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

Chapter 41

The next morning, InuYasha and Kagome sat next to the fire pit, with their meal trays in front of them. Kagome had just set InuYasha's soup bowl on his plate and was reaching for the rice when he grabbed her hand.

"So, what does your touch tell you this morning?" InuYasha asked, with an amused, slightly wicked look on his face.

Kagome laughed a moment, then let her fingers interlace with his. "Let's see," she said, closing her eyes. Her thumb caressed his much larger one, and she slid her fingers up until they surrounded his wrist, feeling his pulse. "Hmm, you have a strong, but slightly quick pulse, but your skin feels normal. I would guess, you're either thinking that you wish didn't have to walk me to Kaede-baachan's or that you are plotting to steal my pickles while my eyes are closed."

She opened her eyes to see his free hand halfway to her plate, and she smacked it with her ladle.

"Uh," InuYasha said, a little sheepishly, pulling his hand back. "Both actually. But I bet you didn't have to feel my pulse for that."

"No, not really," she said, handing him his bowl of rice. "So what are you going to do this morning?"

He took a sip of his soup. "Susumu wanted to talk to me about something, so I thought I might try to find him while I'm down in the village. Or maybe I'll just come back and work on finishing the tree I was limbing. I'm going to need to find someone who knows what they're doing to get going on turning those trees into lumber."

"I suspect Miroku knows who to go to. You might ask Daitaro-sama," Kagome said, eating one of her pickles.

"Keh," he said. He picked up his rice bowl. "Yeah, I'll talk to Daitaro. He seemed to know what he was talking about when we cut the trees down."

Kagome nodded. "Kaede-obaasan told me we're going to go talk to Sayo-sama today."

"At Toshiro's?" He chewed on one of his pickle slices thoughtfully as she nodded.

"Kaede wants me to help with the birth of Sayo's baby. I think she's due really soon." Kagome picked up her soup bowl. "That kind of makes me nervous, but I get the impression that's a lot of what Kaede does, so I probably need to learn everything I can about it."

InuYasha nodded."Let me know how they treat you there," he said, downing the last of his soup. "I've never been able to figure out if Toshiro is happy about me being here or not. Seems nice enough, but . . . "

"I will," Kagome replied. "But I'm sure that with Kaede there, nobody will treat me badly."

"Yeah." He ate his rice. "Just tell me, all right?"

"I will." She lifted up one of her dishes."You want my last pickle?"

As he grabbed for it, Kagome laughed.

Not long after that, Kagome found herself walking into a large farmhouse. It was a busy place, the home of Toshiro, the head of the second most important family in the village. A woman, doing laundry in the shade of the house, sang softly to herself as she scrubbed her clothes. Children were playing in the yard and around the outbuildings. They ignored the men who were moving a cart full of compost out to the fields, although a rooster crowed at them if they got too close.

A girl of about twelve who was sweeping the verandah looked up, and saw the two women.

Leaning her broom against the wall, she bowed. "Ah, Kaede-sama. I'll go tell Sayo-sama you're here."

"Thank you, Asami-chan," Kaede said, returning her bow. "How is she doing?"

"Still waiting," the girl replied, and ducked into the house.

"Toshiro's wife was my cousin Tameo's sister," Kaede said as they waited. A boy, about ten years old, who had muddy knees and a dirt smear across one cheek, ran in front of them, chasing a chicken. "Sayo married his son Yasuo."

"So they're your cousins?" Kagome asked.

Kaede nodded. "Yasuo-sama looks a lot like Kinjiro. But he's not nearly as, well, determined to tell everyone the correct way of doing things."

This made Kagome chuckle. An older girl saw them, bowed, and hurried after the boy. "Daiki!"

"Sayo, on the other hand, is more determined to see things run smoothly," the old miko said. "And with her brood, she needs to be. Toshiro is actually rather glad. He had a hard time once Cho passed on. And a houseful of children needed a strong hand. Although perhaps, with her so near her time, things are getting a little out of hand."

Asami came back and led them into the house. Kagome looked around the main hall as she entered. The house was actually a bit larger than Tameo's. The roof was supported by massive beams that gleamed darkly. Baskets and bundles and ofuda hung up along the walls near the rafters, and other goods, farm tools and things she didn't recognize hung from the posts supporting the beams. There was a large stove in the beaten earth domo in front of the raised floor where a boy watched the fire as rice was being prepared. There were long tables for food preparation surrounding the stove. An older woman Kagome didn't recognize was chopping vegetables on one of them for the midday meal.

Sayo, a pleasant looking woman of about thirty-five was sitting like a queen from her place by the fire pit, working on some sewing. She looked at them both and smiled. "Come in, come in!" she said, putting down her needlework and bowing slightly from where she sat. "Welcome, Kaede-obaachan, Kagome-sama. I am glad you were able to come by today."

Kaede returned her greeting, but as the two miko took off their shoes and stepped up to the raised wooden floor, there was a loud squawking, and the boy they saw earlier followed the bird he had been chasing into the house.

The woman chopping vegetables gave a loud squawk of her own. "No, no, Master Kintori, there are no hens in here!" she said, turning around and shooing the bird. "Out, out, before Sayo-sama decides you're more useful for dinner than for crowing. And you, Daiki, you know better!"

"Sorry, sorry, Nanami-obasan," the boy said. "I tried to stop him!" Taking the whisk he carried, he shooed the bird to the door. Squawking one more time, as if to save his dignity, the bird headed back outside.

Sayo sighed. "That's enough!" Sayo said, rapping the floor with a large ladle. "Kaede-sama is here. All males out!"

"Me too, Obasan?" asked the boy who was tending the stove.

The cook turned and looked at Sayo. Sayo nodded.

"You, too, Eicho-kun. I'll call you when it's time. Go find Matsu and Ishi."

He nodded and left as well.

"That was a bit more chaotic than I was hoping for," Sayo admitted. She motioned to Asami, who helped her stand up. "Thank you, Asami. Could you go keep an eye on Daiki? He's obviously getting bored." The girl nodded and bowed. She then turned to the woman cooking, who had not yet gone back to her vegetables. "Nanami-obachan, would you make us some tea?" Sayo asked. "Are there any chimaki? Or rice cakes?"

"Both, I think," Nanami said, and turned back to her kitchen and reached up on a shelf for her teapot. Kagome was not sure she was happy to see all the commotion.

"What a way for you to make your first visit, Kagome-sama," Sayo said. "Daiki has a way of making such an entrance. Even when he was born, he had to cause a fuss during our family's festival. Things get a little crazy sometimes." She closed her eyes for a moment, and took a deep breath. "But I hope that won't keep you away. I'm sorry Chichi-ue and Yasuo aren't here to meet you, but they've already gone to the fields. But I've been wanting to have a chance to talk with you. Kaede's told me much about you."

"I understand crazy," Kagome said, smiling. "My life feels that way sometimes, too. Especially this last week."

Sayo laughed. "Oh, I imagine so. Understanding crazy makes us sisters. I never got to talk to you the last time you were here, but I heard a lot about you. I knew I would like you once I got to meet you, and I do. Come sit down, both of you." She very carefully lowered herself back to her seat.

"So," Kaede said, settling down next to Sayo, and taking her wrist so she could check her pulse, "how are you feeling, Sayo-chan? I don't think it's going to be much longer."

"Oh, tired and ready for it to be over," Sayo said. She rested a hand on her swollen belly. "I hope this child makes up his mind soon. He wakes me up too much at night."

"Well, let me check you out," the miko said, resting her hand on Sayo's abdomen.

After examining the woman and explaining what each thing meant to Kagome, as well as having the younger woman feel Sayo's abdomen herself, Kaede helped Sayo get settled back in her place. "It could be any time now. The baby's head is moving into position."

"That is good news. I hope he is less contrary than his big brother," she said, straightening her robes. "I think, after that, I am ready for some tea."

Nanami brought the tea over, along with a small plate of chimaki. Sayo's oldest daughter, a girl of about 12, had sat under the window, spinning thread on a large, well-used wheel while Kaede had done her examination. It made a pleasant rhythm in the background as the girl spun it forward, pulling out the thread, then winding it onto the spindle. The wheel stopped as Nanami brought the tray over. Sayo, as if just remembering the girl was still there, turned to face her.

"Umi-chan, would you stop for a moment, and pour tea for our guests?" Sayo asked.

The girl, a pretty thing in a bright red and blue kosode, acted unsurprised at the request, and walked over, smiling shyly at the two miko. Shaking out her sleeve, she gracefully poured the tea into fine brown cups, and handed them out. Last, she handed a cup to her mother, who smiled at her in approval.

"So, Umi, do you remember Kagome-sama?" Sayo asked, brushing her hand over her daughter's hair. "It's been three years since she was here last. She's going to help Kaede-sama bring your next brother or sister into the world."

Umi smiled at Kagome, then dropped her eyes. "Maybe," she said.

Kagome smiled back, then sipped her tea. "It was a while ago, and I dressed a lot differently in those days. I always wore white and green, and the skirt was rather short."

"Oh!" Umi said. "Were you the girl who used to walk with InuYasha-sama?".

"Yes, I was," Kagome said, reaching for a chimaki. She slowly undid the bamboo leaf wrapper.

"I used to play sometimes by Kaede-sama's house," Umi said. "I always wondered what you were doing. But then after that horrible youkai was destroyed, I heard all about it."

"Did you? I hope it was good things," the younger miko said, popping the sweet into her mouth.

Umi nodded. Before she could say more, a toddler stopped at the front door and peeked in, followed by an out-of-breath young woman.

"Come in?" the child asked.

"There you are, you little runaway," the young woman said, following him in and picking him up.

"Ishi got away from you again, Matsu-chan?" Sayo asked.

She nodded. "I'm sorry, Sayo-sama."

"Well, I can tell he's Daiki's brother," Sayo said. "Bring him over here." She rested a hand on her swollen middle. "I hope this one will be a girl. There are enough boys in this family already."

The little boy struggled in Matsu's arms as she walked over until he saw his sister, and reached for her. "Nee-chan!" She reached out her arms. "Play?" he asked hopefully.

Matsu handed the boy to his sister. Umi ran her fingers through her brother's hair, and he reached up to tug at hers. "In a moment, Ishi." She turned back to Kagome. "After you left, I used to think InuYasha-sama looked so sad when I would see him," Umi said. "Now maybe he'll be happy." She stood up with her brother. "I'll take him outside for a bit."

Sayo nodded, and the two headed out of the door, past Ishi's nursemaid. "Now, Matsu-chan, go find Eicho, who was supposed to be looking for you, and send him back."

Matsu nodded, and followed Umi out.

"She's been such a help these last few months," Sayo said, reaching for a sweet. "So, Kagome-sama, have you ever attended a birth before?"

"No," Kagome said, shaking her head. "I think...I think I'm a bit nervous about it. You're sure you want me to help?".

"No need to fret. I've done enough for both of us, and attended a few others myself. It won't be bad, you'll see," she said, patting Kagome's hand.

"All of Sayo-chan's births have gone well," Kaede said, nodding. "Even Daiki's."

Sayo smiled once more. "Let's just hope it's soon."