Akira wakes with a start, though it takes him a second for awareness and consciousness to follow suit.
Crying, he realizes. She's crying.
The body wrapped around him begins to stir. "Ikuko," Hikaru murmurs, voice rusted with sleep.
Akira presses a kiss against his temple before extricating himself from his husband's arms. "Shh, go back to sleep," he says gently. "I've got her."
Hikaru makes a sort of sad grumble as Akira pulls away, but then he reaches up and finds Akira's still-warm pillow and wraps his arms around it, hugging it tightly to his chest. There is another warm, low murmur, but whether there are words in it or only feelings Akira can't quite tell.
Well. As galling as it could be to be replaced so easily and with such little thought, Akira has more important things to mind.
Akira rolls over. Ikuko's face is all scrunched-up and red with her efforts; she stops momentarily when she sees his face, blinking wet, tearsoaked eyelashes, but her lips tremble and then she's sucking in a ragged breath to fuel her next sobs.
"Sweetheart," Akira murmurs, getting up on his knees before reaching over and picking her up off her little futon, tucking her against his chest securely as he gets to his feet. "Hungry?" he asks her, sparing a glance at the alarm clock on the dresser on the far wall.
Four-oh-eight, he reads. Better, slowly but surely. He is going to be sincerely appreciative when the time comes that she sleeps through the night—which everyone keeps telling him should be soon, but it's hard to remember that there was once a time in which he was able to sleep for a good seven hours with no interruptions of any kind—well, other than for the occasional overture from his husband, but they've both been so exhausted lately that he's starting to forget what that was like, too.
"All right," Akira says. "Let's go get you something to eat, shall we?" he proposes, heading to the door. She fails to find this completely reassuring, but her wails do lessen down to a kind of constant worried hum.
Together they make their way to the kitchen. The bassinet is still on the table—he should technically be cross at Hikaru for forgetting to put away, but he supposes the benefit of its convenience is enough for him to simply put it away himself without later comment.
With a regretful sigh, he sets her down in the bassinet. She regards him suspiciously, and after he draws her blanket up and steps back she seems to take it as confirmation of her worst fears and bursts once more into big, baleful tears.
"Sweetheart, I know you're sad, but Papa has to set you down for just a few moments so he can make you something to eat. If you can be patient for just three minutes then Papa will be back with dinner, how's that?" he asks her.
Her tiny little fists are balled tight, and instead of abating, her cries only get louder.
Akira sighs. "I see we are at an impasse," he tells her, succumbing to the impulse to lean in and kiss her soft satiny forehead before withdrawing to head to the sink to wash his hands.
"The forest owl said, I am the sentinel of the forest," Akira sings over the sound of the running water, hoping she might find the sound of his voice a comfort. "Scary beasts like wolves and foxes—"
"—Won't be allowed to return, so beddy-bye." Another voice joins his, clear and strong.
"Hikaru," Akira says, sighing. "It's all right, you can go back to bed. I've got her."
"Technically it's my turn," Hikaru says, house slippers scuffing softly on the tiled floor of the kitchen as he makes his way to the bassinet.
"You had shidougo in the evening; you must be tired," Akira tells him, drying his hands on the hand-towel and heading to the cupboard to grab a new container of ready-to-feed formula.
"Exactly; you've been minding our little dumpling since yesterday afternoon; pretty sure it's my—" Hikaru begins, breaking off with a heavy yawn that cracks his jaw.
"See?" Akira points out, tearing open the safety seal and pouring the contents into a fresh bottle.
"I'm not tired! It's just because you said the word tired! It's Pavlovian!" Hikaru protests. "Man, Papa's a pain sometimes, isn't he?" he asks Ikuko as he picks her up along with her blanket, settling her comfortably in his arms. "He's bossy, he can't carry a tune with a wheelbarrow—"
"Excuse me!" Akira protests indignantly as he selects a ring and fastens a new nipple securely to the bottle.
"But it's okay, right Ikkichan? We love him anyway," Hikaru says, looking up from the snuffling bundle in his arms to toss a grin over his shoulder at Akira.
Akira's not supposed to let him get away with things nearly so easily but he can't help the bright little glow that warms him; he could be sixteen again and desperately hungry for the smallest sliver of Hikaru's affections instead of being twenty-six with shared rings, a shared mortgage, and shared lives.
"Gorosuke, hoot hoot, Gorosuke, hoot," Hikaru sings, rocking Ikuko gently in his arms as Akira warms the bottle under a stream of water from the tap. "The forest owl said, I am the sentinel of the forest," he begins again, and this time Akira can hear Ikuko vocalizing along. She can't babble yet, but she's starting to make the effort.
Hikaru makes it through one more round of the song before Ikuko starts huffing anew, foretelling more tears.
"It's all right," Akira tells him. "You don't have to do this. I can handle it; go to bed. We're both up early tomorrow, don't forget."
"I'm already awake, so I might as well. I napped with Ikuko earlier in the afternoon so it's not like I'm running on empty," Hikaru says with a shrug before turning back to look down at Ikuko. "Besides, it's so empty in bed without you and Papa, isn't it, Ikkichan?"
Akira rolls his eyes. "If you keep that up, by the time she's talking that'll be the only thing she'll respond to."
"But it's so cute! And it's shorter than saying Ikuko-chan," Hikaru points out, as if one single syllable has all the weight of the world upon it.
"You're the one who insisted on Ikuko instead of Miyu," Akira says. "Besides, goodness knows you'd just call her 'Micchan' anyway."
"Papa is such a snob, isn't he, my little princess?" Hikaru asks her. "All right, Ikuko-san, let's—" and then he breaks off, giving Akira a considering look.
Even without a goban in front of him, that look on Hikaru never bodes well for Akira. "Oh?" Akira asks.
"You know," Hikaru says, cocking his head. "I always wondered why your mom calls you Akira-san. Kind of old-fashioned, right? But it's suddenly so clear to me: you went around calling yourself Akichan, didn't you? I can just picture you on the first day of kindergarten going up and—"
"I most certainly did not!" Akira protests, indignant.
Hikaru's grinning. "Oh, you so, so, so did, and I'm totally going to ask your mom tomorrow. Oh man, your mom has the best stories about you," he says in a gleeful singsong.
Ikuko sneezes in Hikaru's arms, and he returns his attentions to their daughter. "Oh, look at that face," he says. "Look at those eyes! She has Papa's dragon eyes, that's for sure. You're going to grow up to be such a little terror, aren't you?"
"And with lungs like Daddy's, it's absolutely guaranteed," Akira agrees dryly.
"That almost sounded insulting, didn't it, Ikkichan?" Hikaru asks her. "It couldn't possibly be, though; Papa could never be so rude to his own daughter. Especially one with such a cute little nose," he says, tapping the tip of her nose with his finger, and her wet snuffling is broken at last by soft rolling giggles. "Yup, this is definitely Papa's nose."
Akira has no idea how Hikaru can do that, how he can whisk her around and babble at her and somehow never fail to elicit a smile, when it's all Akira can do to keep her fed and changed and make sure he doesn't drop her. Hikaru makes it look so easy, and Akira doesn't know what he'd do without him.
"Hmm, let's take a look at those ears," Hikaru says, lightly squishing one, then the other, to more giggles and happy burbling.
"They are without a doubt your ears," Akira says, turning off the tap and wiping the bottle dry.
"Hmm," Hikaru says evaluatively. "But look at them, they're so cute. They're Papa's ears for sure."
Akira bites back an amused huff at the shamelessness of his indirect compliment. "Mine are too pointy. She's definitely got your ears," he says, shaking the bottle to make sure it's heated evenly.
There might not be blood connecting them and their daughter but this is a familiar game, one they've played countless times before. Right now, Ikuko is just a little ball of reflexes and reactions slowly honing into something concrete and definite. These are only the preliminaries, Akira knows, before their little baby grows into a child with opinions of her own, a teenager with the determination to hold herself contrary just to prove she can, a woman who will need to find her own path in the world, and oh God the idea of their teensy little Ikuko growing up into an independent adult woman is just a little too much for him right now so instead he focuses on testing a few drops of warmed formula on his wrist.
Ikuko isn't even four months old. There is a long time yet before they have to start worrying about all the rest that comes with raising a child, and Akira can only hope that along the way he is able to find that magical balance between hands-on and independence that his own parents so effortlessly exerted upon him to let him find his way without ever doubting their love and support.
"All set," Akira says, turning to Hikaru.
"Awesome," Hikaru says, still looking down at Ikuko. "Isn't Papa great? Okay, you ready for dinner, Ikkichan? C'mon, let's go find a seat," he says, heading into the living room. Akira waits just long enough to grab the hand-towel and toss it over his shoulder before following suit.
Hikaru sits down on the couch, though he doesn't take advantage of the pillows piled against the armest on the side. "Your turn," he says, offering Ikuko up. Akira trades him for the bottle, and only when Ikuko is safely in Akira's arms does Hikaru kick off his house slippers and sprawl out on the couch, leaning back against the comfortable armrest in a familiar pose. "C'mere," he says.
Akira accepts the invitation of his open legs, sitting between them and leaning back against Hikaru's chest, Ikuko cradled in his arms. She regards him with a look of faint suspicion, but now that they've settled into place Hikaru hands him back the bottle, which she recognizes with a wide, toothless smile. Ikuko reaches up for it with both hands, fingers scrabbling against the smooth sides, and she makes an excited burbling coo just as Akira gently guides the nipple to her mouth.
"There we go," Hikaru says, wrapping his arms around Akira's waist and setting his head on his shoulder. "Comfy?"
Akira rubs his calf against Hikaru's. "Very," he affirms.
"Mind if I put something on?" Hikaru asks, reaching behind himself for the remote on the side-table.
"Not at all," Akira says. This time of night there's not likely to be anything interesting on, but the nightly news will be a nice quiet source of white noise.
"Thanks," Hikaru says, clicking on the TV. "Ooh, the DVD player's still on. What were you watching?" he asks, pressing play. The screen showing the manufacturer's logo disappears from the TV, and instead is replaced by a goban showing the game Akira had been watching earlier in the day when Hikaru had been out teaching.
"Ah, nothing in particular," Akira demurs, but Hikaru is already making a contemplative hum as he looks over the board.
"I totally know this one," Hikaru says. "Don't tell me, don't tell me—it's one of ours, though, right?"
Akira sighs, looking down to focus instead on their daughter who is happily nursing away. "It is," he admits.
"Hmm..." Hikaru hems. "Aha!" he says, just as there is a soft 'clack!' from the TV. "This year, Tengen, fourth match."
Now is when Hikaru will needle him a bit, perhaps ask him if he'd finally found a way to turn the game around. Maybe he'll ask why Akira was watching it at all—and it certainly wasn't because he was lonely or anything, so if he tries going down that route then Akira will be able to firmly disabuse him of that notion.
Instead, Hikaru does none of those things. "Mm," he murmurs, leaning in to brush his lips against Akira's ear. "It was a beautiful game." He punctuates his remark with a kiss, then sets his head on Akira's shoulder.
Ikuko's eyelashes flutter contentedly, her tired little arms lowering slowly back to her body as she relaxes.
"Papa makes the best bottles, doesn't he?" Hikaru asks her, reaching up to give her a loving pat on the arm. "What's his secret? Does he add whisky?"
"She likes the yellow one best," Akira says, nodding towards the bright neon ring securing the nipple to the bottle in his hand.
Hikaru blinks. "Oh man, seriously? Is that it? Ahh, I can't believe I didn't notice!" he laments. "I am seriously the worst father ever; no wonder you're her favourite."
Akira snorts. "Don't be ridiculous." If she has a favourite, it's certainly not him, he doesn't say.
"I think she's figured out your schedule; I swear no matter how cranky she is, she always calms down right before you get home from your study group," Hikaru says, his ready smile a little lopsided.
Akira gives her a long, contemplative look. "Pattern recognition? Is she even capable of that yet?"
"She's gotta be! Besides, she's our daughter, right? Of course she's going to grow up to be a genius," Hikaru says with a grin. "How else is she going to be the youngest person ever to pass the pro exam?"
Akira rolls his eyes. "What if she doesn't want to play?"
Hikaru gasps dramatically, and Akira is pretty sure not all of his horror is feigned. "Doesn't want to play go? How can you even say such a thing! Of course she's going to want to play. Hey, how old were you when learned? Like, five or something, right?" he asks. "So—"
"Two," Akira corrects.
Hikaru pauses mid-word, taking a moment to shut his mouth and swallow first before reattempting speech. "Wait, two? Seriously? Like, two years old?"
"Yes—but very simple, just putting stones on the board, playing gomoku narabe," he explains.
"Two years old," Hikaru repeats as if he still can't believe it. "Oh jeez, no wonder you were shodan material when we met. Two years old—man, I have no idea what I was doing at two years old. Colouring the walls with markers, or eating paste, maybe."
Hikaru looks down at Ikuko before returning his gaze to Akira's with a look of firm resolve. "That's it—in order to secure the legacy of the Touya family across three generations, we're going to start her at one."
The worst part is, Akira's not actually sure if he's serious or not. "We'll let her decide when she's interested. She'll have plenty of opportunities to voice an opinion, after all. And besides, she's a Shindou, not a Touya," he points out.
"She's still your daughter too. You know, I did offer to take your name," Hikaru says, rubbing his ankle against Akira's calf.
"And I decided I liked yours better," Akira says simply; that discussion is long over and he feels no need to revisit it.
"Oh man, that was a terrifying night," Hikaru says, leaning his head back with a sigh. "I was so worried your parents were going to kill me."
"When was this?" Akira asks.
"The night we told them we'd decided on Shindou as our family name. I mean, your dad is so traditional and I kind of thought I'd exhausted my luck with him being cool about us being together and all and that this'd be the straw that broke the camel's back, so yeah, was kinda terrified," he admits.
Akira leans his own head back enough so that he can lightly bonk Hikaru on the—good, on the chin, he's pretty sure, as the back of his head makes contact. "That was silly," he says. "And if you'd told me at the time, I would have told you that."
"And I would have believed you, absolutely, but I would have still been composing my jisei just in case," Hikaru says, bonking him back with his forehead.
"I should be very much interested in hearing what you could have possibly come up with," Akira tells him.
Hikaru hums pensively. "Ah. Hmm... All right," he says, his voice taking on a meditative tone.
"If I compare
my heart after
that of yore
had never felt this," he murmurs into Akira's ear, punctuating his words with a kiss.
Akira can't help but shiver; Hikaru's never been stingy with his expressions of warmth and affection, but they usually take the form of bold declarations made alarmingly in public or breathless whispers of need moaned in the night, not beautiful words that twine around his heart—even dulled as those words are by Akira's memories of his grade-school studies.
"Mm," Akira says lightly. "Much admired by Fujiwara no Teika, were you? An impressive feat to be included in the Hyakunin Isshu."
Hikaru laughs silently, the hitching of his chest against Akira's back the only sign. "No fooling you, huh? Okay, if you can tell me who wrote it then I will seriously be impressed."
Now that's not likely, unfortunately, though he racks his brain in an attempt anyway. "Ariwara no Narahira?" Akira guesses, reaching for the first name swimming through his memories that seems vaguely related.
"Gon Chuunagon Atsutada of the Fujiwara clan," Hikaru says, squeezing his arms around Akira's waist in a hug.
Fujiwara. "Ah," he says. That explains Hikaru's interest. "Not bad. Perhaps not the best choice to present to my father—I'd suggest something with a little more go, personally," Akira says. "Some martial imagery, a reference to the fleeting nature of the passing season..."
"I'll keep that in mind," Hikaru says, his smile evident in his voice. "How's Ikuko doing?"
"Done," he says, lightly tossing the bottle to the ground. "Just need to burp her, and then she'll be ready to go back to bed." He lifts her up so she can lean against his toweled shoulder and begins lightly patting her on the back.
Hikaru leans back again, yawning hard. "Oh, man! And don't you even say anything; it's because you said the b-word," he insists. "Aww, look at our little princess; she is tired, isn't she? She can barely keep her eyes open," he says, changing tracks. "Just a little bit longer, pumpkin, and then we'll all cozy back down."
Posed as she is, Hikaru can probably make eye contact with her, explaining his switch to the light, almost lilting tone Akira had never heard from him until the day they brought Ikuko home.
It doesn't take long for Ikuko to settle; she has one dainty wet spit-up but the towel Akira has her against serves its purpose well. As Akira adjusts his hold on her back to a cradle, Hikaru plucks the now-soiled towel off Akira's shoulder and folds it in on itself a few times before tossing it to the floor on top of the discarded bottle.
Akira supposes he could probably get up at this point, but instead he leans back once more against Hikaru, who reaffirms his grip around his waist and presses a soundless kiss to his temple. "We'll just watch a few more hands," Hikaru says, reminding him about the game still playing on the TV.
Akira looks up. This game is now much as it was ten minutes ago—that is it say, almost infuriatingly balanced. "Mm," he agrees wordlessly, looking down to brush back the dark tufts of Ikuko's hair off of her forehead. He draws his fingertips down her soft white arm, down to the darling complexity of her tiny little hands, and despite the lull of her closed eyelashes her hand opens wide to snag his finger and hold him tight.
Now, with all three of them quiet, the only sound in the room is the occasional clack of a stone, the normally bright sound turned demure by the low volume of the television.
It's hard to believe it's been only just over three months since Ikuko entered their lives. Akira can vaguely remember living with the low-grade sense of anxiety in the background that had been their constant companion ever since they started going through the process to be approved for adoption, what it was like to wait and wait and never know, letting Hikaru lament that there was no way anyone in their right mind was going to give them a baby so that Akira never had to voice the words himself. And before even that, when it had just been the two of them and they had been happy and it had been enough, more than enough. It's not that they were wanting or missing something—more like they had an overabundance, and when Hikaru had shyly brought up children for the first since they had first talked about marriage years ago it had settled upon Akira that of course this was it, of course this is what they were supposed to do, and as hazy as those days seem to him now he can still remember that moment of absolute clarity that had unfurled itself before him, ready to take flight.
Hikaru's body shifts behind Akira's so Hikaru can lean in and press a quiet kiss to the lobe of Akira's ear. "Happy anniversary," he murmurs, voice thick with the sleep he keeps delaying.
For a moment he's startled. "That's tomorrow," Akira tells him.
Hikaru rubs his temple against Akira's in a cat's caress as his arms tighten around him in a hug. "It already is tomorrow," he says. "So happy anniversary."
Fair enough. Akira turns his head so he can capture Hikaru's lips in a soft, slow kiss. "Happy anniversary," he murmurs back.
Ikuko fidgets in Akira's arms at his movement, but then she merely squeezes his finger once more before settling back down.
Akira only means to close his eyes for a moment, but in the arms of his husband with his daughter in his own he finds the pace of his breathing slowing to match theirs, and just as dawn begins to break over the eastern horizon he finds himself slipping off into slumber to the soft snap of slate and shell on kaya.