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

Chapter 243

Tameo and Toshiro left the crowd of women to walk towards the small shrine of the edge of Toshiro's property. It was marked off from the main house by a fence.

"You think they'll give us some peace here?" Toshiro asked, as they stopped outside the gate.

"Maybe," the headman said. He leaned on the fence. "I think we calmed them down enough not to mob you here."

Off in the distance they could hear children playing. One of the oxen on Toshiro's bit of pasture lowed out of sight. Someone, maybe Shigeru, let out a curse about the worthlessness of the cart he was using.

"These last few days," Toshiro said, joining him. "I've been rather . . . distracted. It's times like this that remind me how much I've come to rely on my daughter-in-law to keep the family together so I can even pay attention to what's going on."

"It's not just you having strange times," Tameo said, looking at his friend. "This whole week has been one thing after another." He turned around from where he had been studying the garden in front of the shrine, filled with evergreen shrubs, and a few early weeds poking slight flowers amid the green, and rested his back on the fence railing. "Since the day when the monk and InuYasha went off to take care of that youkai at Kagemura. Between figuring out what to do about that yamabushi, and Aki-kun, and then Chiya . . . this will be a ten day I'll be glad to see go." He looked at Toshiro. "At least you got a granddaughter instead of another grandson out of the mix."

Toshiro chuckled, faintly. It did not sound very amused. "There is that. The boys in our family . . . they tend to be a handful. The youngest looks like he's going to be as high spirited as Daiki."

"I think a lot of us have that trait," Tameo said. "Look at what a handful Susumu was to deal with when he was growing up. But he's turned out all right. So has your son."

"He has, hasn't he?" the elder said, nodding. He began to walk, not back toward the house, nor into the shrine grounds, but on a small graveled path that led beyond it. Tameo, knowing where it led, sighed, and began to follow him. "His mother would have been proud."

"I think so," Tameo said. "No, I know so. And of you, too."

"Bah," Toshiro said, turning towards his companion. He gave the headman a sad, wistful look, and took a deep breath, shaking his head. "You know how she would have been. She'd have been right there with the other women, shoulder to shoulder with Hisako." He began to walk again. "She never had much patience when I had trouble letting go."

"You have a good heart," Tameo said. "She knew that, too. You care about the people under your charge."

"I guess," Toshiro said. "I do care. I know it. I want to believe that they'll see the light, and do the right thing. Some do. Susumu did. Daitaro was just as bad when we were growing up, and look at him now. But some . . . "

The road turned at a large, spreading cypress tree. Toshiro stopped at it and rested his head against the bark. "But I don't know what to do about some."

Tameo patted the elder on the back. "For some, there's not much you really can do. You don't think you're ever going to get an honest day's work out of Shigeru, do you?"

Toshiro snorted and looked up. "Not as long as there's a shady tree or a pretty girl to watch or a way to look busy without doing it. I hope Emma-O notices that when I pass on. Maybe it'll make up for my other sins."

"Jizo will, even if the King of the Dead doesn't, I'm sure," Tameo replied. "He no doubt would have starved to death by now if he had tried that with anybody else."

They began walking down the path again. "Maybe," Toshiro said. "Although I seem to remember you have a weak spot for people, myself."

"Probably," Tameo said, nodding. "But I'm not quite as sure I have what it takes to be quite as loyal to people like him as you do. I'd have probably sent him to Edo or to Odawara by now."

They entered a clearing marked with stones - the graves of Toshiro's relatives. A memorial stupa arose in the middle, surrounded by a mix of slab and square markers. The place was quiet, and looked well cared for. At a few of the stones, there were offerings.

They walked to one marker, a squared post of finely grained granite. Unlike most of the rest, it showed fewer signs of attention.

"It looks like Seiji doesn't come here very often," Tameo noted.

Toshiro nodded. "He and his brother were off on a drunk the last memorial day. Maeme-chan and the boys came by and tidied it up a bit a couple of days later. Otherwise, there'd be more spring weeds. I'm surprised Sadayori doesn't haunt him for the neglect."

"Sadayori was a good man. His son doesn't live up to what he deserved. Neither of them," Tameo said.

"I remember when Seiji ran off," Toshiro said. "It broke him some. I don't think he ever really was the same after that."

Tameo nodded, and for a moment, said nothing. "Sukeo, though . . . he looks like he has the making of a good man. At least he's trying."

"I haven't paid enough attention to the boy," Toshiro said. "I see him once in a while, but . . . "

Tameo rested a hand on his friend's shoulder. "He slept next to the lockup last night, trying to be a good son. And he evidently searched high and low for his okaasan this morning. It's hard being torn between wanting to do the right thing and dealing with the problems a father like Seiji causes. He'll be fifteen soon. Ready for his coming of age."

Toshiro looked at Tameo thoughtfully. "You want me to let go of my promise to Sadayori, like the women do, don't you?"

Tameo took a deep breath. "I just can't see him wanting you to protect that . . . " He paused for a moment, swallowing whatever word he was going to use to describe the man. "Well, he wouldn't approve of what Seiji is doing to his grandsons, much less his daughter-in-law. I don't think there's anything left in Seiji worth trying to save. Or if there is, it's beyond the skill of you or me to do it."

Toshiro looked up at the sky, then back at the grave. "I just was hoping . . . " He looked at Tameo. "It's hard to admit defeat. I've been hearing talk about how he beats on his youngest."

"And Maeme-chan." Tameo scratched the back of his neck. " I hear that Kaede-chan and the others discovered he had been beating on her pretty badly. More than we would have imagined. If I had known . . . "

"Sukeo-kun, do you think he can handle it if we decide to send his father away?" Toshiro asked.

"He'll have help," Tameo said. "I hear Fumio has taken an interest in him."

Toshiro rested a hand on his friend's grave marker. "Fumio's a good man to have as a friend. Maybe . . . maybe it's time I transfer my promise to your grandsons, Sadayori. I wish . . . I wish . . . "

The wind picked up, and stirred a pile of leaves caught on the ground. One floated and landed on the marker, near Toshiro's hand. Unlike the others, it was fresh, and green, a new leaf, still not fully grown. He picked it up and looked at Tameo.

"I think," the headman said. "Maybe he likes the idea."

While the two men talked in the cemetery, InuYasha headed to the front of his house, just in time to see Kagome step back outside. This time, she didn't have any furniture in her hand. Instead, she had her miko robes draped over one arm.

She smiled when she spotted him. "How's Choujiro-sama?" she asked. Before he could say anything, she began walking around to the other side of the building, where her clothesline was stretched between two poles.

The hanyou, not sure of what was going on, followed her.

"Heh, a log had rolled off on and buried one of his tools. At least he wasn't hurt. I got it put back," he said. "He seemed happy enough to be getting back to work. But what are you doing?"

"Hanging up my clothes to air out," Kagome said, spreading the red cloth of her hakama over the line. She carefully smoothed the fabric to keep it from wrinkling. "I don't have time to wash and dry them, but I thought an airing would be good. If I'm going to be going there as an official miko, I thought I ought to try to look the part."

InuYasha watched as she spread the white cloth of her chihaya next to the hakama. "If you say so," he said. "I'm just surprised. I thought you were tired. I guess I figured you might take a nap before this evening. It was a hard morning."

"You're right. I thought about it." She stopped what she was doing for a moment, and shook her head. "I don't think I could sleep with Choujiro working so close, though," she said, ducking under the garments and heading back towards the house. "He gets a bit noisy."

"Yeah. I could send him home," he said, following her back. "It doesn't have to get done today. If you're tired, you ought to rest."

"No, no," Kagome said. "Anyway, I think I'm too tense to sleep. Sometimes when so much happens . . . "

He grabbed her wrist, gently, and pulled her to him. "You're sure you don't want me to help you to relax?" His voice was suggestive, and there was a hopeful look in his eyes, but he wasn't pushing. Still, just the tiniest bit of a smirk touched the corner of his mouth.

Kagome pushed away, and looked up at her husband, and shook her head. "I don't think that'll work this afternoon."

"We don't have to. If you want, I can heat some bath water or something," he said, letting her go. "I know that helps you sometimes."

She shook her head, and brushed her bangs out of her face. "Not today. I need to do something. Something that's not miko work, or magic healing, or anything special. Mama would do that when she got wound up. It really can work."

"If you say so," he said. They walked up to the door of the house. "Got anything in mind?" he asked as he held the door mat open for her.

"I need to mop the floor," she said, walking in.

This made his eyebrow shoot up. "Mop the floor? Didn't you just do that?" As he stepped in, a pungent smell hit his nose, a smell he found tasty but too strong.

She watched him scent the air, and smiled at the look he made. "I did. But I need to mop again. I knocked over a jar of pickles where I cook after you left, and they spilled all over the floor by the fire pit."

InuYasha sighed, a bit wistfully. "The pickles I didn't have for lunch? Those were good pickles, too."

She nodded. "If you don't want to smell it all day long, I need to do this. We can't spoil your appetite for them before the wedding. What would Chime-obaasan think?"

"I guess," he replied. He scratched the back of his head. "If I knew they were going to go to waste like that, I would have eaten them."

"Sometimes things work out that way." She handed him the water bucket. "If we get it done now, maybe," she said, wagging her eyebrows suggestively, "maybe there will still be time for other things."

Choujiro let out a curse at something going on with his woodwork. InuYasha took the bucket and headed out. He didn't really think he was going to be so lucky.