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

Chapter 163

InuYasha raced through the edge of the village and up the hill a streak of red and silver, carrying his laughing wife, one arm snugly under her legs, the other holding her close to his chest.

"Put me down, InuYasha," Kagome said, after her immediate shock of being swept off her feet wore off. She wrapped an arm around his neck, and took a deep breath, getting her giggles under control. "I can walk, you know."

The hanyou, looking rather pleased with himself, made no motion to slow down. "I know that."

They passed Daitaro's house, but nobody was near the road, except for one cow cropping its grass too contentedly to care. It flicked an ear as InuYasha raced by, but didn't even look up.

Kagome slapped at his chest playfully. "So?"

"No way," he said, shaking his head. "The minute I put you down, you know there's someone or something that's going to try to get us to go somewhere besides home. I don't want to take that chance."

This made Kagome laugh again. "You think I wouldn't tell them to come back later, after being up all night?" She reached up her hand and ran fingers into his silver hair. "It was exciting, in a way, because I'd never seen a baby being born before, and I learned a lot, but I don't want to go anywhere else but home. It was a long night. I'm tired."

"Feh," he said, snorting. "I know you too well. If someone stopped me right now who needed help, you'd make me stop and see what you could do." InuYasha jumped lightly over a big rock at the edge of the road and landed lightly with almost no break in his stride.

The miko's eyes narrowed, just a bit. "I don't think - "

"Ha," he said, cutting her off. "Anyway, I can run faster than you can walk."

"I know, but I feel better, sometimes when my feet are on the ground." She leaned against him, snuggling up against his shoulder. "You could at least let me get on your back."

A bird pecking at the ground, spotted them, and flew off, squawking as they neared the fork that lead to Miroku's house. Nobody at the monk's house was outside.

"Shouldn't we at least go tell Sango about Rin?" Kagome said.

"I'm not going to be the one to wake up the twins," InuYasha said. "Sango would have my hide if I did that."

"I guess," Kagome said, a bit doubtful, knowing her friend. "But still, I'd really like you to put me down. I need to stretch. After sitting down helping with Sayo last night, walking would make me feel better."

InuYasha, knowing when he was defeated, stopped and gently let her feet drop to the ground. "We're almost there. That enough walk for you?"

She shook out her sleeves and straightened her clothing, but looked up and gave the hanyou a big smile. "That would be nice. I'm afraid I'm too tensed up to go right to sleep."

"Too tense?" he asked.

Kagome nodded. "It's like I woke back up again. Tired but not sleepy."

"Can't have that," InuYasha said, stepping behind her. "I can heat up some bathwater, if you think that'll help." He let his hand reach for her shoulders, and gave them a gentle rub, then trailed his hands down to her waist. "Or we can try other things. You went right to sleep after that thing we did the other night."

Kagome, picking up on the change of tone in his voice, looked over her shoulders to see the sultry look he was giving her, and this made her laugh once more. "Other things, huh? You've been hanging around Miroku too many years."

He pulled her back against his chest and wrapped his arms around her waist. "Sango seems happy with it. Maybe he knew a thing or two all this time we made fun of him. I'm just starting to understand it," he said, breathing warmly against her ear. "I never knew what I was missing until you came home."

"Home," Kagome repeated, her voice drifting away. For a moment she tensed up in the hanyou's hold, and InuYasha began to wonder if he said something wrong, when just as quickly she relaxed and turned her head trying to look at him.

"Oh, is that so?" She leaned into his hold and rested her hands on top of his red draped arms encircling her waist. "Coming home and finding you there. One of the best things I ever did," she said, nodding. "Of course we're not quite home yet. You have to let go so we can start walking if you ever want to get there. "

InuYasha decided to not worry about that momentary tension she had, hugged her tightly to him, then let her go. "You may have a point." Taking her hand, he gave her a little smile, a little regretful, but the look in his eyes promised this discussion wasn't quite done, just postponed. His ear flicked. "Maybe we should talk about something else until we get there. So Sayo sent you home with some pickles?

"Yes she did," Kagome said, laughing a little. "I think you're getting a reputation in the village as a man who really appreciates good pickles. I don't know who's spreading the word about it - Kaede maybe? Sango? Chime? But it seems your fondness for them has become common knowledge." The miko gave him a big grin. "Sayo said these were her special recipe pickles, to thank you for letting me go help in the middle of the night. She also told me to tell you to be sure to let her know how you liked them."

InuYasha's eyebrows raised on that, and he looked genuinely surprised. "I've been called a lot things over the years," he said, giving her hand a little squeeze. "Monster. Bad luck. Freak. On a good day, some people ask me to fight for them, or think I'm an inugami, controlled by Miroku." He shook his head. "She wants me to tell her how much I like her pickles? Because I appreciate them? I'm a pickle judge?"

Kagome held up the little container. "These pickles were endorsed by InuYasha, son of the Inu no Taisho, world-famous pickle judge. You can be sure they're top rated!"

InuYasha just stared at her for a moment and they both burst out laughing.

While InuYasha and Kagome made their way home, Tsuneo picked up a slice of pickle out of his own dish.

He chewed thoughtfully. He was looking haggard; all the events of the last few days were beginning to catch up with him. There were circles under his eyes, and the lines beginning to show up on his face were deeper than normal.

Something about the main room where he was sitting disturbed him. The area around the fire pit where they took their meals was too empty, Tsuneo decided. Aki was with Kinjiro, his granddaughter was in the back with Haname, and Haname's presence, which normally dominated mealtime, was noticeably absent. Haname's seat, the seat of honor for the matriarch of the house, was vacant, a gap in the way things were supposed to be, as it had been for days. Tsuneo looked at the mat she normally sat on. It was a piece of worn blue and red fabric she had made in happier days, and now was quite threadbare at places. There was a dark stain on one corner, where Aki had squashed a piece of fruit when he was a toddler, and a small burn mark where Joben had done something to the fire and sent sparks flying, and he knew if he looked harder he would find other things. He had been after her to replace it for a while, but she said it matched her legs perfectly and to leave her alone. It was so much hers that it being empty disturbed him.

"It's just not right," he muttered, too soft really for anybody else to make out the words.

His daughter-in-law Akina, hearing but not understanding, looked up from her work. "Did you say something, Otousan?"

Tsuneo met Akina's eyes. She was serving the food from her place at the daughter-in-law's position. Looking at him curiously, she held the soup ladle she was using in midair as she watched him in return.

"Was I speaking out loud?" the elder asked.

Akina nodded, then returned to what she was doing, dipping the ladle into the soup pot and filling up a bowl for her husband. As usual, she was neatly dressed in a blue robe with matching wrap-skirt, her hair well-hidden by the paler blue kerchief she favored, the bow at the front accenting the narrowness of her face. Once again, he wondered at her calmness, even with the household turned upside down by events, and how she was willing to put up with all of them.

"I was just wondering how you did it, daughter, to always look so calm and tranquil in the morning," he said. "For the life of me, I'll never understand why you didn't run away, with everything we've been putting you through the last few days."

She handed her husband his bowl, and covering her mouth, laughed a little. "Now where would I go, Tsuneo-otousan?" She picked up another bowl and began to fill it. "Who else would put up with me the way Haname-okaasan and you do?"

"Bah, woman," Joben said. "Don't talk like that. After all I've put you through, I've been wondering the same thing."

She lifted her soup bowl and took a sip. "This is my home," she said simply.

Conversation ebbed for a moment as the three of them concentrated on their breakfast.

It was Joben who broke the silence first. "So, Otousan, you really think we can get Morio to stay in the house by the river?" He picked up his rice bowl.

"It's important that we do, at least until your okaasan has had a chance to get better," the elder said. "It's going to be your job to make sure he stays there long enough for it to happen."

"And . . . and you're putting Chiya there, too?" Joben shook his head.

The older man put down his bowl. "She has to have a place to stay until things get resolved. I don't know which would make your okaa worse, Chiya giving her no peace and hovering over her constantly, or the chaos that man makes. So out with both of them."

"Would you like more soup, Otousan?" Akina said, picking up the ladle.

"I think I've had enough, daughter," the elder said. Joben, on the other hand, accepted another bowl.

He took the bowl from his wife. "And how will we keep him there?"

"That's part of your duty," Tsuneo said. "I will not hammer home the issue that you are the one who brought him into our house. This is just something that must be done."

Joben hung his head, and gave out a long, deep sigh. "If I had known what was going to happen, I would have thrown a rock at him the first time I ever laid eyes on him."

The elder sighed, and reached out, patting his son on the shoulder. "Hindsight knows all, son. The thing that really matters is how we react to what's on our plate today."

"My ojiisan always said something like that," Akina said.

"He was a wise man," Tsuneo said, nodding. "I wish he were still with us. I'd be asking his opinion on all this mess." He shrugged. "But he's not, so I am going to do what I can best figure out what to do."

"With Tameo and Toshiro backing you up," Joben said, he frowned, not exactly approving.

"That's the way this village does things, son," Tsuneo said. "It's a good way, even if your okaasan seems to think badly about Tameo." He picked up his rice bowl. "Kisoi and his family should be at the house already. He has two boys, just the right age to be interested in the type of games that man of yours seems to like to play. I'm hoping we can wean him off of your presence. I need you, too. We're already behind in the planting."

"I know, Otousan," the younger man said, staring intensely into his rice bowl. "I hired Denjiro to help, but he can only do so much. He has his own fields to take care of as well." He was about to say more, when there was a rapping on the door. "Who the hells would be coming over this early?"

"I suspect we'll find a whole group here before the day is over, son," Tsuneo said. He gave Akina a nod, and she went to open the door.

Susumu smiled at the woman, and popped through the door, giving a polite bow to the men at the fire pit. "Good morning, Tsuneo-sama. I do believe my father and Houshi-sama are on their way. At least that's what he told me."