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

Chapter 189

Tazu, taking quick glimpses behind her as she moved, hurried down the path, speeding away from Rin and her youkai lord. "Stupid Tazu," she said as she moved towards the river. "You ought to know better than to let your curiosity get the better of you."

She rounded a bend and turned back, catching her breath for a moment, and gave a little smile. "But oh, he's as beautiful as she says he is. Wait until I tell Iya."

Her mood improved, she slowed down and continued her walk in the general direction of the river. But as she moved around a rock in the middle of the path she was on, her eyes grew wide and she got a worried look as she thought of something else. "What if he goes and complains to Chichi-ue? What if Ojiisan tries to tell him off?" She covered her head with her hands. "Nobody in my family could stand up to him. And what about Nakao-kun? Iya-chan, why did you have to tease her?"

She heard a stick break behind her, and she almost jumped.

"What about Nakao?" a voice demanded. It was not the voice of Sesshoumaru, but one she knew much better.

She whirled around to see a frowning Sukeo walking towards her, and rolled her eyes and crossed her arms. "Oh, Sukeo-kun! What are you doing out here?"

"I could ask the same thing about you, Tazu-chan," he said, stopping in front of her. "Does your otousan know you're running around in the woods? What about my brother?"

"No . . . " Tazu said, moving from frightened to irritated. "But my okaasan does. It was just a stupid joke Iya-chan made. I was just thinking out loud about it."

"Iya is too stupid. And your okaasan, maybe she's not very smart either if she lets you go out in the woods like this. Girls shouldn't be running around the woods alone." Looking like a younger version of Seiji, he gave her a look that showed both his disbelief and his disapproval. "Are you sure you didn't sneak off from your chores?"

Tazu narrowed her eyebrows and glared back in return. "You're not my oniisan. And Iya-chan isn't stupid. She's smarter than you, maybe. And my parents aren't like your parents, Sukeo-kun. Don't be talking about things like that. I'm going to the river."

"And what do you mean by that?" the boy asked. "My parents aren't like your parents? At least my otousan knows better than to let girls run wild. "

"Your otousan is a big meanie!" Tazu said, turning to go. "He likes to tell everybody what to do."

This caught him off guard. He scratched the back of his neck for a moment. "Damn flies," he said, then stood up straight again, and regained his intimidating posture. "He does that because he knows. He's more than just a stupid dirt digger. He's been in the messenger corps for the daimyo at Odawara. He's been in battle. He knows more."

Tazu, not to be dissuaded, shook her head. "He thinks he knows more. I hear what my grandparents say about it, and they know more than you. And he's not nice. I've seen what he's done to your little brother."

"What did you say?" Sukeo said, giving her what ought to have been a frightening look. He clenched his right hand.

"You heard me." Tazu returned glare for glare. "He beats up your brother. And for no good reason." Crossing her arms, she turned around and started to walk away.

"Why you -" Sukeo said, grabbing her shoulder before she moved more than a step or two. "Don't you talk about Chichi-ue like that."

"Why not, if it's the truth?" Tazu replied. She struggled to pull away, but his grip was tight. "Let go! You're not my oniisan. I told you that. So what do you think you're going to do? Treat me like your otousan treats your okaasan?"

"Shut up, ugly!" He yanked her off her feet. Tazu stumbled and fell with a shriek. "You don't talk about my otousan like that. Nobody can talk about my family like that." Sukeo made a fist and raised his arm. "Chichi-ue knows why -"

His words were cut off as a hand grabbed his own.

Sukeo, shocked, almost fell himself, but turned around to see Miroku looking at him with a stern face, with the kitsune kit on his shoulders, baring teeth. His eyes widened. "Where'd you come from?"

The monk ignored the question. "Your otousan is a troubled man, Sukeo-kun. Everyone knows he oversteps sometimes. They say it was because of what happened when he was in the messenger corps." Miroku said, holding Sukeo's wrist in an iron grip. "Maybe that's not something to brag about. You do not want to follow in his footsteps on that. Trust me."

"Stupid meanie," the kitsune said, but instead of attacking, Shippou hopped down from Miroku's shoulder and ran over to the girl. He patted her arm. "Are you all right?"

Tazu nodded, and swallowed. "He . . . he . . . " she said pointing at Sukeo.

"Shut up, ugly!" Sukeo tried to pull away from Miroku, but the monk refused to be shaken. "Did you hear what she said about my otousan?" He kicked dirt in the girl's direction. "She shouldn't talk about him that way!"

"So you were going to prove you're a man and hit her?" the monk asked. "Do you think that proves anything?"

"I...I..." Sukeo swallowed, trying to get his tongue to work. "Nobody talks about my family like that. She insulted us. I have the right."

"You have the right to your family's honor. You do not have the right to strike my daughter."

All eyes turned in the direction of the voice to find an angry Eiji and a shocked-looking Maeme, carrying a hoe on her shoulder standing in front of them. "If she has done something that is worth punishing, you only have the right to come to me or the elders."

"Otou!" Tazu said, her eyes suddenly tearing up. "He pushed me down! He was going to hit me!"

Eiji crossed his arms and took a wide stance. He gave his daughter a look that was sympathetic, but let her know he was going to get to the bottom of things. "We will see what happened, daughter." He glanced back up at the boy. "And find out if there were one or two wrongs done here."

"But . . . " Tazu said, then seeing her father's eyes, fell silent.

"I heard everything," Shippou said, looking up at her father. "You didn't say anything that wasn't true."

Maeme went to the young girl's side and knelt down. "Please accept my apologies for my son's rudeness."

"Okaa," Sukeo said, tugging at Miroku's hold. The monk pulled back.

Maeme, ignoring her son, brushed a lock of hair out of the girl's face. "Are you all right?"

Tazu nodded.

The kitsune, standing next to Tazu, glared at the youth. "Big meanie."

Sukeo kicked dust in Shippou's direction. "Youkai shouldn't even be here. Go! My otousan knows what to do with the likes of you."

The woman, helping the girl to her feet, glared at her son."Sukeo-kun, what are you doing? Don't make things worse. I thought you were supposed to help me today, not cause our family problems. If your otousan . . . "

Sukeo stood there defiantly. "Chichi-ue would back me up. He wouldn't take other people's sides."

"If he did that," Eiji said, resting a hand on the boy's shoulder, "he would be wrong, boy."

"You pushed me!" Tazu said, glaring at the youth as she dusted off her backside. "And you were going to hit me!"

Sukeo shook off Eiji's hand. "And you said things about my otousan, ugly." He pulled toward her, but was unable to reach her. Miroku tightened his grip and yanked the boy closer to him. "I don't care what everybody else says," the boy said. "You deserve to be punished."

"That may be," the monk said. "But justice doesn't come from backing one's family right or wrong." He rested a hand on the youth's shoulder, turning Sukeo to face him. "It comes from doing the good. Hitting girls smaller than you are, even if they say things that displease you, is not usually in the category of good."

Sukeo, refusing to meet the monk's eyes, turned back around and looked at his mother, whose sad eyes were trying to signal something she didn't feel she could say. It was enough to affect the youth. He let go some of the readiness to jump, staring down at his feet, and took a deep breath. "Whatever." His voice was very soft, but it was loud enough for Miroku to hear.

The monk looked up at Eiji, who shrugged. Looking carefully once again at the boy, he sucked his bottom lip and made a decision. "If I let you go, will you behave? Don't shame your mother."

The youth nodded. Miroku let him go, and for a moment, Sukeo just stood there, rubbing his wrist against his leg.

Shippou jumped back on Miroku's shoulder, and was reaching into his vest. "Don't do it, Shippou-kun," Miroku said, picking him up and dropping him to the ground. "Now is not the time. We have other things to do."

"Master Fox," Eiji said, "If you need something to do, why don't you walk my daughter home?"

"You mean you trust him?" Sukeo asked. His voice was sharp, almost outraged. "A kitsune?"

Eiji gave youth a light tap to his head. "Right now I trust him a lot more than you when it comes to my daughter's safety."

"I have to go home?" Tazu said, frowning. "But Haha-ue . . . " A look from her father was enough to quiet her.

"If nobody's home, don't go any further than your obaasan's house," the older man said. "I want to be able to find you when I get this figured out."

She hung her head down, and nodded.

"That's all right," Shippou said, tugging on her sleeve. "I can show you the latest trick I learned at my ojisan's."

That perked the girl up. She said her goodbyes and they began to walk back towards the village.

"And Shippou-kun," Miroku said.

The kit stopped and turned around.

"Don't blow anything up while you're doing it. Remember what happened when you tricked Kaede-sama the wrong way?"

Shippou swallowed, and rubbed his back side. "I won't forget."

Together, the young pair walked off. The last thing the rest of them heard was Shippou saying, "If you had only listened to me, none of this would have happened."

"No doubt there's a story behind that one," Eiji said.

"And a story behind why you two are here in the woods," the monk said.

Maeme sighed, then dropped her head. "We were looking for Sukeo."

That surprised the boy. "Okaa?"

"Did you catch a fish?" she asked.

He lifted his left arm. There, attached on a stringer were two nice fish, enough to feed several people.

"You had been holding them all this time?" Eiji said. He scratched his head in surprise.

Sukeo nodded. "I told Haha-ue I would get enough for us to eat. I keep my word."

"This," Miroku said, nodding approvingly, "is more how a man should act." He patted the boy on the shoulder, which surprised the youth.

"But why did you come looking for me?" Sukeo asked. "I told you I would come back."

"It's because of me," Eiji said. "I brought her some bad news."

Maeme nodded. "We have to go to Kaede's house. Your brother's there. She's taking care of him."

"He got hurt?" the boy asked. Immediately his body tensed, wary more than worried.

"Your otousan," Eiji said. His voice was soft and matter-of-fact, not passing judgment. "He's been drinking."

The boy's face grew hard, knowing just what the village guard meant. He nodded once, and stood up straight. "Let's go then. Okaa, stay close to me."

Maeme picked up her hoe and moved next to her son.

"The back way?" Miroku suggested, tapping his staff on the ground.

"Not a bad idea," Eiji said, nodding. "The fewer people we meet, the better."

Sukeo gave his mother's hand a squeeze, and then together, the group headed back to Kaede's.