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

Chapter 178

InuYasha grabbed the futon off the clothes line, and walked into the house. "So what's up?" he asked as the door mat rattled behind him.

She gave him a slightly amused look as she unfastened the tie to her wrap skirt. Her miko clothes were laid out next to her. "You think something's up?"

His eyes watched appreciatively as she stepped out of her housewife's clothes. "Might be," he said.

This made her laugh as she picked up her hakama.

Stepping up on the raised wooden platform he dropped the futon, and walked over to her, wrapping his arms around her middle. "Definitely might be."

Kagome shivered a little as he nuzzled her neck, but then pulled away. He sighed, just a little, but let her go. "So what are you thinking about?"

"Oh," she said, stepping into her hakama. "I just thought you might like to get away from all these people."

"Choujiro's not so bad," he said, walking over to the water bucket. He picked up the ladle and took a drink.

"No, he's not," Kagome said. She picked up her chihaya and slipped the jacket over her shoulders. "Actually, he's kind of funny." The sounds of the woodworker using his mallet filtered into the room, as she finished dressing. Bending down she picked up her wrap skirt and kosode and moved over to the clothes chest.

"Keh."InuYasha finished his drink, and dropped the ladle back in the bucket.

Putting away her clothes she turned back to the futon, and began to fold it up. "But even if he's funny, he's still out there."

As if to emphasize her point, there was a loud noise, followed by Choujiro shouting.

"You want me to send him away?" InuYasha asked.

She moved to the cabinet where she kept the bedding, put up the futon, but took out a blanket. Moving to one of the drawers, she took out a couple of towels.

"He's going to have to do it sooner or later," Kagome said.

InuYasha watched her with curiosity as she packed a carry cloth with these items and a few others - including her hair comb. "You look like you have something in mind."

"You might say that. I learned my lesson last time we went off." She gave him a knowing, slightly wicked smile. "It's a great day to go herb collecting. You know a meadow far enough away nobody will interrupt us?"

"Sounds like Kagome's had enough of people for a while," InuYasha said, grinning back.

"You could say that." She folded the carry cloth closed. "Or maybe I'd just like some privacy for a while."

He raised an eyebrow, and gave her one of his trademark smirks. "I know just the place."

Michio sat in front of his house, holding a small girl in his lap. She nestled tightly against his chest, and clung to his kosode. He looked down on her from time to time, playing idly with a little lock of her hair, humming a wordless tune. But his eyes stared out over the ground in front of him, not really looking at anything.

"Otou, why is Haha gone?" she asked. Her voice was soft, and very sad.

"I told you, Asuka-chan," he said, his tone as sad as the girl's. "Okaasan's staying at one of Tsuneo-ojiisan's houses."

"But why?" the girl asked. "She didn't put me to sleep last night, and the monster came and scared me."

Michio took a deep breath. "That bad monster came again?"

The girl nodded. "I was scared."

"Did you tell Inishi-obasan?" he asked. "I'm sorry I wasn't there, Flower."

The girl nodded, and chewed on a knuckle. "Inishi-obasan tried to chase it away, but she can't do it as good as Haha." She looked up at Michio. "Is she going to be home tonight?"

He met her eyes, closed his, and shook his head. "Not tonight. She has to stay there a ten day."

The girl's face took a panicked turn. "But . . . but I want her, Otou! Why?"

Michio swallowed, and pulled her head next to his chest, not wanting to see the look in his daughter's eyes. His eyes glistened a little too much as he tried to figure out what to say next. "Sometimes . . . sometimes . . . things don't work out right and things happen, Flower. But I'll talk to Ojiisan. Maybe he can do something."

The little girl started to cry softly. "Okaa . . . "

He rocked her back and forth, but even as he did it, his body tightened a little, and his face hardened. "So much, Chiya, so much. Look what you've done."

His aunt stepped out of the house. She was a small woman, gray-haired but kindly-eyed, and she looked at her nephew with some sympathy. "Do you want me to take her? She's right. She didn't sleep well last night. She has to be tired."

Michio brushed his daughter's hair gently. "She's not the only one. I - "

"And do you think you deserved to?" a man asked.

Michio looked up, and scowled. He stood up, still holding little Asuka. "What the hells are you doing here, Seiji?"

"I came to see a man who doesn't know how to control his wife," the big man said, tapping his hoe on the ground.

"At least I don't beat mine," Michio said. "I've seen your woman."

"Bah, what do you know?" Seiji replied. "She's walked all over you since the first day you were together."

Michio put his daughter down. "Go into the house, Asuka-chan."

"But Otou!" The girl looked up at Seiji, and pulled at her father's sleeve. "I...I..."

He looked at his aunt. "Take her in, please. She doesn't need to hear this."

Inishi nodded, and walked over and picked up the girl. "Come on, little Flower. We'll go find something else for you to do." Looking over her shoulder at Seiji, she frowned. "Some people just make bad company."

"What do you know, old hag?" Seiji said as she headed inside. "You couldn't hold onto your man, either. Teaching these girls the same lesson?"

Michio's fists began to clench and he took a step forward. "Get out of here, bastard."

Seiji dropped his hoe and stepped forward himself. "And who's going to make me?"

Two men walked up the path.

"I might," Daitaro said, crossing his arms. "I might not be as young as I used to be, but I know how to stop a hardheaded contrary bull."

"And I'll help," Shinjiro said, holding one of his hands in front of him, fist clenched. "You know the elders have told you to stay away from here."

Michio's father came running from behind the house, brandishing a hay fork. "You're not welcome here, Seiji," the old man said. "Do I have to call the council again?"

Seiji spit. "You think I'm afraid of you, Arimasu. After facing down what I've fought, all of you are small fry. Two old men and two cowards. Gonna go fetch your pet youkai, Daitaro, to run me down?"

"I'll show you coward, you . . . you . . . " Michio said, stepping forward one more step. His father pulled him back.

"It's not worth it," Arimasu said. "We'll let Toshiro and the other elders know."

"Bah," Seiji said. "You and your elders. You were always an easy man to frighten, Arimasu. I just came here to say, let me know if you kick Chiya out for good. I know a real man for her. Rather have her than my poor excuse of a woman any day. I'd teach her how to respect a man." Spinning on his heel, he picked up his hoe and walked off.

Back up the hill, at Miroku's house, things were a different type of noisy as Sango went about her morning tasks.

"Look up at the sky" Rin sang.
"Look up in the sky,
See, there's the hawk
flying over the mountain.
He looks like a kite in the air."

She held out her arms at each side, waving them gently as she swayed. Naoya, Sango's son watched her with concentration. The twins mimicked her.

"Hawks don't look like that," Shippou grumbled.

"You've never seen them hover over a field?" Sango asked, kneeling by her laundry tub. She rubbed the garment she was washing on a rubbing stick.

"Look up at the sky," Rin continued, ignoring the small kitsune.
"Look up at the sky,
See, there's the crow,
flying over the field.
He looks like he's had too much sake."

This time, she flapped her arms and walked a few steps, weaving a little like a drunken man, then spun. Noriko, following her, stumbled. Yusuko, not paying enough attention, fell on top of her sister. Both girls erupted into an explosion of giggles.

The girls rolled close to where Shippou was sitting. He hopped over to the other side of Sango to get away from them, just in time for Sango to pull out the kosode she was washing. As she wrung it free of water, she gave it a little shake which splashed the kit.

"Hey!" he said.

"Oh, Shippou-kun!" Rin said. "It looks like you've been out in the rain."

"Rain, rain!" Noriko said, nodding. She put her hand in her mother's tub and splashed at the fox.

He, in turn, hopped up into a tree. "Maybe I should go see Kaede," the kitsune said, crossing his arms. "It'd be safer."

"I don't think she's had enough time to rest," Sango said, standing to hang the garment up. "You might want to find something else to do for a while. You could help me in the garden. That's the last thing to wash. I was going to go water the garden with the tub water next."

"But . . . " he said.

"Sango-obasan is right," Rin said. She grabbed Yusuko, and began brushing bits of grass off of the toddler's clothes. "Rin isn't going to go back to Kaede-obaasan's house until after lunch." Letting the girl go, she got up and grabbed Noriko, and did the same thing. "But Rin wonders if she should go work on Kaede's garden. She hasn't checked it in two days."

"That wouldn't be a bad thing to do," Sango said, nodding. "Gardens can get away from you if you don't check them regularly."

"Go?" Noriko asked.

"No more songs?" Yusuko said, looking up at Rin.

"Now girls," Sango said, picking up her laundry basket. "Rin has other things to do sometimes besides sing you songs."

Rin picked up a small stick doll and handed it to Yusuko. "Here. You can sing a song to your doll."

Yusuko frowned, looked thoughtful for a moment, and began to turn around holding her toy. "Bird, bird, flies. Bird, bird, flies. Looks like a kite," she sang, in a soft singsong voice. "'Bird, bird, flies. Bird falls down." At that last phrase, she plopped down, and giggled. Getting up, she repeated it, and Noriko joined her.

"Well, that's one way to do it," Sango said. She moved her basket to the verandah, keeping an eye on the girls as she moved.

"You started something," Shippou said. A shriek of laughter came from the two girls. Naoya started to cry. "Can I go with you when you go to the garden?"

Sango hurried back to the children.

"Rin didn't think you liked to work in the garden," the girl said.

"I don't," Shippou said. "But I like my ears better."

Rin laughed.

On the road to the river, the group walked quietly, without incident until they reached Tsuneo's property there.

Two boys were playing ball in the path. Spying the little group, the eldest grabbed his brother and bowed quickly, then began to run off.

"Otousan! Okaasan! They're here!" he yelled.

His younger brother looked at the two of them for a moment, and joined his brother.

"Ah," Miroku said. "Someone's been keeping a watch out for us."

"Smart children," Susumu said. "Playing and being sentry."

"Aren't those Kisoi's children?" Chiya asked, surprised. "What are they doing up here? Did you know they were playing up here?"

"Kisoi's staying at the main house," Tsuneo said. "They belong here now."

"Kisoi's at the main house?" The woman frowned. "Why?"

"It's not your business, daughter," the elder said. "You have your own work cut out for you."

"Eh, there's going to be a lot of coming and going," Tameo said. "Don't expect it to be too quiet. Koichi will be up here before the day's out."

"And Denjiro." Tsuneo said. "He's going to be working on the kitchen garden. There's a lot to do, getting these places back into shape. They should be leaving you alone, though - unless you do something you're not supposed to. You'll be with Hana and Hiroki mostly. "

"I..." Chiya said, then, thinking better of it, merely looked down at the ground.

A path to the second son's house joined the main road, and the band took it. Smoke was coming out of the roof vent of the small house, and a small cluster of people stood outside, standing in a ragged line: Hana, Hiroki, Kisoi and Nana. Nana was holding her sons' hands.

"Welcome, Tsuneo-ojisan," Hana said, bowing.

"But where's the weird man we're supposed to play with?" the younger boy asked. "I want to show him my ball."

His mother hushed him, but nobody missed the shudder that went through Chiya.

"Do not shame me, daughter," Tsuneo said, turning to her. "They have their work. You have yours. Stay here, do your spinning. Let your husband have time to sort things out. This is your last chance."

Chiya swallowed.

A/N This is a bit more disjointed than usual. Had a death in the family, and I am afraid I am not quite up to my usual. Apologies.