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

Chapter 241

For a moment, in the space in front of Toshiro's garden, time seemed to freeze.

Hisako stood there, caught in mid-sentence, her walking stick resting gently against Toshiro's chest. The lines on her face were twisted into a frightening grimace. Standing almost directly behind her, Benika was frozen in mid-stride. Teruko, looking more concerned than angry had her hand half-lifted to pull on the woman's sleeve. Yaya seemed locked up in a nervous giggle.

Sadayori turned to the kami. "You did that? You froze time?"

The kami started to rub his hat over his head once again, but caught himself. "Not exactly. I don't think any kami exists that can really freeze time itself for the whole world. What I did do was pull us both, you and me, out of time. It's a handy trick. Lets me get things done quicker and with fewer interruptions, but I can't hold it for long this far from my shrine. It's kind of draining."

"So why?" the ghost asked, confused.

Kazuo shook out his sleeves. "For you, friend. I made this chance for you."

Sadayori scratched his head. "To do what?"

"To tell Toshiro what you want," Kazuo said, nudging the ghostly farmer towards the village elder. "Now while he's confused. You'll never have a better chance of reaching him without making a full-fledged haunting. I don't know if that'd work any better. They'd just go get Kaede-chan and that monk and try to chase you away, and that wouldn't do anybody any good right now."

Shrugging, and feeling more than a little uncertain, Sadayori carefully walked in front of Toshiro, trying hard not to bump into Hisako's walking stick. He peered deeply into the elder's face, then turned back towards the kami. "He does look rather confused. Kind of like that day when he found out he was going to be a father the first time. He was so nervous about the whole thing."

"It did take him a while to get used to the idea," Kazuo said, nodding. "I remember. Haruyuki," he said, looking in the direction of Toshiro's family shrine, "who ought to be here with us instead of hiding in his little corner of the August Fields, couldn't understand it. Came over and complained how Toshiro didn't appreciate what the ancestors were doing for him."

"Never helped me much, even when I passed on," Sadayori said. "Now he won't even let me get near him. He blocked me out of the family shrine."

Kazuo gave him a sympathetic look. "Just like with regular humans, not all kami behave the same. Sorry, friend. So, let's get on with the job here."

The ghost nodded. "So what should I do?"

"Just touch him," Kazuo said. "Say what you want him to know."

Sadayori moved behind the village elder. He rested his fingers on the man's shoulder. "You were always my best friend, Toshiro-chan. I thank you for trying to help with that worthless son of mine, but his heart has become too black. Let Seiji go, Toshiro-chan. It's time. Forget what you promised me. If he's driving my family to seek death, what good is that promise? Instead of that snake, take care of my grandson! Listen to Tameo. That's what you need to do."

The ghost let go and stepped back, rubbing the tip of his nose, uncertain. He glanced at the kami. "I felt something. Do you think I reached him?"

"Oh, you reached him," Kazuo said, nodding. "The real question will be will his bullheadedness let him accept it. Let's see what happens."

The kami gave the ghost a wink, rubbed his hat over his head, and clapped his hands. Suddenly, the air which had seemed absolutely still to the two of them, began moving again with a breeze that stirred the leaves of the plants in the garden. A bird flew down from a nearby tree and began hopping through the mustard. Hisako, reanimated, lost her horrifying look and dropped her walking stick to the ground.

"It's time to do the right thing, old man," she said. "It's time."

As she spoke, Benika tried to take a step forward, but Teruko pulled her back by her sleeve. Yaya nervously giggled over Hisako's treatment of the elder.

Toshiro, though, didn't really notice any of this. Instead, his eyes grew wide and he shuddered, the color draining out of his face. "What . . . what?" He looked around, as if he suspected to find someone standing behind him, and scratched his head in confusion when he saw nothing.

"Don't turn away from me like that, Toshiro-sama!" Hisako said, irritated at his reaction. "I might just be an old woman, not very useful to anybody but Chichi-ue, but you know I'm telling you the truth."

"Of course, Hisako-obasan . . . " He tried to speak soothingly, but it was clear something else had caught his attention as he continued his scan of the area. He brought his eyes back to hers and scratched his head. "Did you see anybody behind me?" he asked. "I'd swear someone was whispering in my ear. It was such a soft voice."

"See?" Kazuo said to Sadayori. "I told you that you reached him."

The old ghost nodded. "But did it sink in?"

The women looked at the elder with varying degrees of disbelief. "Nobody's been behind you, Toshiro-sama," Benika said. "Have you been drinking sake already?"

"Benika!" Yaya said. "That's no way to talk to Toshiro-sama."

Tameo gave the younger woman an imperious look, and she stepped back. "Well, you have to admit that he's acting strange," she muttered, moving closer to Teruko.

Tameo gave the elder a thoughtful look. "There's only us. "Could . . . " The headman looked around, and closed his eyes a moment before turning his head towards the point where the kami and the ghost stood.

As he began looking their way, Kazuo quickly made an arching gesture with his hand. To the ghost, it looked like the air surrounding him and the kami glittered a moment. For a second, his sight seemed to dim, and the sounds around him faded, but as the glittering passed, everything snapped back the way it should be.

"Concealing magic," Kazuo said.

Tameo frowned, and shook his head. "I could have sworn . . . Eh, I must have been mistaken. It's been a crazy day," he muttered.

"That was close," Kazuo said. "I forget how much spiritual power Tameo has," he explained. "He's as strong at feeling the spirit world as Kaede. If he wasn't supposed to be headman, they could have sent him to the yamabushi, and he would have been a real mage."

"Sometimes that's a handy talent he has," Sadayori said. "I remember the time when . . . "

The kami waved a hand, interrupting the ghost. "But not this time," he said. "It'd spoil what I'm trying to get done here."

The ghost shrugged.

While the ghost and the kami talked, Teruko crossed her arms, looked around, obviously bothered by the elder's reaction. "All I hear is Asami chasing after that grandson of yours," she said.

"So loud and angry!" Yaya said, looking towards the house, glad to have something here and now to focus on. "He must have really done something this time."

"Bah," Hisako replied shaking her head, but not dropping Toshiro from her sights. "They act like that every day."

"Now for the last softening up before Tameo pulls him to the side," Kazuo said. He scratched his chin. "Shame the land kami isn't here to see it. I don't think she thought anybody could budge him. "

"I'm a bit confused," Toshiro said. "So let me get this clear. Seiji got into trouble yesterday evening, and is now in the lockup. This morning, Maeme tried to drown herself in the river. Because of how Seiji was treating her?" Toshiro asked, looking at Tameo rather than any of the women.

"We've been telling you that," Benika said, shaking off Teruko's hold.

Tameo nodded. "That's what the monk told InuYasha-sama." He took a deep sigh. "If that wasn't bad enough. Sukeo-kun overheard InuYasha telling me about it. We didn't even know the boy was there until after we frightened him to death. He obviously thought she had drowned at first."

"If anything happens to her . . . " Hisako said, taking a step forward. This time, she wagged her finger instead of her walking stick. There was dark promise in her voice. "We remember who's been protecting that ass."

The information about Sukeo was news to the ghost. "My poor grandson," he whispered. "He's been trying so hard to do right by everybody. Protect his brother. Keep an eye on his mother. Deal with the shame. And to have this happen . . . " He looked up at the kami. "It's hard to believe that I could have raised such a beast. He didn't start like. Hotheaded, but most of the men in my family have had a temper. He put so many ofuda and charms around the house that I could only watch from the outside. But even there I could tell it wasn't right." He straightened up, his face set hard. "It's not an easy thing to want to disown a son. But it's time. We have to get rid of him."

"We'll get things fixed right," Kazuo said, patting the ghost on the shoulder. He decided not mention the fact that he was the one to send Sukeo to the headman's place just in time to learn the news. "Sukeo-kun's already up the hill with Maeme at the monk's house. He's going to help her pull through. He's a good boy, and a worthy son for your family."

Toshiro looked down at his feet. "Protecting Seiji. I promised Sadayori that I would try to. What was I supposed to do? You've seen his brother. You want him to take over and kick those boys out? You know that's what he'd do."

"There's a point to find a new path," Yaya said.

"It's time to do something. Tameo-sama, I told you it was a mistake to just ignore what he tried to do when the bandits kidnapped Furume," Hisako said. "We almost lost Masu's children because of him. And now he pushes his wife to despair. That man is a blight on our village!"

The women murmured in agreement.

Benika took a step forward. "You should listen to her, Toshiro-sama. And you, too Tameo-sama. Do you want us to get a reputation as a village that lets the men kill off their women?"

"Please, Toshiro-sama," Yaya said, pulling Benika back. "Think about what will happen once Seiji is let out of the lockup. Who knows what he'll do next? I heard he had threatened Chiya-chan, even. And tried to pick a fight with Michio."

"That's enough," Tameo said, stepping between the elder and the women. "Go home, all of you. The elders will have a meeting and choose the right thing."

"You better," Hisako said, tapping her walking stick hard on the ground.

"I need to think," Toshiro said.

"And we should talk," Tameo said. He rested his hand on the other man's back. He pointed to a small grove of trees that marked the location of Toshiro's family's shrine. "Why don't we go over there?"

Toshiro nodded.

Tameo turned back and looked at the group of women. "Go home. We'll get all this figured out tomorrow. I'm not going to spoil Shinjiro-sama's day today with any more chaos. You can come by my house tomorrow if you want to see what we do. Go home!"

The women watched as the two men walked off.

Hisako frowned. "I'll be there. You can be sure, Tameo!" she yelled at the two men.

With that, she and the other women headed back to the main street.

Sadayori sighed. "So now what?"

Kazuo rubbed his hat back and forth across his head. "I think . . . You might want to head up to the monk's house. Sukeo's already there. Nakao will be showing up soon. They might be able to see you, but your presence might help."

"What about the monk? You think he'll let me be there?" Sadayori said. "He's got a lot of spiritual power. And most of these guys don't like ghosts hanging around."

"You're still gifted by my magic. Shouldn't wear off until tomorrow. I'll come by later and check on things. First, I have something else to do."

The ghost nodded, and with a sound that carried the music of a gust of summer wind, he disappeared.

"After today," Kazuo said, "I'm going to need a long break in the August fields. I wonder if that pretty little land kami up in the hills might like some company?" He rubbed his hat across his head, and whistling a tune, headed off to the next place on his list.