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

Chapter 255

Yoshimi, feeling rather pleased by his meeting with Kiyoko, walked through the woods and headed back to the village. His good mood, though, began to change as he left the shelter of the trees and reached the first fields. Bent over a bit with the load of firewood he was carrying, his face grew steadily more somber has he neared his family's home.

"At least I didn't run into Haruo or his brother," he said, pausing a minute before walking up the path to the small cluster of houses. "'Pay me back, pay me back, or we'll get Tameo to make you.' He's been telling me that for weeks. I can hear him now." He rubbed the back of his neck where a stick had been brushing against it. Then he straightened up and smiled. "I can't wait until I dump his rice back on his lap. Maybe I'll just scatter it on his doorstep." He chuckled at the thought. "I can't wait. Oh, Kiyoko, don't be late."

He rebalanced his load of firewood on his back and moved into the compound. "Nakao-kun! Come help me!" he yelled, as he moved to the area where he kept the firewood.

Instead of the sound of his nephew bounding out of the main house with an irritated "Coming, Ojisan!" reply, the only answer he got was the old rooster squawking on the other side of the main building.

This surprised Yoshimi. "Nakao? Sukeo?"

Once again, there was no reply. "Wonder where the boys are? "

He slung off his burden dropped the load of deadwood he had gathered out in the forest near the wood pile. The stack to be cut into usable lengths was getting deep. "Probably ought to get to work chopping some. But why should I worry about that right now? Thank you, Tameo-sama for making sure that at least today I won't have to listen to Seiji moan about how I never bring enough wood back," he said. "Not that I care what he thinks. But he's loud."

Yoshimi turned and looked around. Something about the place felt wrong, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it. As he went to the shed to put his axe away, the rooster spotted him, ruffed its feathers at him and raised its wings.

"Not today, Akai-dono," he said, tossing a small stone in the general direction of the bird. "I know you hate me, but I don't have time for you today. Go squawk somewhere else."

It hit the animal's back. The bird made a sound, and decided it wasn't worth the time to challenge the young man, and went around to the other side of the building.

"You just stay over there, King of all the Roosters," Yoshimi said. "And keep away from my door unless you want Maeme to cook you for dinner."

Shrugging his shoulders to get the kinks out, he closed the shed and headed for the main house. "Where is everybody? Maeme had better left me some food if she decided to go to the bean field this afternoon."

The only thing that answered him was the sound of clothes flapping on the clothes line.

"Maybe they're all inside," he said walking up to the front door. "Huh. Usually that stupid mutt of Sukeo's would be at my ankles by now. Wonder if the brat snuck off fishing with his dad locked up? Ani-ue's not going to like that." He shook his head. "Got to admit, though, Sukeo-kun's got spunk. I'd have done the same thing."

Yoshimi stopped long enough to take a drink out of the water bucket they kept on the verandah, but he couldn't shake the feeling that something was out of kilter. Letting the ladle splash back into the bucket, he pushed through the door mat and stepped inside. But instead of a cheery fire and some fresh food waiting for him to come home to, the house was empty. Not only was there no food waiting for him, nor any food cooking in the pot, the fire pit looked like the fire was out.

"That stupid bitch. Seiji's not going to like that," he said, kneeling down by the fire pit. He ran his hands over the gray ash, and found very little warmth. "He expects his rice and soup no matter what that woman of his is up to. Why shouldn't she be doing the same for me?" He stood up, and looked around for anything ready to eat. Searching the cooking area, he found the last of the breakfast rice still in the rice tub, and not bothering to scoop it out into a bowl, he stuck his hands into the dish and ate the cold rice with his bare hands. "She could at least have made some onigiri. Some fish with it would have been nice." Picking the last grains of rice out, he popped them into his mouth, then left the tub where he had found it.

"Now I need something to wash that crap down," he said.

Yoshimi left the house, and went to the storeroom where his brother stored the sake. Finding a half-filled jug, he took a long pull, and wiped his mouth. "Sorry to get into your favorite jug, Ani-ue, but you're not here, and I needed something"

He stared at the jug a moment and took another pull. "It's all Maeme's fault anyway. She should have left me some lunch. I'll fix her," he said. "Where is she? Probably running around gossiping down by the well with all the other women. Just because that stupid youkai gave Ani-ue a punch yesterday, and Tameo thought he was man enough to put him in the lockup doesn't mean she can break the rules. I'll go find her and drag her home, and then go tell him. Oh, he'll take care of her when he gets out. I can just see it. That'll teach her not to leave me any lunch."

He took one last sip of the sake, then put what was left in the jug up on the shelf. With a slight swagger, he left the building and began to walk to the headman's house. "I'll teach you, woman."

Unseen by the young man, Kazuo the kami watched Yoshimi as he left the compound. The kami, looking rather displeased by what he had heard, frowned as Yoshimi passed. "You're not much better than that brother of yours, are you?" Before Yoshimi could get out of the compound, the kami nudged a rock into the young man's path, and with a loud cry, the man tripped and pitched forward.

Yoshimi landed flat on his face. "Kuso," he said, pushing his upper body up. "That hurt. How in the hells did I fall? I didn't drink that much."

"If you had the rock you fell over in your head instead of that brain of yours, you'd have more sense," the kami said, crossing his arms. "You're just lucky the other kami want to let Kiyoko have you. Otherwise, maybe you'd get to taste the same medicine your brother's going to get."

As Yoshimi sat up, he rubbed his right knee which took the brunt of his fall. The rooster, seeing his chance, came barreling for the young man, As Yoshimi let out a string of curses and flaying arms, trying to beat the bird away, the kami left.

"Time for my next stop," Kazuo said. "This may be more amusing. Don't be late, fool. You'll miss all the fun."

On the other side of the village, Chime was putting the last touches on things when Shinjiro returned from his walk with Hisa and his run-in with Eiji and Haruo.

The mats that normally surrounded the fire pit had been moved, except for the one in the mother's position at the fire pit. For this occasion, the mats had been moved further out, along, but not next to the walls. At the center part of the back of the room, facing the beaten-earth domo, a low table had been set up for the bride and groom.

Chime looked at the arrangement, and rand her fingers of the table gently, as if imagining the scene that would be taking place at sundown, when Shinjiro and Erime would be sitting there in full view of his family and hers. A smile touched her lips. "Soon, son. Very soon."

The air was fragrant with the smells of the food she had been preparing, and everything that could be fixed ahead of time was now ready.

For the fifth or sixth time, Chime counted the meal trays she had rounded up, the dishes she would be using, the cups she would be serving Daitaro's sake out of. Everything was as ready as possible. Now the last of the afternoon needed to pass.

Shinjiro stepped into the house, watching his mother at work. Slipping off his shoes, he walked over to her, knelt down, and took her hands. "It looks perfect, Okaasan."

"Do you think so?" she asked her son. "I keep thinking I've forgotten something, but for the life of me, I can't figure out what it could be." Her voice was a little tired. She started counting the mats again. " Did you have a good time with Hisa-chan?"

He nodded. Chime, although she seemed happy enough, got up and started counting dishes once more. He almost frowned as he watched his mother, but smoothed it off his face. "She sent this basket." He handed it to his mother, who pulled back the covers, and seeing the treats the basket contained, smiled.

"Oh, I know what these are for," she said. Her face got a silly little smile. "She told me she was going to send over a basket. I had strict instructions to put them in the back house for tonight."

For some reason, this made the young man color. "Did she?"

"Ah, I see she told you what they're for," his mother said, chuckling. "She means well, and you'll appreciate them before the night is over, and you know it."

Shinjiro coughed into his hand. "Okaa . . . "

"Now, we'll put them back there in a moment," Chime said, turning back to her work, "and I'll just get the last touches on the -"

"Okaa," Shinjiro said. He took her hands. "It's time to relax before our company starts coming. Even Hisa-obasan has gone for the moment. There's nothing left to do ahead."

"I..." Chime said, looking up at him, suddenly at a loss for words. Her hands fell to her sides. "I..."

"No, Okaa," Shinjiro said, giving her hands a little shake. "Everything is going to be perfect. Soon, Mariko will come over with all the food for the meal that she's been fixing, and you have everything here just right. Genjo is over checking the animals, and I suspect, composing embarrassing songs to sing tonight. I'm sure in a little bit Chichi-ue will show up, wanting to sample everything, just in time for him to go heat the bath water."

"I know," Chime said. She sucked on her bottom lip, and looked around the room. "But . . . "

Still holding her hands, Shinjiro lifted her up. "Now, Okaa. Rest." He began to lead her towards the edge of the wooden floor. "What joy will I have of my wedding if my Haha-ue works herself to death and can't share it with the rest of us?" He stepped off the platform, and tugged at her gently. "You've worked so hard, Okaa. But now we both have to wait. Come outside for a bit. We'll put the basket in the back house, and then we'll sit in the sun for a while and let a little time pass. You're going to need your energy tonight when Susumu starts telling his jokes."

"But," she started.

"No buts. This is going to be an evening to remember. All of the village will be gossiping about it for weeks. Time to take a break." He gave her a big smile, one reminiscent more of her looks than his father's. "Besides, I need someone to keep me company. Who else is here to keep me out of trouble?"

She frowned, sucked on her bottom lip, and looked around her one last time, sighed, and then nodded. "All right. I'll come outside with you. For a while."

"Good, good," Shinjiro said, holding her hand as she stepped off the wooden floor and onto the domo. "There is a nice breeze, the sun is shining, and now you have one last chance to walk with your son while he's still a single man."

"So I do," Chime said. "So I do."

And with one last glance at her arrangements, she followed her son outside.