Title: Playing House

Author: Hawk Clowd

Disclaimer: Gravitation does not belong to me. Let's just leave it at that, all right? The midgets (you know, the kids), on the other hand, do.

Blood Type: vodka. It's good for you, really.

Warnings: very few.

Part: nine

Author's Notes: Well, this is the end. This chapter is six pages (single-spaced in Word), and I hope it ties up most all of the loose ends, answers some questions, and concludes the story in that nice, sadomasochistic way that I absolutely love - where things are always left open-ended and a little unresolved. Oh yes. In any case, this is the part where I'm supposed to say "I hope everyone enjoyed the story just as much as I enjoyed writing it!", but that's not the way I feel on this one. Oh no. I hope you all enjoyed this story more than I enjoyed writing it, and that it didn't drag on for too long. See you next time, Space Cowboy (and/or Cowgirl, of course)!

-

The night seemed to last far too long, and Eiri was awake for the majority of it. He had a great deal of trouble falling asleep initially, as Shuichi kept badgering him with questions, and then, once the singer finally dozed off, he simply kept replaying his conversation with Miho over and over again in his mind. It was well after midnight before the writer fell asleep, and, even then, he woke up periodically throughout the night. On those occasions, he would get out of bed and check to make sure the three children were all still asleep in their proper places. Shuichi woke up only once, as Eiri was returning to bed after his fourth child-check, and murred an inquiry at Eiri, who ignored it. The singer fell back asleep almost instantly; Eiri lay awake.

Thanks to that night's erratic sleep schedule, Eiri was already awake when the bedroom door creaked open and Hibiki and Namiko peeked inside. Eiri, who had been reading, gave them a little wave and the two children squealed and ran into the room, jumping up onto the bed next to their father. The movement and jostling awakened Shuichi, who blinked confusedly at the two children and then tried to hide under his pillow. Hibiki and Namiko would not allow it, however, and they began to tear at the blankets and the pillow, trying to expose Shuichi. Eiri let them try it for a while and then decided Shuichi was irritated enough and shooed the children out of the room. He found some cartoons for the two to watch and then went back to his room. He locked the door behind him.

Shuichi was still trying to bury himself into the mattress when Eiri returned to the bed. The writer rolled his eyes and began to gently take away the blankets covering the singer. Shuichi let out a groan of protest and grabbed for the blankets blindly, but Eiri grabbed Shuichi's arms and eased the hands back down.

"Don't be a baby," Eiri scolded.

Shuichi mumbled an obvious curse, much to Eiri's amusement, and then rolled over, onto his back. He glared pointedly at Eiri. The glare dissipated into a look of concern hardly a moment later.

Eiri frowned. "What now?"

"Are you okay?" Shuichi asked. "You look awful."

"Do not," Eiri argued, moving to lie on his stomach.

"Maybe not to the untrained eye," Shuichi insisted, climbing over Eiri's body to straddle the man's lower back and lean over in order to look at the writer's face again. "You look really tired. Did you sleep at all?"

"Yes."

"Did you sleep the whole night through?" Shuichi asked, quirking an eyebrow meaningfully. "Or even for just most of the night?"

Eiri mumbled unintelligibly but, other than that, stayed quiet.

Shuichi sighed and kissed the nape of Eiri's neck. "Why don't you try and get more sleep? I'll keep the squirts entertained for a while and you can get another few hours of rest in before you -"

"No," Eiri interrupted, pushing Shuichi off and getting out of bed. "I'll just make an early night out of this. Come on."

"Okay," Shuichi said warily, "but if you pass out on the middle of the floor, I'm going to leave you on the middle of the floor, you got that?"

Eiri smirked. "Fair enough."

That said, they each took their turn in the shower, dressed, and went to the living room. Since no one was clamoring for breakfast, Eiri did not bother to make anything. Around nine o'clock, Miho emerged from the office and went past the living room, straight into Eiri's bedroom. Eiri was about to get up and coax her out of there when he heard the bathwater start to run and decided it was all right. He kept a close eye on his watch, however, and a close ear to the room until Miho re-emerged, fully clothed and slightly damp. She joined the group in the living room and settled in to watch cartoons.

An hour passed comfortably. Eiri and Shuichi sat close together on the couch, Shuichi watching cartoons over Hibiki's head and Eiri alternating between watching cartoons and dozing off. Hibiki was sitting cross-legged on the floor, close to the television, and Namiko lay on her stomach beside him, kicking her feet into the air every so often. Miho had taken a seat on the opposite end of the couch as Eiri and Shuichi, cramming herself as best she could into the back and side of the seat, as far away from the others as she could possibly get. Eiri noticed every once in a while, however, that she inched just a tad closer; he could not discern whether it was for the sake of comfort or for some other reason and didn't care to analyze the girl so early in the morning.

After some time, the program changed from cartoons to an education show that used puppets to brainwash potential viewers. Eiri had never much liked such shows, so he turned the television off and went to start cooking. No one complained, although Shuichi did took the remote and turned the television back on, although to a different channel.

The five of them ate a simple breakfast of rice and fish. Hibiki and Namiko, who had obviously become great friends over the past few days, led an animated conversation that Eiri mostly ignored. Shuichi followed it attentively, however, and even went so far as to join in, much to their delight. Miho kept her gaze locked to her food as she concentrated on the breakfast before her. Eiri simply watched the scene in silence.

It was not until the phone rang, as Eiri and Shuichi were arguing over who should be given the chore of washing the dishes, and Eiri suffered through a fifteen-minute conversation with Hibiki's mother, Ai, that the writer realized how close he was to making it through another year. It would all be over in just under sixty minutes, and then he could return to his usual routine of writing, sex, and blissful peace and quiet. He should have been thrilled, or at least relieved, he thought, but a quick glance at his eldest daughter made him feel only a pang of guilt. His conversation with the girl the night before had made him realize just how lousy a father he was; Miho, Hibiki, Namiko, and the fourth child he had met only twice were all results of his carelessness, as proven by the testimonies of the mothers themselves and several paternity tests, yet he had done nothing for them except send their mothers the occasional stipend. With the possible exception of Miho, he had no idea how difficult their lives actually were.

The real issue, of course, was that he simply did not want to know. Recognizing these children and their problems meant he would have to come to terms with the fact that he had grown up and had to at last take responsibility for things he did not particularly want to think about. The children were only the least of his worries. He knew that, at least. Perhaps, though...

"Yuki?"

Eiri glanced at Shuichi, who stood by his elbow. He was grateful to be jarred out of his thoughts, but did his best not to show it. "What now?"

"Should we start getting all of them ready to go home?" Shuichi asked. "That was Hibiki's mom on the phone, yeah? We could hear her talking even over the sink and the TV and everything. She sure is loud."

Eiri nodded even though he was not sure what he was agreeing with. "Yeah."

Shuichi nodded in reply. "Yup."

Eiri glanced over Shuichi's head toward the living room, where Hibiki and Namiko were playing on the floor, warring over which was better - toy cars or toy trucks. Namiko, to Eiri's surprise, was basing her argument on actual cars. She was very firm in her opinions and, Eiri found, knew more about cars than most adults. Hibiki was, all in all, far more interested in the colors and designs of his toys. For a brief moment, Eiri wondered what the two of them would grow up to become and then he shook it off. It wasn't something with which he should be concerned.

...wasn't it?

Eiri scolded himself for making the attempt to think like a father. He had no business doing that, given his prolonged dismissal of the children he had fathered and his own failings. Although, based on what he had learned from Miho the night before, maybe - just maybe - it was about time he stepped in and did whatever it was he needed to do. On the other hand...

Shuichi stepped away from Eiri and went to get Hibiki and Namiko started on packing their things and preparing to go home. Eiri watched the exchange for a moment and then turned toward his office, where he was sure Miho was hiding.

He knocked lightly on the door and then opened it, peering inside. "Hi."

Miho glanced up from where she was neatly re-folding her clothing and readying the garments to be put back into her small suitcase. "Hello."

Eiri hesitated and then stepped into the room, taking a seat at his desk chair. He swiveled around to watch her and she pretended to be too absorbed in her folding to notice. After a few minutes of silence, Eiri cleared his throat.

"About what we spoke of last night..."

"Don't worry about it," Miho interrupted quickly. "I shouldn't have said anything."

Eiri paused. "Actually, I believe you should have said it sooner."

Miho was silent.

"I never wanted to be a father," Eiri admitted, aware that he was repeating a phrase from the night before. "However, there are a lot of things I didn't want to do or that I simply did not want to happen, and many of them occurred anyway. I have dealt with those. Perhaps it's time I dealt with this, too."

She paused in folding her nightgown and her fingers rested against the blue cotton as she waited for him to go on. "Oh?"

Baby steps, Eiri reminded himself as he fought the urge to bolt. "Yes."

"So...?"

"So perhaps I should start by..." He forced himself to finish, ashamed of his own nervousness. "By ceasing to invite you and the others over only once a year. I'm not suggesting you all say here all the time, of course. The three of you would likely go mad if you were constantly stuck with me and Shuichi, and I doubt I'd get any work done at all if I had to watch children all day long. I'm just thinking about once in a while, when you - or the others - want to stay here. For a day or two at a time. Or a week, if all goes well. Probably not a great deal longer, unless you manage to age ten or fifteen years very quickly." This was going in the wrong direction. He backtracked quickly. "But I do think I would like to see you more often."

Miho lifted his gaze to examine his face carefully.

Eiri tried not to hesitate and forced himself to meet her unsettling gaze. Since when had a five-year-old girl been able to make the great Yuki Eiri so uneasy?

"You are an actual person," he went on, wondering all the while if he was simply putting his foot in his mouth. He could not help but worry that he sounded just as awkward as he felt. "And I would like to get to know you. With your permission, of course."

Miho watched him for a moment longer and then, to Eiri's surprise, offered up a small smile. "I think that would be okay," she said.

Eiri, who suddenly felt quite relieved, returned the smile. "Well," he began, "for starters, and I do realize this is asking very far in advance, would you like to spend New Years with us? Shuichi and myself, I mean. And possibly my father and brother, if they've managed to get on my good side by then."

"I'll think about it." The smile grew, just a little, and then Miho ducked her head. It was, perhaps, simply in order to finish her folding and packing, but Eiri guessed there was more to it than that.

He did not get the chance to find out, however, as Shuichi popped his head into the room. "Hey, Namiko's mom is here."

Eiri furrowed his brow. She was early. "Already?"

There was a squeal as the apartment door was thrown open and Shuichi cringed. "Already," he confirmed just before he was dragged away by his number one fan, Mawako Nanimen - Namiko's mother. Eiri rolled his eyes, stood from his chair, and made his way out in order to save the singer from his inevitable fate. As he left the office, he heard Miho let out a faint giggle. Things, he decided, were not going to be the same from this point forward, but at least he was pretty sure he was doing the right thing.

It was all said and done only one hour later, and Eiri retired to the couch to enjoy the newfound silence. Shuichi joined him there not long after. The couch was barely large enough for the two of them to lay side-by side, but that was all right with them.

After a long while, Shuichi broke the silence. "It sounds lonely here now," he noted in a low whisper.

Eiri thought about it briefly and then nodded. "I suppose it does," he agreed.

"I really liked your kids," Shuichi went on.

"They liked you, too," Eiri assured him.

"Miho didn't."

Eiri frowned at Shuichi and tightened his grip around the singer's shoulders. "I don't think that's true." He held up a hand before Shuichi could argue. "She's very quiet and very shy. You're not. I think she simply wasn't sure how to deal with you, especially since you actually tried to be nice to her."

Shuichi twisted his head around. "I wasn't supposed to be nice to her?"

"That's not what I meant." Truly, Eiri was not sure how to put it into words. He empathized with the little girl and with all of the hard times ahead of her. Growing up 'different' was not an easy thing, especially when one felt it was impossible to trust or confide in anyone else. Eiri knew that and was not at all tempted to wish it on anyone else - especially not his estranged daughter.

"Then what did you mean?" Shuichi asked, quirking an eyebrow in query.

Eiri brushed some of Shuichi's hair away from the singer's forehead and shrugged. "It isn't important," he assured the singer. "Let's just enjoy the rest of the day."

Shuichi smiled and burrowed closer to Eiri. "Yeah," he agreed. "That sounds good." He paused a moment. "I still think you made a good father, once you stopped being stupid."

"I had some idiot singer scold some sense into me a few nights ago," Eiri teased gently.

Shuichi laughed. "Yeah," he agreed. "What a jerk."

Eiri pulled on a lock of Shuichi's hair, the singer squealed and protested, and soon the two of them ended up in a tangled pile on the floor. After a while, it began to rain outside and the apartment quickly cooled down, so Eiri turned off the air conditioning, which had been running at full capacity all week long.

-the end-