EDIT: I actually reposted the proofread version for a change. Wow. What's gotten in to me?
After the End
Chapter Six: Coming Home
I saw his eyes flash
in the summer afternoon,
and knew I was caught.
Kagome was outside at the back of the hut, kneeling by a wooden tub filled with water doing laundry. Nearby, in the bright sunshine, she had the drying rods stretched out over their t-shaped support beams waiting for their load of wet linen.
"Is that enough water?" Shippou asked, bringing one more bucket in to fill a second tub.
"Yes, I think that will do." she said, wiping her forehead with the slightly drier back of her hand. "Thank you for helping. And stay out of the hut; Kaede is taking a nap."
She scrubbed the white cloth in her laundry tub, fussing over a stain when she found it, and found herself singing softly to its rhythm.
"For love I journey,
For love I will show no fear,
As the road winds on,
I will not shed a single tear.
Even in this dark
Guided only by the moon,
Love directs my steps
That will bring me to you soon.
And so I will climb
Up this mountain path tonight,
Heading to the dawn
Until you're once again in sight.
Beloved, do not forget
my love before the sunset."
Content with the cleanness of the cloth she had scrubbed, she stood up to wring the heavy length of linen out. Sighing at its weight, Kagome turned to put it in the rinse tub, and almost ran head-first into a bright red suikan. She looked up into a slightly amused face and amber eyes.
"InuYasha!" she said, surprise adding an edge to her voice. "I didn't hear you walk up. How long have you been here?" She put the wet cloth into the rinse tub and went back to her wash tub, kneeling down to start on the next piece.
"Long enough to hear you sing," he said, sitting down with his back to the hut. "You sing good. You should do it more." He rested his sword against his shoulder. "Where's Kaede?" he asked.
"She's taking a nap. I thought I'd wash the linen she used last night for the birthing while she sleeps. It's gotten hard for her to do this work." She finished rinsing the linen sheet, and began the hard work of wringing it out, twisting the fabric to get as much water out of it as possible.
InuYasha stared into nothing, like he was remembering something. "She was a cute kid. Almost as cute as my brother's runt."
"Who?" Kagome asked. She took the sheet over to the drying rods and carefully hung it over one to start drying, then rolled her shoulders to release some of the tension. A small wisp of hair escaped out of her headscarf, and she tucked it back in before going back to the wash tub.''
"Kaede," InuYasha said. "She used to trail after her sister like a puppy. She would sort of hide behind her when I came around."
Kagome kneaded the cloth in the tub, picking it up to scrub at spots. "I bet she had a crush on you."
"No way!" said InuYasha.
"I bet. Exotic, mysterious, dashing..." she said.
"Probably thought I was gonna eat her," InuYasha said, shoving his arms into his sleeves.
She began wringing out the last sheet. "All that wonderful silver hair..."
"Hmnf," he said, looking down at his fingers. "Claws and fangs, too."
Kagome dunked the sheet in the rinse water. "Bet she wanted to pet your ears, too."
InuYasha flicked his ears in her direction. "Oh, you think so, eh?" He flicked them again.
Swishing the sheet in the rinse water, she lifted it up and began squeezing it. "Yes, I do."
He watched her wrestle with the sheet, then go to hang it up. As she moved to the drying rods, he walked up behind her and helped her spread the cloth on the rod. "And what makes you so sure, Kagome?" he said, moving closer to her and flicking his ear one more time.
"Because I always want to!" she said, reaching up to touch his ear. For a moment, he leaned into her touch, then reached up and covered her hand with his. Standing very close together, InuYasha pulled her hand off his ear but didn't release it. Slowly, he brought it towards his lips, kissed her fingertips, red and roughened from the laundry.
Her heart raced as he dropped her hand and gently cupped her cheek. "Kagome," he breathed as she found herself locked into the warm intensity of his amber eyes.
"Kagome!" called a much louder voice. "Kagome! They're back!"
InuYasha dropped his hand and stepped back as she dropped her eyes, looking at the ground and blushing prettily. Taking a deep breath, he turned to see an excited Shippou running around the corner of the house, his hair ribbon and tail bobbing as he hurried to them.
"Oi, runt, who's back?" he managed to say without barking at the kitsune."
"Miroku and Sango! And they brought Kohaku with them this time!" he said.
"That's great, Shippou," Kagome said, giving a quick, smiling glance at InuYasha. "Now, maybe you and InuYasha can empty these tubs on the garden, and I'll go around the front to meet them."
"Do I have to?" Shippou asked, frowning.
"Yeah, runt. Give me a hand, and we can get this done sooner," InuYasha said. "I'll carry the tubs and you can scoop the water out with the bucket."
With a definite pout, he followed the hanyou down to the garden.
Kagome moved to the front of the hut where a long wooden bench was set up. Grabbing the sewing basket she had left there earlier, she settled down and threaded a needle and began to hem the kosode she was working on while watching the antics of InuYasha and Shippou as they worked on watering Kaede's herb and vegetable garden. InuYasha, handling the larger bucket, stepped carefully, trying hard not to damage the plants as he moved. Shippou, with a bamboo dipper, skittered around, not paying much attention to where he was stepping, obviously trying not to do any more work than necessary.
She could see InuYasha begin to lose patience, and the occasional call of baka! and kuso! began to grow more frequent. Shippou eventually bumped into the hanyou, spilling his dipper of water on InuYasha's foot. The two froze, then suddenly InuYasha's fist came down on the kitsune boy's head. Shippou began to wail, and made a beeline back to where Kagome was sitting.
Kagome worked hard to stifle a laugh, putting her sewing aside as Shippou ran up to the bench and jumped in her lap.
"Kagome! InuYasha is being mean to me!" he sobbed.
"Oh, I don't think so," she said, kissing the top of his head. "I was watching, you know. You were being kind of mean to InuYasha."
"But I'm just a little kid!" he said.
"Not that little any more," she said. "Now I thought you said that Sango and Miroku were back?"
"Yeah, they were right behind me, I thought." he said. "Somebody must have stopped them to talk."
"Why don't you go see what's happening?" she suggested.
He gave a quick look towards InuYasha who was finishing up the watering, with stern looks at the two of them, then beamed at her, his green eyes glittering. "Good idea, Kagome! I'll go find them."
He ran off before InuYasha came back to the hut, carrying the empty tubs. He sat down next to Kagome, who had picked up her sewing again.
"The runt gone?" he asked.
"Yeah. I sent him off to find out what's keeping Sango and Miroku. Someone must have stopped them before they got here," she said.
"Maybe someone's looking for a youkai exterminator. It's been too quiet lately. Be nice to go after something worth fighting," he said, with a wistful look in his amber eyes.
"You miss it?" she asked, looking down at her sewing.
"All that fighting and traveling and not knowing what was around the next bend?"
"Maybe it was just having something to do. I don't know what to do any more, some days," he said, shifting a bit uncomfortably, then putting his hands in his sleeves. They sat there quietly for several minutes, each lost in thought, Kagome patiently hemming away. Approaching footsteps caused InuYasha to break out of his thoughts and look up.
Sango wearing her favorite pink and green yukata and over skirt walked up, Kirara perched on her shoulder. "Oh my, how domestic we look today," she said. "Where is Kagome, and what have you done with her? All I see is another village girl!"
"Sango!" Kagome yelled. Throwing her sewing in the basket, Kagome jumped up and hugged her friend.
Neither of them had seen how wide InuYasha's eyes had gotten at Sango's little joke. Kaede's words ran in his mind, "But time will pass, and as they see her doing her laundry, working in the garden, living an everyday life, she will become more and more an ordinary woman in people's eyes."
"Where's Mikoku?" he asked, looking down the road and not meeting their eyes.
"Oh, the village headman was talking to him," Sango said. "In fact, they asked me to send you down there. I think he wants to talk to you about something."
"What about?" he asked, frowning.
"I don't know," said Sango. She swung her Hirakotsu off her shoulder and leaned it up against the wall of the house. "I was kind of busy talking to Eriko about her sister getting married."
"She is?" said Kagome. "Nobody told me yet!"
InuYasha wandered down the road as talk about weddings and bridal kimonos and go-betweens began to fill the air. He had learned a long time ago that when it was the time for the "girl thing," there was nothing a man could do but let it happen. It was safer to face a village headman who was getting ready to send you packing. Sighing, he steeled himself for the worst, and went on to find out why they had asked for him.
Ideura Yoshiyuki slowly moved from unconsciousness into a grayness and slowly into awareness. The first thing that registered was pain, sharp and strong, and he began to moan. His head hurt intensely. He realized he was laying down and tried to sit up, but found that his left arm was immobilized.
Large hands grabbed his shoulders and pushed him back down. Opening his eyes slowly, blinking against the light, he was finally able to focus on the face of an older man, a monk, looking at him kindly and with concern.
"There, there," the monk said. "It's too soon for doing that. You had a nasty fall from your horse, young samurai. You need to lay down."
"My head...my head hurts," he spoke softly through a dry mouth. He realized at last that he was in a room, on a futon with a warm quilt pulled over him. Looking down, he saw the splint on his left arm.
"I bet it does," said the monk. "I made you a potion. It'll help."
The monk, old and heavy, with a bright red nose, slipped an arm behind the young man and helped him drink down the tea he had made him.
Yoshiyuki made a face when he tasted the brew. It was very bitter.
"Tastes bad, doesn't it?" said the older man, chuckling a little. "I've never known anybody who ever drank it to not make a face like that. But it'll take the pain down. Help you sleep, too."
He managed to drink down all the tea. "My thanks, monk," he said, as the older man gently eased his head back to the futon.
"Call me Mushin, young samurai," he said, smiling.
"Ah, thank you, Mushin-sama. I am Ideura Yoshiyuki."
"Well, Yoshiyuki-sama, I believe the gracious Buddha was smiling when I came by and spotted you. You have a broken arm, and you hurt your leg, and it's swollen, but not broken, and your head, as you know, is not happy either. You have a lot of bruises. I think you'll be my guest for awhile."
"You are very kind," said the young man.
"It's the Buddha's way to show compassion," he said. "Well, I will go and make some broth for you. Try to sleep." Mushin shuffled out of the room.
Yoshiyuki closed his eyes, listening to the wind blow against bamboo wind chimes, a calming sound. Slowly, the medicine took effect, and he found himself growing groggy and the pain grew less. For some reason, he felt at peace, even with all the pain and injury. But the last thing he remembered before he fell back asleep was the cackling of the old woman right before his horse reared up.
Kagome was at the back of the house, checking on the sheets. Finding them dry enough, she was folding them when InuYasha walked up.
"What did the headman want?" she said, tucking a length of a sheet under her chin as she folded it.
"Come walk with me, Kagome," InuYasha said. His eyes twinkled with a nervous but happy look. She looked at him, not hesitating, but curious.
"Sure," she said, laying the second sheet in a basket, moving it to the front of the house.
They walked quietly for a bit, Kagome extremely curious and InuYasha saying nothing, heading to the edge of the village, near to where the forest began. From where he stopped, looking towards the village, you could see the rise of the shrine, the gleam of water in the rice paddies, but it was away from the road that lead out of the village and into Edo. Behind them was the hill that would one day house the shrine where Kagome grew up. They were a short walk away from both the well and the Goshinboku. They stood near a lesser tree where someone had tied a strip of yellow cloth to one of its lower branches.
"The village headman had a long talk with Miroku and me," he said at last, breaking the silence. He looked down at the ground, watching his toe roll a pebble back and forth.
"Why?" she asked.
"He was wondering if we - all of us, Miroku and Sango and you and me, were planning on staying in the village. He thought...." he said, swallowing, still not looking up.
"Yes?" she asked.
"He thought it might be good to have us here to guard the village," he said, finally meeting her eyes, his warm and happy.
"That's great news, InuYasha," Kagome replied, flashing a smile at him. He took her hand, and smiled back, drawing her closer.
"He told us we could have the land here to build on, near the forest and near the village," he said, bringing her with him as he turned around in a slow circle. Facing the village, InuYasha pointed. "Look - it's just a little walk to Kaede's house from here. We could still keep an eye out on her and help her." Moving towards the forest, he said, "You can see the Goshinboku from here, too." He pointed towards the hill. "There's a spring over there. It feeds a stream that runs down to the river, so we won't have to go as far for water, either. And it's cleaner, I think."
His eyes got a faraway look. "I've never been asked to stay in a village before."
"How does it make you feel?" she asked.
"Good, and nervous, both," he said, looking down at her. "I keep wondering how long it's going to last - when will they wake up and realize who they've asked to stay with them."
Kagome rested her hand over his heart. "Some of them, at least, have seen what is here: a good man's heart."
Suddenly he swallowed, as if his mouth had gone dry, and his ears began laying low the way he would get when he was insecure. He put his hands over hers. "Would...would you let me build this house for you, Kagome?" he said in a soft, shy voice. She looked up into his face, and saw the nervousness, the longing.
"I never had anything I could give you before." His arms slid around her, pulling her tight against him. "I own my clothes and my sword, and have lived by my wits and my strength, sometimes tolerated, but never really welcome anywhere. This is the first place that has asked me to call it home. I can't promise that life will be easy, but now at least I have something to offer you. Stay with me, 'Gome. Now. Always. Let me take care of you, give you a home."
His eyes, amber pools of want and hope, gazed deeply into hers, their faces close enough that she could feel the warmth of his breath.
"Yes," she said. "Yes. Always." She rested her cheek against his chest, heard the racing of his heart.
He cupped her face in his hand, tilted it up to look at him. His lips ghosted across hers, once, twice, and on the third time turned into a hungry, needy kiss. Kagome could feel all the barriers they had built to keep her pure and safe as a miko dissolve under the assault of his mouth, his hands.
At last it ended as they broke for air. InuYasha looked down at Kagome, flushed and beautiful, still in her village woman's headscarf and with her sleeves pulled back, and she looked like a princess to him. He kissed her on the nose, and said, "We need to go get Miroku before he gets away to become an ex-priest."
"Why?" she asked.
"You think I'm going to let a Shinto priest purify my butt?" he said smiling, dragging her behind his as he held on to her hand. "We're going to have a Buddhist wedding!"