They didn’t usually use the main roads when traveling cross country. There were fewer people to ask questions and fewer looks. But today, they had come down the road to a small shop along the way where they had all stopped before, and in the past had been welcome.
The hostess, an older woman who remembered them from previous stops, served them graciously, but a monk who had been sitting in the room stood up and left the moment they entered. This did not go by the small, bright-eyed child who watched the man as he left.
“Mama, why did he look at me like that?” Atae asked. “Why did he frown when we came in?”
Kagome exchanged glances with her husband. InuYasha’s right ear twitched, and he sighed. “He needs to know,” the hanyou said. “We’ve been able to shelter him, but there’s the world out there.”
“Some people aren’t like the people at Kaede’s village or our own village, Atae. They don’t like people that look different. And some of them don’t like anybody that has youkai blood. They think they’re all like the oni in the Peach Boy story,” she said.
Atae’s ears twitched then laid back as he took in that information. He suddenly lost the appetite for the noodles he was eating. “Does . . . does that mean I’m the bad guy?”
“Do you think you’re the bad guy?” InuYasha asked him. “Am I the bad guy?”
“No . . . ” Atae poked at his food.
“Keh,” InuYasha said. “When I was young, I had the same type of people try to convince me I was the bad guy, but your mother here, she showed me what I really am.”
“I knew that a guy with ears as cute as yours just couldn’t be the villain,” she said, tweaking her son’s ears while looking at InuYasha.
“Had ya fooled there for a minute, though,” he said.
“I didn’t know it then, but it didn’t take me long to figure it out. You don’t miss at close range.”
InuYasha drank down the last of the soup in his bowl. “I couldn’t have ever hurt you, even at the beginning.”
Kagome beamed at her husband, and the three of them finished their meal, and left the inn, and the bad feeling they got there, behind.
But as they continued on their trip, it was obvious that Atae was still mulling over the events of the day.
“Why?” Atae asked.
“Why what?” Kagome replied, placing her hand on her son’s shoulders.
“Why do they think bad things about all youkai?”
“Well, son,” said InuYasha, “A lot of youkai don’t have anything to do with humans, but those that do, a lot of’em are tricksters or really do want to hurt people. Kind of like the Oni King in the Peach Boy story.”
Atae nodded, but still looked uncertain. InuYasha picked the boy up and swung him up on his shoulders.
“You know how Shippou likes to make jokes?” Kagome asked.
“Yeah. He makes Kaede laugh sometimes,” Atae said. “But once she put an ofuda on him.”
InuYasha smiled at that. Kagome poked him in the ribs with her elbow.
“Good kitsune do that to protect themselves,” she continued, “Or because one of the kami are using them to guard something. Some kitsune to that because they really like a family and want to protect it. Some kitsune, though, hate people, and will try to hurt them. We call them black kitsune. Some of them even will possess humans and make them sick.”
“Oh,” Atae said.
“Humans see that and think bad thoughts of all youkai.” InuYasha picked up the discussion. “They don’t know how we are all. Youkai are like everybody else. Some are good, like Toutousai and Myouga, some can be bad sometimes for fun like Shippou, but some hurt people. That’s what Uncle Miroku and I do a lot, take care of bad youkai who do bad things. Sometimes, though, it’s bad humans who are doing things and blaming the youkai.”
Atae leaned his chin on top of his father’s head. “Tell me a story about a good youkai.”
InuYasha and Kagome exchanged glances. Kagome, smiling, began to speak.
“Once upon a time, there was a young woman who fell through a magic well . . . ”