InuYasha Fan Fiction ❯ The Coyote Child ❯ Chapter Three ( Chapter 3 )
The Coyote Child
By Terri Botta
Disclaimer: I don't own Inuyasha. Sole copyright belongs to Viz and Rumiko Takashi. I'm poor so don't sue.
Rating: R for later chapters.
Summary: Inuyasha and Kagome are asked to adopt a coyote-hanyou baby from Arizona.
Email feedback to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Yukio stayed awake all night, staring out at the mountains and waiting for dawn to come. He fed and changed the pup once more during the wee hours of the morning, and was proud that he did it without waking his mother. Now that he was being properly fed, the pup was a very easy keeper and seemed to have a pleasant disposition, but being that he was only eleven days old, it was hard to tell what his temperament would really be like. Still, he didn't seem to be the cranky sort, and he was alert and responsive when he was awake. Some of his siblings had driven his mother crazy when they were little pups. Hiro especially came to mind. The infant fire-hanyou had been irritable and colicky for months, and he had cried for hours on end. Nothing Kagome did seemed to help either and his poor mother was often ragged from lack of sleep. He'd often wondered if Hiro's difficult infancy was an eerie premonition of his future fate.
Focusing on the pup helped him get through the night without going into a complete meltdown. He hadn't felt the weight of Miaka's death so heavily on his shoulders in almost thirty years, and it did not sit well with him. He'd spent decades compartmentalizing the last forty years of his marriage, trying to avoid the memories he had locked away.
Long ago he had come to the realization that his marriage hadn't been like the blissful union his parents shared for quite some time. In fact, when he was brutally honest with himself, he could admit that the 'blissful union' part had really only lasted about thirty or forty years, and had really started to go downhill once members of Miaka's family had started to die while she remained youthful because of the infusions of his blood. Rather than turn to him in her grief as the one constant in her life, and leaning on their love to sustain her, as his mother did when her friends died, Miaka had pulled away from him. The steady distance between them grew until the final betrayal in 1935 when he had dragged her out of Japan by force. She allowed him to give her his blood only once more between 1935 and 1945 when the Bomb dropped on Hiroshima. After that, she had refused every time he offered, and died seventeen years later.
They'd been married 234 years, but of those years, he could only call about half of them happy. He'd been happy for nearly all of them, barring the last seventeen, but Miaka… Miaka probably hadn't been happy much since 1783 when her last sister died. She'd tried, but he had felt her growing sadness. He'd tried to give her everything she could ever want, but he couldn't give her children or bring back her loved ones from the dead or stop the world from changing while they stayed the same. He had hoped that having Kagome to talk to would help Miaka weather the decades, but mother-in-law and daughter-in-law had never been very close. Miaka was almost afraid of Kagome in some ways. His mother had risen to an almost mythological ideal in the eyes of the villagers, and some people even believed her to be a tennyo and not a normal human. His mother hated the awestruck reverence and did her best to dispel the rumors, even going so far as to share in manual labor in the rice fields and treat the Eta families living on the outskirts of the village, but that had only served to make the villagers hold her in even higher esteem.
Miaka had often compared herself to Kagome and Yukio knew she felt that she would never measure up. Kagome had tried to tell her that all she had to do to be worthy in her mother-in-law's eyes was love her son and do right by him, but Miaka always seemed to feel that Kagome was criticizing her or judging her against a standard no normal human could ever hope to aspire to. After the debacle of 1935 when he had forced her out of Japan on one of his family's deep sea fishing boats, the relationship between the two women had significantly soured.
'I should have known what would happen. I'd had enough warning. I just… kept hoping that I'd be enough for her, that our love would be enough to sustain us through the Hell of the War. But deep down inside I knew that it wouldn't. I guess… I guess I always knew. Miaka did love me. I know she did. She just… she didn't have what it took to live for centuries.'
He watched dawn rise over the mountains and flood the Bow Valley with sunlight. The endless forest of the mountains was a beautiful sight to him and he loved his home with a fervent passion. Japan had cut down most of its forests to make way for cities and housing for the burgeoning population, but here in Canada the seas of green remained in all their glory.
'I am the Lorax and I speak for the trees,' he mused, remembering one of his favorite books by the famed author Dr. Seuss. 'Someone has to since humans have stopped listening to them.'
He knew, of course, that trees talked if you knew how to listen. Goshinboku talked all the time. Trees, like all living things, were sentient beings and they had their opinions on things if anybody bothered to ask. They were surprisingly self-sacrificing too. They didn't really mind selective harvesting because it made the forest stronger, but they especially didn't like clear-cutting because it destroyed the forest and made the soil blow away in the wind.
His father was known for building houses out of standing deadfall. It was easy enough to find it because so many road construction projects resulted in drainage flooding that killed acres of trees alongside highways. It was relatively simple to harvest these trees after they had cured for a couple of years and recycle them into usable lumber. In doing so, they avoided killing trees needlessly and preserved what little forest the planet had left.
To his family, such a thing was common sense. Trees made oxygen and cleaned up carbon dioxide. They provided food, shelter and protection for animals, plants and soil. He also had a sneaking suspicion that trees made rain clouds but he wisely kept that to himself in today's 'scientific age.'
'Scientific? If breaking everything down into tiny pieces so all you see is one thing instead of the whole picture is being 'scientific,' I'll keep on being a backwater bumpkin thank you very much.'
He was brought out of his thoughts by the sound of his father's footsteps in the hall. Looking at the clock in the room, he smiled. It was just past 8am.
'10am my ass. He dropped Ian off at school and came right here.'
A passkey being slipped into the lock told him that the front desk hadn't given Inuyasha any trouble about getting up to the room, and he stood, still holding the sleeping pup, and went to meet his father at the bedroom door. Inuyasha frowned immediately and it was obvious that his emotional turmoil was showing on his face.
'I can't tell him what's happening to me. It's not that he won't understand, it's that he will and he'll know exactly how I'm feeling. It'll just bring back bad memories for him, and there's really nothing he can do about it so there's no point in burdening him with it.'
"Oi. What's going on?" his father demanded, then switched to Japanese. "What happened here last night? How is your mother? Is something wrong with the pup?"
He dropped his eyes and wouldn't look him in the eye. "Okaa-san is fine. The pup is fine. Nothing happened last night."
"Bullshit. They might be fine, but you're not. Are you going to tell me or do I have to drag it out of you?"
"Inuyasha," his mother's voice interrupted and he cast a glance at the bed to see her rising.
'She must have been just dozing and heard Otou-san come in.'
His parents shared a meaningful look, then his father gazed at him shrewdly as if weighing his options.
"Keh. You'll tell me when you're ready."
"It's nothing, Otou-san, I promise." 'Nothing you can fix anyway. You may be able to do a lot of things Otou, but healing broken hearts isn't one of them.'
His father snorted but didn't comment. Instead he looked at the pup.
"How was he last night?"
"A little colicky in the beginning, but he's fine now. He's very thin so Okaa-san upped his feedings."
Inuyasha nodded then turned to Kagome. "Tetsu's plane lands at 2. He's going to pick Ian up from school and bring him home."
"I'm glad," his mother answered, standing up. "I'm going to shower."
"Okay. When are the other two due back?"
"By 10am," he replied.
"Okay. I have the Jeep packed and ready to go."
"The Jeep? Isn't that a little small?" he questioned.
"I've got the Grand Cherokee."
"Simon and Frances are coming later today to pick up your bike and Kagome's car."
"Simon? I brought the Ninja," he answered. Simon was the gardener, and a small earth-hanyou, too small to handle a racing bike.
"I know," his father sighed irritably. "That's why Frances is going to drive the bike and Simon is going to drive the Saturn."
He sputtered. "Frances?! Frances is going to ride my Ninja!?" he squeaked, on the verge of panic. Frances was one of the housekeepers they employed to keep their home in working order. She was a great organizer but she didn't know the first thing about motorcycles.
"She'll do fine. She only has to drive it 25km."
"She said she's been itching to try a bike. I think she'll have fun."
"But… but…" 'Not my Ninja!'
He was still in a state of shock when his father cracked a wicked grin and he knew he'd been had.
"Gotchya. Tetsu's picking up the bike after he gets in. I just told you Frances was going to do it to irritate you."
He growled which only made Inuyasha grin wider. "You looked like you needed it."
"Keh," he snorted. 'Truth is, I did. Thanks Otou.'
"That's my line."
"Mr. Fushikenwa," Emma's voice interrupted, and his heart sank into his stomach.
'There she is. How am I going to handle this? My heart is telling me one thing but my head is telling me another. I could give her the cold shoulder but it's not her fault. She didn't mean to hurt me. It's just my screwed-up head. I shouldn't punish her for something that's my fault. I'm not like my father. I don't lash out at people just because I'm afraid they'll hurt me. My parents made sure I never had to use that tactic to protect myself.'
His father noticed his discomfort because he gave him a questioning look before turning to face the Cree woman.
"Yeah," Inuyasha answered.
"Good morning. Is it 10am already?" she asked, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. Yukio noted that she looked tired.
"No, it's only 8. I'm early."
"Oh. I'm glad. I thought I had overslept."
"Are the others up?"
"I'm not sure. The bedroom door is still closed."
His father nodded. "We'll all go to breakfast once the other two get here, then we'll get on the road. I want to reach Helena by nightfall."
"Helena?" he repeated, looking at Inuyasha.
"It's about 7 hours away. I've made reservations at the Holiday Inn. Tomorrow we'll make Park City."
He nodded. It looked like his father wasn't planning on drives longer than 9 hours in a day which was fine by him. Long days cramped into a car were never comfortable for any of them.
He saw Inuyasha flick an ear towards the bathroom and turned his hearing in that direction in time to hear the water turn off.
"Your mother's done in the shower."
"I'll feed the pup then take one myself," he said, indicating the now rousing bundle in his arms. He knew he had about three minutes before the pup started bawling.
His father grunted in assent. "I'll bring you a bottle."
It was a clear directive for him to leave the bedroom, but he was reluctant. To do so would mean being alone with Emma and the thought made butterflies flutter in his stomach. Not obeying the silent command, however, would give credence to his father's earlier concerns that there was something wrong. Unhappily, he stepped out of the bedroom while his father stepped in and closed the door behind him.
He and Emma stared at each other for long moments, then Emma looked away.
"If something I said last night hurt you, I'm truly sorry," she whispered softly.
He lowered his ears even though he knew she couldn't see them and sighed. "It's… it's okay. I know that you didn't mean to bring up bad memories."
"No, I really didn't."
"It's just… I'm just… I'm still sensitive about it. It's not your fault." 'And I don't want to hurt you either, but…'
"I'm still sorry. I'll try to be more careful in the future."
Her hurt expression called to him and he hurried to comfort her before he even had a chance to think about it.
"It's okay. You don't have to."
She looked up at him with hope in her eyes and his heart did a flip-flop in his chest. "But I want to. I don't want you to be hurt because of something I did."
'Yukio, you are a pathetic sap and it's going to bring you nothing but pain. It does me no good to be too nice to her. I'll give her the wrong impression. Still, there's nothing wrong with being friendly, is there?' "I know. I don't hold anything against you. I promise."
She smiled. "I'm glad. When you left so abruptly, I was worried."
He looked down at the squirming pup. "Well, he was fussing and he needed care. I wanted to get to him before he started crying."
"I never heard him make a sound so I guess you got to him in time."
The bedroom door opened and Inuyasha shoved a bottle of han-i-lac at him. "Here."
He took the bottle and his father shut the door again without another word. Emma looked at the closed door with amusement.
"Is he always like that?"
Yukio shrugged and brought the nipple up to the pup's mouth. "Pretty much," he answered as the pup started feeding.
Emma snickered. "He reminds me of Grandfather. All rough around the edges but soft inside."
"Shhh, don't say that too loud. He'll be irritable all day if he hears you."
She gave him another soft smile. "I'm glad you aren't mad at me."
He shook his head. "I wasn't angry." 'Just bleeding from the wounds that got ripped open by your very presence.'
"That's good." She looked away for a moment, then cast a furtive glance up at him again, her eyes hooded.
He knew that look very well. He also knew that it meant trouble. 'She's got her sights set on you, Yukio. And there's nothing you can do about it. It's like she knew who you were before she ever met you.'
"So, we're headed to Helena today?"
He swallowed the lump in his throat. What was it about this woman? It was one thing for a woman to be interested in him. It was another thing entirely for her interest to affect him. "Uhh, yeah. It's in Montana. There's a Holiday Inn there."
"A Holiday Inn? Why is that important? No, don't tell me, your uncle owns Holiday Inn."
"Okay, I won't tell you." 'When in doubt, go for humor.'
She laughed. "I meant that as a joke."
He feigned innocence. "You did?"
"Yes. So your uncle owns Holiday Inn."
"Actually, he and my father co-own it. Uncle only owns half of the Intercontinental hotel chain. We own the other half."
"Oh. So you own hotels too?"
"We own lots of businesses. We like the hotel business though. It gives us lots of places to stay for free."
"I can imagine. Did you experience a lot of profit loss after September 11th?"
"Not really. I think airlines were the hardest hit."
"Do you own any of those?"
"No. We've got a couple of jets though. Uncle owns at least two airlines, however." 'And both have top-notch safety records. I'd love to see some whacko try to get a bomb on one of Uncle's planes. Jerk would be in for a rude awakening. He's got the highest percentage of hanyou and youkai employees of any airline owner and a good third of them can read minds.'
"Is there anything your uncle doesn't own?"
"Actually, yes. He doesn't own anything in the Middle East or any Islamic country."
He saw her frown. "He's prejudiced against Muslims?" she asked carefully.
'Oooh, she doesn't like the thought of that.' "Umm, more like the other way around."
"In many sects of the Islamic faith dogs are unclean. To own a dog or even touch one, is to damn the soul," he explained.
Realization filled her eyes and her cheeks flushed. "Oh. I see and you are half dogs…"
"My uncle is a full-blooded inu-youkai. He and my father are half-brothers. But you see my point. We are dogs. And my uncle…"
"Has difficulty doing business with people who think he's unclean," she finished for him.
He nodded. "Especially when he believes himself to be superior to you puny, weak humans." 'When in doubt, go for redirection…'
She let out a choked laugh. "Puny, weak humans. He's not arrogant at all, is he."
"You have no idea. And he married a human too."
"Oh, her life must be just wonderful."
"Actually it is. He treats her like gold even when he treats everyone else like shit. He has three pups with her as well. All hanyous like me. Plus two full-blooded sons from an arranged marriage."
'Oops.' "Ummm, yeah. That was a long time ago and it was dissolved after the pups were born. Long story."
The pup was finished eating so he set the empty bottle down on the end table next to the sofa and put the pup up to his shoulder to burp him. Emma watched him do this and he saw her shake her head.
"You're so paternal."
"Feh. I've had lots of practice."
"You have a lot of brothers and sisters?"
"A few." 'Try 27.'
"Your mother must like having babies."
"All of us except Ian are adopted."
Just then Lori appeared in the room, coming through the open door. Her presence made him relax somewhat because he was no longer alone with the object of his confusion.
"Good morning," the Navajo woman greeted.
"Good morning. Did you sleep well?" he asked.
"I am well rested, yes."
"Good. My father is here and said we'll go down to breakfast once David and Billy get back. Then we'll head out. He wants to reach Helena, Montana by tonight."
"Only Helena? We could go farther than that in a day. We drove up from Pocatello on our second day of travel."
"How long did that take you?"
"About twelve hours."
The door to the bedroom opened and his father came out. "That's too long to be in the car," he said, proving that he could hear perfectly through the closed door.
Kagome followed him, her hair still wet from the shower. "Bathroom is open, sweetheart," she said, offering to take the pup.
He handed the pup over. "He needs changed."
"I've already mapped our route. We will drive to Helena today and Park City, Utah tomorrow. On Saturday we'll head to Kayenta, Arizona. Once we're there, we'll stay overnight and then leave for your village in the morning," Inuyasha stated with authority.
"Why take three days when we can cross the distance in two?" Michael asked, joining them in the suite.
"Because you don't know what he's like after spending 12 hours stuck in a car," he heard his mother answer as he headed to take his shower.
"Me?! You're the one who keeps telling me it makes your butt hurt when you sit still for that long!"
Yukio giggled and shook his head, going into the bedroom and closing the door behind him. If his father had still sported the subduing spell on his prayer beads, he had no doubt that his mother would have 'sat' him until he ended up in the lobby. 'Otou-san you are soooooo lucky.'
The water felt good sluicing over his shoulders. Unlike his father, he shared his mother's love of hot baths and showers. The hotter the better. Temperatures that would send his father howling barely registered on his heat-o-meter, and he was famous for using all the hot water. He scrubbed his hair and body, then jacked up the heat and stood under the spray for a good ten minutes, letting the hot water relax his tense muscles and soothe his addled mind. Popping his head out to make sure the bedroom door was still closed, he wrapped a towel around his waist and left the bathroom in a billow of steam. He wasn't so much concerned about people seeing him half-naked as he was getting caught without his concealment ring. The humans might seem okay, but he wasn't ready to reveal his true form to them.
Still clad in only the towel, he stood in front of the window and looked out at the valley while he combed his fingers through his long hair. Then he rummaged in his pack and dug out a clean set of underwear and a T-shirt. He'd wear the same pair of jeans; they were still clean. He found his 'I base my fashion sense on what doesn't itch' shirt and pulled it over his head before putting on the underwear and jeans.
"Oi! Bathing beauty are you done yet?!" his father bellowed, banging on the bedroom door.
Slipping on his signet ring he threw open the door and sauntered out. Everyone was standing in the parlor of the suite, including David and Billy who must have arrived while he was in the shower.
"Everyone is here and we're waiting on you," Inuyasha complained.
"Your father hasn't eaten breakfast yet," Kagome explained.
"Well, lemme get my bag packed and we can go down to the dining room. Did we settle on the route?"
"Keh, we're going the way I planned," his father answered without hesitation.
It was obvious from their faces that the Navajos weren't overjoyed with the plan, but whatever had occurred while he was showering must have convinced them to go along with it. He only hoped that his father wasn't too belligerent in pressing his point. He knew money was a definite issue and that gave him an idea.
"Or better yet, let's pack up, check out and go to Phil's Pancake House. Whaddya think?" 'Please say yes. This hotel would charge ten times as much for the same breakfast and the prices on the menu would probably be enough to make them dizzy.'
His mother, observant and quick-witted as always, picked up on his idea right away. "That sounds like a fantastic idea, sweetheart."
His father blinked at him, then at his mother, then shrugged. "Keh! That's fine with me. Everyone else is already packed. You've got ten minutes. Get your stuff together and let's go."
"I'm on it. I hear Phil's chocolate chip and strawberry pancakes calling me!" he enthused as he headed back into the bedroom to get his bag.
Twenty minutes later they were checked-out of the hotel and on their way to breakfast with the Natives following in their minivan. Phil's was a bit of a landmark in Banff and had slightly elevated prices because of its location, but as far as restaurants in Banff went, it was still considered inexpensive. Emma sidled up to him in the parking lot and gave him a sly look.
"I know what you're doing," she said softly.
"Who me?" he replied, all wide-eyed innocence. 'When in doubt, play dumb.'
She gave him a sweet smile. "Thank you."
He looked ahead of him at the Navajos who were entering the restaurant with some reluctance. "I just don't want them to feel as if we are giving them hand-outs. We aren't, but at the same time we need to eat. Especially you puny humans."
Now it was her turn to give him a wide-eyed look. "You who ate three times as much pizza as any of us last night say that to me?"
He smirked, but didn't answer.
"But still, I appreciate your efforts to make them feel more comfortable," she went on quietly. "My people are faring slightly better since the casino opened on our reserve. The money brought in by the gambling has built better housing, provided jobs and funded all kinds of social programs. The apartment building I live in was built with funds from the casino. Our tribe is prospering even as we struggle to hold on to our traditions.
"The Navajo Nation however… it still struggles with basic survival. From what David tells me, many of them don't have heat or running water in their homes. But they are a proud and deeply spiritual people, and they don't feel comfortable with charity. I can't explain the desperation it took for them to bring the child here, the agony and heart-wrenching decisions they had to make, or the sacrifices. Coyote is not a fortuitous trickster for the Navajo as he is for some tribes, and he is not looked upon with kindness by them. There are many in the village, Michael's father included, who believe Coyote has cursed them and will bring terrible misfortune. Michael had to defy a number of his people, and they aren't happy with him or Lori and Billy who sided with him. Doing this is extremely difficult for them and they are very unsettled by this whole situation. I thank you for your efforts to make them feel better about this."
He nodded, swallowing hard. 'I should tell Otou-san to let them win one just to make them feel more at ease. I know he can be such a bull in a china shop sometimes, but he doesn't like to walk all over people either.' "You'll tell them that we're not paying anything for the hotel rooms? That should make them feel a little better."
"I already have. It made some difference, but your father's… insistence that things be done his way…"
"My father is pack leader. He is the alpha male," he explained. "The safety and well-being of the pack are his responsibility. That is why he comes off as being stubborn and uncompromising. He has led us for more years than you can possibly imagine and his choices have kept us alive. He does what he thinks is best for all of us and he has his reasons, just as you have yours and they have theirs. If they had presented a reasonable case for changing the route we took down to Arizona, he would have listened to it because he isn't as rigid as you think he is. But I agree with him on this one. Twelve to fourteen hours in the car in a day is too much, especially for the pup. Don't forget that his mind is foremost on that pup because he is helpless and has no voice. I understand their urgency, but not at the expense of the pup's safety and health. You have no idea what you are dealing with when you have a hanyou pup. He needs to be protected in ways you wouldn't even consider. Believe me, if my mother and I disagree with his choices, we call him on it and we can usually make him listen to us. But you have to trust him on this one because he knows what he's doing."
She regarded him seriously then nodded. "I'll tell them. I'll try to make them understand that he isn't trying to be bossy."
He smiled. "Oh, he's being bossy, but that's just because he knows he's the boss."
"Oi! Are you coming in here or are you just going to stare at each other in the parking lot?!" Inuyasha yelled from the restaurant door.
"My father bellows," he said with a shrug.
"We should go. I'm hungry."
"I can't imagine why. You only ate six slices of pizza last night."
"Seven," he corrected. "And an order of breadsticks."
Emma just rolled her eyes and followed him into the restaurant.
After breakfast, he managed to get his father alone in the men's room for a minute and explain to him that his in-your-face attitude was not going over well. Inuyasha brushed it off in his usual way but he was fairly confident that he'd gotten his point across. He noted that his father spoke a little more patiently, and explained things a little more clearly when he detailed the plan again just before they got into their vehicles and started off. Inuyasha gave the Natives one of the roving walkie-talkies with a 3km range so they could stay in contact with each other on the road and relay messages.
They drove for about 4 hours and stopped for lunch at a rest stop along Highway 15, then they were back on the road for the final push to Helena. Lori rode with them in the Grand Cherokee because they had more room, and she wanted to help keep an eye on the pup, so he rode shotgun while his mother and the Navajo woman sat in the back with the pup in Ian's car seat. The pup was surprisingly quiet the whole trip and half the time he almost forgot the little guy was there.
The Holiday Inn in Helena, MT was actually a Holiday Inn Express with no pool but that wasn't such a bad thing. It just meant no whirlpool for his mother to sit in. His father promised her a hotel with a spa for the next night and made a reservation at the Grand Summit in Park City. It caused a small bone of contention between them and the Natives because Park City did have a Holiday Inn that advertised an indoor pool and spa. Kagome had suggested that the party split up for the night since the Navajos didn't want to spend the night in a place so expensive, but Inuyasha nixed the idea and repeated that both hotels were free anyway because Uncle owned the Grand Summit too and they should just shut up because they weren't going to separate. So there.
When it looked like there was going to be a snit about it, he pulled Emma aside and spoke with her. The Cree woman might send his heart into somersaults every time she was near him, but she knew the Navajos better than he did, and she was able to diffuse a potentially ugly situation. He explained how it was important for the pack to stay together as a whole rather than split up. He also explained that the Grand Summit was in The Canyons ski resort while the Holiday Inn was in downtown Park City, several kilometers away. Downtown would be more crowded and busy while the ski resort would be experiencing a lull in activity because the official ski season hadn't started yet. As a hanyou, loud noise and strong smells would bother the pup, so the less populated hotel was the better choice. Besides, Park City, with its lax morality laws, was known as Utah's party town, where even good little Mormons went to let their hair down. If Lori was concerned about Michael and Billy drinking, then the Grand Summit was it because it didn't have as many watering holes as Downtown.
In the end, Emma was able to convince the others that Inuyasha's plan was best for a number of reasons, and the argument was settled. They checked into their three adjoining rooms, simple doubles with nothing special to commend them except two clean beds and a working bathroom, and headed out to dinner. As a gesture of peace, his father let the Natives choose where they would eat and the Navajos settled on a local restaurant that advertised good food for low prices. It turned out to be a small Italian pizzeria that served the best stromboli he'd ever had. It was so good, he ordered a second to take out for a late night snack.
"I have never seen anyone eat as much as you or your father do," Emma commented as he consumed another garlic roll.
The food euphoria was making him feel pleasantly full and he spared her a genuine smile. "We can also go days without it. We don't have to eat every day. We like to eat every day. If food is available, we'll eat it, but if it's not, it takes a lot for us to starve," he replied, licking the flavorful oily garlic grease from his fingers.
"I imagine your physiology is a lot like a wolf's: able to adapt to seasonal feasts and famines," David theorized.
Inuyasha growled low and ripped a garlic roll in two. "Do not mention wolves to me," he grumbled, eating the bread with angry bites.
Eyebrows went up, then Lori smiled softly. "There are Wolf demons then. Like Dog and Coyote."
"Yes, quite a few of them. They're one of the more prolific youkai races," his mother answered, holding the pup and feeding him his bottle. The pup sucked noisily, completely oblivious to the adults around him.
"One too many," his father complained sullenly.
Yukio snickered. "One of Okaa-san's potential suitors was a wolf-youkai," he explained.
"Keh! That wimpy bastard never had a chance with her!" his father insisted.
"Oh now you say that. Before you went all dominant dog on me every time Kouga-kun came around," Kagome sniffed.
"Keh! I notice that you still call him Kouga-kun," Inuyasha snapped back jealously.
"Kouga is my friend. He's yours too or have you forgotten that he took Ryoukan for us? He never had my heart, so I wish you would just stop getting jealous." She wiggled her left hand in his face, flashing her wedding ring and diamond. "Is it his ring I'm wearing?"
As always when his father looked at the wedding ring on his mother's hand, his eyes fell to the one on his own hand and he softened.
"No," Inuyasha replied with a gentle smile.
"Then it's settled then, isn't it."
Yukio looked down at his own naked ring finger and his happy mood drained out of him. His mother, noticing his sudden silence, frowned at him and put her hand over his in comfort.
:Pup loved,: she barked softly. :Mother-female loves pup.:
He gave her a sad smile. :Pup loves Mother-female.:
"What was that?' Emma asked curiously.
"Feh, we speak our own language," Inuyasha replied tersely.
"All inu-youkai are born knowing the dog language," Kagome told them. "And all canine language is similar. This little coyote-hanyou understands us when we speak to him in inu-youkai even if he isn't able to answer yet."
"So the barks have meaning," Michael commented.
"Of course they have meaning. What? You think we just bark and howl at the moon for no reason?" his father snorted.
He knew his father hadn't meant to crack a joke. Quite the opposite, Inuyasha had been expressing irritation, but as usual his choice of words was more amusing than anything else. Yukio found himself half-choking on his beer and desperately tried not to spew it all over the table. His efforts only made the situation funnier, as did his father's annoyed glares and soon they were laughing. The laughter felt good, sparkling through his veins like good quality sake or an expensive scotch, and the clouds that had fallen on him burned away.
His father paid the bill and they headed back to the Holiday Inn. Anticipating that his parents would want some time alone after spending the previous night apart, he took the keys to the Jeep and chatted up the front desk clerk to find out if there were any good places to kill a few hours nearby. He hit the jackpot when the little co-ed told him the Indy coffee shop two miles away offered live entertainment on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. He supposed it helped that the girl was dating the guitarist who was performing, and the fact that the place was non-smoking was a real plus. He hated cigarette smoke, it always made his eyes water and his nose itch.
"Is everything okay?" Emma's voice asked behind him.
Jumping a little because he hadn't known she was there, he turned around to face the Cree woman.
"Umm yeah. I was just looking for something to do for a couple of hours."
She gave him a quizzical look.
"My parents spent last night apart. They wanted some time alone to… reconnect."
Her eyes widened as she caught the meaning of his words. "Oh…"
He rolled his eyes. "It's not what you think. At least I don't think so. Let's just say I'm pretty sure the walls are too thin in this place for even my parents' comfort. Besides the pup's with them." 'Not that that's ever stopped them…'
She blushed and looked away with embarrassment. "I'm sorry. I wasn't…"
He rushed to assuage her discomfort. "It's okay. I just felt it was better if I occupied myself for a little while."
"I understand. Did you find anything worth occupying your time?"
He was wondering how he should answer when the cute little co-ed opened her big mouth.
"I told him about Fireside Coffee. Tommy Simko is playing there tonight," she piped up happily. "It's non-smoking."
'Shit. She's probably just trying to pad the audience, but damn her timing sucks.'
"That sounds like something fun," Emma commented, looking at him expectantly.
He gulped, then was struck by a stroke of genius. "Yeah. I thought so too, so I was going to come up and ask you guys if you wanted to go." 'All of us together. Not like a date or anything like that.'
"Really? Well, I'm glad I came down to get my jacket that I left in the car," she said, indicating the blue coat she had draped over her arm.
"Yeah. Well. Ummm… shall we go back up and find out if the others want to come too?"
He thought she would be put off by his intimation that he didn't want to be alone with her, but her smile widened instead.
"I think David will want to come," she replied.
"Great. Let's go ask him."
He let her lead the way back to the elevator, kicking himself, and his bad luck, silently. 'I really hope David likes coffee and folk music.'
As it turned out both David and Michael wanted to come along, but Lori and Billy chose to stay behind. There was a marked difference between the college student and his Navajo packmates. Of the three of them, Michael was the most outspoken and outgoing. He knew that Michael had more exposure to the "outside world" off the reservation through his enrollment at the University of New Mexico in Gallup. David was a classmate of his, on scholarship from his home state of Idaho. The two were good friends and he could see that Michael had embraced at least some aspects of Western culture when he ordered a double latte.
"Why didn't Lori and Billy want to come?" he asked, taking a sip from his mochaccino.
"Lori didn't want to leave the… pup unprotected," Michael replied carefully, using the word 'pup' deliberately.
Michael dropped his eyes and fidgeted uncomfortably. "We… believe that the pup is… in danger."
"Nothing is getting past my father," he assured him.
"It's not something physical that we are afraid will attack him. Skinwalkers don't need to touch their victims to harm them. My sister was very careful to properly destroy her nail clippings and discarded hair, but something may have been overlooked. There was so much blood when Sara gave birth, and I know Grandmother burned the sheets, but a Skinwalker can use the smallest of things to make a curse."
"You think that someone may try to harm the pup spiritually," he offered.
"Or one of us. So far our trip has been blessed, but anything can happen. We can't be too careful. Lori knows how to counteract a Skinwalker's curse. Billy stayed to help her."
He nodded. "I understand. Have you spoken to my mother about this?"
Michael shook his head. "No. We haven't. It has been our experience that our… beliefs aren't taken seriously."
He snorted. "You travel almost 2100 km to bring a hanyou pup to a family of complete strangers, strangers that a college buddy told you weren't human, to ask that family to adopt the pup, and you think we'll have difficulty with your beliefs?"
"I admit it does sound far-fetched but we aren't used to people believing us," the Navajo admitted with a shrug.
"My mother is a miko. She has great spiritual powers. If you're worried about the pup being attacked by a black miko, she can help you protect him. You should tell her everything you know and then she will know what to look for."
Michael looked uncomfortable. "We… we don't like to speak of… black mikos. Talk like that could get us cursed. Especially where coyote is involved. Coyote is… not to be trusted."
"I can tell you that the pup's father is not a Skinwalker. I don't know much about coyote-youkai but if they are anything like us, the father knew your sister was fertile and chose to make her pregnant. That pup was no accident. Now if someone is unhappy enough about your sister mating with a youkai to curse her or her pup, that is a different story," he said.
The Navajo nodded. "There are many people who are very unhappy. They will be even more unhappy when they learn we have brought the pup back. I think the only thing that spared my sister and the pup was the promise that we were taking it away. When we arrive back in the village with the pup…"
"I promise you. If your sister is in danger and we can't find the pup's father and find out what is going on, we will take her and the pup with us. I speak for my father in this. We will not allow the pup or his mother to be harmed. I give you my word."
Michael's eyes flashed with anger. "There have been many times when a man has given my people his word only to break it when it is no longer convenient."
"I am not one of those people. I am a man of honor. My word is my bond. I don't break my promises and neither does my father," he answered firmly.
"It's true, Michael," Emma defended. "My grandfather spoke very highly of his family. When the Whites lied and tried to steal from us, his family was always honest and fair. It's why we knew they could be trusted with your sister's baby, and why we went to them for help."
Michael looked contrite. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to be rude. It's just…"
"It's just that I haven't given you any reason to trust me. I understand," he finished for him. "For what it's worth, I know how you feel. When I was born, hanyous like me and my father were killed as a matter of course. Thousands of them were slaughtered as they took their first breath or hunted down like common pests to be exterminated.
"My biological father was murdered by humans. My biological mother died protecting me. She carried me for four days with three arrows sticking out of her back, keeping herself alive long enough to bring me to safety. I have no memory of her, but she loved me enough to give her life for me. My life growing up was full of those who hated me for being born, and many times the only safe place I had was with my family. My father did his best to give me the life he never had because his parents were killed when he was very young, but unlike me, he had no one to love him and make him feel safe. My father grew up hated, hunted and alone.
"Until he met my mother, he really didn't trust anyone, and he still isn't the trusting type as I'm sure you've already figured out. But I will tell you this. You can trust us. We will not betray you and we will do everything we can to make sure that your sister and her pup are safe."
Michael regarded him with respect and Emma looked at him with sympathetic eyes and a gentle smile.
'I didn't tell you that so you'd feel sorry for me. Don't look at me like that. I've been very blessed.'
"Thank you," the Navajo said.
He nodded and took another sip of his mochaccino as the night's live entertainment took the small stage: a single guitarist with an acoustic guitar. Inwardly he smiled because he loved acoustic guitar and hoped that the player was an accomplished musician. The other members of his party did the same, relaxing back into their wooden chairs and turning to face the singer as he began his first set.
Ninety enjoyable minutes and two mochaccinos later, they left the coffee shop and headed back to the Holiday Inn.
"That was really great," Emma said as they got off the elevator and walked down the hallway towards their rooms.
"Yeah," he agreed. It had been a very pleasant evening and he was glad that he had gone. 'Even being close to her wasn't so bad. The music and the other two were enough of a distraction.'
"You know, The Sugar Bowl in Edmonton has live music on Friday and Sunday nights. Maybe someday we could go together," she suggested.
'And how do I answer that without actually stomping on her?' "Ummm, maybe. We'll see. I don't know how busy I'm going to be now that Ian's back in school." 'When in doubt, hedge.'
The door to the room he shared with his parents flew open before they were even halfway down the corridor and his father, barefoot and shirtless, stood there glaring.
"Where have you been?" Inuyasha demanded.
"Eh? Ahhh…" 'Shit, I didn't tell them where I was going and I turned my cell phone off so it wouldn't ring during the performance.' "Emma, David, Michael and I went out for coffee."
"For two hours?"
"There was a folk singer there. We stayed to hear him play. I turned off my cell so it wouldn't ring during the show. I'm sorry if I worried you."
"Your mother has been worried sick. The other two knew you'd gone out but no one knew where."
He flattened his ears against his head. He hated causing his mother any distress.
"I'm sorry, Otou-san."
"It's my fault," Emma interrupted. "He meant to call you before we went into the shop but I distracted him and he forgot. I'm sorry. Please don't be angry with him."
His father gave her a raised eyebrow, then looked at him for a moment of silence.
"Keh! Whatever! Just don't do it again. Things are stressful enough without you haring off with a female."
"Me?! I was not haring off with a female! David and Michael came too! Just ask them!"
"Right. Get in here and prove to your mother that you're still alive and unharmed."
Behind him, Emma snickered and he cast her a pleading glance. David and Michael were watching with amusement as well.
"Good night, Yukio. We'll see you in the morning."
"Good night. Good night guys. Sleep well."
"Night," Michael replied.
"We're leaving bright and early in the morning, and I don't want to hear any of you complain about how you're too tired," Inuyasha scolded.
"Don't worry, we'll be up on time," David assured him.
Yukio gave them a final wave as Inuyasha gave him a shove and slammed the door closed.