9. No More Tears
Fujitaka stood, frozen, at the foot of the bed as the boy turned to face him. He saw the flicker of recognition, of shock, before the boy's face went still. Silence seeped into the room, like a shadow creeping across the sand at sunset, and Fujitaka found that he couldn't say anything, couldn't justify his absence even though he'd reworked his reasons half a dozen times.
The recognition in Syaoran's eyes hardened to resentment.
"Talk to him," Macy whispered from the doorway. "He's probably just surprised."
No, he thought, watching the boy shed his cloak as he turned away. If he was just surprised, he would've been asking questions by now. Fujitaka thought of how curious the boy had been when he'd started learning the language, and how that curiosity had allowed him to soak up knowledge faster than Fujitaka could've ever hoped. Now it was as if a canyon sat between them, with no bridge in sight.
How could I have ever thought I could raise a child? he wondered. How could I be so arrogant when I practically abandoned him here? He blinked, trying to clear the film of tears from his eyes as he walked to the side of the bed. The sheets were perfectly straight, like they hadn't even been slept in. The pillow was aligned neatly with the headboard, pillowcase smooth and untouched. The room lacked any decoration except the plain white curtains drawn over the window.
He sat down beside Syaoran. The mattress sagged under his weight, springs squeaking. The boy didn't even acknowledge his proximity as he rested a hand between his shoulder blades.
He could feel Macy's gaze on the back of his neck, but said nothing, waiting. Finally, the boy spoke.
Fujitaka winced, but nodded, letting the weight of that accusation crush the air out of his lungs. "Yes. I thought that would be better."
"Why?" The boy's voice trembled, and gone was all the adult-like maturity of a moment ago. "You said you'd see me again the next day. Why did you lie?"
He'd often heard that a child's words could cut deeper than any adult's, and he knew it now to be true. There was something so honest and unassailable in a child's logic, an innocence that punched harder than the cruelest of insults. Fujitaka bowed his head. "I thought you'd be better off here, where you had a whole network of people to look after you. I knew I wouldn't be able to take care of you, and that you'd eventually get adopted by someone who could. It was better for you to forget me and move on." I couldn't have made that much of an impression in the time you were with me. I would've been just another memory in a growing collection.
"I don't understand."
Fujitaka's eyes began to sting. "I wanted you to be happy."
Syaoran stood, dragging his cloak behind him. "No. I don't know what 'adopted' means. What is that?"
Fujitaka stared at him, wondering how this had failed to come up in their lessons. It should've been inevitable—there had only been one course of action from the very beginning, and that had been for Syaoran to go into foster care. Surely, adoption should've come up in their lessons at some point?
Unless . . . A strange pang shot through his chest. Unless I was subconsciously hoping that things would never change, or that I'd be the one to take him in.
How odd, Fujitaka thought. that something I thought about so much when I was at the ruins would've never even come up between us.
"Aren't you going to answer?" the boy asked, fists trembling. Fujitaka heard his sharp intake of breath, but the boy held his ground, every muscle of his face controlled.
Fujitaka's mouth went dry. "Adoption is when an adult takes in a child who's lost their parents, even though that person isn't always related to the child."
"Then why don't you adopt me?"
His eyes flashed up to Syaoran's face. The boy looked almost annoyed.
"Syaoran," Macy said, edging closer to them. "It's much more complicated than that."
"How is it complicated?" he demanded. "I don't have parents, so why does it matter who takes me in?"
"Well, Syaoran, the adult has to really want to adopt, and then there's a lot of paperwork to fill out, to make sure they're a good parent."
Syaoran looked back at him, lips slightly parted, all the color gone from his face. Then, slowly, he lowered his head. "You don't want to adopt me."
Fujitaka's breath caught, but again, he found he could say nothing.
The boy retreated half a step, hair falling over his face. Then he threw his cloak in the corner and ran out of the room.
"Syaoran!" Macy yelled after him, clutching her clipboard to her chest. As the boy's footsteps faded down the hallway, the red-haired woman groaned. "That wasn't the reaction I was hoping for."
That makes two of us, Fujitaka thought, forehead dropping into his hands. For a moment, he just sat there, eyes closed, trying to sort through his tangled thoughts. Perhaps Kentaro had been right—if he'd wanted to be part of the boy's life, he should've put forth more of an effort to make sure that happened. He'd been wrong to waltz in, then disappear without an explanation. Worse still, he'd left the boy after promising they'd see each other again.
Behind him, Macy sighed. "He'll come around. He can be . . . sensitive."
No, not sensitive, Fujitaka thought. He has every right to be upset. He should be angry. I was horrible, leaving him to face this place alone. He'd always imagined the orphanage to be a dismal place. Despite the bright decorations and raucous noise of the lower floor, it felt like something was broken here. This was a place where most hopes went unfulfilled, replaced with cheap symbols of prosperity and childhood happiness. Contentment was shallow, fleeting.
And Syaoran was miserable.
"I'm a horrible person," he finally said.
"No . . ." Macy said. Then, more firmly, she continued. "No. I don't believe that. Children his age are often . . . difficult. He's still under a lot of pressure to get used to living here, a fact that's compounded by his other struggles. And children are prone to emotional outbursts like that, so—"
"But he's not," Fujitaka said. "The first few days I knew him, he showed no emotion at all. It was like that part of him didn't exist at all. Even a few days ago, he was so reserved and quiet. He's not the kind of child who gets upset over nothing."
"That doesn't make it your fault!" Macy stepped forward, knuckles turning white as she gripped her clipboard. When she spoke again, her voice was low but stern. "Every day, he tells me he hates it here. I don't blame him. We do what we can, but we just don't have the resources to give every child the attention they need. Syaoran talks to the psychologist every day, trying to remember what happened to him before you found him. It's a big strain on him, and the lack of progress has him frustrated. Just because he blew up at you doesn't make you the root of the problem."
"But I can't help him!" Fujitaka stood. "What can I do, except make things worse? Teach him more of the language? He learns so fast, he'll surpass my grasp of Clow's language within three or four years. Or should I tell him things are going to be okay, even though his odds of getting out of this place are even worse than usual?" He strode over to the corner and knelt where the boy had thrown his cloak. "What could I possibly do for him that wouldn't hurt him in the long run?"
"You could adopt him."
Fujitaka looked up. The red-haired woman met his gaze, a spark of determination in her eyes.
"I'm not saying you should adopt him because you feel sorry for him, or guilty because he ended up here. That was bound to happen anyway. What I'm saying is that if you care enough about him to agonize over it now, then maybe you care enough to make a decent parent."
"I wouldn't qualify for adoption."
"And who told you that?"
"I'm a single man in his mid-twenties," he said, the barest trace of bitterness seeping into his voice. "I'm not a permanent resident of Clow, and my income isn't substantial enough to support another person. I wouldn't qualify as a foster parent, let alone an adoptive father."
Macy sighed. "Without taking that into consideration, answer me one question: do you love him?"
Fujitaka froze, eyes going wide. He grappled with the question for a moment, trying to come to terms with it.
Macy went on. "Tell me, why did you pick him up that day in the rain? Why not leave him there?"
"Because that would've been wrong."
She nodded. "So you brought him to the police station. That makes sense. That's where most people would've brought him. But why keep visiting him there?"
"He didn't know the language. I wanted to teach him."
"Because no one else was going to. They all thought he was mute. He didn't speak at all those first few days."
"Yet you persisted."
She went on, her eyes piercing, direct. "And why did you answer my call today? The boy isn't your responsibility, so why bother?"
"Because . . ." He frowned, then changed the subject. "I know where this conversation is heading."
She grinned. "Then you'd better get a pen, because we've got some paperwork to fill out."
"No." He rose from his crouch, cloak in hand. "There's one thing I have to do first."
It wasn't fair.
Syaoran sat at the edge of the balcony, legs hanging between the narrow columns of the railing as he stared down at the clusters of clay houses. People moved in and out of these buildings, some tending spiny potted plants, others chatting with their neighbors. Children darted around, underfoot, heedless of their caretakers or the trappings of their homes.
It just wasn't fair.
The sun was hot against his skin, and he thought about how the woman from the police station had claimed that prolonged exposure to sunlight was lethal. Will I disappear if I sit out here too long? he wondered, glancing up at the sun, then flinching away as the light stabbed at his good eye. Or was that a lie, too?
Fujitaka had promised to see him the night before he'd been taken to the orphanage, but this was the first time he'd visited since making that promise. If Fujitaka could lie, then surely others could.
But why? Why would he break his promise? He tried to consider it objectively. He'd misunderstood many things since coming into existence. Perhaps there was something he'd missed here, too. There must be some reason he didn't come to see me. Is there some way to cancel a promise that I don't know about?
He frowned. That didn't seem right. If that were the case, there would be no point in making a promise in the first place.
"Sometimes things happen that are out of our control, and we just have to deal with them," Fujitaka had said the last time they'd been together. Had he known, even then, that they wouldn't meet for days after that? Had he made his promise knowing he was going to break it?
Why would he do that? Syaoran wondered. So I wouldn't question him? So I wouldn't be sad? But if he didn't want me to be sad, why did he disappear? Tears blurred his vision, and he forced his eyes to remain open, so they couldn't overflow. He'd seen some of the other children cry here—many of them, in fact, usually over things like spilled juice or a scuffed up knee. He couldn't understand why they'd subject themselves to the burning in their eyes or the soreness in their throats over something so trivial.
If he was going to cry, he decided, it would be reserved for situations that demanded it. There would be no more meaningless tears, not from him.
He unwound his legs from the railing and stood up. His eye nearly cleared the top of the barrier, yet he still felt confined, like the columns supporting the railing were really the bars of a cage. He reached out to touch the spindly poles—
—and felt a heavy piece of fabric fall over his shoulders.
The cloak. Without a conscious command, his fingertips traced the rough fabric, moving over the creases and folds, smoothing them as they went. The heavy cloak pressed down on his shoulders, shielding him from the harsh sun the same way it had shielded him from the rain when he'd met Fujitaka. He clasped the edges of the cloak and drew it tighter around his body, breathing in its familiar scent.
Slowly he turned, his throat tightening despite his resolve not to cry. Fujitaka knelt before him, a pained smile on his face. "I thought you might want this," he said. "The sand will get everywhere if you don't cover yourself up."
Syaoran looked down at the cloak, still swaddled around his body, then back at Fujitaka. "No," he said, sloughing off the cloak. Surprise flickered across Fujitaka's face, his smile replaced by a confused frown. "I don't need this."
Fujitaka was silent for a moment, as the wind stirred the folds of the discarded cloak.
Syaoran spoke. "I don't need a cloak to protect me from the sand, or the sun, or the wind, or the rain. I don't need words to communicate with other people. I don't . . ." His voice began to shake, and he took a breath to steady himself. "I don't need a name to know that I exist. I don't need you or anyone else to look after me."
Fujitaka bowed his head. Syaoran didn't need to know the word for "defeat" to know that was what he saw there. "I'm sorry."
"I'm not done," he said. Fujitaka looked up, the sunlight glinting off his glasses. Syaoran waited until he was sure the man was paying attention to go on. "I don't need any of those things, but I'm grateful to have them, and I don't want you to . . ." He struggled for words, wishing his vocabulary was more precise, more adult, so he could articulate this more efficiently. "I don't want you to feel like you need to give me anything, or do anything for me, but . . . If you wanted to adopt me . . ."
Before he could finish, Fujitaka wrapped his arms around Syaoran's shoulders and pulled him close. Off-balance, Syaoran stumbled into the embrace. "I don't know if I can," Fujitaka said. "But I'll try."
Syaoran wound his arms around the man's chest, burying his face in Fujitaka's cotton shirt. Somehow, the qualified agreement felt more comforting than a promise. More concrete. And Fujitaka's arms were warm and safe. "Okay," Syaoran said, looking up. "Then I'll try, too."
It took a long time.
Fujitaka visited everyday, always supervised by Macy or one of the other caretakers, though the purpose of his visits varied. Sometimes, Syaoran waited outside Macy's office for an hour while she and Fujitaka, along with all other necessary parties, conversed. Other times, Syaoran got to wait inside with him, watching him fill out paperwork. But often, Fujitaka visited for no reason other than to see him.
Syaoran still had the cloak. Fujitaka had picked it up when they'd returned from the balcony and given it to him. "I want you to keep this, so that even if I'm not here, I'll still be close to you."
So he'd kept it. Which was good, because several days passed before Fujitaka started bringing him other things to keep in his room. The first of these new gifts had been a workbook on the language of Clow, so he'd be able to review the parts of the language with the orphanage's caretakers. That had been nice because it had meant his time with Fujitaka didn't have to be limited to learning how to talk.
Instead, he spent time learning how to read.
Within a month, Fujitaka had brought him a small collection of children's books, many of which were filled with sentences that rhymed and had silly words that, according to Fujitaka, were not real words, but tongue-twisters. Fujitaka read these aloud to him every day, sometimes rereading old ones and sometimes bringing new ones to read. Following along as Fujitaka's finger traced the elegant black lines, Syaoran began to understand written word the same way he understood spoken words.
Macy somehow became less annoying to him as the days passed, though whether this was a matter of growing used to her quirks or an actual improvement on her part, he couldn't say. Either way, she seemed genuinely happy that Fujitaka was showing an interest in becoming his "foster parent"(Syaoran liked to just call him a "parent," but Macy corrected him when he did, so he used the term "foster parent" when she was around).
Time passed, every day overflowing with new knowledge, new experiences, until finally, Macy showed up in his bedroom one evening and told him to come downstairs.
He braved the stairwell, knowing that Fujitaka had dared to face it every day to see him, and that he was obligated do the same. When he walked into the playroom, a group of adults looked at him expectantly, all smiling.
"What's going on?" he asked, turning his attention to Fujitaka, who was standing at the edge of the group, beaming. Fujitaka stepped forward and knelt so they were at eye-level.
"Well, Syaoran, we've got some good news."
"Am I getting ice cream?"
The man's smile flashed brighter. "Yes, but that's not the news."
Syaoran blinked. What could be bigger news than getting ice cream? he wondered. Unless . . . He looked up, lips pulling up at the corners. "Is it done? Do I get to go home with you now?"
Fujitaka nodded, but it was Macy who spoke. "Congratulations, Syaoran. Fujitaka is officially your father now."
Confusion flashed through him. "Father? Not just foster father?"
The red-haired woman grinned. "Surprise!"
"That's why the paperwork took so long," Fujitaka said. "So what do you think? Is this a good surprise?"
Syaoran threw himself into the man's arms, heart soaring. Tears rose to his eyes for the first time since that day on the balcony, and this time, he let them come. "Yes. The best surprise ever."
Syaoran sat at the table, staring at the cactus centerpiece. From the kitchen, Fujitaka watched, waiting for curiosity to get the better of the boy. Ice cream dripped down the back of Syaoran's hand.
Fujitaka smiled fondly. "Syaoran, your ice cream is going to melt if you don't eat it."
The boy looked up, his expression troubled.
"Is something wrong?" Fujitaka asked. Had he already made some mistake? Oh, god, I've been a parent for less than an hour, and he already hates me.
Syaoran pointed at the cactus. "If I touch that, will it hurt?"
"Okay. I won't touch it." Syaoran returned his attention to the ice cream cone in his hand, biting into the frozen treat. After a few minutes, he paused again. "Fujitaka?"
A pair of bright brown eyes met his. "Is it . . . Would it be okay if I called you 'Father' now?"
Fujitaka smiled and walked over to the boy's chair. He set aside the sundae he'd bought on their walk back and wrapped his arms around Syaoran's shoulders. "Of course you can."
Syaoran took a deep breath. "Okay."
The kitchen fell silent for a while. Finally, Syaoran spoke.
"My ice cream is melting."
"I know." But he couldn't make himself let go of the boy. It had been a battle to get Oruha to make the excavation team stay here long enough for this, and a greater battle still to meet all the qualifications to adopt a child. He wanted to cherish the moment, before it slipped away from him. Syaoran leaned into his chest. Fujitaka closed his eyes. "I love you."
Syaoran hugged him back. "I love you, too, Father."
A sound distracted him from the sudden warmth in his chest, and he looked up to see water running down the windowpane.
"It's raining," Syaoran said with surprise.
"Yes," Fujitaka said, thinking of the day they'd met. A lot has changed since then. But . . . He looked down to see Syaoran staring at the rain as it pounded against the glass. This was the right choice.
The rain beat furiously against the window, a true downpour. The rains will make this country prosper, he thought, as Syaoran pressed his face against the glass. And we will prosper with it.
Well, that's all, folks. Hope you've enjoyed this story, and I hope you go on to read some of my other Tsubasa fics. I may, at some point, write some oneshots about what happens after this, but until then, I want to thank all of you who have read and reviewed. If any of you want to share your favorite moment of this fic(or the most tremendous faults, as the case may be) just leave a review, and I'll be happy to read it.