AN-This one shot was inspired by chapter nineteen of our other fic, When the Coin Melts. However, you do not have to have read that to understand this. Also, this is different than my usual writing style, so I'd appreciate some critique on how that worked out. Please enjoy!
Mommy's Little Boy
Shiori stared at the baby the doctor had placed in her lap. He was beautiful; silky soft skin, clear emerald eyes and tufts of vivid rose red hair. Shuichi was the most beautiful baby she'd ever seen.
Shuichi looked nothing like Shiori or her husband, Hatori.
Shiori looked up into the professionally emotionless eyes of the doctor that had given her the baby. "Congratulations," the doctor said. There was no accusation, no condensation in his voice…but that one word still stung.
Confused and scared of what she'd see, Shiori looked over at Hatori. His brown eyes looked just as confused behind his glasses as she felt. He reached out and gently brushed his finger tips against Shuichi's hair. "Huh; I guess one of us has some Irish blood somewhere back in our ancestry."
Relief flooded through Shiori so strongly that she almost sobbed. Hatori didn't believe the worst of her like she was certain the doctor and nurses did. It wasn't fair of them to think she'd been unfaithful; she had never even considered such a thing. But one look at Shuichi would be enough to convince them otherwise.
Shiori managed a smile. "I guess so." Who knew, maybe it was even true.
She looked down at her baby and smiled a real smile. It didn't matter. Whatever Shuichi looked like, he was hers and Hatori's baby, and Shiori couldn't do anything but love him. Cradling her sleeping baby close, Shiori kissed his head. Everything would be fine.
The slap stung Shiori's face, but the look of utter disgust on her mother's face hurt far more. "You filthy whore," she spat. "How dare you shame your family like this?"
Shiori blinked back tears. "I didn't! I would never have an affair!"
"Do you really expect us to believe that when the proof is lying right there?" her mother asked, pointing at Shuichi in his cradle.
Shiori looked to her sister for help, but her sister only looked down at the floor. Shiori was on her own.
The door to the nursery opened then, revealing Hatori. His soft brown eyes were hard in a way Shiori had never seen before as he glared at her mother. "Get out."
The woman started to say something, but Hatori cut her off. "Get out of my house, right now. You will not set foot back in this place until you are ready to beg Shiori's forgiveness for the way you have treated her today. Now get your things and go."
Shiori's mother glared furiously at Hatori, but she and Shiori's sister went without argument. In ten minutes they were gone, and Shiori hadn't moved from her spot.
Hatori hugged her tightly. "It'll be okay, Shiori. She'll come to her senses, you'll see."
Shiori finally gave in to her tears as Hatori held her. Hatori didn't understand. Shiori's mother never asked forgiveness; not from anyone, not for any reason. She was as good as dead to them now for the shame she'd brought down.
But I didn't do anything wrong, she thought. It's not fair! I never did anything wrong!
Things went back to normal for the next few months. Shiori and Hatori enjoyed watching Shuichi grow and develop. The only thing that bothered Shiori now was the way Shuichi never wanted to be touched. He tolerated it if Shiori was feeding, changing, or washing him. But if Shiori ever tried to hold or cuddle him for the sheer pleasure of holding her child, Shuichi would fuss until she put him down. He reacted the same way to Hatori as well.
Shiori knew it was silly, but she felt like her son was rejecting her every time he didn't want to be held. This rejection hurt her, which was ridiculous because Shuichi wasn't even six months old yet. It wasn't like a baby could purposely reject their mother…right?
Shiori mention her concerns to two of her friends who were visiting one day, both of whom had had children before.
"Oh, I'm sure it's nothing," Yuka said. "Some babies are just fussy like that."
"Maybe he takes after his father," Mara said.
"I can't imagine Hatori being anything like that as a baby," Shiori said. She frowned when Mara rolled her eyes. "What?"
"Nothing," Mara said. "I just don't think it's necessary to pretend Shuichi is Hatori's baby when it's only the three of us here."
Shiori stayed still, too shocked to feel anything at Mara's words.
"Mara!" Yuka said, looking embarrassed.
"What? Everyone knows it's the truth!" Mara said. "Well, everyone except Hatori it seems; either that or he's far more forgiving than any man I've met before."
"Is that really what you think of me?" Shiori asked numbly. "That I'm some kind of-of whore, running around on my husband?"
Mara looked surprised. "Now, Shiori, I never said that! If Hatori wasn't man enough to keep you happy, what's wrong with-"
"Get out!" Shiori yelled, cutting her off.
"Shiori," Yuka started.
"I don't want to hear it!" Shiori said. "Both of you get out of my house now!"
The two women fled to the sound of Shuichi crying, having been rudely awakened from his nap by Shiori's screams. Shiori stood where she was, her heart echoing Shuichi's cries as silent tears slipped down her face. Was this all anyone was ever going to see her as? Would no one believe that she had always been faithful to Hatori? She may as well have a scarlet A branded into her skin.
Finally Shiori stirred herself enough to go comfort Shuichi so he could go back to sleep. Watching him lying there, it occurred to Shiori that while she might not really have a scarlet letter, she had a scarlet baby, and for the world, that was enough.
They moved before Shuichi's first birthday. The accusations, the condemnation from the people who were supposed to be her closest friends, had all been too much for Shiori. She had cried tears of relief when Hatori had told her he'd found a job in a different city.
The move went smoothly. Shuichi was surprisingly well behaved for the whole event, content enough to stay in his playpen and practice standing. Shiori couldn't believe how much he'd already changed during his eight months of live. He'd already learned to say "Mama" and "Dada," and he was trying his best to add walking to the skill of standing (though he had yet to completely master standing). It was cute, Shiori thought, the looks of frustration that would cross his face when he couldn't manage it.
Hatori would remark, "He's a driven perfectionist already. Shuichi feels he has to be able to do everything a month before all the other babies."
Shuichi was developing fast. Already he could focus better than any other baby Shiori knew. She could swear that sometimes it seemed Shuichi was listening to the conversations she had with Hatori, and understanding them.
But that's crazy, Shiori thought. Babies can't understand everything adults say.
That didn't stop her from imagining he did though. She even brought it up to Hatori. "Does it ever feel like Shuichi can understand what we say?"
Hatori just laughed. "Shiori, he's only a baby."
Feeling foolish, Shiori said, "I know that. But sometimes, the way he watches us…I wonder."
"Well of course he watches us," Hatori said. "We're the only other living people in the house. Who else is he going to watch?"
"I guess you're right," Shiori agreed.
But as Shuichi got older, that wasn't the only thing that bothered Shiori about him. Shuichi was smart, learning things much faster than other children his own age. He was speaking in complete sentences by age two, and by three he was demanding, politely, that Shiori teach him how to read. By four, Shuichi was using words that Shiori didn't know (she later learned that this was because he had read the dictionary).
More disturbing than his astounding intellect was his utter disinterest in socializing with anyone. He absolutely refused to play with children his own age, and the looks he sent Shiori when she tried to play with him (as though she was some disgusting insect in his way) soon caused her to back off.
One night after Shuichi went to bed, Hatori said, "Shiori, we might want to think about having Shuichi talk to someone."
"Surely he doesn't need that," Shiori said, quick to defend her only child.
"Shiori…I love him, but the boy isn't normal," Hatori said. "Maybe it's just because he's so smart that he doesn't like playing with kids his own age, but…"
Shiori knew what Hatori wanted to say, but wouldn't. Being a genius or whatever shouldn't cause Shuichi to look at his parents as nuisances he had no choice but to tolerate. Not that Shuichi had ever said that about them (despite his large vocabulary, he rarely spoke to them). But it wasn't something that needed saying. His every look, his every act, made it abundantly clear that he couldn't stand them.
Tears spilled down Shiori's cheeks. "What did I do wrong, Hatori? I love him; I've loved him from the moment I found out I was pregnant. Why does he hate us so much?"
Hatori hugged her tightly. "It's not your fault. Things like this aren't anyone's fault. Sometimes it just happens."
Maybe so, but it didn't stop Shiori from feeling like she'd utterly failed Shuichi somehow.
Two weeks later, Hatori and Shiori waited nervously for the therapist to finish talking to Shuichi. They'd been in there for nearly half an hour, and Shiori was having a hard time not biting her nails from nerves.
Hatori patted her hand. "It'll be okay."
Just then the door opened, and the therapist, Sayo, came out smiling. "Well, I don't think you two have anything to worry about with Shuichi. He's a very bright and friendly boy."
Shiori blinked at the woman's choice of words. Bright she could understand, but Shuichi had never been friendly.
"Come and see," she said.
They followed her into the office and saw Shuichi sitting on the floor, scribbling with crayons on a piece of paper. He looked up when they came in, and he actually smiled at them. "Mama!" he said, getting up and rushing over to hug Shiori's leg.
Shiori almost couldn't react, she was so stunned. Shuichi never called her Mama. If he addressed her at all, she was Mother, and he had certainly never, ever, willingly hugged her.
"He's not usually so…open with us," Hatori said, also stunned by the fact that for once Shuichi was acting his age.
"Young children are often good at sensing tension," Sayo said. "He's probably closed himself off from you because he can sense your tension when dealing with him. Just relax, and he'll open up to you."
Shuichi smiled up at Shiori, and she thought it was the most beautiful thing she'd ever seen. In her heart of hearts, she knew this wouldn't last.
She wasn't surprised a bit when Shuichi's smile vanished as they got into the car. He became cold and silent, just like he usually was. Shiori wasn't sure what scared her more; the fact that a four year old could act like that, or the fact that he'd known enough to pretend he was normal for Sayo.
When she met Hatori's eyes, a silent message passed between them. They'd never take Shuichi to a therapist again. There was no point. Whatever happened, they were in this on their own.
Things proceeded in what was the normal manner at the Minamino household for the next two years. Shuichi did what he wanted, which mostly consisted of working in the garden, while Hatori and Shiori went about their own business. At some point, they had quit trying to get Shuichi to involve them in his life. Every time they tried, it seemed they only pushed him farther away. If they were ever to have meaningful relationships, it would have to be Shuichi that started them.
Shiori enrolled him in the first grade when he turned six, in the most prestigious school that she and Hatori could afford. She knew that anything less wouldn't challenge Shuichi at all. He brought home excellent grades, and note from his teachers praising his intelligence.
Shiori wasn't sure how Shuichi felt about school exactly. She'd tried asking him, but he shut her down with his typical ambiguous answers.
"School is school," Shuichi would say. "It serves its purpose."
It was midway through the school year when Shiori got the phone call. It was Hatori's boss.
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Minamino, but I'm afraid there's been an accident here at work. Your husband has been rushed to the hospital."
Later, Shiori wouldn't remember asking the neighbor to watch Shuichi when he got home from school, nor would she remember the frantic drive to the hospital, praying he'd be all right. She would always remember collapsing in tears when she arrived and was told, "I'm sorry, he's already passed away."
It was late when she finally went home and found Shuichi waiting for her. Looking up at her, he'd asked, "What happened?"
Shiori sank to her knees and for once broke all the barriers Shuichi had ever put up by hugging him. Shuichi just stood there stiffly, but she hadn't expected him to hug her back anyways.
"Hatori…Your father…He died today," Shiori choked out.
Shuichi was silent a moment. Then, "Why does this make you cry?"
Shiori jerked back, stunned that Shuichi could even ask something like that. Did he understand at all how cruel his question was?
"Because I love him, Shuichi," Shiori said. "I love him and he's gone, and he's never coming back!"
Shuichi considered this. "But everyone dies at some point. Why should his death matter more than anyone else's?"
Shiori couldn't believe what she was hearing. How could Shuichi say things like that? Overcome by a sudden furry, Shiori had to beat down the urge to shake him until he understood.
"It matters," she said though gritted teeth, "because he mattered."
She forced her hands to let go of Shuichi and went up to her bedroom. It seemed so incredibly empty without Hatori there. Shiori flung herself down on the bed, and cried.
The months slipped by, and Shiori tried to work through her grief. Shuichi didn't know it, but he actually provided her with a great incentive not to lose herself in her pain. She had to get a job in order she keep providing for Shuichi. She still had to fix his meals, and get him to school every day. She also had to teach him something very important, for his questions, cruel and hurtful as they had been, had finally made Shiori understand what it was that made Shuichi so different from everyone else.
Shuichi didn't know what it was to love.
Shiori wasn't sure how Shuichi had been born without this basic emotion. Every human should have been born with the capacity to love, and somehow Shuichi hadn't. But Shiori was determined to teach him, one way or another.
She no longer took a passive approach to raising him. She involved herself in his life in any way she could think of. The one thing that seemed to keep Shuichi's interest was gardening, so Shiori started buying him books about plants. She got out in the garden with him. She took him to flower shops, bought him seeds and new plants. She asked him questions, inviting him to share his knowledge with her.
At first Shuichi resisted her efforts, the way he always had in the past. But slowly, when it became apparent that Shiori wasn't going to run away this time, Shuichi started to warm up to her. It was only in little things; in the way he stopped looking down his nose at her, how he was patient with her questions. So Shiori was thrilled the day she managed to entice Shuichi into actually playing with her.
They were working silently in the garden when Shiori had given into impulse and tossed a weed she'd pulled up at him.
Shuichi's head jerked up, his green eyes wide with surprise.
"Something wrong?" Shiori asked, her face the picture of innocence.
His eyes narrowed, and a mischievous light she'd never seen before danced in his eyes. "Nothing at all, Mother."
Shiori was expecting his retaliation, but even so, she was caught by surprise when he dumped the bucket of weeds and dirt over her head.
Brushing the leaves out of her eyes, Shiori said, "I think someone's asking to get tickled."
Shuichi was dancing out of her reach before she had time to fully get off the ground. They raced around the yard a good five minutes before Shiori caught him and delivered the promised tickling. Shuichi wriggled on the ground, laughing loudly as her fingers danced over his stomach and side.
It was the first time Shiori had ever heard him laugh.
The moment ended far too soon, but it wasn't like Shiori could tickle him indefinitely. The moment did cause a change in their relationship though. It didn't lead into the loving mother-son relationship that Shiori wanted, but into something more like…
He treats me like I'm a favorite pet he takes care of, Shiori thought.
Which wasn't right at all, but was certainly a step above what their relationship had been before. She'd take what she could get.
It was during Shuichi's second year of school that the accident happened. Shuichi had climbed up on the counter to get something for a school project. Shiori walked into the kitchen just in time to see the glass dishes shatter on the floor, Shuichi's body quickly following.
There was no time to think, no time to scream. Shiori dove forward, catching Shuichi in her arms. His weight and momentum proved to be too much for her, and Shiori fell hard, pain knifing up her arms as the shards of glass mercilessly pierced her skin.
"Are-are you alright?" Shiori panted past the pain.
Shuichi sat up, his eyes wide as he stared at her arms. "You're bleeding!"
"Shuichi," Shiori said firmly. "Are you hurt?"
Shuichi's incredulous eyes jumped up to her face. "You're hurt! I'm calling an ambulance!"
Shuichi jumped up and rushed out of the room. Shiori sat back and breathed a sigh of relief. If Shuichi could run like that, he obviously wasn't hurt. With her fear gone, Shiori became aware of the full force of the pain in her arms. She had to grit her teeth to keep from crying out in pain; Shuichi was worried enough already, she didn't want to worry him any more than that.
She finally looked down at the damage done. It looked as bad as it felt. Cuts crisscrossed her arms in a bloody mosaic, and some still had pieces of glass sticking out.
Shiori closed her eyes against the wave of nausea that hit her. I wish I hadn't looked.
Her eyes snapped open when Shuichi came back in the kitchen, muttering words she hadn't known he knew.
"Shuichi, watch your mouth!" she said.
Shuichi grabbed some cloths and pressed them over the cuts that didn't have pieces of glass sticking out of them. "Mother, my vocabulary isn't the issue right now! I have to stop this bleeding!"
"It's an issue if I say it is," Shiori said stubbornly, but knowing Shuichi was right. She'd lost a lot of blood already.
How much blood is too much to lose?
It seemed only seconds before she heard the sirens wailing, and Shuichi rushed to open the door for the paramedics. They hustled her, carefully, into the back of the ambulance. Shuichi remained glued to her side through the ride to the hospital and while the doctors pulled the glass from her arms and stitched up some of the particularly deep cuts.
"You lost a lot of blood, but not enough to warrant a blood transfusion," the doctor told her. "Your cuts will heal, but you'll probably have quite a few scars from them."
"That's okay," Shiori said. She'd never been vain about her looks anyways.
The doctor sent them home, with orders for Shiori to get some rest. Orders that Shuichi took very seriously, to the point where he refused to let Shiori clean up the glass and blood in the kitchen.
"I'll take care of it," he insisted.
"But Shuichi, I don't want you to hurt yourself," Shiori said.
Shuichi scowled. "So you'd risk letting yourself get hurt worse to protect me?"
Shiori blinked at his surprisingly direct question. "Well, yes."
"Why?" Shuichi demanded.
Shiori knelt so that she was on his level. "Shuichi, I'm your mother. It's what we do, because mothers love their children more than they love their own lives."
Shuichi seemed confused by her answer, and…was that insecurity she was seeing in his eyes?
"So when you love someone," Shuichi said slowly, "you would let yourself get killed to protect them?"
"Yes," Shiori said simply.
Shuichi's eyes dropped to her bandages as he thought about her words. A look of determination crossed his face, and he caught Shiori's face in his hands to make sure he had her full attention.
"I love you," he declared. "And I promise, you will never be hurt because of me again."
Tears swam in her eyes; it was the first time Shuichi had said he loved her. She smiled through her tears. "You'll be my little warrior?"
"I will," Shuichi said.
Shuichi become the loving, devoted son she had always wanted then. He opened up, not only to her, but to other children his own age as well. He was still brilliant, still quiet, still enjoyed his garden; but he loved Shiori as well. Shiori had nothing to complain about.
And that bothered her.
Shuichi never got in trouble, at school or at home. He always said the right thing, did the right thing. He never made a mistake, ever. Which wasn't a bad thing, not really, but it wasn't normal. It was almost…inhuman.
Oh well. If that's the only thing I have to complain about, then I have a good life.