Inuyasha slowly began to drift back into consciousness. The swirling haze that dulled his senses ebbed away. He was warm, toasty even, and oh so comfortable. He sighed. He did not want to wake up, but he knew he had to; his pup needed him. His eyes snapped open. Squirt!
Before he had the chance to sit up and look for him, he caught the scent of the babe. He turned his head toward the scent. Squirt was sprawled on his stomach, draped over Inuyasha's right shoulder, head resting on his chest. He closed his eyes and calmed himself. Safe.
As he lay there, the events before he fell rushed to his mind. He was weak and had failed. He was going to die! And therefore Squirt was going to die… but… Wait. What the fuck? Inuyasha's eyes shot back open. He was met with the sight of a black rock ceiling. Where the fuck are we, he thought as he began to scope out his surroundings. He tried to sit up but was halted by the ripping pain in his chest and shoulder. He was shirtless but covered up and lying on a pile of furs.
The effort to sit up jostled the cub from sleep. He sat up rubbing at his eyes with his chubby fingers. At the sign of Inuyasha's anxiety and panic, he crawled up and sat on his shoulder, encircled the hanyo's neck with his arms, and licked and butted his nose against his cheek. Squirt whined at his distress. Inuyasha brought up his good arm to touch the cub, calming him and himself by rubbing small circles on his back.
Suddenly the fur covered entrance was flung open, startling the injured inu. Koga, alerted by the distressed sounds coming from the room, entered. Koga? What the hell is going on? Inuyasha sat in shock, confusion and growing concern welling in his eyes.
Koga took in the scene before him. Seems Inuyasha is as attached his cub as Kunio is to Inuyasha. He would have to talk to Choshi-sama about this later.
"Oi, Mutt-face! You finally awake?" Koga barked with a grin.
"Koga" he stated carefully, a scowl sliding on his face. He doesn't know what he's doing here or how well his presence was received.
Koga approached the bed and sat by Inuyasha's hip, still grinning at the suspicious puppy. "You don't remember waking in the caves?" At Inuyasha's shake of the head, he continued, "Me and Ginta came across you and warmed you up. You should be thanking me, Mutt."
Inuyasha's scowl deepened. Well that settles that. Damn ookami hasn't changed.
The cub watched his father from underneath his inu's chin where his back was still being rubbed. Koga carefully reached forward and took the cub into his arms, eyeing the hanyo when he stiffened but still let the ookami take him. He followed the cub with his eyes the entire time. After returning to the main caves and while the inu was still asleep, the ookami found out pretty quickly that, though Kunio was happy to cuddle and play with his father, he would not be allowing anyone to take him out of sight of the hanyo. So, while the bundle of cub rested happily in the arms of Koga, he never lost eye contact with Inuyasha.
"So… I'm guessing I was right about this little squirt belonging to your tribe then, huh?" Inuyasha said softly, his hands curling in his lap, as if in effort to restrain himself from grabbing the cub back to his chest.
"Yeah…" Koga paused before letting out a breath, "We actually gotta talk about that." Koga placed the cub back into Inuyasha's lap. He clearly was not going to be getting the mutt's full attention while he was holding him. The cub rolled onto his back and bared his belly, squirming and giggling until Inuyasha started to stroke the soft skin, a small smile unknowingly gracing his lips. Koga cleared his throat to get Inuyasha's attention back on him, and looked him in the eyes.
"Inuyasha," Koga began, his brow furrowing with the weight of what he was about to ask, "How did you come across my son?"
Inuyasha simply stared at him. His son? Squirt is Koga's son? As he looked at the ookami and he realized he was still waiting for an answer.
"I found him when I came across the body of his… mother…" Inuyasha's words became whispers when it dawned on him what that meant. Oh, Kami-sama! That was… that means that that was Koga's mate! Inuyasha let out a distressed whimper when he realized what had happened. He had let Koga's mate die, and now Koga was going to hate him. He would hate him and maybe try to kill him in revenge. "Shit, Koga! I… I tried! I was trying to bring him back here! That damn boar got me too! See?" he reached over and placed his hand where his chest wound was still pink and scarred.
Koga dropped his face into the cradle of his hands. He took a deep breath, noting absently that Inuyasha's scent, which he had grown quite fond of while huddled in the cave, suddenly spiked in fear. Sending a small reassuring smile his way, the ookami stood from the bed.
"Thanks, Inuyasha," he said over his shoulder as be began to walk back out of the room, "I have to go inform the clans."
Inuyasha laid there staring at the swaying hide that covered the entrance. What just happened?
Koga braced himself against the wall outside the entrance and stared at the uneven ceiling above his head. His mate was gone. They weren't exceptionally close, only together a little under five years, a blink of an eye if one were to consider it in the context of their demon life spans. However, there was no denying that they had shared an important part of their lives together, marriage and cubs, and now she was suddenly gone. Wolves mate for life so this was a terrible blow. And the cubs, they only just stopped feeding from her. Kunio seems to have coped by attaching himself to the inu, but the other three would be devastated. He took a deep breath and pushed off from the wall.
Stepping down the small incline, he reached the main floor of the large, cathedral-like mouth of the cave, where all the wolves of his tribe were gathered and waiting. At once, they crowded around him, yelling out questions about what was going on. They had seen their chief return home, days after he was expected to return, carrying, not their female alpha, but a half dead hanyo and their missing prince. He had not stopped to answer questions then, eager to get the hanyo sheltered and warm, and he did not stop for them now. He quickly made his way to a raised rock, climbing atop it so that he could be heard and seen by all.
"As many of you know, three days ago me and Ginta left to go find my mate and your alpha, Ayame. Well, I'm sorry to say that she had been killed." Here Koga had to pause his speech as the crowd of ookami erupted into noise. Murmurs, shocked exclamations, yelled questions, and a few sorrow filled howls echoed around the cave walls. Koga stood, gazing out at the crowd, until it began to quiet.
"Who was that hanyo? Did that beast kill our princess?" one voice shouted over the din, and was backed up by several agreeing shouts.
"That was Inuyasha!" answered another voice. This one obviously belonged to a member of Koga's original pack who remembered the inu from the days of the Shikon no Tama.
Koga waited for quiet, his steely presence demanding everyone's attention.
"That's right. That was Inuyasha, the one who fought with us against the evil Naraku. I do not know why he was in our territories, but we found him lying injured, with my son. I have just spoke with him regarding how he came across my youngest, and he has informed me that he came upon the body of my mate and tried to return my cub to-"
"A likely story," one voice trumpeted from the back of the crowd. One of the elders from Ayame's clan, Koga noted. "I bet that half-breed killed her himself and was simply injured before he could ransom for the cub!"
"Inuyasha would never do something like that! If that's what he said happened, then that's what happened," Hakkaku, who was stationed near to Koga before the rock, defended. Murmurs began to break out throughout the crowd.
"SILENCE!" Koga yelled, "I have known Inuyasha for many years. Tails of his battle against Naraku are told throughout the lands. He is an honorable youkai and those that see fit to question his integrity, also question mine."
There was silence as he scanned the crowd.
"Now," he began again, in a softer tone, "the memorial will be tonight when the moon is highest in the sky." With that, the wolf chief jumped from the rock and made his way through the crowd, once again ignoring the questions from his pack as he passed. He walked back to the chambers that held Inuyasha. He wanted to escape from the high emotion of the clans. He would deal with the grief, theirs and his own, tonight.
The inu was lying where he had been left, covered to his chest in warm furs, his tresses spread out about his head in white waves. His cub, too, was where he had been when Koga last left him, sprawled on his back, asleep in the hanyo's lap.
Inuyasha, with nothing else to do, had let his mind wander after the wolf had left. He hadn't seen Koga in decades. There was no reason to, with Kagome gone. Damn fleabag, always pissing me off and trying to get at Kagome! He honestly hadn't given the ookami much thought during that time and, not having been exactly welcomed in youkai society, he hadn't heard any news of the prince. Apparently a lot had happened in that time for the guy.
His attention was snapped back to the entry way when the hide was whipped back. He tensed as the ookami approached, he was pretty much defenseless at the moment, a situation he had worked quite hard to prevent from happening these last few years. Again, Koga sat beside Inuyasha on the furs.
"So," the wolf started, "hungry?"
Inuyasha stared, before slowly nodding.
"Here, I'll help you sit up," Koga grabbed hold of the inu's shoulders before trying to lift him up. Inuyasha tried to back away from his touch. "Stop being a brat and let me help you up. The muscle around the wound will rip again if you strain 'em."
Inuyasha scowled darkly at him, but stopped his struggles. The wolf sat him up and propped him against his chest, much to Inuyasha's embarrassment, reaching around him and bunching some of the furs at his back. He laid him back on the furs, allowing him to sit up. Silently he left the room and quickly returned with a bowl piled with fresh deer meat and komatsuna.
Inuyasha's mouth watered. He hadn't eaten since sharing that scrawny rabbit for breakfast with Squirt. The smell of the fresh meat wafted up his nose. His body craved the iron rich meat. As soon as Koga held it in front of him he dived in. The meat was succulent and he closed his eyes in bliss as the blood ran down his throat. The greens were a treat as well. The komatsuna leaves were tender and sweet. Oh! I haven't been able to find greens since the winter months started!
Koga sat and watched the inu intently while he ate with him. He had never seen an expression like that on his face, and he was very much enjoying the show. When the white hanyo slowly licked his lips, savoring the tastes, and sighing in pleasure, Koga shivered. He cleared his throat.
"So…uh…" the ookami tried to think of something to talk about, "what you been up to since Naraku?"
Inuyasha, who had been giddily immersed in his meal, immediately tensed and slowed his eating. He hesitated and kept his eyes on his food.
"Mmm… the same as I did before Naraku." He said, trying and failing to keep the bitterness from his voice. He slowly brought his healing arm, still painful from the severe break it had received, to rest on the belly of the cub, automatically seeking comfort from the little sleeping form that had rolled onto the furs beside him.
Koga, sensing he'd hit a sore spot, switched topics quickly.
"What brings you to the Northern wolf territory?"
"Nothin'. Just where my feet lead me, I guess." Stumped on how to proceed from there, Koga placed the now empty bowl on the floor.
"How about a visit to the hot springs for a bath?" Koga grinned. He knew the mutt would like that. Who could resist a soak in the springs? From the shine in the inu's eyes and the smirk that slid on his face, he was right.
"Yeah, all right," Koga stood and wrapped his arms around the hanyo before he could protest and lifted him to his feet. Using his muscles to get up was a bad idea, but he was fine once he was upright and there was less strain. Inuyasha blushed and scowled at the ookami. Before he had a chance to start yelling, Koga wrapped his fire-rat hitoe around his shoulders and moved to the entrance, holding the hide open for him to pass through.
Inuyasha yanked the garment off his shoulders and wrapped the sleeping cub in it, instinctively knowing to surround him with the hanyo's scent if he was going to be gone. He didn't bother asking for his kosode. With the blood and the hole made by the tusk puncture, he figured it was thrown away and left it as a loss. He would always be eternally grateful for the self cleaning, self mending fire-rat robes. He went to follow Koga out of the room but hesitated, glancing back at the slumbering babe.
"He'll be fine. We won't be gone for long," the ookami said. The inu growled in annoyance. I'm being stupid. As if anyone here is going to do something to the alpha's cub. He stomped out of the room after Koga.
The hot springs were located deep in the cave, inside another cavernous room like the one that Inuyasha had woke in. Millennia of water and volcanic activity had left a cave, pocked with caverns, tunnels, and hot springs. It was perfect for the mountain dwelling ookami youkai, who lived within the extensive cave system. Steam billowed from the water, rising to the ceiling where it condensed and rained back down to the pools.
In a dry corner, Inuyasha untied his hakama and let them pool to the floor. Koga, having stripped himself of his furs and armor quickly, was already dropping himself over the side and into the bubbling waters. Inuyasha sat on the edge of the pool, his feet dangling in the water before scooting himself over the edge, carful not to put weight on his healing arm, and pushing off into the pool with a splash.
Inuyasha grabbed a handful of the sandy silt that rested at the bottom and scrubbed lightly at his skin. He turned away form Koga, who was doing the same, and let his mind drift. This is weird, he thought as he started rubbing the sand across his stomach, I haven't had anyone to bathe with since Miroku. It had been years since he had had any extensive amount of company what so ever. It was something to get used to. He was so immersed in this thought that he jumped when he suddenly felt a hand on his back.
"What the hell are you doing?" Inuyasha groused, trying to turn and face Koga, who held his shoulder firm to keep him in place.
"Washing your back, Baka. What? You think you're going to get anything accomplished with only one good arm that you can't even raise passed your chest?" Koga smirked when the inu's shoulders slumped in defeat as he grumbled about "stupid wimpy wolves" and "bothersome assholes".
Koga gently pushed the Inu's long white locks over his shoulder and began to rub sand over his back. Inuyasha soon grew quiet and dropped his head to the pool's edge that was in front of him as the ookami dug his fingers into the tense muscles. His injuries were mostly healed, the wounds closed and the breaks mended, but the strain that was put on the torn muscles and nerves was what was still healing and was still quite tender. The warm water would do wonders for them.
He grabbed his sides and massaged the hanyo's lower back with his thumbs, sliding the exfoliating grit over the dips and curves, up and back to his shoulders. Careful of his shoulder injury, he worked the sand over his shoulders, reaching around to get his neck and upper chest. Inuyasha fought not to let his head roll back, exposing his neck to the alpha male, and lean back into him. It felt wonderful.
Koga eased the inu's hair back over his shoulder. He sat on a rock on the side of the pool and pulled Inuyasha back between his legs. He scooped water over his head, mindful not to get it in his ears. Reaching for the jar of ground up, dried Red Lotus petals, he dumped a small portion into his palm. The powder lathered in the hanyo's hair and filled the room with its soft flowery fragrance. The wolf rubbed the soap into Inuyasha's hair, massaging his scalp with the pads of his finger and stroking it with his claws.
Inuyasha bit his lip to contain the moan that wanted to escape. His ears lay horizontal to his head in contentment. When he washed his hair it certainly never felt like this.
Koga felt the inu relax under his hands. He chanced a peak at his face and his breath caught. Inuyasha's head was tilted back, leaning into Koga's fingers, and his eyes were closed. His plump, pink lips were alternatively open in a silent moan or were caught by his teeth. And the blush! Koga didn't know whether it was from pleasure or the heat of the springs, but he felt himself start to harden at the sight of the blush that adorned his cheeks.
Wait…Harden? Koga shakes himself out of his haze. He needed to distract himself. He shouldn't feel like this. He shouldn't feel so lighthearted. His wife just died. He sighed.
"So… Inuyasha," he paused as the inu between his legs hummed groggily, "We're having a ceremony for Ayame- uh, that's my mate. You can come if you would like." When he got no response, he continued. "I mean, since you were the last to see her and all."
Inuyasha pulled away from his kneading hands and turned to face him. He peered up into the ookami's eyes warily. "You mean… You mean you're not mad at me for not saving her?"
Koga's face was alight with shock. "Huh? Why would I be mad? You said you tried, didn't you?" his face darkened, "And besides, protecting my mate was my job. If anyone should be blamed it should be me."
Inuyasha continued to watch the wolf's face. He nodded. He understood. He felt the same way anytime anyone in his pack had gotten hurt. As the alpha, it was his responsibility. If he had allowed harm, or worse, to come to Kagome-. No. No, he wasn't going to think of that.
"Yeah, alright. I'll go." Koga nodded and stood to get out of the water. Inuyasha rinsed the fragrant soap out of his hair and followed. They dressed and headed for the room so Inuyasha could pick up the cub and put on his hitoe, before heading to the cave's main entrance.
Inuyasha stumbled into the room. The spike in energy he had received after his meal was quickly depleted and his body was using extra for his continued healing, though he had felt much better after the relaxing soak. Placing Squirt on the furs, Inuyasha crawled in next to the wriggling body and pulled him close.
He was in for a rough night, he knew. Everything about today had brought back memories of his old pack. Koga was here, though he was acting all chummy and it was kind of weirding him out but also kind of… nice. If that blast from the past wasn't enough, there was the mourning ceremony.
Inuyasha listened quietly, with a fur bound Squirt cradled in his arm, from the back of the crowd. They had gathered outside, on top of a wide stone step that jutted out of the mountainside. The snow from the storm was piled high, but the sojourners had trekked through it to reach the summit. Koga and a few other important looking wolves stood before them taking turns to talk about the woman he had seen in the forest. He couldn't help but feel sad as he listened to them eulogize about how she was a good mate, mother, and pack leader.
He too had lost a parent when he was a baby. Though his father had died just after he was born and before he had a chance to bond with him, he still felt the loss. He didn't want what happened to him to happen to Squirt. He would never allow Squirt to be alone, wandering the land with no one to care for him. He knew he would make sure that someone would always be there for him, though he didn't consciously think of whom that would be.
He gazed into the cub's icy blue eyes and Squirt wriggled in his furs, trying to reach for his inu.
Inuyasha's attention was suddenly diverted when a chorus of howls wrought the cold night air. Squirt paused in his squirming and joined in with a high pitched, but no less loud, howl of his own. Inuyasha's breath caught in his throat at the sound. Sorrow laced every voice that rose to the full moon high above their heads. Being an inu-hanyo, he could feel the grief in his bones, but his human side prevented him from feeling the need to join with his own howl.
Lying in the furs, Inuyasha let out a small whimper of anguish. He pulled the cub closer to his chest. The howls had awakened a memory. It was a memory he had lost in his grief crazed mind twenty one years ago. Lying at the bottom of the Bone Eater's well he had been broken. She hadn't returned! It had been two years and she hadn't come back to him. Now, the rest of his pack had left him. They moved to another village and left him behind. He had lost everything. Everything and everyone he had grown to call his own, his pack, his family. Sitting at the bottom of the well, his body called to him. He gathered all of the pain in his heart and released it in a heart-rending howl. All of his fear, all of his regret, all of his agony, he sent out into the night sky in the notes of his bay.
In the confines of the rock walled room, he fervently wished he could forget the memory. It only added to Pandora's Box of pain that was already in his head.
Squirt could feel his inu's misery and squirmed in his grasp. He nuzzled the underside of his chin, trying to gain his attention. Inuyasha buried his nose in his pup's downy soft hair, breathing deeply, the russet spikes feathered on his cheeks. In and out, Inuyasha took in his scent and calmed as the child played with the decorative cords of his hitoe. He relaxed into unconsciousness with the soothing scent of his babe surrounding his senses and the feel of his warmth in his arms.