Well my friends, it looks like this truly is the end. It's sad, I know, saying goodbye to all of you, and all of this, but…all journeys must reach their destination eventually. Thank you so much for making mine a very pleasant one, even when I blatantly abused the author's privilege and left you weeks on end with a horrible cliff hanger. Here is the epilogue to this glorious tale; I hope you enjoy it as well.
Ten Years Later
The manager mumbled something about it wasn't time to get up yet, burying himself deeper in the covers.
"Keitaro, it's time!"
He shot up instantly, looking at Motoko who was sitting up with a hand over her well-rounded belly. "It is!"
"I think so."
"Oh, oh! Ok, alright…" He scrambled to his feet, quickly pulling on the nearest pair of pants and a shirt before helping her up and getting her semi-decent as well. The duffle bag that had sat obediently by their door for the last week was scooped up and thrown over their shoulder, and a little red button under their light switch hit as they left the room.
Seta was waiting for them at the bottom of the stairs with the car, with the assurance that Haruka was already on her way to the Inn to keep things calm there. The ride was a short one, with the pregnant woman quickly admitted to the hospital and Dr. Nori contacted immediately as their primary physician.
"How are you feeling?" he asked when a wave of contractions ended, gently wiping the sweat from her forehead.
"It's easier than last time," she admitted, pale and weary already. "But I will be glad when it is over."
"So will I, I don't like to see you in pain."
Dr. Nori strode in, clipboard in hand and somehow still looking professional though she couldn't have woken up more than twenty minutes earlier. "Hi, guys. Hate to say this, but I think we're in for a long one. Contractions aren't coming much closer together, and you're not nearly wide enough yet, it could be until tomorrow before this one comes."
Motoko dropped her head back onto the pillow. "Kami…!"
"You'll be alright," Keitaro quickly reassured her, patting her stomach gently. "We'll just take it together, ok?"
"You should probably get something to eat, if you can, Keitaro," Dr. Nori advised as she headed towards the door. "It won't be too long before things start to speed up a little, and you probably won't want to leave her side then."
"Go ahead, I will be fine until you return," his wife told him quickly. "It is not like this is the first child we have had together."
"I know." His stomach growled right them, him blushing as he put a hand to it. "I just don't like leaving you alone."
"I'll keep an eye on her," offered Seta as he appeared in the doorway, smiling as wide as usual. "Go get some food. Haruka's coming when it gets light out; she says everything is fine back home."
Keitaro accepted this and left, but was only gone long enough to purchase and consume a quick meal in the hospital cafeteria and make some phone calls before he was back up at his wife's side to wait things out. His employer understood the set back in deadlines, as did hers, and thankfully both merely requested a chance to meet the new baby afterwards sometime. Motoko had graduated from Toudai two years after her did with a degree in English to match his degree in Art. Though most of her work was in novels (romances under a penname that most of the residents did not know of), she also did a lot in helping him develop the story lines for the manga he wrote. It worked well for them, as they were able to work from home and stay there with the kids when they needed to.
He didn't emerge from the room again until 8:00 that morning, finding Seta and Haruka sitting outside with their hands loosely laced together and talking quietly.
"The kids are with Naru and Koshi, they'll bring 'em as soon as we call," she said with a mock salute, Seta just smiling all the wider. He had moved into her Tea House right after the final Turtle Clan incident, her being too weak to care for herself and Motoko and Keitaro unable to step in as they had before. For some reason, he never moved back out, and at some point had even been installed in the bedroom itself though no one actually knew when the transition occurred. There had been a quiet ceremony a few years later (which Nori had gloated over for weeks, much to Haruka's annoyance), with only family and a few friends present, but Sarah had elected to remain at the Inn when given the option of moving in with the new couple or staying put. With the extra bedroom empty, Koshi had moved in to save on the bills and had become even a greater part of their lives, especially in the case of one particular Hinata honey.
"Thanks, it probably won't be for awhile," he replied simply, taking care of his physical needs quickly before rejoining his wife in the room. Thankfully, time passed quickly, and he was just beginning to regret not having eaten more with his stomach gnawing on his backbone when a big contraction hit, the manager fully aware that his hand would likely be broken from the strength of his wife's grip were he not born with a natural resistance to such things.
"Soon," said Nori as she checked things below. "Anesthetic?"
"I will be fine," Motoko assured her grimly, her mouth set in a firm line. "No thank you."
"If you're sure, that's fine, but if you're not, just say the word and we'll stick it in you before you know it. Your contractions are almost close enough together, you're measuring just fine, how're you feeling?"
"Good, I'd be worried if you weren't."
Keitaro stayed by his wife's side, letting her squeeze his hand when the contractions hit, and encouraging her along when the doctor finally told her to push. It didn't take long before the birthing was finished, and as Keitaro tenderly wiped her brow of the sweat their newest child howled in the background, proving to the world that he indeed had a very healthy set of lungs.
"It's a boy!" announced Dr. Nori as she wrapped the now-cleaned babe in a blanket and passed him to his mother. "What are you going to name him?"
Motoko looked at Keitaro, who shrugged slightly before turning to the soft bundle whom now sat quietly in his mother's arms. "Are you sure?" he asked, putting a gentle hand upon the newborn's head. "I'm fine with it either way."
"I am sure," she replied as the child opened his eyes to reveal their blue tint. "His name is Shoji Urashima."
"Shoji…" The doctor paused, giving them an odd look before she wrote it down with a slight smile. "It's good to keep names in the family sometimes. He is a cutie, isn't he?"
"He's beautiful," retuned the mother as she bared her chest, the baby having begun to nuzzle for it. His mouth was quickly guided to the nipple, which he immediately attached himself to and sucked with a noisy vigor. "He looks exactly like his father."
"Hm, I would say he has more your nose than mine," Keitaro laughed softly. "Hello, little one, I'm your daddy…should I go tell the others?"
"Perhaps that would be for the best."
"Alright, be back in a sec."
Keitaro disappeared out the door, skidding to a stop in front of Haruka and Seta to announce loudly. "It's a boy!"
"What'd you name the little rugrat?" asked Haruka as she reached for her cell phone, hitting the speed dial for the Inn.
"Shoji Urashima," Keitaro replied proudly. She paused, then nodded slowly.
"A good name," was all she would say before calling their home. "It's me, Kitsune, it's a boy, they named him Shoji, no I don't know how big he is, but you all can come down now. Sound good? Ok, bye." She turned back to her nephew. "They're coming, and they have the other two with them."
"Let me know when they get here, I'm going back in with Motoko-chan for awhile." He disappeared then from the hall, skidding to a stop beside his wife who had nearly fallen asleep with her son napping quietly beside her.
"How are you feeling?" he asked as he sat beside her, once more setting a hand on the head of his son as if to be sure he was real.
"Tired, but good," she replied softly, reaching out to stroke his cheek with a serene smile. "Our fourth, Keitaro, isn't he precious?"
"He's also our first boy," he added with a quiet chuckle. "I think Haruko-chan and Karai-chan will love him."
"As do I."
There they stayed, Keitaro keeping a constant vigil over them as his wife and child slept until the others had arrived and were allowed to come in and visit a few at a time.
"Mommy, is he gonna get bigger?" asked Haruko as Keitaro helped her up onto the bed, the four year old curiously peering down at her new sibling. She had her father's brown hair with her mother's gray green eyes and pale skin. "He's so little."
"He will grow, just like you do," her mother replied with a soft smile. "You have another one to help me look after now, you will be a good helper, won't you?"
"I will!" she replied, sticking her fist up suddenly. Rei, their niece who had come to live with them not to long ago, held her other daughter, Karai, who was named for the councilwoman who had died the same year as her birth. She was the exact opposite of her sister, with her father's darker skin tone and chocolate eyes but her locks a straight, solid black that reached halfway down her back. She would turn two in a few months, but was quite little for her age.
"Do you like your new brother?" asked Keitaro as he took the small girl and held her over the trio on the bed. The girl nodded, reaching out to touch her brother gently before withdrawing into her father's embrace. She hadn't quite taken to speaking yet, but Keitaro had been a late bloomer in that respect and she was quite intelligent and managed to communicate in many other ways.
"They were very good for Koshi and Naru this morning," Rei reported as she smiled at the tiny bundle on the bed. She was in middle school now, and quite smart, but lacking the fire to train with the sword as her siblings did. She would spar with Motoko, occasionally, but she was so far removed from the line of succession that it didn't really matter anymore. Her eldest sister, Miko, had been named the heir not long after the final turtle incident, and it looked like she would do a fine job. "He's so precious…mother will be pleased to hear of this."
"Tell her to come and visit, it's been too long since we saw her," replied Keitaro as their time came to an end, handing over their middle child and helping the oldest from the bed. "And bring the rest of your siblings, too."
"I will be sure to tell her," said Rei with a smile, giving both of her charges a nod before she headed for the door. "See you at home!"
"Au, he's so tiny," whispered Shinobu as she smiled down at the wrinkled bundle with Su standing next to her. They were next in line, and both a good bit taller and more mature than they had been ten years ago. "Hello, Shoji-kun, I'm Aunt Shinobu."
"And I'm Auntie Su," added the blonde foreigner over her shoulder. Her brother had come to his full inheritance some time ago, and since he had massive amounts of progeny she was no longer in the line to be a queen of her land. That suited her just fine as it allowed her to go on with her gaming developments in Japan. A new gaming corporation had hired her after testing out one of her reality simulating demos, and the resulting spurt of growth and popularity had put them at the top of the industry. Su had managed to work her way to the top as one of the main financial handlers and actual developers. Though they all knew she could probably afford to buy the Inn itself should she so desire, she remained a mere tenant, often times bringing over big important officials for dinner to sweet talk them into profitable deal over Shinobu's wonderful meals. "Hm, I wonder if he'll be as indestructible as you, Keitaro."
Motoko gave her a firm look. "You are not going to purposely test out that theory, right?"
Su just shrugged innocently, her companion sweating slightly.
Shinobu had bloomed into a bright young woman, and after going to Toudai for a degree in culinary skills with a minor in business, she had worked at some well-known restaurants long enough to save up and open her own restaurant in town. It was small, but very well-loved and was always bursting with customers from the time it opened until when it closed. Though she was no longer required to cook dinner for the residents with her newfound wealth, she still did when she could as a way of thanking Motoko and Keitaro for the help and encouragement they have given her over the years.
"I have already planned out the meals for this next week, so you can take it easy," Shinobu said as they began to leave, smiling brightly. "Au, you have to rest so you can take care of the new little guy!"
"And I fixed up the old playpen we built for Haruko and Karai," added Su with a smile. "He'll be amused for hours if you ever need him out of the way for a bit."
"Thank you, for everything."
"Not a problem!"
"Au, happy to help, see you soon!"
Kitsune sauntered in with Naru and Koshi, a scheming gleam in her eyes as she bent over the new addition. "Aww, he's sweet. Check him out, guys, he'd give Shinobu a run for her money with eyes like that when it comes to the puppy gaze." She now worked full time at the Tea House, having given up a large part of her addiction after a scare with her liver three years back. Dr. Nori had been particularly helpful in overcoming that hurdle, something that the foxy one was acutely aware of. She hated being in debt to others, ever.
"You have a new ring," Motoko observed as Naru drew near, the ex-ronin blushing furiously as Koshi just smiled all the wider. "Is there something you wish to share with us?"
"We're getting married next summer," Koshi explained as he proudly put an arm around his new fiancée. The pair had finished Toudai, with Koshi taking a job at a local chemical facility and Naru teaching in the schools. She still lived at the Inn, though most of her free time was spent with a particular young man who had had an eye on her for some time.
"Took you long enough," Keitaro laughed as he shook hands with the young man. "Congratulations!"
"If I had thought it through, I would've waited until after this little man was born, didn't mean to steal your thunder, kid," Koshi said as he bent over the little boy.
"That is quite alright, it is a joy to share joy on a day such as today," Motoko chuckled softly.
"He's so small, it's hard to believe he'll grow up into a man someday," murmured Naru as she gently traced a line along the baby's chubby fist. Giving Koshi a warm look, he suddenly blushed and looked away as if slightly uncomfortable. Motoko and Keitaro traded knowing looks.
"I'd rather not think about him as a man quite yet, I'm still getting used to him as a baby," Keitaro replied simply, giving them a soft smile. "Again, congratulations. I hope everything goes well for you."
"And we hope this munchkin grows up into someone his parents are proud of," Naru replied as they left. "We'll see you back at the Inn."
Haruka and Seta were the last to enter with Sarah between them, the couple having been happy to let the others ahead of them and the young woman just happy to spend some time with her father and step-mother for a bit.
"He's a good looking kid," Haruka said as she glanced at the baby before turning to the mother. "How're you?"
"Tired, but good," replied Motoko as the baby awoke, beginning to cry loudly before Motoko quickly situated herself for another feeding with a blanket over her shoulder for decency's sake. Seta politely averted his eyes, Sarah just staring in fascination though she had seen this process the previous two times such an event had occurred. "What do you think, Sarah?"
"He looks like the dork, but cuter," she replied with a saucy grin. She was in high school now, and would begin looking at colleges soon as she only had once year left. She had settled down quite a bit from the wild hooligan she had been in her younger years, but there was a saucy streak in her that would never die that simply made her who she was. She worked after school with Shinobu in her restaurant, preparing to someday take over the Tea House, but finding too weird to work for her parents currently. She said it was hard to take an employer seriously when that employer wouldn't take her seriously, which was partially true. Shinobu didn't take any nonsense from her at work, which killed Haruka to admit that she couldn't do the same. Her soft spot for the girl was a mile wide, and it was better this way all around. "Shoji, huh?"
"I hope he brings you both a lot of joy," said Seta as he put a hand on both of his favorite girls. "C'mon guys, they probably need their rest. You'll be home tomorrow, right?"
"Probably," replied Keitaro with a grin. "Nori already said the baby was healthy on all counts, and Motoko's healing up just fine. We'll see you tomorrow."
"Alright, rest well."
"I think he needs to be changed," observed Motoko as she moved the child to her shoulder with a wrinkled nose, burping him gently. "Would you care for the honors?"
"I guess so," he replied with a small laugh. "Wouldn't be the first diaper I've changed, probably won't be the last."
A week passed, Rei watching the two kids as Keitaro and Motoko walked through the graveyard with their youngest in hand. Both knelt before the familiar headstone, lighting the incense and bowing their heads briefly.
"This is Shoji, he's your new brother," said Keitaro as he held the small child up to the grave. "Shoji, this is Naoko Urashima, your eldest sister. She died, in a very brave battle that you will learn all about someday." Their life had been quiet since that fateful day all those years ago, receiving word not long afterwards that the Turtle Clan's grounds had been completely destroyed. The officials had marked it up to a leaking gas line that had been accidentally lit, but a more discreet investigation revealed the signs of a backlash of immense power. Everyone and everything within it had been completely destroyed, leaving not a trace of the once troublesome family.
Motoko placed the fresh flowers in the vase before taking the child back. "We still miss you, Naoko, but I hope you are smiling with how we have moved on. It is hard, sometimes, but we still love you."
The pair stood there silently for a moment before they left, Shoji safely tucked away in his mother's arms.
"It's a beautiful day, don't you think?" asked Keitaro as they rounded the corner, placing an arm about his wife. She looked at him, seeing the few gray hairs that had begun to spring up here and there, and fine lines that had begun to appear. She knew she had begun to age as well; ten years did that to a person. Still, she loved him with all of her heart, the same way he loved her, and nothing would ever change that.
"It is," she agreed softly, letting him guide her back to the Inn, their home, and their family.
Thank you, once more, and goodbye.
"Seek freedom and become captive of your desires. Seek discipline and find your liberty."