1I do not own InuYasha or any of the characters created by Rumiko Takahashi

Chapter 169

Down in the village, Kimi stepped outside of her house, a basket of laundry in her arms, to find her husband sitting on the ground.

"I didn't know you were still out here," she said, walking over to him. "It was so quiet I thought you might have gone to the fields."

"Probably where I ought to have gone," Eiji said, looking up at her briefly before dropping his eyes back to the ground, where the fragments from his daughter's bowl were scattered. "Or at least found a tree to take a nap under. Somehow, though, I just can't seem to get up. I keep thinking of how Michio was last night over at Toshiro's. I'd have been home a lot earlier, but he wouldn't let me go." He picked up a fragment of the bowl. "This isn't the only thing she broke, you know?"

"I know," Kimi said. She rested a hand on his shoulder.

He covered her hand with his. "It's pretty quiet in there."

"There wasn't much to say." She uncovered her hand, and gave his hand a squeeze before moving hers back to the basket. "What do you say to all of that?"

"Don't ask me." Eiji put the fragment back down next to the others. "I'm just a farmer, not a philosopher. Or a wizard."

Kimi put her basket down. "I...I...She asked me to let her go. I told her that I would obey my husband on this, then grabbed the laundry basket." Gracefully, she knelt down on the ground next to him. "I don't really want to wash clothes, but I . . . I couldn't stay in the same place any more. I'm sorry."

Something in Kimi's voice, an almost broken sound, made him look up again at his wife, and he wrapped an arm around her. "It's not your job to keep watch with her, woman. Why do you look like you think you've done something wrong?"

She leaned against him. Their cat wandered up, rubbed against her, and jumped in her lap. "I..." she started, and let her fingers drift over the cat's soft fur. Curling into a ball, it began to purr. "I know I didn't do anything wrong."

"If anything, wife," Eiji said, tucking a bit of hair back under Kimi's scarf, and giving the bow over her forehead a playful little tug, "you've been a goddess of mercy to her at her most needful."

"I...I just . . . what good does it do?" Kimi looked up at Eiji, studying his eyes. "I feel so frustrated. She always has to do the grand gesture."

"She always has," Eiji said. "Ever since we were young. It's always been about her." He kissed his wife on the forehead, and as he leaned forward, the cat arched and jumped up and out of Kimi's lap. "I remember the day she spoiled your sewing because Haname-obasan thought you had done the best that week at the girl's sewing circle."

"I remember, I remember," Kimi said, nodding. "I was eleven. I was making a festival kosode for Nahoi. It was pretty fabric, stamped with white and blue flowers on red. Chichi-ue had bought the fabric, even, instead of Haha-ue making it. And Chiya was jealous her mother said something nice to me, and she pretended to trip and dropped her scissors on it and put a hole in the sleeve."

"Shame for her than her okaasan saw what was going on," Eiji said.

"I do believe it was a month before Chiya-chan was allowed back in the sewing circle," Kimi said, leaning back into her husband's arms. "And it didn't stop me from finishing. Haha-ue showed me a way to make a piecework sleeve that looked very nice on my sister."

Eiji rested his cheek on the top of his wife's head. "I never understood why you kept being nice to her."

"I just felt sorry for her," Kimi said, sighing. "She wanted people to like her so much, but she kept doing things like that. I guess I hoped that if someone really treated her like a friend, she'd learn how to be a friend." She sat back up. "Just when you think that maybe it's sinking in, she has to do go and pull another grand gesture." Kimi met her husband's eyes, questioning him. "Was it me? Was I not good enough at showing her how to do it right?"

He pulled her back into his arms. "You, woman, are like Kwannon of the hundred hands, always there with fresh compassion. But sometimes, it's not your fault. The other person has to make the choice to learn from that."

She covered her eyes with her hand. "But . . . but . . . " Her voice began to choke up. "When she did that today . . . "

Suddenly, Kimi was weeping, and wrapping her arms around her husband. "I couldn't do anything. She wanted to kill herself in my daughter's sleeping place and all I could think of was that old kosode she tried to ruin, and how she was going to ruin another with her acting out, and how the blood would be so hard to clean up." She looked up. "How could I think like that?"

Eiji sighed. "Sometimes, I guess, it's just the way our minds behave. Maybe your soul was trying to protect you from what almost happened." He kissed the top of her head again. "I want you to go to your okaasan's house. Or at least to Haha-ue's. I don't want you going back in there today." He let her go and stood up, then offered her a hand.

She took it, and let him tug her up. "But . . . but what about Chiya-chan?"

"She'll hold," Eiji said. "She's damn lucky I don't drag her off to Tameo-sama's house and put her in the lockup."

Kimi shuddered. "That's such an awful little building."

"Which is why I don't, woman." Eiji pulled his wife into a hug. "You go and relax with our children. See if you can get Jiro to do some work in the fields, maybe. Help your mother and sister with their dyeing. Stay there until I get back. Or, if it'd make you feel better, go to the temple, or anything else but go inside."

Kimi lifted up a hand and touched Eiji's cheek, gave him a small, bittersweet smile, and nodded. "But you, what are you going to do?"

"I'm going to find Tameo and Tsuneo, and tell them I want my home back. I want to be able to sit there with my wife and children without listening to a stupid, selfish woman driving us apart. I want her to go away so I can come home." He pulled her close once more. "I have no pretensions about being Kwannon. My compassion is not as deep as yours, wife. Right now, I feel more like Bishamon with his spear, ready to smite the evil doers."

That made Kimi give an honest smile. "My dear husband, you are as far from being the god of war as I am from being Kwannon, despite what you call me." She leaned her head on his chest, and took a deep breath. "I'll go to your okaasan's house first, and then head over to Haha-ue's. I know she's busy with her dyeing. But don't blame me if I end up smelling like indigo."

He laughed. "It will be better for you to smell like indigo than Chiya, any day." And with a quick kiss to seal the deal, he watched her walk to his mother's house. Steeling his shoulders, he then left to go find where the elders were.

Near the house by the river, a small boy, about seven, looked down the road. "Obaasan, someone's coming!"

An older woman, about sixty, looked up from where she was kneeling by a patch of early spring herbs, took a herb offered by another boy about five. "Very nice, Touru-chan. That's the type that taste good in stew." The boy beamed at her. She turned to her oldest grandson. "So, someone's coming, Hidaka? Who is it?"

The youngest child, a toddler about three, began to wander. His grandmother adeptly reached over and grabbed his hand, pulling him back. "No, no, Katsuo-chan. You stay here with Obaasan." She pulled the boy into her arms and gracefully stood up.

"Three men, and Houshi-sama," Hidaka said.

"So, Houshi-sama's not a man?" the woman asked smiling at the boy. The middle boy took her hand.

"Uh . . . " Hidaka said. "I recognized him."

"Pick up my basket, will you?" she asked as she started leading her small charges toward the path. Hidaka nodded, picked up the basket and hurried up to follow the others.

The woman looked down the path to see Tameo and his group walking toward them. "Now that's surprising. No Chiya or crazy yamabushi. I wonder why?"

"Is something wrong, Obaasan?" Hidaka asked.

"No, no, boy. I was just surprised." As the headman neared, the woman bowed.

"Well, well, Rikuyo-sama, I didn't expect to see you here, but what nice company you keep," Tameo said, returning her greeting. "Were you here waiting for us?"

"Not really," Rikuyo said. "I was out amusing my grandsons, mostly. My daughter was a bit busy getting everything ready for the company you want her to keep." She gave the headman a disapproving twist to her lips. "The least I can do is make her job a little more bearable."

"That was kind of you," Tameo said. "But somehow I sense you don't quite approve."

"How can I approve?" the woman said. She kissed the grandson she was carrying. "What you asked . . . well these are my grandchildren."

Tameo sighed and scratched the back of his head, as he thought of how to reply, when Tsuneo came to his rescue.

"Both Kisoi and Nana agreed," he said. "We did explain everything."

"Explanations only go so far," Rikuyo said. She no longer tried to hide her scowl. "I've seen Chiya in action all of her life. And that . . . that . . . fellow you want my grandchildren to play with . . . "

Touru looked up at his grandmother, concern on his face. He pulled on her sleeve, "Obaa, are you mad?"

She looked down. "No, no, boy. I'm just wanting Tameo-sama to make sure everything's going to be all right." When she looked back up, her eyes challenged him.

"You are a good woman, Rikuyo-sama," Miroku said, bowing. "Tameo-sama and Tsuneo-sama will be providing enough manpower to make sure that the poor man who needs care is never too much for your grandchildren to be around. And I . . . I am going there to make sure things are as blessed as they can be."

"So, that's it, huh?" Rikuyo asked. "You think your prayers and sutras and farmers can put enough of a barrier around my grandchildren to truly keep them safe?"

"We will no our best," Tameo said.

"Your best better be perfect," Rikuyo said. "If not, I'll – "

Whatever she was going to say was interrupted. "Okaasan," Kisoi said, giving his mother-in-law a gentle look, but there was a determined look in his eyes. "There you are! Nana-chan sent me to find out if you'd had enough of the boys yet."

"Your boys will never be too much for me," she said, smiling at her son-in-law in return, although his determined look was matched by one equally as set in her eyes. "I was just letting Tameo-sama know I expect him to carry out his side of the bargain."

"That's very good of you, Okaa," Kisoi said. "But perhaps you might want to take the boys back to the house. Nana's trying to figure out sleep arrangements and wants your advice."

Rikuyo gave him a curt nod, and looked at her grandchildren. "Well, then," she said, looking at her grandchildren, "I guess we need to go see what your okaasan wants to do boys."

She began to move up the path back toward the house. "Don't forget, Tameo-sama. A perfect best."

Turning back she led her young charges back to her daughter.

Tameo rubbed the back of his neck. "You know, I'm getting tired of complications."

On the other side of the village, InuYasha, snuggled up against Kagome's shoulder was dreaming. If anybody had been watching, they would have been amused to see how his eyes moved under his eyelids, and how his ears twitched to no sound being made by anybody.

InuYasha, though, was not at the moment amused, locked into one of those convoluted dreams, filled with frustration and the feeling that what he was seeing was important. One moment he was in the village, standing on the watch tower with Kagome and Susumu.

Dream-Susumu looked at him pointedly. "It's the first time she's ever pulled a stunt like this."

InuYasha turned to Kagome. Dream Kagome looked at him and frowned. "Why didn't you tell Tsuneo?"

In the next moment, he was out in the forest, chasing down a scent that was both hateful to his nose and filled with fear, making it stink even more. He pushed through the brush and got a glimpse of a bandit laughing. The scent that he was chasing led that way, and in the dream he readied his sword, only to push into an empty clearing.

Nobody was there. There was a scrap of cloth and he brought it up to his nose, and he threw it away in disgust. A woodpecker began tapping on a tree. He threw a rock at it but it wouldn't stop tapping.

Suddenly, the dream shattered. He opened his eyes, only to see Kagome's ebony hair and the room surrounding him. But the tapping didn't stop.

Someone was knocking at the door.