I do not own InuYasha or any of the characters created by Rumiko Takahashi

Chapter 292

While Kagome was walking through the fields on her way to meeting Tameo, InuYasha and Miroku wearily plodded their way back home. Something caught the monk's eye as they rounded a bend in the road.

"Look," Miroku said, pointing to the sky at the sight of a floating pink bubble that drifted overhead. The balloon shape had obviously spotted them, circling high overhead for a moment.

"That's just what I don't need," InuYasha, said. He was bent forward slightly under the bulk of a large white bundle, but raised his head and looked in the direction Miroku was pointing. He scowled. "Not only do I have to listen to you, Bouzu, but Shippou, too?"

Almost if the young kitsune had heard them, the pink balloon dashed off in the direction of the village.

"Ah," Miroku said as he headed towards the last bend in the road that separated him from the village beyond. "I guess our young friend has decided to err on the side of caution. No doubt he'll let everybody know we're on our way home. No surprise arrival."

"Sometimes he can be smart," the hanyou replied.

"Cheer up," Miroku said, looking at his companion and smiling. "We're almost there, InuYasha." He lifted his staff and used it to nudge a rock out of the way. "It's going to be good to sleep in my own bed tonight. What do you think?"

"I think that we could have been home five days ago if you hadn't let yourself listen to that old man," InuYasha said. His ear flicked as a small animal barked at them as they passed its tree.

"Ah, but who am I to refuse aid to those in need?" the monk asked, putting on his serious monk face, perhaps a little irritated at the hanyou's complaint. "I wasn't trying to exploit him. You have to admit, that was a nasty youkai he had bothering him. And he sought us out."

InuYasha moved to the center of the road to escape a low hanging branch that came down too low for his load to go under. "Only because that old sot of a priest told him we were there. And he did happen to be the richest man in the valley."

"Even the rich can find the time to be bothered with monsters," Miroku said. He stopped to let InuYasha get through the center, then caught up with him. "No doubt that karma has something to do with it. The wealthy do seem to do more to attract the spiritual world's attention. Especially if they get too grasping."

"Feh," InuYasha said, stepping over a large branch that had fallen across the road. He glanced up at the tree that had dropped it. It was an old tree, and looked like it would fall soon. The hanyou dropped his pack, and gave the trunk a shove, but it wasn't ready to fall yet. Shrugging, he picked his pack back up. "The poor don't have anything to take. Even a youkai understands that much, if he's doing more than eating people. But you're right - that was one ugly snake."

"And that rich man was lucky we came by," Miroku said. "He had more than enough to interest a greedy youkai. That snake was certainly interested in his daughter. I don't think he was ready to deal with a snake youkai for a son-in-law."

"I tell you who was really lucky," InuYasha said, settling the large bundle back on his shoulders. "The merchants. How many yards of cloth did you buy?"

"Enough for the both of us," the monk said. "Kagome-sama will be just as pleased to see her share as Sango will."

"And why did Mushin have to send that jug of sake?" the hanyou asked. "It's not like there's no sake in our village."

"Professional courtesy," Miroku said. "After all, we took him some of Daitaro's. He had to exchange the favor."

"Well," InuYasha said, "Next time he can carry it. Or send Hachi or something." He shook his head. "I'm not a pack animal, you know."

"I never said you were," Miroku said. "No pack animal could keep up with you."

InuYasha growled a little at that.

"No matter what," Miroku said, "We wouldn't have been gone much longer." He pointed. "Nearly there. See? There's the first field."

InuYasha could see the glint of water that marked the first rice fields. A boy, carrying a fishing pole, was running along the dyke path towards the river. "What do you mean, we wouldn't have been gone much longer?"

The monk turned to his companion. "It's almost time for Sango to pay her visit to the village."

"Time for her family memorial again? Already?" The hanyou shifted his load a little. "Doesn't seem like a year already."

"It's been a busy year. Time flies, but it is that time again. She takes her duty to the dead seriously. " Miroku said. He paused and leaned on his staff. "It's a good thing. The way the taijiya villagers died, their ghosts could be angry and in need of placating, but I have never felt anything but calm when we visit." He began walking again. "We'll wait a few days to see if Kohaku shows up."

"I was kind of surprised he came last year," the hanyou said. "He's come a long way since . . . "

"He's a good boy, fast growing into a good man," the monk said. "But you've seen him - he still feels a lot of guilt. His taijiya master told me he's seldom seen a young man push the way he does. I think he wants to make up for all the things Naraku made him do."

"Feh," InuYasha said. "Even back then, he was trying too hard for a kid his age."

Miroku nodded. "He wanted to know if he bothers the ghosts of his father and the other taijiya when he shows up." The monk sighed. "He was really relieved when I told him it didn't. In fact things seemed even more at peace there. I know he knows he was being controlled and it really wasn't his fault . . . "

"Still a lot to carry on his shoulders," the hanyou said.

Miroku looked at the bundle his companion was carrying. "More than what you have on yours right now," the monk said. "But still, I believe his father appreciates what happened to him, and the prayers keep his soul comforted."

"Some burdens aren't as visible," InuYasha said. "But they can be damn heavy anyway."

The two friends fell silent, and made the rest of their trip to the path up the hill in quiet, thoughts heavy with the burdens that life had put on their shoulders and the unfair havoc Naraku and other events had placed on them. Right before they reached the turnoff, InuYasha's nostrils flared. He stopped. He took another breath, and the faintest smile touched his lips.

"Wait," he said. His ears focused in on the direction of the village.

"What is it?" Miroku asked, curious at first, but the look on his friend's face gave it away. "Perhaps Daitaro-sama's bull got loose again?" he asked, teasing. Only one thing could make InuYasha wait there with that look on his face.

"Shut up, Bouzu," the hanyou said, dropping his load once again. There was no real bark to his words.

Soon, even Miroku could hear the soft voice coming towards them and see the red and white clad figure hurrying as quickly as she could and not totally lose the content of the basket she held against her hip. "InuYasha!"

"Ah," the monk said. "We have company already. Somehow, I suspect Shippou's involved with this. I suspected Kagome-sama to have been at Kaede-obaasan's."

"Like I said, sometimes Shippou can be smart," InuYasha said as the hanyou's smile broke out in earnest. For a moment he stood there, pack forgotten, hands stuffed in his sleeve, watching.

Kagome stopped a little short, and waved. "You're back!" Her smile was as broad as his was. "I hope everything's all right. I was beginning to get worried."

It was too much for the hanyou to take. He dashed across the gap between the two of them, picked her up by the waist and circled around a couple of times. Kagome's pleased laugh rang in his ears like music. "Damn right we're back," he said, letting her down. "Should have been back days ago. You're the best thing I've seen since we left."

"But is Mushin all right?" Kagome asked.

Miroku walked up to the young couple. "Nothing's wrong. The old man is fine. We just had some unexpected business come up."

"Keh," the hanyou said, looking at the monk. "And I got to carry it home." He headed back to his pack, with Kagome following closely.

"That," she said, "is quite a bundle." She watched as her husband picked the load back up.

Shippou, who had been staying out of InuYasha's reach, hopped up on the monk's shoulder. "That's quite a haul," he said. "What did you do? Wipe out some bandits?"

"Kept a snake youkai from running off with a rich man's daughter, actually," the monk said.

"That's what I did," InuYasha said. "The girl was pretty happy about it, too. Miroku here just convinced her father to give us enough to buy out the market nearby."

"You could call the merchants there bandits," Miroku said, with a small sigh. "If I had waited, I might have been able to get a little more here."

"Who's the bandit?" InuYasha said.

"So," the monk said, to change the subject. "What happened in the village while I was away?"

"See?" Shippou said, crossing his arms and giving the young miko a gloating smile. "I told you he always asked that."

Kagome just rolled her eyes. "One day, Shippou-chan." She looked at the monk. "We planted rice while you two were gone. There wasn't much time for anything else, and nobody had time to get into trouble. Even Susumu couldn't get out of it."

"But I bet he tried," Miroku said.

"Not really - for Susumu." Kagome bent over, noticing a flower that was blooming along side of the path. "How come you weren't growing in the field I was in, herb?" She carefully pulled it up. "I'm going to have to talk to Kaede-obaasan about why it's been so hard to find you." She stood up. "Really, Susumu doesn't dodge work. Other work just seems to find him. Isn't that right, InuYasha?"

"Feh," the hanyou said. "I'm staying out of this one."

It didn't take them long to get up the hill. Daitaro stopped them briefly. He was out in the back pasture, checking up on a cow he had there, but turned when he heard them walking.

"Your bull's been behaving?" InuYasha asked.

"Okuro must be getting old," the farmer said, brushing his hands off on his pants before he put one foot up on the railing and leaned against the top beam. "Old man hasn't tried to get out in a long time."

"Maybe it's all those girlfriends you keep bringing him," the monk said, nodding at the cow Daitaro had been seeing to.

"I could be bringing him too many," Daitaro said. "Too content, maybe, to have any fire left." He got a wicked grin on his face. "You've been gone how many days now?"

"Feels like forever," InuYasha said, grumbling. He looked at Kagome with a longing that was not lost on the old man who laughed loudly.

"I don't think either of you will be having the issues of too much like my old bull," the farmer said. "I suspect both of you'll be ready to chase your women across the village. And I bet you won't have to run very hard to catch them."

Kagome blushed a little as she caught the meaning, which made Daitaro grin even more. InuYasha looked uncomfortable, even as a small grin touched his lips, as if he wasn't sure how to handle the teasing. Shippou though, was less amused.

The kitsune shook his head. "If you're going to talk like that, maybe I better go. I'm just a kid, you know."

This made the farmer laugh. "I thought kitsune knew all about that, young fox. All those stories . . . "

"I haven't reached that level yet," Shippou said. He jumped off of Miroku's shoulder. "I think I'll go tell Sango you're coming. Better to put up with the twins going for my tail." Transforming back into his balloon form, he floated away.

"He'll find out one day, I suspect," Daitaro said. "Suspect he'll be a little terror when he does."

Miroku laughed. "You're probably right about that. But maybe you forgot what it was like to have a house full of young ones, Daitaro-sama."

"Bah." The farmer got a faraway look in his eye as if he was remembering something. "I remember those days . . . somehow, we always found a way. Ah, Chime . . . what a flower . . . " His voice drifted off, and then he straightened up. "I better let you go home to find out if it's as true for you as it was for me."

He started to turn to go.

"Wait a minute," Miroku said. "We brought you something. Give him the jug Mushin sent, InuYasha. Now's as good a time as any."

With just a little grumbling, the hanyou dropped his bundle, opened one end and fished out a sizable earthen jug. Miroku took it and handed it to the farmer.

"From my master Mushin to you, Daitaro-sama," the monk said.

"My, my," the old farmer said, taking it. He hefted it. "Your master is a generous man."

"As were you," the monk said.

"Got to get rid of that swill he makes somehow," InuYasha whispered to Kagome. She gave him a small slap on the arm in return. Grinning, he turned to close up the bag.

"Shall I try it?" Daitaro asked.

"No time like the present," the monk replied, curious about how the farmer, who was so proud of his own brewing prowess, would react.

Daitaro uncorked the jug, sniffed the contents, and nodded. He took a small drink, swishing it around in his mouth before swallowing thoughtfully. "Not bad," he said. "I could drink this. Tell that master of yours that if he keeps this up, he'll be a real sake-master one day."

InuYasha snorted, then picked up his pack. "I told you so."

Miroku ignored the hanyou. "High praise indeed," he said, bowing. "It's amazing, though. My master said nearly the same about yours after he had the first drink."

This made Daitaro roar with laughter."A fellow soul! I'll toast him tonight as a man who knows how to brew!"

After a few more pleasantries, they took their leave and headed up the road.