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

Chapter 298

The group walked up the hill in quiet for a moment.

"Can I stay with you tomorrow night?" Shippou said. "I can help keep watch."

"Not this time," Kagome said. Her voice was sweet and apologetic.

"But . . . but if I'm not at my uncle's, I usually come by that night." Shippou made big eyes at the miko, the type that used to almost always let him get his way. This time, it didn't work.

"Not this time, Shippou-chan." She shook her head, and the kitsune sighed, knowing her there's-no-budging-me-on-this voice.

The kitsune looked up at the hanyou. Sometimes, he had discovered, the big eyes could work on the hanyou, but he had no such luck this time.

"No," InuYasha said rather emphatically. "If Kagome says no, it's no."

"Just thought I'd ask." He looked up at Miroku, who had become very amused at all the antics of the three. Shippou leaned closely, and whispered to the monk. "Is this more of that . . . sickness you were talking about?"

"We'll have to see," Miroku said. A sly smirk spread across his face.

After a moment, he rubbed the side of his face, as if thinking. "We could, I suspect, put our journey off a day if you have any doubts about it just being the two of you. Friends do take care of friends. You're sure you two feel comfortable about managing? You don't have to be sacrificing about something this serious just so we can get started a day earlier."

"I've been taking care of myself longer than you've been alive, Bouzu," InuYasha said, knitting his eyebrows together as he glared at the look on the monk's face. The monk tried to feign an innocent look, but InuYasha caught the last of the smirk before it faded off of Miroku's face.

"I have no doubt about that, InuYasha," Miroku said, now having his concerned friend look firmly in place. "Still, it will be your first night like that alone in your house. And you are on the outskirts of the village."

"So what's it to you, Bouzu?" InuYasha's tone was not pleased. He had been carrying his hands in his sleeves, but he separated them, dropping them by his side, but clasping his right hand into a fist. Shippou who had been riding on Miroku's shoulder closest to the hanyou moved to the other side. "At least we're going to be in our home village. You're going to be on the road with three children. I'd worry about what you need to worry about."

"I think I was right," Shippou said, very, very soft. "Newlywed stuff." He made a face, but out of the line of sight of both InuYasha and Kagome.

Miroku gave his head a quick nod, then held his hands in a peacemaking gesture. "If you're willing to make the sacrifice for us, I do appreciate it. I know Sango will. But to ease my conscience, I can leave you some ofuda, just to be safe."

"Feh," InuYasha said, well aware by now he was being teased. "If you don't – "

"That's a lovely idea," Kagome said, interrupting her husband. She knew he was irritated, but gave him a soft smile. "We can pick them up on the way home and say hello to Kohaku-kun all at once."

The hanyou's ear flicked as he was caught off-guard by his wife's response.

"Excellent idea," Miroku said, smiling broadly at being pleasantly surprised. "I mentioned to Kohaku that you were back living with us. He was hoping to get to see you. I didn't expect to get a chance to do it before we left."

InuYasha sighed. Kagome rested her hand on the hanyou's arm. "You don't mind us stopping by Miroku's house, do you?" she asked. "We won't stay long, only long enough for Miroku to get us the ofuda. It's been a long time since I saw Kohaku last. He was so brave during the final battle, taking care of Rin. And you know how seldom he gets to come and visit with his new master."

"We're supposed to leave as soon as we can get the girls up and fed," Miroku said. "We'll probably be gone before you go to Kaede's."

InuYasha rolled his eye and shrugged, giving in to the inevitable. "Let's go see the kid."

"You won't be able to call him that much longer, InuYasha," Miroku said

.

Kagome gave her husband a brilliant smile in thanks, then turned back to the monk. "We won't, will we?"

"Young people have a way of doing that, it seems," Miroku said. He looked at Shippou. "Some quicker than others."

"Hey," Shippou said. "I'm growing just as fast as a kitsune is supposed to grow."

"If you say so, Shippou," Miroku said. "He's older now than you were during the quest, Kagome-sama."

"Has that much time passed already?" she asked.

"It has, it has," the monk said. "Not that you'd know it looking at this one." He picked Shippou off of his should and put him down.

As they took the fork in the road that lead to the monk's house, the first thing they heard was laughter.

"It sounds like the twins still have him cornered," Shippou said. "He should be glad he doesn't have a tail."

"My turn, Kohaku-ojisan!" one of the twins said.

"You're probably right." The monk smiled. "But I don't know if he would have cried about it as much as you do."

As they neared, Miroku held his arms out by one of the trees near the path. Stopping behind the monk, the group watched a slender young man, easily as tall as Sango, if not a little taller, dressed in the black armor of his calling.

"His new taijiya group uses the same type of armor?" Kagome asked quietly.

"They do," Miroku said, "It's better against youkai venom and power attacks."

Kohaku had Yusuko on his shoulders, running in small circles around Noriko, who was holding her arms up, trying to catch him. Yusuko alternated between mock-roaring and laughing as the young taijiya dodged his little niece.

"Slay the monster!" Noriko yelled.

"They look like they're going to be well worn out pretty soon," Miroku said.

"He has grown some since I saw him last," Kagome said, "He was about as tall then as Rin is now. And now look at him. He's not much shorter than you, InuYasha."

"Keh," the hanyou said.

Kohaku lunged the wrong way, and Noriko wrapped her arms around his leg.

"She got us, Yusuko-chan. Noriko-chan caught us." He carefully sank to the ground and deposited the girl on the ground.

"I slayed the monster!" Noriko said, jumping on her uncle's lap.

Yusuko, not pleased by this turn of events crossed her arms. "Do it again?"

"It's Noriko-chan's turn," Kohaku said, putting Noriko on his shoulders and standing up carefully to Yusuko's disgust and her sister's joy.

"His voice is growing up, too," Kagome said. "It's a lot deeper."

"Time tends to do that to young men," Miroku said.

The door opened up, and Sango, followed by Rin came outside, carrying a chest and a carry basket. Sango smiled at the young man playing with her daughters. Kirara was wrapped around Sango's neck, while a very jealous Chika walked in and out beneath the taijiya's feet. Rin put down the carry basket and picked up Chika.

"It's all right, Chika-chan," Rin said. "Sango-obasan isn't going to leave you for Kirara. Kirara used to be her cat, but now she helps Kohaku-kun. You can stay with Rin while they make the trip to pay respects to Sango's ancestors, and when she gets back, she'll be needing your company very much."

The cat looked back at Sango and Kirara, and mewed doubtfully, but gave Rin a lick as if to say she understood, even if she didn't like it.

"You won't be the only one who will miss them," Rin went on. "Rin will, too, but she knows they will come back. They do this every year."

Chika, giving in to the inevitable, snuggled into Rin's arms. Rin stroked the cat's back while she looked up at Kohaku and the girls. She smiled at first as Kohaku danced around Yusuko and Sango began sorting things she wanted to take with them on their trip, putting them into the carry basket, but as they worked and played, Rin's face grew distant and sad, as if she was remembering something that troubled her.

The look vanished instantly as she spotted Miroku and the rest heading for the house. "InuYasha-ojisan! Kagome-obasan!" she said, waving.

"Ah, we've been spotted. I'll go get those ofuda," Miroku said.

Kohaku turned around at the announcement, watched for a moment, and then put down Noriko, who too was not happy at being denied her uncle's shoulders.

"I promise, girls, there will be plenty of time for me to carry you while we're on the trip," Kohaku said.

"Carry now!" Noriko said, sticking out her bottom lip.

"Girls," Sango said. "Be polite and come sit by me."

Sighing, the girls headed to their mother's side. Kohaku, though, watched the group of friends head closer, smiling. He gave a polite bow. "It's very good to see you again, Kagome-sama," he said. "I am happy that you've come back to join us."

"Kohaku's become even more polite than he was when he was young," Sango said fondly. She held up a small kosode and inspected it. Satisfied, she folded it neatly.

"My master tells us to be as cunning as a thief, as careful as a priest, and polite as a noble," Kohaku said, looking back at his sister.

"That sounds like good advice for a taijiya," Kagome said. She looked at the young man before her. He still had the pleasant earnestness that was his character, the charming face with a light dusting of freckles across his cheekbones that made him particularly cute as a boy, and did nothing to distract from his looks now that he was approaching manhood. The haunted look that had marked his eyes after discovering what Naraku had done with him was mostly gone in the obvious moment of happiness he was having. If it was still there, in the need to do penance for the wrongs he had been forced to do, he masked it well.

"He's a good man, your master," Miroku said, stepping back out on the verandah. "He does his job well, takes care of his clients, and never frauds. Learn as much from him as you can."

InuYasha coughed into his hand as Miroku mentioned fraud, and Sango's eyebrow went up as well. "Miroku does know what's of value, InuYasha," she managed to say with a straight face.

"Knows, yeah," the hanyou said.

"That is true," Miroku said, in all serious. "That I know."

Conversation began to dwindle. Noriko got up and walked over to Kohaku and grabbed his hand. "Up, Ojisan. Up!"

"You'll have to tell me about your adventures when you were gone from us, Kagome-sama," Kohaku said, picking up his niece.

"Schooling, mainly," Kagome said. "I really didn't have any adventures to speak of. I lived a very boring, quiet life."

"Sometimes, maybe," he said, grabbing Yusuko as well, because she was pulling on his leg, "that can be a good thing."

"I...I think I needed it for a while," she admitted.

Kagome chuckled as he tried to handle the two little girls. "Slay the youkai!" Noriko said.

Sango got up from her position on the ground, shook out one of Miroku's undershirts and began packing it. "Would you like to come to dinner? I know we all have so many stories to share."

"When you come back, perhaps," Kagome said, looking at her husband, who was looking at her, not saying anything. His eyes were caught between wanting to get away and curiosity about her last statement. "I think we need to go home and let you get ready for your trip. If you get away before we get moving tomorrow morning, have a safe journey."

Miroku handled the small bundle of ofuda to Kagome. "This should be enough for whatever you two have planned."

Kagome colored slightly and looked down at the ground.

Shippou made a face. "Adult stuff," he grumbled, then hopped back on Miroku's shoulder as Yusuko made a lunge for his tail.

"Yet another reason for you to want to grow up, Shippou," Miroku said. "Your tail would be much safer on a grownup body."

Chuckling, InuYasha and Kagome made their farewells, and finally headed home.