"Grabbing lunch, Uchiha?"
"Alright, see you in a bit!"
So it had snowed in last night. Shisui weighed his options: to eat out or to finish his sandwich? A glance around the hospital suggested that eating inside wouldn't be much of an issue today; it was quiet all over, and most of the hospital staff have been given the day off, being Christmas and all. Even the emergency room wasn't as busy as any other day. It was nice to know that people were actually making an effort to stay inside on a public holiday such as this, stay away from the roads or other obvious weather-related hazards. But there would always be a few who were having a heart attack or delivering a baby. That, however, was acceptable. Those were the tolerable cases. But getting slammed into a telephone pole and having to work around it while it's still lodged in your chest? Definitely not something you'd want to see on Christmas day. And to top it all off, to see the doctors cover your five year old daughter's body with a sheet and then wheel her off in a gurney…? That is the worst. Especially when you were the doctor trying to keep the father alive, but ends up losing both patients, just because one of them decided that life was not worth living for anymore.
It was the worst feeling, to watch a patient die. Whether they died after a tremendous fight to stay alive or if they died because they gave up the choice to live in the end—he didn't know which was worse. It would always be just as bad, he supposed. And it would always leave him feeling numb and shattered till time gave him the strength to push it completely aside and move on.
So it wasn't hunger that urged him to step outside into the lobby that afternoon. It was simply the need to step out of the building for a breather, even if it he didn't get any lunch. Lunch wasn't the priority here, it never had been. He was usually good to go for a whole twenty four hours after breakfast—that was all the energy he needed in his caramel latte and pile of cinnamon buns, so it wasn't like he was going to drop from exhaustion any time soon. But sweeping a glance outside once more from where he stood, all he saw was about a foot of snow, blinding white. He might have almost turned to get his sandwich, but the orderly wheeling off another gurney made him turn away from it and walk right up to the exit.
He really needed that breather.
Fresh air wasn't going to do much, but there was an inexplicable sense of relief when he stepped outside anyway.
"She's doing fine, Mr. McKinzie, your daughter's doing fine. We've got the best of us tending to her—just stay with me here, okay?"
"A hundred and ten over sixty—Dr. Uchiha…"
"Get him hooked on NE, now! Mr. McKinzie. Mr. McKinzie!" My God, don't look that way. Don't look. Don't look, please! "I want you to look at me, okay?" Even if I'm just going to remove this half of the telephone pole from your chest, just look at me. "Everything will be fine. Claire, can you take your position here by my left, please? Thank you." Maybe then you won't see her. You really don't want to see her now, come on, work with me here.
Please don't die on me…
"Shh. Claire, oxygen, stat!"
Claire, no. Don't move like that—don't move away. Not now!
"Mr. McKinzie, look at me!"
"Ninety over fifty five, Dr. Uchiha!"
"McKinzie! Stay with me!"
Deliberate steps took him to the bench by the playground. There was snow all over the swing seats and frost on the slide. No children outside today, as expected.
"…Time of death, 11:35AM…"
The bench looked surprisingly clear of snow. Maybe someone was here earlier, he figured, but the lack of footprints around the vicinity made him wonder. It was snowing lightly, however, so perhaps that answered the question for him.
But the little figure sitting with its knees up and toes almost turning blue startled him. "Shinkiro?!"
There was hardly a reaction from the child, but Shisui was by the boy's side in an instant, taking off his jacket and hastily wrapping it around those little shoulders. This was the little guy who had taken to hijacking his spot at the café every Monday morning since the beginning of school term in September. Shisui hadn't minded the intrusion at all after the first two minutes of talking to the little brat, all of six years old and full of sass. And now he had to wonder why a six year old was out on his own in the snow on Christmas day, with barely anything on save for Spongebob pajamas.
"Hey there. Mind if I join you?"
"There are other tables that are free. What are you, a creep?"
Woah. "Wow kid, I am offended that you'd take me for one."
"Really?" Hey kid, don't roll your eyes at me. "Isn't that what they always say?"
No. What? Alright, maybe. Good on you, kid, for being so vigilant. But I'm still going to sit here, so excuse you. "Yeah well— Do I look creepy to you?" A huge dish of ice cream in the middle of winter? Why does that remind me of someone?
"They come in all shapes and sizes. I was told to be especially wary of the ones that don't look like the stereotypical creep." Eh. How old is this kid? Can't be more than seven. But that's a six syllabled word right there. Impressive.
"And in case you were wondering, I'm six." Well, that answers things. Not going to debate your perception, little man. Whoever taught you, taught you well. But guess what? I am not a creep.
"Six, wow. Six is a big number."
"Yep. I get my own allowance."
"Ah. That is quite the perk. How much was that?" The ice cream. That looks pretty expensive.
"Five dollars and thirty seven cents, tax included."
"Nice~ And how much allowance are you given each week?"
"So you get to keep sixty three cents, huh? What do you think you'd buy with that?"
"Nothing. I'm saving it for later."
"Oh really? What for?" Famous Amos from the vending machines, perhaps. Or gum.
"If I saved up all my change, in two months' time, I'd get to have two ice creams in one week." Heh. Look at your eyes lighting up. Kid, the resemblance is uncanny.
"Now that is definitely something worth saving up for." Six dollars every week means you'll only have an ice cream once a week, possibly every Monday (like today) because Sunday's pay day. Well then. That can only mean one thing: I'll have to get here earlier than you on Mondays hereafter so I won't be stuck being called a creep any more. Do you have any idea how awful that makes me feel? Yeah, I bet you do, you little brat.
Ah, here's Amy with my order (iced caramel latte and a mega stack of cinnamon rolls.) I'm not sharing, not even if you asked nicely. Iced latte in the middle of winter doesn't bother me, by the way; in fact, it's become quite the habit since junior year in university. Not that you'd want to know. I'm just saying. "Thank you, Amy."
Hm. Amy's skirt is a tad tighter than usual this morning. Wonder what the occasion is. "So, in case you were still wondering, that's why I sit here every day."
"So you can stare at her butt?"
Erk! "What—no!" Cheeky little bastard. "I sit here because it makes it easier for her to find me on a busy day like this, and this spot gives me the perfect view of the hospital so I can stall as much as possible till I see Dr. Walker get out of her car. That's when I know I should be in at work. …Except you're sat in my spot right now and I'm going to have to turn a whole lot more than usual just to see—"
"Who's Dr. Walker?"
"I didn't know doctors had bosses."
"Well, they do."
"So does that mean she's a better doctor than you are?"
Oh wow, way to rub a sore spot there, kid. "No, she's merely been here longer than I have and she has more experience under her belt."
"So she is a better doctor than you are?"
"She's just older and wiser."
"Which means she's better."
"That does not mean she is better than me."
Oh, so that's how it is, huh? Grin at me all you want, squirt, this is the Uchiha glare. Beat that. "What's your name?"
"Sorry, I don't hand out personal information to strangers."
Fine. Be like that. I'm going to finish this caramel latte right in front of you and I'm not going to feel sorry.
Hm? Now you want to know my name? "Sorry, I don't hand out personal information to strangers either." Heh.
The boy was cold. Touching him was like setting fingers upon a block of ice. Brows furrowed, the doctor moved to sit closer, forcing the boy's arms through the too-big jacket.
And there, clutched in bluish fingers, was a crumpled envelope of sorts that Shisui only eyed curiously for a second before being met with those big black eyes, lashes curled upwards not unlike his own. Only today there were tears streaming down that face, and he suspected that Shinkiro's nose wasn't red just because of the cold. "Hey… What's the matter?" Why would a six year old be at the hospital alone, on Christmas day? "…Is your Mom alright?"
"Don't tell Mommy I'm here—"
"…Why not?" Oh no. the question was redundant, and it took him only a second to figure things out. "Shinkiro—why? What happened at home?" He didn't wait to ask or be given permission to warm little feet between his hands, aware that something far more serious could happen if he waited any longer.
The envelope was in the process of being carefully smoothed out in Shinkiro's hands then, little sniffles leaving the boy. Shisui waited, ever patient, as Shinkiro pouted and finally spread the envelope across his knee. He stole a glance at it. To Santa, it read. Oh boy.
"Santa doesn't exist…"
That was all the confirmation Shisui needed, and there was no way he was hiding that smile creeping up on his features then. Of all the worst possible things that could entice a child to run away from home, Santa not existing had to take the cake, icing and cherry and all. It won all the awards in Shisui's opinion.
"Oh come on, we all know that isn't true."
"But it is!"
"Now why would you think that?"
"Because Mommy said so."
"Well, maybe your Mommy's wrong."
A sniffle, and Shinkiro shook his head, fresh tears rolling down pale cheeks.
"No? Hm. What if we get that letter to Santa, huh? It's not too late, you know. He does delayed orders sometimes, and I know just the guy to get it to Santa. We can go drop it off right now if you want? How about it?"
Shinkiro only shook his head faster, soft black curls tousled around his face bouncing with the movement. It was uncanny how much they shared in physical appearance alone.
"No? Why not?"
"Because she said she never really sent any of my letters to Santa. And I found this in her drawer this morning. And when I asked her who gave me presents last time she said…" The boy hiccupped, and Shisui buried his fingers in soft curls, ruffling them gently. "Uncle did it. So Santa was a fake all these years and she was lying to me! Santa is the fakest fake and she lied!"
Ah. What was worse than finding out that your parents had been lying to you? This one didn't deserve any awards; it was clearly the worst, and not in the good way. His fingers tugged gently at the handful of curls, then released them to squeeze the boys shoulder instead. "Well, Santa's got a million helpers, you know."
"I know! They're elves."
"Oh, well, yes, he does have a million elves, too. But that was years ago, and now there is so many more kids in the world than there used to be, so he recruited help from humans. Most times, he recruits kids' parents or uncles or aunts and sometimes grandparents to help him out. And you know how it is, Santa loves cheeseburgers—" Shisui saw Shinkiro's mouth open to protest, and quickly dived in to correct his mistake. "Not that he doesn't love cookies, either, he loves those! But he's been eating so much of it lately that Santa finally got diabetes."
"Mhm. It's an awful condition where your body can't process all the sugar it gets, so you've got all this sugar floating around in your body that isn't being used. And, well, you know what happens when something that's not supposed to happen to your body happens, right?"
"You get sick?"
"Exactly. So Santa's been sick lately, and diabetes is not something you can cure so easily either. So he switched to cheeseburgers, except what happens when you eat a lot of cheeseburgers?"
"…You get fat?"
"But Santa's already fat!"
"Yes! But he got fatter, see? And he isn't a regular at the gym, either, so he's been struggling to lose a few pounds, y'know? Because once, he got so heavy his reindeer couldn't pull him through, even with all the magic."
"Oh yes. He almost crashed into Buckingham Palace, too."
"The Queen's house?"
"Exactly. He was trying to get Prince Charles his Christmas present. I guess he was about five years old then."
"…That was a long time ago…"
"Uh-huh. So you see, Santa's been struggling for a while. So he began asking parents and friends and relatives of all the world's children to help him out. Like the Red Cross. They hand out presents and Christmas cheer to the kids who don't have parents, or to the kids in other parts of the world who are too poor to afford even ice cream—"
"Not even ice cream?"
"Not even ice cream."
"Oh…" The pout had dissolved into a more thoughtful expression now, and Shisui smiled to himself, scooting closer to the boy and giving his shoulder a little pat.
"Mhm. So you're Mom wasn't really lying to you. I think your Uncle had been given specific instructions by Santa himself to carry out his duties."
Somehow, even with all the concocted debilitations added on to a mythical figure to make things sound a tad more realistic, Shisui realized that Shinkiro didn't seem to buy his fantastical theory. At least, not completely. He waited for the 'but' to come…
"But—" (And it did!) "Santa's never given me what I asked for…"
"Hm? Well, what did you ask him?" Shisui peered at the envelope again. "Well, let's see. You might have spelled something wrong. Santa's rather old, so he has trouble figuring out misspelled words sometimes." He held his hand out for the letter. "May I?"
No more words were spoken, and Shinkiro handed Shisui the letter without further ado, slipping it gingerly into the waiting hand. Shisui pulled away then, just enough to be able to open the letter, and he felt something tighten around his heart at the words. The spelling was impeccable.
It was just the nature of the wish that got to him:
All I want this Christmas is for my Daddy to come home. I know Mommy will like it too because I know she always thinks about him even if she doesn't talk about him much. I love my Mommy but I miss my Daddy so much even if I never saw him before.
He forced that lump back down his throat. Suddenly, all that nonsense about Santa getting diabetes and then hogging cheeseburgers seemed like a most awful thing to say. He almost wanted to take it back, apologize, because there was no way even magic could get this child's father to return home. "What happened to your Dad, Shi?"
The boy shrugged, wiping cold tears and sniffling harder. "I don't know. Mommy doesn't talk about what happened, only says he was the best. But I don't know why he doesn't want to see me…" The little voice broke then, and Shisui exhaled softly, turning the envelope over to memorize the return address.
"Well… We won't know until we find out, hm?" He pocketed the letter. "I'll run your letter through my friend, anyway. Maybe Santa would get lucky this time and find your Dad so he can pass the message on. Six billion people is a lot of people to be looking through, you know?" Again, his fingers found soft curls to ruffle, and Shisui finally stood. "Come on, let's go get something to eat, and then we'll get you home. Your Mom must be worried sick."
When Shinkiro looked up, the doctor was holding both arms out to him. The boy looked at his bare feet, and then at the snow-covered floor. Yeah, there was no way he was walking in all that snow if he wanted to keep his feet stuck to the rest of his body. So he raised his arms, and Shisui leaned in to pick the boy up, the two of them walking over to the nearest café that was still open.
By the time Shisui drove up to the address on the envelope, Shinkiro had fallen asleep in the back seat. There were new socks on the boy's feet and his jacket stayed on. Here's hoping his mother doesn't accuse me of kidnapping him, Shisui thought, watching the boy through the reflection in the rear-view mirror. It would take him a whole minute or so to calm down enough and prepare for the confrontation before finally stepping out and going round to the back to pick up the sleeping child. The kid was still asleep, and would remain so, even when he walked up the drive way and on to the porch, and finally rang the door bell.
Hurried steps carried through the house at the door bell, and Shisui waited patiently, just a little nervous, the child still in his arms when the door burst open and—
"Shisui?!" If Temari had been ready to throw that door open and yell at whoever had taken her baby, then right now all that seemed to have disappeared. The color drained from her cheeks, and, staring at Shisui, the most she could do was to grip the wooden door frame so hard she almost chipped her nails on it.
"…Mommy?" Oh, now you wake up.
That voice was all it took for her to snap out of the shock that rooted her to her spot, and Temari almost snatched her boy from Shisui's arms. Shinkiro had little choice but to follow. "This—whose jacket is this?" She was already trying to pry it away from her son.
"It's mine. He was freezing."
At that, she stopped trying to take the garment off. "Where did you find him?"
"At the play area next to the hospital."
Checking for injuries; Shinkiro seemed fine. "What were you doing at the hospital?"
"Ahahaha—I work there?"
Shinkiro looked from one adult to the next, perplexed with how familiarly they both seemed to be conversing with each other.
"Oh." She sent the man a smile; one of those smiles he missed seeing very often. How long has it been, he wondered? Seven years? About that long, he mused.
And yet this was so very awkward.
August 14 2006: 1 unread text message
I'm sorry, Shisui. I'm leaving tonight and I don't want you to follow me.
[Sorry, the number you dialed is out of service—]
"Doctor Uchiha then?"
"Shisui. Just—Shisui." For you, I'll always just be Shisui. "But I'm a doctor, too, yeah." He was rambling again, like he had done years ago when their series of not-dates had turned into an official one. And so, with every intention of not rambling, Shisui reached into his pocket and fished out Shinkiro's letter. "So—I was going to ask. Would it be alright if I ran this by a friend of mine? It's not too late to—"
The sight of that letter made Temari's throat run dry. Her unease was evident that Shisui had to frown mid-sentence, and he never got to complete himself when she interrupted him with a slight shake of her head, and: "That… won't be necessary." Piece by piece the puzzle began to fall in place.
"But Mom!" The boy looked from one adult to the other, about ready to well up in tears again when he noticed the expressions on their faces. Shisui wore one of utter shock, disbelief, and every emotion rolled into one that all he could do was stare at Temari for a good long minute before directing his gaze at the boy.
Mop of black curls, dark eyes, lashes that curled upwards, ice cream in winter, six years old—how could he have been so oblivious!
"…Why?" He swallowed. "Why didn't you tell me—?"
Temari only forced a smile, turning so she could put Shinkiro down. "Coffee?"
"Sure…" He shut the front door behind him.
And Shinkiro didn't need words to let him know that this Christmas, Daddy was finally home.