"The fact that there are only five of us here feels strange," Shinobu's mother remarked. "I've gotten so used to holding parties." She sipped a glass of Chardonnay as she relaxed on the sofa across from Miyagi.
"I think it's better this way," the dean opined, smiling tenderly at his wife. He touched her shoulder. "You're feeling under the weather as it is."
The loveseat Miyagi was sitting on was close enough for conversation, but he didn't want to interrupt the older couple. He preferred to be a lurker, watching at a distance. He supposed he should be working on grading his students' midterms – he'd bought them with him, after all – but he found watching the couple with so many years of love between them to be far more fascinating.
Shinobu's mother had been saying she felt the beginnings of a sickness in her bones all night, but Miyagi didn't see anything wrong with her; in fact, she looked outright springy.
"I suppose you're right," she said to her husband, meeting his gaze with soft eyes of her own."It worked out for the best, didn't it? I didn't have to host a party while sick. That would have been a terrible ordeal."
Miyagi had a sneaking suspicion that the older woman was being a bit factitious – but for a good cause, in a way. She'd decided earlier in the year that she'd rather spend New Year's Eve with her son then with dozens of guests and no Shinobu. She'd announced to her social circle this year she wouldn't be hosting a party, and would stay only with her closest family members, as a change of pace. Shinobu hadn't said anything, but Miyagi knew while some part of Shinobu was happy his mother had chosen him, another part was upset because it was due to a reason relating to his pregnancy. There was supposed to be some sort of pregnancy glow, but Shinobu only had a cloud of gloom. Miyagi had no clue if it was because Shinobu was male and the hormones acted somewhat differently, or if it was purely Shinobu himself, but he knew carrying twins wasn't something Shinobu was enjoying, unsurprisingly. It was why he'd privately asked Risako to offer to host the party at her apartment this year – it gave Shinobu a chance to get out of the apartment he spent so much time in; perhaps it would cure a little of his cabin fever.
Still, the older woman's "sickness", even if only a cold, gave Shinobu a reason to think the small family New Year's Eve was a good thing, like something fated. She didn't even appear sick; she lacked any sort of sniffle or hoarseness or even the dark eyebags that always appeared under his students' eyes during finals week. On the other hand, Shinobu often claimed to have a cold where there was nothing externally wrong. In any case, Miyagi didn't believe her when she said it would have been a 'terrible ordeal' – Shinobu's mother liked hosting grand parties about as much as Matsuo Bashu liked haiku. She'd host a party in the midst of a tsunami, if she had to.
As if to contradict her claims of illness, the elder lady Takatsuki swiftly rose from the sofa, quickly moving forward while remaining graceful.
"I can handle it," a grumpy voice came from behind Miyagi, causing him to jump out of his skin.
Shinobu, steps heavy as he hobbled from his excessive weight, was making his way to the conversational, Risako trodding along patiently behind him. He plopped down next to Miyagi – his mother shot her son an oddly Shinobu-like glare, probably for sitting down too carelessly – and tried his best to cuddle up against him, pushing against his arm, a blush slowly shading his cheeks.
The dean across from them coughed awkwardly, and Miyagi hoped that Shinobu didn't want to do anything that would be embarrassing, because stopping Shinobu was akin to stopping a bull from charging at a red cloth – though of course the bull didn't actually react to the color red, that was a common misconception, but that wasn't the point.
The point was, if Shinobu was difficult to put reigns on in his normal state, pregnant Shinobu was ten times worse, with his weight and understandable dreary mood. Once Shinobu decided what he wanted that was it, he was like – a lemur off a cliff... no wait, that was terrible. Wasn't even true. Maybe something to do with ionic bonds? He'd always been terrible at chemistry.
"I thought the two of you were playing Karuta?" the dean said, snapping Miyagi out of his strange, most likely sleepily-induced thoughts. At least, he hoped exhaustion was the reason.
"We were," Risako said, referring to her and Shinobu, "but there's only so much of that you can play."
"What she means," Shinobu said, head moving from Miyagi's arm and posture straightening to more appropriately join in the conversation, "is that there's only so long I can play Karuta before I get bored with crushing her every time."
Risako whipped her head over to glare at Shinobu. "That's not even close to the truth, you jerk!"
Shinobu was unfazed. "But you can't deny the fact I handily beat you ever round." He smirked. "You always were a sore loser."
Before Risako could retort, the dean chuckled. "That doesn't sound too far off, Risako. If I recall correctly, the reason we stopped playing Karuta when you were old enough was because you threw a fit every time I won."
"Ah, that's not true, dear," the elder lady Takatsuki chided gently."We stopped letting you playing Karuta because it was unfairly balanced in your favor."
"My family did the same thing," Miyagi said. For some reason, he sensed Shinobu's eyes on him, like he was trying to singe Miyagi's shirt with his gaze. "The last New Year's Eve I spent with my parents, they banned me from play."
The dean sniffled. "Ah, the downfalls of knowledge," he said dramatically.
Risako nodded from where she sat on the armrest. "I remember that. You sulked for the whole night."
"I did not!" Miyagi said indigently. He really hadn't. Well, mostly...
Shinobu grunted. For a moment, Miyagi figured it was because Risako had mentioned something that happened when they were still married, but then he realized Shinobu was glaring at his stomach.
"You alright, Shinobu?" his mother asked.
"Yes," Shinobu said, through gritted teeth. "They just won't stop moving."
"Well, there's two of them, it's not like there's much room to move," Risako said.
"Trust me, it doesn't get any better when they get out," the dean muttered.
Shinobu frowned. "Can we talk about something else?"
Shinobu's mother started a coughing fit. Risako jumped from where she was sitting, darting to the kitchenette.
"I'll get you a glass of water! Do you need anything else?" The sound of glass clinking and water pouring from a faucet reverberated through the tiny apartment.
Shinobu looked uneasy, twisting the ribbed hem of his sweater with his hand.
"You alright?" Miyagi said. Shinobu was getting a bit pale, shifting a bit in the seat. His eyes darted to Miyagi. They looked a bit wet to him.
"Yeah, I'm fine, just... hormonal stuff." He blushed, ducking his head. "I'm just being oversensitive, that's all."
Miyagi wasn't sure what Shinobu meant, exactly, but he rubbed Shinobu's back all the same. "Don't worry about it," he murmured.
"Do you need any more water?" Risako said, talking to her mother.
Miyagi looked up to see Risako hovering over her mother, lines of worry etched on her face. Her mother, for what it was worth, seemed fine; the dean beside her certainly didn't look concerned.
"I'm quite alright, dear," the elderly woman said, handing her empty glass over to Risako as she started to stand up. "But I don't think I'll make it to the first sunrise, this time. You do have a guest room...?"
Risako nodded. "First door on the left."
The dean got up, clasping his wife's arm as the two of them got up from the sofa. "I think I'll tuck in as well," he said. "Sleep well, all."
The usual exchange of good nights took place, then the elderly couple made their way into the spare bedroom.
There was a long silence. "They're totally doing it."
"Shinobu!" Risako scolded, face flaring up. Miyagi began a sudden coughing fit.
"What, we were all thinking it," Shinobu deadpanned. He was sitting a bit stiffly; Miyagi, fully recovered from coughing, rubbed one of his lover's shoulders automatically.
"I wasn't," Risako said, throwing her brother a sharp glance.
Shinobu shrugged. "They're in love, they're happy, why wouldn't they engage in a bit of hime kajime once they have the chance?"
Risako bit the inside of her lip as her eyes briefly flitted to the door to the guest room. She frowned, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. "In a guest room, though?A relative's guest room?"
Miyagi could see it coming, but he couldn't stop the Shinobu juggernaut. "Sure, why not? Miyagi and I did."
Risako, who had begun tucking a second strand of hair behind her ear, paused and let the hair fall in front of her face. She didn't seem to notice it. "You... um... that's... good to know." Risako's face had gone alarmingly red, and she practically jumped up from her seat, nearly hitting the coffee table with her knee. "I need to go to the bathroom," she announced, and scampered off.
Miyagi shot Shinobu a look.
Shinobu, wide-eyed and innocent, asked, "What? It's not weird, is it?"
"I don't think so," Miyagi mumbled. "Risako has some strange conniptions. It's not like we were using my grandmother's couch or something."
Shinobu, lips pursed, settled further into the loveseat cushions.
"You alright?" Miyagi asked.
"Yeah, just trying to get comfortable," Shinobu said, shifting again. "Though sometimes I think it's a fruitless task..."
Miyagi put his hands on Shinobu's shoulders and gave a light message to his lover's neck, kneading out the knots.
"Miyagi," Shinobu said, face flush and eyes bright, "thank you. I love you."
Miyagi ignored the way his heart lurched, as it always did when Shinobu was being so cute. "If you say anything about hime kajime on this couch you will never get to experience it this year."
Shinobu's gaze turned to a glower. "Miyagi! It's your mind that's in the gutter, not mine!"
There was no time for Miyagi to rebuke him, however, as Risako had decided to grace them with her presence again.
"Listen, I'm going to have to lie down a little early," she said. Her face looked pale and she was clutching her stomach.
"Too weak to handle staying up all night?" Shinobu said, but his face showed concern.
"No," Risako said, her face contorting in pain. "I really need to lie down."
Shinobu was pinching the front of the throat, something he did when he was worried, so Miyagi said, "Is it that monthly problem you have?"
Risako narrowed her eyes. "Yes. And there's a heating pad on my name on it. Now if you excuse me, I need my beauty rest."
Shinobu didn't make his usual smart-ass comment as Risako went upstairs, his brows furrowed. "She gets sick like this every month?"
"Shinobu," Miyagi said, sighing, "what do women experience once a month that we don't?"
His face flushed. "Oh!" He crumpled his left pants leg, frowning."I didn't know that kind of stuff hurt."
"For some women, it does," Miyagi said.
Shinobu let his gaze fall to his stomach without glaring at it – a rare occurrence these days. "I really don't know much about girls."
Miyagi took his left hand, squeezing it, and gave Shinobu a comforting pat on the leg. "Don't sweat it. They're not all that different. You'll be fine."
Shinobu smiled at him, eyes soft. "Miyagi," he mumbled, and leaned his head on Miyagi's shoulder.
"Are you going to sleep?" Miyagi asked. He wasn't a fan of his shoulder becoming a pillow.
"Stupid Miyagi, I always make it to sunrise," Shinobu growled. "I'm just resting my eyes."
"If you say so," Miyagi said. As Shinobu settled his face further into his shoulder, Miyagi tried not to squirm. "Uh, if it's alright with you, I'm going to work on grading papers."
"If you do that now, you'll owe me lots of time later," Shinobu mumbled as he moved his head off Miyagi's shoulders so he could grab the papers. "And not only for hime kajime."
"Of course, Shinobu," Miyagi murmured, not bothering to mention he planned to do so anyway.
There was no reply, only the sensation of Shinobu's head resting against his shoulder again. Miyagi took the paper he'd been grading before, along with the pen, and started reading. It wasn't long before he heard the familiar sound of light snoring.
Miyagi shook his head and went back to his work. At least he'd get to see the first sunrise.
It was too fucking early in the morning.
It was daybreak. While most people had stayed up to watch the first sunrise, they hadn't suffered due to a baby crying incessantly for the past three hours.
Hiroki supposed he should be more concerned about the crying, and he would be if Nowaki and his mother hadn't both assured him they knew exactly what was going on, it was only colic, and there was no reason to take her to a hospital.
Everyone, including his father, had taken their turn at attempting to soothe Yuzumi, but the high-pitched wailing had perpetuated; Nowaki and his mother had taken to discussing various methods for dealing with colic before his father had finally given up, and, earplugs firmly inserted, gone to bed. Hiroki had gone to find sanctuary in his temporary home office not long after.
His "office" was a library with a desk, a laptop, and a seemingly endless amount of papers; among them was a long article the dean had asked him to peer review for publication a few days ago. In the same e-mail, the dean had also seen fit to remind Hiroki that, even with his – justified, of course – absence, he was up for tenure next year. Hiroki was doing everything he could to prevent his sick leave from somehow working as a determent against him.
"Hiro-san," he heard a voice call out from the doorway, causing him to look up from the printed pages; as it was, the characters were starting to become blurry, and he knew he didn't need a new prescription.
Nowaki had opened the door to the room, and all that followed him was the sound of sweet, blessed silence.
"She stopped crying?" he asked.
"And fell asleep," Nowaki responded.
He almost smiled, but an inkling of concern was making itself known. "In the bassinet?" Hiroki asked gruffly. His mother had been up for a while...
"Dad woke up and agreed to sleep with her actually," Nowaki admitted. "He took out his earplugs and everything. Mom found an extra futon; she didn't want to sleep next to Yuzu-chan while she felt so exhausted."
"Good," Hiroki mumbled."It can't hurt to be safe."
Nowaki smiled and put a hand in Hiroki's hair, and leaned down to rest his face there. "You're such a good, concerned parent, Hiro-san."
Hiroki's face heated up. "Yeah, yeah."
The silence that had evaded them throughout the night and early morning accompanied them now, prompting Hiroki to ask,"So this colic thing... how long does it last?"
Nowaki laughed. "You mean when is Yuzumi going to become more calm?" he teased gently. "A few weeks, most likely."
"So, it just goes away?" Hiroki asked, running a hand through his hair. "What even causes it in the first place?"
"We don't really know. There are dozens of theories, everything from trauma to indigestion." Nowaki smiled pleasantly, a sweet smile that was still a little restrained. "Babies are mysterious to the medical community, especially since they can't talk. And science isn't always exactly simple, easy, or straightforward."
Hiroki made a non-committal noise.
Nowaki's gaze flitted to the article Hiroki had been reading. Hiroki heard his breath hitch in disapproval. "It's ridiculous that the Dean assigned you that. You're on sick leave."
Hiroki held back a huff. He knew Nowaki was only being very sensitive to this type of thing because he valued family so highly. "It's good for me to able to continue to contribute academically, especially since I'm coming up for tenure next year."
"You're on sick leave, though," Nowaki reiterated, frowning. "They can't penalize you for not working while you're out sick."
Hiroki's eyes darted back to the paper as he said, "Well, yes, but... I'd rather not take any chances." He grimaced, and with a slight sigh added, "you know how it is, publish or perish."
Nowaki made a slight hum of disapproval, but otherwise reminded quiet as Hiroki made various marks on the paper. That is, until, "Hiro-san?"
Hiroki glanced up at him. "What?"
"Would you like to watch the first sunrise with me?" Nowaki's normally lovely clear blue irises where rimmed with red from lack of sleep. There were dark bags forming under his eyes, and his smile looked awfully watery. Still, Hiroki found him breathtaking.
Hiroki shook his head to clear his mind. He must be really tired to be thinking such ridiculously sappy thoughts.
Nowaki's face fell. "No?" he said. He sounded like he might cry.
Hiroki flushed. "No, I didn't mean –" He paused, trying to find the right words. Even if he'd wanted to say no to Nowaki, it was like saying no to an adorable puppy. Which he didn't want to, anyway, thank goodness.
"No, it's okay, Hiro-san, I understand," Nowaki said, in the tone of a crushed martyr."Work is very important, after all."
Hiroki winced. "No, you idiot, that wasn't –" He cleared his throat. "The head shake wasn't in reply to you, I'm just tired, that's all."
"Oh, I understand, Hiro-san! You need sleep," Nowaki said, his face lit up like the beatific light of the first sunrise.
Hiroki almost shook his head again at his thoughts, but stopped himself. He really needed sleep. "So do you," he mumbled. Then added more clearly, "but we can both get sleep after viewing the sunrise."
"Of course, Hiro-san!" Nowaki said brightly.
Hiroki took off his glasses and placed them on the table, then walked over to the window facing east. Nowaki opened the shutters. Hiroki kept his gaze on the horizon as Nowaki grabbed his waist and held him close. The loudest sound in the early hour was the beating of his own heart.
"Happy New Year, Hiro-san," Nowaki said as the sun began to flood the sky with its bright spectrum of dawn's light.
"You too," Hiroki said, and let himself relax.
It was going to be a very stressful year ahead.