Chapter 4 - Changing Times
Her smile dances there
for him as he watches her
even when he cannot look,
for he sees her in his heart.
“Now where have you two been all night?” Miroku asked, his violet eyes laughing, and a knowing smile just touching his lips.
Kagome blushed and leaned into InuYasha’s shoulder. He, in turn, looked his friend in the eyes as if to say ‘you will not screw this up for me,’ and tightened his arm around her waist. “Together,” the hanyou said.
Shippou, sniffing the air, caught their scent and at first his blue eyes grew surprised, then narrowed. He glared at InuYasha. “Baka. Didn’t waste any time, did you? You could have told somebody you weren’t going to Kaede’s. I was worried.”
InuYasha growled softly, glaring back. Kagome lifted her head, met the hanyou’s eyes with a soft look and shook her head. Sighing a little, he gave her a small, tentative smile, and nodded.
Turning back to look at the kit, Kagome said, “I’m sorry we worried you, Shippou-chan. We didn’t plan it in advance.” He jumped into her arms and she ruffed his hair. “After we get settled, you’ll have to tell me about all the Kitsune magic you’ve been learning.”
“Feh,” said InuYasha. He released his hold on Kagome, and shoved his arms in his sleeves. “Stupid to worry, Brat. Kagome was with me. Everything’s fine.”
“Kagome-sama! Rin missed you last night, but she’s glad you’re here now,” said the petite girl. She stuck a flower in Noriko’s hair, then looked up. “Rin did not worry, because she knew that InuYasha-sama would keep you safe.”
Shippou stuck his tongue out at the girl. Kagome, noticing, put him on the ground. “Be nice to Rin, Shippou-chan.”
InuYasha trying to suppress a grin at the unhappy look at the fox, turned towards his friend. “So, Bouzo, how do you know where I wasn’t last night?”
Miroku grabbed Yusuko’s hand as she tried to pull the flower out of Noriko’s hair. He looked up. “Sango gave me some things for you, Kagome-sama, but when I got to Kaede’s house, you had yet to arrive,” he said. “After that, I began to wonder at what could have delayed the two of you.” He grabbed Yusuko again. “No, Yusuko. That’s your sister’s flower.”
Rin took that moment to put a flower in Yusuko’s hair, giggling. The small girl patted it. Seeing Miroku’s knowing smile, Kagome half buried her face in InuYasha’s shoulder. Miroku, though, caught the happy look on her face along with her pinking cheeks. InuYasha wrapped his arms around her.
“Told you he hadn’t changed much,” the hanyou said softly. “He’s still a tease.”
“Me, a tease?” Miroku asked in mock outrage. “I am so misunderstood. Like Shippou-kun, I was merely concerned for your well-being.”
Noriko, tired of flowers and oblivious to the games the adults were playing, squirmed more in Miroku’s arms, trying to get down. “Doggy Uncle!” she cried.
Yusuko looked at the Kitsune standing near her father’s knee, his bushy tail making interesting movements. Seeing that both her father and Shippou were distracted with watching InuYasha, she chose this moment to reach for the Kitsune’s tail.
“Ow!” said the fox kit, jumping back onto Miroku’s shoulder and then his head.
“Don’t pull Shippou-kun’s tail,” he said to his daughter. He handed Yusuko to Rin, who happily accepted the small child. “Why don’t you take her back to the house? Tell Sango we’ll be there in a minute. Shippou, get off of my head and go with her if you want anything for breakfast.”
Rin began to wiggle her fingers at Yusuko. “Come on, Shippou-chan,” she said, getting up and walking towards the door. Shippou jumped back to the ground, and muttering something about baka girls and respecting tails, followed her with a wary look at the little girl.
Miroku’s other daughter continued to try to free herself from her father’s grasp.“Down, Daddy,” Noriko said. “Want Doggy Uncle!”
“Here,” said Kagome, seeing the look on InuYasha’s face as he rubbed his ear in reaction to the little girl’s demand. She reached out for the squirming child. “I’ll take Noriko.” Miroku handed the child over. “Let’s go see Mama and Kaede-sama, Noriko. You can tell Mama about the dragons.”
Noriko was not happy about the turn of events, but Kagome walked off with her anyway.
When InuYasha turned to follow, Miroku reached up and grabbed his sleeve. “Wait a moment, friend. We should have a talk,” he said softly. Before she reached the door, Miroku said, “Let us know if breakfast is ready,” in a voice strong enough to be heard over his daughter’s complaints.
“Feh,” InuYasha said, freeing himself from his friend’s grasp. He stuck his hands inside of his sleeves, as if irritated, but his eyes followed Kagome into the house, and when the door closed, he sighed.
“Sit down, InuYasha,” Miroku said.
The hanyou plopped down on the ground. “Keh,” he said, not meeting his companion’s eyes.
“I take it that you and Kagome-sama have come to some sort of decision about your future with each other, InuYasha.”
The hanyou’s right ear twitched as he stared off into the forest. His face softened though, and a ghost of a smile touched his lips. “Yeah,” he said. “We have.”
“I’m happy for you two,” Miroku said. “You stayed at your house last night?”
Miroku stretched his legs and leaned back on his elbows, looking away from InuYasha and into the treetops beyond the clearing. “I thought you might have. I will tell you that contrary to my reputation and what some would think of me, I resisted all anxious female and Kitsune nudges to go looking for you when you two disappeared.” He turned back, and looked at the hanyou, smiling. “ I can’t promise I’ll be able to resist all urges to tease, but even I will admit that some things should be just between a man and his bride.”
The hanyou, still not meeting his friend’s eye, and his face coloring slightly, plucked a blade of grass and idly twisted it between his fingers.
Miroku watched his friend a moment, and raised an eyebrow. “You are taking her for your bride, right?”
The hanyou nodded once, then tossed away the blade of grass. “You ask too many damn questions, Bouzu.”
“That’s what friends are for.” Miroku replied, smiling.
“Though why she wanted to give up everything to be with me . . . ” InuYasha’s voice drifted off, and he lay back on the grass and grew quiet. “Everything’s changed so quick,” he said suddenly.
“Amazing how that can happen,” Miroku said.
“Keh.” InuYasha leaned back on the ground, cupping his hands beneath his head, and stared up at the sky.
Miroku stood up and brushed off his robes. “Well, my friend, this is just a first step in how your life is going to change. I suspect the women are in there plotting things, like how to furnish that empty house of yours. I know you don’t have much more in there than a bed. We probably ought to join them so you have at least some say in what’s going on.”
“Never needed anything else,” InuYasha said as he gracefully got to his feet.
“If you’re going to be a husband, you’re going to find out you suddenly need all sorts of things you never thought you did,” Miroku said sagely. “Why do you think I charge those who can afford it so much for our services?”
“Probably don’t want me to answer that,” InuYasha replied.
Miroku snorted. The sounds of women’s voices laughing drifted from inside the house. “They sound rather pleased in there,” he noted.“I would take that as a good omen. Maybe they haven’t had a chance to get too far into planning your life yet. You’ll appreciate that.”
They headed towards the front door, but right before they entered, Miroku stopped, and laid a hand on InuYasha’s shoulder. “She’ll want a wedding, you know,” Miroku said. “Even if she never says anything about it, she’ll want it.”
InuYasha sighed. “I don’t know anything about that type of stuff.” His ear began to twitch nervously again.
“I’ll talk to Kaede-sama for you. I’m sure we can work something out. Now let’s see what we’re having for breakfast.”
Sliding the door open, Miroku led his friend into the house.
On the edge of a mountain meadow, not far from where the three provinces of Shinano, Kai and Musashi come together, a crow landed on a tree. From its perch in the branches above, it could see two men. One of the two was sleeping, the other standing.
“Time to get up.” The drowsing man found a foot dressed in straw sandals and black deerskin tabi prodding at his shoulder. “We’ve got a long way to go if you want to get to Musashi alive, Jiro. We’ve been lucky so far. The sooner we’re out of here the better.”
“Damn it, Haru,” said Jiro, grabbing the offending ankle. “Give me some peace.” Jiro was dressed like a foot soldier, his head pillowed on his armor, and he slept with his black lacquered, conical jingasa hat over his face to block out the light. Currently it bore the four diamond sign of the Takada forces.
Unnoticed by either man, the crow hopped to a lower branch, cocking a curious eye at the pair.
“Get up,” Haru said.
Jiro let go of Haru’s ankle. Pulling the hat from his face, he said, “You walk me most of the night, and barely let me get any rest at all. How do you expect me to travel today?”
Haru gave him one more shove with his foot. Older than Jiro, with a touch of gray in his hair, and gray stubble on his chin, he had a lean, hungry look to his face, accented by the weathered lines that edged his eyes. He too wore the clothing of a foot soldier, the body armor of beaten iron, the sleeves with their armor plates, and shin guards. Tiredly, he squatted down next to his companion and scratched his chin, looking at Jiro with hard eyes.
“Just be glad we weren’t already going north on the road to Echigo like most the other shits in the army when we had to leave,” he said. “Your head might be on a pike when they made camp tonight.”
The crow in the tree gave a caw, as if it were agreeing with him.
“Shinshiro never had any luck,” Jiro said, sitting up at last.
“Or maybe the Kami took his luck and gave it to us. He was always complaining that Bishamon Kami always hated him. Whatever. We were lucky that the jackass lieutenant recognized Shinshiro and not us. Must have been what, five or seven years ago since we hit his village?”
Haru stood up and scratched at the back of his neck.
Jiro spit, then rolled to his feet. “Just our luck that the captain would have found someone to replace our old lieutenant that would have recognized us. We hadn’t been doing nothing but soldier work since right after that.” He reached down, grabbed his armor and started to put it on. “Won’t matter, anyway, in a day or two. They’ll all be marching off to fight the Uesugi.”
“Yeah? You wanna bet on Takeda mercy? I won’t be able to rest until we get to Musashi.” He looked up, saw the crow. The crow looked back at him and cawed.
“Why you want to go to Musashi, anyway?” Jiro asked.
“I’ve got family down in Musashi, near Edo. It might be nice to just lay low for a while. Maybe we’ll just head down the road from there to Odawara, see if the rumor that the Houjou are building up their armies is true. No matter what, it’ll be far, far away from the Takeda.”
Haru slapped at the back of his neck. “Damn fleas. I need a bath.”
The crow flew off.
Myouga settled himself down for the trip ahead. It looked like it might be rather interesting.
Inu walked up the path towards his house, and noticed the neat pile of belongings on the porch. The shutters were open, and even the door mat had been tied back. A couple of posts had been driven into the ground and a laundry line had been strung. A futon hung across it, swaying a little bit in the breeze. He put down the box of things Kaede had insisted he bring back for Kagome, and peeked in the door.
The air in the room smelled lightly of vinegar, pungent and clean. There was nothing in the little house, except a small woman in a beige kosode, sitting in a pool of light from one of the windows. A blue wrap skirt was tied around her waist, and she was on her hands and knees with a bucket and rag wiping down the wooden floor. Her sleeves were tied back, and her hair was tied up in a blue head scarf, and she was singing softly to herself as she worked.
“Why does the crow caw
flying over the mountain,
hear her calling.
“In her nest she has
seven cute chicks just waiting,
she’s calling for them.
“‘I love you, cute chicks,’
she sings as she goes flying,
This is what she’s telling them.
“Go and see her nest
if you will not believe me,
see the bright-eyed chicks.”
He watched her silently for several minutes as she moved in rhythm to the song, wiping the floor, and wringing the rag out from time to time, as he thought about what Miroku said about his life changing. His ear twitched as he watched her work, trying to take in his new reality. ‘It’s changing so quick,’ he thought, not for the first time.
“Kagome?” he said at last.
She turned her head towards him and smiled brightly, sitting back up. “InuYasha! I didn’t hear you come in.”
He sat down on the edge of the raised floor. “What ya doing?”he asked, sounding both surprised and bemused.
Kagome dropped the rag back in the bucket and walked over to sit next to him. “Oh, after you went down to the village with Miroku and Kaede after breakfast, Sango and I came back here. I noticed things were a bit dusty, and after she went to put the twins down for a nap, I thought I’d clean up some for good luck. You don’t mind, do you?”
He shook his head. “Not if it makes you happy. I was just surprised.” InuYasha reached out, tucked a piece of hair that had escaped from her scarf back behind her ear. “You look . . . different,” he managed to say.
“Sango gave me the dress,” Kagome said, chewing her lip, and dropping her eyes. “Is it all right?”
He smiled, leaning over until his forehead touched hers. “Yeah. You look nice . . . like you belong here.”
“Good,” she replied. “That’s the way I want it always to be.”