Town-on-the-Mountain has gotten too quiet for a certain monk (and all the jealous husbands know him by sight), so he decides to pass the time by finding a girl for his best friend, a hanyou with a ...
This was originally written for Patchcat's opening iy_blind challenge, "Plan B" back in July. I don't currently plan to continue this story. It's something I may return to if the spirit moves. I just thought this opening had some fun moments.
Miroku exhaled, then breathed in the scent of the sake in his cup and wondered, not for the first time, what the hell he was still doing in this town.
Oh it was far from the worst place he'd been, a good-sized fortified settlement with s few shining specks of civilization. It even had a couple of dancers who didn't look like the wrong end of a boar demon ...and out here in demon country, that was really saying something. Miroku had had his doubts about the whole closed sewer system idea, but so far the thing seemed to be working. The strongest scents on the wind tonight were coming from the cup in his hand and the pine forests beyond the palisades.
You had to hand it to dog demons. They knew how to make a place smell halfway decent.
Still, Miroku had lingered too long. He leaned back, twisting on his cushion to see out the window. This building was a few streets from the town wall, but above a few dingy streets and a toothed crown of the palisade, half the sky was solid green. The land fell away steeply here, splitting as the woods and wastes gave way to bottomland. There was inuyoukai territory to his left, yorouzoku to his right, and human farms and fields leading the middle way back down the mountainside all the way to the sea. It was an interesting place to live, but the road was calling, and not for the first time. The jealous husbands all knew him by sight and there were only so many times that a fellow could convince the same innkeepers that a malicious demon presence had settled on their roofs. Superfluous exorcism wasn't exactly a repeat business.
Miroku stretched the kinks out of his shoulders. After a swift look left and right, he shrugged the edges of his kesa low and rubbed hard at his itching neck. All day long he played the modest and laconic monk with the discipline of a dancer. Only when he was alone could he drop the mask and joke, slouch, drink and scratch to his heart's content.
Alone ...or with a similarly off-duty friend.
Inuyasha belched loudly and scuffled at his head with one bare foot. "Hey, could we get some more beer over here already?" he snapped at the serving maid.
"But Inuyasha," said Miroku, suddenly feeling very proper, "I thought you didn't like Mistress Barako's brew. Something about the wringings of a puke demon's loincloth, as I recall."
Inuyasha gave the throat-deep growl that Miroku had learned to associate with grudging agreement. "I don't."
Miroku flicked an eyebrow and let it go. "Rough day at work, then?" he changed the subject, taking that first demure sip. Later on, things might get less demure.
"Sucked," said Inuyasha. "Lord Oda's been letting his herdsmen onto wolf tribe territory again. Kouga came and bitched me out about it. I swear, if this alliance falls apart because of a few damned scabby sheep—"
"Can't you just flash your fangs at him and threaten to eat his children? That worked just fine on the Hojos last year."
"I tried. Stupid fuck ain't buying it."
Miroku allowed himself a sly smile, "My dear Inuyasha," he said. "I warned you this day would come. My fellow humans are beginning to realize that your savage mask shields a heart full of kindness and compassion."
"Nah. It's just that those kids are so fuck-ugly that even a hog demon wouldn't touch 'em, and I think he knows it."
"Actually, I've found pig demons in general to be rather discriminating," added Miroku.
"Whatever! If I don't get Oda to keep his goddamned sheep in their own goddamned pen—"
"His wife's been trying to do that for years," Miroku interjected.
"—then Kouga's going to go and eat them and maybe Oda's vassals too. You know what happens then," Inuyasha snapped. "Oda claims Kouga attacked first and sends soldiers into the woods to guard the herds, the humans get all riled up, the wolf tribe builds up their defenses, which makes the dog clan build up their defenses and then dad gets all up my ass about how it's my fault and my goddamned brother smirks at me like I'm some dumb mutt and half the clan agrees with him."
"Inuyasha," Miroku said patiently. "Your father knows you do your best."
"Yeah, my best," Inuyasha slouched into the shadows. "My fucking hanyou best. That's the problem."
"Ah, this again," Miroku said simply. "Inuyasha, this town is the cornerstone of the longest-lasting human-demon alliance in living memory—"
"Two measly years."
''—still a record," Miroku grudged. "And you're holding it together with your two hands. Who else, full dog demon or not, could do what you've done?"
"None of them," Inuyasha answered sullenly. "Ten minutes inside your human walls and they start to twitch. Any full dog demon does."
And there was the real hangup. Miroku took another sip of his drink. There was nothing he could do here. Inuyasha craved the pack and probably always would. But he was bound to his half-human form. The woods and wastes were no place for a dog demon who couldn't run on four feet. In the years before Town-on-the-Mountain had been founded... Inuyasha gave out the impression that he'd tried, but tried to do what and with what level of success he hadn't said. Miroku could only suppose that it was poor.
"Well..." Miroku trailed off. "Your human traits do have their advantages."
"I know, I know," Inuyasha slashed one claw in the air. "Dad yelps them at me every time he can stand coming to visit. 'If you want to help the clan, you stay and be our mouthpiece.' Hell, sometimes I think he only fucked my mom so that he could dump some half-human son on the border to do the dirty work."
"Such a son he would not trust to carry the Tessaiga," Miroku answered. "Anyway, that's not what I meant."
"Oh?" Inuyasha asked. Out of the corner of his eye, Miroku could see the suspicious interest creep across his face. "What are you getting at?"
"I mean," said Miroku, "that while your brother has a certain ethereal charm—"
"He looks like a friggin' girl. You can say it."
"—sometimes a more grounded appearance," Miroku saw the flush rise, the flesh-pink sign of the very human blood running inside those demon veins, "can have the desired effect."
"What effect do you mean?" Inuyasha asked suspiciously.
Miroku sighed. "Girls, Inuyasha. I think you need a goddamned girl." Miroku wondered for a second what he was doing.
Inuyasha gave a snort. "Hey, I might be able to stand the way you reek after a few cups of sake, monkey boy, but sneaking around with some bored human sow ain't my idea of fun. 'Sides, don't the henpecked husbands beat your ass half the time?"
"It's nowhere near half the time," Miroku corrected. "And in this town there are plenty of foxes to go with the sows and hens. Anyway, who says it has to be sneaking around? "I can't believe I'm about to say this, but I think you should even consider getting married. I know that I could never be so selfish as to confine myself to one woman—" Inuyasha half-choked on his beer, giving Miroku a good spray "—but there are many kinds of men in this world."
Inuyasha's ears twitched and his claws rapped on the tabletop.
"Oh do not pretend that you didn't know what Imeant by that. Or do I have to tell you exactly what Master Mushin said to me about it? I know how you love my stories about growing up in the temple."
"Spare me," Inuyasha snorted. "'Sides, Dad said I would have an inuyoukai bride."
Miroku put down his cup and pulled in a breath.
"What?" snarled Inuyasha.
"It's nothing important," said the monk, cursing inwardly. Since when had a half a cup been enough for him to slip up like this?
"What were you going to say, Miroku?"
"Hey, is that your brother walking around without his makeup on?"
Inuyasha growled deeply. "You were gonna say something, monkey boy, now what is it?"
Miroku sighed. "You don't think that your father was being..." he searched for the word, "...diplomatic?" The brightness returned to his face like new plaster. "That must be where you get your miraculous skills of negotiation, my friend! Now, about getting you a girl, my master Mushin taught me a few tricks that—"
"What the hell do you mean, 'diplomatic'?" Inuyasha's eyes were narrow and gleaming like two a pair of angry hornets. Miroku actually gulped, then pulled his calm around him like a robe. This was what made this friendship worth his time; he just couldn't read the boy. Oh, he could tell that Inuyasha played the fool for the nobles. It was a lot easier to get someone to think you'd pull their kidneys out through their ass if that someone thought you were actually dumb enough to reach in and try to find them. But Miroku could never tell how much of it was an act. With Inuyasha, it was either play into his animal naïveté or call his bluff and hope he didn't throw you off of one.
Miroku, as always, preferred to play.
"Inuyasha," he said gently. "You can't take full dog-demon form and you can't run with the pack in the wild. The heavens only know how long you tried to make it work with your clan. Any bride your father sends to Town-on-the-Mountain will either be someone else who can't do that or..." Miroku took a sip of his drink, staring off into the woodwork in search of a safer line of talk. "Or say you do marry an inu demon and there's not a thing wrong with her. What then? You said yourself they can't live inside human settlements. She might share your bed twice a year when the clan passes through, but that doesn't make a real wife."
Inuyasha shrugged. "Well I've been working on that place over on the bluffs. That's far enough outside the walls."
Miroku shook his head. "It's still a house, Inuyasha. It has its own walls."
"It is not a house," Inuyasha answered snittily. "It is a bona-fide," Miroku ducked a waft of slightly beer-scented breath, "authentic inuyoukai den!"
"And how many of those stay inhabited year-round?" Miroku asked pointedly. "The fact that you spend your unoccupied hours making a building, Inuyasha," he shook his head. "That says something about you. That is what humans do. And it's a good thing."
Inuyasha glared back.
The monk looked away and took another drink. That was the thing about conversations like this one. Nobody ever really won. He twisted his cup between his hands. It was time to either cheer up or get out before his mood turned the drink sour, and if there was one sin that Miroku did not mean to commit, it was wasting good booze. He took another sip, more of a proper mouthful, really.
...well, good-enough booze. Damn but he had to get out of this town.
"Consider this, my friend," Miroku said, pulling his less-thank-monkly smile back up to his lips, "even if you were to marry some lady of the dog clan, sooner or later you would find yourself right back here, one more lonely man in dire need of a girl." He gestured with his glass. "Besides," he said lightly, "I thought you told me that inuyoukai women were all soul-devouring pig-bitches anyway."
"Not all of them," Inuyasha bristled, "just the ones I've met."
Was he joking or not? It was maddening ...not nearly as maddening as when Miroku was stone-cold sober, but maddening none the less.
"Well, my friend?" Miroku asked delicately. "Ready to bump Town-on-the-Mountainside up to plan A? But if you're concerned for your safety, I'll pay it no mind. Human women are more dangerous than they look."
Inuyasha shook his head. "Inuyoukai women grow poison in their claws," he said.
"Human women just slip it into your tea."
The dog demon's shoulders dropped in a shrug, but Miroku knew better. The truth was in the ears.
"Most of the girls 'round here know me, monk."
"So you don't need an introduction."
"This better not be one more of your sick games, Miroku," Inuyasha said seriously.
"Inuyasha," Miroku answered, raising his cup to his lips and knocking its contents down his throat, "I am feeling healthier by the moment." He frowned into the empty stoneware, "...which leads me to suspect that this is not strong enough," he added, waving toward the proprietress.
The woman set out two more cups, and though their content was no better, there was enough to go around. The evening proceeded more normally from there. Inuyasha would call the human nobles hopeless fools and the human peasants homes for fleas. Miroku would describe some narrow escape that a completely hypothetical monk had made from a completely hypothetical nunnery. From time to time, Miroku would bring up his idea again, and Inuyasha would seem less and less surly about it, but that could have been the beer talking.
Inuyasha played the fool and Miroku played the priest. But what happened when those layers were peeled away? The womanizing confidence man shone bright and wet even through that pious, papery skin, like fluid seeping through a bandage. There was nothing like convincing someone to accept his own idea of what was best, whether it was an excorcism or a sweet distraction between dusk and dawn. But peel that away too, and then what? Underneath the scuffs and scabs, Miroku had to admit it to himself: there was no con like conning someone into spiritual fulfillment.
And by the end of the evening, when the half-demon swatted Mistress Barako's door out of the way like the moths that were collecting around her front lamps, Miroku found that he had a project. He shrugged (which left him wondering why they'd installed a doorjam right there of all places). Maybe his own motives weren't as crystalline as he'd thought. He blinked out at the window, at the long, twisting road down the mountain steadily seeping into the powdery black of the gathering night. If he'd really wanted to leave, then why had he looped himself into a new project like a string through a bead?
Perhaps there was more than one con running tonight. Miroku was honest enough to know that the road away from Town-on-the-Mountain had never been Plan A.
The evening air cracked with a loud curse. Someone had gotten in Inuyasha's slightly drunken way.
Plan B was looking complicated. Miroku breathed deeply of the night air. If he was going to do this ...then he'd have to find a way to keep himself occupied as well. The matter would need some thought.
drf24 (at) columbia (dot) edu
Request: Can anyone out there tell me if Japanese towns of this size were already using closed sewer systems? I can't seem to recall when closed sanitation became common in Japan. Not going to be a plot point. Just curious.