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

Chapter 153

Kaede and Asami reached the house of Toshiro to find Yasuo sitting on the verandah, joined surprisingly by Michio, Chiya's husband. There was a jug of sake on the ground next to them. Michio, his eyes half closed, stared out into space, the lamplight painting his features that accented the misery she saw there.

Yasuo looked tense, but not nearly as upset. "It's a night for company," he said, looking up as he spotted Kaede. "Michio just got here, and now you, Miko-sama."

Toshiro stepped out, carrying a go board. "But we were expecting Kaede-sama." He put the game board down. "Asami-chan, are there any rice cakes or chimaki or something? Maybe some soup? I think my cousin might need some food in his belly."

"I'll go look," the young woman said. She turned to Kaede. "Please tell Sayo-sama I'll come help as soon as I can."

"I will, child," Kaede said, and watched as Asami disappeared into the house.

"Sayo's already at the birthing house," Toshiro said. "I'm glad she got there first. Michio is welcome, but she has other things to worry about first."

"Are you sure, cousin?" Michio said, looking up at the elder. He started to move. "I...I could go."

"No, no," Yasuo said, tugging on his sleeve. "You stay put. Your children are safe with their aunt. You stay right where you are."

Kaede nodded. As she began to move on, Michio looked at her. "Miko-sama?"

"Do you need something, Michio?" the old miko asked.

"I...I..." he hung his head. "I don't know what to do." His words slurred together, and he bent low, covering his face with his hands. "Why? I...don't know what to do? Can you tell me, Miko-sama, what I should do?" His body shook, like he was about to weep.

Yasuo looked up at Kaede, but wrapped his arm around his distraught guest. "I'm afraid my cousin has been drinking too much," he said. "I'm glad he showed up. Company will do him good."

"And give you something to do besides fret," Toshiro said.

"Let me know if you need me," Kaede said. "Kagome-chan will be coming by soon. I sent Eiji to get her."

Toshiro nodded.

"Eiji is a good man," Michio muttered. "Who else would . . . " He leaned back against the wall of the house, but didn't say any more.

"We'll be sure she gets to the right place," Yasuo said. "Just take care of what you need to do."

Kaede nodded, and headed down the path to the birthing house.

Someone had lit lamps down the path between the two buildings, giving it almost a festive appearance. The birthing house was small, half the size of Kaede's own small hut, but pleasantly situated in a garden area. In the dark the trees standing behind it might have given it an eerie appearance, but the lamps and the light coming out of the window made it look like an inviting place to visit.

Matsu stood at the front door, watching, and bowed when she spotted the miko. "Ah, Kaede-obasan," she said. "Sayo-sama will be glad to see you."

"More likely, she'll be glad when I can leave," Kaede said, smiling. "Let's go see how she's doing."

The room they entered was clean, but simple. There was a cheery, but small blaze in the fire pit, with pots of water and soup on, using charcoal instead of the usual wood to minimize the smoke, and in one corner a tub to use later to wash the new infant after its birth. A small table stood against one side of the wall, and there was a low bench for the mother to sit on when it was time for her delivery, and a rope suspended from the roof rafter to help. A lamp added extra light.

Sayo, though, knelt on a mat not far from the stool, and Nanami sat behind her massaging her back. She smiled as the old miko stepped through the door. "Ah, Kaede-obasan. I am sorry to have to get you out of bed like this."

"Somehow, I'm not surprised." Kaede said. "I see this young one wants to be as much of a handful as your other children."

"Ah, I think you might be right," Sayo said, nodding "I was hoping I could wait until morning before sending for you, but this child had other plans."

"They will do that," the old miko said, agreeably, sitting down next to Sayo. "You aren't the first, and I doubt you'll be the last to get me out of bed because a young one decided not to wait. So how are the pains?"

"Getting closer together and stronger," Sayo replied. "Is Kagome-chan going to show up?"

Kaede nodded."Eiji went up the hill to get her." She took the woman's wrist and felt her pulse. "You've eaten?" Kaede asked. "I know it's late, but you'll still need to have enough strength to deliver."

"Yes, of course. Mochi and soup, and some fish," Sayo said. "I don't think I could eat any more."

Kaede nodded. "Good choices. Although, knowing you, I doubt you'll get much chance to run out of energy as quickly as your children come."

Sayo made a wry face. "Not quickly enough."

Nanami moved out from behind Sayo. "Would you like some tea?" she asked. "Or even some breakfast?"

The old miko nodded. "Tea would be good. That's enough for now."

Sayo made a small gasp as a contraction hit her, closing her eyes and frowning as the pain crescendoed and then eased off.

Matsu knelt behind Sayo. "Would you like me to rub your back? I'm sure Nanami-obaasan could use a break."

The laboring woman nodded. As Matsu rubbed, Sayo relaxed a bit. "Now that was the hardest one yet. The child must realize you're here now."

"Then we'll get to work," Kaede said. "Let me examine you."

While the people at Toshiro's waited, InuYasha walked back into his own house as Kagome was lighting the lamp. As the room lit up, she looked at him with sleepy eyes and covered her mouth as she yawned.

"I guess that's going to be the last of my sleep tonight," she said, looking wistfully at the futon.

"Looks like it, unless you want to tell Kaede-babaa you can't make it." He went over to the fire pit, to make sure the coals were well buried in ash.

"No, no. This is something I have to learn," Kagome said. "This won't be the last time I get woken up because a child has decided to come into the world."

"I guess you're right," he said, putting down the fire tongs. "I was wondering when Sayo's kid was coming. I kept hearing people from Toshiro's family talking about how they couldn't wait for it to happen."

"I know Sayo was more than ready when I met her," Kagome said, going over to the clothes chest. She picked up her hakama, which she had left sitting on the box. "These last five days have had to be hard on her."

"Feh," InuYasha said, following her. "These last five days have been crazy for the whole village, not just them. I don't think it's been this crazy for so many days since we fought Naraku."

She handed InuYasha his own clothes. "They have been rather wild. At least nobody's throwing shouki bombs at people. Still, I hope things settle down soon."

"You and everybody else." He sat down on the futon, and slipped into his hakama, tying the ankles before standing up and tucking in his kosode.

"At least I got to take a nap," she said, fastening the ties to her own hakama.

"Not much of one," the hanyou said, grabbing his jacket.

She gave him a sultry smile as she picked up her chihaya jacket. "We might have slept more, but . . . "

"Hey," he said, tucking his own jacket into his hakama, "that last bit was your idea."

"You seemed to enjoy it," she said, fastening the red cord of her jacket. Grabbing her comb, she ran it quickly through her hair. "I didn't hear you complaining."

He gave her a big, silly grin, walked up to her, put his arms around her, and leaned close. "You can do that anytime you want to, woman." He breathed into her ear while he spoke so he could make her shiver, which she obligingly did.

For just a moment, she leaned into his hold, but then pulled away laughing, moving to the futon to roll up their bedding. "But not until after Sayo's baby is born."

He sighed and helped her stash the bedding. "How long is this going to take? Sango's twins took what felt like forever, but we weren't here when Naoya was born."

She opened the cabinet where they put the bedding, and InuYasha put it in. "We?"

"Miroku and me," he said, closing the cabinet. "We were on an exorcism. Some stupid youkai was driving a local bigwig crazy about two days from here. We took care of it, Miroku stuck him with a big bill, and Sango had her baby all at the same time. I got to carry the payment home for him."

"I'm surprised he went off leaving her like that." Kagome said, picking up the lamp as she walked to the door.

InuYasha shrugged. "It was a pretty nasty one. It had eaten an old villager or two before we got there. It all probably worked out for the best, though. I thought I was going to have to sit on him when Sango had the twins."

"He was that bad?" Kagome asked as she waited for InuYasha by the door.

Grabbing Tessaiga, he stuck the sword in his obi, then walked to the door mat and opened it. "Every bit."

"That is true, Miko-sama," Eiji said. He had been sitting on the ground and they stood up as InuYasha and Kagome stepped out. "Kaede-sama got tired of him sending the girl who stays with her in to find out what was going on, and she got some of the men to come and keep him company. Daitaro showed up and brought the sake. Sometimes, I believe, some of the men still tease him about it. I hear he put on quite a performance."

"Serves him right, as much as he teases," InuYasha said.

"Ah, no man really knows how it feels until he faces it," Eiji said. "One day, I suspect you'll find out how it affects you as well."

InuYasha looked at Kagome, who merely lifted an eyebrow. In the lamplight his eyes glowed a moment even as his cheeks colored while he looked at her, but then he just flicked an ear, shook his head. "Feh. Whatever."

"I'm sorry I kept you waiting," Kagome said, deciding to change the subject. "I wasn't really expecting this tonight."

"Babies do what they do," Eiji said. "Although my Kimi tells me she was hoping she could hold out to next Market day."

"Really? I thought she was ready when I saw her the other day," Kagome said.

"No doubt," Eiji said, laughing. "But on the other hand, I know how Yasuo gets when she's getting ready to deliver. She was probably hoping he'd be at the crossroads instead of home."

The group began walking back to the village.

"So, how long do you think this is going to take?" InuYasha asked. "You never answered me earlier."

Kagome stifled a yawn. "Well, you never know how long births are going to take."

"That's true," Eiji said. "My youngest took the longest time getting here. I think Kaede-sama was starting to get worried when the child finally decided to show up. That was a hard night. They tell husbands that birthing is not for men and that we should go on about our business. She was already staying with her mother, and my mother was watching the young ones. It might as well have been me. Haha-ue kept running over to see how she was doing." He shifted the lamp in his other hand. "But all turned out well, so I am not complaining."

"Kimi-chan stayed with Koume-obasan?" Kagome asked.

"Yes, that's the custom if the woman's mother is still living," Eiji said. "Kimi went over there a few weeks before the baby. They say it's so the mother can rest up for the battle ahead when the baby comes. Or maybe because the woman is tired and needs to be pampered, and she can't do that when taking care fo her children and husband. And then they'll usually stay for a month or two while they recover. My Kimi's always come home early. She says it's because she misses me. Secretly though, I think it's because she and Koume-okaasan get on each other's nerves, but don't tell either of them I said that."

Kagome laughed. "I promise."

"But that's what's made these last weeks hard for Toshiro and everybody in his house," Eiji said. "Sayo-sama's mother died a long time ago, and Toshiro's wife is gone too. So she doesn't have anyplace to go."

"She has Nanami," Kagome said. "And I know there are other women there."

"True, Miko-sama." Eiji scratched the back of his neck. "It still doesn't let her go and get away from everything for a while."

"I bet she wouldn't want to go if she could," InuYasha said. "From what I've seen, I think she likes to keep track of everything going on."

"I suspect you're right," Eiji said.

Reaching the bottom of the hill, they turned onto the main road, and walked through the darkened village towards Toshiro's house.