1I do not own InuYasha or any of the characters created by Rumiko Takahashi
"We better get going," InuYasha said. He looked down the road impatiently.
"Yeah," Susumu said, nodding. "Sukeo ought to be up at Houshi-sama's by now."
"Sukeo-kun?" Koume asked, frowning. "You sent him off alone?"
Susumu took a step back, and rubbed the back of his neck, his face looking both embarrassed and a bit intimidated by the small woman who was glaring at him. "We didn't plan it that way. He . . . he overheard us talking about what happened to his okaasan," he said, then swallowed as her glare grew deeper. "We didn't even know he was there when he heard us. He began running before we were able to do anything else. Chichi-ue thought that maybe the running might help him calm down."
"Bah," Koume said. "Your otousan ought to know better than that."
Fumio shook his head. "That poor boy. Well, what is done is done. Let's go. Maybe if he knows some people care it'll help."
She glared once more at Susumu, and gave a sharp enough look at InuYasha that he, too, took a step back, then nodded. "Sometimes patching is all you can do once you've put a hole in something."
They all began walking down the street, Susumu and InuYasha unwilling to tell the older woman no. They walked for a bit in silence.
"It's hard to believe now what a sweet happy girl Maeme was," Koume said, the first to speak up and break the uncomfortable silence. "She was, very much like her mother, gentle and not afraid of much in the world." She twisted up the corner of her mouth remembering. "She would sit near us and play with my girls when her mother and I worked together." Koume sighed. "Maeme's mother was a good friend. We used to work the dyeing together. She had such a talent for knowing just how much dyestuff to use to get the best colors." Her voice drifted off, and then looked up at her husband. "I still miss her."
"I know," Fumio said, and briefly gave her hand a small squeeze.
They passed the village well. One of the women who lived near Sora's place was there, filling her bucket. She nodded a greeting as she placed one bucket on the ground. The woman watched them walk by with curiosity, then continued to draw her water as they passed without saying anything.
"Ah, someone Furume hasn't talked to yet," Fumio said.
"The way news travels through this place, that won't last long," Koume said.
InuYasha scowled. "Won't matter if nothing changes."
The blacksmith nodded, scowling as deep as the hanyou. He shifted his hammer to the other shoulder. "This time . . . "
"I did try to keep an eye out for Maeme, for her mother's sake," Koume said. Her voice was sad, tinged with regret. "I know Yaya-chan tried too. Everybody knew Seiji got . . . well stupidly angry sometimes, and had been rather crazy when Chiya married Michio, but he convinced the elders, and most of the rest of us he was past that point. He had grown up and learned about what mattered in life, fighting, he said." She shook her head sadly. "For a while, he even fooled me. Nobody knew that he would turn out to have a heart as black as he does. Bit by bit, he changed, especially after Nakao was born. Things changed quickly then. Before we knew it, he started chasing everybody off whom he thought might interfere with how he treated his family. He's just about as bad as . . . " Her voice dropped. "As the man who hurt my daughter. At least the world doesn't have to look at that one's face anymore."
"We need to stop letting things get so bad before we take steps," Fumio said. "My girl . . . well, she'll never be the same." He sighed, and Koume gently rested her hand on his arm.
Susumu scratched the back of his neck, uncomfortable at the implication that the leadership, including his father, was at fault. He decided to push the talk in another direction. "You might not think today was auspicious, InuYasha, but it sounds like Maeme was lucky that it was Miroku who found her. And maybe, maybe we can use this as a way to get her out of her husband's hands."
"Some way for luck to run," the hanyou said.
Koume looked at the village guardsman thoughtfully for a moment, and gave a curt nod, willing to change the talk as well. "Susumu is right. It may be the pivot point where we get to change her luck for her," she said. "Surely, Toshiro will do the right thing. He's the main reason Seiji's still here. Loyalty to the man's father is one thing, but . . . "
"He better," Fumio said. His voice was dark with promise. "Time to put an end to our Seiji problem."
"I can think of a way or two to get that done," the hanyou said, his voice just as dark.
Fumio hefted his hammer. "You're not the only one."
At Miroku's house, Kagome watched for a moment as Sukeo and his mother wept in each other's arms. Quietly, trying not to disturb or embarrass them, she slipped to the door of the sleeping room and taking care, slid the door open just enough to step outside of the room, and just as quietly, slid it closed behind her.
For a moment she just stood there, catching her breath, covering the bottom half of her face with her hand, leaning against the panels of the door, hearing the poor woman sobbing.
"Sorry, so sorry," Maeme said. It was hard to make out her words as she wept. Sukeo murmured something back, his voice too soft and muffled to make out.
"Come here, child." Kaede's voice was soft but calm and louder than the sounds Kagome was hearing from the back room. "I see that Maeme has come back to us."
Kagome turned around and looked out over the main room. Kaede was preparing a cup of medicine by Sango's fire pit, adding some herbs from the bags she had brought with her in her basket. Sango was sitting near her, tending the fire under her soup pot. Sunlight was pouring into the room from the open sliding door. Outside, Kagome could hear the sound of the girls playing in the yard in front of the house. She could just make the shape out of a cluster of men sitting under a tree. Someone, one of the village women, maybe Momoe, was walking towards the house. It all seemed so normal, and sunlight, and non-tragic that the contrast was almost too much for the young miko.
"I guess she has," Kagome said, and began walking back to join her teacher. "She's sitting up and talking to Sukeo-kun."
"She has always cared a great deal for her children," Kaede said, pouring hot water into the medicine cup. "I suspect they are the main reasons she never ran away from Seiji."
Kagome sat down next to Kaede. Kagome nodded. "She seemed so surprised that Sukeo would be crying for her."
Kaede gave the little cup a swirl and then set it down. "The mind of a person who has given up on life can see things in odd ways," she said.
"I've seen that before," Sango said. She lifted the lid off of the stew pot, and a delicious-smelling steam rose to fill the room. "One of the women in my village lost a child. It took her a long time before she could believe her husband didn't blame her for it, even though we knew he didn't."
"Well, the fact that she was able to weep is a good sign," Kaede said. "A person too lost in their own darkness often cannot weep. Perhaps it is a sign that she really does want to live, but felt too trapped to find a way."
"We will help her find a way, won't we?" Kagome said. She covered her face with her hands and shook slightly, trying to clear her own mind. "Nobody deserves to be that hopeless."
"Yes," Sango said. "We will." Her voice was steely, unwilling to take no for an answer. She filled two bowls with the soup she was making. "My aunt would make this soup for me when I was ill. I think . . . well, at least we can try to see if they'll eat it." She put the bowls on a tray. "Maeme, at least, ought to get some food inside her."
"Maybe Sukeo-kun can make sure she eats some," Kaede said. "And it might help her take this medicine." She added the cup to the tray. "It should help calm her. Maybe she can get some real sleep. I wonder how much real rest she gets at home."
Sango stood up, taking the tray with her. "We can only try."
Kaede stood up. "I want to go and check her as well." She looked at Kagome. "You, child - you should go out into the sun. It will do you some good. It's been a trying day."
Kagome nodded. "And the day's not over yet." As the two women headed for the back, she headed outside.
By the time InuYasha and his companions reached Miroku's house, the crowd of onlookers had started to swell. Iya had gone home, but Tazu stayed. She was carrying Noriko on her hip when the three of them got to the monk's house. Noriko was holding her stick doll, but looking very unhappy about being held.
Yusuko, spotting InuYasha, managed to wiggle out of Rin's hold and ran up to the hanyou. "Inu-oji! Inu-oji!" she said, standing in front of him with her arms open.
"Where did you come from, girl?" he said, picking her up.
"Too many people," the girl declared.
"So, you don't like all these people?" Susumu asked.
She shook her head. "Go home!"
"There are a lot here," Koume said, agreeing as she looked around. About ten people mulled around the front of the monk's house. Momoe and her daughter-in-law were among the curious onlookers.
Noriko spotted InuYasha and tried to get away, but Tazu decided to walk up to him instead. "InuYasha-sama," she said.
"Where's Miroku?" the hanyou asked.
"Over there," she said, pointing to the tree Miroku liked to meditate under. He was standing there, clutching his staff, talking with Genjo. Daitaro, surprisingly, was nowhere to be seen. Much to her dissatisfaction, InuYasha put Yusuko down, and walked over there. Before the little girl could follow, Rin and Koume, both took her by one hand and walked in the opposite direction.
"Back with us, I see," Miroku said. He was drier, and looked less cold, but there was a set to his mouth that betrayed his true tension.
"Yeah. Did Sukeo get here?" the hanyou asked.
"I saw him run inside a few minutes ago. What happened?" Genjo said.
"He was at Tameo's. Don't know what he was doing, maybe going to ask Tameo something, but he heard us talking about Maeme." The hanyou sighed. "Probably no good way to tell a kid about something like this, but hearing me rage about how his father drove his mother to try to kill herself was probably not the best way to get the news." His ears flattened a little, thinking about it and he sighed.
"Is that what happened?" Kagome said, walking up to the men. "I was wondering."
"Damn," Miroku said.
"How are they?" Koume asked.
"Maeme finally has come to her senses," Kagome said. "She was unconscious for a while, but when Sukeo showed up, she came to and sat up. Kaede-obasan is with her right now."
"Good," Koume said. She headed for the house.
"At least we know where he is. Someone's going to have to go get Nakao, eventually," Susumu said. "But where do we put them tonight? I don't think having them at my place would be a good idea with Seiji there. And there's Shinjiro's wedding . . . "
"Such a day," Momoe said, joining the little group. "People will be talking about it for years."
"You can bring him to my place," Fumio said. "Maeme's okaasan, his grandmother . . . she was a friend. I'd like to think her ghost would rest happier if she knew that the people who knew her didn't desert her grandchildren...I'm surprised she hasn't been haunting us all this time, after what's been going on there."
"And then what?" InuYasha said. "We pretend today didn't happen?"
"Nothing, today," Miroku said, his eyes hard. "We're not going to spoil Shinjiro's special day with what that...that...person deserves. But when the elders meet tomorrow, I want to be there."