Title: Baby - Part 2 (End... for now!)
Pairing: None, Sho-centric
Word count: 3,974
Summary: Sho finds himself with a child.
Thanks: honeycorrupts, bakushou, trivialaffair for all your help.
Note: This took much longer, and was a lot harder than I thought it would be to write. I set the bar perhaps a little bit too high for myself this time. I hope it's up to standard. Please let me know what you think of my take on the whole JE&babies slant.
When Nino found Sho slumped against the wall, still wearing the green surgical gown, he felt like crying for his friend: Sho had never looked so absolutely without hope. Nino called Sho's parents and told them as much as he could: it was a healthy girl, thirty-one hundred grams and forty-eight centimetres long but the mother had passed away.
Sho stayed in the hospital that first night – a special exception was made for the new single father – and visited every day afterwards. One of the nurses found a spare blanket and pillow for him and he slept on the bench across from the viewing window of the nursery; his sleep was shallow but undisturbed by dreams, both good and bad. He had been through the entire spectrum of human emotion in one day and his body was exhausted.
He woke during morning rounds and watched the nurses weigh and check all the babies before beginning to bathe them in turn. His girl murmured slightly while the nurses unbound her blankets and ran a tape measure from her head to her tiny feet. She whimpered only a little when she was placed on the stark white scale. When she was returned to her cot and tucked back into her secure cocoon she went back to dozing. He watched her sleep and thought he could keep watching forever; seconds and minutes and hours never seemed to last so long, and yet so short, as they did when he watched her sleep. He was reminded gently by the blank label on the cot that she still didn't have a name.
Sho wandered the hospital after getting a cup of coffee from the cafeteria, thinking of names. He had never given it much thought, what he might call his children. There were a few he liked but they all seemed to belong to someone else. They had all come from people he'd met or knew about. None of them seemed to fit.
He came to the hospital gift shop; it was filled with fresh flowers and plush toys for patients, magazines, snacks and bare essentials for visitors. He was looking for the newspapers to check the headlines when the soft pastel cover of a book caught his eye: a book of baby names.
He flipped to the section of girl's names and scanned the lists. He knew he wanted a simple name but nothing too common and just a single character like his parents had given all their children. Nothing jumped out at him until he reached "mi". At the top of the second page was a single kanji and he knew that was it.
Underneath a pair of feathers was a graduate, a soldier; underneath a pair of feathers was the word, "to die." She would share part of his name and he would be with her always, and her name would be a memorial to her mother whom she never had the chance to meet. It was a simple and elegant name and the most valuable thing he would ever give her.
He named her Midori.
His mother found him at the reception desk as soon as visiting hours started at four o’clock, filling out and stamping papers that had never gotten signed before the delivery of the baby. He was in the middle of writing her new name on the order form for the birth certificate when his mother called his name and caught him in the biggest hug he could remember getting. The unconditional love and support in her embrace was almost enough to set him crying again.
During visiting hours on that first day, the entire Sakurai family crowded into a small hospital room and met baby Midori. Sho's father nodded and patted his son's shoulder firmly; considering all that had happened in the pervious twenty-four hours, Sho was holding himself together well and his father was proud. His mother tried in vain not to let tears slide down her cheeks when she saw her son and granddaughter together for the first time. His sister cooed at the baby in her arms and promised to do lots of girly things with her. His brother felt extremely awkward holding her, like holding a football so it wouldn't roll off his lap. He had never seen anything so small.
"Well, I was your age when you were born," Sho told him.
"But you were a brother, not an uncle. This is weird." Sho chuckled; he couldn't say it wasn't a little bit true. His father led everyone out and left Sho alone with his daughter for the first time since she'd been born.
"Take as long as you need. We'll be waiting in the car," he said.
Sho looked at the little face nestled in layers of flannelette: she looked back at him, blinking sleepily. Her benign expression was comforting.
He placed a light kiss on her brow; the soft powdery smell of her skin filled his nose. "I've been waiting for you," he whispered to her. "I'm not ready yet but you're here now and you only have me and I'm going to try my best." She yawned, tired from meeting her family. Watching her fall asleep in his arms, he knew he loved her; though he didn't want to admit it to himself, let alone anyone else, he had started falling in love with her long ago and every time he took out her twenty-fifth week sonogram, he fell just a little bit more.
When he arrived home that night, he saw that all their old baby things had been unearthed from the attic. The living room table was covered with toys and clothes and books. Next to the couch was his brother's old crib waiting to be put back together.
"Your father spent all last night going through boxes. We'll need to get a new mattress though," his mother said, placing a hand on the dismantled frame. "What we don't have, you won't need until she gets a bit older. You'll have time."
The next day, Sho went back to the hospital after doing an interview for Yatterman. It was only a short interview, focusing mostly on the reception of the new movie, but it was hard to keep his attention from wandering. He knew somewhat of caring for children – he'd helped raise his own brother and was a certified child minder– but knew very little about caring for newborns.
At the hospital, the attending doctor in the nursery instructed him gently how to hold a newborn and feed her properly with the bottle. He explained how Midori would have a higher chance of getting sick because she had no milk in her diet. For that reason as well, she should be vaccinated as soon as possible. There was so much information, he wondered if he would be able to remember it all.
Shortly before visiting hours were over, Sho was joined at the hospital by the other members of Arashi. He felt a pang of guilt for not having called them in the torrent of the last few days but they paid him no mind. Midori met the rest of her family, four uncles who – including her father – would be the major men in her life until she would experience the bittersweet sting of first love.
"I can't unload this on anyone else – my parents are still doing their own parenting with my brother; I can't add mine to theirs. They'll be there to help me but this is my job. Who is going to look after her when I'm not around? I can’t take her to work with me."
“You can’t yet,” Aiba commented, playing with the fuzz on her head. “She’d charm the pants off everyone so you wouldn’t have any complaints.”
"I'm glad you said that because if you hadn't done it yourself," Jun pointed out. "One of us would have put in notice for you."
Sho laughed, because he knew it was true. It was the first real laugh he'd had in what felt like a long time and he felt the tension that he'd been carrying around for the last two days subside. He was relieved that he had his friends there with him and he had been silly to think they would act any other way.
"Everything is going to be different now from how I thought it was going to be last week. And it scares me; more than jumping out of a plane or being strapped to a balloon and suspended from the roof of Tokyo Dome. I have to make decisions for another human being, one who is completely dependent on me. I don't know if I can even begin to describe how that feels."
"You sound like a father already," Nino joked.
“Will you carry on?” Sho asked, watching his daughter drift off to sleep with Nino’s gentle swaying. “Will you keep working as Arashi without me?”
He looked at the faces of his friends and watched them glance at each other. It was Ohno who broke the silence.
“It wouldn’t be the same without Sho-kun. It’s one thing to do a few shows or appearances without one member who is doing a solo project for a few weeks but… we’ll be ready to come back when you are.”
The anxiety Sho had felt about the decision he had to make was eased but it was replaced with an intense weight of shame. He’d left it up to them to decide whether or not to continue as a group or take a break but when the choice had been made, the knowledge that it was his fault was more than he had anticipated.
“Don’t look so depressed,” Nino said over the top of Midori’s head. “This doesn’t mean anything; Arashi isn’t over so don’t look like it is. Besides, don’t you think we’ve earned a break after ten years?”
Aiba hummed in agreement – though to which part of Nino’s statement, Sho wasn’t sure – and Sho let the sentiment sink in. How had things gotten so out of his control?
"You know, she really does look like you," Ohno said, closing the topic to further discussion. He pointed out the same round face, the same expressive eyes and nose. Her skin was the colour of milk tea and her hair was a soft dark chocolate – those she got from her mother.
Three days after his daughter was born, Sho received an unexpected phone call from Midori's maternal grandfather. He was sending any baby gifts and supplies his daughter had bought or received that they couldn't return. Sho knew it was because they wanted no reminder of the little life that shared their bloodline but he couldn't help but wonder if it wasn't a small gesture of support from the older man. Sho merely accepted graciously and gave him his parent's address.
When Sho returned home from the hospital that evening, there were diapers, bottles, formula, some clothes, and a portable bassinet piled in the hallway. After all that had happened, how Sho's life had turned completely inside out and jumped ahead about ten years in the span of a week, things were starting to settle.
After four days in the nursery, the doctor’s said Midori could finally go home. It was a bright April Saturday, with a slight chill in the air left over from winter. Sho left his car keys with his mother, his Pajero newly outfitted with an infant car seat. For four days he had been calling in sick or leaving early and abruptly from work to spend four hours in the hospital. No rumours had surfaced yet, but Sho knew it would only be a matter of time. Word was starting to spread among colleagues and coworkers that something was amiss. There was an underlying tension for having put extra, unnecessary and unwanted stress on several people by Sho’s premature departures.
There were only so many personal health days he could take and excuses he could make up on the fly in the span of a week, so his mother would be the one to bring Midori home from the hospital. When Sho arrived home that night, there was a different aura in the house. Everything felt quieter, softer, lighter. He greeted his parents who were watching the evening news with the baby monitor on the coffee table. Her bassinette was set up in his room next to his bed. There was a note on his bedside table under a bottle of formula from his mother: Go to sleep soon; she’ll wake you up for feeding later.
And wake him up she did. Not only did she wake him up near midnight and shortly after three hungry, but she gurgled and snuffled in her sleep. Every little sound roused him but when he looked in on her bundled form, her eyelashes were fanned across her smooth cheeks and nothing was amiss.
After the second night, and another scant hour or so of sleep, it became even clearer that he couldn’t work as he had been and take care of a newborn.
On Monday morning, Sho drove to the Jimusho with Midori gurgling in the car seat. His parents were at work, and his siblings at school. He hadn’t slept for longer than a couple of hours at a stretch for the last two nights and this was only the beginning. The looks he got from security, the receptionists, other Johnny’s as he walked through the halls with a tiny baby girl cradled against his chest would have been hilarious if it had been anyone else.
He was ushered into Johnny’s office with little waiting; he knew Johnny must have been expecting him to make the long ride up to the rotund office on the upper floors of the Jimusho building sooner rather than later. He felt like a wayward child waiting in the principal's office. In a way, he was. Johnny sat behind his desk and looked at him over steepled fingers, waiting for Sho to speak.
"I know I've already caused a lot of trouble," he began. "And I never thought it would turn out this way but it did, and now I have to deal with it.
"I've spent the last couple days thinking and no matter what, I always come to the same conclusion. Given past events with scandals and whatnot, I expect to be disciplined somehow but I'm here asking to be put on hiatus. I need to take care of my family.” His fingers curled around her head gently.
“I managed to finish university and work at the same time, but only just barely. I can't imagine doing any other type of work, but I know my limits and I can't work and take care of a baby, at least not right now."
Johnny sat in thought, eying his daughter, before asking, "I know you are probably going to think I'm a heartless old man – and I could really care less – but have you given thought to adoption? The child was a mistake anyway."
"Never," Sho replied with conviction. "She may not have been planned but she'll never be unwanted." Giving her up had never been an option.
Their meeting went for close to an hour and in the end, it was decided that Sho would go on leave effective immediately. Arashi's activities would be suspended until his return and the other four members were free to concentrate on solo projects in the meantime. After six months, Sho would re-evaluate his hiatus and they would go from there.
After much pleading on his part, Sho was allowed to write a letter explaining the sudden decision. He valued his privacy highly but felt that he somehow owed it to everyone. He doubted if airing his guilt would assuage it, but he felt like it needed to be done. He knew there would be backlash on all fronts and hoped that an explanation would help cushion the blow, if only slightly. Before he had even left the office, Johnny was dictating a press release to his secretary over the intercom.
When he got to the parking lot, he got into his car and sat there. He kept Midori cradled against this chest, his fingers of his right hand stroking her fuzzy head. He didn’t feel any more at ease after his meeting – if anything, he felt nauseous and dizzy. It was really happening whether he wanted it to or not, whether he was ready or not.
The baby in his arms began to cry and it took him a few heartbeats to react. Was she hungry? Was she tired? Did she need changing? Could she sense his fear, smell it like a dog? He rocked her back and forth, mumbling in her ear everything’s going to be okay, you’ll see. He didn’t know if he was saying those things for her benefit or his own. It wasn’t very calming when he didn’t wholly believe it himself.
It took three months from taking his leave from the Jimusho for the sandstorm to finally start to settle. He had stayed at home the entire week after the press release had been issued – from what he’d garnered from his friends, the general reception hadn’t been an altogether warm one. The release stated that Arashi would be taking a leave of absence from group activities until further notice. Members would be using that time to pursue personal projects and resolve family matters. Sho winced every time he heard or read that statement; it made it sound like his daughter was a problem that needed fixing. In Johnny Kitagawa’s mind, she was.
Gifts arrived from close friends and relatives, mostly in the form of money given the abrupt announcement. From Uncle Kazu, Midori got a mobile to hang over her crib of white cottony sheep; from Uncle Masaki, a merino lion cub to cuddle ("It's Shimuken Junior! He'll scare away the nightmares."). Uncle Jun sent a finely crafted baby quilt embroidered with cherry blossoms and cranes and wrapped in it, a book on newborn babies. Uncle Satoshi sent an album, handmade with a rich green cover, the pages blank to record all the memories of her early years. On the first page was her name in Ohno's delicate brushwork and the very first picture taken with her father in the hospital.
Every free moment not spent feeding or changing or bathing baby Midori, Sho spent reading books on newborns and baby health. His mother was very helpful with questions but would not hold his hand and walk him through the entire process; nor did he want her to. She told him that people often forget that father’s have instincts too.
“Every baby is different – you have to relearn everything each time. We had it easy with you: you were never very fussy and were a good sleeper but your sister kept us up night after night. You never know. You just need to learn Midori’s habits and the sounds she makes; you’ll know better than anyone else what it is that’s bothering her when she cries.”
And slowly he did learn: her baby sneezes and snuffles during the night didn’t keep him awake anymore. When she was hungry, she cried heartily from her belly; when she needed changing, her whimpers sounded like hiccups. When she was lonely she howled like a kitten calling for his attention. When she was happy, she squeaked when she giggled and gave him a wide gummy smile. When she wasn’t interested or amused, she gave him a look he swore she learned from Nino.
Before he knew it, three months had passed and she graduated to the crib and was closer and closer to being able to roll herself over. It amused him to no end watching her look at him with big eyes as she wiggled on her quilt spread on the living room floor. Her uncles came to visit on their days off and her grandparents agreed to watch her if he went out in the evening with some friends.
And it wasn’t until she was three months old did he find the words to write his letter. Everyday when he put her down for her afternoon nap, he would pull out his laptop and stare at the blinking curser waiting for the words to come but his mind was as blank as the page in front of his eyes. How did you explain the unexplainable, unforeseeable, serendipitous turn of events that brought him the gift of his daughter? The day after she experienced her first earthquake, he just started writing.
Thank you to everyone who has been there to support me when I thought I couldn’t handle this responsibility. I wasn’t ready, I’m still not there yet, but I know I will be some day. I can’t apologize for the decisions I’ve made because now I know they were the right ones.
My daughter was born on April 6th. Everything about her was unexpected: the pregnancy, the love I would find for her before she had even been born, the death of her mother. She was a dear friend of mine and had planned to raise our child alone so that I could continue with my career. I knew it was what I should do – keep them a secret and keep my distance – but those thoughts never sat well with me. When the doctor gave his condolences... you can’t imagine what that kind of hopelessness feels like.
I won’t say I didn’t hesitate. I did. I won’t say I didn’t doubt myself. I did. I won’t say I wasn’t absolutely terrified. I was; I still am. My daughter had no one else but me in the world, me and her family, and I needed to accept what fate had decided. It hasn’t been easy, and I don’t think any parent can say it is. But each time she looks at me, I’m so glad she happened.
I put a part of my life on hold and that affected four people who mean so much to me. For that, I am sorry. The ripples caused by my choices were far greater than I imagined. But they told me they wouldn’t be able to continue without me; those thoughts still make me feel like crying. I am so grateful.
I can’t apologize for doing what I needed to do, for doing what was right. I can only ask for your understanding. I can’t say when I’ll be ready to return – it could be a few months, it could be a year. Satoshi, Kazunari, Masaki, and Jun said they would wait for me; I can only ask that you wait for us.
-- The End
-- The End
The kanji for Midori is 翠. I thought long and hard about what I wanted to name Baby Sakurai and I scoured through lists of baby names on a Japanese website. I knew I wanted it to be one character and when I saw 翠 I knew that I’d found it! It means “green” (which all you smart Japanese-speakers must have picked up on) but it’s more of a jade or emerald green than just green. 翔 and 翠 both have the feather radical if you look closely (maybe increase the screen text size… ><) Incidentally, the noun 翠嵐 (suiran) means “the sense of being engulfed in a green, mountainous atmosphere”. I honestly didn’t know there was a word made of Midori and Arashi until after I’d chosen it. XD