Baby Makes Four
Dear Scarlet, My wife and I decided to become a vegetarians a few months ago. I only lasted a couple days, but she took it a step further and is now a vegan. She promised she wouldn't become one of those Holier Than Thou types (like all her damn hippy friends), but now when she gives me head, she refuses to swallow. Because I eat meat. She says she doesn't like how I taste anymore compared to when I tried the veggie thing. I feel like she's breaking her promise. Do I really taste any different? Because I feel like she is making it up to punish me for wanting to eat something besides rabbit food all the time. Do you think she's out of line? How do I get her to finish a blowjob again? Signed, Meat Eating Man
"Oh shit. Do I want to touch this one?"
Sesshoumaru, seated next to Kagome on the sofa, looked up from his newspaper. "Hm?"
"Vegan versus meat eater. Good things rarely come of it."
"I thought you were working on your column."
"I am." She screwed up her face, thoughtful, and began to type.
Dear Meat, I understand that you are disappointed that your wife's dietary change has negatively impacted your sex life. I can't address your flavor and how it relates to what you consume, since I've never sucked your cock. There is a general semen-y taste, and, though I've never done a blind experiment, I'd say that each individual man has a quality that makes him unique. It may or may not be associated with food intake. This is all beside the point—it is up to your wife what she decides to ingest. Plenty of women decline swallowing because they don't enjoy it, not because they seek to punish their partners. Rather than address your sense of entitlement, I would prefer to offer a compromise. Assuming she enjoyed swallowing before becoming vegan and she would like to resume the practice, ask her if she would do it if you refrained from eating meat that day. It's not going to kill you to eat vegetables/grains/tofu for a day once a week or every few days or however often you'd like this particular item back on the sex menu. If she determines it isn't good enough, you could offer to give up dairy as well. Or maybe she would agree to let you come in her mouth and then she could spit and rinse. What you two really need to do though is sit down and discuss if this is about oral sex or possible mutual resentment about diverging lifestyles. I once knew a couple who was half almost-vegan and half never-vegan. They worked out their differences and accommodated each other beautifully. You and your wife can too.
Sesshoumaru tried to see what she had typed, but the angle was wrong. After almost a year of marriage, he could finally sit next to her while she was Scarlet and not initiate sex before she finished. Unfortunately the Wall Street Journal was not sufficiently interesting at the moment.
"Good god," Kagome muttered. "Can I please get a two week moratorium on penis insecurity posts?" She slapped away the hand that was pushing her skirt up and caressing the exposed flesh. "I thought you were learning patience," she said to him, more amused than annoyed. She began typing again. After a few minutes, Kagome set her laptop on the coffee table and stood. "Do you want anything from the kitchen?"
"No, thank you."
He watched her in the kitchen as she put away now-dry dinner dishes while water on the stove heated. Even doing something as mundane as making tea, he found her sexy as hell. As soon as her back was turned, he leaned over and read the words on her computer screen.
Dear Penis Envy, Those male enhancement ads and spam that insist women want/prefer/need a large cock exist to make you feel shitty in order for you to buy their product or service. Of all the individual factors that contribute to a guy being decent in bed, penis size is at the bottom of terms of actual importance and the top in terms of mythology and created, artificial anxiety. If only there was a pill for ability to locate the clitoris, have a tongue that doesn't get tired, listen to cues, and take an interest in the other person's orgasm… Seriously, I'd rather screw an attentive guy with a four-inch dick than a huge guy with no imagination, a bad attitude, or even bad breath. I will admit that, sure, some people prefer a well-hung partner, but perhaps the reason is they too have bought into the fiction that bigger is always better. Or maybe all their experience with small penises is that they are connected to insecure, whiny men. I'm sorry if I sound harsh, but what I'm trying to say is You Can Be A Great Lover, Even If You Aren't Packing A Giant Third Leg. My current partner is slightly smaller than average in the size department, but we have plenty of fun in the sack because he doesn't worry about it. Instead of fretting that women will kick you out of the boudoir when they see you naked, work on your confidence.
He wanted to scroll up and see the wording of the original question, but he heard the whistle of the teakettle and Kagome coming back. He waited for her to set the steaming teacup down before he grabbed her. "Slightly below average, am I?" he said, nuzzling her neck.
"I love how predictable you are." She straddled his legs and began to unbutton his shirt. "Remind me to take out that sentence before I send it to my editor." She moaned and arched her back as he kissed up her neck and teased the skin under her sweater. Until his hands reached her chest. "Ow…be gentle with the boobs."
"Still sore?" he asked.
"Yeah. I know I've only been off the pill for two months and it will take a little while for my cycle to normalize, but I thought my period would come four days ago." Kagome stopped short and sat up, a blank look on her face. She blinked twice, then stood, leaving Sesshoumaru more than a little perplexed. "I'm going to run to the pharmacy. Be right back," she said, as if it were the most natural thing in the world to do at seven forty-five on a Saturday evening.
She grabbed her purse and was out the door before he could even comment.
Twenty-two minutes later, Kagome strode in and walked through the living room without even glancing at Sesshoumaru. He heard the bathroom door close and resisted the urge to follow her. He tried to read the newspaper, but the words ran together in a jumble of incoherence. After two minutes he gave up and simply tried not to get too excited. He did not have to wait long.
It was not what he anticipated, and Sesshoumaru had no idea how to interpret the shouted expletive. She certainly did not sound pleased. But he would have anticipated a negative to produce a different kind of upset—disappointment or sadness, not near-anger.
Kagome walked into the living room and sat next to him, movements slow like she had been drugged. "I'm pregnant." She looked up at him, a bewildered expression on her face. "I'm fucking pregnant."
He was at a loss to explain her reaction. "Kagome, what's wrong? I thought…that's what you wanted. What we wanted."
Kagome snapped out of the land of My Life Has Just Changed Forever and back into the present. She realized he was confused and worried, and she felt horrible. "It is," she said quickly, shifting so she was sitting closer to him. "It is. I guess I'm just in shock. I thought it would take longer. I had visions of monitoring basal body temperature and charting ovulation. I thought we'd be trying to conceive for months." She sighed. "I thought I'd have more time to get used to the idea. I'm just afraid I'm not ready to be somebody's mom." She let him pull her onto his lap and hold her close.
"You were ready two months ago," he gently reminded her. "And you already are somebody's mom. Just because Rin isn't your daughter, doesn't mean you haven't been acting as her mother for going on two years."
"I know…I'm just a little freaked." Kagome lifted her head off his shoulder, face lit by a scared smile. "I'm pregnant," she giggled. "I'm going to have a baby." The smile gained confidence. "We're going to have a baby."
This was what he had been waiting for. The excitement, the hope, the giddy expectation. "Should we go next door and share the news? Rin is probably still awake; it's not even eight thirty."
Kagome shook her head and leaned against him again. "Can we wait and tell them at breakfast tomorrow? I want this to be just us tonight. Our little treasure to horde in peace for the twelve hours before we tell your mother and all hell comes undone."
"Good idea." Mrs. Taisho's hints that they should hurry up and procreate had begun the day they returned from their honeymoon and in the last six months turned into a full-scale assault of long drawn-out, unsubtle sighs. All her friends had baby grandchildren to cuddle and none of them were getting any younger and her greatest fear was dying before she could hold another infant Taisho. Never mind that she was barely in her mid-fifties with no health problems. "As long as we tell her that we only just found out. I think if she knew we sat on this information overnight, she may kill me. I'm glad you know how to handle my parents better than I do."
Kagome laughed. Her self-conscious apprehension quickly turned to pensive bliss. They sat without talking, occasionally looking at one another and grinning, all out-of-control and happy. It did not take long for their closeness, the heat of their bodies to overcome the new parent-to-be fuzzy happiness and soon they were naked and moaning, buried and lost in each other.
Afterward, Kagome pulled the throw over them to stay warm and keep the rest of the world out, if only for a few more minutes. "Sesshoumaru…what would you think about us adopting Rin? I mean, as you said, we act as her parents. We're bringing a baby into the household. Maybe we should make it official."
He nodded. He had begun to think of the three of them as a nuclear family since the day after their engagement. "We should probably ask Rin first."
Though there was never any doubt what Rin's answer would be.
Sango felt the sweat run between her breasts, soaking the silk of her dress, and decided she had had enough. She scooped her son up, distracting him with tickles and kisses, and returned to the table where her friends sat. "Tag," she said to her husband, depositing their offspring in his lap, "you're it."
"Daisuke," Miroku chuckled, "are you wearing Mommy out already?" Daisuke immediately squirming, trying to get down and back in action, answered his question. Miroku set him on the grass and followed as the boy was off again, straight to the koi pond that Sango had been trying to keep him from.
Kagome nudged Sesshoumaru with her elbow. "Go with. You need the experience."
Sesshoumaru rubbed the swell of her belly and kissed her before getting up. Kagome's body had finally begun to visibly change, and he had a difficult time keeping his hands off her. "I'll be back."
Sango sighed and picked up her gin and tonic. The ice had melted but it was still cold. "Late-summer weddings should be banned. Thank god, I'm not pregnant this year. Isn't the humidity getting to you, Kagome?"
"Nah," Kagome said. "I'm fine. Do you want to go inside to the air conditioning?"
"No, I'm better already just sitting in the shade." She finished her drink. "And not chasing my little monster."
Kouga stood and stretched. After spending the past hour in the ninety-degree heat, a few minutes in the air-conditioned inn sounded quite nice. "Sango, let me get you a new drink. Ayame, Chardonnay? Kagome?"
Kagome's pleasant expression soured. So far, midway through her second trimester, her pregnancy had been an easy one. She had little nausea in the early months, was able to sleep as much as she needed, and had no problems with heartburn or swelling. Her body was a source of constant amazement—the glow of her skin and thickness of her hair; the new curves of her breasts and abdomen, complete with a darkening line that started at her navel and ran south; the fetus inside that kicked and moved, proof that she was indeed growing a baby. The thing Kagome did not like was the prohibition against social drinking. She had allowed herself a half glass of red wine at dinner two nights before, meaning, for her, this wedding was a strictly alcohol-free event. "Jack and Sprite," she growled.
Kouga could not help but laugh. "I forgot the code words. Is that an iced tea or a lemonade?"
"It's a fucking club soda with lemon." She sat back and pouted. "Stupid pregnancy."
"Just another four months," Sango said. "Of course, then you'll be nursing, but…what is he thinking?" She had been watching Miroku and Daisuke as they played by the koi pond. Miroku was currently letting him dip his feet in. Daisuke tried to climb all the way in, but Miroku kept a hand on his shoulder, much to his son's irritation. Sango knew how this would end—with a soaking wet kid.
"Goddam they're cute," Kagome said. She could not stop grinning; she would have a father-baby combo of her own soon.
"I can't believe he took his first steps a few weeks ago," Ayame said. "He's walking like a pro."
"I know. At first, it was great. He was so adorable toddling around. Now I get tired just watching him. He never stops moving. I had no idea with his newfound ability would come the destruction of life as I know it."
Kagome snorted at Sango's exaggeration; she had no idea how much worse it would get. "I remember when Rin became mobile. Wait until he learns how to climb."
Sango took a mental inventory of her house, worrying about bookcases and ladder shelves and steps to the basement. "My poor cats. They aren't going to be able to escape him. He's going to turn one next week. Miroku and I thought about trying for baby number two soon. He thinks a two-year gap is ideal. But I don't know if I can handle being pregnant while he's so active. It doesn't help that the boy has no fear of anything. I can't take my eyes off him for a second."
"Oh!" Ayame exclaimed. "Do it anyway! Kouga and I are going to start trying to conceive next month, after my sister's bachelorette party. We can all be pregnant together."
Sango pondered the benefits of companionship during pregnancy weighed against extreme exhaustion. "I'll think about it. I guess he's not going to slow down for a long time."
"Hey, girls!" Jak said. He, Bank, and Kouga were loaded down with drinks. "There's a lull before the cake is served, so we can sit for a little while. Kanna looks like an angel. You outdid yourself on the dress, Kagome."
Kagome's dissatisfaction with her non-alcoholic beverage nestled among the cocktails and glasses of wine was ameliorated by Jak's praise. He knew how to appreciate costuming. "Thanks! She's ethereal in white, isn't she?" Kagome loved being able to exercise her creativity in dress design and Kanna, with her pale skin, platinum hair, dark eyes, and innocent, youthful features, was a perfect canvas. "Aaron can't stop looking at her. They're going to have some gorgeous photos."
Jak handed her the club soda and gave her a swift kiss. "Your baby bump is really starting to show. So cute."
"Yep. I can't fit in my jeans anymore. Even the ultra-low-rise ones."
"Well you look fabulous," Bank said. "How do you feel?"
"Still tired. All the time. I'm fine in the morning, but mid-afternoon I start feeling worn out. By dinnertime, I'm exhausted. I haven't been able to stay awake past nine for four months. I gave Sesshoumaru permission to fuck me while I'm asleep, but he says he prefers me conscious. So we have lots of morning sex."
"Hi, Rin!" Sango announced, so Kagome could clean up her language and change the subject.
"Hey, baby," Kagome said as she whipped around, hoping Rin had been out of earshot a moment earlier. She pulled Rin onto her disappearing lap. "How you holding up? Is my flower girl wilting in the heat?"
The heat was not Rin's problem. Standing for pose after pose of group photos, long after the novelty of being a member of the wedding party had begun to deteriorate, was the problem. "I'm okay. You guys didn't take this many pictures when you got married."
Kagome smiled at the memory. Her and Sesshoumaru's wedding had been smaller and much less formal than the lavish affair they were attending. Only closest friends were invited; Kagome followed her sister's example and eschewed white; the wedding party consisted of Sango and Miroku; an intimate dinner and drinks followed the exchange of vows. Though she could have had the fanciest fairy tale wedding that money could buy, Kagome thought their simple ceremony and reception were perfect. "We did things a little differently."
Rin nodded. She had been thrilled when Kanna asked her to be her flower girl. The dress was pretty and poofy, and she loved the attention during the procession down the aisle of the cathedral, tossing flower petals and encouraging the much-younger ringer bearer to come out from his hiding place. Now though, hot and tired of standing still for the camera, she appreciated Kagome and Sesshoumaru's easy, casual wedding. She just wanted to eat cake and go home. "Where's Uncle Sess…my Dad?"
The attention of everyone seated around the large table was now focused on Rin. The word dad was new.
The adoption had been finalized a few months ago. When it was first proposed, Kagome and Sesshoumaru explained to Rin that it would not change anything about who her parents were or her relationship to them. Rin mostly understood this; she had three friends at school who were adopted. At first, calling her uncle dad was an experiment to see how this new title would affect the way she thought about her father. He still felt like her father and she still missed him so hard it hurt. But calling her uncle Dad felt right. It did not take away any of the love she had for her parents or make her remember them any differently. Now it was simply a matter of overcoming habit. Rin noticed that everyone was staring at her with indulgent, surprised expressions, and she looked to Kagome for help.
"Go ahead, honey."
"Inuyasha is my Daddy. He'll always be my Daddy. And Sesshoumaru is my Dad now. I can have both."
Kagome could have sworn half her friends looked away with tears in their eyes. The occasional reminder that two people were missing from their group and that hole would never be filled never failed to affect them. "Perfect explanation. And to answer your question, he's with Miroku and Daisuke." She gestured to the general direction of the pond. "But honey, you may need to be in another photo session, so I think you'd be better off keeping your dress away from there."
"Rin Rin," Kouga said after collecting himself, "are you going to call Kagome Mom as well?"
Rin shook her head. "Kagome will always be Kagome."
It was Kagome's turn to get teary. She pulled Rin closer, buried her face in the girl's hair, and inhaled deeply. "There's no one I'd rather be," she whispered.
"Rin, do you want a brother or a sister?" Bank asked, christening the official-ness of this new level of the Higurashi-Taisho relationship. He and Jak had been dating for seven years and a committed couple for six. They were happy together, successful, and knew that their experience with the next generation was limited to their family and friends' children. Rin, however, was special. She was the remaining piece of a couple he had thought eternal. "And what would you name him or her?"
Rin smiled and shrugged. She had been preoccupied with this question for months. Her best friend, Jordan, had a little brother whom she loved. Shippou, her other best friend, was a boy. She liked boys. But a big part of her wanted the baby to be a girl, if only because she knew the clothes were better. "I think I want a sister. And I think her name should be…Ponyo. She's a cute little fish-girl in a movie I saw last week with Dad and Kagome."
Kagome laughed. "Ponyo was really cute, but I don't think your Dad would go for it."
"Anything is better than the name you came up with," Sesshoumaru said, retaking his seat next to Kagome. He held out his arms to Rin, who eagerly crawled into them. She knew her days of having unlimited access to their laps were numbered, both because of the new baby and because she was almost seven—a bit big to be acting like a little kid.
"What is your name, Kagome?" Ayame asked.
"Rook," Kagome said defiantly.
"Rook?" Jak said. "Like the bird…or the chess piece?"
"Either…neither," Kagome said with a shrug. "I went on a Robotech binge a few weeks ago. I just like the name."
"But it's not a name," Sesshoumaru said. They had been through this multiple times already. And rather than convince her to consider other, more conventional, but no less creative ideas, he discovered his wife's unreasonable stubbornness had no limits, including saddling a possible daughter with an unwieldy name.
"It's a name if I say it is." Kagome put on her Don't Even Try It scowl.
"So what's your boy name?" Sango asked.
"I don't want to talk about it."
"Why?" Jak asked.
"Because I don't want a boy."
Sango frowned. An itchy defensiveness poked her. "Why not? Boys are fun. I love my little boy."
"Yeah, why not, Kagome?" Bank said. "Nothing's wrong with boys."
"Nothing is wrong with boys. I just don't want one. I want a girl." Kagome smoothed her hands over her small, round belly possessively. "I want a girl. I want a girl and I want to name her Rook."
Jak looked from Kagome to Sesshoumaru and back to Kagome. "How does he put up with you?"
Kagome glanced at Sesshoumaru, playful and challenging. "He knew he signed up for goofy names when he married me."
Sesshoumaru shook his head to stifle a laugh. There were moments when she caught him off guard, when she grabbed the place she occupied in his heart and squeezed, reminding him how amazing she was. "I don't recall that in our wedding vows."
"It was part of the prenup," Kagome said, trying to maintain a straight face. There was, of course, no prenuptial agreement. "In the fine print."
"As fascinating as this marriage and breeding banter is," Jak said, voice ripe with sarcasm, "we should get back inside. It'll be cake cutting time shortly, and I need to make sure the bride and groom are ready."
"I need to get my son cleaned up," Sango said, grabbing her diaper bag. "And my husband apparently." Both Miroku and Daisuke were wet and flecked with green slime from splashing in the water.
"And you ask why I don't want a boy. Exhibit number one." Kagome conveniently ignored the fact that Toddler Rin would have done exactly the same thing.
"So they're done traumatizing my fish?"Jak said without meaning it; Daisuke had full access to the pond on his babysitting days. "The koi poop in that water, you know. Use the tub in our bathroom to wash him off. We'll wait to cut the cake."
"I'll help," Kagome said. "That looks like a two-person job." She got up and, after kissing Rin and Sesshoumaru, went with Sango.
Rin perked up at the mention of cake. This was what she had been waiting for. "Kanna said I could have a big piece with a frosting flower on it."
"I suppose you'll be needed for some pictures of the wedding party with the cake," Sesshoumaru said. He carried Rin toward the inn.
"Dad…do you want a boy or a girl?"
He thought for only a moment. "Rin, I just want the baby to be healthy. That's more important than if it's a boy or a girl." He smoothed a wild curl from her face. "I hope what Kagome said didn't bother you. She will love the baby just as much as if it's a boy."
Rin nodded. "I know. She was mostly being silly. Kagome is made of love."
He couldn't think of a better way to describe her.
When the day finally came, it was more or less a surprise. Of course, no one can be entirely prepared for the birth of one's child, and Kagome and Sesshoumaru were aware that the baby would arrive at some vague point in the future. Kagome was due on December tenth, which was over two weeks away. They regarded it as less of a date and more of a window, and, still carrying high, she thought she would stay pregnant until well into the third week of December. She and Sesshoumaru had spent the last month fantasizing that their baby's birth would be sometime shortly before Christmas, wondering if it would be cold, if there would be snow on the ground, if Rin would still be in school. All their speculation certainly was in a cheerfully oblivious, post-Thanksgiving context.
The day began like a normal fourth Monday of November. Kagome had an assortment of cookbooks spread out on the kitchen counter, and she was busy making her long holiday shopping list as Rin and Sesshoumaru got ready for school and work. When they came into the kitchen, Kagome was climbing up a step stool to take inventory of the upper shelves of the pantry.
"Would you like some help?" Sesshoumaru chose his words with care. She had frequently reminded him that she was pregnant, not broken or sick, and capable of performing normal household chores and going to the gym. He quickly learned not to question her judgment. His protectiveness, or over-protectiveness according to Kagome, these past few months had taken a backseat to his desire not to piss her off. It did not take long for him to trust her body and her instincts to not overdo.
"Do you mind taking this?" She handed him a heavy bag of cornmeal. "And can you dig out the stand mixer some time before Wednesday? I think it's almost thirty pounds and I probably shouldn't be lifting that much at this point."
He gave her a hand as she stepped down, happy that she paused to let him stroke the vast expanse of her belly. "You look different."
"What do you mean?" Kagome asked, automatically touching her face.
"Your body. Your front has a different shape."
"The baby must have dropped. That would explain why I can breathe a little easier this morning." She clutched her lower abdomen and made a face. "And why I have to keep going to the toilet."
"Are you alright?"
"A little crampy. I blame the Four Onion Soup we had for dinner last night."
Sesshoumaru and Rin looked at each other with suspicion. As long as they had known her, Kagome had a stomach of iron. They had gone to an amusement park together that summer, and Kagome had shocked and horrified them by eating a deep-fried bacon cheeseburger, followed by a platter of chili cheese fries and fried cookie dough on a stick. It was not an isolated occurrence.
"Don't worry. The baby is just resting her head in interesting new places. Like my colon and bladder." She half-scurried, half-waddled down the hall toward the bathroom, followed closely by the dog who had not left her side since she had gotten up that morning. "Besides, I think I'd know if I was in labor!"
Kagome's day did not begin to deviate from normal until, two hours later, she was staring at a chest freezer full of organic, free-range turkeys. She wanted a big bird and was trying to picture whether the eighteen-pound turkey she had her eye on would fit in her roasting pan when a low, dull pain made her breath catch.
"Crap. Not again." She grabbed her purse and hurried to the bathroom. She hoped her nearly full cart would still be there when she returned.
Once inside the bathroom, which was mercifully unoccupied, she got a surprise. Two days before, she had noticed the beginnings of a slight discharge, a normal part of the end of pregnancy. However the mucus she now saw was streaked with blood. Her heart hammered as it dawned on her that her cramps were not the result of indigestion. She was in labor and had been all morning. She washed her shaking hands and splashed water on her face, then fished her cell phone out of her purse.
"Please answer. Please answer."
"Sesshoumaru, I think I'm in labor. I just had my bloody show."
After a long pause he said, "Okay, I'm on my way home."
"Wait! I'm not home. I'm at Whole Foods."
Another, shorter pause. "I'll be there in twenty minutes."
"No, wait. Just meet me at home in half an hour. I need to finish shopping."
"I'm fine. I am. See you in a bit." She hung up before he could say another word.
Kagome took several deep breaths and went in search of her cart. After wandering the aisles for ten minutes, she finally found it in the meat section, where she had abandoned it, and realized she was far too distracted to operate an automobile safely. She got out her cell phone again.
"Can you come get me? I think I shouldn't drive."
"I'm already on my way to the car."
"Are you sure it's okay? I don't want you to miss something important."
"What could possibly be more important than this? I'll be right there."
Kagome grabbed a random turkey and stuck it in her cart. She dug out her list. The only thing left was the dairy section. She added a gallon of milk, two pounds of unsalted and a pound of salted butter, and a pint of heavy cream to her cart and checked out. She had not had another contraction and contemplated calling Sesshoumaru back to tell him it was maybe a false alarm, when she was stopped by a tightening across her abdomen. One one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand…twelve one thousand. Short and not painful, but unmistakable. She sat at a table by the sliding glass doors and watched the time on her cell phone, waiting for another contraction to determine how far apart they were.
She looked up. It was Kagura. The two women had seen each other several times over the past almost two years. Social situations, the ground-breaking celebration for the arena, at the Downtown Athletic Club. The meetings were cold at first, though they now regarded each other civilly and at a distance.
"I had heard you were pregnant, but I didn't realize how far along you were. Congratulations. When are you due?"
"Actually…I'm in labor."
"Yeah," Kagome said, a little breathless.
"Oh my god. Do you need anything? Do you want me to call an ambulance?"
"No, no. Nothing like that. Sesshoumaru should be here any minute."
"Ummm…" Kagura floundered. Leaving a woman, even one whom you had actively hated two years earlier, in labor alone seemed like bad form. "Would you like me to sit with you until he gets here?"
"Oh…thanks. I'd like that." Kagome smiled as Kagura took the seat next to her. "It's just early labor. I've still got a way to go."
"You're so relaxed. I'm pretty sure I'd be freaking out right now if I were you."
Kagome laughed. "Well, it doesn't hurt yet. But I think I'm prepared. As much as I can be." She had stopped being intimidated by Kagura a long time ago. The fact that she was hugely pregnant, dressed in her sister's paint-splattered maternity jeans, sitting next to sophisticated, elegant Kagura did not even bother her. "There is a favor you could do for me, if you don't mind. Could you find the manager and ask him not to have my car towed? It's the red Audi Avant. I'll have someone come get it in the next day or so."
"Consider it done."
"So…are you here to avoid the last-minute Thanksgiving shoppers?"
"I'm here to get lunch." Kagura could not stop the blush that bloomed across her cheeks when she thought about her real reason for being at Whole Foods. "Okay…I've got a huge crush on the guy that works behind the sushi counter," she confessed.
Kagome was surprised that Kagura had shared such a personal detail, but she did not miss a beat. "Yuki? He's a doll. Totally crushable."
"You know him?"
"We chat for a few minutes whenever I come in. Which is like three or four times a week, so yeah…he's a nice guy."
"We've gone on a couple dates." Kagura's blush spread. She felt like a school girl. "He's the brother of one of Naraku's girlfriends. I haven't even told my parents about him. I'm an adult woman, and I'm afraid of my mother's reaction to finding out that I like a guy who isn't a doctor or a lawyer or a businessman." Her blush disappeared, to be replaced by cool caution. "Stupid, isn't it." There was a flash of vulnerability on Kagura's face before she sealed up again.
"Nah. But you may be surprised at how people, especially parents, can act in ways we don't expect. If you're mom is anything like Rose Taisho, she'll be thrilled if you are happy."
"You may be right. God knows my brother has been enough of a black sheep that anything I do will pale in comparison." Kagura sat silent. The ease of conversation between them prompted her to want to get something off her chest that had weighed on her for over a year. "Kagome…I know this is a weird time to say this. You could have had me fired for being a giant bitch to you and you didn't. I'd like to say thank you for that…but I'd also need to say I'm sorry for what I did. I won't make excuses. I crossed more lines than I can enumerate, and I like to think I've changed a lot since then." She reached for Kagome's hand. "We're very different people, but I would like to be friends. If you'll let me."
Kagome squeezed back. "I'd like that."
Sesshoumaru's car pulled up in front of the exit doors, brakes screeching and commanding the attention of everyone nearby. Kagome rolled her eyes and shook her head.
"I think you are in capable hands now. Congrats again. And good luck."
"Go get your sushi," Kagome said with a wink. "Good luck yourself, Kagura. And thanks for the company." Kagome hauled herself up just as Sesshoumaru stormed through the doors.
He had a role other than a passive observer of his wife's nutritional needs, midwife appointments, and changing body. Now he was an active participant, even if, for the moment, a mere chauffeur. "Are you okay?"
"Get out of cave man protection mode," Kagome warned, recognizing his intensity. "I need to get home without a reckless driver behind the wheel." Before he could retort, Kaogme closed her eyes and counted in her head. One one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand… "Eight seconds. And I think it was close to fifteen minutes since the last one. We've got plenty of time."
Relief softened his features. He had been tormented by nightmarish scenarios from the moment she told him she was not at home, torments that had gotten worse when she stubbornly hung up on him. "No precipitous delivery on the side of the highway?"
"Nope. I've got over a hundred dollars worth of groceries in the cart right now. My main concern is getting them home and into the refrigerator."
"You have warped priorities," he said as they walked through the doors into the bright autumn sunshine. Once the bags were loaded into the trunk, he wrapped his arms around her and held her close. "So…baby today?"
"Today or tomorrow." She buried her face in his shoulder, wondering about all the unknowns the upcoming hours would bring. "We're in this together. Don't leave me, okay?"
He titled her face up and kissed her. It was his best answer.
Once safely home and groceries properly stored, Kagome and Sesshoumaru sat together for an hour, sharing a pot of tea and timing contractions. Kagome was pleased that they did not stop, but duration and length between was all over the map. After two thirty-second, seemingly back-to-back contractions, she did not feel a thing for eighteen minutes.
"Well, so much for having the baby before lunch," Kagome said. During her doula training years before, Kagome had heard plenty of anecdotes that short labors were incredibly intense and many of the women who shared their stories said that they would have preferred a ten-hour experience with a long, gradual build-up toward transition to their mind-altering three-hour labors. Kikyou was in labor for twenty hours, and, even though the harsh pain was only a small fraction of that, Kagome thought the idea of being done in only a few hours an appealing, if unlikely, one.
Sesshoumaru, for his part, was grateful for a calm before the inevitable storm. His panicked drive to the grocery was a fading memory to their reality. His wife was relaxed and happy; they were home; the midwife had been called. Kagome was the star of the show, and he was ready to slip into his supporting part in the play—to trust her and listen to her and give her what she needed. For someone who was so used to taking control of a given situation, who could assess and assign instinctively, he found the prospect of watching her without being able to stop her hurt a daunting one, but living with Kagome the past two years had taught him a lot about the art of letting go. "How many times have you told me the past two months that babies come when they are ready? That patience is important?"
"You're right." As much as Kagome wanted the baby out and in her arms, she knew birth had its own schedule, its own rhythm. One that deserved reverence and respect. "Let's leash the dog and go for a walk. Hopefully that will get this labor into a regular pattern. While you change, I'll call your mom and dad. And Sango and Bank."
"Do you still want him to film the birth?"
"I don't know," she sighed. "In a big way I'd like a record of our baby being born…but I just don't know what I'll want when I'm in the throes of active labor. I'm already feeling really private. Like I just want it to be you and me."
"And the midwife," he said quickly.
She laughed. "And Juliet. And I told your mom that she was welcome and Sango said she'll be here if it isn't too late. She's even more tired with the first trimester of this pregnancy than she was her first. Ooo…another contraction."
Sesshoumaru looked at his watch and scribbled some numbers on the piece of paper that was their official record of the progression.
"Okay, it's over. How long?"
"Longest one yet! Go change out of your suit. I'll get the dog leashed." He kissed her and reluctantly left the room. Kagome looked at the dog at her feet and scratched behind his ears. "You knew this morning, didn't you? You knew before I did." Oberon stared at her with vigilant brown eyes. She felt Inuyasha's presence nearby, on the periphery, but part of her soul. "My steady, protective dog. I'm lucky to have all three of you."
They walked for two hours, strolling slowly and holding hands, stopping to rest as Kagome needed. They let the dog off leash when they got to an open green space so he could chase squirrels and get vigorous exercise, but he was far more interested in staying near Kagome. By the time they returned to their house, jokey, excited Kagome had been replaced by one who was all serious business. Unable to talk during contractions, she could only breathe, deep and even. In the pauses between, which were getting progressively shorter and less satisfying, she helped Sesshoumaru prepare their bedroom for the birth.
"I'm glad I didn't put off getting everything ready," Kagome said. "I've been so busy with work, I was tempted to wait until after Thanksgiving, but Juliet said to have it all done three weeks before the due date." She opened a sealed paper bag labeled Bedding. "I would hate to be in a panic right now about washing and drying all these sheets and towels and blankets."
Together they made the bed—two fitted and two flat sheets, with a shower curtain spread out between the set layers. On top of that, they piled pillows and set the warmest blankets nearby. Kagome stopped for a contraction, and Sesshoumaru laid out the contents from another bag on the trunk. The purpose of some of the items was obvious; others, not so much. A thermometer, Betadine, towels and washcloths he understood. A large mixing bowl, a cookie sheet, and a package of adult diapers were more mysterious.
He picked up the last paper bag. It read Baby Clothes in Kagome's large, neat script, and had a drawing of some smiling flowers that he recognized to be additions made by Rin. Two weeks before, the three of them went shopping for the baby. They came home with an infant car seat, a jogging stroller, a baby monitor for when they were at the big house, and a rather large layette in gender-neutral colors. Kagome washed all the clothes that evening and let Rin pick out the sleepers and blankets that she would put away for the birth day.
He felt his breath catch as he pulled the clothes out. The day had been a series of events—a set of small, significant steps, beginning with her first phone call that morning and continuing as her contractions became longer and she began to complain of pain. Each step brought a certain amount of fright and anxiety—worry that he was not with her, worry that something would go wrong, worry that he wouldn't be able to help her. This little step, laying out the first clothes their baby would wear, was the first time that afternoon a bit of the simmering anxiety was forgotten, as if the clothes had some hypnotic, calming power of suggestion. There were two plain onesies; two brightly colored pairs of socks; two long-sleeved nightgowns, one red and one orange; and a knit cap that resembled a ladybug. He picked up a sock. It was barely bigger than his thumb.
"Can you believe how tiny?" Kagome asked. Standing behind him, she wrapped her arms around his chest and leaned against his back.
Sesshoumaru turned and put her arms around his neck and held her. "How are you feeling? Hungry?"
"I guess I should eat. I kinda skipped breakfast, and pretty soon I'm not going to want food." Another contraction came, and he supported her while she hung on him, swaying and breathing. "This isn't too bad, but I liked it better when it didn't hurt at all."
He laughed softly and kissed her. "What can I do for you?"
"Will you fill up the tub? I want to be in water."
"I thought you wanted to wait until labor was further along." They had not planned for a waterbirth, but Kagome thought she would keep the option on the table.
"I changed my mind. Funny…I spent so much time learning how to give comfort to laboring women and did so much preparation for myself. But I really had no idea what it would feel like, what I would want."
Twenty minutes later, Kagome sat immersed in warm water, sipping red raspberry leaf tea and nibbling peanut butter toast. Sesshoumaru set out the silk robe she wanted to wear after her bath and put on a CD she had made of music to listen to while in labor. He was expecting to hear Enya or Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares or something similarly ethereal, but was not surprised that Kagome had chosen "Rooster" by Alice in Chains as the first track. She was still as unpredictable as she had been that night at the restaurant when she had confronted him and his parents in all her profane glory.
"This is so much better," she said. The contractions were still coming, regular and getting harder, but the water helped her relax during them and she did not feel so drained afterward. Sesshoumaru knelt down at the side of the tub and held her hands as her eyes closed and her breathing deepened. He brushed wisps of black hair from her face. She smiled shyly at him when she returned to normal. "Get undressed and come in with me."
Lost again, broken and weary
Unable to find my way
Tail in hand, dizzy and clearly
Unable to just let this go
I am surrendering to gravity and the unknown
Catch me, heal me,
Lift me back up to the sun
I choose to live...
I fell again, like a baby
Unable to stand on my own
Tail in hand, dizzy and clearly
Unable to just let this go
I am surrendering to gravity and the unknown
Catch me, heal me
Lift me back up to the sun
I choose to live...
I choose to live...
I choose to live...
Catch me, heal me
Lift me back up to the sun
Help me survive the bottom
Their limbs were twined around each other, bodies touching everywhere, strands of white and dark hair tangled and floating on the surface of the water. They kissed, slow and long. Sesshoumaru caressed her back, her neck. She grew limp and moaned through the pains, followed by sweet sighs as he just held her and whispered encouragement.
For the first time in his wife's pregnancy Sesshoumaru felt like he had a real purpose, that they were in it together. His heart swelled with his need to protect her. "One closer to being finished."
"So peaceful," she said, lifting her head from his shoulder. "Can we stay like this forever? Just the two of us."
"I don't know about forever. We can stay here until the water gets cold."
"You and your logic."
"You and your magic."
"We make a good combination."
As they dried off, they heard the front door and excited voices.
"My mother and Rin." Sesshoumaru quickly pulled on his pants. It would not take long for the newcomers to discover their location.
"God, is it five already?"
A moment later there was a knock on the door and Rin said, "Can I come in?"
"Sure, sweetie. How were school and your riding lesson?"
"Good and good." Rin bounded in, and Kagome hugged her until a contraction forced her to brace herself against the bathroom sink and slip back into concentration mode.
When it was over, she looked in Rin's eyes and smiled reassuringly. "Honey, I know you said you wanted to be here and that's wonderful. But I'll remind you that anytime you get scared because of the bad words I'm saying and the noises I'm making or if you get bored…because this is a long process…anything you want, just ask one of your grandparents to take you next door. I need your Dad here with me. But I'm going to be fine."
Rin petted Kagome's huge belly. "I know."
"Will you do me a favor?" she asked, absently smoothing Rin's hair. "Make your Dad a sandwich. He hasn't eaten since breakfast and I can't have him getting tired on me."
Rin nodded and went to Sesshoumaru. When she turned seven, she told him she was too big for being picked up like a little kid and cuddled. She decided she could make an occasional exception; he looked like he needed a hug. She raised her arms, and he smiled and picked her up. It felt good to be in his strong arms again. "I only know how to make peanut butter and jelly. Maybe Grandmother will help me make a grilled cheese."
"I'd be delighted to help," Rose said. She was standing in the doorway, teary-eyed with emotion. Kagome looked so beautiful, wrapped in red silk with her hair loose and damp. "Is there anything else you two need?"
"Can you turn up the thermostat?" Kagome shivered, and Sesshoumaru shifted Rin and put an arm around her. "Oh god," she said, looking down at the floor. "It's time to call Juliet back. I think my water just broke."
An hour later Rin answered a knock at the door. It was the midwife. Rin had accompanied Kagome to two of her prenatal appointments, and she had been charmed to learn that this woman was there when she was born. Juliet even told her a little story about her father giving her her first bath when she was one day old, shortly before her parents took her home from the birth center.
"Hi, Rin. How are you?"
"Good. I've been helping get tea and cold washcloths."
"She hurts and she's getting tired, but she's calm. My Dad isn't though. I think he'll be happy that you're here."
Juliet laughed. "That's to be expected of first-time fathers."
Rin led her into the bedroom where Kagome was leaning against Sesshoumaru. Juliet watched for a minute, then greeted the couple. She took a hand-held Doptone from her bag and listened to the fetal heart tones. "Kagome, if you can stand it, I'd like to get a listen during a contraction."
Kagome had time to nod and sit on the edge of the bed before the next one started.
"Sounds great," the midwife said, standing after a minute. "I'm going back to my car to get the oxygen tank and a few more things. Be right back."
Kagome glanced at Sesshoumaru and snorted. He looked like he had been handed a reprieve from a death sentence. "Feel better?"
"I'm simply glad the professional is here," he said, sighing cathartically. "I don't want to be in charge anymore."
Kagome laughed as much as she, in the midst of active labor, was capable. "When have you ever been in charge?"
"If you fucking touch me anywhere, I'll cut your balls off and feed them to the dog."
Sesshoumaru backed away slowly, as if he were near a wild animal. He had been rubbing Kagome's shoulders during a contraction. When she thrashed her head from side to side, he took it to mean it was an intense one and he rubbed harder. Apparently he could not have been more wrong. "You liked being touched that way in the tub," he said in his defense. The situation was very different from the intimacy of being together in the water hours ago.
"I'm sorry," Kagome panted. "It's distracting now. Lower back is the only place it feels maybe okay. I just don't want to be touched at all." She was kneeling on the bed, resting her upper body on her exercise ball. The contractions were on top of each other with little time in between to recoup. "Ahh…not again." She squeezed her eyes shut and breathed raggedly. "I want my mother," she whispered. Her voice was high-pitched and shaky. "I want Kikyou."
Sango quickly took up the space that Sesshoumaru had previously occupied and grabbed Kagome's hand. "I'm here, honey. Slow down and breathe. That's the way. Just breathe." She tried to remember all the things Kagome had done to help her when she was in labor. The most important thing was just having her friend next to her, encouraging and calm, reminding her to stay focused. "You're doing great. I know how hard this is and you're doing beautifully."
After a minute, Kagome lifted her head and attempted a weak smile at Sango. Mrs. Taisho was sitting near her, and she fumbled for her mother-in-law's hand. "I'm glad you're here. Both of you."
Sesshoumaru was touched that his mother and his wife were connecting. Mrs. Taisho had cried with joy when Kagome told her that she wanted her at the baby's birth, and he knew how important it was for Kagome to have support, especially having had lost her own mother. And he was stabbed by his own inadequacy. He had done so well seeing to her comforts and needs, but now he felt out of place, an intruder in this uniquely female domain.
Juliet laid a hand on his shoulder and smiled sympathetically. When she agreed to take Kagome, whom she remembered fondly from Kikyou's birth, as a client, she was excited. She was also a little apprehensive—Sesshoumaru Taisho was the most powerful man in the city, if not the entire state. However, when they met, she was impressed by Sesshoumaru's quiet strength, his lack of pretention, and his respect for his wife's judgment. And until a minute ago, his perfect ability to read Kagome's cues. "She's going through the worst part right now. Transition is rough on everybody. Why don't you take a break and boil some water for hot compresses. If I'm not mistaken, her second stage isn't too far away."
"Thanks," he said, grateful that Juliet did not make him feel even more redundant. He left their room with something productive to do, knowing Kagome was in good hands. He put a kettle of water on the stove and went into the living room. Rin was curled up asleep on the sofa, her head resting on her pillow next to his father, who was reading The Economist.
"Is everything going alright?" the older man asked, setting the magazine aside. He was perfectly content to stay away from the action in the other room and entertain Rin. They told her she was allowed to skip school the next day and stay up until the baby was born. Three hours of watching Kagome breathe deeply and walk around got old fast. They put on Howl's Moving Castle, but once Rin's normal bedtime was past, not even Calcifer's cute sassiness could keep her eyes open. "How is Kagome?"
Sesshoumaru slumped in the chair next to the sofa. "The midwife says everything is fine. She checks the heart rate every so often and says it sounds good. Kagome is doing great." He was silent a moment. "I've never felt so powerless in my life."
Ken Taisho laughed gently. "Welcome to fatherhood. You've gotten by easy so far. This one is no trouble compared to you and your brother." He stroked Rin's hair, taking care not to disturb her. "Sesshoumaru, were you ever told about the day you were born?" He did not wait for an answer. "You almost arrived in the car on the way to the hospital. I spent the drive begging your mother not to push, that we were practically there, and she just had to wait a few more minutes. They barely had time to get her into a room, then the nurse told her she wasn't allowed to push until the doctor got there. You mother said, and I'll never forget it, 'go fuck yourself.'"
"Wait," Sesshoumaru said. "Mother said that?" Rose Taisho rarely raised her voice. The idea of her saying a vulgarity was completely foreign.
"Yes," he chuckled. "The nurse ended up delivering you because your mother refused to wait another minute. I was so proud of her."
"I was threatened with castration a few minutes ago."
Ken nodded. "You probably deserved it."
Sesshoumaru joined his father's laughter. The past two years saw the two men developing a close relationship, one that they both had wanted for years but had been too afraid to actively pursue.
"When your brother was born, it was different," Ken said, sobering. "Your mother was so sick. She could have died. Talk about powerlessness. I would have done anything to trade places with her, but of course my only option was to wait and pray. You know…this isn't about you. She's doing something incredible. Something you and I will never fully understand, but she still needs you." He gestured toward the kitchen. "I'll take care of the water. Go to your wife, Sesshoumaru."
"Thanks. Dad. You're a good father."
Ken watched his son go back to the bedroom. He watched Rin sleep. For over thirty years he wanted to be told that. The fact that he had finally earned it made the words even more important.
The pain subsided, as it had every time before that. Just when she felt like the push and pull would take control and she would drown, the hurt would ease and she knew another was done and she had time, if only a handful of seconds, to prepare for the next. Kagome, still leaning on the large rubber ball, opened her eyes slowly. Sesshoumaru was close to her again. "You came back," she said, smiling softly.
"Don't leave me."
"I won't leave."
She took his hand and placed it on her cheek. "Never."
"Never." He moved the sweaty hair plastered to her forehead and kissed her.
"Asleep on the couch."
She closed her eyes and breathed heavily. He kept hold of her hand, but otherwise was careful not to distract her from focusing. The peak of the contraction intensified with a deep, primal pressure. "Oh god…ahh…I feel pushy." She panted as the pain subsided. "I want to push."
Juliet knelt by the edge of the bed. "Kagome, I just want you to breathe through the next contraction and tell me how it feels."
Kagome nodded. When the next pain came, she tried blowing but shook her head. "I can't," she said, panicky. "I can't not push."
"Okay, good. Go ahead. Follow your body's instincts. Don't force it—just push as you feel the need." She went to the stack of birth supplies on the trunk and ripped open a package of Chux pads. "What feels good? Do you want to stay where you are?"
"This," Kagome said after a minute. "Pushing feels good. But I want a different position." She tried moving and hesitated. "Ugh, my knees are killing me." She had been kneeling in front of the makeshift birth ball for almost two hours.
Juliet motioned for Sesshoumaru to help her up. "We talked about a semi squat at your last prenatal." She laid the pads on the foot of the bed. "Let's try that."
They maneuvered to the edge of the bed, with Juliet on the floor and Sesshoumaru sitting behind Kagome, letting her rest upright against him as he supported her weight.
"Hey Bank," Kagome said, surprised and not-surprised. She had no idea how much time had elapsed while she inhabited what many women called Labor Land, a trance-like state where her whole world consisted of breathing and coping and relaxing, one contraction at a time. "When did you get here?"
Bankotsu, standing quiet in the corner with the dog at his feet and a camera in his hand, said, "Hey babe. A half an hour ago. Jak sends his regards."
"Oh my god, Kagome, I can see the head already." Juliet put on a pair of sterile Neoprene gloves and wrung out a hot compress. "It won't be long before you're done. Don't hold your breath. Just breathe the baby down. You're doing great."
Kagome looked behind at Sesshoumaru. "Don't let me fall."
"Never." He twined his fingers through hers. "You're incredible."
She waited for the next urge to become unbearable and let her body and her instincts take over. "This is better. I can do this." This new rhythm, pushing and resting, gave her a shiny sense of control, and she was amazed at how much the pain had lessened. She took deep breaths and blew out as she pushed, then relaxed against Sesshoumaru until the next.
"Great pushing. Okay go slow. The head is starting to crown." With a rush of fluid the whole baby was out. "Oh god! So much for a controlled delivery of the head." Juliet immediately placed the baby on Kagome's chest, as she parted her robe so the baby was touching her skin. She quickly suctioned each nostril and wiped the scrunched, pink face with a towel. It was enough to produce a strong, angry howl.
Kagome leaned back and sighed. "Out. He's out. I'm done." She looked over her shoulder at a somewhat shocked Sesshoumaru and kissed him. "We're done!"
The bleating newborn cry was an otherworldly sound that was so full of life, Sesshoumaru could barely breathe. Even after the hours building up to this inevitable point, it still seemed a miracle that there was suddenly a new person in the room. From his position, he had not seen much before the baby was given to Kagome, and now the little body was covered with a towel as Juliet dried amniotic fluid and blood. "You said he. Is it a boy?" His tried to keep his voice measured and calm.
The baby had thick white hair and a less-than-pleased expression, pure fury and drama. "I'm getting serious male Taisho vibes from this one," Kagome said with a laugh. She moved the towel aside and grinned. "We have a son."
"We have a son," he echoed, amazed. Sesshoumaru felt like the universe had shrunk to nothing but him and Kagome and their infant. Just as intimate as the bath they had taken together, but now the baby was on the outside, visible and crying. He was no longer an abstract, unknowable part of their future. He had size and color and sound. The beginnings of his own identity. Sesshoumaru touched a tiny, long-fingered hand. "Oh Kagome." He thought he would be overcome by the intensity of the emotions of touching his child for the first time. He looked up, saw his mother and Sango sobbing in each other's arms, and laughed instead. Kagome seemed happy, but he did not know how much was simply relief to be finished. "Are you disappointed?"
Kagome gave him a look of amused incomprehension, then shook her head. "How can I be disappointed? Look at him. He's perfect. Just because I wanted a girl, doesn't mean I don't want him." She kissed the little head, smoothing the damp, white hair. "Rose, would you go tell the duo in the living room it's a boy? And they can come in soon."
Sesshoumaru and Juliet spread towels and Chux pads on the bed and helped Kagome recline on a pile of pillows. Juliet put a knit hat on the baby's head and covered him and Kagome with a fresh, thick towel. After the cord stopped pulsing, she clamped it. Kagome insisted that she be the one to cut the cord, the tie that bound her and her son for nine months. Then Juliet just let them be. Barring problems, she let mothers and babies stay undisturbed as much as possible during the first hour or so after birth. "Don't forget you still have a placenta to push out," she reminded gently.
The baby, lying front down, skin-to-skin on Kagome's chest, gradually stopped crying and began to open his eyes, blinking at his new surroundings. Kagome felt her heart clench when he looked at her, as though she was staring straight into her own soul. It was a profound, lovely, almost physical pain. "Hi, baby boy," she whispered. "Look at how beautiful you are." She picked up a hand and the tears began to fall. "I didn't even know I wanted you," she choked out.
Sesshoumaru stretched out next to Kagome and kissed her. She laid her head on his shoulder and wept for a minute as he stroked her hair. "What do you think of him?" she asked.
He locked eyes with his son. He suspected they would be the same shape as his, but the color was almost black. He felt like he could look into them forever. "I didn't know it was possible to be this happy."
There was a soft knock at the door. "Are you ready?" Rose asked.
"Come in!" Kagome called. "Come in and meet our baby boy!"
She had delivered the placenta without any problems and now had warm blankets covering her lower half. Juliet massaged her abdomen and, for now, was satisfied at the amount of uterine contraction. Kagome was relieved to learn that, despite a speedy birth and nuchal hand, she had barely a first-degree tear that did not require repair. She was high on post-birth elation, and the only things keeping her from wanting to dance around the room were her lurking exhaustion and the tiny baby on her chest.
Rin clamored in and went straight to Sesshoumaru, who was sitting on the edge of the bed. He hugged her to him tightly. When her grandparents woke her, she was confused at first. She had been dreaming that Kagome gave birth to a litter of kittens and did not understand why her grandparents had laughed when she asked how many and what color they were. It did not take long for her to wake up completely, and she grinned at her sleepy mistake. A brother, they told her. She had watched enough birth videos to know what to expect and was not afraid, but she was secretly glad they let her sleep through the bloody part.
"Hi, sweetie," Kagome said. "We have a little boy."
Rin watched her new brother rooting around on Kagome's chest. His movements were clumsy but effective. It did not take much searching before he found a nipple, and as soon as he did, he began to suck enthusiastically. "Can I touch him? I washed my hands."
"Go ahead, honey. You can talk to him too. He'll recognize your voice."
Rin got closer. "Hi little brother. It's Rin." She petted his head. It was covered with wild white hair. She was reminded of her Daddy and Dad's baby books. "His hair is cute. What color are his eyes?"
"They're dark," Sesshoumaru said. "I think he might have Kagome's brown eyes."
"I hope he has something of mine," Kagome said. "He looks all Taisho to me." She smiled as he sucked, paying attention to his mouth position and latch on. "He's already nursing great." She covered her other breast with her red robe and looked over at the Taishos, standing nearby with their arms around each other. "Come closer."
Sesshoumaru stood and embraced his parents. He had kept his emotions visibly in check for the past half an hour, but holding his mother nearly destroyed the wall he had built around himself. Perhaps because too many of his childhood memories about her involved her bedridden state, he had always thought of her as fragile, delicate. He was a bit abashed to realize she was nothing of the sort. "So the Taisho tradition of white-haired boys running around, causing trouble continues," he said once he had regained control.
"As does the tradition of dark-haired women who love them," Rose said, kissing her son's cheek. She sat on the bed and pulled Rin onto her lap. "What do you think of your baby brother?"
Rin had promised herself that she would not be jealous of the new baby, but part of her was nonetheless scared of being eclipsed. She snuggled in her grandmother's arms, more secure in the knowledge that would never happen. "I like him. What's his name?"
Kagome and Sesshoumaru stared at each other, struck silent with the realization that they had been prepared for the birth in every way but one.
"Rin," Sesshoumaru said, "we don't have a name picked out, because someone, who shall remain nameless, refused to entertain this possibility. Do you have any suggestions?"
Rin thought for a long moment. Howl, she knew, was out of the question, as were Pikachu, Umbreon, and Ash. She had to say a real, human name, but every name she could think of had an actual person she knew attached to it. "What was my other grandfather's name?"
Kagome's tears came back, unbidden. She did not think about her father as much as she thought about Inuyasha, but when she did, it was always fondly and with a small amount of guilt for not remembering her dead parents more often. He was an affectionate, indulgent father, preferring to set a good example for his twin daughters than by exercising a firm hand. He had given them a love of music. He taught them there is value in art. He had encouraged Kagome to think of herself as different from, not a lesser version of, her sister. He was her first defender, her first cheerleader. "His name was Benjiro."
"Benjiro Higurashi-Taisho," Ken said. "A good name."
"I think so too," Sesshoumaru said. Kagome talked about her parents infrequently and always referred to them as My Mom and My Dad. He had only heard her say their names once, toasting them on what would have been their thirtieth wedding anniversary. "Kagome?"
She swallowed hard, hot tears. There was only so much she could stand at once. She would have a good missing-her-parents cry sometime soon. "I like it…but only under the condition that we never, ever call him Benji." She remembered when she was ten and they had just moved. All the kids at the new school called Kikyou Kikyou and they called Kagome Kags. She went home frustrated and feeling sorry for herself and, after much coaxing, confessed to her father how much it bothered her. He commiserated and told her a story about when he was a kid and how he had hated his nickname. Don't allow other people to define you, Kagome. You are your own person. She stroked her baby's cheek as he continued to nurse. "Benjiro. I think it means peaceful. I think it's a fine name."
Once Benjiro seemed to have nursing figured out, it was time for the newborn exam. He did not care for it and loudly voiced his displeasure at being taken from the warmth and comfort of his mother's chest. Juliet performed the exam on the bed next to Kagome, who looked on proudly.
"Yep. Total Taisho."
"What do you mean?" Sesshoumaru asked indignantly. "You have never seen me scream like that."
Kagome nudged him in the ribs. "I have seen you, your brother, and your father," she glanced at Ken and winked, "in various states of anger, self-righteousness, and other distress. There is a strong family resemblance. See the crease between the brows and the curl of the upper lip? Unmistakable."
"Kagome's right," Rose said. "And I have seen you scream…exactly like that."
Sesshoumaru thought for a moment that his father might come to his defense, but they both knew better than to stand against the combined force of the two women.
Juliet weighed and measured the baby, took his temperature and listened to his heart, checked for anomalies, evaluated reflexes and hip flexion. Nine pounds exactly, twenty-two inches long, and healthy baby was the verdict. Benjiro was then diapered and dressed. He was swaddled in a blanket, and as soon as Kagome picked him back up, he began to fall asleep, worn out from the effort of adjusting from a dark world of water to a new one, a world of light and air. She turned to Sesshoumaru. "Ready to hold your son?"
Sesshoumaru took a deep breath and let Kagome initiate the transfer. He exhaled slowly. They would have a lifetime together, but this moment in time could never be replicated. He cradled his new son, torn between excitement at the prospect of watching him grow and wanting to keep him tiny and protected forever. Miroku told him that fatherhood is an exercise in melancholy. They change so fast it makes you want to freeze time, and the only thing that makes watching them grow up bearable is that it just keeps getting better. He traced a faint brow. "Hi little guy."
Kagome sighed with bliss. She would remember Sesshoumaru's expression, confused and happy and intensely affected, for the rest of her life. He had changed appreciably in the years they had known each other. He had become less reserved and closed. More willing to let his emotions show. Still, few things penetrated the remaining part of his shell to such a deep level.
"Can I hold him too?" Rin asked, her voice hopeful. She needed another dose of reassurance that she would not be forgotten.
"Of course, Rin. Come here." Rin carefully climbed on Sesshoumaru's lap, and he placed the baby in her arms, keeping hold of them both. "I'm glad I got to hold you when you were this size."
Rin could not stop smiling—she had nothing to worry about. "He's kinda heavy. I thought he would be like a stuffed animal. He's more like a stuffed animal soaking wet." She ignored the grown-up laughter. She preferred to focus on her Dad's strong arms around her and the baby sleeping. Peaceful, Kagome said. Benjiro was a good name.
The Taishos were hovering, practically salivating in anticipation of holding their grandson. Kagome checked to see that Bank was still filming and announced, "Since the baby is in such capable hands, I'd like to take a shower."
Juliet and Sango helped her into the bathroom. The midwife watched Kagome for dizziness from blood loss and, deciding she was safe with Sango, went to get her a clean robe and some maxi-pads.
"He's beautiful, honey," Sango said. She started to cry—a combination of happiness, missing her own son, and pregnancy hormones. "And Miroku says Congratulations."
Kagome hugged her friend, her own tears were only seconds behind. "I love him so much, Sango."
"I know. I know."
"Can I borrow some of your baby boy clothes? Maybe that cute little blue hooded towel with the Cookie Monster face? And those adorable overalls?"
"You're welcome to whatever you want."
They laughed and dried their eyes. "Do you want something to eat? You must be starving."
"Actually I just want to shower and brush my teeth and go to bed. It's after midnight and I'm bone-tired. I'll have a big breakfast." She yawned. "You must be tired too. You should have Bank drive you home. Come tomorrow with Miroku after work and get your car."
"Good idea." Sango turned the water on and set some towels out. "But I can't leave until I get a chance to hold that baby." Sango waited in the bathroom while Kagome showered in case she needed anything. She rubbed her belly, already starting to feel a lot more round than it did even a couple days before. She was eleven weeks along and looked like she did at five months with Daisuke. Not a bad thing, she decided. This would be her last pregnancy—she and Miroku planned a family of two children—and she intended to enjoy every beautiful, uncomfortable, amazing moment.
Sesshoumaru and Kagome lay under the comforting weight of several blankets, their two children asleep between them. Rin was curled up next to Sesshoumaru; Benjiro was in a pillow-free space near Kagome's head. Oberon was in his customary position at Kagome's feet, careful to avoid the new little person at the top of the bed. Kagome turned a table lamp on the lowest setting. She was not yet confident enough to mother a newborn in total darkness. The new parents stared at each other, smiling and quiet, processing their emotions and unable to fall asleep, despite tiredness.
"It's finally just us," Kagome said. Bank and Sango left shortly after Kagome got out of the shower. The Taishos removed the bloodied towels and trash and top layer of sheets and shower curtain, took care of the dog, and went back to the big house with promises of helping with breakfast and laundry the next day. The midwife stayed for another hour, filling out paperwork. She left after she was sure everyone was stable, saying goodbye and she would be back the following afternoon unless they needed her sooner. "How are you?"
"I know what you mean. I didn't know I could feel so many things at once. I've done this super-special, crazy-amazing thing, but really…I have only done what mothers have been doing for millennia. I am part empowered, part humbled. Also part over-tired and part Holy Shit—there's a baby in our bed."
Sesshoumaru laughed softly. "I'm still wondering how I got away with having this much happiness. I haven't done anything to deserve it."
"Sesshoumaru…do you ever wonder whether we would have this if they hadn't died. We weren't exactly in the same social circles to have much contact with each other. Would we have ever started dating?"
He sighed, lost in thought. "I'm sure Rin would not be here as our daughter. I doubt we would be living together in this house."
"I hate to think that so much of my present overflowing happiness is dependent on their dying. I would like to think we would have found each other anyway."
"My brother and your sister would not begrudge our happiness for a second, Kagome. And I refuse to contemplate a reality where you are not a vital part of my life." He reached out for her hand. "I like to think that Inuyasha would have found some other way to get us together."
"He was pretty tenacious." She twined her fingers through his. "The only thing that matters is this. Us." She yawned, long and lung wrenching. "I need to sleep."
"Go to sleep, Kagome." He watched as her dark lashes fell against her skin and her breathing slowed. She had given him more than he could possibly appreciate in a thousand lifetimes. Thanksgiving was still a couple days away, but he was certain he was the most grateful person on earth.
I do not own Inuyasha. I do not own Wall Street Journal, Jack Daniels, Sprite, Robotech characters, Whole Foods, Audi, Betadine, Enya, Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares, A Perfect Circle lyrics, Doptone, The Economist, Howl's Moving Castle or any of its characters, Chux pads, any Pokemon characters, or any Sesame Street characters. It is done. Thank you to everyone who took the time to read this story, through the many long pauses between updates, and especially this last, monstrous chapter. Thank you to any and all reviewers—you often kept me going during periods of writing malaise. Your supportive words have more power than you can possibly understand. And last thanks to my husband, my vault of information for all things legal and automotive.