The whisper of the spray, the rushing of water, the ebb and flow of the cascade on the rocks in the small cistern hit him with the rising mist. He saw none of it. Inu-youkai ears were sharp, pervasive. He could hear the music as clearly as if he was still in the midst of it; as if he was still inside the ballroom. It filled his head with panic. It filled his heart with a nameless dread.
Inutaisho Toga gave away nothing in his expression. He'd learned his lessons well from his 'great and terrible' father. Inutaisho Sesshoumaru was calculated, cold, stoic but he had always been fair and lenient, as well. At least, he had been until lately. Nowadays Toga was more likely to be the recipient of his father's formidable ire than he was to be praised for seeing the assimilation of several of Sesshoumaru's primary competitors in the computer software industry. To say that he wasn't seeing eye-to-eye with the tai-youkai was being a little too indulgent.
Shifting his gaze, he caught sight of his cousins-Ryomaru and Kichiro-as the whelps did what they did best. Clowning around with their puppy-ish antics to the delight of most of the females in attendance, Toga had wondered more than once if those two would actually follow the youkai dictate and mate for life. As he watched Kichiro lean in to whisper into his dance-partner's ear, he shook his head. 'What the hell is Uncle Yasha thinking? He'd be better off to leash that one.'
"What are you doing out here, pup? That girlfriend of yours is looking for you."
He didn't sigh though he was hard pressed not to as he turned to face the one member of the family that might understand. A testament to the youkai within him, even if he was only half-youkai: hanyou-Izayoi InuYasha turned his shocking golden gaze on his nephew. "And she'll still be looking when I go back inside."
InuYasha didn't comment on his cryptic observation. "Sesshoumaru says you're heading out to Germany in the morning. You wouldn't be trying to run away, would you?"
"From my father, Uncle Yasha?" He turned and stared down into the fountain again. "Wouldn't dream of it."
InuYasha flicked his long silver ponytail over his shoulder. "So the rumor's true, then?"
Toga didn't take the bait. "What rumor would that be?"
"Don't bullshit me, Toga. Maybe you can do it to your mama and father. You never could do it to me."
Toga sighed and shook his head. His hair-as black as his mother's-rippled in the gentle breeze. It hung past his waist in the mark of the inu-youkai, and he hadn't bothered to tie it back, mostly because he knew it irked his father. He turned a just enough to glance at his uncle out of the corner of his eye. Leaning against the stone railing that surrounded the generous patio, InuYasha absently fingered the bluish-black prayer beads and fang necklace that he'd worn as long as Toga could remember and waited for his nephew to speak.
"I remember the day you married Aunt Gome," Toga commented, using the name that he'd used for Kagome since she'd married into the family. Lifting his chin to stare at the waning moon, Toga heard InuYasha sigh. "You told me then that I'd find my own Kagome. Do you remember?"
Toga suddenly turned, dragging his hand out of the pocket of his custom fitted Armani suit and flicked his wrist toward the inu-youkai bitch that wandered aimlessly through the crowd inside. "She's nothing like Kagome."
InuYasha grinned ruefully. "Hate to tell you, pup. You ain't never gonna find another woman like Kagome."
"I heard my name."
Toga didn't miss the way his uncle's eyes seemed to take on a whole different kind of light as Kagome stepped outside onto the patio. She kissed Toga's cheek-he had to bend down to allow it since he towered over her-before she wrapped her arms around InuYasha's waist. His uncle had no qualms about putting a protective arm around her. Kagome grinned at her nephew. "Why do you look so sad, Toga?"
He schooled his features blank and blinked innocently. "Sad?"
"Give up, pup," InuYasha remarked. "Kagome's a miko, remember? Lie to her, and she'll know it. Lie about lying, and she'll blast your ass to kingdom come."
Kagome toyed with the prayer beads. "I could put the curse back on these, InuYasha. Don't tempt me."
InuYasha made a face then straightened up suddenly as he stared over Kagome's head through the windows. The playful grin was gone, a vicious snarl left in its wake. "I told him to stay the hell away from her!" he growled. Toga turned to look in the direction his uncle was glaring. One of Sesshoumaru's business associate's sons was getting a little too close to InuYasha's pride and joy, his daughter Gin. Kagome caught his arm. He shook her off gently but firmly. "See how the little bastard likes having Tetsusaiga shoved up his ass," he snarled as he stalked back into the building.
"Oh for the love of heaven," Kagome sighed. Before InuYasha could get anywhere near the young people, Gin's no less protective older brothers were towering over the young man, arms crossed over their chests and basically looking every bit as menacing as InuYasha, who stopped between his sons and managed to look even fiercer than both of his sons combined. "The poor girl is never going to have a date," his aunt mused.
Toga was inclined to agree. Gin's face was as scarlet as her dress, and he winced in commiseration with his young cousin even if he could understand both her father as well as her brothers' points. "It's because inu-youkai mate for life," Toga remarked. "Any man who can manage to live through the beating he'll get for pursuing Gin will have earned the right."
He could feel Kagome's too-discerning gaze on him, and he tried not to fidget under her scrutiny. At twenty-six there were only two things in the world that he still feared. One was his mother. The other? His Aunt Gome. "You're starting to sound more like your father every day, Toga. Why is that?"
Toga shot her a quick glance. Dark brown eyes shining softly in the mixed moonlight and the light spilling from the mansion, Kagome didn't look a day older than she had the first time he'd met her. As a child of six, Toga had thought that Kagome was the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen, other than his mother, of course. He'd only met one girl since who had the presence to upset his mind, scatter his thoughts with her scent, but he had been too young, still in school, and her military father had moved them away before Toga had spent more than a week or so with her. 'Lily,' he thought with a vague smile. He hadn't thought about her in a long time. The flash of her violet eyes . . . he could see them in the darkness, in his sleep, in his dreams. "Am I? Well, I am my father's son."
"Kagura says Sesshoumaru wouldn't be averse to seeing you marry her," Kagome went on, nodding at the reason that Toga was outside instead of mingling with his father's associates and clientele. "But I get the feeling that it's something you would mind."
Perhaps Kagome didn't see his reaction. She'd nailed down the problem exactly. Okasawa Fujiko was every bit the lady, absolutely perfect for him in every way that mattered. She was from a long line of inu-youkai. Her father was one of Sesshoumaru's generals from the old days. Quiet, regal, reserved . . . Toga sighed then grimaced inwardly. Aloof, unapproachable, unrufflable . . .
Sesshoumaru had said that he blamed InuYasha's influence for Toga's flat-out refusal to bend. As if being around Uncle Yasha would somehow absorb into him? Toga narrowed his eyes. 'Feh!'
Yet it had been InuYasha, in a round about way, who had made Toga realize what he did want in a mate. He'd seen too often, how affectionate both InuYasha and Kagome were with one another. Casual touching, loving looks, the absolute desire to be near each other. It was something that Toga wanted, too. There wasn't a doubt in his mind that his parents loved each other. They just never showed it in the way that InuYasha and Kagome did.
"I want more," he mumbled. "Is that wrong?"
Kagome shook her head and hugged Toga. She hadn't done that in years. He hugged her back. "I'm not saying you should dishonor your father, Toga, but don't let him dishonor you, either."
She hugged him again then went back inside.
Toga stared through the windows for a long time.
What he wanted wasn't what his father would have for him. On the one hand, he knew what sparked Sesshoumaru's views. As the future tai-youkai, there were certain things that were expected of Toga, and, in his father's unwavering opinion, one of those things should be that he marry a full youkai. Unfortunately, Toga had yet to meet any youkai that did more than strike a passing interest from him. Ethereal and unapproachable, the youkai bitches were a breed unto themselves. Stately, demure, unwavering, it was easy to see why they advanced higher in the echelons of power. Amazing, really, how many of them became actresses or models, with beauty that could be unmatched, an aloof cool that appealed to the harsh lights of the cameras.
The trouble was, that same beauty, that same aloof quality, that same cool demeanor . . . it wasn't something that Toga had ever really wanted, and if he were to be completely honest with himself, he'd have to admit that the things he wanted were the very things that he'd never find in another youkai. That he had been surrounded by humans and hanyous much of his life didn't really help the cause. Shippou, the kitsune youkai that had married his human sister, Rin, was rare, exceptional, and probably only existed in such a state because of his early contact with Kagome.
'And the worst of it?' Toga thought as he wrinkled his nose. Aiko, his sister, could come home tomorrow with a human that she wished to take as her mate, and their father would bless that union. All because he was to be tai-youkai . . . It was an honor he didn't want. It was a curse that he couldn't escape.
Turning his attention back to the mingling guests inside the house, Toga grimaced. Sesshoumaru was looking around, obviously trying to locate him. Trouble was Toga didn't have the heart to fight with his father, at least not tonight. Weary of the incessant bickering, tired of trying to show attention to a bitch who didn't care one way or the other if he was even there, Toga had escaped the party, and the last thing he wanted to do was to march back inside, paste on a fake smile, and pretend that he was pleased with his lot in life.
Sesshoumaru whispered something to his mother, and Toga winced as Kagura headed toward the doors. His father he could deal with. His mother . . .
Before she could reach him and guilt him into returning to the festivities, Toga turned and walked away.
Blanket disclaimer for this fanfic (will apply to this and all other chapters in Defiance): 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.