Title: Baby - Part 1
Pairing: None, Sho-centric
Rating: R (swears, blood, death)
Word count: 4,447
Summary: Sho finds himself with a child.
Thanks: bakushou, honeycorrupts, everystarrfall, trivialaffair, and anyone else who gave me encouragement or preread while I wrote this.
Note: I'm making this bakushou's birthday present. :D Happy birthday!
Sho sat up that night, knocked into wakefulness by the sudden jolt of the house and the rattle of pictures on the walls and china in the cabinets. He wasn’t sure if he hadn’t dreamt it until he heard her whimpering. He untangled his legs from the sheets and flicked on the lamp on the dresser, the shade printed with green polka dots painting the room a soft pastel.
He scrubbed his face with his hands and went to her side, looking down at her sleepy face. Her nose was scrunched up delicately – it was the first time she had slept longer than a few hours uninterrupted and though the quake had been slight, the racket of the dishes downstairs was harsh on her ears.
He pulled the crib closer to his bed and unlatched the dropside, the bearings rolled soundlessly in their plastic tracks. He reached into her cocoon of padded walls and stacked mattresses and placed his hand over her chest, letting the weight and warmth of his palm calm her fussing. He rested his chin on the railing of the crib and watched her settle, batting his fingers slightly with her baby fists before the wrinkles on her nose smoothed out after a snuffling yawn.
The fatigue in his bones was begging him to resume his own dreams but he fought sleep in case another tremor shook the house. The sentimental side of him felt the need to take a picture – Baby’s First Earthquake – but the logician said there will surely be many more of those. It was times like these, in the semi-lucid hours of pre-dawn reserved for care-takers and nurses that thoughts of it wasn’t supposed to be like this and how did this happen came unbidden.
She was supposed to be the one sitting up at night calming her nightmares and standing sentinel over her dreams. He would come to birthday parties and graduations and whatever he was invited to if his schedule allowed. She was supposed to fret over every baby cough and sneeze and pray that it wasn’t the start of something unimaginably serious. He would shower the girl with gifts of terrycloth and plush cotton to cuddle and talk to. She was supposed to experience the first smile, the first step, the first bite of solid food. He would watch videos and look at pictures of each minutely monumental occasion, happy enough to experience everything through the lens of a camera.
“Why did your mama have to leave you with me?” he sighed, brushing her velvet cheek with the pad of his index finger.
She wasn’t supposed to die.
She was assigned to the staff of one of their shows when a production assistant was transferred to another department. She knew of them – of course, who didn’t – but she called him Matsumoto on their first meeting. She treated them with as much deference as she would high school students; they all knew that without the technicians behind the scenes, there would be no show to go on air. Just because they were in front of the camera and not behind it didn’t warrant any special degree of respect.
Something about her was different and like all things like that, Sho couldn’t place it or name it but it was intriguing. Their spontaneous conversations grew from a mere, “How was your weekend?” to debates over the stories on the front pages of his newspapers that made them both late for their calls to set.
It began with getting coffee together from the vending machine in the staff cafeteria and progressed to late night dinners after one of them returned from an on-location shoot. He could take her to industry parties and arouse no suspicion because she had probably already been invited through production channels. They could meet like friendly acquaintances and then leave together on the pretext of work.
It was a casual relationship. Not in the sense that neither was serious about it, but in that it was easy and flexible. They met when their schedules brought them together or time allowed but it was not uncommon to go days or a couple weeks with nothing but phone calls and emails.
That makes it sound like they had no passion for each other and surely that might seem how it started. The longer they knew each other, the more Sho felt drawn to engage her – first her mind, and then later, her body – but he never once felt the stress of needing to make her happy. She had her own social circle and support network, her own interests and desires, as did he: she wasn’t in a relationship with him because she needed it, but because she wanted it.
Yet, as gradually as it began, it ended just as quickly.
It happened the morning after they had gone to a promotional party for Nippon Television’s Olympic coverage. They had spent a large part of the night near the open bar, each being pulled away periodically to network; the trains had stopped running for the night by the time they managed to slip away. When they arrived at her modest Toshima Ward apartment, he had giggled (with the amount of wine he’d had, yes, he was giggling) into her hair when she had trouble fitting the key into the lock before stumbling through the door.
He was lying in bed that morning after, nursing possibly the largest headache known to mankind. He felt violently ill when he moved to shut the curtains they’d forgotten the night before but closing them didn’t do much for the sunlight that was accentuating the throb in his temples– he never did do well with wine. Despite entertaining the prospect of an early death, he couldn’t help the grin that tugged at his lips as he remembered the fantastic sex the night before.
He was picturing her clutching the back of the couch, her back bowed so deeply that he thought she might break as he slipped in behind her; he recalled his hands splayed across the tops of her ivory thighs, angling her hips higher so he could go deeper, thrusting harder until her cries rang in his ea—
“Sho, let’s end this.”
The grin slid right off his face and landed somewhere on the pillow to his left. He tried to get his mouth to work but his tongue felt like a dead fish in his mouth – heavy, bloated and unmoving. It took a while before his body could catch up with his brain and give form to his questions.
“It’s not that I don’t like you – far from it. I really do but that’s the problem. I like you and want to see you more and more. But I won’t let myself ask for more of you; I never have and I won’t start now. I know eventually that would break us up because that’s why this works so well.”
His gut reaction was to fight and protest and say that her thoughts were silly and unfounded, but he couldn’t. Once his head cleared with the cup of coffee she brought him, he could see that she was right. But that didn’t make it hurt any less. They agreed to continue being friends – there was no reason to stop that – but he knew he would need time to reset and she said she wouldn’t mind if he didn’t call for a while.
About two months later, she called him. They met for coffee at the staff cafeteria; she asked about
“Sho, I’m pregnant. It’s yours.”
He felt lightheaded, like all the oxygen had evaporated from room. She took the can from his hand before he dropped it and stained the sable carpeting. The word was a burr, his thoughts caught on it and unable to let go. Pregnant… pregnant… baby… baby… oh. Shit.
“What—” It felt like the bottom of his stomach had descended at mach speed into his shoes only to shoot back up and lodge itself in his throat. “But… how? I mean, how is that possible? We used condoms every time.”
“I think it broke, the last time.”
All he could do was stare at—through—past her and blink. His mouth opened as if to speak but nothing came out. He tried to remember something other than how breathtaking it was fucking her that night but none of the petty details came. He was educated enough to know that condoms weren’t one hundred percent guarantees but it was just expected that they did their job. He had never thought to check afterwards whether it was still intact. Even as drunk as he was, he would have noticed, wouldn’t he?
He took in her calm composure as he reached for his coffee, feeling thirsty. “You’re going to have it.” It wasn’t a question; he could see it in her eyes. She nodded.
“I’m not here to ask you for anything; I just thought you should know. It is half of you, after all. You can have as much or as little to do with me—us—as you like. I always wanted to make a family; it’s just a bit sooner than planned. I think it was fate.” It wasn’t in her character to be so whimsical but he could see she was confident in her choice – for as much as this was going to affect his life, his career, the decision was hers to make. It was her confidence that he found so beautiful in the beginning.
It was fact that Sho would get married to a good girl and produce a menagerie of children: it was generally accepted knowledge. He wanted a family and the 3LDK mansion in a safe
His father insisted they marry for “no Sakurai should have a child out of wedlock”. His mother smiled at him tenderly; sure he was making the best decision for him. He could hear her sniffling when she hugged him – lamenting the loss of her oldest baby, for now he was really grown up – which made him hug her back a little bit tighter.
True to her word, she asked for nothing from him. She never asked him to go with her to the doctor or go shopping for baby furniture. She would tell him how things were progressing when he called or when they met up for dinner. She was doing just fine alone. His life was so completely scheduled into the New Year he barely had time to think about the pregnancy, let alone help with anything even if he had wanted to. He came to think of the whole thing as a friend who was having a baby; he just happened to be the sperm donor.
He wanted to keep this to himself for a while, to adjust to the thought of fathering a child – if he could really call it that – before telling anyone else, namely Ohno, Nino, Jun and Aiba. Their opinions meant more to him than most and it mattered that they accepted it, even if they didn’t approve of it. But it never seemed like a good time to say anything so he didn’t.
And then she sent him a scan of her twelfth week sonogram.
“Sho-chan, what’s this?” Aiba asked, turning the Mac on the desk of their hotel room in
His mouth went dry, his hand stopped in the middle of towelling off his hair, his breath got stuck somewhere between his heart and his voice box.
It wasn’t how he had wanted to tell them but fate thought otherwise. They piled into the room he shared with Aiba and he told them everything. Ohno was awestruck but not much different from normal; Aiba was elated and trying to discern what exactly he was looking at in the sonogram. Nino thought it hilarious that all the times he had called Sho “father”, he’d actually be right. Jun glowered at the sheets of the bed for a long time without saying anything.
“I don’t care that you are going to have a kid,” Jun muttered when the others were gone, Nino having herded Ohno and Aiba out of the room with promises of ice cream and xiao long bao. “I don’t care how much you are involved with it or about the day that will come when this blows up in not just yours, but all our faces. I don’t care that you’ve made the stupidest mistake of your life. You’re going to do this whether I agree with it or not, and I’ll be there to support you.
“What pisses me off the most,” he said, quiet with shame for being so selfish. “Is that you didn’t tell us sooner.”
Jun gave voice to the thoughts that Sho least liked to entertain: the day that will come. No matter how good you are at hiding your personal life from the media, they will find out; no matter how trustworthy a person is, they always seem to find out. He had faith that she wasn’t going to turn around and use the child against him in some grand scheme of extortion or plot the downfall of his career; it wasn’t her that concerned him. Success in the entertainment industry was directly proportional to the support of your fans. When finally he told the management team upon their arrival from
Sho couldn’t help but think if he were to be up front and honest about the situation before anything happened, it would be much less of a shock for everyone. Of course a few fans would be lost, but he doubted that they would outnumber the potential gains. On the other hand, issuing a release would bring attention to the person—people—he wanted to remain out of the spot light the most.
As the year began to wind to a close, even with a completed tour and no filming for Yatterman, his days were still brimming with regularly scheduled activities plus rehearsals for the Countdown. Sitting in the first tier on the third baseline of Tokyo Dome, waiting for NEWS to finish blocking their numbers, he pulled out his day planner. In back of the front pocket, sandwiched between an old itinerary and a restaurant take-out menu, was her sonogram from her twenty-fifth week.
He took out the glossy black and white image and traced the outline of a sharp profile against the distorted background noise: a perfectly circular head with a tiny nose and ear and a pair of tiny hands curled into little fists. There was no denying that it was a real, live, tiny person. She didn’t want to know if it was a boy or a girl until the birth so he had just started to think of it as Baby.
In the New Year, he prayed for the health of Baby and bought a charm for a safe delivery from the shrine near his home for her. He counted the weeks in his planner and there were only three months left. He hadn’t been able to see her in nearly a month – she was still working and desperately trying to make a mark before taking maternity leave because no one expected her to return from it. The less he saw of her, the easier it was to slip into the world where she was just a friend having a baby. The identity of the father was a non-issue and never brought up; it was as if he had never existed at all. For all the security that world held, where it would never come to light that he had a child existing in the world, the thought made Sho feel a bit nauseous.
A week before she was expected he asked, “Will you tell the baby about me?”
“When they ask,” she said, looking at him with soft eyes. “When they want to know who their father is I’ll tell them that he was a good person. If they are desperate to know you, they’ll find you on their own. And hopefully by then, you won’t be in the same position you are now.”
A wry smile lightened his face for a moment. When that time came, he hoped he would be either out of the Jimusho, in a nice cushy news job behind a big desk at NHK or the Kitagawa tyranny was ended. Only then would he be free.
“I have something to ask,” she began hesitantly. Her arms encircled her belly – it now seemed bigger than her whole body – and her hands rested above and below her navel. “I know I said I wouldn’t ask for anything from you but would you be there? When the baby comes?”
“Of course,” he replied immediately. In fact, Sho had been thinking about it since her thirty-eighth week but didn’t know how he should ask, or even if he could. He had no right to ask to be a part of something so personal when he would have no other involvement with the child from then on.
The call came when during an on-location shoot. It was a brilliant Tuesday afternoon, a week after her proposed due date. She was a bit breathless on the phone but otherwise calm as she gave him the name of the hospital and her doctor. His first reaction was to panic. He was throwing things into his bag that weren’t his and walking circles around the craft table.
“Sho-kun, what happened? You look lik—”
“Nino, its coming. They baby is coming.”
Sho began to babble about how he couldn’t leave yet, they weren’t finished filming; he had asked his manager to cushion his schedule if at all possible during the weeks she was expected to deliver and he had done some reading to prepare himself for it but he hadn’t actually thought it was really going to happen.
“Just go! She’s waiting. I’ll cover for you.”
“But I can’t—!”
“Yes, you can. I’ll tell them it was a family emergency.”
It took him little over an hour to get to the hospital. When he found the delivery room, a nurse stripped him of his jacket and bag and held a green surgical gown open for him. She was already in the stirrups with a sheet draped over her legs, a nurse between checking the dilatation of her cervix. There was a heart monitor for her and one for the baby strapped across her belly, both beeping out of synch with each other. There was a heavy sheen of sweat on her skin and an exhausted look on her face.
When he reached her side, she grabbed one of his hands and convulsed with the pain of a contraction, a sharp cry muffled by the towel between her teeth. Her grip was tighter than anything he’d felt before; after close to a minute she let go and he had angry red crescents from her nails. He turned her hand over and saw the same marks on her palm that had broken the skin.
The contractions were less than five minutes apart and looked like they were trying to rend her body in two. He asked the doctor when he came in if there was anything to give her for the pain but with a grave look he shook his head no, “The contractions are too close together already. It’s too late.”
All Sho could do was hold her hand and dab the sweat and tears from her face. He didn’t know what words to say but she was so delirious with pain that she wouldn’t have understood him anyway. There seemed to be a tension in the doctor’s brow and his gloved hands were redder than Sho would have thought for a vaginal birth.
“Sakurai-san, you have to talk to her. She’s starting to black out from the pain and she needs to push.”
He talked about his day and what he was filming and how Nino had pushed him out the back door of the building and said he didn’t want to hear from him until Sho could tell him whether he had a son or a daughter. He asked her about the baby’s room, toys, clothes, colours, names… she hadn’t even told him what she had picked for names.
And then the doctor was directing her to push, push, push over the top of the sheet and over the seismic moans coming from deep within her. Sho squeezed her hand as hard as he could, hoping to lend her some of his strength since she had none left.
It was just enough. The baby slid in to the doctor’s waiting hands and the nurse cleared the fluid from its mouth. The umbilical cord was cut and it was taken by a nurse to be swaddled. Even with the successful birth of the baby, the tension in the room did not break.
“Congratulations, Sakurai-san. You have a healthy daughter.”
The nurse handed the girl to him and he couldn’t breathe. It had all happened so fast; he had been there less than sixty minutes. The baby’s tiny cry filled the room and he felt a tear roll down his cheek. He showed her the baby – their baby – and she gave him a weak smile. The nurse took the child from his arms and told him how to find the paediatric wing.
It was too fast. The drape, the doctor’s hands, his scrubs, the floor were splattered with so much blood. There were no congratulations yet for the mother or compliments on a job well done. There was the afterbirth but that was surely too much. The grip on his hand slackened and the beeping of the heart monitor dropped.
None of his questions were being answered, the doctor and nurses flitted about and spoke in medical jargon that was far above civilian understanding. She was going into some kind of shock, he understood that much, and then he was ushered out of the delivery room and told to call the rest of the family.
Her parents found him standing in the hall just where the nurses had left him, staring at the closed door of the delivery room, when they arrived twenty minutes later. There was too much white noise, monitors and stretchers and elevators and talking for him to know what was going on inside. The look on the doctor’s face when he’d pulled the mask off and ordered someone to take him outside had been telling enough.
“It’s a girl,” he said. They were the child’s grandparents.
The door opened before he could congratulate them and the doctor apologized, “The birth was much too fast and we had no way to slow it down. Because of that, her uterus haemorrhaged and the bleeding sent her into shock. There wasn’t anything we could do. I’m sorry.”
He understood each word the doctor said but they weren’t making sense. She had been healthy and buoyant when he’d seen her last week and there had been no problems with anything at all for the last nine months.
Her mother pushed past the nurses into the delivery room and cradled her daughter’s head against her breast, her body wracked with sobs. Her father took his daughter’s hand and pinched the bridge of his nose as tears rolled down his face and disappeared into his beard.
Sho left the family to mourn. It seemed wrong for him to take up vigil beside them. If she had died giving birth to the child they made, wouldn’t that make him partly to blame for her death? He wandered the halls of the hospital aimlessly and it was dark before he realized he was still wearing the green gown. He found himself in front of the room of newborns in the paediatric wing. Through the display window were two rows of clear Plexiglas cots full of babies wrapped like spring rolls: blue for boys, pink for girls. There were five baby girls and seven boys and at the foot of each cot was a label with the family’s name written on it.
From this distance, they all looked exactly the same but he knew it was her because the label was blank. They had never talked about what would happen if something went wrong. He stayed there, watching the nurses check the infants at regular intervals. He could have set his watch by it if he had the energy to lift his head off the glass.
After an announcement over the speaker system that hospital visiting hours would be over in thirty minutes, her mourning parents came to find him. Her mother kept a modest distance, hiccupping into her handkerchief. Her father, now dry-eyed and stoic, spoke to him bluntly, in exactly the same way she had spoken to him when she was alive.
“The baby is yours. We would prefer not to have anything to do with her. It would be too hard for my wife. A day wouldn’t go by that we wouldn't resent her for taking our daughter away.”
On that day, Sho witnessed the miracle of birth, the tragedy of death, the pain of rejection and the burn of heartache. It had all happened too fast. He wasn’t ready for any of it. She had had eight months to prepare; he read a couple chapters over a couple of hours. He tried to label the tumult of emotion wracking his soul but nothing and everything seemed to fit: numb, exhausted, terrified, confused, pained.
He sank to the floor against the wall under the window and pulled out his phone; ignoring the signs plastered on the walls, he called Nino. All that came out where choked sobbing pleas to help him because he didn’t know what to do.
The bad far outweighed the good that day, the day his daughter was born.