1I do now own InuYasha or any of the characters created by Rumiko Takahashi

Chapter 200

Shippou opened the mat door of the small house near the shrine steps and walked inside, his fox-paw feet moving onto the dirt floor of the domo soundlessly. His nose twitched at the smells, and he let the door fall into place behind him, jerking his tail to the side so it wouldn't get caught as the door swayed back into place.

"It smells good in here," he said, walking past a storage barrel that hid his short body and moved into plain view.

Kaede was sitting next to the fire pit, a pair of cooking chopsticks in her hand. "Ah, Shippou-kun," she said, looking up at him calmly with her one eye as he walked further into the house. "So you are back from playing with Tazu-chan? I was wondering if you'd show up for dinner this evening."

He flashed his big blue eyes in her direction and made his best cute child smile. "But I had to come, Kaede-obasan. Everybody knows you make the best stew in the village."

A soft giggle came from the back of the room, where Rin sat with her sewing pulled out. She smiled at him, then took another stitch.

"But it's true," Shippou said, crossing his arms in a very InuYasha-like fashion to emphasize his point. "Everybody knows that."

"Perhaps," the old miko said, chuckling herself at the kitsune's attempt to charm his way into dinner. "Although I have it on good authority that it is Hisa-chan who really has that honor." She lifted the lid on the stew pot, and gave it a stir. A cloud of delicious smelling vapor wafted up. "Still, if you are hungry, there is plenty for all."

The young kitsune hopped up on the raised wooden floor, and nodded. "I'm almost as hungry as InuYasha," he said, moving to sit near the miko.

"Then you must be very hungry indeed, Shippou-kun," Rin said, twisting her lips in an effort not to laugh again. She carefully folded her sewing and put it up in her basket. "Rin has seen how much he can eat at one time when InuYasha-ojisan is hungry." She stood up, and put away her sewing basket. "But Rin is surprised to see you this evening. After you ran away from Sesshoumaru-sama with Tazu-chan, she thought maybe you'd eat with Kimi-sama. Were you really that afraid of my lord?"

The kitsune put on a brave face. "I...I...I was just trying to keep Tazu out of trouble."

"A noble intention," Kaede said. She put the lid back on the pot.

He shrugged. "Besides, her otousan seemed grumpy today. Then I went to Miroku's house, but he told me he had enough nonsense for the day and told me to come here."

"Oh," said Kaede, getting up to get another tray and a set of dishes for the kitsune, "is that how it goes?"

"Uh," Shippou said, covering his face. "I was going to come here anyway. They just chased me away earlier."

Kaede knelt back down and took the lid off of the rice pot. "Everybody seems to have had an interesting day today. Rin-chan told me about your meeting with Sesshoumaru-sama." She picked up her rice paddle. "You and Tazu-chan were hiding near the meadow where they were having a visit?"

"That wasn't my fault," the kitsune said, crossing his arms. "After I went back to bring Rin her basket, Tazu found me and wanted to see what Sesshoumaru-sama looked like." He gave the young girl a sharp look. "It was Rin's fault. She had told enough stories about Sesshoumaru that Tazu had to see for herself. I couldn't stop her, so I went with her trying to keep her safe."

"Ah," said the old miko . . .

Rin moved next to Kaede. "So that is why she was she trying to spy on Sesshoumaru-sama?"she asked, handing Kaede a rice bowl.

"I don't think she was spying, like Miroku likes to spy," Shippou said, accepting a bowl filled with steaming rice. He put it down on the mat in front of him.

"Miroku-ojisan? You think he peeps on people?" Rin asked, not sure how to take this. "On purpose?"

"Here, child," Kaede said, handing Rin her rice, which she took and placed on the tray in front of her. "Houshi-sama, well, it's not exactly that he spies." She filled her own bowl. "Not like a spy for the daimyo, trying to find out who his enemies are. It's more like he likes to know everything that might be . . . useful . . . around him."

"Oh yeah?" the kitsune said. "He's nosy all right." Shippou pulled a pair of chopsticks out of his shirt. "You should have seen him when we were out on the road sometimes. He always wanted to know what was going on with InuYasha and Kagome."

"I do believe he caused some trouble with that once or twice," Kaede said, pursing her lips in disapproval at the memory. She put down the rice paddle and uncovered the soup. "Still, he doesn't seem to use what he hears for evil purposes. But people don't like discovering they are being overheard on purpose."

"He just wants to know everything that's going on," Shippou said. Kaede passed him a bowl of soup, which he sipped before putting it down.

"Why?" Rin asked. "Miroku-ojisan is a good person." She took the bowl of soup Kaede handed her and put it down next to her rice.

"He has a great curiosity," Kaede said. "I do not believe he uses it to harm anyone."

Shippou nodded. "Like I said, he's nosy."

"Almost as nosy as a certain kitsune I know," the old miko said. As he sputtered, she began to eat.

Up on the hill, the monk under discussion at Kaede's house left InuYasha's stream side and headed towards his house. It wasn't dark yet, but the sun was fast sinking. A flight of ducks flew by overhead, heading for the river.

Miroku, looking up, saw them. "Heading for home?" he asked. "Smart birds. I'm going to do the same. Let's hope we all have a quiet night."

As he reached the fork that led to his own house, he was surprised to see Eiji, Kimi's husband walking towards him.

"Well, maybe it won't be as quiet as I hoped," he said, waving a greeting. "I wonder what Eiji is doing? I'm surprised to see he's still awake." Curious, he moved under a tree at the edge of the road to let the village guardsman catch up with him.

Eiji, looking tired, but in a decent mood, joined him under the tree. "I see I'm not the only one out and about. Most of the village seems to have gone home this evening. You're about the only person I've seen on the road."

"I'm on my way in," Miroku said. "I've had enough being about for one day. But I'm surprised to see you. I thought you'd had enough to do today without coming up here this evening."

Eiji shrugged. "Just making my rounds. Susumu said he'd take over guard duty for me tonight and let me get some sleep, but I couldn't let go yet. I guess I'm too tired. I thought maybe I could get relaxed enough to sleep if I'd give the village a walk through before heading home and letting him get to work."

"Sometimes walking helps," Miroku said, agreeably. "Maybe it'll be quieter tonight than last."

"Let's hope. We've had a rough two days," Eiji said. "At least maybe Susumu won't have to babysit Michio like I did last night."

Miroku nodded. "I'd heard about that. You are a good man, Eiji-sama. How is he?"

"Sleeping, if he's smart. That visit from Seiji got him thinking, I hope, if he has any brains beneath his pride. Getting drunk again if he's not. No matter what, I'll let Susumu deal with him if he is." The village guardsman rubbed the back of his neck, as if it were sore, then rocked his head from side to side. "Tonight, I'm going home and sleep next to my wife, and if anything less than a bandit raid gets me out of bed before morning, I'm going to hammer them with Fumio-otousan's heaviest hammer."

Miroku laughed a little at that. "There's something to be said about the good of sleeping next to one's wife undisturbed. Let's hope there's no bandit raid or anybody foolish enough to wake either of us."

"At least we don't have to worry about Seiji doing anything foolish tonight. There's no way he's getting out of the lockup." Eiji scratched under his chin. "That's a man who doesn't appreciate the good he's got. I don't think much of a man who uses his woman like he does."

"I've heard some stories that the women have told me about how he treats Maeme-sama," the monk said. The frown on his face made clear his disapproval. "I've never understood how a man can treat a woman like that. Women, good women, are the kami's gift."

Eiji nodded, agreeing. "Hard to imagine life without my Kimi."

"Alas, I remember too well life before I met Sango-chan. I have no desire to go back to that," Miroku said, He rested a hand against the trunk of the tree. "Has Seiji always been that way?"

Somewhere down in the village a dog started barking. Eiji turned his head in the direction of the noise, but the dog quieted, and he turned back to Miroku. "Since he was a boy. Always got into trouble, and he liked to bully. It got worse as he grew up. Being big like that, it was hard for other people to stand up to him. The worst though, happened when he got obsessed with Chiya-chan. You should have seen the mess he made of Michio when he found out that Michio was going to marry her. He ran off after that. He was a foot soldier for a while, maybe three years, then showed up one day with that scar across his face. His attitude hadn't changed any. I was really surprised the elders let him stay. But his father was growing old and he was the only son."

"It works that way sometimes," Miroku said, nodding.

"He hadn't been here a month when he married Maeme. Tameo's father was glad to send her home with him," Eiji said. He leaned back against the tree they were standing under. "She'd lost her family the winter before. There had been a fire. Maeme and her brother got out, but not her parents. People thought she might be bad luck. It was a load off the elders' minds to find a husband for her. Until the day she showed up at Kaede's with a bruised face. But by then, it was a little late." He shook his head sadly.

Miroku took a deep breath. "Some of us have harder karma to work out than others. I will pray that this works out for the best."

"That, and doing the right thing are about the only things any of us can do," Eiji said. He yawned widely, then gave the monk a silly look. "Maybe the day is finally catching up with me."

"About time," Miroku said. "It's time for you to get back to that wife of yours. Her day hasn't been much easier. I saw her in the temple a little while ago. Kimi-sama may be in as much need of you as you of her."

The village guardsman sighed. "If I had known what Chiya was going to pull . . . " He shook his head. "Kimi's got such a giving spirit. I hate to tell her no when she wants to help, but sometimes . . . "

Miroku shifted his weight and leaned harder on his staff. "Sometimes, even being kind is not rewarded the way we think it ought to be."

Eiji nodded. "A good way of putting it, Houshi-sama. Chiya's stingy with rewards." He yawned again.

"Get home to your family, and I'll get home to mine," Miroku said. "Let's put this day to a close."

"Good idea," the village guardsman said. And bidding the monk farewell, he pushed off from the tree and headed home.