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

Chapter 154

Yasuo and Toshiro were bent over the game board, studying their moves.

Michio, leaning up against the wall of the house, glanced at them, then tilted his head up, looking at the overhang of the verandah. Asami sat next to him, trying to get the distraught man to eat some of the food she had prepared.

"Please, Michio-sama, have a bite. I made it just for you," she said, offering him a bowl with a savory smell.

"Don't want to eat," he said, ignoring the bowl of food.

Toshiro glanced at his cousin, and then back at his son, who although looking at the board, didn't look like he was really paying any attention.

"We really don't have to play this," Toshiro said.

Yasuo looked up at his father, and shrugged. "It passes the time," he said. "What else should we do?"

"We can sing!" Michio said. He pushed Asami's arm away from his face, and began beating a rhythm out on the ground with his hand. "For love I journey," he sang in a good, if drunken, voice

"Even through the wilderness,
even at midnight
yoi, yoi, yoi."

"Don't be so loud, Michio-sama. You might wake the children," Asami pleaded, still holding the bowl of food.

He ignored her, lolled his head against the wall, but stopped beating the rhythm. His voice grew sorrowful as he kept singing.

"How dark the roads are,
but is she thinking of me,
there beside the fire,
yoi, yoi, yoi.

"Does she know how far
I would go to see her smile,
through the high mountains - "

"That's enough singing, Michio," Yasuo said, turning and giving his cousin a little shove. "That song is too sad for you to be singing tonight."

Michio almost fell over from the little shove. He glanced at his cousin as he righted himself, then scratched his neck."Maybe you're right." He closed one eye as if that could give him better focus, and then gave up. "Bah, you're too hard to see." Sighing, his head dropped to his chest. "But I am so sad. It seemed the right song."

Out in the distance, an owl called. Michio lifted his head once more. "See, even the night agrees with me." He looked at Asami. "Girl, take that away. I don't want it."

Asami sighed and put down the bowl. "I'm sorry, Toshiro-sama. He hasn't eaten anything."

"Don't want to," the drunken man said, almost too faint to hear. "Why do I need to eat? Everything's all messed up."

"It'll be better in the morning, cousin. You'll see." Yasuo put a stone down on the game board.

"Oh, look," Asami said, pointing down the road at two points of moving light. "Someone's coming."

Yasuo and the girl watched as the lights grew nearer and revealed the forms of Eiji, InuYasha and Kagome.

"Still awake?" Eiji said, as Yasuo waved to them.

"You think I could sleep?" Yasuo asked.

Eiji chuckled. "Knowing you, no. But one can hope."

Toshiro looked up. "Ah, we were expecting you. Yes, still awake." He turned and looked at Michio. "I have more than one reason to think it's going to be a long night here."

Michio, hearing the night watchman's voice, looked up. "Eiji my friend!" He picked up the sake bottle. "Come have a drink!"

Eiji, surprised to see the man sitting there, shook his head."Not yet, Michio," Eiji said. "I have some business to attend to." Scratching the back of his neck, he turned to Toshiro. "Has he been here long? I didn't see him wandering around while I made my rounds."

"Got here just before Kaede-sama," Yasuo said. He rubbed the bottom of his chin and made another move in the game. "I figured he'd be safer here, but one more reason I won't be sleeping yet."

Michio frowned, as he realized he was being talked about. "Eiji! You aren't my friend?" He put the bottle back down. "You won't drink with me?"

"Oh," Kagome said, moving close to InuYasha. "That's Michio? Chiya's husband?"

"Yeah," the hanyou said, moving to place himself between the verandah and his wife. "Didn't expect to see him here. Especially that drunk."

Eiji leaned towards the hanyou, and spoke softly. "He was like this the last time he kicked Chiya out. Toshiro is his cousin. I guess he felt safe here." Turning back to Michio, he gave the man a smile. "But I am your friend," he said, much louder, nodding. "Let me get Miko-sama to Sayo's and I'll come back and sit with you."

"You'll sit with me?" Michio asked, a relieved look on his face. "I knew you were my friend. I need a friend." With a sigh, he let his head drop back to his chest.

"You don't need to do that, Eiji-sama," Asami said, standing up and bowing, obviously relieved at a chance to get away from the distraught man she had been trying to feed. "I can take Miko-sama to Sayo-sama." She turned to look at Toshiro with pleading eyes. The elder, smiling just a little at the look on her face, nodded. "I need to go there anyway. Nanami is expecting me to help."

Michio looked up again, and once again closing one eye, looked hard at Kagome. "Miko-sama? She doesn't look like Kaede-sama. She's in miko clothes, but she's too pretty to be Kaede-sama." He scratched his head, obviously confused. InuYasha glared at the man, who didn't seem to notice. "Almost as pretty as Chiya was when we were young." He dropped his head again and covered his face with his hands, and began rocking side to side. "Does she know how far I would go to see her smile?" he sang, repeating the last line from the song he had sung earlier, his voice barely above a whisper.

"That's because she's not Kaede-sama, Michio," Yasuo said, motioning Asami to leave. The girl nodded and joined Kagome and InuYasha. "This is the new miko, the one Kaede-obasan is training."

"The new miko?" Michio said. He looked up and finally seemed to notice InuYasha standing there. "That must mean she's InuYasha-sama's wife. You have a pretty wife." As if it was all too much effort, he wrapped his arms around himself and began rocking again.

"He's in a bad way," Kagome said.

"Maybe it's a good thing I showed up," Eiji said to the miko. "He's sad now, but sometimes he gets mean when he's drunk."

InuYasha nodded. "I've seen that."

Eiji moved toward the verandah. "If Asami-chan can take Miko-sama, then I'll come sit with you, friend."

Michio looked up, a beautific, if rather fuzzy, smile on his face. "You won't try to make me eat some soup, will you?"

"Not unless you want some," Eiji said, settling down.

Asami looked back at the table with the food. "Feel free to eat it if he won't, Eiji-sama."

"It'll get eaten," Yasuo said, smiling at the young girl. "You go and take care of my wife."

"Where is Sayo-sama?" Kagome asked the girl.

"We have a house where all the women in the family give birth," Asami said. "They didn't show it to you when you came by the other day?"

Kagome shook her head.

"It's right around the back." Asami said. "Just follow me."

Kagome nodded, and began to follow. InuYasha, not really wanting to be left with the men yet, trailed behind until they reached the side of the main house. Kagome stopped him with a touch on his arm.

She looked up in his eyes, and saw the look there, and then turned to Asami. "I'll be just a moment." Taking InuYasha's hand, she put down the lamp, and walked with him into the shadows by a tree.

"You can't come with me, you know," she said, giving his hand a little squeeze.

"Feh," he said. "You think that I don't know that? This is woman's business. I just . . . "

"What are you going to do? You don't have to sit with the other men." Kagome said. "You could go home for a few hours."

"No, I can't. Who knows when she'll get done?" He brushed a wisp of hair away from her face. "I want to be here when you're ready to go."

She tilted her head."But aren't you tired?"

"Not as tired as you, woman. You forget? I don't need as much sleep as you puny humans." Not liking the serious look on her face, he gave her a cocky smile.

The smile worked, and she grinned back. "You've been sleeping pretty well these last two weeks." .

"Yeah, I sleep better when I have something to hold onto," he said, smirking, just a little.

Kagome gave him a little playful shove. "So that's all it took to make you sleep?"

InuYasha looked up at the branches overhead."But if I get tired, I can just jump into a tree."

Looking over her shoulder at the small house that Asami was leading her to, Kagome looked up at the tree herself. "I wouldn't pick this one," she said. "It's too close to the birthing house. You'll probably hear more than you want to."

He nodded, his ear flicking in the direction of the building. "You're right. I can hear Sayo from here. We passed a good tree on the way here, near the other side of the house. Might try that one."

"That's one less thing for me to worry about." Kagome gave his hand another squeeze.

"You're worried?" he asked, a bit surprised.

"Not really." Kagome shook her head. "It's just new. I've never been where someone had a baby before. My mother had Souta in the hospital." Seeing the look of confusion on her husband's face, she explained, "That's the place where women went to have their babies, and I wasn't there. I was too young anyway, even if they would have let me near."

"Yeah," he said. "I never was very near anybody having a baby until Sango had hers, and I wasn't that near. You'll do good. Kaede's there, anyway. She knows everything about birthing babies."

"Yeah," she said, nodded. "I better go."

"Go learn everything you can," he said. He gave her hand a squeeze.

Kagome smiled at him. "I will. I wonder if they'll have any tea."

"Knowing Kaede, I'm pretty sure." He gave her a quick hug. "That woman likes her tea."

"And so do I," Kagome said. Separating herself from his embrace, she went to join Asami, and with a final wave, the two of them walked the path lined with the lanterns to the little house.

Before the two women reached the birthing house, the door opened, and out stepped Sayo, being carefully supported by Matsu and Nanami.

"You're sure?" Nanami said. Her voice was uncertain, and there was a touch of disapproval.

"Of course I am," Sayo replied. "You of all people should remember how much a little walking helps me."

"But it's so dark," the older woman said. "There might be a fox around."

"That's why we put the lanterns out," the pregnant woman said. "And Houshi-sama blessed them. I'm not worried."

They took a few steps, a woman at each of Sayo's arms. Suddenly the woman took a sharp breath. "Wait," she said. Closing her eyes, she breathed deeply as a contraction hit her. After about a minute, she opened her eyes again. This time, looking down the path, she saw Kagome and Asami walking towards her.

"Ah, Kagome-chan," she said, smiling. "I'm glad you made it. I was almost afraid you'd get here too late, but this little one isn't quite ready yet. I'm still going to be able to be the first one you get to practice on."

"It looks that way," Kagome said. "I'm glad you're so willing. I don't know anything about having babies."

"Everyone has to begin somewhere." Sayo's voice was calm, and a bit amused. "I'm glad I can be the one to get you started. I'm not like some women. I don't get as upset as some of them do." She turned to Nanami. "Let's go back in."

"Good idea," the older woman said, breathing a small sigh of relief. "There are better things to do than walk in the dark."

"Maybe so," Sayo said. "Matsu, go tell Kaede-obasan that Kagome-chan is here."

Matsu bowed, and went inside.

"Here, Kagome-chan, you can get started by taking her place," Sayo said, motioning to the younger woman. "Not that I really need support, but someone," she said, looking at Nanami, "gets nervous about me falling."

Nanami laughed. "And as off-balance as you are tonight, it's nice of you to indulge an old woman. I have enough to worry about."

"I'll let you do the worrying for both of us," Sayo said. "But now, let's go in."

Smiling, Kagome moved next to Sayo, and allowed her to hold her arm. Walking slowly, the three women, followed by Asami, went back into the birthing house.