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

Chapter 172

Chiya knelt on the floor, leaning forward as she rested her head against the rope which bound her hands and was tied to the roof rafter. She wiggled her bound fingers and sitting up straighter, moved them close to her chest.

She had no more tears as she stared at the floor. Her fan rested against the edge of the screen, a little too far out of reach for her to pick it up. Her knife was gone. "Why am I so cursed?" she said, her voice low, barely audible even to her. "What will Haha-ue say? I can hear her now - more proof she is right about how we are all unloved by heaven. Maybe she's right."

She sighed, leaned her weight against the rope once again, and let the exhaustion she felt take her over. The silence in the house was almost deafening.

"And the Buddha told a story about a man chased by a tiger, who jumped off a cliff, and held onto a vine, hoping the tiger would go away." Chiya said, when she couldn't take the silence any more. "He started to climb down, then saw another tiger below. Looking up, he saw the first tiger growling at him. Two rats began to gnaw at the vine he was holding onto." She shook her head. "That's me. Ah, Michio, such a tiger you've turned into." Lifting her hands enough to grab onto the rope, she pulled herself up. "And you, Chichi-ue - how did you get so fierce?"

She walked as far as she could before the rope tugged on her, turned and waked in the other direction. "At least the man in the parable got to eat a berry before plunging to his death. What do I have? I don't even get that. Nothing sweet left for Chiya. But I know who the rats are in my life." Her voice began to rise as she paced. "You, Kimi, who pretended to be my friend, you and your husband, who refused to let me die. Hisa. That . . . that . . . that woman. How they rallied around her when I just said what was true. Her and her brats. I'll never understand what Houshi-sama sees in her. Why doesn't she see that she's dragging him down?"

Chiya stopped pacing back and forth and sank back to her knees. "But I know who's the biggest rat of all . . . that silver-haired freak. Look what's happened to us since he got here. O Thousand-armed Kwannon, why?" Her voice was almost a shriek.

She was so wrapped up in her litany of self-pity she didn't hear the door mat open, or hear the footsteps of someone walking across the room.

"Why? Who have you had pity on, Chiya? You really think you've done anything for someone to act merciful to you?"

Chiya turned, shocked, to see Fujime standing there, glaring at her. Looking up at the woman, she burst into tears.

Up on the hill, InuYasha stepped back into his house, greeted by the smells of cooking rice and fish.

Kagome, sitting at her place next to the fire pit looked up as he entered. "Did I hear Daitaro?" she asked.

"Yeah," the hanyou said, looking at the wood stack near the fire pit. Frowning, he walked over to the larger wood cradle in the beaten earth doma, and picked up an armful of split wood "He and Shinjiro came here with Choujiro. I think Chime wanted them out of the house." Moving up onto the raised platform of the main part of the room, he carried the wood and dropped it near the fire pit, stacking it up neatly. "I guess it's something to do with the wedding."

Kagome chuckled. "I bet they'll be glad when tomorrow's over." She lifted the lid to her soup pot and added some greens to the mix, and gave it a stir. "Chime had some last minute sewing she was trying to finish yesterday. I don't know if all the craziness that happened after Chiya showed up let her finish."

InuYasha sat down next to her. "I think this had something to do with cooking." He eyed the low table where she had been preparing their breakfast and made a grab for a piece of cut pickle.

Kagome, swatting at his hand, laughed. "I can understand that, if Shinjiro is anything like some men I know."

Successful with his raid, he popped the slice into his mouth, chewed for a minute, and then knitted his eyebrows as he thought of something. "Why's everybody acting so nervous about their wedding?"

Looking up at her husband, she studied his face for a moment. There was no sarcasm there, just curiosity. "I guess some of it's anticipation. Why do you think he's nervous?"

The hanyou shrugged. "Shinjiro said that he wished he could just run off with Erime and come back a week later. Sounded nervous to me."

"So he has bridegroom jitters," she said, adding a few more slices of pickle to the pile for their breakfast. She handed one to him. "Might as well have another. I don't need you to eat them all before the rice is done."

"You think I'd eat them all?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.

"No . . . " Her voice was a little doubtful, though.

"What does he have to be nervous about?" InuYasha said, then took a bite of the new piece of pickle. "I think I like these type of pickles the best."

"Turnip, rather than daikon?" she asked.

"Whatever. They're good." He ate the rest of the pickle. "What's bridegroom jitters?"

"Sometimes, when all the preparations are getting made, the bridegroom gets nervous. I think it's because it starts to dawn on him what a serious thing marriage is," Kagome said, knocking the coals out from under her rice pot. "Or maybe it's just the waiting. I'm not sure. I've seen it before. Sometimes the bride has it too." She straightened up and looked at InuYasha. "Miroku didn't get nervous about his wedding?"

InuYasha's ear twitched. "They were kind of like us. A few days after . . . after the well closed up, they went to Tameo and had their marriage registered. But neither of them had any family. We had a nice dinner at Kaede's house the day they did it, then they went off somewhere to be alone and that was that. Their house wasn't even built yet."

"Really?" Kagome got up and walked over to the cabinet where she kept their dishes and brought them back to the fire pit.

"Yeah." InuYasha's ear flicked as he heard the sound of wood being sawed outside. "I guess they decided that big tree was too tall to use the way it was. Choujiro thought it might be." He watched Kagome lift the lid off the soup. "Miroku told me later that they had decided to get married right away at the start of the final battle. And with them almost dying during the fight, I guess it was more important than a house."

Kagome nodded as she dipped soup into InuYasha's bowl. "I can understand that." She pulled the lid off the rice pot, and a puff of steam rose from the grains within.

"But Shinjiro had been married before. He knows what it's like getting married," the hanyou said. "Why would he be nervous?"

"Maybe it's because he knows what it's like," Kagome said. She scooped the rice into a rice tub, and sprinkled it with vinegar. "I know he likes Erime, and Erime likes him, too." She stirred the rice, and then began putting it into their bowls. "A lot of what goes into a wedding is for luck. And Chime seems really determined that all the lucky things are done. Maybe she's trying to make sure that nothing goes wrong."

"I don't know if all those lucky things even matter," InuYasha said as she handed him a tray. "Look at Michio and Chiya. I bet they did all the luck stuff."

Kagome sighed. "You have a point. Sometimes, it takes more than luck to make a marriage work right."

At Toshiro's house, someone inside fussed at Daiki for being too noisy, and sent him outside to play. Michio sat on the verandah and was ignored by the boy as he headed out, and Michio did likewise, his face buried in his hands.

The boy soon disappeared from sight. Michio, though, merely rocked back and forth, muttering something too soft to be heard. His stomach had calmed down, and was now dressed in clean clothes, a loan from Toshiro, and his hair was still damp from the bath he had taken. Someone had combed it neatly and pushed up into a proper tea-whisk ponytail. Still, his hands trembled a bit as he sat there. A spasm shook him, and for a moment, he stopped rocking. He groaned, and his voice raised in discomfort. "O Thousand-Armed Kwannon, have mercy."

Hisa, who had not yet gone home, stepped out of the house, carrying a small cup of steaming liquid. She knelt down next to Michio and offered him the cup. "Drink this, Michio. It will really help with your head."

"I...I don't deserve it," he said, dropping his hands. His eyes looked up at her, blurry and red, his face a mask of pain and exhaustion. "I deserve to feel this sick."

Hisa's look was a combination of frustration and sympathy. "Nonetheless," Hisa said, picking up his right hand and wrapping it around the cup. "You have too much to do right now to give in to whatever punishment you think you deserve. Drink. Think of your children if you need a reason to take action. Even Kwannon Botatsu cannot help you if you don't let her."

He paused for a moment, stared at the cup she was forcing him to hold, and gave a small nod. She let her hand drop away and watched as he brought it to his lips, grimaced, but drank it all down. A shaky hand handed the cup back to her.

"That tastes like shit," he said. "I've spread better tasting stuff in my fields."

This made her chuckle a little. "That's what Susumu says when I make it for him." She put the cup down on her other side. "And Tameo complains even more."

He looked back at her, and tried to smile, but the effort was too much. "You are a good woman, Hisa-obasan. I wish . . . "

"Some of us have a harder karma, I know," Hisa said.

"How do I let her do this to me?" He buried his face in his hands again. "She push, push, pushes, and the next thing I know, she backs me into a corner. What am I supposed to do? My otousan, he tells me I should send her away. The men in the village . . . " He began to rock back and forth for a moment, then stopped and sat up straight. "I need to be strong. I need to do the right thing, the right thing for me and my family. My son. I need to be a better example for him."

Slowly, he stood up, wavering a little on his feet, closed his eyes for a moment, took a deep breath, then opened them again. His face set, as if he had come to some decision. Looking down on the headman's wife, he rubbed the back of his neck. "I...Thank you for being a good woman, Hisa-sama."

He started to walk away.

"Where are you going, Michio?" Hisa asked. "I suspect Tameo and Tsuneo will be here soon."

Michio nodded. " If I'm not here when Tameo-sama comes back, I'll be at the family shrine. Maybe the kami can give me some strength to do what I need to do. They can find me there." He walked away.

Hisa watched him head toward the shrine, and sighed. "May Kwannon and the kami grant you mercy. Michio. I do not think your path is going to be an easy one." She picked up the medicine cup and stood up. "I hope you find what you need."