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

Chapter 302

Fumio knelt down by the sobbing boy.

"Ah, son," he said, after a moment. For a moment, he just rested an arm on the boy's shoulder half expecting to be pushed aside, but instead the teenager clung to his arm, so he pulled him into a full hug. "Ah, son. You've done so well, to be the good son and man. But even the strongest man can be pushed only so far. It's all right to need to let it out."

"I...I..."Sukeo started to say, but he couldn't get the words out. For a moment, he bowed his head even further down, like he wanted to curl into a ball for the shame of it, but Fumio didn't let him go.

"There's nothing wrong with what you're doing. It hurts when everything piles up" the old smith said. "Trying so hard to be strong for your mother and brother and everything's just too much. If you don't let it out, it can twist into your gut and explode. You don't want that."

Sukeo nodded. The two of them just stayed there, until Sukeo slowly gained some comtrol. He pulled back, and Fumio let him go.

The teen looked up into the face of his new guardian, saw no disapproval, no anger, no mocking hiding beneath the surface, only honest concern. He swallowed, and tried to speak. "I...my..."

"Take your time, son," Fumio said. "We're in no hurry."

He nodded, wiping his eyes with the back of his sleeve, then took a deep breath. "My...my...otousan…he...he would be beating me if he saw me now." He sighed. "He hated it when we cried. 'A real man takes the pain. Let me give you something to cry about.' That's how he would talk. And then when he was finished with me, he would begin to beat on Haha-ue, like it was her fault, and Nakao would be running to our obasan's house, hoping she would hide him."

Fumio sighed. "There is lots your otousan was wrong about. He would be wrong about this. Maybe...I don't know. Something about how he saw the world, something was broken in his soul, and that led him to where he ended up. But you don't have to end up there. You don't have to be like him. Me and the headman and Toshiro-sama, we'll all be there to help you end up in a different, better place."

"Why?" Sukeo said.

"Because we can see the good man inside you," the smith said. "That good man is someone we want to meet." He stood up, and offered his hand to Sukeo. Sukeo took it and stood as well. "Now, if you're up to it, I want you to go with me. Houshi-sama is going to bless your house this morning, and he wanted me there. But I think you should come, too, if you feel up to it."

Again, Sukeo looked surprised. "Why?" he asked again.

"Because you are now the man of your house, and you should know what's going on. So you can learn something. Because I like your company." Fumio crossed his arms, smiling at the teen to encourage him.

"You...like me?" Sukeo's eyes shone with a first touch of something positive. Hope, maybe.

"I do. Are you up to it?"

Sukeo nodded. "I need to tell Haha-ue."

Fumio gave the teen a fatherly pat on the arm. "Let's go. And then we'll make sure Haruo gets back to his job, and we'll go see what Houshi-sama is up to."

Together they headed back to Miroku's house.

While Fumio and Sukeo took their leave of Sango and Maeme, then headed down the hill to go to Sukeo's home, the three major family kami had already reached it and hovered together in a knot facing the land kami.

"Why did you bring us here?" Kazuo said. "I thought you might have had enough of this place last night, with our little drama to stay away for a long time."

Shimame opened her fan. "Perhaps, we are going to have an epilogue." the group hovered directly above Seiji's house. She fanned herself as she watched the monk and the others move closer. "I didn't notice this yesterday at all. When did he bring in...that...that...whatever it is, and I did not sense it? Look, the hanyou is already picking up on it and they haven't passed the line of trees. You didn't tell me anything either, Kazuo, and I know you were here more than once."

"What thing?" Yoshio asked. "I don't see anything."

"I doubt if it's out of its hidey-hole yet. Can't you feel it?" Shimame asked. "It's quite strong."

"You're more in tune to things like that than I am. After all you're the land kami. You're supposed to be aware of threats." Yoshio closed his eyes and rubbed the bridge of his nose.

"But Seiji was your ko," Hitoshi said, frowning at Yoshio. "You were supposed to notice things like that, too."

"Oh, like when Joben brought in that yamabushi?" Yoshio said. "Look what that's done!"

Shimame rapped them both with her fan. "Enough."

"I didn't pick up on anything last night except the far too much warding," Kazuo said. "It's enough to make a sick spot."

"Or mask something worse," Shimame said. She pursed her lips. "If it was a sound, it would be a scream. I noticed it just before I came and got you. I do my daily rounds regularly, and I didn't sense it hear yesterday."

"Something really angry there," Yoshio said.

"Not shocking, considering it's from Seiji's house," Kazuo said.

The land kami ignored him for the moment, but nodded to Yoshio. "Yes, that's what I felt. Rage, rage." Shimame said.

"I...I destroyed one of the wards last night," Kazuo said. "It was a really nasty thing, too. It was designed to trap..."

"Trap?" Hitoshi asked.

"Anything of a magical nature. Might have trapped you if you'd had gone inside. Even kami aren't totally immune from that type of ward. Had the taste of a nasty piece of Yamabushi work."

"So there is a crack in the wards," Shimame said. "Perhaps that's why I can sense it now." She tapped her chin with her closed fan. "But not a full gap yet." She turned to Kazuo, frowning. "Is this another thing from that man you...you so entertainingly bound?"

"No. That one would have done it if he'd thought about it and had the reiki to pull it off, I have no doubt, and if he had, he would have probably slapped it on the hanyou's house one night, and then waited for the fireworks." Kazuo shrugged. "But he couldn't have done it. His reiki was never that strong. No telling where Seiji picked the wards up."

"For someone with weak reiki, he stirred up a lot of trouble," Shimame said, snapping her fan closed. "The stories I've heard from some of the other land kami."

"Cunning doesn't take reiki. He had a thing or two he shouldn't have had." Kazuo rubbed his hat back and forth as Hitoshi rolled his eyes at Kazuo.

"Does he always do that...thing...with his hat?" Hitoshi asked.

"That's a bad habit he has," Yoshi said, nodding. "Gets irritating. Surprised his eboshi doesn't fall apart.

"Not you, too, Yoshio." Kazuo said. "Everybody shut up about my hat. It helps me think."

"It's your head and hat, friend," Yoshio said. "I believe Seiji picked them up after that awful youkai with the Shikon Jewel attacked the village. He went off one day and was gone a half moon cycle. I don't know where he got them. From someplace out of the village."

"I wonder if he brought back what's ever feeling so angry in that house with him then," Shimame said, tapping her chin with her fan. "It certainly wasn't here before then."

"It could be an angry ghost," Yoshio said. "Seiji said something about a ghost who had been haunting him. He laughed at it."

"Why would someone seal in an angry ghost? Most people who run into one want to get rid of it as soon as possible. And it's the wrong time of day for one to be active," Kazuo said.

Hitoshi nodded. "Kazuo has a point."

Yoshio shrugged. "Maybe he liked to torture it."

"We'll find out soon enough," Shimame said. "Our friends are at the house now. Keep watch in case we need to take action."

The first thing that Susumu and the others saw when they cleared the line of trees that screened off Seiji's house was the rooster. It had been scratching at the ground around Maeme's garden, saw them, turned its head sideways, as if to get a better look, then ruffed his neck feathers and gave a warning call to the group.

InuYasha growled at it, and it ran behind the wheelbarrow. Still, it gave a defiant crow from the safety of its shelter, peeking around the wheelbarrow but making no move towards the group.

"Stupid bird," the hanyou said, his fist tightening. Kagome gave him a concerned look, and rested a hand on his arm. He sighed at her touch. "Sorry."

"Your youki," Miroku said, looking at the hanyou. "You're really wound up enough that it evidently scared that poor bird. Can you calm down?"

InuYasha shook his head. "I can't help it," he replied. "Happened to me the last time I was here." Kagome took her husband's hand, her reiki trying to sooth his youki, and like the day before, it didn't do much good. "Kind of reminds me when we were fighting Naraku the final time and he made me lose myself. Not so strong, but I don't have much control over how my youki reacts to whatever it is when I'm close. Whatever's here doesn't like youkai and wants them to rage, or hates me enough to do the same thing."

Susumu scratched the back of his neck, a bit uneasy himself. "Could be both, knowing how Seiji felt. You're about the only person in the village he was afraid of."

Miroku tapped his staff to the ground and looked thoughtfully at the building in front to them. "It's going to be hard to do what I need to do. Your youki makes the wards flair up." He closed his eyes, probing with his own spiritual powers. "And in turn, they make your youki flare. It might be tricky to bless the house with all this energy floating back and forth."

InuYasha gave Miroku a deep frown."So what do you want me to do? I'm not going to leave Kagome and run away so she can get attacked by whatever's hammering me like this. You're crazy if you think that."

Kagome looked up at her husband. "Why don't you and Susumu go and check if Yoshimi is home?"she suggested, pointing at the rundown second son's house. "His place is right over there, close enough to see everything, but maybe far enough away from the wards."

"Yes, do that," Miroku said. He looked at InuYasha, and for a moment put on his best Professional Monk's face trying to ignore the anxiety in his partner's face, but dropped the mask as an idea came to him. "Maybe you don't have to really leave. Just back away until you stop interacting with whatever's here. Wards usually are made just to protect the thing its attached to and maybe the distance of a room or two. You can keep us in sight. But it'll make it easier for us to get finished sooner. We need things to be calmer and the wards not to be reacting if we want to get to the bottom of this."

Overhead, but carefully masking their spiritual powers, the kami watched in interest.

"How long before the monk realizes its more than the wards?" Shimame wondered.

"He's a perceptive one, that," Kazuo said. "I'm more interested how it's affecting InuYasha."

"You were right, earlier. I give up on the angry ghost idea," Yoshio said, nodding. "That one's focused too much on the hanyou to be a ghost."

"And probably not a youkai," Hitoshi said. "Unless it's an old enemy."

"Just be ready," Shimame said.

While they spoke from their vantage place overhead, Susumu and InuYasha backed away from Seiji's house until Miroku nodded at them.

"Damn, I hate this." The hanyou gripped the hilt of his sword hard.

"It's that bad for you?" the village guard asked. "The way the house is making you react?"

"Yeah, it is. The closer I get to it, the worse it feels, like there's a hundred cats screeching in my mind." He sighed, turning back to look at his wife and friend, who were examining the front of the building. "I can think again, this far away but that's not helping. What if something happens?"

"Was that why the hairs on the back of my neck were starting to stand up, like they can during a thunderstorm when we walked past the building? What it was doing to you? Affecting your youkai side?" Susumu said.

"I guess. It's happened before. The one we fought off before Kagome left...he seriously screwed with my mind. This isn't as bad, but it's kind of like it." He sighed. "Even here I can feel it some. That's some serious nasty stuff. I hope Miroku's right, and it's just a combination of too much human magic going on."

"I won't leave until they're done," Susumu said. "Just in case.

The hanyou thought for a moment. "You stay here, and I"ll go check for Yoshimi. You can see Miroku from here, and you can see Yoshimi's door." He frowned and clenched his fist. "I don't like how I can't be closer in case something happens. But …" He took a deep breath. "If you see anything – yell."

"I'll do that," Susumu said, nodding. He turned to face the monk and miko.