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

Chapter 244

Down the hill from InuYasha's house, the wedding preparations were continuing. Daitaro walked into his house, carrying two jugs of sake, which he added to the stack of the others already there, tucked away along one of the walls, in easy reach for when it was time to serve. The house was sparkling clean, and everything was ready for their company - except for the cooking. Chime was busy at the fire pit with her pots.

"You're not trying to get the whole village tipsy tonight, you know," she said, looking up as he walked in, giving him a contented smile as she checked the fire under one of her pots.

"Not the whole village," Daitaro said, chuckling. "Need enough for Tameo and Susumu. They take a lot of pouring to get there, you know. Kinjiro, too. Now if it was just Takeshi, one jug would do. He's a lightweight, and that son of his isn't much better." He looked around the room. "Where is everybody? Did Hisa-chan go home?"

Chime shook her head, then reached up to adjust her head scarf, tucking a piece of hair back into place. "Hisa-chan decided she needed to check on Emi and Fujime. I sent Shinjiro with her." Chime lifted the lid off the pot of beans she was fixing, and a puff of steam rose toward the ceiling. "Waiting's starting to get to him, I believe. I sort of suspect that's why Hisa decided to go, to give him something to do. Mariko's at home, making those cakes of hers. It's just us for a little bit."

"Don't talk about my sake, woman," he said, moving across the room. "I'm not the only one getting well prepared. You're going to try to make enough red rice to feed the whole village." He sat down next to her, wrapping one arm around her as she worked.

"Hardly." Chime playfully batted him away, and then stirred the pot. "It's not the whole village," she said, replacing the lid. "Maybe it'll be enough for Tameo and Susumu. You know how those two eat. Especially Tameo. Nobody in that family are lightweights."

The old farmer laughed."You're not trying to mock me, now are you, woman?" Daitaro asked. He pulled her a little closer.

"You're not trying to fuss at me, are you?" she said, leaning against his shoulder. "If you don't fuss at me, I won't mock you."

"Me? Never," he said, brushing her cheek with his fingers. His tone went from amused to gentle seriousness. "I just want you to feel good enough to enjoy this evening, wife. Weddings - so much work! I don't know why we drive ourselves crazy on wedding days. Even the bride and groom do. And look what the result is . . . I still remember what happened our first night."

"You mean, when they finally let us get away and you fell asleep almost soon as your head hit the pillow?" she asked, smiling. "I didn't quite know what to think, except maybe you drank too much."

"Me? Drink too much?" He gave her a saucy grin. "Since when have I ever drunk too much for me to handle?"

Having to have put up with him many nights over the course of their marriage with him in just that condition, Chime laughed.

"Anyway," he continued, not giving her a chance to voice her laughter into a comment, "I made it up to you later that night, now didn't I? You certainly didn't seem to have any complaints then." He lifted her face up to look into her eyes, and waggled his eyebrows at her.

"You did indeed, you old bull." She snuggled into his arms, a content smile touching her lips as she remembered. "It was better than I ever expected. I was so nervous, but somehow you managed to take it all away."

"You weren't the only one, old woman," he said, resting his cheek on the top of her head. "I was afraid that if I touched you wrong, you would break."

"You nervous?" she said, resting a hand on his chest. "Not my Daitaro. Never. You've never been afraid of kami or bull or man."

"That's just what I wanted you to think," he said, running his hand gently along her arm. "I must be a good actor. It seems to have worked."

"Still," she said, pulling out of his hold so she could look at him. "After all these years, I've never broken, so you were nervous for nothing." Her smile was big and bright, and full of a lifetime of shared experience.

"No, you never have. And I've surely given you enough rough moments that if you were going to break, you would have done it long before now." He took her hand and gave it a little squeeze. "Best decision ever was our parents deciding we should get married."

She squeezed back. "It was, it was. And now it's Shinjiro and Erime's turn to learn how to be nervous and not show it, and how to not break through all the things life will throw at them."

"They'll make it," Daitaro said, standing up and walking to his open sake jug. He looked at it, shook his head, and turned around. "They have a great example in us, woman. Just don't make me so nervous tonight that I forget to hide it!"

Chime laughed. "I will try, husband. I will try."

Things were not quite so cheerful at Miroku's place. Things seemed quiet, but there was an unspoken tension in the air of the main room.

"So," Sango said, putting her rice pot up on its shelf, "Tazu-chan thinks Rin-chan will keep her from having to stay with the children at Fujime-sama's house?" Naoya, strapped to her back, gurgled at something on the shelf that caught his attention.

"She hopes so, anyway," Miroku said. His lunch eaten, he sat watching his daughters. Noriko, beginning to get tired, but trying to fight it off, snuggled her stick doll in her arms, but leaned her head against her father's chest. Yusuko, not quite that far gone, was making stacks of her toys.

"Story, Otou," she said, putting her stick doll on top of the mound she had heaped up. "What next?"

"Impatient are we?" Miroku asked.

"Yes!" the girl said with a loud voice.

"Sssh." The monk brought his finger to his lips. "Not too loud. We don't want to bother Maeme-obasan. She needs her rest. Kaede-obaasan said quiet."

Yusuko frowned, but nodded. "Maeme-obasan sleeps," she said. "Sukeo and Kaede-obaasan watch."

"That's right. So where was I?" the monk said.

"Princess," Noriko prompted, sitting up for a moment, then slumping back into her comfortable nook in her father's arm. "Oni."

"Ah yes." Miroku nodded. "How could I forget? The oni found the princess in the mountains. All of her retainers ran away, and there was nobody to guard her . . . "

Sango watched her husband and daughters for a moment, then put the last of the dishes away. Placing the last bowl in her cupboard, she turned around and sighed loudly.

Miroku looked up at his wife, and stopped in mid-sentence, studying the look on her face. She, like her daughters, looked tired, but there was a wound up tension in her. He knew that look well, and knew she needed to say or do something. He started to speak, then swallowed it, waiting for her to put her words together.

"This is going to be more complicated than I thought," Sango said. Putting the dishtowel on its peg to dry, she stepped outside.

"And then the smallest samurai killed the oni and rescued the princess. Her father gave him a big estate, and then they all lived happily ever after," Miroku said, rushing the end of his story. "And no monsters ever came back to bother them."

"Yay!" said Noriko, who looked up at him with tired eyes, but not yet ready to nap. "No more monsters."

"Come, my beautiful girls," he said, standing up with Noriko in his arms. He bent over and scooped up her sister. "Let's go see if we can make your okaa smile."

Miroku stepped out of the house, trying to keep the craziness of the day from touching his expression, and walked up next to Sango who was standing on the edge of the verandah. Yusuko reached for her mother.

"Okaa?" the girl said. "Okaa should smile."

For some reason, this tickled Sango, and she chuckled a little as she took the girl in her in her arms. "Okaa's smiling, baby. How about you?"

Yusuko giggled. Turning a little in her mother's arms, she wiggled on her shoulder. Naoya, spotting his sister, stuck his fingers in his mouth. "Naoya," she said, and made a funny sound.

Naoya babbled something in return.

"At least those two seem happy," Sango said.

"Sometimes innocence has its reward," Miroku replied.

For once, Noriko was content to stay where she was, and snuggled deeper into her father's hold. Miroku, taking advantage of having a free hand, bounced his daughter once, then reached up and brushed Sango's cheek with the fingers of that hand.

"You said things were going to be more complicated than you thought. What's going to be more complicated?" he asked. "Today has been . . . more complicated than anything we've dealt with in a long time. But you need to talk to me. I need to know what's going on in your head. You have a right to have a say in what we do."

"This. Everything," she said, then shook her head. "People in our sleeping room. Men who would do . . . "

Her tone bothered the girl she was holding."Okaa sad?" Yusuko asked.

"No, baby," Sango replied. She shifted the girl where she would be less likely to bother her brother, and gave her a little hug. "Okaa's just thinking."

"Down?" the girl asked.

Sango nodded, and let her daughter down. For a moment, the girl looked around, and saw her stack of rocks and made a beeline to it.

"I really want to help Maeme," Sango said, watching her daughter push the stack of rocks flat before starting to rebuild it, "but where are we going to put her and her boys? Our house isn't big enough for two families." She leaned against Miroku. "And there won't be nearly enough privacy." She looked up at him. "For anything."

He brushed a wisp of hair out of her face. "Maybe . . . maybe we can get a small building built for her?" the monk said. He let Noriko down. The girl quickly ran to join her sister. "She can be a lay acolyte, maybe, if she wants to."

As the girls started rebuilding with the rocks, Sango nodded. "I've heard of women associated with a temple. They tend to do things like laundry and other work for the monks."

"Sometimes. For some women, it's the only refuge they have. Their families dump them or their marriages cause them too much pain, and their husbands refuse them a divorce." Miroku rubbed his chin, thoughtfully. "It's possible that Maeme will want to do that. I don't know. Not sure what I'd have her do, but I'm sure we can figure out something." He shook his head. "But it's possible all this may not happen at all. She may just want to go home. Although I don't know where home will be - not back to Seiji. I don't want her to go back to a situation like that."

"We'll find out when she's stronger," Sango said. "We'll do our best to keep her from doing that. No woman deserves to go through what she went through."

He leaned forward and kissed her forehead. "We'll find time for us. I promise you that, my beautiful wife."

They heard a gentle cough. Miroku let his wife go, to see Fumio and Koume walking up the pathway. Standing between them was Nakao, looking bruised and battered, and frightened.

"One last complication," Miroku said, softly.

"That poor boy," Sango said. "What did his otousan do to him?"

"Something I hope he never gets to do again," the monk said. And turning, he went to greet his guests.