Disclaimer hasn't changed!

Warnings for this chapter:

None!

Final chapter! Thank you to everyone who stuck through with this story! Hope you've all enjoyed it (and maybe learned something, too)!

I wrote this not just because I enjoy Oofuri, but also in hopes to raise awareness on the serious issues that children face during school years (Elementary/Primary, Secondary/Middle School and High School bullying), as well as other problems. I probably should have chosen a more popular anime to do it with, but being AU, I feel that anyone can read and enjoy it (and get the messages in it).

Again, thank you, and I hope you enjoy the final chapter.


Chapter 15: Welcome Home

Naoe Mihashi stood outside the hospital room that contained Takaya Abe and wondered how to break the news to the boy. She had visited often when the boys were still in school, sometimes bringing a book for Takaya to read since she found out that he loved reading.

She discovered a lot of things, though he was reluctant to speak at time. Due to the influence of adults in his life, Naoe didn't blame him for not trusting her completely.

Perhaps she would start off with just a basic conversation and lead into it?

Then again, conversation was sometimes difficult with Takaya; not that he intended it to be, he just wasn't sure around adults. He had been warming up to her and Oki, who also visited on occasion, as well as a particular doctor, but that was over the past couple weeks.

Naoe shook her head. Now isn't the time for doubts! They put the paperwork through much earlier than normal due to the circumstances. Just go in!

The woman knocked, then entered.

Takaya was sitting in bed, since it was mid-morning, and reading one of the books that she had brought the last time. When he saw who it was, he smiled shyly.

"Good morning, Takaya." Naoe closed the door behind her.

"Morning…" Takaya's voice held a hint of curiosity, since this was the first time she dropped the "-kun" from his name.

Naoe walked over and sat on a stool near the bed. "How are you feeling?"

"Bored," Takaya replied honestly as he set the book down. For some reason, the woman in the room got him to drop his guard. He heard she was the one that had called the ambulance when Ren found him, as well as performed some emergency first aid that could have very well helped to save his life.

She also had an air of warmth and love around her that made Takaya a little uncomfortable, since he had no idea how to respond to an adult with that sort of aura, or an adult that gave so much kindness.

With Motoki, and now Ren and Shuugo, it was easy to return it, since they were (mostly) around his age. He didn't must trust the kids in school, but Ren and Shuugo were also outcasts, so they all just clicked. Adults ranked even lower, but Naoe had managed to climb her way up to someone he didn't mind being left alone with in a room, even if there wasn't a camera.

Naoe chuckled. "I suppose so…there's a limit of what you can do in a hospital room. I've never had to be admitted to the hospital, myself, but I imagine it can't be too much fun."

Takaya shook his head. Only fun is when everyone visits…I never thought I'd think like that, but it's true.

"I brought some rice balls with me if you'd like to join me for a snack. The food here can't be too great, either," Naoe said as she pulled out a wrapped item from her purse.

"Ah…if it's not too much trouble…" Takaya blushed.

Naoe giggled. "Honestly! It's the same every time I bring something! You know it's not any trouble! I'm not the best cook in the world, but I can at least make rice balls!"

Takaya's blush increased as he mumbled a 'thank you' and accepted one. "I…think they're good…"

Naoe beamed. "I'm glad to hear it!" I can't imagine what he did for meals at his house. He won't talk about it, not that I blame him, but according to Motoki, the two would often meet up and eat dinner together with Motoki's allowance or Takaya's odd-jobs.

The woman had to take a deep breath and let it out so as not to get angry. A boy his age taking odd jobs because he doesn't get an allowance…it's unheard of! Some parents can't afford to give their kids an allowance, but the Abe family was very well off!

"Is something wrong, Mihashi-san?" Takaya picked up on the woman's frown.

"Oh! Nothing, really…I was just thinking about something that led me to worrying about you," Naoe admitted. If it had been Ren or Shuugo that asked, she would have brushed it off with a "nothing". However, trust was important to Takaya, and she didn't want to lie to him.

"You don't have to worry about me…"

"Well, someone has to, don't they?" Naoe huffed. "Honestly…you're just a child! Adults should take care of you. And besides…it's natural to worry about someone you care about."

Takaya nearly dropped his rice ball as he looked at her with wide eyes.

Naoe smiled softly. "Ren, Shuugo, and Motoki all care about you. I do, as well."

Takaya's hands trembled as he looked away. "I…it's not…I mean…"

Naoe smiled and placed a hand over his. "It's alright. You don't have to say anything."

Takaya looked at the hand that was over his. It's warm…just like the presence around her. I don't feel angry or afraid around her…she's not like typical adults. Strange, but I thought I would never feel comfortable around an adult.

Naoe removed her hand, though the smile never left her face. "It's true that there are people in this world that like to hurt others for whatever sick reason they have, but there are also people in this world that will help others even if they don't know them."

"How come?" Takaya found himself inquiring after he finished his rice ball.

Naoe tried to keep the sorrow out of her smile at the question. "Some people just care about others; they have room in their hearts for other people. Even if they don't completely understand someone, or if they do, they try to help, anyway."

"But why?"

Naoe reached out and ruffled the boy's hair, then smiled at his blush. "No reason is needed. When our hearts are connected, we can achieve new heights, and form new bonds. We can laugh, cry, and enjoy peaceful scenes together. Whether it's in someone's darkest hour, or their brightest day, we can be there. We help each other, because we aren't very strong by ourselves. We make friends and band together because we make each other strong; because then, we can pick each other up."

The smile brightened on the woman's face. "That's what it means to care…that's what it means to be friends, to be a family. Even if it's someone we don't know, by helping them…even a simple gesture like holding the door for them, or smiling at them…if they were having a bad day, that small thing might just make it easier for them."

Naoe could feel Takaya trembling under her hand, and knew that nobody had ever said anything of this sort to him; that he was fighting emotions. Motoki had the aura of someone twice his age, but he was still just a child, himself.

"But…I'm…"

"Everyone that's visited here has helped you, correct? And, one way or another, you helped them at some point," Naoe interrupted softly. "Helping someone doesn't have to be anything that could be heroism. Even the smallest of gestures still makes a difference."

Takaya mumbled something.

"Hmm?"

"Like…your rice balls. I…look forward to them…"

Naoe smiled again and brushed his bangs back gently. "Yes. That's a gesture of love. We take and we give…we are hurt, and hurt others, though sometimes not intentionally. We experience pain and joy. Most importantly…we are capable of loving and helping one another. That's what it means to live…that's what it means to be human. Takaya, you're just as human as the rest of us, and everything I said proves it."

Takaya lost the battle with his tears, though he tried to hide them from the woman.

Naoe just shook her head and shifted over to sit on the bed. "I already said it, didn't I? We share pain and sorrow…the good and the bad."

"I said I wouldn't cry anymore…"

"There's nothing wrong with crying, Takaya. Male or female…tears are a way of showing emotion, and a way of letting out frustrations and pain. It's a lot healthier to cry than to hold it in, as a matter of fact."

One sob…then another. "I…"

Naoe embraced him gently. "It might be a while before you can admit it, but all of us think you're human, Takaya. And, just for the record, human beings don't have the power to curse others just by existing."

Takaya couldn't help but reach out and cling to the woman; to the warmth and light; to the adult that he, for whatever reason, discovered a foundation of trust in; to this adult that actually cared about him; to the adult that called him "human".

Naoe said nothing more as she held him, and just let him cry out bitter tears of old suffering, and emotional tears of relief and joy at hearing the words he had longed to hear. She knew that he really wanted to hear those words from his parents, no matter what names he called them, but sadly knew that would never happen.

Instead, she could repeat what her son and his friends said; she could believe in the words she heard as she grew up in a loving environment. She could also repeat and share those words with this boy that had been deprived such a basic, essential need:

The love of his family.

Despite the questions she would ask him about his favorite color, his favorite food, etc, she knew that what he really wanted was to just be loved and accepted; by his parents, by adults, and by his peers.

It was such a fundamental thing; such a simple, easy task for someone to give their love and care to another person, particularly to family, who were supposed to have strong bonds.

Simple, meaningful words such as "I love you" and "I'm proud of you", which all children deserved to hear no matter how old they grew, had been deprived from this boy for the majority of his life. If he heard them before he heard otherwise, he obviously was too young to remember.

Love, Naoe believed, wasn't something that just stopped. Once you really love someone, and once you really care about someone, it was for eternity. Even humans had their limits as to how much they could physically give.

People could only give so much to charity before they ran out of money they needed to survive, for example. However, there was no limit to how much love one person can give another, nor was there any limits to how many people can receive that love.

Naoe believed in that strongly, and hoped that she could give that to this child. It might not be the same as the parents whose blood flowed through his veins, or the woman that gave birth to him, but things like that really didn't matter in the grand scheme of life.

Love is eternal, and knows no bounds; there's no way something like blood or other prejudices could get in the way.

Naoe was suddenly aware that it was quiet in the room, and figured that Takaya had stopped crying long ago, but hadn't pulled out of the embrace.

Even Takaya didn't understand why he didn't feel uncomfortable, and why it felt so safe to be in this woman's arms.

"Say, Takaya…you heard I've been busy for the past month, correct?"

Takaya nodded into the woman's shirt.

Naoe smiled. "I've already told Ren, and he's excited…but I was taking some classes that was necessary for this application process I've been going through. Normally, it takes about ninety days to process, but due to the circumstances, they were able to give me my certification sooner. I just got mine today…this morning, actually."

Takaya was obviously puzzled, but didn't interrupt.

"I didn't want to say anything sooner in case I was denied, if it took longer, or if some other complication came up. My husband also knows, and has been extremely supportive even though he's currently in Hokkaido for his business. He agrees with me on everything I've spoken to you about…he's a lot like Ren, actually, minus the stutter."

Takaya smiled slightly.

"What I'm trying to say is…would you come live with us? With Ren, with my husband Reiichi, and with me?"

Takaya's eyes widened, and he pulled back to look up into the woman's face. Nothing but concern and sincerity showed, as well as something he had only seen on the faces of other parents when they looked at their kids. He never knew what that emotion was, and if he had grown up normally, he would have known it was love.

Naoe smiled. "It was quite a hassle, getting certification to be a foster parent. However, as soon as Motoki said something about parents the first day you were in the hospital, I knew something was wrong. After an investigation…well, a lot of things were discovered. I have the certification, and Reiichi is in full agreement with the decision. He's actually very excited about it, and wishes he could be here to meet you."

Takaya's jaw nearly dropped. This woman…really means it…

Naoe giggled. "He can be such a busy man when he gets passionate about something!" Her expression softened as she took in the shocked expression Takaya had. "I know it's sudden, and you're still recovering on multiple levels, but…that's okay. You don't have to agree, but the offer is…"

"I'll go…" Takaya gripped her shirt as a lump formed in his throat and his eyes burned, and his body trembled. "I'll go…please…I…I…"

Naoe smiled softly and embraced him again. "I understand. I'm sure you'll get the same greeting from Ren when he hears…he might even jump and hug you, just to warn, and my husband will be returning from his trip in a few days and will also have the same words…but, Takaya?"

The boy could only sniffle and make a small sound in response.

Naoe closed her eyes and held him so his head rested under her chin. "Welcome home."

Despite the tears, Takaya had a huge smile on his face as he wrapped his arms, slowly at first, but then with more confidence, back around the woman. Her warmth practically flowed into him, and it just felt so right to be there in her arms. He thought he would be uncomfortable being loved, but it was actually surprisingly a simple thing, and it felt wonderful and welcoming, as if it had been there all along.

Suddenly, right there, and right then, he felt it, and he knew…

…I'm home.

END