A Bad Day
A child had died that day when the earth shook. Most of the village had gotten by with only light damage and frightened children, but one old and rickety hut had a major support post give way, and the building collapsed on itself. There was one victim, the unlucky child of a poor family. One of the roof timbers had caught the boy while his mother worked in her garden, his father in the fields, and he napped.
InuYasha, who had been sitting by Kaede’s hut with the temblor hit, heard the cries and ran to the collapsed hut. It was on the outskirts of the village, surrounded by fields, now a pile of wood at odd angles. One end of the structure was already smoking with fire as the wood began to burn from the remnants of what was in the fire pit. The hanyou ignored the growing fire, safe enough for a time in his fire rat, and scrabbled through the rubble, looking for the boy while his mother, a woman named Yurime, sobbed outside calling the boy’s name, as she tried to pull on the rubble. “Daichi! Daichi!” she wailed. Women who lived nearby arrived and pulled her away as InuYasha worked. Village men who saw the smoke rushed in, some helping to move the rubble, some working to put out the fire.
With a great heave InuYasha shoved the heavy timber out of the way amid the roof planks and crushed wall. There, like a broken rag doll, the little boy lay, still and unbreathing. InuYasha, seeing the child, smelling the death on him, slammed his hand in frustration into the ground, causing some of the building to shudder, and planks to shift. The men stopped a moment in their work, and Daichi’s mother let out a great, keening wail. Carefully, carefully, the hanyou lifted the little body and cradled it to his chest, softly brushing a smudge of dirt off the little boy’s cheek.
Kagome, wearing the red and white of her calling, pushed through the small crowd that had gathered there, in time to see her husband smudged and dirt-streaked, emerge from the rubble. The next thing she noticed was the small limp bundle nestled carefully in his arms, one arm dangling loosely. She watched as wordlessly, InuYasha let the mother take her child from his arms. Their eyes met, his filled with grief and regret, hers filled with grief, but also with something like thankfulness as she looked up at the silver-haired man. After Yurime took the child, InuYasha briefly rested his hand on the woman’s shoulder, then walked away. Miroku came running up the dike road between two paddy fields, and InuYasha pointed him to the crowd of women surrounding the bereaved mother, then moved away from the crowd.
His right ear twitched as he stood looking away from the scene. He had a streak of dirt smudged across his left cheek and nose, and there was a small patch of blood on his hand. He stared at his hand as Kagome walked up. “He was already gone when I got to him,” he said.
“You tried,” she replied, touching his arm lightly.
“Yeah,” he said, wiping his hand on his hakama leg. “Wasn’t enough. Where’s Atae?”
“I handed him to Rin when I found out what was going on. They should be at Kaede’s,” she replied.
They turned around to look over at the clot of women surrounding the grieving mother. She had laid her broken child on the grass, and kneeling next to him, with her hands over her face, was keening her grief to the heavens. Miroku had joined her, sitting next to her, chanting prayers. His eyes, too, looked down at the small child.
“You sure he’s all right?” he asked, not yet meeting his wife’s eyes.
Kagome tilted her head, looking at her husband. His face, soiled, had that hard look he got when he tried to stay under control. At moments like this, he looked very much like his brother. His eyes glittered and were very solemn. She pulled on his sleeve.
“I’m sure he’s fine. He got a little startled when things started to rattle, and things fell off the shelf at Kaede’s, but nothing fell on him and he didn’t get to see houses fall apart. Let’s go pick him up and see what the damage is at our place. You look like you could use a bath.”
“Keh,” he muttered, and followed her down the path.
As the young miko and hanyou walked, they passed people dealing with the aftereffects of the quake, but no other house had suffered anything near the damage that Yurime’s house had. When they reached the old miko’s house, a boy, working under Kaede’s supervision, was carrying a basket out, filled with some broken pottery. The miko, kneeling on a clean blanket, put salvaged herbs into cloth wrappings until she could get new containers for them. She looked up as she saw the two of them walk up. Her eyebrows lifted in unasked questions, but did not say anything as she watched InuYasha move towards the girl sitting in front of her house.
Kagome stopped next to Kaede. “Choujirou-sama’s house collapsed,” the younger woman said. “His son was caught under a roof beam.”
“Poor Yurime,” Kaede said as she moved to get up. Kagome shook her head. “Miroku’s with them now,” she said.
The old woman sighed.
Rin, not paying attention to the adults was holding the small, white-haired child of about five months, making faces and wiggling her fingers in front of his face. He was not a typical baby even as he gurgled and reached for her fingers. He had a lot of hair for a child so young, and instead of ears at the end of his jaws, he had two still somewhat floppy puppy ears perched on the top of his head, covered in fine white fur.
Atae cooed and laughed as the Rin circled her finger around, aiming at his nose. Suddenly, and before she could touch it, she saw red as two hands reached out and picked up the child out of her lap. She looked up and smiled.
“Hello, InuYasha-sama. Atae was making Rin laugh while she waited for you to return,” she said.
InuYasha pulled his son into a secure hold. The baby made little greeting sounds, part baby-talk, some which sounded puppy-like whines as his father tucked Atae securely under his chin. He too made small sounds that sounded suspiciously like soft canine whimpers as he held his son close, wrapped in the red fabric of his voluminous sleeves.
“Yeah,” InuYasha said, looking down at the dark-haired girl who smiled up at him, her calm face such a contrast to what he was feeling inside. “Atae’s good at that.”
InuYasha breathed deeply of the baby’s scent as Kagome walked over to join him. He began leading them down the path to their house. Kagome waved goodbye.
They walked up to their house mostly in silence. There was very little evidence of an earthquake as they entered their house. One wooden cup had fallen from its place and rolled across the floor. Kagome bent and picked it up. InuYasha turned to her, watching her through hooded eyes as she moved across the room as she checked for things that might have been touched by the earthquake. He still held onto his son, almost as if he was afraid to let go. Atae leaned into his father’s chest, having fallen asleep as they walked. Content at what she found, Kagome returned to her husband and rested a hand on his shoulder, lightly.
He gave her a sad, small crooked smile, the first time he had really met her eyes since he left Daichi with Yurime. “I looked at that poor kid while I carried him to his mother, and kept thinking.’What if it was Atae?’”
Kagome leaned her head on his shoulder. “I know I would have wondered the same thing,” she said, softly.
“But then, as I handed him to her, part of me was thanking the Kami that it wasn’t him. Is that wrong of me?”
She shook her head, reached up and wiped some of the dust off of his cheek. “No, InuYasha, it’s not wrong. I’m sure lots of other parents will be thinking the same thought tonight. I know Miroku will. I could see it in his face.”
He pulled her into the circle of his arms, with their child nestled between them. “I just had to come see that he was all right, even though I knew he was safe with Rin. I had to touch him, to smell him. I needed to hold him,” he admitted.
Kagome, gazing deeply into his troubled eyes, wrapped her arms around his waist, reached up and kissed his cheek. “You are such a good father, InuYasha.”
He pulled her to him, kissed her lightly on the forehead. “Now about that bath . . . ”
“Not until after I feed Atae,” she said, taking the sleeping child from her husband’s arms. “You might want to start heating the water, though.”
“Keh,” he said, kissing her once more, this time a soft kiss on the lips as he turned and walked to do just that.