I do not own InuYasha or any of the characters created by Rumiko Takahashi
Back at Miroku's house, Sango knocked on the door of the sleep room and Sukeo slid the door open. His face was sullen, but not with anger. It was, more numbness as the events of the day took their toll on the teen. Sango gave him what she hoped was a reassuring smile as she stepped in, carrying a tray with some soup bowls on it.
Inside Nakao still sat next to his mother, holding her hand, and humming some little tune. Sukeo moved back to his place near the head of the bed. He leaned against the wall, and drew his legs up close to his chest before resting his head on his knees.
"Kaede-obaasan will be back when she's through talking with Koume-sama. I thought you might be hungry," she said, sliding the door behind her. "Have you eaten anything since breakfast, Nakao-kun?"
The boy turned briefly to glance up at the taijiya, then looked down at his lap and shook his head. "I...I don't think I can eat anything."
To Sango's surprise, Maeme lifted herself up on one elbow. "You should try," the depressed woman said, squeezing her son's hand. "You'd feel better. You know how going hungry makes you feel."
"Okaa . . . " The boy looked at his mother, and shook his head. "I just . . . "
"It's all right," Sango said. "I know what it feels like. Sometimes, when things like this happen . . . anyway, I'll leave this here. If you, or your okaasan, or you, too, Sukeo-kun, want to eat, there's plenty."
Sukeo gave her an odd look. "Why?"
The question surprised Sango."Why what, Sukeo-kun?" Sango asked, putting the tray down. "Is it about the food?"
"Why?" He lifted his head off of his knees. "Why have you been so nice to us? You and Houshi-sama? My otou said . . . "
Maeme turned her face to glance at her son. Her face still was not reflecting much feeling, but there was a flash in her eyes, somewhere between defiance and anger."Your otousan has said a lot of foolish things."
Sukeo looked at his mother with wide eyes, as if words like that were shocking coming from her. "Okaa?"
She sat up, shaking her head. "Don't be shocked. Today happened because . . . "
Nakao pulled on her sleeve, and her hand covered the boys. "If I hadn't been so frightened, I . . ."
Sango, not wishing to embarrass the little family, turned and went back to the door. "I'll go see what Kaede-obaasan is doing," she said, without looking. She stepped out, and slid the door closed.
She could hear Maeme's voice continue to talk as she moved back to the fire pit.
Kaede looked up at Sango as she walked across the room, and lifted an eyebrow at the sound of the voices, and looked thoughtful for a moment. "Do not fret if they don't want to eat yet, Sango-chan," the old miko said. "Their bodies are still reacting from the shock of what's happened."
"I know," the young taijiya said. "It's not that. I just wish . . . "
"You have a good heart, Sango-chan," Koume said, looking up from her sewing. "I'm almost surprised you put up with any of us here in the village after finding out what Chiya-chan was playing at. And here you are, harboring the wife of one of the people who like you least."
"She's not everybody," Sango said. She went back to her place near Koume. "Just like Seiji is not all men."
"No, thank goodness," Koume said. "I can't even imagine what life must be like with a man like that. Fumio-chan, he's so much Seiji's opposite. Strong, fair, and usually minds his own business. But he has little tolerance for men who treat women wrong, especially after what happened to our daughter."
"I remember that day. That shocked many of the men in the village, to think one of our own would act that way," Kaede said. There was a sob from the back of the room, and Nakao's voice sounding soothing, although it was impossible to really make out the words. The old miko stood up. "Perhaps its time to give Maeme that next dose of medicine. I was trying to give the boys some time to visit because it will make her sleep, but she still is very fragile."
She went and let herself into the sleeping room.
"I wonder how long she'll be like this," Koume said, taking a stitch in the white cloth.
"It can take time," Sango said. "First you weep . . . and then you get angry. Maybe she's getting near the anger stage. I saw a flash of it, but . . . "
"I take it you have some first hand experience with the dark things life can throw at you," the older woman said.
Sango attacked her stitching with a vengeance. "More than I'd wish on anybody."
Down the hill at Fujime's house, Eiji digested the news that Susumu and the other gave him. He looked down at his wife, whose eyes were more than disturbed. "First Chime tries to do herself in, and now Maeme? Too much grief this week. Maybe we need Houshi-sama to bless the whole village."
"You don't think we're under a curse or something, do you?" Fujime said, walking up to the men. She crossed her arms, not quite believing what her son was suggesting, but open to being convinced. "The only person to bring any darkness here lately was that yamabushi, and it seems the kami took care of him."
Kimi nodded her head. "That's the truth, Fujime-okaasan. I'm afraid everything else has been just the usual darkness in people's hearts and bad judgment." She sighed. "We knew Seiji wasn't treating his wife right, but . . . and as for Chiya, well, we all know how she is." She sucked on her bottom lip. "I knew Maeme-chan was lonely, that Seiji was trying to keep people from being near her. If I had just tried harder . . . At least Haha-ue's up at the monk's house. And Chichi-ue, too. They'll help."
"Seiji would have found a way to cause trouble and drive you away anyway," Fujime said. She wrapped an arm around her daughter-in-law. "You may want to be our little Kwannon, but sometimes, even you can't make other people accept Kwannon's compassion, Kimi-chan. Sometimes people will just block it."
Kimi nodded. "I know. But still . . . "
"We'll talk to your okaasan when she gets home from Houshi-sama's," Fujime said, pulling Kimi away from the men. "Then we'll know what else we can do." She guided Kimi back to where Emi was still seated.
Eiji, watching his wife and mother walk away, shook his head and clenched his fists. "I don't like this," he said, looking at the headman's son. "We've put up with him a long time for what I think are stupid reasons, and now they're coming back to bite his family. And it's spilling over to all our families while they're at it. Does your otousan know what happened?"
Susumu nodded. "Oh, yes. InuYasha came by and told us the story. He's a scary one to see when he's mad. It's a lucky thing for Seiji that today's Shinjiro's wedding day; otherwise I don't know if Seiji would be a problem anymore."
"Unlucky for us, maybe," Haruo said. He rubbed the back of his neck, making sure his mother hadn't overheard him. If she had, she was ignoring him.
"You're not the only one who doesn't like what's going on. I don't like this," Michio said. "After what he said yesterday about Chiya . . . What's he going to do with his wife once he gets out? Push her back in the river and try to run off with my woman?"
"Your woman? Who's living at her father's old house because she shamed you in public?" Haruo reminded him. "He probably considers her fair game. You could solve that temptation by just taking her back home."
"Haruo. Be quiet." Eiji gave his brother a nasty look. "He's not doing anything wrong. You were there when she went off on him."
"Still," the younger brother said, crossing his arms. "Even an ass like Seiji would be able to read those signs."
"I wouldn't count on it," Susumu said. He spit.
Michio tensed, turning red as he listened, his scowl turning deep and ugly, like an actor's mask. His fists clenched and unclenched. "Not yet. Not yet. You all heard her. Would you take her back in yet?"
Haruo shrugged. "We were there. We know what she's like. You have to do what you have to do. It's just one way to keep her safe."
"I..." Michio took a deep breath. "If I took her back now, would I turn into another Seiji?" He shook his head. "She needs to stay where she's safe – from him and from me."
"You're a better man than he'll ever be," Eiji said, clapping his friend on the arm. "She'll be safe."
"Besides, Michio," Susumu said, "do you really think the elders will let him get anywhere near Chiya-chan?" He crossed his arms and shook his head. "Do you think I would? No matter what she's done in the past, she doesn't deserve him."
"Bah." Michio, said, still tensed up. "Do you think he's going to listen to what they tell him? What the elders tell him to do never has had much value to Seiji. Didn't stop him from almost getting in a fight with Chich-ue yesterday." He spit."And he threatened her. And me."
Susumu scratched his head, trying to think of how to calm the man. "We'll talk to my otousan. He's been ready to do something about Seiji for years now. I'm sure he'll agree that we should put a watch on the house. And you know Tsuneo will back him up on that one. I don't think he'll get a chance to do anything, but better safe . . . "
That was the type of thing Michio was wanting to hear, and he unclenched somewhat. "It would make me feel better. Tsuneo-otousan would appreciate it as well," he said and gave Susumu a small bow of thanks.
"Tsuneo-sama's had a lot on him these last few days. That's another reason. Chichi-ue will understand that. Well, let's go see him," Susumu said. "I know nothing's going to happen before the wedding's over, at least. Seiji's going to stay right where he is. Locked up tight." He took a deep breath. "Even if it drives all my family insane."
"He better stay there. Chime-sama will come tan all of our hides after everything she's been doing to make sure this wedding goes off without any bad luck," Eiji said. "And your okaasan, too."
Susumu nodded, and with a wave at the women, the group of men began to walk off.
Michio still frowning, looked at the village guard. "Everybody in your family going to the wedding?"
"Most of us. Jun and Koichi'll stay home, probably. Daitaro will skin me if I don't show up. I think he's plotting on seeing how much sake I can drink." He gave the upset man a small grin. "So Haha-ue can skin me the next day."
"Sounds like Daitaro," Haruo said, amused by the image.
Michio rubbed the back of his neck. "You better put a watch on his brother, too. Maybe a couple of the men at Tsuneo-otousan's could do it."
"Yoshimi?" Susumu said. That one surprised him. "I heard he was laying low because he owed Ryota money."
"Not the only one," Haruo said. "Why I ever . . . "
"I don't trust him not to go let Seiji out while the wedding's going on." Michio met Susumu's incredulous look with a knowing, determined glare of his own. "No telling what will happen if he does."
"You have a dark mind, Michio-sama," Haruo said.
Michio shook his head. "I've just been beaten up by that bastard too often. The younger is maybe worse, threatening people to get Seiji on them if they don't do what he says. I'll never trust them."