I do not own InuYasha or any of the characters created by Rumiko Takahashi

Chapter 144

As Kaede looked at the house where Chiya was wailing her miseries, Fujime moved closer to the old miko.

"It started out as quite a nice afternoon. But then, Chiya showed up at the sewing party and - " Koume pulled on her sleeve and she stopped

There was a noise as Kimi lifted the doormat to her house. Kimi, sighing deeply, her head bowed down, stepped outside of her house, crossing her arms and hugging herself as she moved onto the verandah. The cat, abandoned by Tazu, saw Kimi, and walking with easy grace, walked back to her mistress, and rubbed her head against the woman possessively.

"Well, what are you doing, Akime?" she said as she bent to pick up the cat. "Did Tazu-chan leave you here alone? I'm surprised you didn't wander off with all the noise."

Petting the cat, she straightened up and saw the women gathered near the front of the house and gave them a small, sad smile.

"Ah, Kaede-obaasan, I see Rin-chan found you," she said, bowing politely to the old miko. "I wasn't sure what else to do. I hope you don't mind."

"Not at all, Kimi-chan," Kaede said, giving her a kindly look, her one eye taking in the younger woman's fatigue but determination to stay calm.

Kimi looked around the area in front of the house, then turned towards the knot of women. "Has anybody seen Tazu? I was going to send her off to get her brother."

"I just did that," Fujime said, moving next to the woman and resting her hand on her shoulder. "And don't worry about making dinner. I'll take care of them, and you, too."

"Thank you," Kimi said, smiling appreciatively. "Do you mind if they stay at your house tonight?"

"They'll be staying with one or the other of us," Koume, said, also moving next to her daughter. She straightened the younger woman's head scarf. "I'm wondering if perhaps you or Eiji ought to come by as well."

"Okaa," Kimi said, letting the cat down, "I'll be fine. Chiya needs to not be left alone, I think."

Koume pursed her lips, studying her daughter's face. "You always were a hardheaded child, for all your sweetness."

Kimi, shaking her head, smiled. "Ah, but Okaasan, you were a good teacher. As was Otousan."

"No doubt you're right, child," Koume said, as Fujime chuckled, looking rather smug. Giving her daughter a hug, Koume looked up at her friend. "You're not the first person who told me that, either."

"All this may be true," Kaede said, sucking on her bottom lip and Chiya let out another round of moaning about her husband and her bad luck. "But that does not answer what I need to know before going in. Whatever happened today? I seem to have missed a lot."

Kimi unwound herself from her mother's hold, deftly stepping back without tripping as her cat began to weave in and out of her legs. "You didn't tell her?" she said, looking first at her mother and then her mother-in-law.

Fujime shrugged, and then crossed her arms. "We were about to, when you stepped out of the house."

"Ah, my bad timing," Kimi said, giving Kaede an apologetic tip of the head. "It's a sad story." The cat meowed at her and she bent down and picked it up, petting it gently. "Chiya went up to the hill this afternoon to the temple, obviously in a bad mood. First, she got into words with InuYasha-sama, and then had words with her husband. So stupid." She looked at Koume. "And you call me headstrong."

Koume reached out and brushed the cat's back with light fingers. For some reason, the cat didn't seem to like it, and flicked her tail. The older woman pulled her hand back and looked up at her daughter. "You are nothing like that woman, my dear. Don't even put yourself in the same place."

"I should say so," Fujime said, nodding."It might be sad, but it was her own doing. Tameo-sama told us that Michio told her to apologize and she publically refused." She shook her head. "Defying her husband in public - and in front of all those men. She's lucky that all he did was tell her to not come home."

"She did that?" Kaede said, rubbing her chin. "I know she gets hot-headed, but that . . . "

"And before that, she had crashed the sewing party at Hisa-chan's and managed to insult both InuYasha-sama's wife and the monk's wife, too, and Hisa-chan while she was at it." Fujime said, shaking her head. "It was rather . . . " Her voice trailed off as she searched for the right word.

"Infuriating," Koume suggested.

"Yes, exactly." She looked Kimi in the eye. "She even denied that you saw what you saw when the kami manifested himself." The younger woman shrugged. Fujime raised her hands to her head, patting her head scarf, adjusting it slightly before turning to Kaede. "No doubt if you were there, you would have caught it, too."

"Perhaps," the miko said, taking this all in, but remaining mostly unperturbed. "She was unhappy with how I've been caring for her mother, I know. I got the impression she thought I was perhaps not healing her quickly enough."

The cat decided she had enough human company and wiggled out of Kimi's arms, walking back toward the persimmon tree. The women watched it find a patch of sunlight and curl into a ball.

"I have no idea what got into her today," Koume said. "I know she's upset about Haname-chan, but this . . . it's like she decided to burn all her bridges on the same day."

"Do you think it might be one last bit of the yamabushi's magic?" Kaede asked.

"Tameo said Houshi-sama tested her for magic, and found none," Fujime said. "It would have been so much easier to deal with if that was true."

"There are some medicines that can affect a person . . . " Kaede looked thoughtful for a moment. "I would like to believe there was something causing it." The old miko sighed. "Although, having watched her all these years . . . "

"Perhaps, if it were, and we told Michio . . . " Kimi said.

Koume wrapped an arm around her daughter. "You're too nice, daughter. Even if she took some medicine that was causing her to act this way, it doesn't explain everything. You didn't hear how we learned she had been going out of the way to keep people from befriending the monk's wife since they settled here. And I hear she tried to insult you, too, at the temple."

"She was doing that to Sango-chan?" Kimi asked, looking from her mother to her mother-in-law. "I...I thought, perhaps, she was just shy. We've talked, and she's a lovely person. I knew Chiya didn't like her . . . "

"Oh yes. She even told Sango-chan that I didn't want her at the sewing days I had," Fujime said, nodding. "That she was making the women uneasy."

"She didn't!" Kimi said, bringing a hand up to cover her mouth, honestly surprised.

"You're too good, daughter." Koume said, pursing her lips and resting a hand on her daughter's shoulder. "You've always been willing to put up with her, in spite of how she treats you. She insults you, and you take her home."

"It . . . it seemed like the right thing to do," Kimi said, looking up at her mother, apologetic but still determined. "Eiji agreed to it."

"Bah. He's on watch tonight," Fujime said. "He doesn't have to be home with her until quite late."

"After Michio told her not to go home, Tsuneo refused to take her in," Kimi said, once again looking at both women, and then finally at Kaede, as if to seek her approval."She needed some place to go. Wouldn't it be worse to have her wandering the streets this evening, the way she's behaving? Even her father's not willing to take her back home. Someone needed to."

"You were always one for taking in strays, daughter," Koume said, sighing. "She's going to be more trouble than that cat of yours."

Fujime just shook her head. "I'll never quite understand where you get that depth of kindness from, girl. And you seem to have infected my son with it as well."

"What do you think, Kaede-sama?" Kimi asked. "Would the kami want me to turn her out?"

The old miko took a deep breath while she considered. "I can understand why Tsuneo didn't want her under his roof tonight," Kaede said, shifting her medicine basket. "Haname's having a rough enough time trying to get some rest with that yamabushi stirring things up. I'm sure we'll get something worked out before tomorrow afternoon. You've done a kind thing. But now," she said, with an almost reluctant sigh, "perhaps we should go check on her. Interesting how her crying calmed down once you left the house."

"Isn't it though?" Koume said, twisting her lips into a mirthless, knowing smirk. "I wonder if she's listening?"

The women began to move towards the door of the house.

"Kimi's pet isn't the only cat around here," Fujime said, speaking softly to her friend as Kimi and Kaede entered the house.

Koume looked at her hands and chuckled. "I think she brings out the cat in all of us when she's like this."

As the women were entering Kimi's house, InuYasha was leaving his to go fill up his water buckets. As the door rattled close behind him, the first thing he saw was Miroku, near the edge of the clearing. The monk was sitting under a tree, head down and staring at the ground.

The hanyou, carrying a bucket in each hand, strode gracefully to stand in front of his friend. As his shadow fell across the monk, Miroku looked up, his lips narrowed and his eyes troubled, but he didn't speak. Instead he sucked on his lip, as if he was actually having to think about what to say.

InuYasha frowned at this uncharacteristic behavior. "What in the hells are you doing there, Bouzu? Don't you have some place better to be than staring at my house?" He put the buckets down.

Miroku sighed, sitting up straighter. "Actually, I was waiting to see if you were going to come out."

InuYasha's ear twitched. "Don't you have some other place to be, like your temple or something? I thought you were going to check on Ryota."

"Probably," Miroku said. "I haven't gotten that far yet."

"Bah. Your temple's closer than my house." InuYasha hefted the empty buckets onto one shoulder. "I'm off to get some water."

Miroku stood up and dusted off the back of his robes. "I was going to go look at what the men had done at the temple, but instead, I found myself walking here. Perhaps I needed to think about things. Or talk."

"Feh," InuYasha said as he began walking towards the stream. "Talk, huh. How did you know I would even come out? You could have just knocked."

The monk nodded. "I know. If you hadn't come out, I might have eventually done that. Still, I'm not sure if I want to talk with Kagome-sama around."

InuYasha frowned. "What's she got to do with it?"

"Nothing, really." Not carrying his staff, he did a rather InuYasha-like thing, and put his hands in his sleeves. "I would perhaps just not want her to hear it. There is the woman thing, and then there is the man thing, too."

InuYasha stopped walking and turned and looked at his friend, seriously. Miroku's eyes were troubled-looking; it gave him a distant look, the type of look a man gets when wrestling with himself. InuYasha hadn't seen that look on his partner since the days when he was close to dying from shouki poisoning, and he was trying to hide it from Sango.

The hanyou took a breath and let it out slowly while he digested that bit of information. "This is about that bitch Chiya, isn't it?" he said.

"Perceptive, my friend," Miroku said, giving his friend a sad, small smile.

"Bah," the hanyou said, starting to walk back towards the stream. "Didn't take much perception. After what happened today, and you showing up here looking like that . . . "

Miroku closed his eyes a moment, and shook his head. "I've been such a fool."

"A fool, heh?" InuYasha said. "You haven't done anything you shouldn't have with that woman." It wasn't a question. "She might have wanted you to, but I know better."

"Nothing like what you're thinking of," Miroku replied. "No, I have been a faithful husband ever since . . . well even before the battle with Naraku."

They reached the stream where InuYasha got his water. He put the buckets down, and laid one into the stream on its side to fill.

"I know you have," the hanyou said. "Still wouldn't put it past Sango to come hunt you down if you got an itchy hand nowadays. Just cause she hasn't had to do it, doesn't mean she wouldn't."

Miroku chuckled, a mirthless sound. "Oh, I have no doubt you're right about that. Still, I love her more than my life, her and the children." He sighed. "It still doesn't mean I'm not a fool."

"You're obviously here to tell me about it, so tell." InuYasha squatted down to keep an eye on the water in the bucket.

"I knew that Chiya was . . . not fond of my lovely Sango," Miroku said.

"Heh," InuYasha said. "I bet everybody in the village knew that one. She's been jealous of Sango since word went around that you were intended to each other." He lifted the bucket up and set it on the ground. "She reeks of it sometimes, especially when she comes up to talk to you when Sango is there."

Miroku nodded. He looked down at his feet, pausing for a moment. "Still, temples are maintained by the donations of those who are moved to donate," Miroku said. "And Chiya and her family have always been generous in their donations."

InuYasha put the other bucket in the water. "Especially Chiya."

Miroku looked at InuYasha, studying the hanyou's face. "I was raised in a temple. This is how I know to make my way in the world. But . . . but . . . did I trade Sango's happiness for an extra bowl of rice?"