AN: It starts out a little heavy, but things start to lighten up a bit in this chapter. Ne, all you fellow Yuuhi/Aya fans didn't really think I'd let Aya angst over stupid Touya forever, did you?! (lol) Oh, and I want to know what all of you think of Sora. I myself have fallen in love with the little guy—he's absolutely adorable in my mind's eye; maybe someday I'll draw him—but being his 'creator', I could just be blinded by self-love (hah!) Anyway, I'm really curious how the little tyke's gone over with all of you readers, so let me know in your reviews or drop me a line! (AN-2: If anyone's familiar with the anime version of Momiji-kun from Fruits Basket, I imagine Sora's voice to be an even younger version of his voice. Kawaii~ii!)
~* To Be Yours *~
By Nichole (Neko-chan) Johnson
Written: July 23 – 25, 2003
For Yuuhi's sake…Chapter Two ~ Scribbled in Crayon
Somehow she managed to compose herself, for once she made it back to the beach, her face was once more a frozen mask; nary a trace of tears on her face.
Her eyes surveyed the shoreline, where traces of violet already shown in preparation for the setting sun; her shadow streaming long behind her, leaving her face burning with the subtle rose colors of the evening sunlight.
And at last her eyes fell on the seated figure below her in the sands. His back was to her, his eyes on the scene she herself had been admiring only a moment before; but even so, she felt the familiar tendrils of confusion and doubt that usually assaulted her at his gaze.
The young woman tossed her gaze about; attempting to clear her mind as she searched the beach for the Aogiri okami and her son, but neither was to be found. At last, feeling she could avoid it no longer, she descended the path with slow, measured steps towards the seated figure on the sands.
If he noticed her approach, he gave no indication. She was a mere two feet away from him when she froze, caught off guard by what she saw. Sora, his golden hair shining a brilliant red in the sunset, lay asleep; stretched carelessly across Yuuhi's lap as if he'd simply fallen there out of complete exhaustion. The look of peace and utter content on her son's face awoke something in her; something that had been dead to her now for days and the urge to cry once more was overpowering.
But there was a decidedly different emotion behind the urge than before; an emotion that tugged insistently at her heart and brought renewed warmth to her thus-far frozen gaze.
It was now, at last, that Yuuhi seemed to take notice of her presence; twisting about slightly to peer up at her with concerned surprise. His movements were cautious; careful not to wake the child still asleep in his lap, and Aya's heart seemed to twist even more at the tender act.
"Aya? Daijobu desu ka?" spoke the young chef softly; once again, his tone low so as not to disturb the sleeping child.
Unable to stop her tears, Aya put a hasty hand to her mouth, struggling for control. Shaking her head faintly, her fingers unconsciously fingering the seashell at her neck, she continued to watch her sleeping son with adoring, violet-blue eyes.
Hazel eyes alight with the rose colors of the dying sun watched her, narrowed with pained concern; as the woman who had always remained so strong, who rarely cried, broke down into soft sobs before him. Lifting the toddler tenderly from his lap and depositing him gently on the sand, Yuuhi rose slowly to his feet; clasping the young woman gently by the shoulders, imploring her to look him in the eyes.
She did, and to his surprise, threw herself into his arms as well; her hands clinging desperately to the front of his shirt as she continued to cry silently into his chest. Instinctively, Yuuhi wrapped his arms around her in response, holding her tightly; his face speaking clearly of how long he had longed to do so, even as his heart continued to be riddled with pain at her despair.
They seemed to stay that way forever, the sun sinking ever lower in the west; their shadows reaching with long violet fingers across the sand. Yuuhi was suddenly aware that her muffled sobs sounded more like laughter; choked and oddly distorted by her tears.
"Sora…always looks so peaceful when he's with you," Aya murmured, breaking the silence; her voice still muffled by his shirt. "Gomen. I couldn't help myself."
She pulled away at last, resolutely wiping away her tears, and he was able to see the small smile that graced her lips. Shyly avoiding his eyes, she dropped her gaze to her son, still sleeping peacefully in the sand. The look of tender love on her face seemed to ease his heart immensely. He continued to watch her silently; she could feel his gaze on her as clearly as if it were the dying rays of the sun itself, and still she did not look up, avoiding the plea in her heart to do so as she continued to gaze at Sora's peacefully sleeping features.
"Where is Suzumi?" she ventured at last, her eyes still not meeting his as they turned to gaze once more on the sunset that touched the horizon.
"Paying her own respects," was Yuuhi's soft reply, his own gaze following hers to the sea; a faintly pensive frown marring his features.
She turned to meet his eyes at last, sensing some insistence in his voice.
"I should go, too," he said at last, grasping her shoulder softly as if to take his leave.
Aya nodded encouragingly, her eyes softly grateful at his support. "Sora and I will be right here," she assured him with a tender glance in the toddler's direction.
Nodding as if satisfied by her assurance, Yuuhi turned and strode up the beach towards the path whence she had come not but ten minutes ago. Aya watched him go, consumed once more by conflicting emotions as he disappeared from view. Then gazing once more upon the sun-touched waters, she lowered herself gently to the sand beside Sora's sleeping form, stroking the child's cheek softly with her fingers as her mind continued to war silently with her heart.
Several weeks later…
The young woman hummed softly as she worked, her voice growing steadily in strength; occasionally mouthing the words under her breath as she patted fresh earth over the seedling she had just planted. Eyes of violet, crystalline blue twinkled merrily in satisfaction as she glanced over her work; leaning back on her heels and wiping a stray hair from her face with the back of her hand.
It was rather late in the year to be planting, but the urge to do something constructive and fulfilling had brought her out here on this late May afternoon, with a handful of begonia seedlings from the main garden and a trowel.
Aya raised her gaze from the small plot of soil towards the engawa and the open shoji beyond, where Sora's cheerfully babbling voice could be heard, followed occasionally by the lower murmur of Q-san's chiding tones. Satisfied with her work and stilling humming a wordless rendition of some bubbly pop song, the young woman climbed easily to her feet; dusting off the knees of her jeans and placing aside her gardening tools on the edge of the engawa for the time being.
"Ne, are you finished, Aya-san?" queried Q-san gently, looking up from her and Sora's play.
"Hai," replied Aya with a cheerful smile, pulling herself up to sit on the edge of the engawa. "For now. In a couple of weeks, Sora and I should have the smell of begonias wafting into our room."
"Sou ka. That will be lovely…" murmured the housekeeper contemplatively, smiling softly at the thought. Her brows furrowed slightly in thought, a slight frown to her expression. "Demo, Aya-san…Why did you not simply ask the gardener to plant some of the larger begonia bushes from the main garden there for you? It will be several years before those little seedlings are full grown."
Aya smiled brightly at the housekeeper's query, swinging her legs whimsically as she did. It was moments like these that she remained the same strong-willed and bright natured girl she had been so many years ago when she'd first come to live with the Aogiri family; even with her face softened somewhat by motherhood.
"It gives me something to do," was her carefree reply as she surveyed her work once more. "And this way I get to watch them grow. Somehow it just seems more special that way."
Q-san blinked silently at the sense of contentment in her reply for a moment. Then a warm grin of understanding lit her face, and the old woman chuckled lightly.
"Hai. Wakatta. Even at heart, you are a mother, Aya-san!" she laughed, turning once again to Sora and resuming her watchful eye on the quietly drawing toddler.
"Ara, Sora-chan! What in heavens are you drawing?"
Looking up at the exclamation, Aya glanced in her son's direction with mischievous curiosity; amused as always by the trouble the towheaded boy seemed to cause the old housekeeper.
"It's a f'wower, Cue-cue!" exclaimed the boy matter-of-factly, calling the housekeeper by the familiar old nickname. The edge of exasperation in his tone caused Aya to giggle softly to herself. "Sora and Yuuhi-aniue's f'wower!"
Holding up the piece of paper he had been working on, he jutted his little chin out at her with pride. Aya giggled some more at the sight, but her laughter this time was softer; warm with affection as she peered at the colorful jumble of crayon scrawls that supposedly represented a flower in the child's eyes.
Q-san politely complimented the drawing, her tone consoling, as Aya looked on with motherly devotion. And then the boy's words seemed to click as she snapped her fingers in recollection.
"Ah! Your flower—that's right!" she exclaimed suddenly, a pleasant smile crossing her features. "Mou, Sora-chan, let's go water your flower, ne?"
The little boy looked up from the mess of papers and crayons strewn across the tatami of their room, his face alight with delight at his mother's suggestion. "Hai!" he replied eagerly, scrambling hastily to his feet and dashing over to the edge of the engawa.
Dropping to the lawn, Aya swung him up in her arms in a playful manner, watching him squeal with delight; his hair shining reddish-gold in the bright afternoon sunlight.
Watching the display of affection between mother and son with a tender expression, Q-san quietly gathered the toddler's various drawings and the scattered crayons in her arms and rose to her feet. "It's nearly time for Yuuhi-san to return from work, Aya-san. If you need me, I'll be in the sitting room with Okami-san," she remarked, giving a small bow and shuffling politely from the room.
"Hai!" called Aya in acknowledgement. Propping her son on one hip, she retrieved her watering can from the lawn and smiling at Sora cheerfully, headed towards the middle of the yard where a small fence of bamboo sticks and some twine had been constructed around the delicate, swaying stem of a small flower; its bud still closed to the sun with immaturity.
"Aa! Look, Sora! I think it's grown since yesterday—don't you think?"
Setting the boy down in the grass, Aya crouched beside him before the small flower, studying the dark green leaves and swaying, pale green stem with delighted curiosity. Leaning over the tiny, bamboo fencing, ardent green eyes wide and alight with childlike wonder, Sora made a small sound of delight and awe. He no longer reached out to grasp the tiny flower as he had done when the sprout had first appeared, but merely watched it sway gently in the afternoon breeze, it's tightly closed petals suggesting at bright colors to come; and as always, Aya was amazed at the intensity with which the boy watched over the baby flower.
"Mou, I bet it's thirsty, don't you think, Sora-chan?" she suggested gently, leaning back on her heels to offer the toddler the small watering can still in her hands.
Nodding eagerly, Sora took the can from her; letting his mother's hands grasp his over the small handle and guide his hands as he carefully watered the small plant, a look of intense concentration on his small face.
"Mama?" he questioned curiously after the flower had been adequately saturated, once more crouched intently over his prize. "Will f'wower be big someday? Like Sora?"
Aya laughed shortly, her voice musical. "Ara! Maybe someday, Sora. But only if it's a very big flower."
"Big like Yuuhi-aniue?" added the fair-haired toddler, looking imploringly up at his mother with wide, innocent green eyes. Jumping to his feet, he stretched high on his toes, raising his arms high above his head in an attempt to mimic the chef's height.
Aya laughed brightly, further amused by his antics. "I don't think it will get that big, Sora—I'm pretty sure it's not a sunflower."
"Oro?" remarked the child curiously, letting his arms fall to his sides once again. "Sun f'wower?"
"Hai," confirmed his mother with a nod. "A sunflower's a really big flower."
Now it was her turn to stretch her arms upwards in a suggestion of great height. "Very, very tall! Even taller that Yuuhi!"
Sora gazed up at her in wide-eyed amazement. "Aa! Sugoi!"
Laughing, Aya nodded in agreement, picking herself up off the grass and retrieving the watering can as well.
"Come on, Sora! Let's go give the begonias a drink and then we can go inside and see if Yuuhi's home yet."
Letting her fingers play softly over Sora's sleeping face, Aya smiled softly down at the child as she pulled the discarded blanket back over his sleeping form. With one last motherly look at the slumbering toddler, she rose to her feet, and switching off the nearby lamp, stole softly from the room; sliding the shoji carefully in its track so as not to disturb him.
Standing in the darkened hallway, her gaze stole to the door just down the hall; the room just next door. Faint light shown from beneath the shoji; streaming across the gleaming dark wooden floor and signaling that its occupant must still be awake.
"Yuuhi?" called the young woman softly, tapping hesitantly at the door's wooden frame and listening carefully for sounds of movement from within.
Their rooms were no longer adjoined as they had been when Ceres had shared her body, leaving her vulnerable to attacks from the Mikage family; and Yuuhi was no longer officially her protector. But old habits seemed to die hard. It was true that it had officially been Suzumi who'd taken Aya and Sora under her wing after the death of Touya; she being the rightful mistress of the house. But it had been Yuuhi who had truly taken their well-being and care to heart at the time, falling immediately back into the role of Aya's protector. That his room had been situated directly beside hers was clearly no coincidence, and Aya had been well aware of it right from the beginning.
And she had been eternally grateful for it. At a time when life had seemed to shatter like so much broken glass about her ears…to know that some things in life would remain as constant as time itself had comforted her immensely.
The fact that she had never told him of this…seemed at once regrettable, as she stood outside his door in the darkened hall; her features soft with contemplation.
There remained no answer from the room beyond. Brows furrowed now in faint concern, she hesitantly slid the shoji aside and peered into the dimly lit room. His bedside lamp was on, but otherwise, the room seemed unoccupied; the outside shoji thrown wide open to the cool night breeze.
Shivering slightly, Aya moved further into the room, hoping to close the shoji against the chilly air of the night. May seemed somewhat early to be having them open at this time of night; she wondered where he could have gone with his room left open like that.
Gone were the days when she would have felt guilty for trespassing in the young man's room without his permission. It seemed that these days—ever since the death of her husband, in fact—he seemed to begrudge her nothing. In some ways, they had grown closer upon her return to the Aogiri household. But in many others, there lay an even greater wall between them that at times, was near impossible to surpass.
Their embrace on the beach, on the anniversary of Touya's death several weeks before, had been the first time they had hugged in several years.
And the memory of his warmth still caused Aya to shiver with a flurry of mixed emotions.
"Yuuhi? Are you here?" she called softly once again, though the room seemed clearly unoccupied. The sudden switch in her train of thoughts had left her less bold in her intrusion, and she hurried now to reach the shoji in order to close them and take her leave.
But when she reached the open shoji, she froze, and found herself smiling softly at what she found. Yuuhi, his profile framed by the dim outline of light coming from his room, sat quietly along the edge of the engawa. She hadn't seen him from the doorway because he had moved himself further down, holding vigil just outside her own room.
Her room…where Sora lay peacefully sleeping.
"Konban wa," she greeted softly, dropping down gently beside him on the worn wood.
His gaze, previously distant and staring off into the gardens, turned to her; hazel eyes glinting warmly in the faint light coming from his room. His hair shown darker than usual, apparently still damp from his evening bath.
"Un," he murmured in response, his gaze once again looking out over the lawn and gardens beyond with contentment. "I didn't realize you were still up."
She smiled faintly, hugging her knees to her in the chilly evening air. "I was too awake after my bath to try and sleep," was her reply, her eyes falling curiously on his shadowed figure. Her eyes trailed the length of his arm down to his hand where it lay flat, palm down on the wooden engawa over a small pile of familiar, crayon-scribbled drawings.
The young woman couldn't help but feel a tender sort of warmth at this small discovery. "Did Q-san give you those?" she questioned lightly, affectionate humor evident in her voice.
Yuuhi looked down, following her eyes to Sora's brightly colored drawings beneath his hand.
"Hai," he confirmed, his voice warm and low so as not to disturb the sleeping child in the room beyond. The tender affection in his gaze as he raised the drawings to his face once again struck Aya deeply and she struggled to withstand the sudden surge of unfamiliar emotions they awoke in her.
She realized, suddenly, that Yuuhi was blushing lightly in the dim light from the room behind them, brows furrowed fiercely in an expression of frustration as he looked at the drawings in his hand. Forgetting her own confusion, Aya couldn't help but grin slightly at the look of discomfort on his face.
"What is it?" she asked, slightly teasing; certain she knew partly the reason for his embarrassment.
"Betsuni," he muttered, putting the papers aside as if to cover his discomfort. "Q-san was just saying some silly things about them earlier."
Aya smiled in an understanding matter, taking the drawings from him and studying them herself; much of her suspicions confirmed. "Hmm," she murmured sympathetically. "Did she tell you this one was of you and Sora's flower? The one out in the middle of the yard?"
Looking at the indicated drawing, Yuuhi shook his head faintly, his blush intensifying somewhat. Even in the dim light, the added color to his face was apparent.
"Ah…Actually, she told me that was her and her former husband dancing the tango," was his muttered reply.
At the look on his face, Aya broke into laughter; covering her mouth with her hand to muffle the sound.
Yuuhi turned somewhat indignant, his blush growing by the minute. "Oi! It's not like I believed her—I don't really think that's the sort of thing a three-year-old's going to draw!" he insisted, trying to keep his voice low despite her laughter.
His expression turned suddenly sour. "It was the mental images that were disturbing…"
Aya thought she would suffocate from lack of breath, her eyes tearing with the effort it took to smother her laughter.
Yuuhi seemed to suffer the embarrassment a moment longer, his face still red. And then his blush began to fade, hazel eyes sparkling lightly with amusement as a wry grin of his own began to tug at the corners of his mouth. But rather than join in her laughter, he simply gazed at her, enjoying her own amusement; a sudden tenderness to his gaze.
Her eyes surprisingly arrested by his engaging hazel gaze, the young woman's laughter slowly died away. Momentarily entranced, she unconsciously shivered as a tremor went up her spine.
Tearing her eyes away nervously, she tried to cover up the sudden slip in expression with an assuring smile; her eyes focused intently on her toes and the grain of the wood beneath her feet.
"Well, what did she say about the others, then?" she prompted, hoping to break the sudden change in mood that had come over them.
She seemed to succeed, for he turned away slightly; once again appearing somewhat embarrassed.
"Have you thought about school again?" he spoke suddenly, changing the subject abruptly and brushing off his earlier embarrassment.
Aya frowned slightly to herself at the suddenness of his remark, but even so, her gaze became pensive at his words. "Somewhat…" she admitted softly, hugging her knees to herself more tightly as if suddenly aware of the cold again.
Yuuhi watched her intently, hazel eyes patient as he waited for her to elaborate. She shifted slightly under his gaze, raising her eyes slightly but still not quite meeting his.
"I just don't think…that that's me anymore," she continued at last. "School is just…not important to me now."
Her gaze fell on the drawings now strewn between them, and the tenderness that touched her eyes once again seemed to touch Yuuhi as well.
"When…" She hesitated, teetering on the brink of broaching a potentially painful subject. But then she seemed to collect herself; her expression firm as she plowed on.
"When Touya and I were first married," she continued softly, her voice confident and unwavering, "And then when Sora was born, I felt no regrets about my choice. I was determined to lead a new life as a wife and as a mother."
Here, her gaze seemed somewhat painful, but her tone was no less assured than before. Yuuhi's warm gaze on her, unerringly supportive, seemed to ease the threat of tears that more often than not accompanied Touya's memory.
"Touya's death didn't change any of that," she added after her brief pause, "If anything, it made me even more determined to raise Sora as best I could; to be the best mother I could be."
"That's all that matters to me right now: being a mother to Sora. My education—anything more than that—doesn't factor into that; not anymore."
Trembling slightly with the strength of her resolve, she continued to stare determinately into the wood-grain, awaiting Yuuhi's response to her little declaration of sorts.
She didn't have long to wait.
His voice beckoned her eyes to his, and when they met, she felt a rush of relief and unfamiliar emotion at the support and love in his hazel gaze. Smiling softly at the look of relief in her eyes, he cocked his head gently at her.
"You don't have to justify your decision for me," he assured her warmly, his eyes holding hers. "Whatever you choose, you know I'd support you."
Flushing slightly, he broke their gaze shyly, his eyes drifting to the floor. "But…I'm glad you'd share that with me."
Touched beyond words and utterly relieved, all Aya could do was smile. "Arigatou, Yuuhi. I'm glad, too."
Her own gaze fell once more with a sudden embarrassment of her own. "Anoo…You and Suzumi have done so much for Sora and I. Even before…everything with Touya…"
Yuuhi cut her off softly, shaking his head lightly at her gratitude. "Yame. Don't worry about that," he muttered insistently, turning away slightly.
His gaze, even as it wasn't focused on her, was suddenly intent. "I'm just glad…"
He broke off. Even at this angle, his eyes spoke of a fierce struggle of emotions, as was character with the usually fiery young man.
After a moment, Yuuhi shook his head slightly; frustration, resentment, and something else—something deeper-seated than such emotions—in his bearing.
"Iie," he trailed off with a sigh, his voice painfully soft. "Betsuni."
And before she could press him on the matter, he rose quickly to his feet; his eyes still avoiding her gaze.
"Oyasumi, Aya," he muttered, clearly closing the conversation for the night as he slipped past her.
"Yuuhi…" she attempted uselessly, watching him disappear into his room and close the shoji softly behind him. A minute later, the light went off, and she was left in darkness; still seated on the engawa, Sora's scribbled drawings strewn beside her on the worn wood.
Indecision and a surge of ineluctable emotions once more weighing down upon her, she gazed down at the scribbled drawing closest at hand; the one Sora had claimed to be 'Sora and Yuuhi-aniue's flower'.
Daijobu desu ka? – Are you alright?
Engawa – veranda (deck) that runs the length of a traditional, Japanese home
Wakatta – I understand; understood
Betsuni – It's nothing.
Yame – stop
"Cue-cue" – Hee-hee. This was mentioned in Chp. 1 as well. It's my silly made-up nickname for
Q-san that Sora calls her all the time. Who knows where it comes from; I just thought it would be cute and fitting for his character.