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

Chapter 155

Kagome helped Sayo through the door to the little house, then stood there, looking around, moving only enough to let Asami inside. Nanami helped Sayo back to her seat, while Kaede looked up at her pupil, rather amused.

"I've never been in a birthing house before," Kagome said as she looked around the brightly lit room. "Sango told me about having her baby at home. I thought that was the custom in this village. I'm surprised you have a whole house set aside for it."

Nanami snickered, but Sayo only smiled up at the young miko. "Ah, you've seen my house. Can you imagine, with all the children underfoot and other business, how it would be for me to give birth there? We'd have to send everybody away. Maybe if Haha-ue were still with us." Matsu handed her a cup of tea. "Actually, if Haha-ue was still with us, I'd probably go there to have the baby, but this works well for everybody."

Kagome moved to sit next to the women. "That kind of makes sense."

Kaede nodded. "There's a mix of customs, child. In many places, women will go spend some time at home with their parents near the end of their time. In some places all the women have their babies in special houses like this one."

"It certainly gets you away from the children and even the men," Nanami said. "I know my man always fretted more than me."

Sayo laughed again. "It must run in the family, Nanami-obasan, because we both know how Yasuo gets."

The women chuckled. "Be glad we have him straight on that one," Kaede said. "Or you would be sitting at the door, chasing him away every few minutes, Kagome-chan."

"He was that bad?" she asked.

"I went to my mother's for my firstborn," Sayo said. "But Haha-ue passed away not long after that. The poor man had such a time when the second one came that Toshiro had this house built and had it blessed as a woman's only sacred precinct. All the women in our ko have the use of it if they want."

Kaede took a sip of her own tea. "It's worked out very well, especially for women who have no mothers."

"At least until it's time to go home. That first month . . . " Sayo said, wistfully.

"It's always the hardest," Nanami said, agreeing. "But we're here to pamper you, Sayo-chan."

"Just keep Daiki out of harm's way," the pregnant woman said. "That will help a lot."

Asami had been sitting quietly next to Matsu. "Now Asami," Sayo said. "Get Kagome-chan a cup of tea." The girl nodded, and began to fill a cup with the pale green liquid. Sayo turned back to Kagome. "There's food if you get hungry, too. We're going to be here a while longer. It was bad enough that I had to drag you out of bed. I don't need to starve you while I'm at it."

Kagome accepted the cup and let it warm her hands a moment before she took her first sip. As she watched, Sayo closed her eyes, and began breathing deeply as her next contraction swept over her.

"Would you like your back rubbed, Sayo-chan?" Kaede asked.

She gave a quick nod. The old miko got up and moved behind her. "Come, Kagome-chan," Kaede said. "Many women who are having pains like pressure here on their backs."

As Kagome moved next to her, the old miko pressed down on a place low on Sayo's back. "This is particularly good at this point in labor. It helps with the pain. You try it."

Kaede placed Kagome's hands on Sayo's back. "A firm touch is best," she said.

The spasm passed, and Sayo, relaxing, said, "You can press a little harder."

"Let me know if I get too hard," Kagome replied.

"Oh, it'll take a lot to hurt more than the pangs," Sayo said, "but I will."

"One of our jobs is to ease the way. Even though they say a woman and her child bond through labor, we don't want it to get more than the mother can bear - if she cries out, it's a shame on her ancestors," Kaede said. "Perhaps for the next one, Sayo-chan will stand up, and I'll show you another technique."

"Will it help things to go faster?" Sayo asked.

"Sometimes," Kaede said, "although you're already faster than most women."

"Sooner the better," the pregnant woman said. "That feels good, Kagome-chan. Matsu, get the chamber pot ready. I don't know which is getting a worse workout, my womb or my bladder."

While the women were discussing the reasons for why Sayo had a birthing house, InuYasha moved out of earshot. First, he did a quick lope around the perimeter to make sure there was nothing in the shadows that shouldn't be there, just in case, and then headed back the way he came.

As InuYasha neared Toshiro's main house, he could hear Michio singing something, in a slurry, drunken voice. It was hard for him, even with his hearing, to make out the words, but it sounded like it might be another sad love song, and once again, just before he reached the front of the verandah, Yasuo hushed him again. For a moment, he stopped, contemplating leaping onto the roof and slinking to the other side of the building. The conversation the men were having though, caught his attention.

"It's taking InuYasha-sama a long time to find his way back from the woman's hut," Eiji said. "I wonder if he got lost?"

"I know he's not bothering Sayo-chan," Yasuo said. "If he was, we'd here it from here. I remember . . . "

"So do I," Eiji said, smiling. "Remember, I was with you. Kimi was helping that time. You're lucky she didn't throw the teapot at you."

"It wasn't that bad," Yasuo said, looking up from the game board. He folded his arms, glaring at Eiji.

"Oh yes it was," Toshiro said, chuckling a little at the memory. "It was after that I decided we needed the birthing house."

"I guess," Yasuo said, unfolding his arms and moving a piece on the game table.

"You think he got lost? Should I go look for him?" Eiji asked.

"No!" Michio said, suddenly looking up and grabbing Eiji's wrist. "You're supposed to be my friend. You can't go!"

"All right, all right," the night watchman said, laughing a little. "He's a big enough fellow to find his own way home." He patted Michio's hand. "He's found his way around a lot longer than you or I have."

"He doesn't look that old," Michio said.

"Pretty sure he is." Eiji picked up his sake cup, swirled the liquid around, thought about taking a sip and put it back down. "My Ojiisan told me about seeing him a long time ago."

"Huh." Toshiro made his move. "Tameo said he looked just as young when he rescued him as a boy. But fifty of those years don't count. Kind of hard to age when you're enchanted the way he was."

"He doesn't look any older than Amaya's oldest boy," Michio declared.

"Hiroki?" Toshiro said. He picked up his own cup and took a small sip. "Well, maybe. Except for his eyes. His eyes look like he's seen much more than any boy Hiroki's age."

Michio leaned his head on his left shoulder and closed his eyes a moment. Instead of going to sleep, like he looked like he was doing, he kept talking. "He's not as sneaky as Hiroki, though. Don't trust that boy. Always sucking up to anybody he thinks can do him a favor. Comes around my house too often. Chiya says he makes her laugh." His eyes opened and he frowned. "I think he just wants a free lunch."

"You think he just wants a free lunch?" Eiji said. "Me, I think he just wants to get out of work."

"That too," Michio agreed, and rested his head back against the wall. He lifted his cup, found it empty, but made no move for the jug. Instead, he just put his cup down and another song

"Do not trust a woman's eyes,
or her hair like silk.
Sake is a better friend
warming your belly.

"Do not trust a woman's hand
no matter how soft.
Sake is a better friend
warming your belly.

"Do not trust a woman's - "

Yasuo turned around, and nodded at Eiji, who gave him a little shove. "Well, from what I hear," Yasuo said, nodding at the watchman, "InuYasha's never afraid of hard work."

"You're right about that," Eiji said. "I've seen him in action. Strong and a hard worker, even if he's got that weird hair and those ears. I'd work by his side any time. Hiroki, not so much."

Shaking his head at the way they were talking about him, InuYasha moved out of the shadows and into the soft light of the well-lit verandah, where multiple lamps glowed warmly.

"Your eyes glow," Michio said, spotting the hanyou as he walked into the light. "Like a cat's."

"More like a dog's, I would say," Eiji said.

"Feh," the hanyou said, his ear twitching as if to make Eiji's point. He stuffed his hands in his sleeves. "They're just eyes. I see with them."

The drunk man shrugged. "Cat, dog, it's just different. Everything today is different." He reached for the sake jug but Eiji put it out of his reach.

Toshiro looked up. "Ah, I see you found your way back from the women. Eiji here was nervous that they had done something with you and wanted to send out a search party."

"I was . . . just checking on things," InuYasha said.

"I thought that was my job," Eiji said, tilting his head slightly to look up at the hanyou. It was a slightly amused look, not upset at all. "No bad men in the bushes, I take it?"

InuYasha shook his head. "None - outside of a bunch of men talking about me when I wasn't here."

Yasuo laughed.

Toshiro made a move on the game board. "Didn't you hear?" he said. "Susumu drafted our friend here into the village guard."

"Did he?" Eiji nodded. "Good. We could use someone like you. Come sit down, and tell me all about how he convinced you."

The hanyou frowned a bit, making his face seem rather solemn, as he tried to decide what to do.
Toshiro, looking up from the game board, noticed. "It's all right to go home for a while," the elder said. "I suspect it won't be over until dawn."

InuYasha shook his head. "I'd just have to come back. I just thought . . . "

"Then you might as well join us," Yasuo said, interrupting. "That way we won't be talking about you behind your back."

"Feh," InuYasha said, but he joined the men, sitting near Toshiro.

"Ah, the joys of waiting," Yasuo said, playing a turn at the game. "Eat something, InuYasha. Do you want some sake? It helps with all the waiting."

"I'm not waiting," Michio said, as the hanyou shook his head no.

"Yes you are," Eiji said, holding a small bowl with sake in it. "I'm the only one not waiting."

"What am I waiting for?" Michio asked.

"For your honor," Eiji said.

"Bah," the distraught man said, frowning. "My honor went away a long time ago. About three months after I got married."

"And so you are waiting for it to come back." Eiji said. He took a sip of his sake.

"Don't," Michio said, his head lolling to one side. "You're married to a saint."

Eiji snorted. "You haven't seen her during the rice planting if you think that."

"You're waiting, too, Eiji my friend," Toshiro said, seeing the tension building in Michio. "Don't egg Michio on. We know why you're here and not at home."

"I don't think I want to play anymore," Yasuo said, turning his back to the game board. "It's not helping."

"Only time can," Toshiro said, and began to put the game pieces away.