This is the last chapter of 'Custody.' It's been an extraordinary experience and I hope that whoever has come this far reading has liked it as much as I enjoyed writing it. To all the people who took the time to read, and to all the readers who have stuck to the story even if it took forever for me to finish, my deepest gratitude. To all of you who took the time to review, my deepest appreciation and gratitude too. You've made this whole writing process a memorable experience.
There are hints of a possible continuation throughout this chapter. If you think that you can manage sticking with me for another story, please let me know. Thanks!
Momiji walked alone surrounded by the cold of the dying winter. He couldn't wait to be back home for the day. He longed for the warmth that awaited him there. He checked the time on his watch. "Darn!" he whispered. The meeting had taken longer than expected and he was late for dinner… again. He wondered how long it would take Momo to finally get tired of waiting for him every other day and start eating on her own one of these nights. He sighed.
-"You look awfully tired" someone commented to his right. He knew that cunning voice. Momiji turned to see the person who had spoken to him, and sure enough, he found himself face to face with his cousin. He removed the lollipop from his mouth and smiled.
-"I haven't seen you in a while. How are you?" He had always liked him, even as a boy when he behaved openly stubborn and defiant. Nowadays he had perfected the art, which both amazed and terrified him. You never knew what to expect of this shrewd young man anymore.
-"Not as good as you are. Akito told me that your sister is back. I guess you're happy now, aren't you?" He found himself staring at Momiji. In all his life he had never seen him smile that way. His eyes were filled with happiness, even if he looked tired. He decided to point out another thing he noticed about him, just for fun. "I can see that you're getting… plump" he snickered. 'And when is he going to stop growing up, if ever?' He refrained from commenting aloud on his cousin's height, even if it still irritated him having to look up at him.
-"You have Momo to thank for that" laughed Momiji. His cousin raised a questioning eyebrow. Momiji nodded enthusiastically, reverting for a moment to the young man of his childhood memories. "How so?" he questioned. Momiji decided to elaborate.
-"Well, if she wasn't that good of a cook, I wouldn't be in this situation" he confessed. It was true. He'd been eating a whole lot more lately. His sister woke up very early each morning to fix them both a hearty breakfast, since she said that it was the most important meal of the day. She wouldn't hear anything about skipping or leaving half eaten dishes, and she always served him plenty of food for dinner. He didn't have any intention to complain about that. He liked all the attention he'd been getting lately from his sister.
-"Is she? That's interesting." The young man decided to store that piece of information. 'So, she can cook'
-"What brings you here this time? Did you come to visit Akito-san and Shigure-san?" The young man answered with a nod, mentally recalling his conversation with them both just a few minutes ago and the main topic that they'd discussed. Funny he should run into Momiji right after leaving their house.
-"How is she these days?" his cousin shot him an accusing glance, so Momiji quickly explained himself. "I know that I live here and all, but I've been kind of busy lately. Besides, whenever I have the time, I help out my sister with her homework."
-"Isn't she a little too old for that?" He really wanted to believe that he wouldn't have to help Hinata-chan with her homework all the way to high school. If he had to, then it meant that he was just getting started... He groaned mentally.
-"It's not that she's not smart or capable enough…" Momiji started to explain.
-"Then what is it?" his cousin asked, genuinely curious.
-"I know that she'll get upset if she finds out about me telling you, but she's having a little trouble getting reacquainted with the language." For some unknown reason, Momiji found himself trusting his cousin.
-"She forgot the language? Tell me that you're kidding!" He started to laugh. How long had it been since Momiji heard him laugh like that? 'Not once after Kisa-chan left' he realized.
-"And you mean to tell me that you're going to help her out with her homework at this hour?" It wasn't that late, but seeing the tiredness all about Momiji, he didn't think that he was in the mood at that moment.
-"Yeah" he breathed out. "As soon as we're done with dinner" he answered. He didn't feel like translating text books or teaching kanji tonight at all, but what else could he do?
-"How's your family in Germany?" the young man questioned, changing the topic. "Is anyone dropping by soon to see how you're handling your big brother role?" Not that he felt like meeting any of them for the time being, just curiosity.
-"Everyone is fine. Grandma will be visiting in the summer." If possible, the smile grew wider until it became a grin. It was not unusual to see Momiji grinning. What struck him as a novelty was that he really looked happy this time. 'He really changed.'
-"That sounds good. Maybe we'll run into each other again while she's here and you can introduce us then."
-"Trust me. You will meet her. She's dying to see all of our Japanese family" he said, oblivious to his cousin's troubled thoughts. "I think she'll like you."
-"I hope so." The young man confessed. Momiji shot him a questioning look that his cousin didn't deem worthy of a reply. Momiji decided to say goodbye for the night and run home. His cousin also said that he should get going too. Momiji started to walk away when his cousin asked aloud, as an afterthought:
-"So, Momiji, how do you like being a big brother now? Is it all the way you expected it to be?" He never thought much of the role and responsibility he had to Hinata-chan as the older brother until he heard of Momo's return. Momiji had struggled hard for something he had always taken for granted himself. Momiji turned around once more and surprised him again with another of his trademark smiles.
-"It's been even better, Hiro-kun!" He turned again and left Hiro standing there, amazed. How could a girl manage to make such a difference in one person? 'Should I be looking up for that kind of thing myself?' Momiji continued to walk away until he disappeared from sight.
Hiro pulled closed the lapels of his coat. He shrugged and decided to stop worrying about what he'd been instructed to do. He had to start thinking about his future, but not tonight.
'Nobody's going away this time.'