L-chan's notes: Written for the Valentine's Day challenge on livejournal. Thanks for reading!
Disclaimer: Card Captor Sakura is the property of CLAMP (like you didn't know that already).
The Best Worst Chocolate
"She's in the kitchen again, 'tou-san." No sooner were the words out than Touya heard a crash come from the other room as a metal pan clattered to the floor.
"Hmm," Fujitaka replied absently, not looking up from his notes.
"Aren't you going to stop her?"
"Of course not."
"But she makes the worst chocolate," Touya whispered, afraid that his mother might somehow hear him even over the whir of her mixer. Mothers always heard everything.
"It's not bad. It's just... different." His young son obviously wasn't buying that argument, and Fujitaka chuckled at his skeptical expression. "She gets a great deal of joy out of making Valentine's Day gifts for her family, and that's the important thing. And she does get better every year," he added with a fond smile.
Touya remembered last Valentine's Day and decided that the chocolate had to get better, because it couldn't get much worse. "I guess. It's just... she's been cooking a lot lately." Most of Nadeshiko's attempts fell more in the range of creative than successful, but her husband and son ate them with polite appreciation.
"She's restless," his father explained. "She can't work right now, and it gives her something to do. You know, right before you were born, she took up knitting. Only she never quite got the hang of sweaters, so I had more scarves than I knew what to do with."
The problem of too many scarves didn't compare to wanting to recognize what was on his dinner plate, at least in Touya's young mind. "But, after the baby comes, you'll do the cooking again?" he asked hopefully.
"Oh, absolutely." Fujitaka affectionately ruffled the boy's dark hair before turning back to his work. "Now, why don't you go give your mother a hand? I don't want her on her feet all afternoon."
His father's suggestion had come at the right time, because as Touya entered the kitchen, he heard something else fall to the floor. "Oh, no, not again," Nadeshiko sighed. She looked down helplessly, trying to see around her large belly. Her slippered foot searched from side to side and accidentally sent the rogue item skittering. She let out a defeated groan and put a hand over her eyes in a gesture of reluctant surrender.
"Can I help, 'kaa-san?" Touya asked, watching with a mix of amusement and concern.
His mother peeked at him through her fingers before removing her hand. "Oh, Touya-kun," she said, her face lighting up with a tender smile. "Yes, I'm afraid I dropped my spoon. Can you get it? It's not easy for me to get down there." As she spoke, she placed her hands on her hips and arched her back in an effort to relieve the overall aching.
Touya found the long-handled spoon just under the edge of the lower cabinets. "You should be resting, 'kaa-san," he said with all the seriousness an almost-seven-year-old could possess. When he handed her the spoon, she tossed it into the sink and pulled a clean replacement from a drawer.
"I know, but tomorrow is Valentine's Day. I always make Valentine's chocolate for everyone." If she noticed that her son was barely holding back a grimace, she didn't say anything. "And, besides, this is the last batch, and it's almost done. I just want to get my other candy molds...."
"I'll get them," Touya offered. He pulled a kitchen chair over and climbed on top of it. The metal molds were on the middle shelf but had been pushed to the back.
"Be careful," Nadeshiko warned, and she placed a steadying hand on his back as he reached into the cabinet. He held up the diamond and star shapes, and she considered her choices. "I've already got the flower and heart shapes, so... which do you think?" It probably wouldn't make much of a difference, so Touya just shrugged as he handed them to her. "Why not both?" she decided. "May as well use them all, right?"
He jumped down from the chair and took the metal shapes from his mother. "I'll do the rest so you can sit down, 'kaa-san."
She smiled softly at him and pressed a quick kiss to his forehead. "Such a good boy," she said, her gentle fingers brushing away his dark hair. "Let's take everything to the table, and we can finish them together, okay?"
"Yes, 'kaa-san," he answered, trying not to look too proud at his mother's praise.
Touya had never thought much about cooking, but as his mother patiently showed him how to pour the melted chocolate into the four candy molds, he began to understand why she enjoyed the process, even when the results were less than perfect. There was a simple pleasure in creating something, whether it was candy or a painting or a song, and making things was her way of giving a part of herself to the people she cared about. As they worked together, the kitchen was filled with a sweet scent, the comforting smell of home and happiness. It blended with his mother's perfume until he couldn't tell the two apart, and it gave him a warm, safe feeling inside.
"That's right," Nadeshiko said when the last mold was filled. "It looks good, doesn't it?"
It really did. On his way to the sink, Touya's curiosity made him lick the chocolate coated spoon. His face screwed up almost comically when the bitterness assaulted his tongue, and he hoped his mother hadn't seen. She really did try her best, and he didn't want to hurt her feelings.
"Don't worry about the dishes," she said. "I'll take care of them later." The end of her sentence was punctuated with a little "oomph," and Touya rushed to his mother's side.
"Are you okay, 'kaa-san?" he asked worriedly.
"Fine," she reassured him serenely. "It's the baby. She's moving." She took his hand and placed it against her rounded belly. "Can you feel her?"
Touya's still-developing magic sense prickled sharply, and his brown eyes widened in surprise. He didn't just feel his sister's physical movement. He could feel her—the glow of power that surrounded her. "She's strong," he whispered in awe.
Nadeshiko understood exactly what he meant. "She's special," she replied, still keeping her hand over his smaller one. "Just like you."
This time the baby kicked, and Nadeshiko laughed when Touya scowled at the bulge. "She's a monster," he said.
"Maybe a little bit," his mother agreed with a knowing look in her green eyes. "So, you'll have to help me look after her." He nodded obediently. "Now, if you get the finished chocolates from the refrigerator, we can wrap them before dinner."
Nadeshiko had already set out the cellophane wrap and some brightly colored ribbons, and next to the supplies were several sheets of her pink stationery, already filled with line after line of her delicate handwriting. "Who are these for, 'kaa-san?" Touya asked as he brought the tray to the table. He knew his mother would "surprise" him and his father with some of the heart-shaped candies at breakfast tomorrow, but she'd also used the new flower-shaped mold for the others.
"For my grandfather and Sonomi. You remember Sonomi, don't you?"
He did. He'd only met his mother's cousin a few times in his young life, and he didn't know quite what to think of her. Nadeshiko had told him how nice and fun Sonomi was, but she didn't seem that way to him. She seemed... sad. And lonely. And a little bit mean, although he'd never say so.
He'd never met his great-grandfather, but he'd heard stories about him. His mother always talked about the big house where they spent summers, how they'd play games together outside and have afternoon tea on the porch, and how they were the only people who enjoyed the rain, because it meant they'd get to see a beautiful rainbow, like it was a special gift just for them. But that was a long time ago. The visits to the summer house had ended when she got married.
"Why are you giving chocolate to them?" Touya asked.
Nadeshiko paused thoughtfully before answering. "Because I want them to be happy," she said wistfully, cutting a length of red ribbon from the spool. "And because I want them to know that I'm happy. Maybe then they will...." She shook her head as the words trailed off. "They're my family," she continued instead, "and I care about them. I want to share my happiness with them." She smiled warmly and placed her hand on his cheek. "And I can't imagine being any happier than I am right now."
She took her hand away much sooner than Touya would have wanted and picked a prettily shaped chocolate flower from the tray. Breaking it in half, she gave one piece to her son. "Don't tell your father," she whispered with a conspiratorial wink.
He grinned back at her as he nodded. His mother always included him in her little secrets from Fujitaka, and doing something that wasn't usually allowed was even more of a treat than the treat itself. He almost forgot that the chocolate probably wouldn't be edible.
Apparently Nadeshiko had forgotten, too, until she took a bite. Her lips twisted in a grimace. "It's a little bitter," she said apologetically. "I hope the second batch is better."
When Touya tasted his piece, he didn't notice that the flavor was off, or that she hadn't added enough sugar. He just knew that his mother was happy, and that made him happy. Once the baby was born, he wouldn't have his precious mother all to himself anymore, but for now, it was just the two of them, together. This was a perfect moment, and one he was always going to remember.
"It's good, 'kaa-san. It's the best chocolate I ever had."