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Now Inuyasha—Rumiko Takahashi. "Country Wife"—Willie W. "Mountainside"—me.

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Half the battle with a woman was knowing when to leave, and Miroku left the apothecary as quickly as his dignity would permit. Now that his personal business was done, duty called.

Superfluous exorcism was only one of Miroku's rackets. There were also legitimate prayers and services, but aside from that the nobles often requested Miroku's presence at meetings with Inuyasha ...in exchange for a modest donation, of course.

Miroku delicately neglected to mention that his use as a demon bouncer was probably unnecessary. For one thing Inuyasha wouldn't really stoop to ripping any of them to shreds and even if he did, Miroku's fastest ofuda probably wouldn't take effect until the poor kid had at least ripped out someone's eye.

In this case, Inuyasha must have been quite fearsome, because Lord Oda had been quite generous. Miroku allowed himself a smirk. Sometimes he entertained the thought of offering Inuyasha a cut, but he never did. He wasn't entirely sure if it was because he didn't think Inuyasha would accept it or because he did.

Either way, it paid the bills, and paying the bills would matter after all, considering that he'd cancelled his plans to skip out on them.

It wasn't a large town. That meant that it wasn't a long walk from the stews to better neighborhoods. Miroku stopped at a certain door and knocked twice. The sullen silence told him that all was as usual. Miroku opened the door himself and slipped inside.

"Good morning, my friend," Miroku said chipperly. After all, what good was having a lesser susceptibility to hangovers if one didn't use it to be extra pleasant to the less fortunate. "I trust you're ready to start expanding your social circle today."

Of all the reckless things that Miroku had gotten himself into when he was drunk, this was far, far from being the worst. After all, there were his own needs to consider, and his little charade had for the moment cut him off from one of his biggest usual sources of female companionship. Getting back in as someone else's wingman solved the problem quite neatly.

"I never said I'd go on your dumb sow hunt, Miroku, now fuck off!" snapped Inuyasha.

Assuming that the wingee was going for it. Miroku rolled his eyes but didn't answer. He should have known better than to bring it up just then, truth be told. Inuyasha was out to wrangle Oda into submission and if there was anything he hated more than dealing with pig-stubborn human nobles it was the getup he had to wear when he headed off to the pen.

The monk knew from experience that the minute the half-demon stepped out the door, his expression would turn disciplined and blank, his words carefully chosen, but for now, Inuyasha let his face pucker like a sour berry.

Inuyasha kept a house in Town-on-the-Mountain, but it was common rumor that he never slept there. It was occasionally heard in the alleyways that demons did not sleep at all. Miroku happened to know otherwise—Inuyasha would bitch proudly that he spent each night perched in a different tree to prevent his scent and habits from giving away his haunts. The monk had his suspicions about this, but kept the truth of the matter to himself.

The idea of the sleepless son of a cloud dog had its mystique, just different enough to keep people in line, not so frightening that it brought out the pitchforks. It might have been worth foregoing the house entirely, but Inuyasha—or the dog clan, most likely—had opted for the solid convenience of a base camp and a place for petitioners to make their case ...not that any of them made it far past the front door. There was a small receiving room where Inuyasha was now sullenly preening for the day's work, but Miroku had never blinked at any of the other rooms. He would have been surprised if any of the villagers had seen more than a shadow through the upper window, ever. In all likelihood, the most frightening thing in Inuyasha's unused house was an army of dust bunnies massing for the takeover, but wagging tongues spoke of claws and blood and Inuyasha let them. It was good for business.

The hanyou finished struggling with the heavily embroidered shoes, then straightened and tucked the edge of his collar into place. Miroku stepped back with practiced ease as a huge, flowing tail of fur deployed over his friend's shoulder with a loud POOMF! He'd raked his hair into some semblance of smoothness, which only made the tufts of his white ears stand out, starker and stranger, against the folded order of his clothes.

The red kimono suit outfit suited Inuyasha infinitely better, Miroku thought. The half-demon wore the fire-rat cloth as if it were his own fur, and if it drew attention to his claws and fangs (and his penchant for scratching impossible parts of his body with his feet), it also brought out the flush of very mortal blood coloring his cheeks through his skin. The "work clothes," which was the kindest thing Inuyasha ever called them, made him glitter like some wild prince. Even after Inuyasha had discarded some of the flashier parts of the outfit (either torn to shreds or taken for provisions by the dust army), he still seemed still and strong, as if he were made of stone and air at once.

Miroku was probably the only human alive who knew that they were hand-me-downs.

"That being the case," Miroku trailed off. "Do you think it will take much longer for you to be ready? Need to curl your hair, perhaps?"

"Fuck you."

"Let's be off, then." Miroku suggested. Inuyasha growled and stomped toward the door.

Like a traveler falling under a forest spell, Inuyasha's posture shifted as he passed through the gateway, chin turning up as his eyes stared toward the distance at the horizon and down his nose at passers by. His heavy steps grew smooth and light to fit the shoes on his feet as Miroku followed him up the steep, narrow street.

Miroku knew better than to say out loud what Inuyasha looked like. He'd only met the Inu no taisho's older son once, but bearing like that was unmistakable.

It was old business between the two of them. The poor fellow idolized his demon side and his demon relatives—and Miroku had to admit that the Inu no taisho was impressive. He had heard that some of the humans who'd witnessed the signing of the treaty, long ago, had been impressed enough to need a change of trousers partway through. Miroku could see why Inuyasha would want to play up his demon side, but in forgetting his human half, he forgot himself, and it was Miroku's duty to help the poor lad find what enlightenment he could ...even if it was only the enlightenment of how much fun humanity could be.

A delicate footfall reached his ears. Miroku allowed himself a smug smile.

And humanity was especially fun when there were human girls around.

With all the reflexes of a dancer, Miroku's face composed into his own light mask of monkly reflection and his spine assumed the arc, the perfect arc, of pious grace. Fortunately, pious grace looked very good on him. Miroku turned his head serenely toward the sound of Mistress Mizumi and her friends on their morning walk.

And he wasn't the only one who'd made the effort. Out of the corner of his eye, he noted Inuyasha's dull-eyed, stony nothingness where his morning scowl should have been. He imagined that it was intimidating for anyone who didn't know the con.

Miroku stood quietly, head bowed, as first Mizumi and then each of her three friends swept Inuyasha the graceful, silent bow of greeting that was due the representative of the Dog Lord. Inuyasha returned the gesture, though not as deeply and a good deal more stilted. Miroku had seen it many times. Sometimes he had to wonder which set of manners was the act. Whenever Inuyasha was around the gentry, he spoke softly, barely moving. Even the awkwardness with which he performed his morning greetings served this purpose. Every wrong tic of his head, every twitch of a muscle not quite where it ought to be reminded his human allies that he was a creature from the clouds and that these were not his ways, his world, his movements. He was just barely stepping into their world for a day, a minute, a breath and then he would be gone and their protection would be gone and they had all better not forget it. The sneering, lusty demon that he became when he was away from the politicians was vivid and straightforward enough to frighten the commoners into line ...and enough to keep Miroku from getting bored.

Miroku greeted the women with his usual courtly bow. Matron and maids then dipped heads and necks—very nice—in response and scurried off. As they padded away, Miroku just barely saw Mistress Mizumi whisper something behind her hand to her maids—scandalous behavior for a young, married lady of good family.

Inuyasha made a noise not at all unlike a duck that's just realized that it can't actually swallow the whole boat. "You're what?" he demanded.

Funny how word got around in a small town, especially to people with youkai hearing.

Miroku sighed beatifically. "Eavesdropping again, Inuyasha?"

"The hell I am." Inuyasha snapped, his grace momentarily forgotten. "How the fuck is it my fault if she forgets that I can hear her?"

"Be careful your father doesn't hear you talking like that."

"My father comes to visit twice a year, if he remembers, and all he cares about is whether we held the border."

"Then be careful that your brother doesn't hear you."

"My brother can go choke on his fluffy. Now what's going on?"

Miroku's playful mask fell away. "It is exactly as our lovely friend said just now," he confessed. "The gods have seen fit to punish my libertine ways. I am..." The monk's face darkened like a sky beneath a gathering storm. One hand took hold of the railing beside them, as if some hidden blow had stolen all his strength. His chin dipped he swallowed the bitterness of his words. "...I am impotent, my friend."

Inuyasha whacked Miroku in the back of the head.

"Ow! What was that for?"

"How many times do I have to tell you not to do your monk tricks with me?" growled Inuyasha.

"Yes, Inuyasha, but I thought you were talking about the ritual purifications and such."

"Those and that crap you pull with women to get them to sleep with you."

"Oh," said Miroku. "It was the thing with my throat, wasn't it? I thought that might be too much."

"Look, not that I ain't glad to say 'I told you that your dick would fall off if you keep screwing every girl with a pulse and some of the guys'—"

"Not every girl with a pulse."

"—but if you think I don't know when you're lying your ass off, then I probably hit you too hard."

"You've hit me too hard in any case," muttered Miroku. "Look, I understand if some explanations are in order, but perhaps they should take place when Lord Oda is not waiting for you to show up."

Inuyasha snorted. "Ain't you the one who told me to make them wait?"

"True," murmured Miroku, "true..."

"Yeah, but what i'n' true is what Puka said just now."

"Must you call her by that infantile name?" asked Miroku.

Inuyasha folded his arms and glared. The look would have been far more effective if the breeze hadn't pushed Sesshoumaru's spare fluffy into his face.

"All right," Miroku said in a low voice that he was sure Inuyasha could hear perfectly, "I bribed the new apothecary to tell every gossipmonger in the city that I'm useless to women." At Inuyasha's raised eyebrow, he added, "I mean that as a metaphor."

"What the fuck you do that for?" snarled Inuyasha.

"First, to get my lady friend's husbands off my back," he said. "Second," his face broke in a real smile, "Inuyasha, it's so brilliant!"

"How do you mean?" the dog prince asked.

"Well as you know, my dear Inuyasha, there is a certain kind of woman who, no matter what charms and graciousness be employed upon her, will never render up her own charming graces, not even to a man of my skill."

Inuyasha snorted. "The ones who aren't closet harlots, you mean."

"I prefer to think that these otherwise virtuous young ladies find themselves dissatisfied in their inattentive husbands," Miroku answered primly.

"Ha! Old Sagawa didn't seem too inattentive when he chased you down the street in your birthday suit!"

"Exactly! Imagine if he'd shown that much vigor in his marriage bed!" explained Miroku. "Why, when I think of his poor young wife, so ignored except in wrongdoing..."

"Get on with it, monk."

"Anyway," Miroku continued. "Mistress Yuka is hardly the first to utter word of my ...affliction in my presence. Why just yesterday evening Mistress Ayame most compassionately assured me that this one little problem didn't make any difference and I was every bit as much of a man."

Miroku paused, leaning back on his heels. He could almost see the gears turning in Inuyasha's head. He was a simple fellow, deep down, but he'd get it in a minute. Any second now...

"And Mistress Yuka ignored you like she ignores her husband's rotten hygiene..."

Miroku nodded. "See the point yet?"

"You're doing this to take the guesswork out of it?" Inuyasha asked incredulously.

"Precisely!" Miroku confirmed with satisfaction. "Any woman who coos and reassures me is evidently not looking for my 'special' exorcisms. The ones who don't... Well, I had heard that Mistress Yuka's husband had been spending too much time around his stable boys. Who could blame her for seeking hope and comfort in another pair of arms?"

Inuyasha shook his head. "This is not how you usually work, monk."

"On no," he replied. "One moment alone with Mistress Yuka, one little speech about how her beauty has restored my strength... And the best part? If her husband asks if I came to visit, she can simply speak the truth and arouse no suspicion."

The half-demon's arms were still folded across his chest like battlements. "This is not going to end well, priest."

"Oh I beg to differ," insisted Miroku.

"No," said Inuyasha, "no, this is not going to end well."

"Care to place a wager on that?" Miroku asked.

Inuyasha's eyes narrowed again. The poor boy had learned months ago never to bet against Miroku. When he didn't win, he bluffed, and when he didn't bluff, he cheated.

"All right," the half-demon said at last. "I'll put twenty rounds at Barako's that this stupid plan of yours completely bites you in the ass."

"One can only hope," added Miroku, "and if I should last through the winter and find myself no worse off than I am now, then I would be the winner?"

"Deal," answered Inuyasha, sticking his hand out for a shake. "Start saving your pennies, monkey boy."

Miroku chuckled smugly, "Oh I will."

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drf 24 (at) columbia (dot) edu