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

Chapter 42

While Kagome was drinking tea with Sayo, Kinjiro walked up the trail to her little house on the edge of the village. He balanced a hoe over one shoulder, a trowel was stuck in his waistband, and he had something tied in a carry cloth which he carried in the other hand.

As he walked up the trail, he could hear the sound of an axe striking wood. The sound evidently pleased him because he smiled to hear it. He made his way into a clearing where he spied the small house, and the sound of the chopping got louder. Walking around to the side of the house, he spotted a flash of red and silver, and a loud resounding chop.

"Kuso!" he heard a voice say, "I didn't need that."

There was a rattling of branches as he walked up, as the silver-haired man dragged a branch to throw on the brush pile."Ah, InuYasha, those trees still giving you a rough time?" Kinjiro said.

The hanyou, standing there without his jacket, but with a rip in the left sleeve of his kosode, finished tossing the branch into the pile with the other ones, and turned to look at his visitor. "Not so much me as my shirt," InuYasha said, picking up his axe. "What brings you up here, Kinjiro?"

"I have some more work to do on Kagome-sama's garden," he said, holding up his hoe. "Can't plant everything at the same time. If you do, everything gets ready to harvest at the same time. So it's time to plant some more."

"I'll take your word for it," InuYasha said. "That's something I don't know anything about."

"We all have things we're better at," Kinjiro said, walking up to the tree InuYasha was working on. The farmer looked behind him at the tree already limbed. "Like you with wood chopping. You're making good progress."

"Keh," the hanyou said, staring at the bole of the tree in front of him. "Promised Kagome a storage shed. Seems like there's going to be a lot of work involved. I thought I'd better get busy on it."

Kinjiro looked thoughtfully for a moment. "You're going to need to cut those trees into smaller logs once you get them limbed before you can get to the next step. Chichi-ue's got a saw, which we'll need to cut them to size, but I'm not very good at making boards."

"You're not, eh?" InuYasha said, walking along the length of the tree while he decided where to make the next cut. There was just a touch of sarcasm to his voice, which for some reason, Kinjiro didn't pick up on.

Instead, the farmer shook his head. "No. A man can't be good at everything. I'm better with oxen and growing things." He walked over to the water bucket, and put his hoe down, leaning it up against the side of the house. "If your tree was a field of rice or barley, maybe I'd be able show you how to do it. You mind?" he asked, looking up at the hanyou. "Thirsty walk here."

"Go ahead," InuYasha replied. Having selected his target, he lifted his axe and let it fly. There was a crunch as the branch separated from the trunk and rested against the ground.

Kinjiro lifted up the water ladle, and took a drink. Wiping his mouth, he let the ladle drop back into the bucket. "Shinjiro, Daitaro-sama's oldest, he's good at making boards, if he can get away from the fields. My brother, not so good. Best in the village is Choujiro, but he's not part of our ko. He might do it if we paid him."

InuYasha wrestled the branch loose and started to drag it away. "I thought he worked for Joben."

"He's not one of their retainers. He'll work for anybody who can hire him," Kinjiro said. "Joben hires him a lot, but he's a free person. Doesn't belong to any of the three families." He drank again.

"I thought everybody here belonged to one family or another," InuYasha said, tossing the branch with the others, "except for Miroku."

"There are a few. Choujiro's father brought their family here after the Houjou took over this area. Don't know the story, but my grandfather let them stay. His family's been here ever since."

InuYasha walked over to the water bucket. "Huh," he said, as Kinjiro handed him the water ladle. "Think he'd be willing to work for me?"

Kinjiro scratched the back of his head. "A good question. I know he doesn't think badly of you. He leases his farmland from Chichi-ue, so he might owe us the favor, but Joben's his main employer, and we know how Joben thinks. I'll have to talk to him. Maybe." He gave a friendly tap to the hanyou's arm. "If not, I know we can get somebody. Your wife home? I'd like to show her what I'm doing."

"No," InuYasha said, dipping the ladle into the water bucket. "She's been working with Kaede-babaa in the mornings." He drank.

"Ah," the farmer said. "So they've started that. I guess I'll have to find her later, then. Sooner I get started, the sooner, I'll get done. I've got to do some work in my own vegetable patch today. If you don't mind, I'll get started." He picked up his hoe.

"Have at. You're the expert," InuYasha said.

Chuckling, Kinjiro walked around the back to the garden.

InuYasha took down another branch, put it away, and looked at the tree he was working on. He could hear Kinjiro working on the vegetable garden. He looked at the ax and shook his head. "I'm tired of fighting this baka tree." He went over to where he had laid his jacket and his sword. "Maybe I'll go hunt."

Putting his jacket on, and tucking his sword in his belt, he walked to the back to let Kinjiro know he was going, and headed into the woods.

"We all have things we're best at," InuYasha said, repeating what Kinjiro's words as he moved silently through the trees. "This must be one of mine." He stopped near an area he knew was a favorite place for rabbits, and scented the air and ground. "And no people to complicate things, either."

About midday, InuYasha had finished his hunt and walked at a leisurely pace up the path to Kaede's house. A group of children hurried by him, returning from the river, carrying poles and baskets.

"Been fishing, Akemi?" he asked. He'd seen this group before, when he had done his own fishing. They had been amazed how he fished without line or net. "Any luck?"

"Oh yes," Akemi, a boy about 13, said. "Jiro got a big one!"

One of the boys, small but bright-eyed, held up his catch, which still flapped a bit as he held it. He grinned widely, showing two missing front teeth.

"Good for you," the hanyou said.

"Excuse us, InuYasha-sama, but we have to hurry." Akemi bowed a little. "My mother said she'd cook what we caught and we're hungry."

The boys hurried off.

"They aren't the only ones hungry," InuYasha said.

When he reached Kaede's house, he found Rin hanging laundry up along the side of the house. She smiled when she saw him. "Hello, InuYasha-ojisan." She hung the last bit of linen up on its rod and began to walk inside with her clothes basket. "If you're looking for Kaede-sama and Kagome-obachan, they're not back yet. They went to check up on Sayo-sama. She's going to be having a baby soon."

"Yeah, she told me about that," he said. "I'll just wait out here." He headed for the fence.

Perching on one of the fence posts, he looked at the village in front of him. A few men were heading back from the fields, coming in for their lunch. Somewhere, a woman was calling her children to come home. One boy was leading an ox out to the far side of the village. Everything was calm, the way it was supposed to be in spring before the barley harvest and the hard work of getting the fields ready for rice planting. And the smells of food cooking were everywhere. He sighed.

Rin came back out, carrying a basket and a mat. She unrolled the mat, sat down, and pulled a piece of cloth out of the basket. "Rin is still trying to finish the sewing that Sango-obachan gave her to do," she said to the hanyou. "It's too nice out here to work on it indoors."

"Keh," he answered, watching her pick up the cloth and begin stitching.

She began humming, a wordless song that seemed to match the rhythm of her sewing until after one particularly high note, she let out a loud "Ouch!"

Putting her finger in her mouth, she picked up the thread from where she dropped it and found the needle. "Needle, stop sticking Rin!"

InuYasha chuckled a little, watching her pick up her work again, and resume sewing, this time without singing. But soon he heard a different music, the sound of the rings in a monk's staff heading his way. Turning to his left, he saw the black and purple form of Miroku walking up towards him.

"So," the monk said, "This is where you are. I was looking for you. I stopped by your house, but you weren't chopping wood this time."

InuYasha shrugged. "You didn't get there early enough. I got tired of it and went hunting instead. Man's got to eat."

"True, true," Miroku said, leaning on the rail next to the hanyou. "Kagome with Kaede?"

"Yeah," the hanyou said. "They went to Toshiro's house, to check on his daughter-in-law. Waiting for them to get back."

"Ah, no doubt that will be an interesting experience," Miroku said.

InuYasha flicked his ear as a bird landed on Kaede's roof and began singing. "Why?"

"You haven't been there, have you? I end up going there at least once a week." He leaned his staff against the fence post, and watched Rin as she lifted up her sewing to check how her stitching was progressing. "Rin seems to like doing her needlework, it seems."

"Seems to," the hanyou replied. "Toshiro's place can't be that bad if you keep going back for more."

"All I'll say is that they're a bit . . . well, noisy." Miroku scratched at the back of his head. "Generous but loud. Toshiro's got some rather energetic grandchildren."

"Your girls aren't?" InuYasha said, hopping off the top of the post he was sitting on to land lightly on the ground. He leaned against the railing, looking away from the house and at the fields in the distance. The growing grain waved in the breeze, making interesting patterns.

Miroku smiled. "Daiki makes them both look like quiet nuns. Not that he's bad. He's just got a lot of . . . spirit. And a knack for doing the things in the noisiest fashion. The girls aren't as bad, but still, it's a lively place to be. People are always running in and out."

"Kagome'll probably like it," InuYasha said. "She likes people."

"Oh, I have no doubt she and Sayo will hit it right off," Miroku said. He gave his friend a careful look. "You though, look like you ate sour plums."

"Just thinking," InuYasha said. "Kinjiro came up to work on the garden while I was there, and was telling me what I needed to do next, and who to help with the wood, and Daitaro came by yesterday and gave us some mushrooms. People doing stuff like that for me . . . feels strange."

"You lived alone and on the edge of things too long, friend," Miroku said. "It means they accept you."

"Maybe," the hanyou said, his voice uncertain. "Just not used to it. Things were simpler the way they used to be."

"But you were lonelier."

InuYasha took a deep breath, and didn't say anything, but his ear twitched. They fell silent a few minutes. Across the street, Rin began to sing to herself again.

"If you ask the blossoms,
Sakura petals falling
in the breeze of spring
to tell you of the winter,
winter with its snow,
they'll say that they are petals,
blossoms in the wind.
Ask the trees about the snow."

Miroku got a very unmonk-like grin on his face, and broke the silence. "So how did your...training go last night?"

InuYasha got a dreamy look on his face, then, as he realized what his friend was saying, his ears and cheeks started to redden. "Fine."

"Ah," Miroku said. "I thought so."

"Thought what, Bouzu?" He swung to give his friend a hard look.

"Nothing, nothing. Just that the training would go well," Miroku said, shaking his head and holding up his hands. "I was just wondering. It sounded like an interesting...approach."

"Feh," InuYasha said, then turned around to look in the direction of Toshiro's house.

Miroku tapped his fingers on the fence rail. "There's still that exorcism to do in Kagemura."

"I don't know," the hanyou said. "Not sure if I'm ready to leave her here alone. I keep feeling like something's going to go really wrong. What if I'm not here if it does?"

"Kagemura's only a couple of hours away. Kaede and Sango would be happy to keep an eye on Kagome for you. The messenger's still here, waiting to hear our answer."

InuYasha turned away, shaking his head. "I have to think about it."

The monk nodded, as if not surprised, then looked back towards the road. Something caught his eye and he frowned. "I wonder who those two are? I don't remember seeing them before." He grabbed his staff from where it was resting on the fence.

InuYasha turned around to look. "What?"

There were two people heading towards them, a teenaged boy carrying an even younger girl on his back. The boy had tied a carry-cloth around the girl, like a mother does with babies, so she wouldn't fall off. Her hands dangled limply at her sides, and her head rested on his shoulder.

"Huh," InuYasha said. "Wonder what's wrong with the kid? She just asleep?"

"We better find out," Miroku said, and the two of them began walking to meet the strangers.