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

Chapter 203

A little later, after their morning exercise, a rather contented Kagome sat by the fire pit, fixing breakfast. Lifting the lid on their breakfast soup, she gave the pot a stir, humming, and then singing, a childhood song:

"Why does the crow caw
flying over the mountain,
kawaii, kawaii
hear her calling."

Her voice was sweet and happy-sounding. InuYasha, in about as mellow of a mood as his wife, was outside, walking towards his wood pile. His ears pricked up as he heard the song, and then he smiled as he stopped to listen. "Haven't heard her sing that song since our first day together, when she decided to clean up this place." He picked up his axe. "She's definitely in a really good mood. After yesterday evening, I wasn't sure if she was going to burst into tears or try to run home to her mother's. Funny how some rest can change everything. Even I feel better."

He stood there and listened as she sang another verse.

"Cute little babies,
waiting in your nest,
kawaii, kawaii,
hear how Okaasan cares."

"Better get to work," he said, putting the axe over his shoulder. His ears cupped in the direction of the house, though as he listened to her happy tune.

"Mornings should start like this more often," he said as he walked to a stack of branches. These were leftovers from the trees he had trimmed that Choujiro was turning into boards, and a lot of the wood was perfect in size for making cooking fuel. "Never realized how good it'd be to let her wake up first. Stop being so dense, man."

InuYasha's lips lifted in a pleased grin thinking about how she had woken him up, and his body tingled at the memory. "I want to hold onto this feeling for a while. Nobody had better show up to ruin my mood today. If they do, they're going to get it." Grabbing a branch, he dragged it back to his wood chopping area. "No disasters. No emergencies. No stupid youkai. No asshole villagers." Quickly breaking off the pieces too fine to bother chopping, he tossed them into another pile to save for kindling before he started to cut the larger branch into useable sections.

Soon, he was absorbed in his task, tuning the rest of the world out. Being upwind of the road to his house and caught up in his work, at first didn't notice the two people walking up the path in his direction. That changed when one of them tripped and called out.

"Now what?" he asked, turning towards the road to see Choujiro with his cart of tools and Aki sprawled out on the path beside him.

"Better pay more attention to the road, boy," Choujiro said, holding out his hand to the youth. "If you're looking, you can trip over rocks in the road, or learn to step over them or walk around them."

Aki nodded and took the older man's hand. "I know, I know. I'm not always this clumsy."

"I believe you, son," Choujiro said, nodded. He chuckled a little. "Still, trying to sneak up on InuYasha is usually a futile task. And it's even worse when you aren't watching. Maybe one day you'll make it, when you get some more practice."

"Maybe," Aki said, getting to his feet. "You think I really can?"

"Don't know," said the woodworker, scratching his head. "But it won't hurt to keep practicing."

"Yeah," the boy said, dusting off his hakama. "I think I will!"

Choujiro chuckled as they began moving towards the hanyou's house.

"Yo," InuYasha said, waving at the unlikely pair. He was amused by the boy's goal, and decided not to discourage him. "I see you have a helper again today."

"I do indeed," the woodworker said, looking fondly at the boy. "Seems like Kinjiro said it was easier for him to finish up the soybean field himself. Thought I could use the help, what with Shinjiro being . . . well, rather busy today."

InuYasha nodded. "Oh, I suspect Chime's going to keep him pretty busy most of today," he said, chopping another section of branch into useable firewood. "But I didn't expect to see you here this early."

"You're working already?" Aki asked. "Choujiro-ojisan was right." He looked back up at his new mentor appreciatively. "I didn't know if you'd even be up yet."

"I get up with the sun, boy," InuYasha said. "Sometimes before it." He repositioned his chunk of wood on the chopping block.

"Eh, when you have a job to do, it'll get done faster if you get to it." Choujiro wheeled his cart up to the area where he had been working the day before. "I see you understand that rule as well."

"The wood's not going to get chopped by just thinking about it," InuYasha said, nodding. He looked down on the branch and cut another section, then tossed it to the side. "There are worse things to do in the morning."

"I always hated it when Chichi-ue or Ojiisan asked me to chop wood," Aki said, taking InuYasha's information in with a nod. "It always made my arms tired and my hands hurt."

"It's good for you, Aki-kun," Choujiro said. "Builds your arms up. If you do it enough, it doesn't hurt, and makes you stronger. A woodworker needs strong arms." The older man began taking tools out of the cart. "Here, boy, come hold this wedge."

Aki left InuYasha and hurried to the woodworker's side, where Choujiro handed him the hefty piece of metal.

"That's heavy," the boy said. His arm sagged under the weight.

"See," Choujiro said, laughing gently. "And that's not the big one I use sometimes. You need to be chopping more wood, not less." He looked back up at InuYasha, and then at Aki. "Besides that, a man who likes to get down to business early in the day and not wait around until he's nudged or desperate to get the job done is a man you can depend on. Sometimes, it's a hard lesson for young ones to learn. People appreciate being able to rely on you."

The boy swallowed, and then looked down at his feet, scuffing the ground with his right food. "I guess . . . I guess I haven't been very dependable."

"Some things we have to learn while we're growing up," InuYasha said. "It's not always fun."

"The smart ones do, anyway," Choujiro said. "Some men go to their graves wondering why they never got any respect, or even why they didn't get good at their work. Now, boy, let's see if we can get this log into place and start making some more boards."

InuYasha let Choujiro and Aki wrestle with the long a bit, but eventually put his axe down to give them a hand, then went back to his work while Choujiro explained about the importance of learning to work together. A little later, Kagome stepped out of the house to see Choujiro and Aki splitting down their first board and InuYasha stacking up his firewood on the rick alongside of the house.

"Everybody's so busy!" she said, drying her hand on a towel.

"It's the best way to be, Miko-sama," Choujiro said, looking up as Kagome spoke. He turned back to Aki. Placing his hands gently over the boy's hands, he said, "Try to keep the bar even. It's easier to handle, and you're less likely to get a bad split."

Aki nodded and continued working the tool down the wood.

"Keh," InuYasha said, agreeing. "Busy is good. Otherwise, you can spend too much time worrying about things."

"Sounds like you have some practice at that," Choujiro noted, stepping away from Aki's side.
"Enough," the hanyou admitted. He turned towards his wife. "Breakfast?"

"If you're hungry," she said, nodding.

He propped his ax against the wall. "If there's food, I'll eat it."

Laughing a bit, Kagome turned and went back into the house, followed by her hungry husband.

Things down in the village weren't as placid.

Toshiro was walking to Tameo's place, wanting to ask a favor. As he passed the watch tower, heading east, he could hear the noise, several men talking all at once, but one especially strident.

It got louder as he reached the headman's compound. He walked through the gate to see a small cluster of men standing in the courtyard - Tameo and his workers, Jun and Koichi, along with Susumu, and Eiji. There were shouts coming from the small building they used as a lockup, and Seiji's son Sukeo was there, arms crossed and red in the face, as if he had been arguing. A dog wandered around, sniffing by the door of the lockup, then turned and looked up at the boy. His tail wagged nervously as Sukeo rested a hand on the animal's head.

"The boy just did what his father told him," Jun said. "Can't blame him too much for that."

"Whether he was wrong or just being a dutiful son," Tameo said, rubbing the back of his neck, "we can't allow this to happen. I'm sorry, Sukeo-kun. You won't be able to stay here unless one of us is with you until the elders decide what to do."

"Curse you, Tameo," a voice yelled. It was Seiji's and it was coming from the little building. "Let me out of here!"

The adults turned to look at the building. The dog turned as well and whined. Sukeo knelt down and hugged the dog's neck, soothing him with words too soft for Toshiro to hear.

Tameo rubbed the back of his neck again. "Nobody's letting anybody out until we have a council, Seiji," the headman said. "You can do with your family what you want, but when you attack a miko, it's a different matter."

"The hell you say." Seiji's voice was loud and strident. "Damn, my head hurts. My chin . . . "

"It wouldn't hurt so much if you weren't shouting. Hisa-chan can prepare some medicine, if you want," Tameo said. "She's had some experience," he said, looking at Susumu, "at treating headaches for what caused yours."

"Keep your woman's poison away from me, Headman," Seiji said. The way he said headman sounded like an insult. "Sukeo-kun!"

The boy turned towards the lockup window. "Yes, Otousan?"

"Go home and get your okaasan to make me her headache potion," Seiji said. "I'm not going to take anything these . . . these . . . people try to pour down my throat." He started coughing. It sounded like he was about to retch, but he got it under control. "No telling what they'd put in it."

"Seiji," Eiji said, disapprovingly. "Stop pointing fingers to try to pass the blame. All this is your own fault. I was there. I saw it. Don't accuse Tameo-sama of whatever darkness is in your own heart."

"Fuck you, asshole," Seiji said. He began to cough again. "Stop sticking your nose into other people's business." His voice turned softer, but darker, with a clear threat. "You keep it up, and who knows what will happen."

The dog began to growl, softly. Sukeo patted the animal's ears.

"Enough," Tameo said.

The boy looked up at the headman with pleading eyes. Tameo sighed and nodded.

"Suit yourself, Seiji," Tameo said. "Sukeo-kun's a good boy. He stayed watching by your side all night. We won't hold it against him that he tried to let you out without permission." He turned to the youth. "Go ahead, son."

"I'll be back soon, Otousan," the boy said. He quickly headed towards the gate, the dog following at his heels. As he passed Toshiro, he greeted the elder with a quick bow before breaking out in a run. In a moment he was out of the gate and heading towards his own home.

"Well," Toshiro said, somewhat surprised by everything he had been listening to as he walked up to the group of men, "it sounds like you're having an interesting morning, Tameo. Looks like I've walked into a cockfight, although to listen to Seiji, it sounds like a wolf's den."