InuYasha Fan Fiction ❯ Purity Oneshots ❯ The Long Way Home ( One-Shot )

[ X - Adult: No readers under 18. Contains Graphic Adult Themes/Extreme violence. ]
~A Purity Oneshot~
~The Long Way Home~

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Dedicated to my mama.  Loved and missed and never, ever forgotten…

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.:September 10, 2078:.
.:Bevelle, Maine:.


It’s so . . . damn stupid . . . I can remember the . . . most idiotic things. I can remember this family of beavers . . . This one gnarled, old tree that sort of . . . clung to the bank of the river, like it was going to topple over and fall in, but it never did . . . Hell, I can remember chasing the cat up the tree—I got in trouble for that . . . but I can’t . . . I can’t remember her face . . . my own mother’s face . . .”

Letting out a soft, deep breath, Gin Zelig frowned thoughtfully as she tapped the claws of her left hand on the surface of the desk in the middle of their studio while her right hand and her index finger hovered just a breath above the computer mouse, as her own indecision lingered.

His words had lingered in the back of her mind: words that he’d spoken so long ago.  The memory of the disgust, the horror, the absolute misery on his face at that moment still haunted her, and, in some ways, it was harder to come to terms with that than it was to reconcile the raw emotion behind the words that she still heard if she listened hard enough.

At the time, having come face-to-face with Griffin Marin—a bear-youkai who was there—who had saved young Cain’s life on that fateful evening and was now their granddaughter, Isabelle’s mate—he’d been forced to remember that awful night: the night that his mother had been killed.  It tormented him because he couldn’t remember some of the things that he considered to be important, and, even though Gin had told him back then that he’d remembered the most important things, which, in her estimation, he had—even though he hadn’t really talked about it much since that day—she knew, didn’t she?

Of course, you do, doll.  Cain’s your mate.  You know him better than you know yourself sometimes.

Gin grimaced.  Her youkai-voice’s statement wasn’t meant to be a condemnation, and yet, it felt like one, just the same.  ‘Sometimes . . . Sometimes, he gets that faraway look on his face—that sadness that he tries to hide from me . . . That thoughtful frown when he thinks I don’t notice . . . He’ll be watching over the triplets while they play or they’ll ask him questions that he can’t answer, and . . .

Her youkai-voice sighed softly.  ‘And it hurts you because it hurts him, especially when he won’t talk about it.

Gin winced, hating the deadly accuracy of the observation, even if she did, on some level, understand the why of it.  Why bring it up again when there wasn’t a thing he believed that he could do about it?  That’s what Cain thought, and Cain had never, ever been one to tell her things that bothered him if he thought that it would just become a burden to her . . .

It was one of the things that she loved—and, in a way, loathed—about him.

It didn’t matter, how often she’d told him over the years, that she wanted to be there for him in the same way that he was always there for her.  Whenever she had something on her mind, he always seemed to know, always encouraged her to talk to him, to tell him, and she did.  Cain, always in his own quiet way, would reassure her, would try to fix whatever it was, no matter what.  She just wanted to do the same for him, but there were times when, no matter how hard she tried to cajole it out of him, he’d hold so tightly to those things.  Protecting her, she supposed, even if she really hated that part of it all.  She wasn’t some pretty little trinket, sitting on a shelf that would shatter under the least bit of pressure, was she?  No, she wanted to think, needed to believe, that she was just as strong as anyone else.

Yet, hadn’t it become second nature to him?  Over time, even before she’d ever met him, he’d done it for so long that it was so deeply a part of him that she honestly had no idea how to even broach the divide that he’d created.  He held a part of him in a place, so far out of reach, even from himself, and she knew that, too.  It was in that place that he kept those things that he didn’t want to deal with, likely because he didn’t even know they existed at all.

That was where his first wife had lived for so long, and for a while, Gin had thought that maybe that little part of himself was created then, when she’d died, only to come to realize that, no, it had existed long before that.  That quiet and desolate space?

He’d created that more than a lifetime ago, hadn’t he?  Whether it was out of loneliness or desperation or just out of the sheer will to survive, he’d somehow managed to carve out this one mental space where nothing and no one could hurt him, where he could lock those things away and let them lay dormant in the deepest recesses of his psyche, and . . . and, though she understood instinctively, he’d created that space on the night his mother had died, and, given that he was four years old at the time?  It was probably the only thing he really could do, and in the end, he had locked that part of himself away . . .

And he’d be all right for days, for weeks, even months, on end.  He was all right now, really, at least, for the most part.  To be completely and brutally honest, she hated to admit that she really hadn’t thought about that afternoon, those words, in a long, long time.  Cain was so good at hiding those things that really bothered him that maybe it had become second nature to her, as well, to pretend that it wasn’t there, at all.  Then again, maybe it was easier to discount, given how much Cain tended to cover it all up for her benefit, affording her the luxury of conveniently ignoring those things that he simply didn’t want to deal with—or maybe it’d be better to say that those things . . . He didn’t know how to deal with them.

Either way, it didn’t really matter.  The bottom line was, she hadn’t thought about it in a while: not until that day . . .

It felt so lame when she tried to tell herself that she simply hadn’t realized because that was how he wanted it to be, and yet, that only really served to make her feel just a little bit worse, a little bit more unobservant, even selfish.  He was always so attuned to her every mood, her every thought, her every action, and she . . . He was everything to her, wasn’t he?  All of those things that he was to her, she wanted to be for him, too, but how pathetic was it when she didn’t sense those things that were so integral in his mind.  Just how insensitive was she, anyway?  She should have sensed it.  She had no excuses to defend herself for her own gross oversight when it came to her own mate’s well-being.  When she stopped to think about just how often he’d been plagued by those memories, it made her feel physically sick, and shame on her for not noticing.  She hadn’t understood, not until recently.  And then . . .


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.:September 6, 2078:.
.:Bevelle, Maine:.


“So, Bailey, how was the first day of school?”

Eight-year-old Bailey Zelig, son of the future tai-youkai, Sebastian and his gorgeous mate, Sydnie, as well as Cain and Gin’s oldest grandson, made a face as he chewed up the huge bite of peanut butter and jelly sandwich that Gin had made for him.  “All right,” he garbled, then blushed and swallowed fast when Gin arched an eyebrow at him in gentle reminder of his forgotten table manners.  “Ms. Krendall is kind of mean.”

“Mean?  On the first day of school?  How’s that?” Gin asked, slipping a juice box onto the table in front of the boy before sliding into the breakfast nook across from him in the bright and airy Zelig kitchen.

Bailey wrinkled his nose and frowned at the half-eaten sandwich.  “She gave us homework!”

She almost smiled.  She managed to keep it in check, though, as she crossed her arms on the tabletop and scrunched up her shoulders in a, ‘what can you do?’ kind of way.  “I think I remember getting homework on the first day of third grade,” she mused.  “What were you assigned?”

Bailey heaved a melodramatic sigh, the long and rather flyaway strands of bronze hair, just like his father’s and his grandfather’s, shooting straight upward until the sigh ended, only to slowly float back down once more.  “I have to make a family tree and write a report on the everyone as far back as I can, and Daddy said that since Kichiro-oji fucked up the family tree, that you and grandpa should help me with it.”

Gin’s mouth dropped open as her eyes widened.  “You know, Bailey, that’s not a nice word,” she told him.

Bailey shrugged, lifting his sandwich once more.  “But it’s the word Daddy used—and jiijii uses it all the time.”

Her mouth slammed closed, and she shook her head since Bailey’s logic was, unfortunately, entirely accurate, making a mental note to remind her oldest son—and her own father—that they shouldn’t really be using certain words around these impressionable children.  “Neither of them should be saying that word around you, Bailey, and if they do, then you need to remember that it’s just not nice, okay?”

“What word’s that?” Cain asked, shuffling into the kitchen with a stack of mail in his hands.  He was leafing through the envelopes and not looking up as he moved.

“Fuck,” Bailey replied.  “Well, fucked . . .”

“Bailey!”

“Oh, that one,” Cain said smoothly and without missing a beat.  “Yeah, it’s not a very nice word . . .”

“I beg to differ, Cain!  That’s one of the best, most descriptive words in the entire English language!  I mean, it describes so many things so damn well, including one of my favorite pastimes!”

“Shut up, Evan,” Cain delivered in a monotone and still without lifting his attention from the mail as Evan Zelig brushed past him, complete with an incorrigible grin on his face.

“But I’ve heard you use it, too, Grandpa,” Bailey pointed out earnestly.

Gin sighed.  Loudly.

Cain tried not to grin.  He failed, but he tried.  “Yeah, but . . . I pretend I don’t use it around your grandma.”

This time, she rubbed her temples furiously between her fingertips as Evan pulled her over and planted a kiss on her head.

“I don’t say it to my teacher,” Bailey pointed out, almost as though he were trying to placate Gin.

“Good deal!” Evan said, holding up his hand for Bailey to smash him a high five.

He was interrupted by the dull rumble, slowly growing louder, as the stampede of small feet closed in fast.  “No running in the . . . Oh, forget it,” Gin heard Valerie, Evan’s wife, call out in the distance.

A moment later, Gin and Cain’s four-year-old triplets ran into the kitchen, along with Jack, Evan and Valerie’s son, Olivia, Bailey’s six-year-old sister, and Jaeger Cartham, who had been dropped off earlier in the day to play with the triplets.  Jaeger, who was entirely convinced that he was tougher than anyone else alive, made a bee-line toward Cain and made quick work of shimmying up the tai-youkai’s back.

“Oh, hey,” Cain said, peering over his shoulder and blinking slowly.  “You’re not one of mine.  Where’d you come from?”

Gin giggled, forgetting her issue with Bailey’s use of bad words for the moment since Cain had been in the middle of a conference call in his office when Jaeger had arrived.  “I beat you!” Jaeger announced happily.  “That means I’m tai-youkai!”

Four-year-old Hayden snorted loudly, balling up his fists and planting them on his hips as he glowered up at Jaeger, perched high on Hayden’s father’s shoulder.  “You can’t be tai-youkai!  Bubby’s gonna be tai-youkai!  And if Bubby dies, then Evan will be!  And if Evan dies, then I will be!”

“I will be before you will,” Bailey muttered around another bite of sandwich, though, to be honest, he didn’t sound all that concerned.

Hayden completely ignored that.  “So, first, you gotta go murder Bubby!”

“Hell, yeah!” Evan quipped.

“Evan, did you have to teach them, ‘Bubby’?” Bubby grouched as he strode into the kitchen.

“Hell, yeah!” Evan repeated, just as happily as he had stated it the first time.

Bas shook his head and caught his airborne daughter, who had launched herself off the counter, straight into her father’s arms, seconds before Jaeger dropped to the ground to begin his assault on the future North American tai-youkai, clawing his way up Bas’ back in much the same fashion that he’d just done to Cain.

Finally freed, Cain stepped over and leaned down toward Gin.  “Do I need to remind you that all this—” he jerked his head toward the gaggle of rioting children, “—was your idea?”

Gin giggled.  “And you love them all, Zelig-sensei.”

“I do?”

She nodded.  “Yes, you do.”

“I love that one,” Cain remarked, jerking his head toward Daniella, who was currently sitting on the counter, her little feet crossed at the ankles as she smoothed the skirt of her dress and ignored the general din around her.

“You can’t be tai-youkai!” Connor chimed in, hopping over to stand beside his identical twin, complete with mirrored stance and matching scowl.

Jaeger stopped trying to choke Bas as Olivia reached around him and planted her hand in Jaeger’s face in an effort to force him off of her father, long enough to glance down at Connor.  “Why not?”

Connor stuck out his tongue.  “’Cause you stink!  That’s why!”

“I don’t stink!”

“You’re a pole cat, so you’re smelly!” Connor goaded, sticking his thumbs in his ears, wiggling his fingers, shaking his rear end.

“You take that back!” Jaeger growled, dropping from Bas’ back and taking off after a faster Connor while the latter laughed almost maniacally as he dashed past Bas and out of the kitchen once more.  No sooner did Jaeger give chase than the others fell in behind, and the stampeding herd retreated, leaving the kitchen in relative silence—for the moment.

“Pups,” Bailey remarked with a heavy sigh, shaking his head as he spoke the Words of the Sages.

Bas chuckled.  “Hey, Bay, you’d better ask your questions.  Mom’s expecting us home soon.”

At the reminder, Bailey snorted, but he did reach over to haul his backpack up off the floor beneath the table.

“Questions?  What questions?” Cain asked, smacking Evan’s hand, who was trying to reach around Cain to nab a bit of cake that had crumbled off and was laying on the pretty crystal stand on the counter beside him.  Then, just to be mean, Cain scooped up the bite and popped it into his mouth, which only made Evan’s grin widen.

“He’s got to do one of those family tree things and write a report,” Bas supplied as Bailey dug out his notebook and pencil case.

Cain made a face.  “Yeah, I don’t do family trees; not since Gin’s assmonkey of a brother fucked ours up entirely.”

“Cain!

“See ?  Grandpa said it just now!”

Gin sighed again.

And he said, ‘ass’.”

“I didn’t,” Cain argued before Gin could scold him again.  “I said assmonkey.  Totally different thing.”

Gin rolled her eyes as she pushed herself to her feet, but said nothing, resolved to start dinner—and ignore the infuriating man for the moment.

Cain chuckled since he was well-aware of her tactics.

“Well, if Dad doesn’t want to help out his own grandson, then you could always concentrate on Mom’s side of the family,” Bas said, slipping onto the bench that Gin had just vacated, settling Olivia on his knee.  “I mean, bet your teacher’s never met anyone related to the Hanyou of Legend . . .”

Bailey seemed to perk up at that, and he quickly shifted around, bringing his feet up under him, leaning halfway across the table in an effort to better hear what Bas was suggesting.

“That’s true . . . I’ll bet your great-grandfather wouldn’t mind telling you some of the stories about the adventures he and Mama had while they were hunting for Naraku,” Gin added.

“Naraku!” Cain snorted.  “Old news!  I mean, I’m a tai-youkai—remember?”

“Yeah!” Bailey hollered, completely ignoring Cain’s claims.  “Do you think he’d make a video of the kongosouha and kaze no kizu?  Then all the kids would see how awesome jiijii is!”

“He might,” Bas allowed slowly, thoughtfully.  “Maybe you’d get extra credit for it.”

“Maybe you should consider transferring Bailey to a public school,” Cain grouched since Bailey was currently attending the private school that was opened recently for the youkai and hanyou children in the area.

Bailey heaved a longsuffering sigh and pinned his father with a rather droll look, which was only really amusing, given that the boy was still eight.  “But that’s all Japanese lore,” he pointed out.  “Ms. Krendall was really excited when Tiffany Ginther said her great-great-great grandfather was one of the first settlers in the New World.”

“Oh, is that right?” Bas mused, scratching his chin thoughtfully.  “Well, your great-grandfather was the first North American tai-youkai, but he came from Japan originally.”

“Oh!  Oh!  Oh!  Did he have any special powers?” Bailey asked, waving a hand in the air in his excitement, as though he’d forgotten that he didn’t have to raise his hand to speak outside of school.

Bas frowned.  “I . . . I don’t really know.  I mean, he could use the incineration power like Dad . . . Was there anything else?”

Cain, who had remained conspicuously quiet through the rest of the conversation, blinked and brushed a few cake crumbs off of his hands.  “Uh, special powers . . .?” he echoed.  “I’m not sure.  He might have . . .”

Bailey cocked his head to the side and stared at Cain in a thoroughly puzzled kind of way.  “But—"

The doorbell rang, and Cain held up a finger before striding out of the room.  “Just a minute,” he called back as he disappeared through the archway.

Gin watched him go, uttering a soft sigh as she paused in the seasoning of the chicken she’d retrieved from the refrigerator.  “Bailey, Grandpa doesn’t . . . He doesn’t know a lot about his parents,” she said quietly.  “He may not be able to answer your questions.”

He didn’t really seem like he fully understood that, and he turned his attention to Bas, instead.  “Do you know anything about him, Daddy?”

Bas glanced at his son and slowly shook his head.  “Not really,” he admitted.  “I mean, Sebastian died when your grandpa was a pup, and—”

“But you’re Sebastian,” Bailey pointed out.

Bas chuckled.  “He was the first Sebastian,” he replied.  “I was named after him.”

“But if you were named after him, then Grandpa must remember him!”

“Actually, I don’t,” Cain said, stepping into the kitchen once more, this time, with Ben Philips in tow.  The hint of apology in his tone, however, was painful for Gin to hear.  “Uh, Ben, here, might . . .”

“What’s that?” Ben questioned, arching a black eyebrow at Cain.

Cain tried to smile, and she could see that he was trying hard to brush aside the upset, trying hard to tamp it down and hide it away before anyone else could discern it, and he probably had managed to hide it from everyone else—everyone but Gin, anyway.  “Bailey’s doing a family tree for school, and he has to write a report to go with it about his oldest ancestors and their stories,” he explained.  “He, uh . . . He wanted to know if my father had any special powers.”

“Oh,” Ben intoned, slowly nodding.  “Well, aside from the incineration that you can use yourself, Cain, he was a first-rate fighter—no surprise there—but what made him really fearsome since he rarely used the incineration, were the phantom chains.  That’s what he called them, anyway.”

“Phantom chains?  What’s that?” Bas asked before Cain could.

Ben chuckled, tucking his hands into the pockets of his trousers.  “He could create chains with his youki to trap his enemies and immobilize them.  They were much like your great-uncle’s energy whips.  As far as I know, though, they were more of a defensive power.  That is to say, I never saw Sebastian use them as an offensive weapon, though, I would guess, he could have.”

“I didn’t know that,” Cain muttered.  Then, he sighed, taking a moment to rub his eyes in a weary sort of way.  “I’m going to go look over that report,” he told Gin, stepping over to kiss her cheek.  “Holler if you need anything.”

Bas watched his father go, too, and he got up to follow him with Olivia still nestled comfortably in his arms. “Gather your things, Bailey.  I’ll talk to your grandpa, then we’ll get going.”

“Okay,” Bailey replied, stuffing his notebook into his bag once more.  Then he hopped up and darted over to throw away the empty juice box and hurriedly hugged Gin.  “Bye, Grandma!”

“Bye, sweetie!” she called after him.  “Love you!”

“Everything okay?” Ben asked, watching as Bailey exited the kitchen, too.

Gin offered the panther-youkai general an apologetic sort of smile.  “It . . . It bothers him a lot,” she admitted, nodding in the direction of the empty archway.  “He said once . . . He said once that he can’t remember his mother’s face.”

“Oh,” Ben said, brows drawing together in a marked frown.  “He can’t?  I mean, he never mentioned that to me.”

She grimaced.  “He wouldn’t,” she hurried to say, as though she were making excuses for Cain, but that wasn’t really what she was trying to do.  “It’s not really something that can be helped.”

“I wasn’t lying when I said that Daniella looks just like her,” Ben said.  “Maybe slight differences, but really . . .”

“It’s always bothered him,” she admitted.  “Even though Dani got her coloring from her . . .”

Ben digested that for a long moment in silence, but suddenly, he broke into a rather wan smile, even as his eyes took on a slightly faraway kind of air, and when he spoke, it seemed to Gin that he sounded as though he were talking to himself and not to her, at all.  “There was a painting that hung over the foyer, way up above the stairs—a huge portrait that Keijizen had commissioned not too long after they’d arrived in the New World.  Akinako hated it, but he said it was perfect . . . I wonder . . .”

“A painting?” she echoed in a whisper.  “Really?  But . . . But what happened to it?”

Ben blinked, though it seemed like it took a moment for his eyes to clear, for his gaze to really light on her again.  “I’m sure it’s still there,” he said simply.


-=======-

.:September 10, 2078:.
.:Bevelle, Maine:.


Biting her lip as she stared at the computer screen, Gin still hesitated with the cursor poised over the reservation confirmation button.

You want to do it.  You just aren’t sure what the best way to go about it would be.

There was a lot of truth in her youkai-voice’s observation.  That was really the crux of her reluctance.

It would be simple to say that she wanted to go with him, wanted to be by his side when he faced the ghosts of his past, and yet, somehow, she felt as though maybe—maybe—this was something that he needed to do alone.  After all, didn’t she know better than anyone that Cain’s first and foremost care would always be for her?  He’d try to hide his emotions, wouldn’t he?  He’d be too mindful of her reactions, of her feelings, and if that really were the case, then would he truly feel as though he could allow himself to make his discoveries completely?

No, she knew it well enough.  Cain was good, maybe too good.  He’d be too preoccupied, gauging her reactions, and that front that he perpetually held before himself would blunt his own feelings, and that was the last thing that she wanted for him.

The trill of her cell phone interrupted her thoughts, and she jumped slightly at the incursion.  She fumbled for the device, her expression, shifting into a thoughtful frown when she saw the caller’s name flash to life upon the screen, even as she ran the pad of her thumb over it to connect the call. “Ben?  Hi,” she greeted, very aware of the almost strained sound of her own voice.

“Hey, Gin.  Hope I’m not disturbing you.  I just wanted to let you know that I got the key as well as the access card out of the safe.  If you still wanted them, that is . . .”

Pushing herself to her feet, she shuffled over to the wall of windows that looked out onto the browning and dormant lawn of the Zelig estate.  Cain was in the yard below with Bas, trying to teach the children the basics of self-defense.  From her vantage point, she couldn’t quite tell, how well it was going, but the little ones seemed to be having a good time, and she smiled despite her somber thoughts.  “I do,” she said, wrapping her free hand over her stomach.  “Tell me something, Ben-san . . . Why didn’t Cain know that the place was still there?”

Letting out a deep breath, Ben took a moment before answering, and in the background, Gin could hear the distinct clink of ice against crystal, the soft slosh of liquid.  “I’ve told you before, Gin, you don’t have to use, ‘san’ with me.  Anyway, I hadn’t told him,” he allowed.  “It’s not that I was keeping it from him.  I guess I just thought that he’d have realized it a long time ago . . . I figured that he’d talk to me if he wanted to know, and I’d tell him then.  I should have known he wouldn’t bring it up.”

“I don’t think it ever occurred to him to ask,” she mused.  “Maybe it should have.  You knew them best, didn’t you?”

“I don’t know about, ‘best’,” he corrected gently.  “Then again, maybe you’re right . . .”

A sudden thought sparked in her mind, and Gin bit her lip as she turned away from the window and hurried over to the desk once more.  “Ben, could I ask a favor of you?”

“Sure,” he said.  “Anything at all.”

She took a moment to gather her thoughts before plunging in, but the longer she considered it, the more right it felt to her.  Maybe she wasn’t the one Cain needed to go with him, but Ben . . . “Do you have time?  Could you go with him?  I think . . . I think he might need you . . .”

“Me?” Ben blurted, obviously taken aback by Gin’s actual request.  “Uh, I think you have it backward, Gin.  You’re the one he’ll need.”

She shook her head.  “No, he won’t.  He’s a good man, but if I’m there, he’ll try to shelter me, just like he always does.  If I’m there, he won’t feel as though he can truly face his past.  But you . . . You were there back then.  You have answers that he doesn’t even know he needs or wants—not yet.  Ben . . .”

“I’m not entirely sure that I agree with you,” Ben told her, and his doubt was evident in his voice.  “You’re his mate.”

She sighed, even as the sense of being absolutely right, grew.  “You know how he is, Ben.  If it were up to me, then I’d go with him, absolutely.  It’s not my story, though.  It’s Cain’s, and it’s been Cain’s since well before he ever met me.  If and when he wants me there, then . . . Then I’ll be happy to come.  I think it’s better, though, if you go with him—if you help him.  He’s going to need someone, I think.  It’s . . . It’s a big deal.”

Ben sighed, and she heard the sound of ice in a crystal glass once more before he spoke again.  “You’re assuming that he’d let his guard down around me,” he finally said.  “I have my doubts about that, but I . . .” He sighed once more.  “Just let me know when you want us to go,” he told her.  “I’m sure that Charity won’t mind.  In fact, she mentioned something about taking the girls on a getaway with Chelsea—as much as I think that might be a huge mistake . . .”

Only then did Gin release the breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding, and she smiled, positive now that her instinct was correct.  Ben . . . Not only had he been there at that time, but he was the best friend—more than a friend, really—that Cain had.  “Thank you, Ben,” she said.  “Tell Charity thanks, too.”

He uttered an almost rueful sounding chuckle.  “Don’t thank me yet, Gin.  I really don’t know if my being there will be good for him or not, but if you think it’s best, then count me in.”


-=======-

.:September 20, 2078:.
.:Boston, Massachusetts:.


Scowling out the car windshield at the thick trees that lined the lonely, little lane, Cain didn’t notice as his light brown eyebrows drew together in a marked frown.  Beautiful landscape, if he were to stop and think about it—almost as beautiful as his beloved Maine—and yet . . . Yet something about it felt odd, skewed.  Maybe, though, it was all just perception—or hindsight . . .  An unsettling sense of foreboding that he could sense . . . Whether he was trying to recognize the area or looking for a landmark—something—he didn’t really know, and he wouldn’t have been able to say later, either.

He let out a soft sigh as the rental car slowed.

A glimpse of this, a flicker of that, and nothing at all that even held any kind of familiarity . . .

It was a strange sense of nothingness, and that was the most disturbing of all.  On some level, shouldn’t he feel something?  Some kind of awareness, of even latent recognition?  And there was nothing.

It left a hollowness deep down, an emptiness that was hard to reconcile.

It’s a pretty long lane.  It’s a really large property, and I’ve paid a landscaping company to take care of the driveway and the yard around the house, but there’re a lot of woodlands.  The stable was torn down—what was left of it, anyway, but the foundation of it is still there . . . Are you . . .?  Are you sure you want to go alone?

Pausing for a moment as he tugged on a light jacket, Cain gave a quick shake of his head.  “I’ll find it,” he said, giving the collar a little flip to settle it into place.  “Don’t worry.  If Gin asks, I’ll lie and tell her you came along.

Rolling his eyes, Ben uttered a terse snort, inclining his head just enough to make his jet-black bangs fall into his face, casting the angles and planes into murky shadows.  “It’s not about that,” he argued, digging into the pocket of his trousers and retrieving a small key fob that he handed over unceremoniously.  “You’ll need that to unlock the gates.  The front door has a biolock on it.

That admission caused Cain to arch an eyebrow as he hefted the fob in his hand.  “A biolock?” he echoed.  “You mean, you stole my DNA?

Ben chuckled, but didn’t deny it.  “It’s the panther in me,” he said.

Letting out another soft sigh as the memory faded, Cain leaned forward just enough to peer up at the skies.  Even through the darkened, bluish tint at the top of the windshield, he could see the oppressive clouds that had slowly rolled in during his hour and a half drive out from Boston.  There was something weirdly poetic about it.

To be honest, Cain wasn’t entirely sure, just what he thought that he was doing, what he thought he might find.  Gin seemed convinced that this whole thing was something he needed, but Cain wasn’t as convinced as she seemed to be.

What good could possibly come from it, really?

It’s all because Gin did you dirty, flattening out those ears of hers.

There wasn’t really any arguing with that.  In hindsight, that was pretty much exactly why he’d agreed to this little adventure.

You know, don’t you?  It’s not like there’s anything here that should scare you.

Cain’s frown shifted into more of a scowl.  He, better than anyone, knew damn well, just what his youkai-voice was trying to do.  Goading him into plunging forward, and in such a juvenile way . . . Scared?  No, that wasn’t the right word.  Still, he’d be lying if he were to try to say that there wasn’t a mounting feeling of foreboding that he couldn’t quite shake, either.

He supposed that he’d never stopped to think about the idea that the actual property might still belong to him.  Over the centuries, he just hadn’t really given it much thought.  Somewhere along the way, maybe he’d forgotten, or, more likely, he’d chosen never to consider it.  It could have easily been a coping mechanism that he’d developed a long, long time ago.

For the longest time, he hadn’t remembered much about that night—those months—in his life.  It wasn’t until after he’d met Griffin Marin, that he’d read the letter that his father had written on those long nights aboard the ship that had taken them back to the old world, that he’d started to remember.  Most of it had been in bits and pieces, insular moments when a flash of an image had flickered to life, like a light being turned on in the darkness, only to blow away faster than he could process it.

But slowly, those stills had come back, had fleshed out, normally in the depths of his dreams during nights of fitful slumber.  At first, he hadn’t realized what they were, only knowing that he’d sometimes wake up, in the dead of the night, feeling entirely unsettled, and even more so when he couldn’t figure out why.  At those times, he’d invariably reach over, hugged Gin just a little tighter, and he’d concentrate on the steady and rhythmic beat of her heart.

Rounding a shallow bend in the lane that weaved through the trees, over a surprisingly sturdy old wooden bridge, Cain blinked as he stared up at the first sight of the house that he should have remembered, but didn’t.  Pulling to a stop in the center of the large, looping driveway, he shut off the car and stumbled out without taking his eyes off the structure.

You’re trying too hard.  You can’t force yourself to remember, and even if you could, you were a pup—just a pup . . .

Those words were meant to calm him, he supposed; to soothe him.  They didn’t.  There was still a strange sense of urgency that he simply couldn’t shake: an impatience that he could feel that went deeper than the bone.  Staring up at the looming, three story structure, he couldn’t really say that any of it felt familiar or even remotely welcoming to him.

The sudden trill of his cell phone made him grind his teeth together, despite the ringtone that he knew so well.  It was the only one he’d ever used for Gin, and he tamped down his own sense of impatience as he dug the device from the inner pocket of his jacket and connected the call.  “Hey, baby girl.”

When she spoke, he could hear the smile in her voice.  “I miss you.  Just wanted to see how you’re doing?”

Stifling a sigh, he rubbed his forehead with his free hand as his gaze shifted slowly over the front lawn.  “I’m all right,” he told her, ignoring the lie that lingered in the back of his mind.  “I miss you, too.  How are the pups?”

She uttered a soft laugh that warmed him from the inside.  “Well, the boys are running around, re-enacting this morning’s Power Puppies, and Daniella’s looking at that book you gave her the other day, but she did ask me when you’re coming home.  I guess she misses her papa.”

Breaking into a wan smile—the first smile he’d had on his face since he’d gotten onto the plane late yesterday—Cain chuckled.  “I miss her, too,” he told her.  Lowering the phone long enough to hit the button to send the call to video chat, Cain paused for a moment to stare at his mate as she smiled and waved at him before turning the phone so that she could see the house.  “Here it is,” he said, his tone more matter-of-fact than anything else.

“It’s lovely,” she told him.  “I don’t suppose you remember anything yet?”

“Not a thing,” he replied.  “But I just got here, so maybe . . .”

She sighed, and her silence was heavy with her thoughts.  When she finally did speak, though, she sounded rather determined.  “You will, Zelig-sensei.  I have every faith that this is going to help you fill in all those gaps in your memories.”

He wasn’t entirely sure that he agreed, but he’d be damned if he’d let her know it.  Instead, he slowly pivoted, allowing the camera to show her the surroundings just a little better, but he stopped when he spotted a tall and strangely gnarled tree that wasn’t quite in the surrounding forest.

Zelig?

Abruptly cutting off the low growl as he stalked around the thick tree trunk, he blinked and rather nervously glanced over his shoulder, only to spot his father, replete in his rather formal-looking overcoat and close-fitting trousers as he lounged against the column that flanked the wide staircase that led to the porch of the grand house.  “Papa . . .?

One bronze eyebrow arched, likely at the overly innocent tone in his voice, and, though his dark blue eyes seemed to take on a heightened glimmer, he did not smile and, in fact, took on a slightly sterner visage.  “Did I just see you tree the cat?  Again?

Frowning as he shook off the hazy edges of the memory, Cain unconsciously shuffled around the car and toward the tree.

“Cain?  Are you still there?”

“What?  Oh, uh, y . . . yeah,” he replied without turning the phone.  “That’s the tree . . . I used to chase the cat up there,” he murmured.

“You . . .?”  Gin giggled.  “Did you?”

Cain stifled a sigh.  “Yeah, I did.”

“I’ll bet you were the cutest pup, ever,” she went on.  “When I look at the boys, I always wonder if you looked like they do now . . . though I suppose you might have looked a lot like Sebastian, too . . .”

“Well, Bas has always been bigger for his age than I ever was,” Cain pointed out.  “Connor and Hayden are built more like me, yes.”

Gin giggled again.  “Is Ben with you?  I haven’t heard him . . .”

Stopping before the hulking tree, Cain finally turned the phone back toward him again.  “He stayed at the hotel,” he admitted.  “I . . . I kind of wanted to come out here alone this time.”

The smile that had illumined her face slowly faded, only to be replaced by a thoughtful frown, a slight flattening of the ears.  “You know, Cain . . . If you’re . . . If you’re not ready to do this . . .”

“No, I am,” he told her, hoping that he sounded a bit more confident than he was feeling, and he forced a wan smile.  “Okay, maybe I’m not, but even so, if I don’t do it now, I don’t know if I ever will.”

She bit her lip, her gaze falling to the side, and, though he couldn’t see her hands, he had a feeling that she was fiddling with a napkin or something on the breakfast nook table where she sat.  Suddenly, she scrunched up her shoulders for a moment before letting them drop as she slowly lifted her eyes back to the screen once more.  “I . . . I thought that this was something you should do,” she admitted quietly, and he could see in her eyes that she was suffering some fairly heavy regret.  “I just . . . I know how much it bothers you—how much it’s always bothered you, and . . . and I want you to recover the memories you once had, of your parents, of how much they . . . they had to have loved you . . .”

“I know,” he told her gently.  “It’s okay, Gin.  You’re right.”

She didn’t look like she really believed him.  If anything, she looked just a little more miserable, a little guiltier.  “I don’t want to be right, Cain.  That’s not what this is about.”  Before he could respond, though, the sound of a very shrill cry erupted, and she jumped up just as the phone quickly shot upward toward the ceiling, then rattled as she dropped it on the table.  “Hayden?  Oh, no, what happened to your nose?”

“Connor hit me with his head!” the child whined.

“Oh, I’m sure that he didn’t mean to,” Gin crooned.

“Hey, Gin, I’ll call you later,” Cain said, raising his voice to be heard over Hayden’s whimpering.  “Give the pups hugs for me.”

“What?  Oh, okay,” she said, grabbing the phone awkwardly as she balanced Hayden in one arm and fumbled with the device in the other one.  “Hayden, it’s Daddy . . . You want to show him your nose?”

Hayden complied, blinking quickly to dispel the tears that still stood in his dark blue eyes.  “I leaned over, and he stood up,” Hayden explained, “and he hit me hard!”

Cain nodded, having figured it was something like that.  A moment later, Connor came tearing into the room—Cain could hear him, even if he didn’t see him, and his voice was almost panicked in the background.  “Sorry, Hay-Hay!  Sorry!”

Gin sighed.  “I’d better get moving,” she told him.  “It’s not bad, but he’s bleeding a little . . . I miss you, Zelig-sensei.”

“You, too, baby girl,” he said.  “Hayden, you going to be all right?”

The boy sniffled.  “Yeah, Daddy,” he muttered, smashing a handful of tissues to his slightly bloody nose.  From what he could tell, it was a little ruddy, but it didn’t appear to be bruised or anything too major, and Gin?  Well, she’d dealt with worse, considering Evan, at that age, had been a walking, talking ball of ouchies.  Offering the child a quick smile, Cain disconnected the call and sighed as he dropped his phone back into his pocket once more, gritting his teeth at the unexpected and horribly sharpened pang that shot through him at the loss of the connection.  Stupid to feel that way, wasn’t it?  It wasn’t as though he’d lost them forever.

Even so, something about this place . . . It made him feel that way, didn’t it?  And, though he understood the why of it, reminding himself that the reality was that nothing in the world could really separate Gin and him?

Why was that so hard to do . . .?


-=======-

.:September 20, 2078:.
.:Boston, Massachusetts:.


Biting his lip as he held the hair that he’d yanked from his head a moment before, Cain hesitated, the tip of the root a mere breath away from the slot in the locking mechanism that secured the front door of the house.

Ben said that there’s a portrait of her—your mother . . . You’ll . . . You’ll get to see her face, Cain . . .

He frowned.  Just why, when he was so close, was he hesitating?  It was stupid, wasn’t it?  He wanted to know, wanted to remember; of course, he did.  So, why did he feel such a sense of complete and utter dread at the very idea of unlocking the door . . .?

But he’d already spent a couple hours, meticulously poking around the yard, looking over the vague but traceable outline of the old stable that had burnt down on that fateful night so long ago . . . He’d wandered around the trunk of that tree—misshapen and deformed slightly, probably due to the fire since it was so close to the stable . . . He’d felt the bark, ran his fingertips over the gnarled old wood, traced the scars that attested to the violent moment in time that he couldn’t rightfully recall . . .

By rights, the tree probably should have died, and maybe, once upon a time, it had tried to.  Somehow, though, it had found the will to survive.  Just how long had it fought to repair itself?  How many years had it struggled before finally being able to uncurl its leaves in the early spring breezes?  And why was there something entirely poetic, if not somewhat tragic, in the very idea of it all?

You know why.  It’s because you remember on some level.  You already remember the pain, that feeling of complete and utter loss you felt when you were a pup, when you were too young to really understand.  Oh, you knew, and you might even have understood, to a point.  That day when your father left you with Sesshoumaru and Kagura and walked away, you did have a certain limited knowledge, a basic understanding, even if it took longer for you to truly grasp the idea that you would never see him again.

He frowned.  ‘Yeah?  And just how much was I supposed to understand?  I was a pup—just a pup.  There were things I should have said to him—maybe things I shouldn’t have said . . . but . . .

Don’t do that to yourself.  You were young, and you were frightened . . . Sad and lonely and confused and powerless to stop your whole world from spinning so far out of your control—if you had any control at all.  I’m not beating you up about it, you know.  If you’re honest with yourself, you’re still afraid—afraid that you won’t remember the things you want to . . . Afraid you will remember those things that took you so long to put aside . . . and that’s all right, too.  It took a long time for you to find a way to deal with those feelings, and as much as Sesshoumaru taught you, he didn’t really help you deal with those things, either.

Grimacing as a distant flash of memory shot through his mind, Cain turned on his heel and strode across the porch and down onto the flagstone walkway, veering slightly to the left as he dug his hands, deep into his pockets, hunching his shoulders forward slightly, unmindful of where, exactly, he was going as he moved away from the house without looking back.

A little while after his father had left him on that day so long ago, he’d slipped out of Sesshoumaru’s home, had tried so hard to follow his father’s scent, but he was only able to track it as far as an old magnolia tree not far from the gates of Sesshoumaru’s compound.  He’s sank down there, under the spread boughs of that tree, had curled up on the ground, smashing his face into the damp earth, trying not to whimper, not to cry, feeling ashamed that he couldn’t control himself, wishing desperately that his father would come back, would pick him up and take him home again, and yet, knowing . . .

And he must have fallen asleep there, but he didn’t remember that.  He awoke in the morning, safely tucked away on a small mat within a barren but very nice room inside Sesshoumaru’s home—a room that he would sleep in every night thereafter until he was old enough to return to America, but that somehow never had become his home, either.  Even at that time, he was afraid that he’d be scolded for slipping away, but he never was.  Now that he thought about it, no one had ever said anything to him about it, either way—and he never had known who had found him, or who had brought him back.

His youkai voice sighed.  ‘It was Kagura.  She’d followed you, and I’m not sure why she never said anything, either, come to think of it.  But she followed you, and she leaned against the trunk of a tree not far away and watched over you—over us—and she didn’t say anything.  But . . . But she cried with you.

Somehow, those words . . . They bothered him even more, even as the savage ghost of the despair he’d felt back then ripped through him—a dim reminder of that hurtful ache.  ‘Yeah?  If she was there, then why didn’t she?  Why didn’t she try to . . . to comfort me?  To talk to me?  Why—?

Cain . . . I think she was waiting.  I think she was giving you time.  I think that she’d always hoped that you’d come to her, talk to her, and later . . . I think . . . I think she was afraid of dragging it all back up for you again.  I mean, I don’t think she was trying to hurt you.  I don’t think she ever intended for you to think that you were being left to sink or swim.  You know her better than that, don’t you?  Maybe she wasn’t your mother, but you know . . .

I . . . I didn’t know a damn thing.

His youkai-voice sighed.

He hadn’t known a thing, not really.  For everything he didn’t understand, he also knew that he didn’t really give voice to anything, either.  Maybe, at first, it was the shock of it all; the late understanding that everything he’d ever known was gone.  For the longest time, he’d convinced himself that, if he did well in the studies that Sesshoumaru assigned to him, he would earn the right to see his father again.  No one had ever told him any such thing, and he wasn’t sure why he’d ever thought that, in the first place.  For that matter, he didn’t really know when he’d stopped believing it, either . . .

Stopping abruptly, whipping around on his heel, as though he was about to light into someone following behind him, only to remember a moment too late that he was alone—entirely alone—and, as quickly as the spark of anger had come, it faded away again, and he sighed.

And when his youkai-voice spoke once more, it was soft, almost careful, and very, very sad.  ‘She was there, you know.  Those nights when you had the nightmares, she was there to hold you and to tell you that you were all right.  You took it to mean that she was telling you that you shouldn’t fuss and cry, but was she?  Was she, really?

He opened his mouth to argue it, but snapped it closed before he could.

It was vague, and it was hazy, and somewhere in the depths of his mind, he could feel himself, peeling back the layers of the fog that had been allowed to cloud his mind for so long—a welcome buffer from the pain that he’d allowed, maybe even encouraged, to grow.  That second night, he’d tried to get out of the mansion, had sought to follow his father’s scent again, but it was Kagura who had found him, and she’d taken his hand, led him back with a gentle smile that had seemed odd to him at the time.  As a child, he’d thought that it didn’t seem like a genuine emotion.  At that time, he’d interpreted it to mean that she was merely tolerating him—someone else’s child.  But she wasn’t ever cold to him, never was cruel to him, and now, looking back, maybe . . . Maybe he’d read it wrong.  It hadn’t been a genuine smile.  He was right about that.  Now, however . . .

She was sad, wasn’t she?  Or maybe, to say that she was sad was wrong—the wrong emotion.  That seemed like too easy of a term for what she had held in the depths of her eyes.  When he’d looked up at her, when he’d met her gaze, she’d tried, hadn’t she?  Tried to disguise her feelings behind that smile . . . There was a sense of understanding in those magenta eyes: a sense of longing, a sorrow that, even now, he didn’t really understand . . . Her heart was broken for him, wasn’t it?  And maybe, she simply didn’t know exactly how to reach him, either.

But none of it made sense.

Sure, it does.  I mean, it’s not like there were mental health experts back then.  She—both of them, really—did everything they could do, and maybe it wasn’t perfect.  Maybe they ought to have tried to talk to you about it all, but really, would it have done anything good for you?  Making you remember, etching it into your brain . . . It could easily have caused more harm than good, and maybe they just didn’t have it in them to do that to you.

Letting out a deep breath, Cain slowly shook his head as he turned around again, absently patting his pockets to find his pack of cigarettes.

Squinting against the sudden breeze that picked up, carrying with it, the scent of earth and trees and decaying leaves—the smells of fall—filling his senses for just a moment and lending him a calm that he knew was as fleeting as the seconds that, mercilessly and unerringly, continued to slip away.

The land was untouched, could easily have been exactly how it had been so long ago.  The dried-up grasses were unkempt, but not unruly, and, if he listened closely enough, he could probably hear the scratches, the scurries, of the small animals who were preparing themselves for the winter to come.

Maybe he was simply trying too hard.  Maybe the feeling that he was here, that he needed—that he was expected—to remember everything . . . Maybe it was too much, and maybe he felt it deep down.  Gin was so positive that coming here would somehow magically unlock everything he’d repressed over time.  Ben seemed to think the same thing, too.  As though he had taken these feelings on as his own, the disappointment, the frustration, in his own lack of cognizance . . . Was he simply putting too much pressure upon himself to remember?  And when that didn’t happen instantly, the feeling that he was failing himself—failing them all—was just a bitter, egregious thing.

Let it come.  You know you can’t force anything, and it’s okay if it doesn’t all come, flooding back.  In fact, that would probably be a bad thing if it happened that way.  You did the best that you could do, given your age, given what you did know.  Remembering everything, good and bad?  I don’t think that anyone’s ever, ‘old enough,’ to properly deal with all of that . . .

Common sense told him that it was all true. It didn’t do a thing to alleviate the misplaced sense that he really was failing in his one reason for being here, in the first place . . .

Zelig . . .?

Drawing up short, his head snapped to the side, glancing around, looking almost furiously for the source of the voice that he’d so clearly heard, and yet, it had felt as though it were carried on the wind.

But there was nobody.


-=======-

.:September 20, 2078:.
.:Boston, Massachusetts:.


Cain drew a deep breath and reached out, grasping the door knob as the soft beep of the biolock indicated that his genetic match to the code of the alarm had been accepted.

You know, don’t you?  You could wait till tomorrow to go in.  No one says you have to do everything in one day.

He let out a breath in a rush that blew his bangs upward, hand hesitating on the knob.  It was true, of course.  There really wasn’t any rush, and he knew that, too.  It didn’t really matter, though, not when he felt in his heart that time wasn’t really going to change anything.  Whether he walked in there now or if he waited a day or a week or ten years, nothing was going to be any different.  He would see what he would see, and there were no guarantees that he’d recognize the face in the painting over the staircase, and that really was the gist of his hesitation, wasn’t it?

What if he walked in, stared at that painting, and felt nothing at all?

And he supposed that was the crux of his reluctance.  He wanted to recognize her, wanted for every single flash of memory that he’d ever had when it came to her, to be filled in, just like that.

There really wasn’t anything else to put it off, anyway.  He’d spent the bulk of the afternoon, walking the grounds, wandering through the forest, along the stream—everywhere he could really have gone, and he hadn’t recognized anything then, either.

Maybe it would be better to go back to the hotel, to spend some time, trying to decompress before he opened the door, but if he did, then he had to wonder, too, if he would be able to find another reason to rationalize the compulsion to put it off then, and the day after that, and the day after that . . . It would be easy, wouldn’t it?  Easier to walk away than it would be to confront those things that he’d tried so hard to lock up tight . . .

The unwelcome trill of his cell phone stayed his hand, and he let out a deep breath.  For the briefest moment, he considered ignoring it, but one glance at the caller ID drew his eyebrows together in a thoughtful frown, and he connected the call, opting to send it straight to speaker instead of lifting it to his ear.  “Kagura,” he greeted.  “Funny you should call.”

The timeless wind-youkai laughed, the sound, warm and husky and entirely soothing—and familiar.  “Well, I could make small talk and say that I just wanted to see how you are, but I think you’re too smart not to realize that that’s a lie,” she explained rather glibly.

“Gin called you,” he concluded.  It wasn’t a question.

She sighed, but it wasn’t a sound of exasperation.  No, it seemed more like she might be trying to take a second, to think of how she wanted to state whatever it was that she had to say.  She never was one to beat around the bush, though—something else that Cain truly appreciated about her.  “She did,” Kagura admitted, and she paused for just a moment before she dove straight in.  “You’re good at covering your feelings.  You always have been.  Sometimes, however, there are things that mates just know.”  She trailed off for a moment, and when she spoke again, he could hear the smile behind her words.  “You can do it.  I’m not saying you have to do it right now, this second.  After all, you didn’t even know till recently that Ben still held the property for you, did you?  If you wanted to take a while—to consider what it is that you need to do . . . If you don’t feel ready, then it isn’t the right time.  You’ll know when it is.  You’ll know when it isn’t.”

“That’s not it,” Cain replied, scratching his scalp under his bangs.  “I mean, I . . . I want to know.  My parents . . . My mother . . . I want to remember her.”

“But maybe not the rest of it?” she prodded gently.

He grimaced.  “No . . . Well, partly, but . . .”

The silence that held between them over the expanse of the miles and miles that separated him and Kagura, halfway around the world or more, was thick.  Finally, though, she let out a deep breath.  “I never met your mother,” she said, her voice, low, soothing.  “I did meet your grandparents.  They . . . They wanted you to go live with them, but your father had brought you to Sesshoumaru for a reason, and we—Sesshoumaru and I . . . We weren’t sure if allowing you to go to them was a good idea for you at the time.  It took so long for your nightmares to stop, and we were afraid that sending you away would drag it all back up for you again . . . We’d thought that maybe you’d finally found a little bit of stability with us, you see . . .”

“My . . .” Cain shook his head, his frown deepening.  It was the first he’d heard of his grandparents, and he wasn’t sure why . . . “Are they still alive?”

“No,” she said, and she couldn’t hide the regret that colored her tone.  “There was an uprising not long after that—a few years, maybe.  A fire, and your grandfather died, saving a family, and, well, you know what happens after that . . .”

Cain grimaced.  “My mother’s parents?”

“Yes,” she went on.  “We were thankful then that we hadn’t sent you to them.  Seeing them die would have just made things so much worse for you, I think . . . Your father’s parents had died shortly after he left for North America in one of the human incidents.”

He shook his head, still grappling for a semblance of understanding and coming up just a little bit short.  “Why didn’t I ever meet them?  My mother’s parents?”

“You did,” she said.  “They came to see you a couple times.”

Another memory you locked away, Cain.

Kagura cleared her throat.  “They didn’t tell you who they were,” she said, and something about her tone of voice . . . She regretted that, didn’t she?  Regret and . . . and guilt . . . “I . . . I asked them not to.”  Then, she sighed.  “After I tried to get you to talk about your mother . . . After you shut down and retreated into yourself so many times, I just . . . I was worried that you wouldn’t be all right if they tried to tell you who they were, and I don’t know if I was right or wrong.  I never knew if you’d be angry at me for it—if you’d blame me for keeping that from you, but I—”

“You did what you thought was best for me,” Cain cut in, even as he brushed aside the surge of acute irritation brought on by her admission.  Anger wouldn’t help him now, and even if there were some benefit to be had, Kagura . . . She’d only ever tried to protect him, to shield him, like a mother would, even if she never was his own.  “It’s okay.”

She sighed, and the sadness in her voice was impossible to miss.  “Sesshoumaru told me that your mother—Akinako-san—was beautiful, truly beautiful.  He said that she was your father’s sun, that he lived his life to revolve around her.”

Somehow, the poetic nature of those words caught him off-guard, and he swallowed hard at the suspicious lump that rose, thick in his throat, even as he blinked to dispel the gathering sheen of moisture that clouded his vision.  “Did, uh . . . Did he?”

“He did.”

Cain said nothing for several moments.  He supposed that he just didn’t know how to put his feelings into words.  Or maybe, he just didn’t really know what it was that he felt, to begin with . . .

In the end, it was Kagura who broke the silence.  “Cain?”

Blinking away the slight daze that had settled over him, he stubbed the toe of his shoe against the porch beneath his feet.  “Yeah?”

“I just wanted you to know that I’m here if you need someone to talk to,” she said.  “I’m not your mother, and I never wanted to try to take her place, but you . . . You’re special to me—to Sesshoumaru.  I never told you that, and I should have.  But I want you to know that I’m never—we’re never—more than a phone call away.”

“I know,” he replied, breaking into a wan smile—a tender, yet sad, smile.  “Thank you for . . . for everything.”

“You’ve never needed to thank us.  So often, I wished that we could have done more for you.”  She uttered a soft laugh, a gentle sound.  “For what it’s worth, I know that your parents would be so proud of the man you became.”

“You did more than enough,” he told her, clearing his throat as a suspicious sense of tightness threatened to choke off his voice.  “I . . . I hope they would be.”

“I know so,” she assured him.  “I’ll let you go now.  Give me a call if you need anything.”

“I . . . I will,” he promised.  “Uh . . . bye.”  The call ended, and Cain stared thoughtfully at the device in his hand.

Regardless of the things she’d said, something about hearing her voice . . .

It was enough to calm him, wasn’t it?  And somehow, she’d managed to bolster his wavering resolve, too.

So, he reached once more for the door handle, just as the barest hint of a tiny smile quirked his lips.



-=======-

.:September 20, 2078:.
.:Boston, Massachusetts:.


“Ah, Cain.  There you are.  How’d things go?” Ben Philips asked as Cain flopped heavily into the chair across from him in the very nice but rather understated restaurant.  Not really a place Cain himself would have chosen, but it wasn’t like he really cared all that much at the moment, either.

Even so, he managed a wan smile as he nodded at the waitress who had hurried over to the table just as he’d sat down.  “Coffee,” he said, taking the menu she offered to him before turning his attention to the youkai general once more.  “In a word?  It didn’t.”

“It didn’t?” Ben echoed with a thoughtful frown as the waitress hurried away to bring Cain a cup of joe.  “What do you mean?”

Shaking his head slowly, Cain sighed.  “There wasn’t a portrait hanging over the stairs,” he explained.  “In fact, there weren’t any portraits anywhere that I could find.”

Resting his elbow on the table, Ben curled his raised fingers over his chin, over his lips.  “It could be that they were put into storage,” he finally remarked, the concentration on his face, lending an overall vacant quality to his unfocused gaze.  Suddenly, though, he blinked, seemed to give himself a mental shake, as he straightened up in his chair once more.  “There was some concern a while back that some of the paintings were starting to fade a little bit with age, now that I think about it.”  Digging out his phone, he scrolled through his contacts to fire off a text as the waitress slipped the steaming cup of coffee onto the table before Cain.

“Are you ready to order?” she asked pleasantly.

“Uh, do you have any specials?”

“Tonight’s special is orange cod—that’s fresh-caught cod that’s been lightly cooked in a really wonderful orange sauce and is served with a baked potato and harvest blend vegetables.  It’s really, really good.”

Cain nodded.  “Yeah, that sounds fine,” he told her.

“Sour cream?”

“No, thanks.  Just butter.”

“Sounds good to me, too,” Ben added.

“Soup or salad?”

Cain frowned.  “Neither, thanks.”

“I’ll pass, too,” Ben said.

“Appetizers?  Mushroom poppers, maybe?”

Shaking his head, Cain flicked a hand in dismissal.  “No, I’m good.”

“Okay.  I’ll be back with your dinner rolls,” she assured them before hurrying away once more.

Ben’s phone buzzed, and he quickly scanned the message he’d received.  “All the paintings were wrapped and put into the storage closet on the main floor after they were returned from the restoration specialist, they said.”

Cain nodded as he considered Ben’s words.  “You mean, the closet under the stairs with the lock on the door?”

Ben grimaced, even as a smile surfaced on his features.  “I apologize.  I forgot all about that or I’d have handed over that key, as well.”

It had surprised Cain when he’d seen it, the old-fashioned enameled door knob with the equally old-fashioned lock.  Then again, the entire inside of the house had retained a rustic sort of charm, as though nothing really had been changed too drastically over time.

“You left all the hardware in the house, but you had it wired for electricity?” Cain countered a little dryly.

Ben chuckled, pausing as he lifted a glass of what looked to be scotch to his lips.  “I thought you’d appreciate, having the place as close to the way it was as it could be.  I also thought you’d appreciate the idea of not being left in the dark, come sun-down.  Besides, your father made a lot of the furnishings in the house.  Not everything, of course, but back then, it was easier to build something than to buy it.  He wasn’t as good as, say, Griffin when it came to woodworking, but he did create some pretty solid pieces.”

Cain digested that in silence as the waitress slipped a plate before him.  “Thanks,” he managed, but only after he’d cleared his throat a couple of times, and he didn’t speak again until she was gone once more.  “I . . . I didn’t know . . .” he said, unable to contain the almost apologetic tone in his own voice.

“You were still a pup,” Ben replied.  “I imagine there were a lot of things about your parents that you didn’t know—maybe still don’t know.”  Shaking his head slowly, almost sadly, the panther-youkai let his gaze drop to his own plate of food, though he made no move to eat it.  “Sebastian was my best friend for a long, long time, and even I didn’t know everything about him.  What I do know, though . . . I’m more than happy to tell you everything.”

Cain managed a wan smile as he reached for his fork and knife.  In truth, he didn’t feel like eating anything, but Gin would ask later, so if it would make her feel better, than it was fine.  “I have questions,” he admitted slowly, almost deliberately, and keeping his attention focused on the plate.  “I think I know the important stuff, though.  My father wasn’t ever the question.  Mama . . . Mama is.”


-=======-

.:September 21, 2078:.
.:Boston, Massachusetts:.


Frowning in the artificial light that seemed to reflect off every single surface in the small closet under the grand staircase, Cain couldn’t help but to feel like he was somehow staring at a macabre and ordered array of zippered, black leather bags, not unlike the not-quite-plastic but not-quite-rubber body bags: the silent and appalling reminders of disturbing and oft-times violent ends.

There were no shelves in the closet, but there were obvious supports for them, he noticed as he wrinkled his nose slightly against the stale scents that had been trapped just a little too long.  A human likely wouldn’t really notice it, but he could: the dried-out wood, the oils that had been applied in an effort to stave back the signs of age . . . even the smell of leather that had somehow lingered, but had passed that warm and welcome scent, only to lean more into the more aged dustiness . . . All of it mingled together to shift into that smell of a room that had been closed up longer than it should have been, but as he stood, as he stared, he noticed other things, too.  The wooden shelves, were lined up neatly, resting against the opposite wall, along with a few old, wooden boxes.  He had no idea what was in those, and, at the moment, he didn’t really care too much.  Right now, his attention was focused more on the sentient line of paintings, masked and hidden from curious eyes in the secure palls of those somehow garish black leather bags.

A couple of the paintings were tall—taller than Cain.  The one against the wall was easily ten-feet-tall, and the rest of them were of varying heights that seemed to be arranged with the smallest of them in the front, resting quietly in a wooden rack like a large version of a kitchen dish drainer.

Ben, standing behind him, cleared his throat, as though he were trying to remind Cain that he was there.  “The, uh, tall one in the back—the biggest one . . . That’s the portrait of Daniella.”

Nodding slowly, Cain started to lift his hand, but he didn’t reach for it.  Maybe he was garnering his resolve.  He wasn’t sure.

“That one in front of it is probably the one that used to hang over your father’s desk: a family portrait.”  Cain heard the faint smile in Ben’s voice, but he didn’t turn to look at him.  “Your mother, however, wasn’t fond of it.  She said she looked weird in it.  Well, she didn’t say, ‘weird’ . . . I think her word was, ‘waxen . . .”

Cain didn’t reply, but he did reach for the painting in question.  Something about it seemed like the lesser of two evils, and he ignored Ben’s hand to help him as he grasped the painting and slipped past him, back into the wider, airier, open foyer.

Ben had told him, albeit quietly and with a definite air of sadness, that this very foyer was the place where Daniella had been killed.  What had struck him at the time, however, was the absolute pristine quality of every single thing, from the woodwork that adored the entire place to the intricately carved bannister railings of the grand staircase . . . Ben, no doubt, had ordered the repairs, the restoration, neatly cleaning away all the signs of the violence that had last visited the old place, but in Cain’s mind, he wasn’t entirely sure, whether or not he ought to be thankful for his efforts.  In the end, however, he supposed that he ought to be.  The last thing he wanted to see was the destruction that would have lingered.

Cain set the portrait on the wooden table with a marble top that might have once held a wash basin, carefully resting it against the wall, and, without any kind of ceremony, he unzipped the bag and pulled it open.

His father, his mother, and she was holding a small bundle in her arms . . . Though Cain couldn’t really see himself—the infant—the wispy tufts of bronze hair sticking out from the confines of the pristine white blanket that he was wrapped in, spoke plainly enough, but he didn’t rightfully care about that.

Sebastian didn’t smile, and even in the simplicity of the painting, Cain could very clearly see the remarkable similarities between his first-born son and his father, right down to the rather serious expressions they both tended to favor.  It was more than that, though.  Broad of chest, broad of shoulders—much burlier than Cain himself was—with the fine facial structure that bordered upon, ‘pretty’ . . . The only real difference was the sharp blue eyes that stared out of the painting and Bas’ golden eyes—Gin’s eyes.  His father, too, was wearing very proper clothing from that time, Cain supposed, the burgundy brocade jacket that was just a little longer than the vest below, the bit of very formal cravat that was secured at his throat, over the crisp, white lawn blouse . . . Hair clubbed back at the base of his neck, even as the length of the tail spilled neatly over his left shoulder, the strands, wrapped around the ends of the black ribbon that held his hair back . . .

His mother . . .

Deep brown hair that held onto reddish highlights, swept up and off her face, caught back in a configuration of soft swirls . . . light lilac eyes . . . pale skin, just kissed with the barest hint of a blush . . . Perfectly turned out in a dress comprised of yards and yards of yellow silk with billows of lace, spilling from the large bell-sleeves . . . She was pretty, of course.  Despite that, though . . .

And yet, as Cain stood and stared at the image, he couldn’t help the nagging feeling that it wasn’t right—that something wasn’t right.

You recognize your father, and maybe, in some vague sense, you recognize that woman who is your mother, too, but in your heart, you don’t, do you?  Or maybe it’d be more accurate to say, you can’t.  On some level, the mother you know in your mind . . . That’s not what she looked like—not to you.

Narrowing his gaze, assessing the painting with the eye of a fellow artist, Cain couldn’t quite help it.  It was so ingrained in him that it came as second nature, as naturally to him as drawing breath.  Even so . . .

Maybe the painter was a little too heavy-handed with the shadows, drawing too stark a contrast that gave her an almost gaunt sort of appearance—hollows that were too deep around her eyes, cheekbones that seemed a little too sharp to have been any kind of accurate representation.  The woman in the painting was too thin under the flounces of skirts and the trappings of lace and silks and satins.  As long ago as his childhood was, he knew instinctively that he did not remember ever feeling the uncomfortable poke of bones that were a little too close to the surface of the skin.  His mother was a soft creature, a gentle creature, and he knew this in his heart, even if he knew nothing else . . .

And the bitter wash of disappointment was just too hard to comprehend.  Grinding his teeth together so hard that his jaw ached, his teeth groaned as they scraped against each other, Cain didn’t dare reach out, didn’t dare touch the canvas before him, had to tamp down the instant and unnatural desire to destroy the painting.  Turning away, he flicked a hand, hoping—praying—that Ben understood.  He did, thank God, silently stepping past Cain as he retreated, and, in the silence, the deafening sound of the zipper, slowly sliding closed, grated against his already roughened nerves.

Ben cleared his throat, and when he spoke, his voice was quiet, a little rough.  “If it helps, Daniella wasn’t very pleased with this particular portrait, either.  She . . . She said that she looked too stern in it . . .”

Cain let out a deep breath, scratching at his bangs, tugging on his hair.  “Maybe this is all a big mistake,” he muttered as Ben slipped the painting back into the closet.  “I . . . I don’t think I want to see the other painting.”

Ben didn’t speak right away.  Clapping a solid hand on Cain’s shoulder, he gave it a squeeze and sighed.  “You don’t have to,” he finally said.  “I kind of thought that this whole trip was a little too rushed, a little too sudden, for you.  You’re not like Gin.  She’s kind of like her own father in that way.  They say he’s impetuous, but I think InuYasha is more of the type who simply won’t put things off—wants to face it, head on, right now, and sometimes it’s the right thing.  Sometimes, it’s not.  But you’re not like that.  You never have been, and if you need more time to process things, then you shouldn’t feel like you have to do it all on someone else’s schedule, even if that someone else is your darling mate.”

Sparing a moment to cast Ben a surprised, if not somewhat thankful, glance, Cain gave a curt nod before stepping over to the window beside the front door.  Everything outside was silent and still, no sign of disturbance—nothing at all.

“I’m going to look around a little more,” he said, turning on his heel, heading for the stairs.  “Maybe after that . . .”

Ben nodded, hands dug deep into his pockets as he watched Cain’s retreat.  When he glanced back down over the stairwell railing, he saw the thoughtful expression on his friend’s face.  He saw the questions that Ben wanted to ask, the things that Ben wanted to say.  He saw those things, but he ignored them, taking the steps, two at a time in his need to escape, to find a solitude he wasn’t entirely sure existed in this place.


-=======-

.:September 21, 2078:.
.:Boston, Massachusetts:.


Cain wasn’t sure, what made him open his eyes.

Blinking slowly as he shifted his gaze around the eerie emptiness, Cain could almost feel the condensation on his skin, the soft blanket of fog that seemed to fill the space.  He couldn’t see anything, couldn’t make out a thing to help him ascertain his location.  Glancing down, frown deepening as he slowly lifted his hands, palms up, he shook his head.  He was standing, and yet, he distinctly remembered, laying down, stretching out on the hotel room bed as he talked to Gin in hushed tones until she fell asleep.  He . . . He was sleeping, wasn’t he?  Of course, he was, but if that were so, then why did his thoughts feel so much clearer than they ought to be . . .?

‘Where . . . am I . . .?’

For once, his youkai-voice remained silent.

Letting out a deep breath as he let his hands drop to his sides, Cain shuffled forward cautiously, narrowing his eyes since he really couldn’t see more than a few inches from his face, and, while he really couldn’t make out a thing, he had the feeling that he was back in the house once more . . .

The uniformity of the haze seemed to brighten as he moved, like it was some sort of weird liquid, and he blinked when a stout door seemed to materialize in front of him.

The echo of heavy footsteps seemed to ricochet around him—a strangely hollow kind of resonance—the sound of solid heels on a hardwood floor in an empty room.  He came closer, and Cain turned, just in time to see a vague and shadowy figure, and even as he closed the distance between them, Cain couldn’t make out his face, his body.

But that person—whoever it was—didn’t falter in his stride.  He passed right through Cain, just as the smell of forest—of the trees and the earth and the air—seemed to surround him, inundating him with an almost instant and fierce sense of peace, of security, that was hard to credit.  It was an entirely familiar scent—one he hadn’t smelled in so long that it shocked him, stunned him, that he actually remembered it, at all . . . The door opened with a soft scrape, and he left it ajar, stepping into the room without breaking his stride.

P . . . Papa . . .”

His words held no sound, like it was swallowed by the mist that still hung thick in the air.  Eyebrows drawing together as he slowly, almost cautiously, followed the man—his father?—through the doorway, he couldn’t quite credit the contradictory nature of the emotions that slammed through him.  The anticipation, the desperation that he remembered from that day so very long ago, as he’d watched his father walk away for the very last time . . . and the overlying sense of foreboding, of fear . . . Fear?  He grimaced.  Yes, it was fear—fear that, if he got too close, his father would fade away once more.  Still, he couldn’t help himself as he moved closer to the slightly darkened form, noting in a rather vague kind of way that his own feet made no noise.  He was there, of course, and yet, he wasn’t, was he?  It was almost like he was just watching or . . .

It really was a dream, wasn’t it?  A strange and mysterious kind of dream that made no sense.  He was able to think with such clarity that wasn’t common for a dream state, and he couldn’t really remember anything like it before.  It was entirely too vivid, too . . . too real . . .

And even as he stood, contemplating just what was going on, the mist finally started to recede, and as it did, the light seemed to fade until he was left in an almost twilight dusk.  Everything was enveloped in a haze of grey, and he gritted his teeth when he realized that he was wrong.  It wasn’t a waning light, was it?  No, it was more like . . . more like, everything—everything—was cast in a strange kind of grayscale, like those really old movies and television shows, like those first pictures after the sepia tones had been retired . . .

Frown deepening as he brushed aside the things that really didn’t matter, he focused instead on the sight of his father, eyes greedily drinking in every single detail of the one man he never thought he’d see again—and in that moment, that instant, that sense of desperation, of absolute terror . . . He was that child once more, wasn’t he?  That little boy who just wanted his father to stay with him . . .

Sebastian sat behind the wide and sturdy desk, looking over something that Cain couldn’t quite make out.  After a moment, though, he let the paper fall on the desktop and reached over, grabbing a pencil without lifting his head, he seemed to be writing something on the paper, but from Cain’s vantage point, he still had no idea, just what it was.

For several long minutes, he worked in silence.  Then, he sat back with a sigh, but it seemed to be more of a sound of accomplishment or even satisfaction, and he dropped the pencil before lifting the paper carefully, sparing a moment to give it a critical eye.  Standing up, he laid a hand upon the flat desktop, and Cain watched as Sebastian’s hand took on a brilliant white glow, and slowly, the surface pulled apart in the middle.  He laid the paper in a shallow compartment it revealed before closing it up once more.  He raised his head, and for one brief, almost shocking moment, Cain thought that maybe he could see him.  He was staring directly at him . . . But then, he looked away.  That done, he let out a deep breath and stepped away, rounding the desk, heading back toward the doorway once more.

Papa!” Cain called out as Sebastian strode past him, but his father didn’t hear him, and, as he crossed the threshold, his body seemed to fade, along with the sound of his footsteps, leaving Cain, all alone, all over again, and the rawness that the loss inspired in him was just as harsh, just as brutal, as it had been, centuries before.

Eyes flashing open in the ambient light of the lamp he’d left on low, Cain sat up, rubbed his face, frowned into the half-dark as he slowly shifted his gaze over the hotel room, as a quiet groan slipped out of him before he could try to staunch it.  He was alone, of course, and the room was silent.  Even so, he stood up, shuffled over to the large windows.  Pushing them open, he let out a deep breath as the sounds of the city came to him along with the welcome rush of crisp night air.  He pulled a cigarette out of the slightly crushed hard pack in his pocket, ignoring the idea that the hotel was a smoke-free environment as he lit it and breathed in deep.

So, what do you think that was all about?

He didn’t answer his youkai-voice right away.  Watching instead as the smoke filtered from his lips and rose in a steady stream out the window, only to thin and dispel as it slowly floated away just like the way the haze in the dream had disbursed, dissolved, and the melancholy that surged up inside him was bitter and harsh and cruel.

I . . . I don’t know,’ he admitted, lifting the cigarette once more.  Powerless to stop himself from reliving every last moment of that vision, he let his forehead fall against the cold steel frame, closing his eyes, biting back the thickened bile that lingered in the back of his throat.

It was almost as if . . . as if . . .

His youkai sighed.  ‘As if your father . . . wanted to show you something . . .


-=======-

.:September 22, 2078:.
.:Boston, Massachusetts:.


Slowly, almost methodically, letting his gaze shift around the empty foyer, Cain let out a deep breath.

Ben had offered to cancel the one meeting he had this morning, but Cain had assured him that he’d rather come here alone.

He wasn’t able to go back to sleep.  That dream he’d had . . . It was entirely too vivid, too . . . too clear, and even if he really didn’t understand it any better than he had in the night, he couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something here—something he was meant to find.

Papa . . . what were you trying to show me . . .?

He didn’t really expect an answer, and he didn’t get one.  The only sound that came to him was the sudden rush of the furnace that kicked on, and in the stillness that surrounded him, it was a little shocking.

Just like in that dream, Cain stepped forward, gaze narrowing as he frowned at the door at the end of the hallway.  It was his father’s office—a place that Cain remembered well enough.  That was the room where he had been called on the carpet often enough, most of the time, it was for chasing the cat, Rufus up the tree that still stood in the yard.  It was a room that was intended to be an austere place, and it was.  Most evenings were spent, in the comfort of the informal sitting room near the huge hearth where his mother would often sit in the delicate rocking chair that she favored, knitting or sewing, humming songs, low, under her breath, while Sebastian sat with Cain on his knee, telling him tales of their youths or explaining the ways of the youkai—youkai that Cain would one day be charged with leading . . .

It made no sense, did it?  Cain could remember those evenings well enough, and yes, those memories were burnished with the invisible hand of times long past, and maybe those same things were altered in his mind by the passage of so many years.  Even so, he could remember things—scents or sounds or feelings.  He could remember the look on Sebastian’s face whenever he tried to impart wisdom, even when Cain was more interested in playing—that expression that Cain came to understand meant that his father was trying to be serious, stern, even though some part of him really wanted to laugh.

And yet, he still couldn’t remember his mother’s face.

Hesitating when he stopped before the closed door, he reached out, drew a deep, steadying breath, pushed it open.  The hinges made no sound as the surface moved aside, as the room revealed itself, the same as the dream.

Sebastian’s sword hung over the darkened fireplace.  If he had it that night so long ago, Cain didn’t know, and he hadn’t stopped to think about it since.  If he had it, then maybe Sesshoumaru had sent it back to Ben.  Eyes narrowing even more, Cain took one step forward, but stopped.  From where he stood, he could see the dulled blade, could feel the diminished youki.  As though the weapon knew that its wielder was no longer of this world, it lay dormant, didn’t it?  Dormant and . . . ‘It’s . . . The sword is . . . mourning . . .

It was more something that he sensed as he stared at it, and it made sense.  Sesshoumaru had told him once that youkai weapons weren’t like the soulless kinds that humans created and used—instruments that were forged from steel or stone.  Human swordsmiths didn’t know how to forge them in the same way.  Oh, some of them were very good, certainly, but there wasn’t a human weapon on earth that could defeat a youkai weapon of the same classification.  Youkai weapons could and did bond with their wielders, and even when they were handed down, there was no guarantee that the weapons would accept the new owner, either.  It was one of the reasons why most youkai tended to have new weapons forged for their offspring when they’d earned the right to carry one of their own . . .

Makes you wonder if Bas could use your father’s sword since he’s so much like him,’ Cain’s youkai-voice remarked.

That thought gave him pause for a moment.  True, Cain himself hadn’t really ever tried to use the blade.  He was given his sword when he’d completed his training back in Japan, so there never was a need, even if he had thought to ask about it.  Bas, however, already had Triumvirate, which was absolutely his sword in every way possible.

Never mind that.  Guess I got sidetracked.  Your father’s desk . . . Just how did he open that up?

Drawn out of his momentary preoccupation, Cain’s gaze dropped to the desk that was situated before the wide stone hearth.  It wasn’t a fancy piece, was, in fact, very thick and chunky.  Despite the perceived inelegance of it, Cain found that he liked the sturdiness of the overall design.  He wasn’t sure if it was one of the pieces of furniture that his father had made, and really, it didn’t matter.  Everything about this room felt like Sebastian, as though a bit of him had managed to live on in this office alone . . .

He stepped around the desk, staring hard at the smooth and polished top.  Had it not been for the dream, he never would have thought that it could open the way it had.  There was no trace at all of any kind of seam where it might split apart, and he had to wonder if he hadn’t simply read too much into it, perhaps it was nothing more than a dream after all.  Was there really something hidden in there?  But . . .

Still, he frowned as he placed his hand on the surface, concentrated his youki into it.  It took on a white glow, and he was surprised when the top slowly started to split apart.

The light was so bright that he couldn’t see past his hand, even as the fissure that appeared, widened.  All told, it only took a few seconds for the sides to part, but it felt like much longer.  As the light died away, Cain blinked, shook his head slightly at the papers that lay in the hidden compartment.

“Wh . . . What . . .?” he rasped out, pulling the thin stack of papers out.  He didn’t know what he’d expected to find, but, as he stared at the top sheet of parchment paper, his frown shifted into an expression of surprise.

It was a sketch of a woman.  Standing before a window, staring outside, only her profile was visible—her profile that included a very rounded belly that was visible despite the layers of the dress she wore.  Rendered with a very skillful hand, the image was beautiful in its simplicity, right down to the details of the embroidery on the sleeves of her dress.  Despite the years, despite the knowledge that the insular moment in time really had been as fleeting, as bittersweet, as it was, exhilarating and breathtaking . . . and somehow, so full of a simple kind of joy that Cain could see it in every delicate line on the parchment.

Page after page of images, of memories, captured on paper, and all of them were captured with the same loving precision, the same depth of feeling . . . All of them were of the girl—his father was never rendered—and a few of them depicted Cain, too, though there didn’t seem to be any real order, as far as time progression, and every one of them . . .

Flipping to the next page, Cain slowly shook his head.  The page was yellowed, felt so delicate in his hands, as though it could crumble to dust with the slightest effort, but the image on that bit of parchment was so deft, so clear . . . A young girl, dressed in layers of fine kimonos, her loose hair, caught and suspended, strand by strand, in the invisible fingers of the breeze, even as a shy and entirely endearing smile touched her lips, lent itself to the sparkle in her eyes, but that smile . . .

M . . . Mama . . .

And, just like that, the gates that had held his memory closed for so very long, crashed wide open, and Cain quickly let the pages drop onto the desk once more, his hands trembling, shaking so badly that he couldn’t trust himself, not to damage them.  Suddenly, his knees gave way, and he slumped into the wooden chair behind him, slouching forward, smashing his face into his still-trembling hands, as the first tears came—ugly tears, wretched tears—tears that reached back over the centuries, rattling out of him in a pitiful rush—every single tear he couldn’t cry back then—all of them, all at once, as the feeling of desolation overwhelmed him when the invisible wall he’d so painstakingly built came crashing down around him.

The memories were savage, vicious, and yet, they tumbled through his head faster than he could comprehend them . . . Somehow, he felt as though he was four years old again, lost and alone and frightened, right back to that night when the world had been forged in flames and gunfire, in cloying smoke and the stench of the acrid belch of rifles . . . And they were the tears of a little boy who really hadn’t understood, no matter how hard he tried . . . That moment, waking up in the darkened cabin on the ship, bound for the old world, remembering those words that his father had said . . .

"I'm sorry, son . . . Mama's . . . Mama's not here . . . I . . . I failed to protect her.  I'm sorry, Zelig . . . I'm sorry."

The ache that ripped open so deep down, hurt in a way that left Cain reeling.  Every passing second only served to open the jagged wound wider as the hateful, shameful teardrops fell.  As though every single emotion he’d locked away suddenly managed to break free, he couldn’t control himself, couldn’t stop the tide.

Yet, the longer he cried, the worse the pain grew—harsh and ugly and so overwhelming.  A bitter howling seemed to ricochet around in his head, in his ears, enough to drive him mad, and he tried in vain to block it out, even as another sob wrenched itself free in a roughened bark, a piteous sound that echoed off the walls of the lonely room . . .

It’s all right, you know.  You pushed the grief aside for your father, didn’t you?  Back then, back when you should have been able to mourn her, you somehow managed to drive it down because . . . because you were afraid that you’d hurt him . . . You’ve waited this long to do this, and now . . . Well, it’s okay.

What’s the matter, Zellie?  Did you scrape your knee?  Don’t cry . . . It might hurt now, but it’ll be right as rain soon enough, Mama promises . . .

And the whisper of that voice—that voice—was so familiar, so welcome . . . and so, so very painful, too . . .

Are these for me?  Did you pick these yourself?  Thank you!  They’re beautiful!

The feel of her lips, so warm, so comforting, against his forehead as she held the random and rather ragged bouquet of wildflowers that he’d brought to her, and yet, he’d squirmed away, wrinkling his nose as he broke away from her, the heels of his shoes, tapping against the wooden floor as he ran for the door again, as her laughter sounded behind him . . .

Are you such a great, big boy now that I cannot hug you anymore?” she teased.  So, he hugged her, but not until after he’d looked around, made sure that no one else was in the room to see it, and then, he’d broken away just as quickly, ready to retreat once more . . .

Make sure you wash behind your ears, and don’t forget the back of your neck,” she called from where she leaned in the doorway, arms crossed over her stomach, a tolerant little smile on her lips as he made a face, but redirected the sudsy washcloth . . .

Come, sit with Mama while I tell you a story . . .

And just how often had he tried to avoid her?  Believing that he was too big to humor her when all she ever wanted . . .

Grimacing as another harsh sob rattled out of him, Cain couldn’t help the brutal surge of absolute shame that washed over him, the embarrassment that he would have been thoughtless enough to feel as though she was little more than a trial to be borne, to feel like she . . .

Don’t do that, Cain.  You were no different than any other pup.  Think about your own children.  They all reached that point, too.  It doesn’t mean you didn’t love her, and she knew that, probably better than anyone.  These memories . . . They ought to comfort you, not cause you regret.

He didn’t know how long he sat there, didn’t know how long he cried.  He didn’t know when he’d stopped crying, either, but in the end, he blinked, sighed as he stared without seeing at the windows on the far side of the room.  There was an emptiness, a feeling of void, that settled over him, a nothingness that numbed his mind, his overwrought emotions.

Those sketches . . . Those are the mother you remember.

Nodding vaguely, Cain frowned as his gaze shifted to the pile of papers, laying on one side of the opened desktop.  He wanted to look at them again, and yet, he didn’t, all at the same time.  Looking at those pictures hurt, maybe more than he could credit, and yet . . .

His youkai-voice sighed softly.  ‘And yet, they offer you a semblance of peace, too.

In truth, he felt like he was going just a little bit crazy, like every bit of reason had been systematically stripped from him, even if he knew damn well that it wasn’t like that, at all.

But who drew them?’ he wondered as he slowly, hesitantly, reached out, picked up the stack of parchment once more.

You really don’t know, Cain?  After that dream, you ought to.  It was your father, wasn’t it?  Your father . . .

Papa . . .? But he didn’t . . .’ Cain grimaced, remembering all too well, how many times he’d been told to stop wasting paper when he’d draw instead of writing his lessons.

He objected to the idea that you weren’t taking your lessons seriously, but I don’t think he ever objected to your drawings.  Didn’t he even save one and send it to Ben?  That means something, Cain.  It means a hell of a lot.  Maybe . . . Maybe he just never had the same opportunities that you did.  After all, the world was a lot more volatile back then.  He had to be a different kind of man—a little tougher, a little harder.  After everything that happened, you . . . You know this better than anyone.

Cain didn’t respond to that as his gaze dropped to the sketches in his hand.  The sadness still lingered, but as he stared at her face, the one he knew so well, he almost smiled.

Almost.


-=======-

.:September 22, 2078:.
.:Boston, Massachusetts:.


“Zelig?”

Cain let out a deep breath as his chin snapped up, as he leaned to the side to peer down the hallway.  “In here,” he called, his gaze, dropping back to the sketches he’d been poring over since well before Ben had called to see if he was all right.

The echo of the panther’s footsteps sounded in the long and empty hallway, and when he spotted Cain, sitting behind the prodigious desk, he stopped short, his eyes widening for just a moment, the color, siphoning out of his skin before he gave himself a mental shake and smiled, albeit, wanly.  “Brings back memories,” he murmured, digging his fists, deep into the pockets of his sensible trousers, rocking back on his heels slowly, as though he were considering something.  “Reminds me of your father.”

Cain nodded absently, almost as though he hadn’t really heard Ben, at all.  “Did you know?” he asked instead, completely ignoring the youkai general’s statements.

“Did I know what?”

“Did you know that Papa . . . that Papa was an artist?”

“What’s that?” Ben blurted before he could stop himself.  “What do you mean?”

Leaning back in the stout, antique chair, Cain almost reluctantly held out the stack of papers as his gaze finally rose to lock with Ben’s.

Ben eyed Cain for a long moment before slowly reaching out to take the images, and he said nothing as he leafed through them, handling them as though they were the most delicate things on earth.  Then, he sighed.  “I . . . I never knew,” he replied quietly, brow furrowing as he continued to look through the pages.  “I never knew . . .”

Cain digested that for a minute.  Maybe . . . He’d heard of some artists before who were extremely unwilling to share their work in life, only for it to be discovered long after their deaths.  Whether they weren’t confident in their own talent or they believed that their works were things that they wished to keep to themselves, he didn’t know, but obviously, his father was one of those people, too . . .

Suddenly, Ben chuckled, holding the papers out for Cain to take once more.  “I have to say, I never thought he’d ever have been the type to sit and sketch,” he remarked at length. “He was too fidgety . . . really hated to sit still . . .” He barked out a terse laugh, lifting a hand, scratching the back of his neck in an almost nervous kind of way.  “In a way, he was a lot like Evan that way—or, well, I guess it’d be more accurate to say that Evan’s like him . . .”

Cain grunted.  “God forbid.”

His dark assessment made Ben laugh.  “Well, not just like Evan.  Then again, maybe he would have been if he hadn’t been put into the position of the North American tai-youkai—not to mention that he’d met Daniella pretty early on . . . and the times were different then, of course.”

“I thought you said that Papa was serious all the time,” Cain said.

Ben shrugged.  “He grew into that.  He wasn’t nearly so serious when we were younger, before we came to America.”

Cain frowned thoughtfully, his eyes, drawn back to the images once more.  “This . . . This is the Mama I remember,” he confessed.  “These sketches . . .” And he sighed.  “The paintings feel too . . . too impersonal.  I . . . I don’t remember her ever being that serious, that stoic.  Mama . . . Mama laughed—a lot . . .” He swallowed hard, let out a heavy sigh.  “She was always smiling, laughing . . . and her eyes always sparkled . . .”

Nodding in agreement, Ben rubbed his eyes.  “Sebastian loved to make her laugh.  In the days after we’d first arrived here, she was sad a lot—missing her people, feeling isolated in a land where she didn’t know the language, the people . . . We were raised away from most humans, though not on purpose, exactly.  It was a more dangerous time, though, so many of us tended to avoid them, for the most part.  We didn’t hate them like some youkai did, but we all heard the rumors—the humans who had turned on our kind . . . So, we found life to be far less stressful if we avoided them as much as we could . . .” Suddenly, he seemed to give himself a little shake, and he smiled once more.  “It took your mama a little while to get used to Boston Colony, and your father made it one of his missions to give her things to smile about, and, eventually, you were born, and I don’t think I ever saw Daniella happier than she was after that day.”

“That’s . . . That’s how I want to remember her,” Cain finally said, smiling wanly as he stared at an image of his mother.  “That’s how I . . . I need to remember her . . .”


-=======-

.:September 22, 2078:.
.:Bevelle, Maine:.


“Mama, when’s Daddy coming home?”

Glancing up from the steaming pot of beef stew, simmering on the stove top, Gin smiled as she watched Daniella as the youngster climbed onto one of the stools across from her.  Deep brown hair with a sheen of red, falling into her tiny face as she scaled the chair, she looked as though she were deep in contemplation that almost made Gin laugh out loud.  “He’ll be back soon enough,” she replied since she really wasn’t entirely sure, exactly how much longer Cain would be gone.

Daniella’s light, lilac eyes that were ringed with a deeper violet seemed to cloud over as her little face scrunched up in a marked scowl.  “I miss him,” she half-growled, half-pouted.

Gin’s smile took on a commiserating tilt.  “I do, too,” she admitted.  “Maybe we could—” Cut off when her cell phone rang, Gin giggled.  “Speak of the devil!”

“The devil, am I?” Cain remarked dryly when the video call connected.

Her giggles escalated.  “I’m sorry.  Daniella was just saying that she misses you, so I was going to ask her if she wanted to call you, but you were faster.  How are things going, Zelig-sensei?”

He sighed.  “Well—”

“Daddy!” Daniella squealed, hopping up onto the counter and grabbing Gin’s hand to turn the phone as she leaned in, blocking everything out of the field of view except her own face.  “Daddy, come home!”

Cain chuckled, but he sounded a little hollow, a little weary, and Gin frowned.  “Uh, soon, little girl.  You behaving?”

She didn’t like his answer, but she nodded as the petulant expression resurfaced on her cherubic face once more. “I’m being good,” she assured him.

“That’s my girl,” he agreed pleasantly.  “Where are your brothers?”

She wrinkled her nose.  “They’re watching Monster Farmers,” she complained since she did not like the show as much as her siblings.

Cain chuckled.  “Why don’t you go get them so I can say hi to them, too?”

Daniella considered that for a moment, then she shrugged.  “Okay, Daddy!” she exclaimed as she let go of Gin’s hand and scooted off the counter, landing on the floor with a dull thud.  Then she scampered out of the room, and Gin sighed.

“Hey, uh, baby girl . . .”

“Hmm?”

Cain tried to smile, but it seemed more like a grimace, and he rubbed his face with his free hand.  “I hate to ask . . .”

She frowned and bit her lip.  “You can ask me anything, Cain,” she reminded him gently.

Again, he sighed.  “I know,” he allowed.  “It’s just . . . Do you think you could fly down?  I . . . I want you here.”

Gin hesitated.  On the one hand, she really felt as though he needed to do this for himself, and, if he hadn’t yet made any progress, she hated to interrupt him.  On the other?  She missed him more than the children did, she was sure . . .

Cain cleared his throat.  “I . . . I found some sketches of her today,” he went on, oblivious to Gin’s inner turmoil.  “Of . . . Of Mama . . .”

Gin blinked.  “You did?  Not those paintings, you mean?”

He nodded slowly, leaning back against the row of windows in his hotel room.  It was getting dark out, and the hazy grey light of the falling evening seemed to wash out the colors that touched it, including Cain himself.  “My, uh . . . My father sketched her,” he told her, his voice taking on a slightly awed tone.  “I mean, I never knew he ever drew . . .”

Gin shook her head slightly.  “He did?”

“I guess that’s where I got it,” Cain admitted, breaking into a rueful smile.

“I’d love to see them,” she assured him gently.

“I can’t wait to show you,” he said.  “Ben’s got them right now.  He said he knows a guy who can preserve them for me—the same guy who restored the paintings.”

“And he’ll be careful?”

“I trust Ben’s judgement,” Cain told her.  “Now, about you, flying down here . . .”

“I’m sure I can,” she replied.  “I’ll give Bas and Sydnie a call, see if they can’t keep the triplets—”

“Bring them,” he interrupted.  “I mean, I hate the idea of you having to deal with all three of them on a plane, but . . . Well, see if you can get Bas and Evan and Jilli to come, too.  I’d call Belle, but it might be short notice . . .”

“Maybe she can come,” Gin told him.  “Give her a call.”

“I will,” he said, idly scratching his chin.  “I’ll call her on the way back out to the house.”

“You’re going back there tonight?”

He nodded.  “Yeah, I think . . . I mean, I want to.  I just came back here to get my stuff and check out—and to see what that old fart is doing.”

Gin blinked and shook her head.  “Old . . .?  Cain Zelig, you didn’t just call your best friend—”

His chuckles cut her off.  “Yeah, I did,” he said, looking and sounding entirely unrepentant.  Then, he sighed, but he didn’t sound weary.  It was more of a contented kind of sound.  “Have Bailey fly with you and the pups.  He can help you corral them a little bit.  I . . . I can’t wait to see you all . . . Feels like I’ve been away for a century . . .”

Gin smiled.  “You want to share your childhood home with all your family,” she concluded.

Cain smiled, too, and this time, the expression looked much more like the one she knew so well.  “Something like that,” he allowed.

“I’m not sure what anyone’s plans are,” she mused.  “I’ll do my best, though.”

He nodded, but he didn’t respond for a long moment.  He looked like he was considering something, and then, he rubbed his eye.  “I remember her,” he admitted quietly.  Suddenly, he chuckled again, shaking his head slowly.  “Ben wasn’t kidding.  Dani . . . She really does look just like Mama.”

Gin giggled.  “Then she really was beautiful.”

“Yeah,” Cain agreed, his smile taking on a rather bashful tilt.  “Yeah . . . She . . . She was . . .”


-=======-

.:September 22, 2078:.
.:Boston, Massachusetts:.


Zellie . . . Ze-e-e-ellie . . .”

He could feel his brow furrow, even as the confines of sleep still clung to him, holding him so tightly, almost as though it were afraid to let him go.

Zellie, I don’t have much time.  Please . . .”

Eyes flashing open, Cain pushed himself up, blinking in sleep-addled confusion into the blackness that surrounded him.  He was alone, and yet, he could sense . . . someone . . . near, but . . . “Who . . .?

And gradually, the void seemed to lift, to soften, to brighten by degrees, leaving everything in a murky grey.

A quiet, gentle laugh—more of a giggle—sounded around him, and, as if it were the trigger, that greyness broke, too, surrounding him with the same misty whiteness that had come to him in the dream where he’d followed his father into his office.

You look so very much like your father . . . You did when you were just a boy, but now . . .” She sighed, and it was a sad sort of sound.  “I wish that I had lived long enough to see you as you are now . . .”

He blinked, shook his head, even as his brain rejected what his eyes saw, as she appeared before him, her body, thin, almost transparent.  Her hair, stirred by a breeze that didn’t touch him, settled around her, so long that the brown strands, shot through with nearly golden highlights, with hints of red, a fiery sheen, pooled around her on the antique lace coverlet.  Pale lilac eyes, ringed in a darker hue, so luminous that they seemed to glow, skin so pale, so perfect, even against the stark whiteness of the simple dress she wore, she laughed once more.  Slowly, her form seemed to pull together, seemed to solidify just as the scent of her filled his senses, bringing with it a flood of familiarity, the sense of entire peace and well-being that he’d forgotten for such a long, long time.  He’d found it again when he’d found Gin, but there was something just a little different.  Maybe it was the strange, but welcome sense of innocence that belied the emotion.  He didn’t know . . .

She laughed again, drawing up her knees, tucking her bare feet demurely to the side, as she turned to face him, as she leaned in to brush his bangs out of his face, lilac eyes, glowing so brightly, and the absolute adoration he saw in her expression, felt in her very aura, was humbling and beautiful and painful, all at once.  “I’ve waited such a long time,” she told him, but she didn’t sound unhappy.  “Keiji—Sebastian—your father—said that you’d come, seeing answers one day, so I hoped and prayed and . . . and here you are.”

Catching her hand in his, refusing to let go of the warmth, the comfort, of her touch, Cain shook his head again, and he had to swallow the suspicious lump that formed in his throat a few times before he could find his voice.  “M . . . Mama . . .”

I . . . I wanted you to know . . . I wanted to tell you how sorry I am,” she said, the laughter in her voice, evaporating as a sadness that he could feel washed over her.  “I never wanted to leave you, Zellie . . . It was the very last thing I wanted, and I . . . I tried . . .”

I’m fine,” he told her, hating the sense of melancholy that surrounded her, hoping that his reassurances would dispel her sadness.  “Mama, don’t—”

She shook her head to cut him off short, sending another wash of her scent to him, and he stubbornly tried to memorize it, tried so very hard to memorize everything about her.  “It was my job to protect you, and I . . . I failed.  I left you alone.  I took your father from you, and I—”

It wasn’t your fault,” he insisted, unconsciously clutching her hand a little tighter.  “I grew up all right—and I’m glad Papa went with you.  You . . . You shouldn’t have been alone, and Sesshoumaru—Kagura . . . They took care of me.”

His answer didn’t seem to please her, but she said no more about it.  Instead, she sighed, but it was more of a resigned sort of sound, and she seemed content for the moment, just to look at him.  Then, as if she couldn’t help herself, she laughed again as she leaned forward and brushed the knuckles of her free hand over his cheek.  “You know, I was so jealous that you looked exactly like your father,” she admitted.  “From the moment you were born, you were his likeness.  But I can’t say that I’m unhappy about it.  I wondered at the time if people would think that you really were my child.”

I’m . . . I’m not as big as Papa,” he remarked.  “Bas, though . . . He is.”

Bas?

He nodded, breaking into a rather shy smile.  “My oldest son—Sebastian—my heir.”

You named him after your father . . . Your heir,” she repeated thoughtfully.  Then, she smiled, but that smile was touched by a hint of sadness and maybe some regret, too.  “Tell me, my heart, that means that you’ve found your joy?

My . . .?”  He blinked, broke into a hint of a smile as a pair of golden eyes, flashed through his mind, along with the soft and gentle sound of laughter that he knew so very well.  “Y-Yeah,” he said, his smile, widening just a little.  “Her name’s Gin, and you . . . You’d have loved her.”

If you love her, then yes, I do, too,” she agreed.  “You said your oldest son.  You have more children?

He chuckled, letting go of her long enough to reach over, to retrieve his cell phone.  On one level, he knew that it was all a dream, and yet, he was still able to pick up the device, had no trouble in rifling through the images.  The first one he found was one of Gin, surrounded by the triplets, and he held it out to Daniella.  “That’s Gin, and that’s our youngest: Hayden, Connor, and . . . and Daniella.”

She blinked, her mouth rounding in an, ‘oh,’ as she leaned in closer to get a better look.  Her eyes brightened suspiciously, her fingers, trembling when she brought them to her lips.  “Gin . . . She’s beautiful, and those three?  Oh . . .”

He let her stare at the image for a minute longer before giving the device a little shake, bidding her to take it if she wished, and she did, slowly, carefully, almost reverently.

He cleared his throat once more.  “You can just use your finger to swipe across the screen if you want to see more,” he told her.

She hesitated for a long moment before finally fumbling with the phone.  Cain leaned in, showed her how to flick to the next image, and she gasped softly.  Taken during the Labor Day holiday not long ago, the last cookout of the season, it was an impromptu family picture on the wide deck behind the mansion.  All of his children were in that picture, including Bellaniece, who had been in the States on a holiday, visiting Isabelle and Griffin at the time.

This one,” she said, pointing at someone that he couldn’t see since the back of the phone was facing him, “This one . . . He is Sebastian?  Your Sebastian . . .”

Cain chuckled again at the absolute sense of awe in Daniella’s tone.  “Yeah, and the silver-haired one beside him is Evan.  Beside Evan is Bellaniece, and beside Bas on the other side is Jillian—and the triplets again, of course.”

Daniella suddenly giggled.  “Your mate.  She’s so tiny!

Yeah,” Cain agreed.  “She’s pretty tough, though.  I wish . . .” Trailing off, Cain refused to finish that thought, mostly because he really didn’t want to make his mother feel worse about anything.

Her smile faltered for just a moment, and then, it brightened, as if she were trying to hide her real thoughts, and Cain grimaced.  “I didn’t mean . . . I’m sorry, Mama . . .”
She quickly shook her head, and her soft laughter was more of an exhalation.  “Don’t apologize to me,” she told him.  “Nothing was ever your fault.  You know that, don’t you?

He sighed.  “I never . . . I never blamed anyone,” he told her slowly, thoughtfully.  “I just . . . I missed you and . . . and Papa . . . and . . . and there was another pup, wasn’t there . . .?

And I’ve missed you, Zelig.  I’ve missed you terribly.”  She bit her lip, her gaze taking on a more serious glow, and then, she gave a little shrug.  “She would have been your sister,” his mother finally said.  “When she was with us, she said she wanted to meet you . . .”

When she was with you?” he echoed with a shake of his head.  “What—?

Daniella broke into a rather secretive little smile.  “She . . . Well, I don’t know that I should tell you, you understand?  Yomi is a strange place, but she . . . She was reincarnated—allowed a chance at the life she didn’t get.  That’s all I can tell you, though.

Really?”  he nodded slowly.  “Then . . . Then it’s how it should be.”

She sighed, her head, tilting to the side as she reached out once more, touched his cheek with such gentle fingers.  “My little boy . . . I can’t believe that you’re all grown now . . . that you have a family of your own . . .”

He winced.  “I . . . I forgot what you looked like,” he admitted quietly.  “I remembered how . . . how safe I felt with you, but I . . .”

You were so young,” she reminded him gently.  “If you could only remember my face or the things you felt when you were with me, then I’m glad you kept the feelings.”

Somehow, her answer didn’t do a lot to console him, and he shook his head.  “That’s . . . That’s what Gin said, but then, I found Papa’s sketches of you, and—”

Your father’s sketches?  What do you mean?

Cain blinked and frowned at her.  “He sketched you.  I found them in his desk.

She looked surprised—maybe a little more than simply, ‘surprised’ . . . “Oh . . . I never knew . . .” Her eyes took on a heightened sheen, a suspect sparkle, but she didn’t cry.  Her smile trembled precariously, but she laughed again.  “Even if it wasn’t nearly long enough, I cherished every single day I spent with you,” she told him.  “That’s really why I’m here.  I wanted you to know.”

How long can you stay?” he asked her, afraid to hear her answer, knowing that she wouldn’t be able to linger as long as he would have liked.

Only then did her smile fade, her shoulders slumping just a little, as her gaze dropped to her lap for a long moment before she managed to gather her thoughts, forcing her eyes up to meet his once more.  “I’m already fading,” she finally said.  Her words alarmed him, filling him with an irrational sense of panic that he hadn’t felt since that day so very long ago, the day he’d watched his father walk away, never to be seen again.  She still looked entirely solid, though, but it wasn’t much of a comfort to him, either.  “This last part of my spirit will finally go on, will rejoin with the rest of me that is already with your father.  I left a part of myself here to wait for you because I . . . I just had to see you again.  It’s selfish, but . . .”

I’m glad,” he blurted, hating the sense of shame that he could feel in her aura.  “I’m glad you . . . you stayed . . . for me . . . I should have come here sooner.”

Her smile was bright, brilliant, and she leaned in, her lips, brushing over his cheek in the lightest flutter, in the sweetest kiss.  “Never forget how much you are loved, Zelig.  Never doubt it.”

I . . . I love you and Papa, too,” he rasped out, his voice, a little raw, a little harsh.  He could feel the tears that blurred his vision, and he blinked quickly to stave them back.

She sighed.  “You’re not a child any longer,” she went on, idly brushing his hair out of his eyes once more.  “But will you?  That is, would you let me . . .? I want to sing you back to sleep like I used to . . .”

He wanted to argue with her, to tell her that he wasn’t ready to do that, to let her go, knowing damn well that when he opened his eyes for real, she’d be gone.  “Mama . . .”

Her gentle smile . . . He stared at her for a long, long minute, as though he were drinking in every last detail about her.  There were so many things that he still wanted to tell her, to say to her, and yet . . . He couldn’t deny her the one thing she’d asked of him, either, and reluctantly, he laid back against the pillows in the great and aged bed.

Her voice was soft, sweet, and despite his resolve, to keep his eyes open, he could feel the creeping lethargy roll over him . . .

’Sleep well, dear child,
Love of my heart . . .
The night draws nearer,
And the sun must depart . . .
The angels watch o’er you,
And safe, they will keep . . .
’Till the morn shall rise,
And you wake from your sleep . . .’


-=======-

.:September 24, 2078:.
.:Boston, Massachusetts:.


“This place is so peaceful.”

Leaning against the door frame, content to watch as Gin slowly wandered around the informal sitting room, Cain crossed his arms over his chest.  “Yeah, I guess it is.”

She turned to smile at him, but must have thought better of it as she hurried over to slip her arms around him, to hug him tight, instead.  “It’s so old fashioned.  It’s really neat.”

Cain shrugged but hugged her back, savoring the comforting feel of her close proximity.  “Glad you think so,” he said.  “You’re sure you don’t mind staying here instead of the hotel?”

“Wherever you are is where I want to be,” she told him, leaning back far enough to look up at him.  “Are there enough beds here?”

Cain chuckled, noting the way that Gin made everything feel complete.  “Yeah, there’re ten bedrooms upstairs, not counting the master bedroom, and the pups might like staying in my old room.  My toys are still up there in boxes in the closet.  Nothing electronic, nothing too fancy, obviously, but they’ve got good imaginations . . .”

Her ebullience waned just a little, and she bit her lip.  “Are you all right, staying in the master bedroom?” she finally asked.

He nodded slowly.  He hadn’t told her about his dream yet, the one where he’d seen his mother once more.  Somehow, it just didn’t seem like the kind of thing he wanted to just mention casually, and, he suspected, she’d want to know everything about it.  “I think so.  I mean, it feels . . . comforting in there, if that makes any sense.  They feel closer, I guess . . .”

She wrinkled her nose, but giggled.  “Enjoy the peace while you can, Zelig-sensei.  Once the others arrive, it might not be as peaceful as it is now.  I’m really glad that Belle said she’d be able to come, after all.”

Cain’s grin widened.  “Yeah, but it’s a damn shame that assmonkey of a mate of hers won’t be able to make it, too.”

“Cain!” Gin scolded, trying to scowl at him since he sounded anything but apologetic, but failing miserably when she giggled instead.  “You’re terrible!”

He didn’t apologize, but he did grimace when a very loud screech filtered through the thick window panes, and he let go of Gin so that he could stride out of the room and through the foyer to yank open the front door, just in time to spot Hayden and Connor, who were running around the front yard, whooping like little Indians as they chased after Daniella.  “Do you think I should tell them that they’re being entirely politically incorrect?” he asked in an aside since Gin had followed him, without looking away from the frolicking children.

Gin laughed softly.  “They’re just playing,” she told him.

He sighed.  “All right, but if they scalp their sister . . .”

Gin dealt Cain a little shove that didn’t actually move him at all.  “Stop that!” she scolded.  She started to push past him when the children disappeared into the trees, but Cain gently tugged her back.  “Should we go with them?  I don’t want them to get lost . . .” she fretted, shifting her gaze from the forest and to Cain then back again.

He watched them for another minute before shaking his head as he closed the door again.  “I guess they’ll be fine,” he said when he intercepted Gin’s raised-eyebrow-ed look.  “Even if they go exploring, they’re safe enough.  I used to spend hours upon hours, just wandering the land.  Unless the boys brought along tomahawks.  They might decide to scalp Dani, after all . . .”

She uttered an indelicate snort, but she finally gave one curt nod, opting to ignore his droll and somewhat morbid sense of humor.  “If you’re sure . . .”

“I’m sure,” he said, and then, he smiled.


-=======-

.:September 25, 2078:.
.:Boston, Massachusetts:.


Leaning back against the thick wood desk in the office with a merry fire, burning on the hearth behind him, Cain crossed his arms over his chest and arched an eyebrow at the identical twin boys who were trying their very best, not to fidget under such close scrutiny.  Standing side by side with their arms straight down, they waited, and slowly, Cain shook his head.

“Hayden, Connor, tell me: what have I said before about treeing cats?”

Hayden flinched.  “That we shouldn’t do it,” he muttered, cheeks pinking, gaze dropping to the floor.

Connor’s face screwed up in a marked scowl, a belligerent sort of expression that darkened the boy’s sparkling blue eyes.  “But dogs don’t like cats,” he insisted stubbornly.  “Right, Hay-Hay?”

Hayden started to nod, but one quick glance at his father stopped him before he could, and his gaze quickly skittered back to the floor again.

Heaving a sigh, Cain shook his head.  “Don’t do it again,” he decreed.  The boys nodded quickly.  Cain wasn’t entirely satisfied that they would take the lecture to heart, but they had agreed . . . “All right,” he relented.  “Now, go help Olivia out of that tree, will you?”

The twins nearly collided with Bas as the latter hurriedly stepped aside to avoid the onslaught, watching them go as he shook his head before stepping into the room with Olivia, balanced on one arm.  “They don’t look even slightly sorry, Dad,” Bas pointed out indelicately.

Cain shrugged.  “I’m sure they are, deep down—maybe,” he hedged, holding out his hands to take his granddaughter.  Olivia giggled and leaned away from her father, planting a loud kiss on Cain’s cheek before settling her head against his shoulder.  She was older than the little monsters, certainly, but she was also smaller.  She was smaller than Daniella, too.  Considering she seemed to take after her very petite mother in pretty much every single way, it wasn’t really that surprising.  “You all right, Livvy?”

She nodded and heaved a contented little sigh, burrowing her head deeper under Cain’s chin.

Bas snorted and rolled his eyes.  “I swear, those two are going to be worse than Evan,” he pointed out.

“I beg to differ,” Evan said, striding into the office with a cocky grin on his face.  “Worse than me, my ass!”  Cain did a double-take upon catching sight of his miscreant son’s bright purple hair that stuck up all over his head not unlike a demented porcupine.  Bas just blinked, but said nothing.  Spotting Olivia, Evan strode over, held out his hands.  “Hey, sweetness!  Come here before ol’ Cain rubs off on you.”

The almost-six-year-old girl giggled and reached out for Evan to take her.  “Your mom said you couldn’t make it,” Cain remarked, ignoring Evan’s dig.  “Glad to see you were able to, after all.”

Evan grinned and gave a little shrug.  “Ah, you know.  There were some electrical issues at Madison Square Garden, so the show was postponed till the end of the tour, and since I was sort of in the neighborhood, figured that I might as well . . . Beats spending the next few days, trapped in a hotel with Mikey, anyway, especially since he hasn’t gotten laid in a month of Sundays.”

“I want down,” Olivia announced, grasping Evan’s cheeks and turning his face to look at her.

“I thought you wanted to hang out with me!” Evan said, his voice muffled slightly since she was smooshing his cheeks and making his lips poof out.

She giggled again.  “But I want to see Auntie V!”

Evan snapped his mouth closed on whatever he’d been about to say and nodded, pausing long enough to give Olivia an obnoxiously loud kiss on the cheek before setting her on her feet.  “Yeah, can’t blame you for that. V’s a hell of a lot prettier than I am . . .”

Cain grunted.  “It’s the purple hair,” he muttered, patting down his pockets for the rumpled pack of cigarettes.

Bas barked out a terse laugh as he watched Olivia run out of the room.  “So, this was Grandpa’s office . . .” he mused, letting his gaze traverse the entirety in a slow and thoughtful pace.

Evan grinned.  “How many times did you get busted in here, Cain?”

Cain chuckled.  “Actually, a few,” he admitted.  “I mean, I was only four, so it wasn’t nearly as much as you’d think—and I never got in trouble for the same kinds of stuff you have.”

Evan laughed.  “Ah, the good ol’ days . . .”

“Do you remember much about this place?” Bas asked, turning his attention to Cain once more.  He seemed more curious than anything as he crossed his arms over his chest, and something about his stance made Cain blink as the fleeting memory of his father, standing in much the same way, flickered through his mind.

“Some,” he replied, giving himself a mental shake as the vision faded away.  “Sometimes when he was working, I’d . . . I’d sneak in here, and he’d set me on his knee.  I’d mess around, fiddling with his pen or playing with his signet ring . . . folding boxes out of blotter paper . . . and he . . . He’d just . . . let me . . . or I’d bring him my little cloth books, and he’d make up stories to go with the pictures . . . Silly stuff, I guess.”

“So, like when I’d come in and bug you till you came outside with me and tossed around the football,” Bas concluded.  He looked almost ashamed of his younger self, as though he’d just realized how often he’d pulled Cain away from the work he should have been doing.

“I didn’t mind that,” Cain told him.  “Besides, you always said your mama throws like a girl.”

Bas laughed.  “Well . . . I mean, she kind of does. Don’t tell her I said that.”

Evan seemed uncharacteristically quiet, thoughtful, almost pensive.  Then he chuckled.  “Kind of like how I’d come in and demand that you help me make up songs?”

“Something like that,” Cain agreed, but he shrugged almost off-handedly.  His memories, though, were a little different than Evan’s.  More often than not, he remembered the flyaway silver hair, the angelic little face that so resembled his darling mother’s . . . The little boy who always just wanted to be held, to be cuddled, and Cain relished those moments the most . . . “I didn’t mind that, either.”

“And how many tea parties did we have on the floor in your office?” Jillian asked quietly as she slipped into the room, pale blue eyes, shining as she smiled up at him.  “I don’t think you ever told me, ‘no’.”

“And the castle you painted on my bedroom walls so that I could be a princess,” Bellaniece added, following Jillian as the two of them hugged him from both sides.  “Even if Grandma and Grandpa died when you were small, they still taught you how to be the best daddy in the world, didn’t they?”

Cain blinked at Bellaniece’s words.  He hadn’t really thought about that before.  How often over the years had he felt as though he were just winging it, not really sure, exactly how to do the parenting thing?  And yet . . .

He sighed, but it was a happy kind of sound—a contented kind of sound—as he slipped his arms around his daughters.  “I don’t know if I ever told you . . . You all . . . You’ve always been my world.”

All four of his oldest children stopped, stared at him, and he gave a little shrug.  True enough, he wasn’t usually one to voice such things, and maybe it had something to do with being here, in this house.  He really didn’t know.

Evan chuckled, crossing his arms over his chest as he slowly shook his head.  “Aww, Cain!  I almost thought you meant that!” he quipped.

“Evan . . .” Cain began, but trailed off, rolling his eyes, even as his two grown daughters leaned up to kiss both sides of his face at once.

“Such an idiot,” Bas grumbled under his breath as he pinned Evan with a scowl.

“Give it up, Bubby.  It was getting wa-a-a-ay too sentimental in here, and you know it.”  Then, he grinned at Cain.  “You’re welcome, Cain.”

Rolling his eyes again, Cain couldn’t quite hide the barest hint of a smile that quirked his lips.  Leave it to Evan to entirely decimate a sweet moment, after all . . . “Yeah, well, remind me not to say it, ever again.”


-=======-

.:September 25, 2078:.
.:Boston, Massachusetts:.


Leaning in the doorway that led to the casual sitting room where his family used to spend their evenings together, Cain smiled wanly, his gaze, falling on Gin as she sat in the rocking chair—his mother’s rocking chair, slowly looking through the preserved pages that Ben had brought by earlier before he’d headed back home.  He missed Charity and the twins, he said, but Cain figured that Ben really wanted to give Cain and his family some privacy, and that was all right, too.

Ben had asked a friend, versed in the preservation of old documents, to bind all the sketches into a book format.  They’d also been treated with a special laminate to strengthen the pages without affecting their integrity.  He’d also painstakingly scanned them to create copies of the book for each of Cain’s children.  Those weren’t ready yet, but he’d ship them to Maine as soon as they were.

His father’s sketches.

Even now, he still wasn’t entirely sure, just what to make of that.  As far as he could tell, no one had known that Sebastian was an artist, too, and yet, something about it made Cain feel just a little closer to the father he remembered.  He wished he knew why Sebastian had never told anyone about his talent, but Cain supposed that he had to have his own reasons for the secrecy.

Softly, Gin giggled and glanced up at him.  “This one of your mother and you is so sweet,” she said quietly, her liquid golden eyes, shining gently in the ambient light of the lamp on the small table beside her.  “And your father sketched all these . . .?”

Levering himself away from the doorframe with his shoulder and elbow, Cain wandered forward, only to hunker down beside Gin, to look over her at the image on the opened page.  “I think so,” he said, then shrugged.  “I mean, they’re all done by the same person, and they were hidden in his desk . . . He . . . He led me in there in my dream.  I think he meant for me to find them.”

She leaned over and kissed his cheek.  “I’m sure he did,” she told him.  “Your mama was beautiful.  Daniella really does look like her, doesn’t she?  I mean, you can’t tell what color her hair or eyes were in these, but the shape of the face and everything . . . even the way Daniella’s bangs hang in her eyes . . . It’s the same.”

He nodded, reaching out to carefully flip to the next page.  “Yeah, she does . . . It’s, um . . . It’s pretty uncanny.”

She sighed softly.  “I saw what you meant about the paintings,” she went on thoughtfully.  “I mean, I can tell they’re the same person, but these sketches are so much more . . . Well, they feel more real.”

That’s what he’d thought, too.  Those paintings were far too formal, too posed.  The sketches were far more vibrant, even if they were just sketches.  He smiled.  “I, uh . . . I dreamed about her last night—Mama.  Only, it didn’t feel like a dream.  It felt like she was really here, but . . . but it was good.”

She considered his claims for a long moment, and then, she gave one little nod.  “If it was real to you, then it was real, period,” she told him.

“You think that’s possible?”

Her smile was gentle, as sweet as the morning sun.  “I know it is.  You’re youkai.  You, better than most, know that some things really are possible, even if others don’t believe it.”

His answer was a quick chuckle.  Gin, and her power to believe in miracles and in magic and in things that shouldn’t really be, and maybe, because she did, he could, too.  “I’m glad you’re here,” he told her, reaching out to tweak her ear.  The appendage jerked away from him, and she shot him a longsuffering look.  He laughed at the expression on her face.

“I’m going to go check on the triplets,” she told him rather haughtily, handing him the book as she got to her feet.  “Just make sure that they’re going to go to sleep and not playing all night.”

“Coward,” he called out as he watched her hurry toward the archway.  She uttered a terse little, ‘hrumph’, but didn’t comment, giving her ears a mocking little flick that drew another laugh from him.

He watched her go, the smile that she always inspired in him, quirking his lips.  He’d thought long ago that, if she could make him feel that way every day, the life would be good, and he was right.  Thinking back, remembering the times he’d see his father, smile at his mother, remembering the way she’d blush just a little whenever his father caught her eye . . . What he had found with Gin was the way it was supposed to be—the same thing that his parents had found, even if Cain hadn’t understood it at that time—his joy; that’s what his mother had said.  Gin absolutely was that joy.

And have you found the last bit of the peace that you didn’t even realize you were missing?

His smile faded as he considered his youkai-voice’s question, and he nodded.  ‘Yeah . . . Yeah, I have,’ he decided.  It really was an odd thing.  That part of him had felt more like void, hadn’t it?  It wasn’t really that he’d felt the pain of loss as much as he’d simply not felt anything at all, and it wasn’t even something he’d realized until it had been filled with those memories that he’d misplaced for so long . . . And Gin had known, hadn’t she?  It was yet another thing that he owed her, and he’d repay her the way he always did: making her smile, making her laugh, filling her days and surrounding her with all the love she could hold . . .

“Hey, Cain . . . You, uh . . . If you want to be alone . . .”

Blinking away the last of his reverie, Cain smiled just a little as Evan lingered in the doorway with a couple bottles of beer in one hand.  There was a strange sense of near-reluctance about him, and that was odd, coming from him.  Evan, out of all of his children, tended to be the most confident of them all—normally, anyway.  “No, no . . . I think I’ve had enough ‘alone time’ lately, anyway.”

He gave what should have been a careless little shrug, but Cain saw through it, even though he didn’t remark upon it right away.  There was something on his mind . . .

Evan handed Cain a beer and strode past him, stopping before the fire, burning brightly in the great fireplace.  He sat down on the wide brick hearth off to the right side of the dancing flames, leaning forward, elbows on knees, loosely holding the neck of the bottle in his fingertips.  He was perfectly still, but his eyes kept shifting, taking in everything, yet studiously avoiding Cain’s gaze.

“Okay, Evan.  Out with it.  What’s on your mind?” he finally asked.

To his surprise, Evan almost looked a little guilty, the same kind of expression he got on his face as a child when Cain caught him doing something that he knew better than to do.  Suddenly, though, Evan chuckled, shook his head.  “It’s nothing, really,” he muttered, cheeks pinking slightly, even as Cain’s eyebrows rose a notch.  “That is . . . Well, it was just a feeling I had, I guess.  I mean, there really was some stuff with the electrical at the Garden, and the show was delayed.  They thought they could get it fixed in time for the show if I went on without the opening act, but I couldn’t stop thinking, so I’d already told Mikey I needed to bail.”

Cain frowned, slowly shook his head.  “What are you talking about?”

Again, Evan shrugged, as though he were trying to lighten whatever he was trying to say.  “You know, it always drove me crazy, how you always seemed to know when I was in some kind of trouble,” he finally went on.  “I thought that you had spies out there—hell, I thought maybe Mikey worked for you, too, but . . .” He didn’t move his head, but he raised his eyes to meet Cain’s.  “You didn’t, did you?  You . . . You’ve always just known, right?”

“Call it a dad thing,” Cain said, twisting the cap off the beer and tipping the bottle to his lips for a very long, slow swallow.

Evan chuckled and followed Cain’s example with his own beer.  “Anyway, that kind of feeling . . . That’s what I got,” he went on at length.  “Like . . . Like you needed me for a change.”  He shook his head, but his smile didn’t falter when his gaze dropped back to the bottle in his hands.  “Guess that sounds stupid.  I mean, you don’t need me—not like that, anyway.”

Cain stared at his son—the one that he had never been entirely sure, just how to reach—for a long, long moment.  Then he shuffled over and sat beside him, his pose nearly the same as Evan’s.  “It doesn’t sound stupid, at all,” he told him.  “For what it’s worth, I’m really glad you made it.  I mean, I know you’re busy—the life of a rock star, right?  But I . . . I wanted you all to be here, so . . .”

Evan’s smile seemed a little sad, and he sighed.  “I was thinking . . .” he went on, his voice dropping as he considered his words.  “What if . . .?  What if I couldn’t remember you or Mama?  What if . . .? And . . .” He grimaced.  “Damn, you know, when I thought about that, it hurt.  Just the idea, and . . .”

“Life is what it is, Evan.  You know that.  Yes, it’s nice to have the memories, but don’t you think that you—your brothers and sisters—and your mother . . .? Don’t you think that you all have given me more memories that I cherish than I ever lost?”

Evan blinked, chin, snapping to the side as he eyed Cain in unmasked surprise, and slowly, he smiled.  “Yeah, I guess so,” he said.  “Hey, how many songs do you think we made up together when I was a pup?”

Cain chuckled.  “Way too many to count, Evan.  You were always singing, remember?”

Evan chuckled, too.  “Sure,” he allowed, and this time, his shrug seemed entirely normal.  “You should have recorded all that, you know.  Bet you’d be even filthier-rich, selling Zel Roka’s first recordings.”

Cain grunted as he lifted the beer to his lips again.  “They’d ruin your rep, don’t you think?  Singing songs about flowers and butterflies and your dog . . .”

“And waffles,” Evan reminded him.

Cain choked slightly on a swallow of beer and wiped his chin on his shoulder at the reminder of the silly Christmas song when Evan had mistaken ‘wassail’ for ‘waffle’.  “And waffles.”

Evan’s laughter died away, but his smile didn’t disappear as he cast Cain another sidelong look and held up his beer bottle to clink against Cain’s.  “Anyway, what I really wanted to say . . . Uh, thanks, Dad.  Thanks for . . . for everything.”


-=======-


~The End~


~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~= ~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~

A/N:
Oji: Japanese term for “uncle”.  He’s been taught to address his Japanese kin by what would be their proper forms.
Jiijii: Japanese term for “old man”, derogatory.  Just like the other kids, Bailey would refer to InuYasha with this word.

This oneshot was really difficult to write.  So often, I had to stop and to just breathe.  Obviously, my situation isn’t at all like Cain’s was, but the loss of a parent (or both parents) is a profound thing, and Cain … Maybe I was looking for some sense of closure, even if it isn’t for me, exactly.  Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this story.  It truly was a labor of love.

== == == == == == == == == ==
Final Thought from Cain:
Dad …?!
==========
Blanket disclaimer for The Long Way Home:  I do not claim any rights to InuYasha or the characters associated with the anime/manga.  Those rights belong to Rumiko Takahashi, et al.  I do offer my thanks to her for creating such vivid characters for me to terrorize.

~Sue~

One-Shot
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