It was an unusual sight: three males of the Inu Youkai noble clan standing together in a small knot, talking, silver hair fluttering in the breeze, dressed in white and red and blue. Of course the fact that one was only about five and was receiving unhappy looks from the other two males spoiled the effect of all that gathered power.
Atae, dressed in blue, stood in front of his daddy, looking up at him with big, solemn puppy eyes. He swallowed hard. He knew, from the look on his daddy’s face and the scents of tension in the air that he had overstepped some boundary and was in trouble. Uncle, resting one hand on Atae’s silver-haired head, held up a somewhat shredded boot for his daddy’s inspection with the other. The boy’s triangular puppy ear twitched as Uncle’s fingers brushed across its tip.
“Atae, you did this?” InuYasha looked down at him with stern eyes.
“It looked like a monster,” Atae admitted, bringing his hand up to his face. He chewed on his knuckle for a moment and then explained: “I was protecting Auntie and Uncle when they was sleeping.”
InuYasha sighed and looked up at his brother. His relationship with Sesshoumaru had never been easy. He, too felt anxious and his right ear twitched nervously as he studied Sesshoumaru’s face, then down at his son. “Atae,” he said at last, “Uncle Sesshoumaru’s boot is not a monster.”
The boy looked at his and his father’s bare toes, and his uncle’s feet in the fine, elegant boots. Atae pulled his knuckle out of his mouth and looked up at the two amber-eyed men with uncertain amber eyes of his own. “I sorry,” he said.
Sesshoumaru knelt next to him, looked him deep in the eyes. “You will not do this again, Atae.”
The small boy’s ears, already low in his anxiety, lowered even more. “Yes, Uncle,” he said, backing up from the impact of his uncle’s youki. Atae reached out and caught his daddy’s hakama leg. InuYasha pulled the boy to him.
“What do you want me to do?” InuYasha said, looking at his brother.
The daiyoukai stood up. “It is time, Little Brother,” he said, looking at InuYasha in the eye. “If he is making play hunts, it is time he learn the real thing. You will start to teach him.”
Sesshoumaru turned and left. Suddenly InuYasha let out a deep breath. He looked down and scratched his head for a moment, studying the five year old’s face. “Well, little guy, I guess it’s time you start your learning. Wonder what your mama’s going to say about it all.” He bent over and picked up his son and took him into the house.
It was early in the morning, and only a little gray light pooled through the windows, and the flames from the fire pit cast warm highlights on the three gathered for breakfast. Kagome sat by the fire pit, and wrapped several rice balls in bamboo leaves, while her husband and her sleepy son ate their breakfast. InuYasha, looking up from his morning soup, raised an eyebrow as he watched her work.
“Just in case,” she said, as she tied the rice balls into a carry cloth.
“One less thing to worry about,” he said, smiling, then ruffed the hair of his little boy. “Hey sleepyhead! Better eat up now, cause it’s going to be a long day ahead.”
Atae, who had been staring away into space, almost back asleep, nodded, and sipped his soup.
InuYasha turned back towards Kagome. “You know those hills beyond the village rice fields? On the other side of the Inuyama Shrine?”
She nodded, handing him the lunch bundle which he tucked into his jacket.
“There’s a lot of rabbit runs over there. I thought we’d go down there to see what we can do, and then work our way back up. Suspect the little guy’ll have a good time and maybe get worn out.”
Kagome looked at her son, reached over and tweaked one of his ears. “Sounds like Atae and Daddy are going to have a good day today.”
Atae looked up from where he was drifting, and smiled. “I gonna get a rabbit, Mama!”
“You do that baby!” she said.
“What’re you going to do today?” InuYasha asked, in between bites of his porridge.
“Oh, I’ll think of something,” she said, with an enigmatic smile. Something about the look she gave him made InuYasha uneasy. “You two have fun.”
InuYasha bent over towards his wife, handing her his dishes and kissing her cheek. “You know I won’t take him anywhere he could get into trouble.” She nodded. He stood up. “Hurry up, Atae,” he said. “We’ve got a long way to go.”
The two dog-eared persons walked along a sandy bank near a hole-dotted hill. The ground was covered with small shrubs and some grass. But where the land was bare, there were tracks.
InuYasha knelt down. Atae squatted next to him. The older hanyou pointed to one set of tracks. “You see that track? A rabbit made that.” He pointed out the tracks, making a kind of y shape in the ground, two large tracks followed by the two smaller tracks made by the front paws.
He bent down and smelled it. Atae copied him. It wasn’t brand new, but it wasn’t very old. “You smell it?” he asked.
Atae bobbed his head up and down. “Yeah. It smells like your hands when we’re gonna have rabbit stew.”
“Good,” InuYasha said. “Think we can follow it, and see where it went to?”
“Uh-huh,” Atae said. He got up and started to run down the line of tracks.
InuYasha grabbed him quickly. “You got to be careful, son. What if there were a wild pig in that thicket over there? What would you do?”
“Run to you, Daddy,” the little boy said.
InuYasha tousled the boy’s head. Suddenly there was a flash of brown as a rabbit ran across the path. Quick as lightning, Atae broke away from his father and ran after the animal. There was a loud rustling of branches. Atae let out a loud ouch, and the rabbit bounded away. The hanyou sighed, and went to rescue his son.
Later that afternoon, a tired looking InuYasha carrying a bedraggled Atae walked up to where Kagome was working in her garden. Atae was fast asleep, leaning on InuYasha’s shoulder. She got up, and dusted off her hands as she walked up to her husband and took the sleeping child from him.
“Have a good time?” she asked. She rubbed her thumb over a scratch on the little boy’s cheek, and pulled a stick out of his hair.
“He did pretty good,” InuYasha said, dropping the rabbits he had hunted down on the ground. “Almost got a rabbit himself. He’s a natural at tracking. Sesshoumaru was right. It was time for him to start learning.”
“Hard to believe he’s this big already,” Kagome said. “If he was back at my mother’s, he’d be starting school.”
“School. I guess today we kind of started school. He needs to learn how to hunt,” InuYasha said.
“That’s not all he needs to learn. You think you’re up to using a brush as well as a sword?”
InuYasha looked at his hands and sighed. “Maybe we should talk to Sesshoumaru.”
Kagome started to laugh.
“What’s so funny, woman?” he asked.
“Oh, just thinking of Sesshoumaru in white around our little boy with a brush full of ink,” she replied. “Maybe we should talk to Miroku instead.”
InuYasha smiled, and kissed Kagome’s forehead, ran a finger over Atae’s cheek. “Maybe you’re right. At least Miroku wears black.”
Still smiling, Kagome carried her sleeping son into the house.