Stage Five: Ayame
The few hours after Tsubaki had told him that the baby was coming out passed by in such a blur that it might have given a lesser man whiplash.
But Black Star was not a lesser man—he was the guy who had surpassed the gods. Getting his wife to the city hospital so she can safely deliver their child wasn't something that could make him panic and feel disoriented.
The news of the fact that the baby was coming though—that was a whole another thing altogether. And, even being as great a man as he was, he had allowed himself a brief moment for nail-biting, panicking and disoriented looking around for help.
All of that fell into the background when Tsubaki gave another pained yell. Years of religious training and harsh missions for the good of mankind had taught him discipline in times of crisis, and those finely honed skills enabled him to calm himself in record time and prioritize all the things that needed to be done in a short amount of time.
He'd been completely rational and extremely efficient at the time. But once he got his significant other in that wheelchair and a nurse sped off with her towards the maternal ward, if you asked him how he'd accomplished getting her there he would've been at a loss as to how to reply. He himself had no idea how they'd arrived there so quick.
But it didn't matter either because what mattered the most was that some woman he'd never seen before in his life had taken off with his lover and hadn't even given him a backward glance before shamelessly doing so!
When the thought sunk in, he was just about ready to throw a tantrum, demand that they explain to him what they were doing and tell him where they had taken the love of his life. Before he had a chance to do as he pleased, however, another nurse came up to him with a clipboard in her hands.
He threw her a menacing look when she called out to him. The poor woman started sweating bullets, obviously not used to this particular behaviour on a patient's family's part.
"Sir? A-are you the father?" she stuttered out and barely contained the sigh of relief when the brunt of the murderous aura was no longer on her shoulders.
Black Star hesitated for just a heartbeat before confirming. He'd already told all their friends about it and he and Tsubaki had been talking about a lot of "what if"s and "maybe"s in the months before the baby actually came.
But hearing an outsider ask him that made it seem more realistic.
He was really going to be a father.
His son or daughter was going to come into this world any moment now.
His own flesh and blood that he had helped create and that he would help raise.
He was going to be a dad…
"I need you to fill out this chart while the doctor is checking up on your wife." The nurse's somewhat calmer voice drew him out of his reverie and he nodded dumbly before taking the proffered object.
"Is she alright?" he asked, his full attention once more on the woman.
She felt beads of sweat beginning to form on her brow again but at least the intensity of the man's gaze didn't give her the chills this time. She swallowed thickly and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear in a nervous tic before responding.
"U-um, I'm sure everything will be fine, sir." When he looked like he was going to argue, she added quickly, "A-as soon as you fill out the chart I will take you to your wife's side, I promise."
This seemed to brighten his mood as he set off to writing with a joyous call that made several heads turn and stare curiously at him.
The nurse thought it better not to reprimand this particular individual on his vociferousness. He didn't seem like the type to take well to preaching when he was on edge.
If the previous murderous aura had been any clue, that is.
Tsubaki's breathing was laboured and she was looking around wildly every few seconds, asking any nurses and doctors who came to check on her whether they had seen a blue-haired man anywhere because she seemed to have lost her husband on the way in.
All the members of the medical staff that passed through her room just smiled reassuringly at her and told her to relax.
And even someone as soft-spoken and good-natured as the Nakatsukasa heiress got a little testy when in severe pain and ignored.
"I will not relax!" the raven-haired Death Scythe roared, making the last nurse she'd asked jump about a foot in the air at her outburst. "I'm in pain, my baby is coming and no one seems to be in any hurry to tell me where the father of my child is! How the hell am I supposed to relax like this!?"
The woman tending to her took a step back under the strength of the soon-to-be mother's glare. At that very moment, Tsubaki's nurse was infinitely grateful that looks could not, in fact, kill because if they could, she'd be in much more pain than the would-be mother was.
Much to the nurse's relief, a tall, well-build azure-haired man chose that exact moment to make an entrance, the cheery yell he gave making the hospitalized female turn her attention to him. The medic woman heaved a great sigh, secretly grateful to the guy for the diversion he offered. She'd been on the opinion that the young mother was a nice, calm and patient woman but this only went to prove how deceiving looks could be.
"Black Star!" Tsubaki breathed out in relief, extending her hand for him to take.
Her spouse was at her side in a heartbeat, excitedly chattering away about how complicated things in hospitals were and how many things he didn't understand he'd been asked by folks there before they'd allowed him to join her side and just how outrageous that had been on them because didn't they know who he was, couldn't they see the halo over his head and so on and so forth.
She listened to his silly banter with a glowing smile on her face, relieved for the first time in an hour or so.
Her expression faltered when another vicious contraction seized her. Tsubaki's fingers dug hard in his arm and a lesser man may have been in pain from the intensity of her vice-like hold.
But the only thing Black Star felt was worry for his beloved wife, whose lovely face he had never seen twisted in so much pain.
He hoped that his child would hurry up and come out already because he didn't want to see its mother go through any more pain.
She screamed at the top of her lungs as she pushed.
During her years on Shinigami-sama's force she'd experienced pain of varying intensity and she'd been able to take it every time.
Now though… Now it felt like she wouldn't be able to get through this. Even for a seasoned weapon like her, this was too great a feat. She didn't think she'd be able to make it.
"You're doing great, Tsubaki! As can only be expected of this great me's wife!"
She looked to the side at Black Star who was enthusiastically cheering her on while she clutched to his arm. She gave him a pained smile that looked more like a grimace before her eyes fell on her hand that was holding onto him.
Through all the years she'd been by his side, she'd known that her now husband was a difficult person to physically hurt. He tended to undermine minor injuries and this had been the source of many arguments between them. And yet that trait of his allowed him at the current moment not to pay any heed to his forearm she was clutching for dear life, the flesh of which was starting to turn slightly blue from the intensity of her grip.
She smiled at him again and gave another strong push when the doctor instructed her to. If he could hold it together, then so could she. He had never quit on anything he ever did, so she wasn't going to either.
"Black Star?" she gasped out as she rested her back against the rest behind her.
"What is it?" he asked eagerly, leaning in to listen closely to her. He was the embodiment of care in that very moment, his eyes wide and his free hand reassuringly placed on hers that was on his other arm.
She smiled at him again and wondered how it was possible that this wonderful, doting person could've ever thought he wouldn't make a good father with how much he cared.
"I want you to name him or her when he or she comes out," she told him in a rasped voice before being made to push again, her tone turning into a pain of excruciating pain and effort.
Black Star's mouth had frozen into a stiff "o" when she'd informed him of her wishes. It had been a request that had taken him by surprise—they had talked about baby names before but she'd always rejected his ideas as quite outrageous (though he didn't see how Black Star Junior and Descendant of God's Surpassor were unacceptable choices), so asking him such a thing now was more than a bit confusing.
He'd been surprised but he was quick to get back to his encouraging self, deciding to postpone the pondering for a later time.
Because, after all, cheering her on was all he could do right then for her.
Her brow was glistening with a thin sheen of sweat but there was a serene feel to her aura now. She had safely delivered a baby girl—so the doctors said—and she was currently getting cleaned and wrapped in blankets, giving Tsubaki a bit time to take a gulp of air.
Black Star smiled at her and leaned forward to plant a tender kiss to her forehead. She blinked tiredly up at him, nonplus written in her eyes.
"You did awesome, Tsubaki. I'm proud of you." She tittered quietly, powerlessly squeezing the fingers of his hand that she had laced with her own digits. He smiled down at her and caressed her forehead dotingly.
"Here she is, the girl of the hour," the happy-go-lucky doctor said while handing Tsubaki her daughter.
The woman took her child gingerly, staring at the baby's chubby face in awe. She was so tiny and endearing—it was hard to imagine she had been the reason Tsubaki had gone through such excruciating pain not several minutes ago.
To her side, her husband had leaned in to look at his daughter's face as well. He blinked several times, as if still thinking that she was some sort of illusion and if he looked away she would disappear into thin air. Tsubaki smiled tiredly at him.
"A girl, huh?" she said dreamily, caressing lovingly the baby's face with her finger. "I can already see you spoiling her silly and chasing off any potential suitors." The Nakatsukasa heiress giggled again.
Black Star face faulted to her side.
"What 'potential suitors?! I-isn't she too little for that?!" His reaction made his wife laugh again.
"I was talking about the future, silly; the future," she explained good-naturedly and was amused to hear him sigh in relief.
"Don't scare me like that! I haven't even had a chance to know her and you already start talking about her leaving—that's a low blow for the wife of the man who surpassed God, Tsubaki!" he reprimanded her half-heartedly. She laughed some more.
The soft rumble of her chest made the little girl in her arms open her bleary eyes though, looking around. Her father looked at her in wonder and her mother smiled brightly down at her.
"Hey, little girl," Tsubaki spoke quietly to her, caressing her cheek again. "Did we startle you? We're sorry. Mommy and daddy tend to get a little silly sometimes but you'll get used to it soon."
The child gurgled a laugh that melted her mother's heart.
Black Star watched his two girls communicate without words and smiled tenderly at the sight they made. He leaned against Tsubaki's bed, putting a hand as gently as possible on his daughter's head.
The baby then turned her attention to him and his eyes met the richest violet coloured orbs he had ever seen in his life. He looked curiously at the tiny hand that had extended towards his face before giving Tsubaki a questioning look. She nodded and he turned back to their daughter. When he lifted his hand from her head, wondering what the child wanted him to do exactly, he was slightly taken aback when her tiny fingers took hold of his index finger.
He was immediately overwhelmed by how truly tiny she was, how small and defenseless. Her entire little hand was only as big as his smallest index finger phalanx. She didn't know anything about the world and she could only rely on him and Tsubaki to continue to live. A tiny, adorable life was going to depend on him as a role model and support until it could stand on its own legs, until it could garner its own innate talent and follow its own unique path.
And looking at this endearing, harmless creature that stared at him with those wide, heart-melting eyes made him wonder how he could've ever even contemplated denying this child a chance at life.
He still had no confidence he would even make an acceptable father, not to mention a good one, but at least now he knew that he'd made the right decision.
He smiled at his daughter who in turn gurgled once more.
"Hm?" his wife hummed, showing him that she was listening raptly even though she looked completely engrossed in caressing the child's dark auburn locks.
"I figured out what we should name her," he said coolly. His significant other turned to look at him curiously at that, expectantly waiting for him to continue.
Only after she'd said it, she'd realized that this was probably not her best of ideas, living Black Star in charge of naming their daughter. After all, he had the tendency of being silly even at important times, but what had already been promised had already been promised. So she tilted her head to the side as she patiently waited for him to go on. She hoped he fully realized she was never going to agree to calling her daughter The Daughter of the Man who Surpassed God or anything like that.
"Let's call her Ayame." Tsubaki only blinked in response, which he took as a cue to elaborate.
He turned to look into the child's eyes; she looked really concentrated on holding on to his finger.
"She's so small and delicate, in need of affection and care to thrive—just like a flower. So she should be Ayame—a pretty flower, just like her mom."
Tsubaki was still openly gaping at her lover after he finished explaining his reasoning for his choice and he cocked a brow at her. Before he could ask her what was wrong with her, she turned to look at their child who was blowing bubbles with her eyes drooping but her hold on his finger still secure. The woman smiled warmly at the baby.
"Ayame-chan, eh?" she finally spoke, still looking at their daughter. "It has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?"
Black Star grinned.
Ayame it was then.
A beautiful name was the first thing that her father gave her.
A lot of Tsubaki's earlier ponderings were answered as soon as her baby was born.
For example, she now knew that she was the mother of a beautiful baby daughter. She could see a lot of Black Star in her—a fact that made her smile whenever she thought of it. Ayame may not have been much different than any other infant for all Tsubaki knew, but to the young mother her child was the prettiest, most curious and most wonderful little girl in the world.
Or at least, as far as she could be sure about that considering that she was still in a baby.
But the most important fact she had come to know—at least according to her—was that her daughter was not fussy.
She did not throw tantrums without a reason and she didn't cry unless she needed something. She enjoyed the company of both her parents seeing as her cradle was just to the side of their bed for the time being and she was always looked after.
The fact she did not fuss needlessly did not change that Ayame was still a baby. She had needs that manifested at odd hours of the night, dragging both her parents out of fitful slumber until either of them catered to her demands.
On one such night a few months after she was born, the baby girl's wail startled Black Star and Tsubaki awake in the wee hours of the morning.
The young mother opened her bleary eyes groggily, giving a small groan as she attempted to push herself up into a sitting position. It had taken her body a good couple of weeks to recuperate from the stress the birth had put it through but ever after that, she'd been feeling constantly on edge. Not getting enough sleep was putting a great strain on her somatic functions and day after day it was getting increasingly harder to get up at night to feed her daughter.
"I'll take care of it, you get back to sleep, Tsubaki," she heard a familiar voice tell her through the sleepy haze in her mind.
She turned her head to the side powerlessly, blinking slowly as her eyes that were gradually getting used to the darkness took in the silhouette of her lover getting up from the bed and going to the cradle. She trained her eyes on the alarm clock on her bedside and forced her mind to cooperate with her.
"She's probably hungry—it's about time for her meal," she said in a raspy voice and barely registered her husband nodding his head affirmatively.
"I know, so go back to sleep," he told her and his significant other smiled into the darkness of the room, her eyes sliding shut easily. She was more than eager to comply with his order.
Black Star approached his crying daughter carefully, picking her up gingerly. Even after a few months together, he still felt as if she was fragile like a glass. She looked so tiny and defenseless that he held her like he would a very valuable, easily breakable item, afraid that exerting too much force might crush her but knowing that if there was no firmness in his hold she would slip from his grasp which would surely harm her in turn.
"Shh, it's okay, Ayame, don't cry," he hushed her breathlessly, gently rocking her in his arms. "Let's go get you your midnight snack now."
Upon seeing her father's face hovering over her, the intensity of the little girl's cries went down a notch but did not cease completely. He continued rocking her while he got her milk ready. Only once her lips were on the pacifier of the milk bottle did she calm down.
She had such a concentrated look on her face while she greedily drunk from the container. Black Star smiled down at her as one of his arms supported her neck and body while the other held the bottle to her tiny mouth. Her small arms were extended in a matter as if holding the container herself but he knew for a fact that she did not yet have enough coordination or strength in her cute tiny fingers to grip it herself.
He had been watching her every day since she'd come to be and he had been amazed by how quickly she was changing. It was like she was growing every second of every minute of every day. She was truly a tiny miracle and he could hardly believe that he would've been ready to give her up before even knowing her.
The baby drank her milk in record time and he chuckled lightly while he put the vacated bottle in the sink to be taken care of at a less ungodly hour.
"You're quite the little glutton, aren't you?" he told her quietly and the little girl looked up at him with her wide, curious eyes. "You take after your dad in that way, huh, princess?"
He tickled her under the chin and Ayame gurgled a laugh. He smiled widely himself while he carried her to the bedroom. He put her gently in her crib, which he had finished putting together first thing after coming home with his daughter. The young man rested his arms on the side of the crib, leaning in to look at his daughter whose tiny form was bathed in the rich moonlight pouring from the open blinds.
Ayame peered curiously at him for a while, extending her little hands in his direction while blubbering nonsense in her baby tongue. Black Star smiled at her and held one of her outstretched arms, making the baby smile and fasten her tiny digits around one of his fingers.
Every day that he spent by her side he grew to love her more and more. Maka had joked with him when his daughter had been born that the role of the father wasn't all that important, so there was no need for him to be so stiff about it. He'd been scandalized by her claim and promised ceremoniously in front of all of his friends who had gathered to congratulate him and his wife on their new baby that he would become the most prominent figure in his daughter's life.
After all, it was only understandable, since she was the offspring of the man greater than God Himself! There was no other way he would settle for any other position in her life!
Every day that he spent with her he found more and more of himself in her. If it had been the him of a year ago, that would've made him panic and try to put some distance between himself and his daughter, before he could influence her even more without meaning to in the first place.
But now he couldn't do that, even if he wanted to. This little child had grown on him so much in the past few months that she'd been a part of his life that he couldn't imagine being without her anymore. He couldn't pry himself away even if he was insane enough to want to.
Ayame had already captivated him with her charm and there was no going back.
"You're quite the little minx, aren't you?" he told her quietly so as not to disturb Tsubaki's sleep. "You're still a baby and yet you've already put an unbreakable spell on me. What a sly little one you are…"
He smiled into the darkness at his daughter who blew a bubble and stared curiously up at him, obviously not understanding a word of what he was saying to her or how she affected him.
But that was alright. He knew there would come a time—very soon—when she would understand and even be able to convey her own thoughts to him, in a language he could understand. He could hardly wait for her to start talking! There were so many things he wanted to teach her!
"Ayame, you just keep growing up and leave the rest to your dad!" he whispered excitedly. "I'm going to teach you how to ride a bike and play video games! We'll go out and run and play every day, so you can get big and strong like your old man! You know, your dad has already surpassed God, so it's only understandable that you'd be right after me, seeing as how you have my blood."
Ayame turned her head slightly to the side on her covers, in an almost questioning look. It fuelled Black Star's soliloquy even more.
"Of course you will! You dad always keeps his promises! You just wait and see! I'm sure that you'll turn out to be a technician when you go to Shibusen. You know, daddy's a teacher there, so he will be able to keep an eye on you at all times!" he said breathlessly, caressing his daughter's fluffily soft hair while resting his chin on his other arm that was leaning against the crib's side. "I'll make sure you come to no harm and that no one makes you cry. You know why? Because that face of yours is more suited for a smile than for tears."
He gently pressed on the tip of her chubby nose, making the little girl giggle in amusement. He smiled brightly at her, his face turning into a more serene expression then.
"You're such a happy kid, aren't you, princess?" he asked her quietly in the dim of the night. "The last time that old man came to visit, he said that you were just like your dad in that way." He said it with a melancholy tone in his hushed voice. "Do you remember him, your zombie uncle Sid? He's a nice guy, even though a bit annoying at times. He was always there for your dad when he was a tiny star like you, y'know, even though he's not your grandpa."
Black Star sighed. Every day, he could see that his daughter was becoming more and more like him. Before, that would've worried him, alarmed him.
But not anymore. Because, after all—
"I guess there are worse things than me you could become like, aren't there?" he asked her without expecting an answer, hope swelling in his chest as he looked at her wide marine green eyes that were so reminiscent of his own in colour.
Unbeknownst to him, his wife cracked her eyes open in the darkness, giving his back hunched over their child's crib a bright smile. She had been a bit worried that he had probably expected and wanted a son with whom it would be easier to bond, but she had been pleasantly surprised by how doting he was towards their daughter once she'd come around.
Tsubaki had the sneaking suspicion that the older the girl got, the more he would spoil her and cater to her every whim. After all, that was only understandable, seeing as how she was her father's "princess" and all.
The Nakatsukasa woman smiled again to herself in the darkness, shifting her weight to the side so she could look more easily and with less effort exerted at her family. She had been slightly worried whether they would really be alright but now she had no more doubt in her heart.
Her family was finally complete and she was happier than she ever thought she could be with what she had.
As for her dreams?
Tsubaki had received more than she had ever dared to wish for.
The little girl giggled incessantly while she sped around the rows of chairs lined up around her, waving her trophy around in her little hand like a winner's flag.
"Aya-hime! Don't torture your old man! Come back and give your dad his bowtie!" Black Star called out while running after his offspring.
In the year that had passed since her birth, Ayame's dark auburn tresses had darkened to a pure black and her eyes had become a lovely blue-green shade, somewhere between the colour of her mother's and her father's. She was an energetic, talkative child and her enthusiasm for everything never ceased to amaze her doting parents and their peers.
Tsubaki grinned to herself while she watched her husband and daughter zigzagging between the rows of chairs. Her child had become quite the prankster lately, and it definitely didn't help that her motor coordination for her age was more than astounding.
She had definitely got that from her father.
Speaking of which, said parent was having a hard time catching his offspring, considering that she was quite tiny. But then again it was thanks to that that she much easily maneuvered around the chairs than he could, making her such an elusive target.
"She was so well-behaved during the whole ceremony—I guess she must've been holding back a lot, huh?" The Nakatsukasa heiress said with a cheeky grin while she continued being entertained by the spectacle Black Star made of himself while trying to get a hold of their daughter who had abducted his bowtie.
It was with a very exultant "Gotcha!" that he finally caught the little troublemaker. The girl squealed loudly, falling into a giggling fit afterwards when her father started tickling her to make her loosen her hold on his tie and as a pseudo-punishment for having him running around for so long.
Tsubaki was absolutely right though. Ayame had been so quiet and obedient throughout the entire duration of their official wedding ceremony, doing her own part perfectly—she had been the youngest bride's maid, with the important task of throwing rice and flower petals around the isle as she walked down on it. His princess was so used to being in the center of attention lately that he had been surprised how perfectly she had behaved during the ceremony, not making a sound until it was over.
He guessed he would have to thank Tsubaki's parents for whatever they had given her to keep her occupied for that time.
But now that they had to pose for their first family photo together, the mischievous little girl had decided it would be the most convenient time to let her troublemaking trait make an appearance, nabbing her father's bowtie when he'd made to hold her up and running off as if chased by the devil afterwards.
"You like standing in the spotlight a lot, Aya-hime—as can only be expected of the daughter of a man as big as me!" he enthused, laughing raucously. His laughter made the little girl laugh as well.
He used that chance to lift her up and throw her in the air, catching her as she fell. Ayame's giggles grew louder as she became more excited, reaching up for the sky, as if urging her father to repeat what he'd done.
Never one to deny his daughter anything, Black Star threw her up again, savouring the happy giggles his offspring gave while she was airborne.
"Okay, Aya-hime, we'll play more if you promise to stay still for a bit, alright?" he asked her levelly with a serious expression on his face. The little girl laughed again but made no move to flee his grasp. He grinned. "Good girl! Now, look at the birdie over there and smile like this," he instructed her, flashing her a toothy grin that made the child recede into peals of laughter again.
The man gently guided his wife to his side, just in time to get into the perfect pose for their first family photograph.
In their first family album, the picture was the last of their wedding ceremony and the first many more family photos that they filled their next albums with.
If one were to look only at those pictures and how happy and smiling all three of them were in there, it would be hard to imagine that there had been a time Black Star had thought he would be anything less than a great, loving father.
A/N: I'm not entirely sure whether the end was strong enough. Oh well, seeing as how I'm not planning on leaving this family and the concept of this little girl stay in just this fic, I guess you could bear even with a weak ending? Also, for anyone who does not know, "Ayame" means iris in Japanese, which is why I gave her that name in both my stories. It seemed very fitting. She really grew on me so you'll probably see a lot more of her in future chapters of my "Stolen Moments of Intimacy" Black Star/Tsubaki one-shot collection. I hope you don't mind.
I want to thank you for all the wonderful support you've given me with this story—you guys were an incredible audience! I hope that this fic answered all your expectations and that you enjoyed reading it till the end. Thanks once again and I hope we'll see us again in some of my other works~
Yours sincerely, Dark Hope Assassin.