I do not own InuYasha or any of the characters created by Rumiko Takahashi
InuYasha stepped out of Tameo's office and into the sunshine. Off in the distance, InuYasha could hear Susumu's children playing, but the way the office was situated, it was impossible to see the courtyard facing the main house of the compound, or even the main outbuildings. It was rather peaceful, in stark contrast to what had been going on inside.
The hanyou took a deep breath and breathed it out slowly to get the stink of Aki's anger and fear out of his nose. Instead, it was replaced by the familiar scents of a farm - animal dung, food cooking, compost - and the unmistakable scent of sake.
Turning to his right, he found Daitaro and Tsuneo sitting in front of the building, their backs leaning against the wall. Daitaro's ever present sake jug rested between them.
"Needed a break, too?" Daitaro said. He held up the jug. "Here, sit down with us for a bit. We're better company that them inside."
The hanyou's ear flicked, and he started down at the two old farmers, his face stern.
"Eh, don't look at me that way, man," Daitaro said. "The eyes speak as loud as the mouth, they say, and yours are screaming. But we're all having a bad day here. Sit down. You'll feel better after you have a sip of this."
Tsuneo nodded. "That's putting it lightly. A bad day. Daitaro's right. Sit. Don't think any of this mess is your fault, no matter what my . . . he told you. You did a good thing there today, keeping him from pounding Isao-kun. I appreciate it."
Daitaro watched, and could see some of that stoniness in InuYasha's face melt in surprise at Tsuneo's words. He slapped the ground next to him. "Sit, young one. You're giving this old man a sore neck."
InuYasha snorted, and almost shook his head no, but for some reason, perhaps the acceptance and willingness to include him that the old farmers signaled to him made him change his mind. He settled gracefully next to Daitaro.
"I'm sitting," he said. A rather bitter smile ghosted across his lips briefly, followed with a small sigh. "That better?"
Daitaro chuckled. "Yes it is." He handed InuYasha his jug. "Here, have some of this. After everything that's been going on, we all need a drink, even you."
InuYasha looked at the earthen jug the old man handed him. It was a plain brown, heavier than it looked, decorated with bands of a darker brown. It sat in his hands comfortably; the aroma of the sake in it drifting up, a rich, nose-tickling scent that he never had been able to decide if he liked or not.
"Drink some," the old man said, giving the hanyou a friendly nudge with his elbow. "Don't just look at it. It won't bite you."
Tsuneo gave a small laugh. "Unless you drink too much of it. Daitaro's sake is known to be sneaky, just like he is."
"Bah," the old man said. "Nothing sneaky about it. You're just a lightweight when it comes to drinking." He turned a questioning look to the hanyou. "But are you, InuYasha? I always heard that those with youkai blood had a certain, well, stamina when it comes to sake."
"Don't know," the hanyou replied, shrugging. "People always tried to keep me from drinking it. I think they were afraid to see what it did to me."
"Well, I'm not," Daitaro said. "Drink."
InuYasha rotated the jug enough to swirl the liquid inside of it around, then raised the jug to his lips, and took a sip. The liquid was smooth and just slightly sweet. As he swallowed, the liquid carried a warmth down his throat that he liked.
"Better than tea," he said, handing the jug back to the old farmer. He felt its warmth hit his stomach, and slowly, as it spread, a bit of the tension he was holding eased.
"I should hope so," Daitaro said. "Although, when it comes to tea, I will admit that Hisa brews a good cup. But this is better." He took a drink then passed the jug to Tsuneo. "One last sip, old friend. That ought to help us see things clearer."
Tsuneo nodded, and brought the jug to his mouth, tipped it back, but didn't take a long pull on it. He handed it back to Daitaro. "I doubt if anything can make this day less than mud."
"Keh," InuYasha said. Daitaro offered him the jug again. He took another drink and passed it back.
Daitaro put the jug down next to him, resting his hand around its neck. "Growing up's not easy. I don't know who has a worse time as children grow up - the young ones or their grownups. I bet my Chichi-ue said the same thing because of how I behaved once or twice," Daitaro said, sighing. "But we made it through in the end. Although I have to admit, my wildness didn't affect as many people as you're dealing with."
"If I had known what was going to happen when Joben brought that . . . that . . . whatever home," Tsuneo said. He shook his head and leaned back against the wall of the house, looking off into the distance at the garden behind the house. His voice grew soft and tinged with sadness "My home life, it's never really been easy or as good as yours and Chime's. I know I wasn't my wife's first choice. She's a good woman in a lot of ways, and I care for her, but I've always had that impression that I never met her expectations."
As he talked, he watched a small bird hop up onto a rock in the garden. Something disturbed it, and with a flutter, it flew off into the trees. He looked at its flight wistfully.
"And then there's Joben," he continued. "He always seemed more Haname's child than mine. She was always filling her head with nonsense. After a while, I just let them do what they wanted, and tried to ignore as much of their noise as possible. I had my fields, my work . . . Maybe . . . "
"What is, is," Daitaro said. "Don't start beating yourself up with the might have beens. We all have too many of them. We'd never get up in the morning if we started burying ourselves under them." He shook his head. "Better to think of what to do next."
Something, maybe the sake, or maybe the oddness of sitting with two men who seemed to think there was nothing unusual about having him join in their drinking and talk loosened InuYasha's inhibitions.
"Might have beens," he said, looking, like Tsuneo, off in the distance. There was a yearning note in his voice, as if he were feeling depth of his own regrets. "Might have beens get heavy." His ears flicked, as if the words he said were echoing in the air. Suddenly uneasy, he stuffed his hands in his sleeves and took a deep breath.
Daitaro gave him a solemn look. "Sounds like you've had your share too," He swished around the contents of his jug, shrugged, and took a small sip.
"More than I want to think about," InuYasha replied, staring at the ground. A small flush colored his cheeks.
"Sounds like they sneak up and bite you sometimes. Mine, too." The old farmer put a stopper in his jug. "I think that's enough sake for the moment. Don't want us crying over the past. We need to deal with the future." He turned to Tsuneo. "So what do you want us to do with that brat of a grandson of yours?"
Tsuneo shook his head. "Not sure. I never realized how conniving he was until today. I just thought he was high spirited and doing what boys do sometimes."
Off beyond Tameo's house, a girl's voice yelled. "Mitsuo! Haha-ue! Look what he's doing!"
"Boys will be boys," Daitaro said. His lips curled up into a grin. "Sounds like that brat of Susumu's is going to be as good at that as his father was." He shook his head. "Still, you're right. There's more to Aki-kun than just high spirits." He looked at the hanyou, who was still staring off into space. "What do you think, InuYasha?"
InuYasha shrugged. "Don't know. When I was that size, I was too busy trying to get enough to eat and not get eaten to play games like that." He shifted uncomfortably.
"Eh, I bet you have some stories to tell," Daitaro said. He scratched the back of his neck. "It's a hard one to know, how to stop a young one from going down a bad road. Hard work, maybe. Worked on me, anyway."
Tsuneo looked doubtful. "Maybe, but who's going to want to put up with him?" Tsuneo leaned back and knocked his head lightly against the wall. "Once the word gets out about how he behaved, who would want to give him that chance? Haname didn't do him any favors, letting him twist her around his finger. And the boy hates to work."
"What boy likes to?" Daitaro asked, shrugging. "Except maybe Kinjiro. Never saw a kid who took to work as well as he did." He shook his head, thinking about it. "Maybe I should put him to work cleaning up after my cattle. Taking care of animals like them builds character."
"You'd have your work cut out for you," Tsuneo said, eyeing the old farmer, surprised at his offer. "He's not going to be easy. Expect he'll keep trying to run home to Obaasan."
"Then you or Joben or his mother will just have to keep sending him home. Kind of fitting, since he got caught messing with that cow." He leaned forward resting his elbow on his thigh, and his chin in his hand. "At least we're on opposite sides of the village. People would notice if he tried to run home."
"I wouldn't ask you to take on my troubles, man," Tsuneo said. "And what about your own son? He's getting married in a few days."
Daitaro nodded, thinking, but then a sardonic self-satisfied grin crept over the old man's face. "Maybe we can convince Kinjiro to take him in hand until then. Someone's got to clean up the mess they made."
"You have a wicked mind sometimes, old man," InuYasha said.
Both the farmers turned and looked at the hanyou. All three men chuckled.
"Well, we'll talk to Tameo and Toshiro," Daitaro said. "Boy owes me, especially for spoiling my last batch of sake."
The conversation lulled for a moment. InuYasha's ear flicked. He could hear Susumu's children playing in the courtyard, and Aki sobbing in the office, and Kagome try to encourage Isao to take some medicine, and the little joke he made faded away to be replaced by a fuzzy-headed sense of it all feeling he didn't really understand what was going on at all. His brows knitted together as he unfolded his arms and reached out to pick up a blade of grass. Twirling it in his fingers, he stared at it as if could give him the answers.
"Something bothering you, InuYasha?" Daitaro asked, nudging the hanyou with his elbow "You seem to be wandering some place else."
The hanyou looked up, and he tilted his head, studying the old man who seemed determined to treat him like a friend. "Just thinking. Why?" he asked.
"Why what?" Daitaro ran the strap of his sake bottle back over his head and left shoulder.
"Why are you doing what you're doing? I don't understand you, old man." He sighed. "I don't understand why today I can sit with you and drink sake. I don't understand why now people aren't running away from me. Why everybody's not talking like Aki did after everything that happened yesterday."
"Ah," Tsuneo said, smiling at the hanyou. "Deep thoughts. Sake makes you a philosopher. It does that to some people."
InuYasha snorted. "All my days, wherever I lived, if anything bad happened, I usually got the blame." Daitaro started to speak, but InuYasha held his hand up. "Aki just said what a lot of people have always said. Why aren't you trying to chase me out of town? Why are you talking about taking that brat in to try to teach him some sense?"
Daitaro shrugged. "Don't know. It just seems the right thing to do." His face, also flushed, broke out in a grin. "Good karma, maybe. Who knows, maybe Amida-sama will let me be reborn in his paradise after all."
"Bah." Tsuneo picked up a small pebble on the ground in front of him and tossed it. "You always have been an obstinate hard-head. Amida-sama and paradise? More likely King Emma will drag you to hell to make sake for him and all of his court."
This made Daitaro laugh, and even InuYasha cracked a small grin. "If he does that, then I'll know Emma-o knows what's important," the old farmer said.
"Aki-kun . . . I don't know," Tsuneo said. "Maybe you could knock some sense into that grandson of mine. I know I can't do anything worthwhile for him at my house, not with my household." He looked up at the hanyou. "As for you, InuYasha-sama, anybody who saw or heard what the kami did yesterday would be crazy to talk like that around you."
"Feh," InuYasha replied. He closed his eyes and sighed. "That ought to make people even more scared of me. But you're not frightened at all. Even when you saw me this morning." He tapped his nose. "This never lies."
Daitaro picked up his jug and looked at it, and looked back at the hanyou, surprised. "You didn't drink that much."
Tsuneo shrugged. "I have too much on my mind to be frightened. Never seen you do anything but the right thing. That stupid son of mine and Isao's mother were wondering if you were going to come tearing into our house last night demanding mine or his head, but I knew better. You even did what you could to calm my brat down without hurting him."
"Never stopped people before," InuYasha said. His voice carried more than a trace of bitterness.
"I leave the being scared of the uncanny to the rest of my family," Tsuneo said. "They do enough for all of us."
"Well," Daitaro said. "I think I'm taking back what I said about sake and youkai stamina. Two drinks got you talking more than I expected, InuYasha. I was thinking it was time to go back inside. But maybe you might want to walk in the garden a few minutes."
"I'm not drunk," the hanyou protested. "I've been drunk before. There was this youkai sage who did magic with vats of sake. He dunked me into one and I got really smashed. Couldn't even stand. Didn't taste as good as yours, though."
Daitaro popped the hanyou on the back. "Better than magic sake, eh? Now I know the day won't be all bad. Bet it didn't take you a day and a half to be normal again, either. I've noticed how fast you heal up."
InuYasha shook his head. "No, not long . . . maybe a quarter of an hour before I could stand. My head felt normal again about an hour later."
"Ah," Tsuneo said. "If only . . . "
"Lightweight," Daitaro said. He stood up. "Go on, go walk in the kami's garden, InuYasha. Maybe even tell him thanks for saving your pretty wife from that monster. You look and act like a man who's had a drink or two too many. Don't think there'll be more trouble, but you'll want to have a clear head." He grinned. " And it'll keep Hisa from giving you the look."
"You don't want Hisa to give you that look," Tsuneo said, stand up as well. "She might have pity on me and let it go. But . . . "
InuYasha stood up. Standing felt slightly odd. "You might be right."
"Experience," Daitaro said.
Nodding, the hanyou headed off towards the family shrine.