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

Chapter 256

Up on the hill, not far from the house where Kaede and Sango kept watch over the sleeping Maeme, the door to the small temple with the new roof slid open, and Miroku stepped outside into the afternoon light.

He had spent some time meditating over the day's events and what to do about the woman laying in his sleeping room, but his meditations had given him no real answers. As he began to walk away from the building his eyebrows were knit together, his head down, his problems not yet resolved.

"At least Sango-chan knows my intentions are pure," he said. "After what happened with Chiya . . . it seems unfair that she has to put up with this as well." He shook his head. "I hope Kwannon will be merciful and make sure nothing dark will touch the wedding this evening. There's been enough going on."

Before he could leave the grounds his little temple stood on, a ball rolled across the ground in front of him, a bright splash of red and blue and yellow. He looked up to see a small boy running his way.

The boy was dressed in better clothes than most of the villager's children wore, an outfit of red and yellow. He rushed past the monk chasing the ball.

"Akahito-chan, come back!" a woman called.

Miroku turned around to see a woman he didn't recognize walk up to the temple grounds. She was dressed in stunning green and yellow robes, silk instead of the usual hemp linen the village women dressed in. Her face was obscured by a veiled rush travel hat.

The boy picked up his ball and ran back to the woman, without speaking a word. "You didn't bother Houshi-sama, did you, Akahito-chan?" She rested a hand gently on the boy's head.

"No," Miroku said, bowing in the direction of the woman. "He just surprised me, Dono."

"I'm glad," the woman said. "I'm afraid he gets a little enthusiastic with his ball."

The boy, as if to demonstrate, began tossing the ball up and catching it.

"It's not often we see a lady like yourself here," Miroku said. "You're not from the village, are you?"

She shook her head. "I pass by here from time to time," she said. "I had heard there was a new temple, and an unusual monk who took care of it." She tilted her head to one side, looking at Miroku. "An unshaven monk. That is unusual."

"I have no brothers to keep my head bare, Dono," he said. Even though he couldn't make out her face clearly through her veil, he felt uncomfortable, as if her eyes could penetrate inside of him.

"No . . . you have no brothers here," she said, nodding. "But you are not . . . not without . . . without companions." Her voice was not judgmental, but grew amused as she talked. Miroku frowned, uneasy, and tapped his staff once. As he did, the brass rings on it jingled, and Akahito looked up at it, rather perplexed. Miroku tapped it once more, and the boy tossed up his ball, and this time, let it fall to the ground, where it promptly rolled away and down a small dip in the hill. The boy gave chase.

"Young ones," the woman said, watching him run after the ball. It rolled behind some trees, and the boy moved out of sight.

"They can be rather focused," Miroku said.

She turned back and nodded at the monk. "Indeed, Houshi-sama. But I believe you know how that is yourself. I have heard the monk who serves this temple has several young ones."

"Three," Miroku replied.

"And, most unusual, a woman who is their mother. A woman," the visitor said, tilting her head to one side, "almost as unusual as the monk himself. A warrior woman."

Miroku, feeling the hairs on the back of his neck rise, gripped the staff firmly in his hands, and leaned on it. "It sounds like word has spread of me."

"Of course," the woman said, nodding to him. "The famous exorcist? They know of you all the way to Edo, and to the north of here as well. Perhaps almost as far as Odawara."

"I do not think that the monks in Odawara talk of me in a flattering way," Miroku said. His lips curled up in a small wry smile. "I think they find me . . . a bit unusual."

"It is not necessarily a bad thing," the woman said. "I hear this unusual monk has a good heart, even if he charges the rich much for his services."

Miroku coughed into his hands. "They're saying that as well?"

"I think," the woman said, her voice definitely amused, "that makes them think you really know what you're doing, you and your partner. He, too, an unusual person."

"That is true," the monk said, nodding. "I am merely a servant of the Buddha. My friend, well . . . "

"He is what he is," the woman said. "But together, you two - there's that woman in your house."

This perplexed Miroku. "You . . . you heard about a woman in my house?"

"The one you and your partner rescued today," she said softly. "The one you could have let go when she asked."

A shiver went up Miroku's spine. "You know about Maeme-cha? How?"

"Sometimes, the gods, well, they - " The strange woman's words were interrupted by a very bright flash of light. It came from the direction of the village/

"Now what is that old fool up to now?" the woman asked. "Forgive me. I must go."

Miroku stared back towards the center of the community. "What? What's happening?"

He turned back to the woman, but there was nobody standing there. Above him, a large crane flew overhead, her wings beating gracefully in the sky, heading in the same direction they saw the light. A fox barked somewhere, and there was a rustle in the bushes, but then, that too was gone.

"Maybe I should go see what's happening," he said. And lifting his staff to take a step, he too began to head off the hill and towards the heart of the village.

While Miroku talked to the mysterious woman, Kazuo, the kami of Tameo's family was busy with his own plans.

Well before Yoshimi could pick himself up off of the ground, Kazuo reached the watch tower at the center of the village, and leaned down over the railing. "This will be a good place for the next event, I think. Let's see who I have to work with." Below, he could see Hisako and her companions talking to the men gathered there, and he smiled.

"Ah, Hisako-chan. How lucky for me that you're already here. Not quite enough yet to do what I really want," he said. "Hope the land kami will forgive me, but I'm going to pull a few strings." He rubbed his hat back and forth over the top of his head, and closed his eyes. Unseen by any mortal eyes, a light grew around the kami. Anybody with spiritual sight who had a glimpse of it would have had to shade their eyes from its intensity.

The light separated itself from the kami, spun around him seven times, splintered into five fragments. "Go," he said. "Bring me the right people. Bring them here, by the watch tower and the well. Let's put the fear of the heavens into that pair. Yoshimi, especially. He may not be worth a lot, but Kiyoko deserves a man who knows better." With a sound like a sigh, each of the segments streaked across the sky to a different part of the village.

"Now that's quite a light show. Let's see if that brings the land kami out of hiding," Kazuo said, chuckling. "This is going to be fun."

One of the persons in the village who had eyes that could have made out Kazuo's light flash across the sky of the village was inside her house, too busy at the moment to pay any attention.

"That feels good," Kagome said. She was sitting in her bathtub, and sighed as InuYasha poured a bucket of hot water down her back.

InuYasha put the empty bucket down. "If you want any more hot, I'll have to heat it. That was the last."

"That's all right," she said, letting her head drop forward.

He was behind her, leaning on the edge of the tub, admiring the curve of his wife's spine. It was easy to do; she had twisted her hair up into a bun so she wouldn't have to wash it. He brushed a stray lock of hair that had fallen out of the knot, and moved it towards the top of her shoulder. "So, you want me to wash your back?"

He dipped his hand into the water and let his fingers trace the curve of her waist, resting at last on her thigh.

She put her hand over his, and gently nudged his hand away."Not just yet. I just want to sit here a moment. It's like I've been on a run all day. This is the first time I've had a chance just to sit and rest."

"So how long does something like this last?" he asked, pulling his hand back out of the tub.

"I'm not sure." Kagome leaned back in the wooden tub, as far as she could. It wasn't big enough for her to stretch her legs out in, but she lifted one up and rested it on the edge in front of her. "I know there will be dinner, and time enough to drink and sing afterwards. Why?" She turned her head to try to get a glimpse of him.

"Just . . . " InuYasha leaned forward, and rested his chin on her shoulder. "I was just wondering how long it'll be before we can get home and have our own celebration," he said, waggling his eyebrows.

Kagome laughed and splashed her husband with a little water. "My hentai husband."

"After putting up with today, we deserve a celebration," he replied. He pulled back, but not before nuzzling her ear, which made her shoulder jerk up a little from the tickling.

"Stop," she said, pulling her leg back in. She leaned forward and rested her head on her knees. "Or maybe we'll be too tired for anything more than just a good night's sleep."

He sighed, sounding a little disappointed. "Yeah, even that would be all right if we don't have to rescue people or make rounds to visit everybody in the village. You think Kaede would mind if we just disappear for a day or two?"

"I don't think I can do that just yet," she said. She leaned forward in the tub. "You can wash my back now if you want." She held up her wash cloth. He dipped it in the warm water and ran it gently over the soft contours of her back.

"Why not?" he asked, dipping the cloth in the bathwater again.

"Well, she's going to be busy with Maeme for a little while," Kagome said. "Until she's sure that poor woman's not going to walk herself back into the river. I think she wants someone to stay with her until then."

"It doesn't have to be you," the hanyou said. "Besides, once the news gets out about Haname, people are going to come bug you. Even Kaede said so." Finishing with her back, he ran the cloth down one of her arms. She shivered lightly. He liked the effect, so he repeated the action on her other arm. She shivered again.

"I know," she said, turning her head to look at him. "I'd love to have time for you to tease me like that, but I'm really going to have to get dressed soon. That's why I didn't wash my hair."

He leaned close, and brushed his lips across the top of her shoulder. "I know. I'm just trying to give you some motivation to come home as early as possible."

She laughed, and splashed him again. "Hand me the towel?"

As he did, she slowly got up in the tub and turned to face him. He looked at her appreciatively, at how the water dripped down her skin. Reaching out, he caught one drop that was making its way between her breasts.

She caught his hand, gave him a sultry smile and brought his hand to catch the weight of one of her breasts. "And this is my motivation for you to come home when Chime offers you all those pickles."

He gently tugged at her nipple. "Don't need any motivation for that. You taste better." Leaning forward, he let his mouth gently drag across the skin where her neck met her shoulder.

She popped him lightly with the towel. "If you're a good boy. But not until after the wedding."