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

Chapter 147

At Miroku's temple, Susumu peeked over the roof ridge, a location that had a clear view of the path down the hill. A lone figure was walking up the trail.

"Hey, Eiji, is that the monk?" he called down to the ground, where Eiji was packing a basketful of nails to the workers on the other side.

Eiji looked around and then up at the roof. "Where?"

"Coming from his house," Susumu said. He pointed in the direction with his hammer.

"You gonna work, or you going to play lookout?" Shinjiro said. He was near the roof ridge himself, closing in on finishing his section of work. Positioning a cedar shingle, he nailed it into place.

"Knowing Susumu . . . " Genjo, Shinjiro's younger brother said, grinning.

"I just wanted to know," the village guard said. He grabbed a shingle and got back to work.

"Yeah, that's him," Eiji said. As he spoke, Miroku cleared the last bit of brush that lined the pathway and stepped into the temple clearing, head bowed and chin on hand, looking deep in thought.

"Hey, Ryota," Eiji said, moving to the other side of the building as he shifted his basket and moved on. "Houshi-sama's back."

Ryota, standing on the roof, checking some completed work, looked up. "Good. Must mean things are under control with the women," he said, and began moving toward the ladder.

Miroku took a quick glance at the roof as he moved onto the grounds. Although there were scattered bits of shingle and board on the ground, the roofing itself was mostly done. Even the place where InuYasha had fallen through was patched and now reshingled, although the debris the hanyou had scattered when he landed was still scattered around.

"You think his woman crisis is over?" Shinjiro, watching the monk and how he moved, asked Susumu. He scooted up to the roof ridge himself to keep watching.

"Hmm," the village guard said, as they both watched the somber figure. "I guess. It must be, or at least enough for him to come back." Susumu moved back to his work, and tapped a nail into a shingle. "He doesn't look very happy, though."

"I'd say," Shinjiro replied.

Genjo pulled himself up to the ridge. "Wonder what happened? I guess we'll find out soon enough. Between Mariko and Erime-chan, someone will spill the beans."

"Or Emi," Susumu said. He glanced over at Shinjiro. "And if the women hold out on us, I bet your otousan will get all the news out of him."

"You're probably right about that," Shinjiro said. "Houshi-sama likes to talk, and Chichi-ue can be very good at finding out things." He looked over the edge of the roof, where Isamu was walking by. "Could you pass up some nails? Eiji was supposed to have put them down by the ladder," he asked the man. "I'd like to get this done before midnight."

"Wouldn't we all?" Isamu said, and handed up the nail bag.

Ignoring the chatter, Miroku wandered to the spot where Yaya, Isamu's wife, was manning the tea pot in Kimi's place.

Seeing the look on his face, she gave him a sympathetic look as he neared, which he returned with the faintest wisp of a smile. "Ah, Houshi-sama," she said, holding up her pot. "Would you like a cup?"

The monk nodded. "Please."

"They are getting quite along in the work," she said, handing him a cup. "Is InuYasha-sama going to return this evening?"

"I don't think so," Miroku said, sipping his tea. "I believe he's had enough of people for one day."

"Considering what happened," Yaya said, nodding, "I'm not surprised. I would be too, I think, if I were in his place. I am sorry Chiya-chan caused such a problem today. Since all that happened with her mother, she's . . . " Her voice dropped off. Looking at how distracted Miroku seemed, she suddenly found tending the fire under the hot water something that needed her attention.

"When a fish meets a fish hook," Miroku said, softly. "If he is too greedy, he will be caught."

"Excuse me, Houshi-sama?" Yaya said, looking up at him, with her head turned.

Miroku took a sip of his tea, and shook his head. "I was just remembering something my old teacher said once. It doesn't matter."

Yaya decided to change the subject. "I certainly hope Kimi knows what she was doing, taking Chiya-chan home. Chiya can be . . . difficult when she's like this. Are you going to go talk to her about what happened?"

Miroku shook his head. "No, not today. I...well, I suspect it would be bad karma for the both of us. Maybe tomorrow, or the day afterwards."

"I...I can understand that. It can be hard to keep one's mindfulness when there's a lot of emotion running," Yaya said.

"A lot of emotion, yes," Miroku said. He took a deep breath, half-closed his eyes as if he were meditating, and let it out very slowly. Looking at Yaya, he gave her a sad, regretful smile. "Today, perhaps I am like the man who carrying a lit lantern, searched the night for a fire."

"Houshi-sama?" Yaya asked.

"I'm afraid I would take her to task in a way that would not be good for her soul, and so not much of a dharma lesson at all. As you say, mindfulness is hard when you are full of emotion. Even for monks." He swallowed the last of his tea and noticed that Ryota was waving at him. Handing her the cup, he stood up. "Thank you, Yaya-sama. Ryota-sama seems to be wanting my attention. You make very good tea."

Yaya looked at him with a pleased smile, but with concern and watched him walk off.

Ryota began heading toward the monk, but before he could get there, Chiya's husband Michio walked up.

"Ah, Houshi-sama," Michio said. "I hope everything was all right with your wife."

Miroku turned, surprised to see the man. Michio, standing in front of him, shifted from foot to foot and although his hands were clasped, his thumbs twirled around each other nervously.

"She seems to be doing better," Miroku said.

"Good, good," Michio said.

For a brief moment each of them stood there, echoing pain to each other, neither quite sure of what to say.

"Michio-sama, I -" Miroku started, bowing slightly

"Houshi-sama, I -" the older man said, simultaneously.

Ryota, watching both the men, stopped what he was doing. "I think you two need to take turns. It works better that way."

For some reason, this made both men laugh. It was not a mirthful laugh, but something bitter, especially for Michio, who did not stop laughing until he was on his knees and his laughter had turned to tears. He covered his face with his hands in shame, then taking a deep breath, wiped his eyes on his sleeve. Miroku knelt down next to the man.

Slowly Michio gained his composure. "Today started out beautifully. I walked out this morning and weeded the garden," he said. "Chiya picked some mizuna to fix with breakfast, and after we ate, she chased me out so she could start cooking for lunch. My son and I went out to work on the soybeans, and I left him there so I could . . . could come help here."

He looked at the monk. Miroku could see where the tear tracks had run down his cheeks. Suddenly, Michio threw himself on the ground like a supplicant. "I ask your forgiveness, Houshi-sama, for the rudeness of my wife. I had no idea she was going to make today such an unauspicious occasion. I...she's so headstrong, I never know what to do when she does things like this . . . "

Miroku rested a hand on the man's shoulder. "I know," he said softly. "Sometimes . . . "

"I don't know what to do," Michio said, sitting up. "Chichi-ue . . . he never wanted me to marry her. Hells, her parents never wanted us to marry, but Chiya was determined, and got them to relent so we did anyway. Perhaps I should have listened to them . . . " His voice drifted off for a moment, and then he swallowed and continued. "This is not the first time she has cost me face in front of the others." He struck the ground with his fist. "I can't take her back right now, not after what she did in front of everybody. Her otousan can't take her in yet. But I can't just leave her homeless." He stared into Miroku's face, hoping for answers. "I don't know what I ought to do."

A shadow fell over the two men. They looked up to see Tameo, Tsuneo and Daitaro standing in front of them. Daitaro fiddled with his sake jug, and Tsuneo looked almost as unhappy as Michio. Tameo, though, gave the two men a sympathetic look.

"You don't know what to do with that wife of yours?" the headman asked. "Well, don't worry. I think we have the perfect plan."

While the men encircled Michio, a different scene payed out at Kimi's house.

"Okaa," Kimi said, still shocked at her mother's outburst. "Please . . . "

"Please what?" Koume said. Her face was set, stony in its certainty, and her eyes adamant. "Please lie? Please pretend Chiya didn't make her own bed hard by being jealous of the monk's wife?"

Fujime, rested a hand on her friend's shoulder as she watched Chiya just stand there, mouth open, hands clasping and unclasping, shock on her face. "Even so . . . "

Kaede, having sorted her herbs, stood up, looking at each of the women in turn. She moved next to Kimi. "Kimi-chan," she asked, her voice calm and almost shocking in its calm after Koume's tirade, "is the water hot? I am thinking perhaps we all could use a dose of this medicine. This is a stressful situation."

Kimi didn't even look at the fire. "Not quite, Kaede-obaasan," the younger woman said, not yet ready to leave her place beside Chiya. "In a little bit, I think."

Chiya swallowed hard. "Stressful, Kaede-obaasan? Stressful? Is that what you would call it?" She shifted, taking a step forward towards Koume.

Kimi grabbed her by the arm. "Chiya-chan, no . . . "

"You might be the blacksmith's wife, Koume, but you can't talk to me that way!" Chiya hissed, trying to shake off Kimi's hold.

"Oh? And why not?" Koume said. She pulled away from Fujime. "If it's true, it's true. You should be glad I'm not going to go find that poor husband of yours. You don't think he's noticed how you fawn all over Houshi-sama? Wait until I tell him how you've been trying to chase the monk's wife away. We know all about your little scheme, and even the names of the women you used to help." She gave Chiya a small, but fierce smile. "It's only the fact that this would most certainly get back to your mother is the only thing holding me back. What happened up on the hill is going to be enough scandal for her. Poor Haname-chan does not deserve this right now."

This stopped Chiya in mid stride, and the color drained out of her face. "You wouldn't . . . "

Koume lifted her head high and gave Chiya a look that told her just how willing she was to do just what she threatened. "Keep acting this way, woman, and watch. Or you could just agree that it is time to grow up and practice some of the teachings that Kimi-chan and the monk have told you about, instead of pretending." She turned to her daughter. "I'm sorry, Kimi-chan, but we cannot all be the goddess of mercy."

Kimi nodded, but didn't say anything, merely looked at her mother and at Chiya and sighed.

"Come on, Fujime-chan, we have things to do," Koume said. "We have children we haven't forgotten about to feed." She turned around and began to walk toward the door.

Before she could take three steps, Chiya collapsed to the floor, and began to wail.

"The water's hot now, I think," Kimi said, and moved toward the fire pit.