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

Chapter 85

"Okaasan?" Chiya said. Her brows knit in confusion, looking at her mother's hand on her arm.

"You heard me, Chiya-chan. Let the woman have your place." Haname let her arm drop back. "Go see your monk. I'm sure his prayers will do more good than you fussing over me."

Chiya got up reluctantly and shot Kagome a cold, resentful look. "If you . . . "

"Chiya, enough," Haname said. "Go."

The woman gave her mother one last troubled look, took a deep breath, and nodding, dropped her eyes to the floor and walked across the room and out of the house.

As the door mat rattled shut, Haname sighed. "Now I can breathe again."

"Don't be too hard on her," Kaede said, her lips pursed. The miko put on a pot of water to heat. "You had her rather worried."

"Bah. She's been hovering over me like I was a sick calf," Haname said. Her face was drawn and tired, but the set of her mouth showed her irritation. "She needs to be taking care of her own family instead. I'm sure that husband of hers has his hands full."

"They'll be all right, Okaasan," Akina said, patting her mother-in-law's arm. "My little sister went over there yesterday evening to help."

"Hana-chan is a sweet girl," Haname said, giving her daughter-in-law a small nod, and patting her hand, "But Chiya needs to be taking care of her family. She forgets whose family she belongs with now. She should be taking care of her mother-in-law instead of me." She looked back up at Kagome who was still standing there, not sure of what to make of the scene she just saw.

"Come, woman. Sit down and give me that nasty brew Kaede is going to demand that I drink. My neck is beginning to hurt looking up at you."

Nodding, Kagome sat down next to Haname and handed her the medicine cup. Haname held it in both hands and turned it around. "It even smells bad."

"The medicine for what ails you does," Kaede said calmly. "One of the roots I used is particularly pungent, but it works amazingly well."

"I'll take your word for it," Haname said. Looking at it with great distaste for a moment, she tossed it back, draining the cup at one go, shaking her head and grimacing with her eyes closed at the taste. Without looking she held out the cup for Kagome to take.

Kagome took it from her hand, and not sure what to do, just held onto it.

"Drink this, Okaasan," Akina said, holding up a cup filled with something that smelled sweet. "It'll help wash the taste out."

She took the cup from her daughter-in-law and sipped on the liquid, swishing it around her mouth.

"Not too much, Haname," Kaede said. "It's got saké in it and it's not good to mix what I just gave you and very much saké."

The sick woman nodded, took one last sip, and handed the cup back to her daughter-in-law before turning back to Kagome.

Haname gave her a long, penetrating look. "Tell me, Kagome-sama, why are you here?"

Kagome tilted her head to one side, surprised at the question. "Because Kaede-sama is training me to be a healer."

"No, I know that," the older woman said. "Why, after three years, now that things have gotten quiet again, and the scars from what that awful youkai did to the village have finally faded, did you just show up one day?"

"It wasn't to cause problems," Kagome said, a bit defensively. "I would have been back sooner but I was . . . kept away until I finished an obligation I needed to do." She met the older woman's gaze and held it steadily. "The village wasn't the only thing that needed to recover. I needed some time to get over that battle myself. It wasn't an easy thing, what we did."

Haname nodded. "Ah, obligation. I understand obligation. And yes, there was a lot to repair. And many lesser youkai surfaced in the wake of that monster's defeat. Houshi-sama and that . . . your husband were quite busy." She turned to Akina. "Could you get me some water?"

"Of course, Okaasan," the young woman said, walking over to the water bucket and filling up a cup. As she walked back to the two women, Miroku from where he stood outside, began chanting in a low, sonorous voice.

"Houshi-sama has such a good voice," Akina said as she handed the cup to Haname. "Chiya-chan must have gotten him to agree to chant the sutras."

"He does have a way with chanting," Kagome said, agreeing.

Akina looked up at Kagome. "After you left, it really was a busy time. When the monster turned the sky dark and started throwing those black things at the village, one hit our best field. We had to repair the dyke before we put in the rice, and the barley was really hurt. But other people had their houses ruined. We were lucky; none of us got hurt."

"That was a dark day indeed," Haname sighed. "Watching it happen . . . I had nightmares a long time."

"You weren't the only one," Kagome said, nodding. Her eyes grew distant for a moment, remembering. "It was a very hard battle. All of us who fought the battle nearly died at one point or another." She gave Haname a small, sad smile. "I was trapped in darkness for three days until I finally overcame the magic. If it hadn't been for InuYasha . . . "

"I have heard the stories that Miroku and Sango-chan have told," Kaede said, looking up from the tea she was preparing. "And even Rin-chan has dreams about it from time to time."

"I didn't know that," Kagome said.

Everyone fell silent for a moment, lost in their memories.

Then Haname turned back to Kagome. "That explains why it took you time." She took another sip of the water. "But that does not explain why, after you were kept away, you chose to come back, especially with all you went through. It was your choice, was it not?"

Kagome nodded. "Yes, after the battle with Naraku, I was sent away. I don't know if I would have chosen to go then, but I didn't have a choice. But I did choose to come back, and returned with my family's blessing."

Haname handed the cup of water back to Akina. "And do they know why you came back? Did they know who you were coming back to be with?"

"They did." Kagome replied. "They've known all along where my heart was."

Haname looked thoughtfully at the younger woman. "It . . . it's just hard for me to wrap my head around," she said, studying Kagome's face and seeing no nervousness or deceit there. "That a family would bless such a union . . . "

"They knew who he was, and what he is." Kagome finally realized she was still holding the medicine cup, looked down on it for a moment, and put it down. "Once the way was open for me to return, no one stopped me." She straightened her shoulders and sat there, holding her head up with dignity and looked directly at Haname. "I have no regrets. We were meant to be together."

"Regrets . . . " the older woman whispered. She moved her head slowly, from side to side as if a great weight were attached. "You're too young to know how time can make you regret." Looking down at her lap, she wrapped her arms around her as if she were cold.

"Okaasan," Akina said. "Do you need a blanket?"

Haname shook her head no. "When I was a young woman, just old enough to be wed, a youkai appeared out of nowhere and attacked my family and set fire to the house. He was tall and white-haired with red, red eyes. We lived on the western edge of the village, nearly the last house. I am not sure why this monster attacked us, but the day before my father had come home from a journey, and I remember he seemed very nervous."

Kaede joined the women, carrying tea and cups on a tray.

"I watched that . . . that monster kill my family," Haname continued as Kaede poured tea. "We were all in the house at dinner time. My father went to the door when the monster came by. My father spoke softly then yelled. I still remember that monster's laughing at him. Otousan was the first killed. My nephew crawled out of one of the windows, too small for anybody else, and got away to get help, but all of the others in our house died, slashed by his claws. But not me. He found me in the corner I was hiding in and grabbed me by the wrist, saying something about stupid humans don't keep the bargains they make. I tripped over the body of my mother and got her blood all over me." Her eyes glazed over, as if she were seeing it all once again. "But he just pulled me to my feet. I remember his eyes and his laughter as he kicked the fire out of the fire pit onto the floor matting and it caught flame. One piece landed on the body of my brother. He lay on the floor unseeing, and the fire caught on his kosode."

Haname gave one soft sob, and for a moment covered her hands with her face. When she dropped them, Kaede handed her a cup of tea. Haname's hands were shaking a little as she took it. "He pulled me outside. He would have dragged me off but Kaede here, not much older than I was, showed up with the village guard and shot him with her bow."

"That was a sad, sad day," Kaede said, handing Kagome a cup of her own. "Your mother had been very kind to me after my sister's death."

"I'm sorry," Kagome said, resting the cup in the palm of her hand. "I had no idea."

"I know," Haname said. Holding her teacup in both hands to keep it from shaking, she took a sip. "There is much that I regret. Not being able to tell my mother how sorry I was for running off that day when she needed help . . . how I behaved to others in my grief." She sighed. "Regrets can find us when we least expect them, sometimes."

Akina took her mother-in-law's hand. "Okaa . . . "

"You are such a good woman, Akina-chan. I wish Joben were more a husband for you," Haname said, squeezing her hand back. She turned back to Kagome.

"After that happened, the marriage my parents were negotiating with Tameo's family fell through. I was tainted. Even though the youkai did no more to my person than touch my wrist, I was bad luck and no longer suitable for their son. Tsuneo's father, though, had pity on me, and married me to his second son." She took another sip of her tea. "It's been a decent marriage, I suppose. But they were not wrong. Luck has not been with me or mine."

"Haname," Kaede said. "You can't say that. You have two children, and grandchildren and people who care for you."

The sick woman's eyes flashed, a small reminder of the anger that small body could hold. "Don't tell me that, Kaede-sama. I know what I know." She looked back at Kagome. "This is why I need to know. Why did you come back?"

Haname's eyes bored into Kagome, but this time, she had no unease. She put her teacup down.

"Because being separated from InuYasha was the one thing I most regretted in the whole world," Kagome said. "And when the kami gave me the chance to return, there was no way I wouldn't take it. Even if my family had disapproved."

Haname didn't speak for a moment, but just looked at the young miko. As if finding something she needed to know, she nodded. "You have a strong will, girl. I think you will need it." Her eyes began to droop, and she looked quite tired. Unexpectedly, she yawned.

"I think," Kaede said, "that you will need to lie down soon. The medicine is starting to work."

"Let me help you lie down, Okaasan," Akina said. She reached out and rested her hand on the older woman's arm.

"In a minute," Haname said "Yesterday, they tell me I did and said many things. I don't remember very much. It was like I was in a red dream, and you were the reason I hurt. I remember hearing about my grandson and coming to talk to Kaede, and after that, it all grows blurry, like I drank too much saké. I woke up this morning here, aching all over." She shook her head. "More regrets. They tell me it was magic. But I know it was more of my own bad luck."

"Yesterday - " Kagome started.

"I apologize for whatever wrong I did you, young Miko-sama. Go to your husband, and leave an old woman to her regrets. Perhaps one day, I will understand why you two are meant to be together. Go in peace." She turned to Akina. "Help me lie down, daughter. I need to sleep."

She lay down, turning her back to Kaede and Kagome. In a few moments, she was sound asleep thanks to Kaede's medicine. The two miko used that as their cue to stand up and head outside