1I do not own InuYasha or any of the characters created by Rumiko Takahashi

Chapter 39

Kagome had just put on the rice for dinner when InuYasha came home. She looked up as he walked through the door, and gave him a warm smile. "I'm glad you're back."

He returned her smile, then knitted his brows, not quite a scowl, as if irritated to find her home, then walked over to the fire pit. "You left Sango's earlier than I thought," he said, revealing a freshly cleaned rabbit carcass in one hand. "I caught something for dinner."

"Rabbit sounds good," she said.

"I wanted to walk you back from Miroku's," he said, moving toward the kitchen cabinet. "Thought I could go hunting and get back in time."

"It's all right, InuYasha. It's only a little walk from her house to ours." She lifted a piece of pickled daikon out of a dish that Sango had sent home with her, and rinsed it in a bowl of water.

"Still," he said.

Kagome looked at him. "It's not like the old days, InuYasha. I don't have any Shikon shards to attract youkai. Sometimes, I just like a moment alone. It lets me get my thoughts together."

He frowned, but knew from experience that it wouldn't be worth pushing the issue. Instead, he held up the rabbit. "Where do you want this?"

"Could you put it on a platter?" she said, pointing to the cabinet. "There should be one on the top. Anyway, we broke up early because the girls woke up from their nap early, or at least Noriko did. Somehow she managed to wake up both Yusuko and Naoya, so we decided to stop, or at least I did. With everything that happened today, I think I'm a little tired. I didn't mind coming home early at all."

"Keh," he said, getting the platter down from its shelf in the cabinet. He put it and the rabbit on Kagome's work table so she could prepare it, and then walked over to the wash stand to rinse his hands. "Not surprised. Today's been busy." Picking up the towel she had hung next to it, he examined it carefully, then dried his hands. "This the towel you were working on? Nice work."

"Thank you," she said, a bit surprised he noticed. "I'm not the only one who's been busy. Looks like you got a lot done on your trees." She picked up the rabbit, and thought for a moment, and began cutting it into chunks.

"Some. Soon as the wood's seasoned enough, we'll be ready to get the boards for the storeroom made." He came over, looked in her water bucket, and picked it up.

"Just in time, too, I suspect. We'll be needing a place to put miso once it's time to make our own. Sango says it smells strong when it's fermenting." She looked up at him as she reached for some bamboo skewers to slide the meat on. "If she thinks it smells bad, can't imagine how you'd react."

"Feh," he said. "That smell doesn't bug me. All that perfumy stuff like in incense sometimes does. Too much orange or vinegar, maybe. And whatever Sango puts into her anti-youkai stuff - I can't even describe how that stuff messes with me. But not miso." He looked down at the water bucket he was holding. "You're almost out of water. I'll go get some. Want enough for a bath?"

She nodded and began sliding chunks of rabbit onto one of the skewers. "A bath would be lovely."

He headed out the door.

It wasn't quite sunset, but the day was fading fast. To get enough water for a bath took about four trips to the stream. On his last trip back, the shadows were growing really deep. It wasn't a problem for the hanyou, but not everybody was so lucky.

As he neared the house, InuYasha heard something crashing through the brush, but the wind was blowing the wrong way to get scent of whom or what it was. He put the buckets down, and froze, flexing his fingers waiting to see what it was.

Some wood snapped followed by a curse.

"Stupid branch," a familiar voice said. "Should have started back sooner - or brought a lamp."

"Hey, Daitaro, what're you doing sneaking around my house?" InuYasha asked. "A person could get hurt doing that." He cracked his knuckles, just for effect.

The old man, after a huff and a sharp word for a root or two, cleared the wood and stepped out into the clearing. "Not sneaking," he said. He grinned at the hanyou "Just on my way home. Having a half-youkai neighbor's not going to do much to change that. Been walking through these woods since before you got stuck on that tree. Sometimes," he said, brushing a bit of greenery off his arm, "I'd eat my lunch under that same tree watching you. Didn't scare me much then, either." He swung his carry basket to the ground. "Didn't the monk tell you I was in the woods today? I saw him on my way out today."

InuYasha, not sure whether to smile or scowl, did neither and shook his head. "He didn't mention you."

"Ah, well, I was mushrooming. Too many women at my house today. Sometimes a man just needs to get away from all the womenfolk in his life, and head out to where he can think without a lot of woman noise," he said, giving the hanyou a careful look.

InuYasha crossed his arms.

Daitaro shook his head. "Don't think you've reached that point yet, though. Knowing what I know about you, old young one, I suspect you've been alone enough for a while. And a new wife makes up for a lot of needing to get away." He chuckled to himself.

Although the old man was steady on his feet, InuYasha could smell the saké on him. "Feh," he said. "You're lucky nothing tried to eat you while you were out."

Daitaro shrugged. "I know these woods better than any bandit. Think I saw an oni going down the road to Edo, but might have been mistaken. Must not have wanted any of old Daitaro today." He dug into his carry basket, and pulled out a handful of mushrooms. "Pickings weren't too bad today. Give these to your wife. Figure she might like a few. Once they're cooked, you'll like'em, too. They say they help keep the stamina going on long nights." He gave InuYasha a grizzled, knowing grin.

InuYasha felt himself coloring a little at Daitaro's look, but he took the mushrooms. "Stamina?"

"Ah, I forget - newlyweds, they have all the stamina in the world. You enjoy these days, man," Daitaro said. "I remember my time with Chime. What sweet times we had when it was our springtime. Ah, she was a looker, like your lady is." He sighed. "Sweet as spring sunshine, too, and as eager as a puppy. Still as sweet as spring sunshine, but well, time did something to that eagerness. Mine too."

"Something wrong with your wife, old man?" InuYasha said.

Daitaro shook his head. "No, not really. Just what time does to us all." Daitaro swung his carry basket onto his back and gave InuYasha another grin, wistful and sad at the same time. "Don't mind this old man. Too much saké while I was out thinking in the forest. Got my tongue ready to ramble, and you're the first person to get the full effect. Still, enjoy your time while it's here, and don't let an old fool of a man spoil your evening. Hope you two like the mushrooms. I did in my day." Humming a tune without words, he headed down the way toward his house.

InuYasha left the water buckets where they were for the moment and headed back into the house, not exactly sure of what to make of his older neighbor.

Kagome looked up from where she was slicing pickle. "No water?" she asked.

"I have to go back and get the buckets. Daitaro stopped by, and gave me these," he said, putting the mushrooms on Kagome's work table. "Is there anything wrong with Chime?"

"Not that I know of," Kagome said, looking up. "Why?"

"Not sure. It was something that Daitaro said. He kept talking about time, and the way things used to be between them."

"Sometimes, when people get older," Kagome said, "things remind them of their younger days. Ojiisan would do that, especially if he had been drinking saké."

"Daitaro smelled like he'd been drinking," InuYasha said. "Maybe that was it. But he thought you'd like the mushrooms."

"That was kind of him," she said. "Oh, I do like these." She picked up one and turned it over in her hand. "This variety of mushroom cost a lot back at my mother's. We didn't get to have them very often." She looked up at him. "Daitaro-sama knows where to find them?"

"Keh," InuYasha said, adding some wood to one corner of the fire pit. He set a tripod over the wood, knowing it would burn hot, and moved their biggest pot to rest on it, then poured water into it to start to heat for their bath. "Doubt if he'll tell you though. Mushroom hunters don't like to let everybody know where they find their stuff. Afraid everybody else will pick them."

"That makes sense." She picked out three of the mushrooms, and put the rest into a bowl. "Want some with dinner?"

He thought about what else Daitaro said, and a sly smile touched his lips. "Sure. Sounds good. I'll go finish getting the water."

Finally done, and with nothing else to do for the moment, he sat down on his mat by the fire. The house smelled delicious and the hunger he was trying to ignore refused to be ignored any longer. "Dinner about ready?" he asked.

"Just about. Check the meat," Kagome said, picking up the rice pot from where it sat on the edge of the fire pit. Steam rose from it as she lifted the lid. "You were right earlier today," she said as she scooped rice into their bowls. "Rin was upset by what that boy said. She asked Sango and me if people liked her."

"Keh," he replied, checking the doneness of the rabbit roasting on skewers in the fire pit. Deciding it was done, he carefully lifted them up out of the ash and put them on a plate. "Not her fault people are scared of Sesshoumaru. Not the first time I've heard that somebody pull a kid away from her. They don't do it much anymore, and never around Kaede, though, so she might not know it's going on."

"It's possible," she said, putting dishes of pickles and mushrooms on both their trays next to small bowls of sauce to dip their meat into. "Although I don't think there's much that Kaede doesn't notice." Dividing the meat between the two of them, she handed InuYasha his tray.

"Yeah, you're probably right." He picked up his chopsticks and began eating. "But when you're marked as different, it can be hard. Especially when you're a kid."

"If anybody would know, you would," she said softly.

He didn't answer. Kagome looked up at her husband, but he was far away, lost in thought.