to go South.”

 “I need to go, and they won’t let me. They won’t even hear of it.”

“And you’ve decided to poison your parents to do so.”

Toshiro tugged on his cut ear unconsciously. “Tch.”

Sesshomaru pinched the bridge of his nose. “And what, exactly, do you plan to do once you reach the Southern border?”

You said I could get inside. You said, as true heir, I could allow creatures past the barriers that surround the Southern city. You said I could. If-if I run South my parents will follow, and I can find a way to allow them in. And-and if the southern inu see me maybe they will rise against Katsumi, and maybe they will join us, and maybe we can end this.”

That is a lot of hypotheticals.”

And that wasn’t a no. The hanyou pup pushed down the niggle of urgency and impatience that curled in his stomach. Sesshomaru’s eyes were unnervingly bright in the darkness, and Toshiro feared for a second that he’d made the wrong decision coming to him.

“Uncle, I need to at least try.” He knew he sounded desperate; he was. “I need to end this. I just need a head start.”

Sesshomaru cast his eyes up into the heavens for patience and then, to Toshiro’s absolute surprise, said, “A tea would be more effective than mixing the flower oil with food. Give the petals I know you’ve collected and hidden away to me, and I will give it to them myself. You will get the time you wish, and I will ensure that you do not accidentally murder your parents in the process.”

“Wha—” Toshiro blinked in shock. “T-thank you.”

Sesshomaru glared at him. “Do not thank me, nephew. For when they wake, I will tell them exactly where you have gone, and why.”

Toshiro nearly shuddered, but his mind was made up. “This has to end, Lord Sesshomaru.”

“Hn.” The youkai turned away, and paused. “You will not make it to the Southern Castle in the time allotted to you on foot. I will give you Ah Un to travel by, for he has traveled with me to the border of the South, and a dragon will surely fly faster than a hanyou pup can run.”

“Th-thank you.” Toshiro stuttered again, and bowed at the waist.

Sesshomaru had two fingers massaging his temple now, his eyes closed. After a moment he opened them, and glared over his shoulder at Toshiro as if the pup were the bane of his existence.

“You’d be smart to press Ah Un quickly nephew.”

Toshiro blinked. “Why?”

“Because when your mother wakes to find you gone, I am positive that she will purify both myself and my idiot brother.”

0:0:0:0:0:

“Where are we going?”

Toshiro toed quietly through the village, his brother whisper-shouting in his ear the whole way.

Toshiro.” Shippou tugged on his haori. “I know you can hear me.”

The hanyou pup batted the kit’s hand away, his ears straining instead for the errant village man or woman. It was late into the night, but one could never be too safe. When Toshiro was sure there was no one around he gripped his brother by the wrist and darted through the village as quickly as he could and into the thick of Inuyasha’s forest.

When they finally stopped, they were at least a mile away from the village. Shippou jerked his hand free and glared daggers at the other boy.

“You wake me up in the middle of the night, you don’t feed me, and now we’re sneaking away from the village again. I swear to the gods if this is another impromptu sparring match, I’m gonna kill you. I’m still sore from this morning with Uncle Se—“

“Shut up!” Toshiro whirled on his brother.

            He rotated his ears around in the resounding quiet, just to be sure.

            “Why are you being so paranoid? Tell me what the hell is going on, aniki!”

Toshiro took a deep, centered breath and launched into an abridged version of his plan, his voice low and urgent. Shippou just stared at him opened mouthed the whole time.

“I was wondering when it'd happen. . . For a while there I almost thought it wouldn't, but it did.”

Toshiro felt his hackles rise with his confusion and his impatience. They didn’t have time for this. “What in hell are you talking about?”

“You've lost your mind.” The kitsune just blinked. “Maybe all the trauma has caught up with you, or your youki has finally fried your brain, I don't kn—”

This isn't a joke!” Toshiro snapped, his ears folding back. “I'm serious about this. And if you’re going with me then we need to leave now.

“You're going to get us killed.” An immediate response.

“It will work.” Toshiro glared. “It has to.”

The kit gave him a look bordering on scorn.

“A fugitive prince, waltzing into his home territory with a prize youkai have literally killed for. Yeah, sure.”

“I'll be f—”

Shippou cut him off with a hysterical sort of laugh.

“The funniest part is that you think I'm talking about your aunt and her band of psychos when I mention your inevitable death.” Shippou had a terrified, almost manic light in his jade eyes. “I mean our parents, you idiot.”

Toshiro frowned, and frowned some more when he thought about the light show their parents would put on when they finally awoke to find both them and the jewel gone. But they would understand, they had to understand.

He said as much to his brother and Shippou snorted.

“Your plan is to not only steal from our parents, but to steal the Shikon no Tama from our parents. An item that Kagome has literally spent the better part of eight years of her life defending, and the reason Inuyasha spent fifty years pinned to Goshinbouku. And to go on some grand journey all the way South, meet with your crazy ass aunt and what? Trade her the jewel?!”

The hanyou pup could admit to himself that it sounded a bit crazy when said aloud. Toshiro clutched the complete Shikon no Tama where it lay in his pocket. He’d felt dirty snatching it off of his mother’s neck while she slept.

“I won’t give it to her for real. I just need Mother to track us with the jewel so she can find the Southern Border.”

“You can't think this is a good idea. There is no way that big brain of yours thinks this is even a remotely good idea. We'll be grounded until we Settle.”

Settling, when their bodies stopped growing at a regular pace and immortality seeped into their bones, slowing their aging over the centuries. Even as a hanyou Toshiro's Settling was over a decade off. 

He winced.

“It's for the village.”

“It'll still be our hides.”

“No one is forcing you to tag along! The Southern Land is dangerous; I'd be better off alone anyway.” Toshiro growled in exasperation. “You don't have to come.”

“Of course, I do! You're not going alone so you can get murdered and I get grounded for letting you go.”

Toshiro couldn’t help but chuckle at his brother’s logic. “So, you’ll be grounded either way.”

“And you’re dead either way.” Shippou snapped. “At least this way we go down together.”

Toshiro sighed loudly through his nose, craning his head back to peek through the canopy of trees and the deep, dark sky beyond. His parents had been asleep for hours before he finally got up the courage to wake up Shippou and take off, but Sesshomaru had assured the pup that the spiked tea he’d given the two at dinner would give him at least twenty-four hours.

The Shikon no Tama pulsed faintly against his palm and the pup ignored it.

Toshiro had to be out of his mind, but he didn’t know another way to protect his family and village and get Katsumi off of his back for good. 

“Don’t worry. The plan will work.”

Shippou pinched his nose in the same gesture their uncle had hours earlier.

Toshiro was beginning to think he was a little vexing.

“Of course, it will.”

Toshiro grabbed his brother around the wrist and tugged him along with a roll of his eyes. “Just come on.”

They jogged lightly through the forest, Toshiro retracing his steps back to where he’d spoken with Sesshomaru. Shippou kept up a stream of complaints the entire time.

"This is so stupid."

Toshiro vaulted himself over a fallen tree. "You've said that four times, little brother."

"And you've yet to listen!"

The pup shot the kit a glare as he watched him stomp on a pinecone. "Would you shut up?"

Shippou continued on as if the hanyou hadn't spoken. "What're you gonna do about Moeru? You know he's not gonna let you go alone."

Toshiro smirked, because they’d made it to the rendezvous point as he’d been instructed. He made a low, two tone whistle and a second later Moeru slunk from the underbrush on cue, his red eyes bright in the darkness. The saber had Au Un’s reigns between his teeth.

Shippou groaned. “Great, more accomplices.”

The hanyou pup busied himself checking the dragon’s saddle bags; Uncle

Sesshomaru had stuffed them full of food and water. He smiled to himself at the Great Lord of the West’s thoughtfulness.

Toshiro hoisted himself up onto the dragon and adjusted himself in the saddle, Moeru hopping up easily to settle between his legs. Shippou was glaring up at them with his fists on his hips. Toshiro knew it was a serious situation, but he couldn’t help but think that his brother looked like their mother right then. He forced back a hysteric chuckle at the thought.

“Not too late for you to turn around, Shipp.” He said instead.

“And see the rage dad goes into when he wakes up?” The kitsune griped. “Yeah, no thank you.”

Shippou scrambled up behind them on the dragon, grasping at his brother’s waist once he was settled. Toshiro could feel Shippou’s disapproval like a fire against the back of his neck. Ah Un turned their two heads were turned toward them, chittering in anticipation as they awaited instruction.

“Head south.” Toshiro snapped the reins, looking over his shoulder to where he could still see smoke rising from the chimney of Sango’s home in the distance. “And hurry.”