1I do not own InuYasha or any of the characters created by Rumiko Takahashi

Chapter 258

"Well, look who's coming this way," Choujiro said, pointing toward the fields.

The group of people at the watch tower turned to look at the figure of Seiji's younger brother walking along one of the paths that separated rice paddy fields. The young man was scowling as he walked, not yet paying attention to any of the gathered people. He had dirt marks on his hakama, and there were a couple of small torn places on his shirt, about the size that large thorns could make - or an angry rooster. His hair was tumbling down out of its pony tail, and somehow, he had gotten a scratch across one cheek.

"Looks like he's had a run-in with something or other," Choujiro said.

"Doesn't look like it's put him in a good mood," Benika said. She glanced at Hisako, who also was beginning to scowl.

"Only time he's in a good mood is if he wins at gambling," Masu said. "Which isn't very often. Wonder what brought him out of hiding? The luck gods haven't been favoring him very well lately. I hear he owes money to more than one person. I didn't expect him to show anywhere near where people could pin him down."

Denjiro snickered. "Maybe it was whatever got hold of his shirt."

Hisako took a step forward. "It didn't take enough," she said, tapping her stick on the ground. "He owes more than that to his sister-in-law. Not letting anybody know how that worthless piece of trash his brother is was treating poor Maeme." She tapped her walking stick again.

Denjiro scratched the back of his neck. "Wonder if he's heard yet?"

"Doesn't matter," Hisako said. "He'll find out soon enough." With steps surprisingly quick for a woman her age, she moved towards the young man. The others there began to follow her.

"What brings you out of hiding, Yoshimi?" Hisako asked as the group blocked the young man's way.

He looked around at the crowd. Masu crossed his arms, obviously unhappy about something. Choujiro looked at him, more curious than irritated. Denjiro looked at Hisako instead of him. A few other women drew up behind him. He searched the crowd, looking for his sister-in-law, and chose to ignore the elderly woman. But as he tried to step forward, the group lock stepped behind her, blocking the path.

"What's it to you, old woman?" Yoshimi asked.

"Is that any way to behave, boy?" Masu said. "Your otousan . . . "

"Keep my otousan out of this." Yoshimi was both surprised and a bit confused by the way the group was behaving. His tone got defensive. "I don't have to answer to the likes of you."

Hisako smacked his shoulder with her walking stick. "You might not need to answer to him, stupid boy, but you didn't give me an answer yet, either."

Yoshimi clasped his hands into fists, but with the way the three men were hovering around her, he decided not to do more than that. He took a deep breath, then swallowed. "I don't owe you anything, Hisako-babaa. I don't know why you're mad at me."

Denjiro coughed into his hand at the rudeness of the title Yoshimi gave the elderly woman. "I know where Ryota is," he said. "I could go get him, if you need to talk to someone you owe, man."

"Bah," Yoshimi said. "I was looking for him. I'll be paying him off in a couple of days, so you can all get off my back. And for my sister-in-law. Have you seen that lazy woman?"

There was a silence that fell over the little group, and several of the faces there looked shocked.

Furume pushed through the group to stand next to Hisako. "You . . . you didn't know?"

"Hush, child," Hisako said.

"Know what?" Yoshimi looked from face to face. "All I know is that good for nothing wasn't home, and neither of the boys were, either. If my brother hears about it . . . "

"Your worthless brother won't be doing anything at all, if I have anything to say about it," Masu said, stepping up behind his daughter Furume. "If it was up to your brother, my daughter would have been sold to a teahouse. But instead, your family owes this girl a debt of thanks. If she hadn't been by the river and seen her . . . "

"I'm confused." Yoshimi frowned, and took a step towards Furume and Masa. He raised his clenched hand. "What can you and your trash of a family ever do to make us owe you anything, old man?"

Hisako popped Yoshimi another time with her walking stick. "Stupid fool. Maeme almost drowned. If Furume-chan hadn't been in the right place, she'd be dead now."

"Maeme . . . drowned?" The young man looked at his fist for a moment, then lowered it slowly. "Maeme? But she swims like a fish."

"She wasn't trying very hard to swim," Furume said. "If Houshi-sama hadn't been there to get her . . . "

The crowd began to circle around the young man. He took a step backwards, and bumped into Choujiro.

"Going somewhere?" the woodworker asked.

"I don't believe any of you," Yoshimi said, his voice shrill. He shoved at Choujiro's shoulder, and tried to get past him. Choujiro shoved him back, and the younger man stumbled and fell on his butt. Nobody offered to help him up, but Benika and Amaya snickered. "You are all lying. You have to be hiding her." His head turned to look at each of them. The circle they had made was growing smaller, giving him less room to move away. "What did she tell you to pull this stunt? Just because Seiji's in the lockup . . . "

"You are more stupid than my cow," Denjiro said, as the young man struggled to his feet. "Everybody knows she's the dumbest animal in the village." He shook his head at the younger man. "Why would we lie about this? Houshi-sama and the hanyou rescued her. Kaede's taking care of her over at the monk's place. Aren't you even worried if she's alive or not?" He spit. "What type of person are you?"

Hisako lifted her walking stick, and Yoshimi cringed, and hurried to his feet, but she merely tapped it on the ground. "What type of person is he? The type of person who knows his brother is battering his sister-in-law to the point she has scars, and doesn't tell anybody."

"Lies!" Yoshimi said. "That's a lie! Don't talk about Ani-ue like that!"

He shoved past Benika and almost got away, but this time, another staff blocked his way.

"I don't think so," Miroku said, giving him a shove back into the circle.

Nearby, at the headman's house, Tameo sat in his tub, stretched out, unaware of the activities at the watch tower. Hisa, his wife, watched him fondly as he soaked.

He closed his eyes and tried to let the water soothe him. "I think it's going to take more than hot water to work out all the kinks from today. I think I'll get out."

"Oh, I bet Daitaro's sake will help that one," Hisa said. She reached up to a shelf and picked up a towel.

"You may be right," the headman said, getting up slowly. "Don't ever tell him I said this, but his sake's better than mine."

Hisa laughed as Tameo stepped out of the water and onto the wooden floor of the bathing room. She handed him the cloth. "I wouldn't dream about it. We'd never hear the end of it. We don't hear the end of how good his is now, but that would be the last straw."

The headman made quick work of drying off, and let Hisa help him into a clean white inner kosode. "Has Susumu made it back yet?" he asked as he tightened his sash.

"Not yet," Hisa said, sighing. "I know he won't want to be late for the wedding, but . . . "

"Duty." Tameo nodded. "I know he won't miss the wedding. But what an afternoon it's been. I wonder why they called this an auspicious day?"

Hisa handed her husband his hakama, a soft dove-gray color. "Maybe they were wrong about auspicious after all. Maybe they just meant one where luck, all luck, ran high. I hope you don't mind the grey outfit. Your black . . . well, it's not . . . It's been so busy this week I haven't gotten it restitched. The panels washed up beautifully, but it takes time to get the outfits put back together and I - "

Tameo gave his wife a nod and a smile. "No, no, it's all right," he said, stepping into the garment. "This has been a week for the record book. I'm surprised we even got to eat some days."

"Oh husband, it'll be a really bad day when you don't get to eat on schedule," Hisa said, handing him his jacket. "All the women in our household would have to be sick. We all know how grumpy you get when you don't eat on schedule."

"What, me grumpy? Never. Don't even think it." He gave her a mock frown, and she laughed.

"Would you like a little snack, husband? I have some extra rice cakes." She turned to go.

Tameo grabbed her wrist and pulled her close. "Woman, you know what I'd rather have."

She rested her hands on his chest. "Get ready, old man. Let's see if you can keep from drinking too much sake tonight. Maybe then, you can have that for dessert."

"You drive a hard bargain, wife," he said, letting her loose.

"Tomorrow's going to be a busy day," Hisa said, resting her head on his chest. "I wouldn't be surprised if most of the village shows up to find out what the elders are going to do with Seiji." Looking up at him, her eyes had lost their laughter, and were serious. "If your head aches too much tomorrow . . . "

He sighed. "Don't remind me. Let's just get ready, go to the wedding, and enjoy the last of this auspicious day. I don't want to spoil Shinjiro's wedding thinking of him."

Hisa nodded. "Tonight is for him and Erime. Hopefully the kami will agree." She turned and left the bathing room.

Tameo turned and looked in the direction of the family shrine. "I hope you heard that, Kazuo-sama. We really could use a good evening."

Somewhere, out of human sight and hearing, a voice chuckled.

Up on the hill, far away from Yoshimi and his crowd or Tameo and Hisa, Kagome was combing her hair, looking at her mirror propped up on the clothing cabinet as she finished getting ready for the wedding.

InuYasha, returning from emptying out the bath tub, stood still for a moment and watched her carefully. Kagome had relaxed and began to enjoy her afternoon during her bath, but as she dressed in her robes for the evening events, she had begun to tense up again. This did not please him.

He walked up to where she was standing, and met her eyes in the mirror.

"How do I look?" she asked, running the comb through her bangs.

"You look beautiful," InuYasha said.

Kagome paused a moment in her hair combing, holding it in midair. "But do I look miko enough?" She frowned at her reflection. "Do . . . do you think I should tie my hair back?" she asked. "Maybe it would make me look more . . . more professional."

"Feh," the hanyou said. "You don't need to look more like a miko. You are a miko, and a good one." He grabbed the length of her hair in one hand, and pulled it into a pony tail. "It's not really long enough, anyway," he said, letting it go. "Besides, I don't think you'd feel comfortable. You always wear your hair down. Be yourself."

The answer didn't soothe her, and her lips curled into a small scowl as she ran the comb through the length again, tidying up what her husband had disturbed, but then she let go of the look and nodded. "You're right," she said. "I don't really like to wear it pulled back."

He leaned forward, and rested his chin on her head. "And I like it loose."

"Why?" she asked. "Is it so I don't . . . don't look like . . . "

"Where did that come from?" InuYasha asked, then planted a tiny kiss on the top of her head. "You know how I feel about you." He turned her to face him, and slipped a finger under her chin. "It's because it looks like Kagome. And I love how my Kagome looks." He gave her a brief, but tender, kiss. "So, I thought you had relaxed about going to the wedding. Why are you tensing up again? You know Chime and Daitaro will be happy even if you slipped and landed on the bride."

Kagome smiled at that, briefly. "It's not that I'm worried about what I'm supposed to do. Not anymore. It's just . . . just . . . I had this feeling. I could feel something while I was taking my bath. I'm not sure what it was."

"Feeling?" InuYasha asked. "About what?"

"I don't know." Kagome shook her head. "It's like I could sense something . . . almost. It's not a youkai thing. I can still feel it a little. It didn't totally go away . . . almost like spiritual power . . . but it's fuzzy."

"Fuzzy?" His ear flicked. "What do you mean?"

"Like . . . like it's too far to make out clear." She shook her head again. "Maybe I'm being silly. Maybe it was just something passing by. You and your brother aren't the only supernatural beings in this part of the world."

She opened a drawer in the cabinet and put her comb and mirror away.

"I hope so," the hanyou said. "Don't want anything to mess up tonight."

"Right." She closed the cabinet drawer and turned around. "Do you think Chime would mind if we showed up early?"

"I doubt it," InuYasha said. "You want to go now?"

"Yeah," she replied, nodding. "Maybe we can take a slow walk there. It might relax me."

He nodded. "Or maybe if someone's lurking, we can get a whiff."

She nodded. "We might just chase it away by just being there," Kagome said.

He held out his hand. "So what are we waiting for?" he asked. "Let's go chase whatever's bothering you away."

Smiling at her husband's willingness to indulge her on this, Kagome took InuYasha's hand. Together, they walked out of the house.