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Within a week the argument had turned from Yuki's health and safety to his attire. He shivered in the center of the bedroom with his arms spread while Auntie adjusted an old kimono around his shoulders. Mother clung to a bright white silk gown.
“Dear Father,” she argued gently, “what will Yumi wear for her wedding?”
Father’s chest swelled in anger. “Woman, will you see me humiliated?” he gestured at the fires being lit on the way up the mountain. “They've already begun purifying the mountaintop. We've no time to commission a new one, nor the funds after all those combs and powders you purchased. The whole village will be watching and you want to send your son, who is supposed to be a daughter, in his own shabby clothes?”
“It’s not my fault that he wears rags,” Mother whined.
Yuki heard a sharp slap and Mother cried out.
“Woman, dare you blame me? Do you know who’s spawn that thing is?”
So Father had guessed as much. No wonder he was so eager to see Yuki up the mountain.
"None but your own, my honored husband!"
Yuki rolled his eyes. He would have gone in his own clothes—Father's castoffs with cuffs sewn on to cover Yuki's wrists and ankles. Perhaps the Fox would kill him more quickly out of his rage, and then reign justice upon this pox of a village.
Yumiko stomped into the room as Auntie was tying the obi around Yuki’s waist.
Mother looked up from where she sat rearranging her hair products. “Are you here to help, daughter?”
“That was supposed to be my wedding kimono!” Yumi shrieked, her hands clenched tight at her side. “Mine! How could you do this to me?”
Yuki bit his tongue. Auntie didn’t pause.
Mother sighed apologetically, “Darling daughter, if we are to present your brother as this year’s offering, he must be attired properly. We give our best to the gods, dear.” There was no mention of the gathering crowd.
Yumiko’s upper lip curled. “The damned Fox could likely care less. You’re willing to put Yuki in my wedding dress? You dress up his pathetic little ass to be fucked and then eaten?” Her voice shrilled like an angry jay. “Would you have me go naked to my wedding?”
“Now, Yumi,” Mother said soothingly. “We’ll find you another one.”
Auntie stepped back and circled her nephew, straightening and brushing the garment. Yuki put his arms down and rolled his neck. How much longer until the sun set and the torchbearers arrived?
“Ugh!” the girl retorted. “We can’t afford two more for me and Mayu. I suppose if you want me to marry the wealthiest man in three villages in an old kimono, I’ll go ahead and look like a pauper because my brother needed a good one to get rutted like a vixen and then die in.”
Unable to hold his tongue any longer, Yuki offered, “If you like, you can wear the kimono instead.”
He watched patiently as Yumi’s face brightened, then her brows furrowed as she turned the sentence over in her mind, then grew red with anger. He pushed his aunt to the side just as Yumi came flying at him.
“You stupid bastard child,” she screamed, clawing at his face. “How dare you!” Yuki grabbed her wrist after the first blow landed. She bit him until her teeth pierced the flesh. “How could you say such a thing to me?”
Yuki grit his teeth and held on. Auntie took hold of Yumi’s other wrist when she lifted it to scratch at her brother’s face. Yumi attempted to bite Auntie’s hand as well, but Yuki jerked her off balance.
“Leave Auntie be,” he ordered. His cheek and knuckles burned.
Mother set her beauty kit down swiftly and crossed the room. “Yumi!” Mother’s voice cut through her daughter’s frenzy. “Stop this immediately.”
Her smooth brow wrinkled pitifully and she began to cry. “Mama,” Yumi wailed, “it’s my gown!”
Yuki watched his mother draw Yumi into a comforting embrace. “I know, darling, I know,” she said soothingly, patting the sobbing girl.
Yuki watched them, slightly surprised at his heartache. Their behavior was not out of character, for sure, but he realized that he had hoped the unusual situation would stir some sympathy. Perhaps when he was dead they might cry a little. That would comforting his wandering ghost.
Mother did cry, of course. She dabbed camphor under her eyes to appear sorrowful enough to fool the men outside the door, to wail and cling to Father and call after her only daughter long after the party had left her sight. Yuki could hear her plaintive, "Yumiko! Oh Father, poor Yumi!" even on the way up the mountain.
Though wedding hat and veil prevented Yuki from seeing the faces of his escorts, their voices carried between drum beats and the trill of flutes.
"Do they wish us all to be killed?" the butcher. "Even I can see that there's a man in that cloth. No woman has feet that large."
"They give as they see fit," another snapped, likely the tavern owner, "as would you if the lot had fallen to your home."
"But the boy is the only useful member of that house," muttered someone on Yuki's left. "They'll starve either way."
Yuki wished he could respond. Then again, what would he say? Everyone will starve if you leave me for the fox. The thought was sour and angry.
The false jollity of the procession ended quickly once they reached the mountain top. Yuki imagined his escorts to be in a special hurry to run clear of the Fox's wrath, knowing his sex as they did. He fingered the leaves of nightshade in his sleeve, a kindness from the skeptical butcher.
"If the Fox should not come," the man had whispered, "this may appease his fury."
Yuki had nodded silently. If morning arrived and the Fox had left Yuki alive it would be of no kindness. How could he return to his village with the knowledge that he had ruined them?
"The Fox never commanded his virgins to be female," he whispered to himself. It was little comfort.