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

Chapter 156

"Home . . . " Michio said. His voice was horribly sad. "I used to have a home."

"You still do," Eiji replied, looking a bit exasperated. "So do I."

Michio shook his head, and buried his head in his hands. "Home. No, no. They're going to send Chiya-chan away."

Toshiro turned toward the man. His eyebrow rose in surprise. "Away? Who's going to do that?"

"Tameo and Tsuneo." Michio dropped his hands. "They're going to put her in that house by the river."

"Are they, now?" Yasuo said. He smirked a little. "That doesn't sound very far away. It's one of Tsuneo's buildings, isn't it?"

"It is," Toshiro said, nodding. "They've been fixing it up lately."

"They're not sending her away. Don't make it sound like she's being exiled or something. She had to have some place to go," Eiji said. "You kicked her out. You know how she and Haname-sama get along. And with Haname still sick . . . "

Michio curled up into a ball, his head between his knees. "Damn me, damn her. I just wanted to get the job done and go home."

InuYasha looked pained, somewhere between irritated and guilty as he watched the man. He stood up.

"Don't go, InuYasha," Eiji said, seeing the hanyou. "You didn't cause all this."

The headman nodded. "He's right," Toshiro said. "Every few years, Chiya and Michio go through this. It's sad to watch, but not unexpected." He moved the go board out of the way. "It was just bad timing on Chiya's part to do it when her okaasan was under the weather." He picked up the sake jug, poured some into an unused cup. "Sit down and don't take it to heart. Drink," he said, offering the cup to the hanyou.

Michio turned to the hanyou. "You think it's bad that I kicked her out? You know I had to. Give me some dignity."

"I..." InuYasha said. "I just . . . "

Toshiro tugged on his sleeve, and InuYasha sat down, and accepted the cup.

The headman sighed. "These last few days . . . we have had an abundance of women's bad behavior. Don't judge us by their actions, InuYasha-sama," Toshiro said. "Normally, it's a nice quiet village. Even when you cause a little excitement showing up. You know that."

InuYasha downed a big mouthful of the wine as his ears flattened, then he shook his head. He looked at the group of men. Toshiro looked apologetic, Yasuo curious, and Eiji just shrugged. Michio curled back in a ball. "You don't blame me? Any of you?"

"What?" Yasuo said. "You think we should blame you for the rudeness of our women and the wildness of our boys?"

"Why . . . " InuYasha said. He downed the rest of the cup, but shook his head when Toshiro offered to refill it. "Everywhere else, it was me when anything happened."

Michio started singing again.

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

Eiji shoved him. "Don't sing that song again. Sake's not being a good friend to you tonight."

Michio shoved back half-heartedly."Neither is Chiya."

Eiji, scowling at Michio turned to look at InuYasha, and saw something haunted in the hanyou's strange eyes. "I don't know everything that's happened to you, but here, you're one of us. And a member of the guard. That's good enough for me."

InuYasha stared at him for a moment, not sure of what to say. Michio spoke up and saved him from having to respond.

"I hope that crazy man won't eat her," he said. "Stupid Joben, bringing a monster like that here."

"That guy won't eat anything but rice. Stop worrying, Michio," Eiji said. "Haven't you seen him? He's like a little boy."

"They're going to put her in the house with the yamabushi?" Toshiro looked surprised.

"Not alone." Eiji looked at Michio, and then back at the elder. "Kisoi and his family are going to move in there. They'll probably be taking care of Chiya as well. Joben will be there part time."

Toshiro sighed. "I hope it works out."

"I saw him today," Yasuo said. "So strange. He was playing with a toy horse like any other six-year-old."

"But what if he . . . " Michio started to say before Eiji shoved him again.

"See," Eiji said, turning to InuYasha. "We really do know monsters from those who are just different."

"Keh," InuYasha said, but he looked doubtful.

The night crawled on. Eventually, Michio fell asleep, and even InuYasha dozed a bit, leaning up against the wall of the house. Things were not quite as still in the birthing house though.

The lamplight glistened as it touched Sayo's face, highlighting a fine sheen of sweat.

"Would you like me to wipe your forehead?" Kagome asked. Fine tendrils of hair were plastered to her face.

Sayo, not as cheerfully in control as she was earlier, nodded. She was laying down on a pallet on her left side, trying to relax in between contractions.

"One day, maybe I'll have a child who decides to come in the day. In the fall, where we won't need so many lamps to make the room warm," the laboring woman said.

Kagome gently wiped Sayo's forehead dry.

"That would be nice," Kaede said, nodding. "Your children all have liked the early morning to come into the room."

"Obstinate, the lot of them," Sayo said.

Near the fire, Nanami snickered. "Oh dear, I can tell we're getting well along if she's snapping."

"Would you like to trade places, Obasan?" Sayo said, her voice somewhat irritated as she moved her head to glance at the older women.

"Already done it, child," the older woman said. She left her place by the fire and walked over to where Sayo lay. As Kagome made room for her, she picked up Sayo's hand, gently massaging a place between the thumb and first finger of the woman's hand. "I've had seven young ones over the years. You haven't caught up with me yet." She turned to Kagome. "Look here, Miko-sama. There's a point here, and if you put pressure on it, it will help with the pains. It always worked for me."

As Sayo watched, Nanami placed Sayo's hand in Kagome's. Sayo nodded, and Kagome took over the massage, just as another contraction hit her. Nanami walked around to her back side and took over from Kaede, who was giving Sayo a lower back rub.

"Go get something to eat, Kaede," Nanami said. "I think she's getting to the hard part, and it won't be long before you'll get to welcome the new one."

Kaede looked at Nanami with her one eye, normally calm and patient, now tired and nodded. "I think you're right." She slowly got up then headed to the fire.

Sayo grunted a little as the spasm reached its peak.

"Your pains are getting worse?" Kagome said. Still putting pressure on the point on Sayo's hand, she leaned forward to wipe the woman's brow again.

"That's the way it is, Kagome-chan," Nanami said. "It's that last bit of opening up before the baby comes that hurts the most." She ran her hands knowingly on the lower part of Sayo's back. "It's kind of like climbing a mountain. The road can get very steep towards the top, and it's a lot of work getting up there."

Sayo let out a breath as the contraction passed. "But it's not a road you can turn around and go home because you think you've had enough." She grabbed Kagome's arm and leaned her weight into it. "Help me sit up. I think I want to move to the bench."

Kaede put down her teacup. "You think it's that time?"

"Almost," Sayo said, looking towards the old miko. "I rather not wait until the last second. Remember last time?"

"Too well," Nanami said, moving around to where she could help Kagome support Sayo's weight. "That boy, always a speedy little thing."

Together, Kagome and the older woman helped Sayo up. Sayo closed her eyes as she stood, catching her breath. "Let's go," she said after a moment.

They began to move. Nanami looked at the group of women by the fire, Matsu, Kaede and Asami. "Before dawn or not?"

"Are you taking bets?" Matsu asked.

"I bet on before," Sayo said. "Don't think I won't remember who bets on after."

A little later, InuYasha pulled out of his doze as a boy's voice broke the silence.

"Ojiisan, where's Haha-ue?"

InuYasha opened his eyes. The sky was graying, but it was not yet dawn. He stretched a little and saw Daiki crawling into his grandfather's lap. On the other side of him, Yasuo was leaning against the wall of the house, sleeping with his mouth open, snoring lightly. Eiji was rubbing his eyes, and on the other side of him, Michio was sound asleep, curled up in a ball.

Toshiro was not quite awake either, but he blinked as the boy pulled on his sleeve.

"I looked everywhere for her," the boy said. "She wasn't in the sleeping room. And Nanami isn't here either."

Toshiro took a deep breath, and yawned widely, then gave his head a shake. "What are you doing up? It's too early for you, boy." He put an arm around his grandson, and moved him into position between him and Yasuo.

"I had a bad dream," Daiki said. "I wanted her to get the dream eater to chase it away."

Yasuo opened his eyes and saw his son. Sitting up, he wrapped an arm around him and snugged him against his side. "A bad dream, huh?"

"Yeah. Something was trying to get us all." Daiki leaned into his father's side. "I think it wanted to eat us."

InuYasha stood up and walked off the verandah, and toward the edge of the house, peering into the not quite light dimness towards the birth house.

"You're sure it wasn't you who were trying to eat everything?" Toshiro asked. The corners of his mouth curled up in a small smile. "I saw how much you ate last night."

"No!" Daiki said, frowning at the suggestion. He shook his head. "It was big and black and ugly and came out of the river. I grabbed Ishi and was running away but it was almost on me, but then I woke up."

Yasuo gave him a knowing nod. "Always good to wake up before the bad things happen."

"It's the ones you can't wake up from that are the bad ones," Eiji said. "I remember a few of those."

Michio groaned in his sleep.

The elder glanced in his direction. "I'm afraid our cousin here," Toshiro said, nodding at Michio's direction, "probably wishes yesterday was just a bad dream."

Eiji nodded. "You're probably right." He stood up. "I'll think I'll try to make it home. Maybe I can have breakfast before the fireworks start. Maybe."

Yasuo gave him a sympathetic look. "Good luck."

"I'll probably need it," the watchman said, bowed and walked down the path.

Daiki watched Eiji walk off, and looked at his father and grandfather, confused. "Why was Eiji-ojisan here? Why are you sleeping outside?" There was a note of concern rising in his voice. "Where's Haha-ue?"

"She's kind of busy right now," Yasuo said, giving the boy a hug.

"Why?" the boy asked. "It's sleep time."

"Think," Yasuo said, rubbing his son's head. "Why would your okaasan not be in the house this early in the morning?"

InuYasha's ear flicked, like he was hearing something, but wasn't certain.

Suddenly, it dawned on the boy. "The baby?"

"You're a good guesser, Daiki-chan," Yasuo said, nodding. "Soon we'll find out if it's another brother or sister."

The boy smiled. "I want a baby sister."

"We'll find out soon enough," Toshiro said. "Another girl in the family would be nice, though."

InuYasha turned to face the men. "Sooner than you think, maybe. I think I hear a baby crying." His ear flicked again, in the direction of where the women were. "No, I'm sure I do."