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

Chapter 273

Eiji, the villager with guard duty for the night, was sitting for the moment in his own house, but he knew that he had duties to attend to. First, he stretched.

"Time to make your rounds?" his wife asked.

He nodded. "It's a little early, but the house seems too quiet," he said, standing up. "I think it's made me restless.

Kimi was sitting in her corner, spinning. She wound the length of thread she had pulled out back on the spinning wheel's spindle, then looked up at her husband. "It is quiet, although I don't know how quiet it is at Fujime-okaasan's house. All those children. I tried to get her to send our children home, because of all of Emi-chan's young ones staying the night with her, but she wouldn't hear it."

"That sounds like Haha-ue." Eiji went over to the cabinet, and picked up the lamp that was standing there, waiting for him, and the club that was the tool of the village guard on duty - the sign of his job, and useful for separating rowdy young men or hammering the gong on the watch tower in case of bandit raids. He had used it for both purposes, more than once, but this time he merely tucked it into his waistband. "There's no way she'd want to turn away her own grandchildren when she has a houseful of their friends."

"Well," Kimi said, as she started pulling out another length of thread, "Don't be surprised if she cooks up some scheme or other with Emi-chan."

Eiji picked up a splint of wood and knelt next to the fire pit to set it alight. "Oh? You have any idea what they might be up to?"

Kimi shook her head. "No, not at all. But after I came back from the wedding procession, I saw Hisako-obaasan stop by for a visit. She didn't look very happy."

Sighing, Eiji lit his lamp. "Hisako-obaasan really got upset with the news about Seiji's wife. I know they're relatives, and she's been unhappy about how Seiji keeps her from checking on Maeme, but this surprised me. I thought she was going to really pummel Yoshimi when she cornered him this afternoon. We almost had a real riot."

The corner of Kimi's lips turned up at the image of the elderly woman attacking a strong, young man like Seiji's brother, but a look at her husband, his seriousness intensified by how the lamp cast highlights on his face, made her let it go, and she nodded. "It's probably more than just Maeme," she said. "Seiji's been pushing more and more lately. After the last bandit attack . . . "

"I know," Eiji said. "I'm not sure what the elders are going to do. Maybe InuYasha-sama or Houshi-sama can help there. The monk seems serious about not letting Seiji near his woman."

"Maybe." Kimi wrapped her thread around the spindle and stood up as Eiji headed for the door. "She deserves someone who can help her. None of the rest of us seemed to be able to do anything." She sighed. "I wish I had known just how bad it had gotten."

Eiji turned around and looked at Kim, then moved towards her, wrapping his arms around the woman. "My beautiful Kimi, sometimes even Kwannon has to let destiny take its course."

"I know," she said. "But that doesn't mean to stop trying. Or even to wish it was different."

He pulled her closer. "One step at a time, wife. She's in good hands."

For a moment, Kimi rested her head against her husband's shoulder, then she looked up. "So, are you going to stop by Daitaro-ojisan's while you're doing your rounds?"

"Oh, probably," Eiji said, moving to the door. "I suspect Shinjiro and Erime-chan will already have gotten away before I get there." He grinned. "It's too bad. I won't get to remind him about the potion we gave him this afternoon."

"You didn't." Kimi laughed, and pulled out of her husband's arms.

"We did." He gave her a saucy grin. "What are bridegrooms for, if not to tease?"

"Well, at least he will have gotten away from you before you embarrass him even more." Kimi shook her head. "You and your brother."

"Oh, there's always tomorrow," the village guard said, walking to the door. "Yes, there's definitely tomorrow."

"If I were him," Kimi said, going back to her spinning, "I'd just stay put for at least three days."

"We'd just tease him even more," he said, stepping out into the night.

Sadayori hovered on a tree overlooking the house he had lived in while alive. It was cold and dark, and no smoke streamed out from the roof vent.

He moaned, a sad sound that resembled wind blowing through a crack in the boards of a house, but there was no response. "What have you done, son? I worked so hard trying to make things right, to give you a chance, and look at what you've done. Everybody talks about you with fear or anger, your house is falling apart because you'd rather brood and strike out instead of do the right thing. Your sons . . . sons shouldn't cower at the slightest noise. I've seen how they behave . . . "

There was no one around who could hear him, and he hung his head down, covering it with his hands. "How can I rest, where can I go with so much in such sad shape?"

The only answer he got was the sound of wind blowing a wooden amulet against the door frame in an irregular tap, tap, tap. This went on for many minutes, as the ghost merely sat there and pondered the fate of his family.

Suddenly, the tapping stopped, although the wind was still blowing.

Sadayori looked up, to see Kazuo holding the amulet in his hand. The kami lifted it off its nail, examining it.

"That son of yours," the kami said "Why does he think he needs things like this. If the man who painted this was here, I'd break all his ink stones into a thousand pieces, and throw his brushes into the sea. A nasty bit of magic."

He clasped his hands over it, and for a moment there was a flash of purifying light that seeped through the kami's fingers. When he opened his hands, a small pile of dust drifted away into the wind.

"He's been doing his best to keep the luck away," the kami's companion said. "Although, I doubt if he realizes it."

Sadayori drifted down from his perch and bowed before the two kami.

"He complains about his luck often," the ghost said. "But he was always dense about cause and effect. He prefers to think others are wishing him harm instead of considering he might be the ass."

"A common human failing," Kazuo said, nodding. "How often do you get the blame, Daikoku-sama?"

The luck kami laughed, but it was a sad laugh. "Oh, they're always saying I'm ignoring them. What they don't want to believe is how often they push me away." He looked around the buildings. "How can I bring them any luck when they push me away with that darkness? This whole place reeks of it."

"Why does this happen?" Sadayori asked. "My poor grandsons . . . "

"Choices," Kazuo said. He rested his hand on the ghost's shoulder, and because he was a kami, his hand did not pass through, nor did it harm him. "Everything's set up, as much as we can set it up, friend. Now it's your choice. You're the one who asked me to do what I can."

Sadayori sighed. "So much of this is my fault. If I hadn't asked Tsuneo to protect Seiji. If I had only listened to my wife . . . "

"That was then. This is where we are now," Daikoku said, firmly, but not unkindly. "Luck is in part the art of making the good choice."

"And now it's time for you to choose, old man," Kazuo said. "Do I do this thing or not? He won't get off free; he's done too much for that. But . . . "

"Will it really save my grandsons?" the ghost asked, looking each kami as if they would give him the answer he needed.

"For a time," Kazuo said. "After that, it's their choices. We can just buy them a little time, time to grow up."

"I can smooth their way with a little extra luck for a time," Daikoku said. "But even then, they can choose poorly. Karma requires the freedom to choose rightly or wrongly. That's how destinies are shaped."

"My life has been beset by bad choices," the ghost said, shaking his head.

"Not nearly as many as Seiji has made," Kazuo said. He tapped his hoe on the ground, not in magic, but in a little irritation.

"I'm . . . I'm afraid." Sadayori looked at the ground, knelt down, and picked up a dirt clod. "I've always been afraid. My fear caused so much trouble. Everything," he said, crushing the dirt clod into dust, "everything I hoped for fell apart because of that fear." He looked at Kazuo and straightened up. "I do not know if this will give me peace, or if I'm doomed to haunt this same place forever, but for once, I will stand up to my fear."

He reached out, and rested his hand on Kazuo's arm. "Do it."

The kami nodded. "Consider it done."

At Daitaro's house, dinner had been eaten, and Shinjiro and Erime had been led to the little house in the back with great fanfare, and many jokes, some of which made Kagome blush nearly as red as the bride.

"How long do we need to stay?" she whispered, taking her husband's hand.

InuYasha gave the hand a little squeeze as the door to the little house closed and the mothers of both the bride and groom exited together. "I don't know," he said. "Maybe - "

He was interrupted by Chime. "Rejoice, rejoice," she started to sing.

The song was picked up by several of the gathered family members.

"We rejoice, we rejoice,
It's time to be happy,
time to celebrate.
The bride and groom,
like a young pine tree,
see how their branches thrive,
their needles grow thick tonight,
and our house will prosper,
Soon, soon come the children!"

Laughter broke out. Daitaro, seeing his young guests looking about nervously, walked up to them, and grabbed InuYasha's sleeve in a friendly way. "Now that we got them to ground, now comes the fun part."

"Indeed," Chime said, joining her husband. "Did you forget the pickles?"

This is how the hanyou found himself dragged back into the house and seated down near the fire. The table that had been used by the bride and groom was pulled around and placed in front of him.

Chime, trying to look serious and official, but failing miserably as she looked up at the young couple, knelt in front of them. "I promised you as many pickles as you could eat, InuYasha-sama," she said.

"But . . . " he tried to think of something to say, but even as he tried to think of a coherent reply, Mariko began to hand her mother-in-law dishes of pickles, which the older woman placed in front of InuYasha with great ceremony.

Soon there were six dishes of pickles of different types: daikon, cabbage and other vegetables, all smelling delicious. In spite of having a full tummy from the wedding dinner, InuYasha found his mouth watering.

"Ooh, look at that one," Kagome said. "That looks like the type Mama would make for special days."

"It is a good one," Mariko said. "Amaya makes them. Her pickled turnip is famous for miles around."

"She does do a good job with it," Chime said, nodding.

Mariko picked the last dish up off of her tray. "And this one is from Sayo-chan, although I suspect Nanami-obasan actually made That's the lot of them. Now, InuYasha-sama, you tell us who you think made the best pickles."

A titter of laughter ran across the room, especially from the women. InuYasha looked up, and noticed that the wedding guests were drawing close, waiting for him to start eating.

His ears drooped a little at the attention, and Kagome giggled. "Come on, InuYasha. You know you want to try them."

He picked up his chopsticks and looked at Chime, then the other women, feeling more nervous by the minute.

"You can do it," Kagome whispered encouragingly.

"Choose, InuYasha," Chime said. "Tell us which one you like the best."

The hanyou gulped.

Daitaro handed him a cup of sake. "Try this first. It might make it all feel better."

Nodding, InuYasha grabbed the cup and swallowed it down obediently, then, as the sake hit his tummy, he picked up a dish and began to taste.