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

Chapter 276

Eiji, his lamp bobbing as he walked, moved up the path to Daitaro's house.

He could hear laughter through the windows as he approached.

"I thought you liked pickles, cousin," said a young man's voice. It sounded to the village guard like Genjo.

"One day," Eiji murmured, "he's going to tease one step too many."

Tonight wasn't yet that time.

"You're just jealous," Susumu said. "You like pickles almost as much as InuYasha does."

"Is that possible?" a young woman said. Eiji wasn't sure, but he thought it was Kagome.

"Oh, you haven't seen him eat like I have," Chime replied. "You may be right, Susumu. We have plenty. Here, Mariko-chan," she said. There was the sound of rattling dishes and some laughter. "Go give your husband his share, too. Would anybody else like some?"

Eiji knocked on the door, but slipped in without waiting for someone to answer. "Ah, Chime-obasan, don't give all the pickles to Genjo. There are other mouths to feed, too."

He looked around. InuYasha was sitting next to his wife. His forehead creased in concentration, he had a pickle caught up in his chopsticks. To Eiji, it seemed he was pondering it more than was getting ready to eat it. Kagome was leaning in, whispering something to him, which was amusing to her, but the hanyou just shrugged, then popped the pickle slice into his mouth. A smile did cross his lips as he ate it, though.

Nearby, Genjo looked up from his own food bowl. He looked up at the newcomer, and gave him a big grin. "Other mouths," he said, dipping his own chopsticks into the bowl. "Not as big as yours," he told Eiji just before he a bite of pickled cabbage.

Across the room, Takeshi's son Masayo laughed. "Speak for yourself," he said. "I know who I'd put money on in an eating contest." His own wife rolled her eyes at her husband and then glanced at Ushimi, Erime's mother.

"I know, I know," she said. "I know who I'd bet on myself." Ushimi's eyes glanced knowingly at her son.

Takeshi rolled his eyes and took a sip of his sake. "Did we raise these men?" he asked Daitaro.

Daitaro drained his own cup. "Yes, I guess we did. Maybe that explains why they turned out the way they did."

"So now we know who to blame," Hisa said. She bent over towards Tameo, and refilled his sake cup with just a little more.

"I guess we do," Chime said, smiling, then she turned back to Eiji. It was more than a smile. She glowed with a satisfied contentment. She picked up her serving ladle, and motioned to the village guard. "Come in and sit down. Are you hungry? We have plenty to eat."

"There's nothing wrong, is there?" Tameo asked.

Eiji extinguished his lamp and put it down near the doorway. "No, nothing. I was just making my rounds and was walking by, and heard this one," he said, pointing to Genjo, making jokes about pickles. "Curiosity got the better of me. I figured since he was picking on InuYasha and not Shinjiro, that it was too late for me to tease . . . er . . . congratulate the bridegroom."

"Too late for that," Takeshi said. "They are both safe away from the likes of you."

"Busy though, I'll bet," Eiji said. There was a little ripple of laughter. Tama, Erime's sister, being young and soon to wed herself, blushed, as did Kagome.

Hisa reached over and patted her hand. "You know, all these men here like to tease. Except," she said, looking at InuYasha, who was studying the pickles in front of him, "except perhaps your husband, and usually, Kinjiro. You're lucky."

Kagome looked up at InuYasha. "I know," she said, smiling.

Genjo ignored the women, and kept his attention on Eiji. "Come sit over here, and see what's so funny."

"Just for a little bit," Eiji said. "I probably need to go check to make sure Yoshimi's not up to anything."

"You don't think . . . " Hisa asked.

"No," the guard said, sitting down between InuYasha and Genjo. "I don't think anything bad will happen. It's just my sense of tidy." As he settled, he looked at the tray in front of InuYasha and the similar tray in front of Genjo. "Are you sure this isn't a pickle eating contest?"

Mariko moved in front of the village guard and brought a tray for him as well, with sake, pickles, pickled plums and a couple of rice cakes on it. "We have enough pickles we could do it," she said. "Do you want to join in?"

"If it was just an eating contest . . . " InuYasha said, taking another bite. "These are very good," he said, savoring the taste of the pickled vegetable in his mouth.

"Those are the ones Hisa-sama made," Mariko said.

"How am I supposed to choose anything, when they all taste so good?" the hanyou asked.

"You could declare it a tie," Susumu said from across the room.

InuYasha's face lit up with that suggestion.

Chime laughed. "Maybe, then, we should have a pickle eating contest after all. But don't complain if you all have achy tummies tomorrow!"

Across the village, in the little house next to Seiji's, the mood wasn't so mellow. Yoshimi sat there, building up the evening fire in his fire pit. Sitting next to him, Tadaki didn't comment about the dirt or the coldness of the building. Instead, he had found a tray up on a cabinet clean enough, and then pulled some rice balls and grilled fish out of the basket the young man was carrying.

"I don't think she put anything interesting in the onigiri," he said as he unpacked the basket. "Sometimes she does, but today, I don't know if she even put any pickled plum in."

Yoshimi didn't say anything, and instead, merely tossed another stick on the fire.

"That light is nice," Tadaki said. He handed one of the onigiri to the other man. It was covered neatly in a bamboo leaf wrapper, and Yoshimi began to unwrap it.

"What a day," the young man said, doing the same. "First, Tsuneo thinks I was running off to have a tumble with that girl who likes me, when I was working hard at the bean fields."

"A tumble?" Yoshimi said, taking a bite of his rice. "They always think we're up to no good."

"Not always, but sometimes, they have dirty minds." Tadaki took a bit of his own rice ball. "They think you're up to no good when you go out to cut wood?"

Yoshimi kept a straight face, but shifted a little uncomfortably, thinking briefly a moment about how he had spent the afternoon, guilty of just what Tsuneo had been ready to accuse Tadaki of. "What do you think?" he asked between bites. "It doesn't matter what we're really doing. It's what they think we're up to that gets us into more trouble."

"I hear you there," Tadaki said, putting down his rice and picking up a piece of fish. He popped a piece of it in his mouth. "And there I was, working just the way I was supposed to. But after I got back, things really started happening."

Yoshimi looked at what Tadaki was eating. "Kohoru-obasan sent fish over too? She shows a strange way of not liking my family."

Tadaki nodded, and handed him his share. "It's good, too. We don't get fish for dinner ever day. If it's not in the soup, it's not there to eat."

"I usually have to catch it if I want some," Yoshimi said. "Seiji . . . well, he's cheap."

"I've heard that," Tadaki said nodding. "Not to speak badly of your brother, but one hears things."

"One hears a lot, I bet," Yoshimi replied, tearing the wrapper off the fish, and pulling off a sliver that he popped into his mouth.

While he savored the taste, Tadaki continued his story. "When I got back to get some more straw, Tsuneo-sama was talking with InuYasha."

Yoshimi ate some more rice. "He's been everywhere here lately."

Tadaki nodded. "He's been around a lot lately. I think Tsuneo-sama's decided that he likes him. That's a real change, if you ask me."

"You're sure he's not using magic on Tsuneo-sama?" Yoshimi licked a grain of rice off his finger. "He is magic. I've seen him wield that sword of his."

The younger man shook his head, and popped the last of the fish in his mouth. "Nope. No magic. I think it was all that stuff with stupid Aki-kun. Anyway, while they were talking, InuYasha's wife - "

"You mean the one who's acting like she's a real miko?" Yoshimi broke off another piece of fish.

"It's no act. She healed Haname-sama today. Everybody thought Haname-sama was a goner, and she used her own miko powers to get rid of the magic that crazy man used on her. She was up and bossing us all around before dinner."

Yoshimi took that in, then shook his head. "I don't understand what's going on at all."

"Maybe your brother's been wrong all along," Tadaki suggested. He finished the last of his rice ball. "See. I told you she didn't put anything but rice in the onigiri."

"But . . . but . . . " Yoshimi stared at the rice in his hand. "It feels like everybody's plotting against us. That old babaa and her circle of women." He wiped his mouth with his sleeve. "It's not right. That stupid Maeme - what was she doing, walking out into the river like that?"

"You should stop being so mad at Maeme," Tadaki said. Having finished he wiped his hands on the side of his hakama. "She's always done right by you."

"Stupid woman. If she hadn't walked into the river . . . " Yoshimi bowed his head.

"If she walked into the river, then she must have really been upset." Tadaki rested a hand on Yoshimi's shoulder. "Doesn't seem right to be angry at someone who almost died from the miseries."

"What do you know about miseries?" Yoshimi's head shot up. "You're over there where people treat you good."

Tadaki, patient, just shook his head. "I know a lot. My sister, well one day after my otousan passed from the cough, she came for a visit and walked into my ojiisan's well. She couldn't swim, either." He closed his eyes in the memory. "Her husband was a lot like Seiji."

"I...I didn't know that." Yoshimi said. He looked at his young friend with some surprise.

"It was a long time ago," Tadaki said, shrugging. "Things were hard for my family after we lost my otousan. I was the youngest, so they sent me to work for Tsuneo-sama. But I know about the miseries."

"Yeah," Yoshimi said. He rested his cheek in one hand. "I...I don't know what to think. He's gotten so angry lately. But he's my older brother."

"He might be your brother, but think, man," Tadaki said. "A kami came and rescued the miko from whatever that crazy man was trying to do to her. She heals up Haname-sama. InuYasha helped save Maeme's life. I don't like to talk badly about your family."

"Bah," Yoshimi said. "That's never stopped you."

Tadaki ignored that jibe. "Maybe . . . maybe Seiji-ojisan . . . well, maybe he earned it. Maybe even the kami are ready to let him learn a lesson. Let your whole family learn a lesson. Or maybe even fix things for you."

Yoshimi stuffed the last of the rice ball in his mouth. It tasted like dust to him. "I think . . . " he said at last. "I think maybe they're going to do something to him tomorrow. Eiji said . . . "

"I hate to say it, but he doesn't have many friends." The younger man threw the bamboo wrappers into the fire. "Maybe you should go talk to him."

"Talk to him?" Yoshimi shook his head. "When has he ever listened to me?"

"Tell him like it is. Maybe if he acts humble enough tomorrow, he can squeak by. The elders seem to like that. If he can get them to believe he's going to listen . . . " Tadaki stood up and picked up his basket. "If he was my brother, I'd at least try."

Yoshimi covered his face. "I...I..."

"Give it some thought. It's going to be a crazy day tomorrow." Tadaki headed to the door. "Maybe you can help it not to be so crazy."

Yoshimi didn't say anything. After Tadaki left, he spent some time just staring into the fire.