Wonderland of My Own Making
2 months later…
Sanjuro stood back from the battle, idly chewing on a blade of grass as he watched his apprentice fight with two Hands of God simultaneously. The kid was getting good, no doubt about it. He was getting a bit cocky too, with his rakish grin and golden hair. Sanjuro smiled wryly, reminded suddenly of his own personality as a teenager. The boy was going to be something, that was for sure.
"Hey, wrap it up, kiddo," he called gruffly, "Orca should be contacting Balmung any second. We're going to be late."
With one last vertical slice, the last monster disintegrated and Sasuke straightened, grinning proudly even as he rubbed the back of his arm across his forehead tiredly. "Take it easy, old man. I'm coming."
Sanjuro felt his right eyebrow twitch. Old man? "Rein it in, rookie. You've still got a long way to go before you'll be able to beat me."
Sasuke nodded good naturedly. "Good thing we have all the time in The World then."
The old samurai smiled. "Yeah, good thing."
Yasuhiko paced back and forth across the waiting room of the American hospital, a little uncomfortable but more nervous than anything else. It felt like it had been hours, it had been hours, since Akira had been wheeled into a private room, Kenji holding onto her hand as if he were the one needing comfort. Yasuhiko shook his head. All he needed now was Kenji to pass out at some point and he would have all the ammunition he'd need to make fun of his best friend for the rest of his life.
Despite his concerns that Kenji was going to wimp out, Yasu was a little more worried that no one had come to tell him how everything was going. Did it always take this long? He had been pacing for a good fours hours already.
"You're wearing a rut in the floor," Kurosaki Kazu commented idly, hands in his pockets as he slouched in one of the waiting room's plastic chairs. He smiled wryly when Yasuhiko threw him a disgusted look.
Akira's brother had been the first of her family to arrive, disapproving Yasuhiko of the notion that the two siblings weren't that close anymore. Kazu had been the one to hold everything together, bundling his sister into the car that morning after her water broke, as Kenji and himself had run around wildly, wondering if they had packed everything. Her parents were still on a plane and weren't due to land until late that evening, Yasuhiko having volunteered to pick them up from the airport. He was also on unofficial 'entertainment' duty when they arrived to allow Akira some space. Apparently her parents were… quite a presence.
Settling himself down into a chair next to Kazu, Yasuhiko pulled out his PDA, passing time as he checked his email. Kazu eyed him curiously.
"You still going to email your partner when we know something?"
Yasu nodded. "Yeah, I promised I'd keep him in the loop. He's in The World right now and is going to notify the others when everything's alright." He grinned. "This way, I guess it's like their all here with us. Ken and Akira are not the only ones who have been waiting for this baby."
Kazu nodded silently and Yasuhiko spotted a familiar figure emerging through the bay doors over his shoulder. Noticing the direction of his glance, Kazu turned to look and then rose to his feet as Kenji approached them still in scrubs, a dazed but happy look on his face. Yasuhiko felt all his anxiety disappear as Kenji smiled contentedly for them.
"Would you like to see him?"
Akira smiled drowsily as Kazu and Yasuhiko cooed over the baby, reduced to monosyllabic sentences and grinning as much as if they had delivered him themselves, both of them declaring he would be the favorite uncle. She let them go, mildly amused by their antics and knowing it was a symptom of their relief that her labor had gone well. Of course, they hadn't been there for the choked screams and general tirades against all mankind, and Akira looked over at her husband, wondering if he were just as exhausted as she was.
He was sitting next to her on her bed, leaning back slightly so he could be near her, his gaze resting on the small, wrapped bundle held securely in Yasuhiko's arms. He had been wonderful during her delivery, hardly grimacing as she squeezed his hand through every contraction. When the baby had come, he had been the first to hold him, a wide-eyed incredulous look on his face as he son cried in his arms. He had turned to her, such a look of adoration on his face that she had almost burst into tears, and had whispered softly just for her ears alone.
"I'm a father."
He seemed much calmer now, holding her hand gently but firmly, the quiet strength she had always loved spilling out from him and into her. It was so comforting she felt herself getting drowsy, a warm happiness settling over her like a blanket. Her grip must have slackened on Kenji's hand because he drew his gaze away from the proud uncles and looked down at her, squeezing her fingers.
"Are you alright?" he asked softly. She smiled for him.
"I'm just tired," she reassured him, turning her face into the arm of his sleeve. Across the room, Yasuhiko cleared his throat.
"Kazu and I will let you get some rest, Akira," he said diplomatically as he passed Kenji's son back to his father. He winked at his best friend's wife. "You did a good job there, missy." He nudged Kenji with an elbow. "I'd tell Ken the same thing but we all know you did most of the work."
"He's cute, Sis," Kazu commented before leaning down to kiss his Akira's cheek. "I'll leave a message for Mom and Dad and tell them everything went okay." He and Yasu moved towards the door, waving goodbye, and Kenji turned to lay his son in the cradle of Akira's arms, watching a glowing smile cross her face.
"He's beautiful, isn't he?" she said, her words not really a question. Kenji reached out to hook his pinky under his son's very tiny fingers, feeling the soft, compulsive grip.
"Yes, he is." Kenji moved closer to his wife, stretching out next to her as she laid her head against his. "Thank you."
She lifted her head slightly, gazing at him. "I love you," she whispered. He kissed her.
"I love you, too," he answered when they broke apart.
A half an hour later, when Akira had finally fallen asleep, Kenji held his son in his lap as he picked up the phone in their room, swallowing a few times before he could actually speak.
"Mom? It's me." His son cooed and Kenji felt a laugh break free, quiet and joyful. "Say hello to your grandson."
Everything went perfectly, my friend. And if the boy is anything like Akira, Kenji's going to have his hands full. Looks like they're both starting a whole new adventure, eh? They wanted me to tell everyone that they're doing fine and that they'll email everyone when they get a chance. Until then…
His name is Keiki.
Final Author's Notes-
A heartfelt 'thank you' to Renfro Calhoun and Jonathan Priest without whose support this story might not have turned out as it did. I'd also like to thank everyone who reviewed on a regular basis, your suggestions, comments and questions have definitely kept me on my toes.
As to the story, some of you might feel I didn't make a big enough deal about Brill's demise, but honestly, his 'death' was the way I pictured it from the very beginning. I never intended to involve Aura or the Bracelet. Instead, I wanted Kite and BlackRose to face a different sort of challenge, one that required their own particular strengths and weaknesses without relying on legendary bracelets.
The idea of Bith as a System Admin was one I genuinely liked. I think his hacker skills would make him an awesome Admin, although his fear of losing his position would certainly make him careful in how he used them.
I hope it was clear that the main plot of this story was a lesson about relationships: Kenji and Akira, Brill and Balmung, BlackRose and Sasuke, Bith and Brill, even Dagger and Ruka. Bith made Brill a Moderator out of friendship, which eventually lead to the uncovering of Bith's identity and Brill's deletion. Dagger felt he couldn't stand up to Brill because they were friends, and Ruka felt she couldn't leave Dagger alone in The World because of what she felt for him. The product of all these friendships was the story itself, and an end where Kenji had to choose between two relationships of his own, to be a hero, or to be a father.
All in all, I'm happy with the way everything turned out and I hope I didn't disappoint anyone. If you have any remaining questions, please feel free to email me. Otherwise, thanks for sticking with me!
PS. In case you're interested, the name "Keiki" can have many meanings depending on which kanji you use. In this story, the name means "happy child".