"Oh, so she's married and has a son now. So what?"
Yako's mouth fell slightly open at the blatant disinterest from the woman's parents. Talking to people about their estranged relatives was always jarring, no matter how often she did it in her line of work. "I was hoping you might know where she was. We found her son during a case and since her husband is currently unreachable, we wanted to speak with her."
Nakamoto-san snorted. "Haven't heard a peep from Megumi since she left home six years ago. A disappointment, that one was. Pretty as anything, but wouldn't go to a single marriage interview. She thought her face would let her get off the hook for anything, the ungrateful wretch."
"Not that her sister was any better," his wife chimed in.
"So you don't know where she is," Yako concluded.
Three's grandfather kept talking: "– guess it didn't help her all that much, though, if she ended up in Igarashi Memorial."
"Wait, Igarashi Memorial Hospital?"
"That's the one. We got a message on our answering machine from them about her being there, since her emergency contact wasn't picking up."
"When was this?"
"Dunno, a couple weeks ago, maybe? Middle of the month."
At the hospital's front desk Yako asked for the woman's room number and was told that there was no one by that name currently in the hospital. "Was she released? I've been looking after her son and have no way to get in contact with her."
The secretary scrolled down her list of patients and then, expression shifting toward sympathy, she began: "She was checked into this hospital until August 14th, when she passed away. I'm sorry for your loss."
"O-oh. I had no idea." If Three's mother had been deceased for just over two weeks, then she hadn't been the person who left Three in the park. It was a relief that she wasn't responsible for that, but on the other hand, who did do it? His currently missing father?
"Her sister should have the funeral details, if you're interested. She visited twice, once on the day of the accident and then once later on, though from what she said when she came in, I think they hadn't seen each other in a while before then."
Her sister had been here? "Did she have to sign in? Do you have any contact info for her?" Maybe she could adopt Three if his father didn't reappear. Three would probably be happier there than with his maternal grandparents, and his father didn't seem to have any living family.
There was, in fact, contact information left by the sister, and Yako left a message on Neuro's voicemail with an update on the situation before heading over to Nakamoto Chizue's apartment building.
When she answered the door, Nakamoto looked shocked. "Katsuragi Yako? How can I help you? Last I read in the papers, you were in India."
"Yes, I just got back. I'm afraid I'm here about a serious matter, Nakamoto-san."
Her expression changed. "I see. Please come in. We weren't very close these past few years, but I can tell you about the funeral preparations." Yako adjusted Three on her hip and followed Nakamoto to the small kitchen table. "Forgive me for not writing it down for you; I cut myself preparing dinner the other day." She held up a bandaged hand.
"No, don't worry about it."
"Can I make you some tea?"
"Please don't trouble yourself."
"What about a glass of water?"
Yako relented. "That would be fine, thank you." She spotted sweets in a basket on the counter and hoped that Nakamoto might offer some. Nakamoto sat down with a tray that held two glasses, but no sweets, and Yako bit her tongue to keep from asking as she gulped her water gratefully.
"I'm sorry to hear about your sister," Yako started.
"Thank you. It's been such a shock. I always assumed that we'd drift back into each other's lives." Looking fixedly at the table, she continued, "I understand why she left home, those years ago. Mom and Dad put more pressure on her, as the oldest child, to get married to someone rich and support them. They've never been particularly loving." There was more there, but Yako didn't need to press with questions she could already guess the answer to.
"Do you know where her husband is? He took a leave of absence in July and hasn't been at work since."
"I can't say that I do." Nakamoto coughed and moved to lift her own cup from the tray.
The moment that her hand touched the glass, Three issued the loudest shriek that Yako had ever heard from a living creature. Nakamoto dropped the glass and it spilled across the table.
"What's wrong?" Yako asked him, rubbing his hands comfortingly as he squirmed. Three growled and Nakamoto's hand twitched.
"Perhaps he's tired?" The woman suggested, using napkins to wipe up the water.
"He's never acted like this."
"Is that so?" Nakamoto's voice was pitched oddly, and Yako paused as the thing that had been itching at the back of her mind came to the forefront.
She wrapped her arms around Three. "Nakamoto-san, why didn't you ask me why I was holding your nephew when I came in?" She met the other woman's gaze, her stomach knotting. How had she missed that until now? Part of the reason Yako had decided to come over was to place Three in his aunt's care.
"Megumi's son? This boy? I had no idea." Nakamoto squinted over her eyeglasses. "I don't see much resemblance. As I said, my sister and I weren't close, so it's reasonable that I wouldn't know him."
"No, it's not," Yako disagreed, standing up and taking a step back from the table. "The hospital said that you visited her twice while she was there. They wouldn't have let Three stay there unsupervised while his mother couldn't take care of him, they would have handed him to the police or child services. The hospital called you and you came and then he stayed with you, didn't he?"
"I never saw him. She was awake when I got there, so she could have passed him off to a babysitter."
"Three was there when she got in the car accident. The ambulance would have had to take him with them when they brought his mother to the hospital. If you visited her on the first day, then you had to have seen him."
"I told you I didn't."
"If I asked the medical staff, would they say the same thing?"
"No one working there would remember one visitor who visited one patient on one particular day. It's a busy place. You can't prove that I've seen him."
"Not without the sign-in record, that is," Neuro corrected, and Nakamoto did a double take at the demon climbing in her kitchen window. "You see, they might remember that they called her husband, then her parents, and then you. Since none of her other contacts came into the hospital, you would be the most likely caregiver for her baby. Then looking closer, one would see that there are no other people signed in for that woman's room during the time she stayed there, which leaves you as the only option, since there is no record of them bringing the child anywhere else."
"What are you doing here?" Yako asked.
"This is the fourteenth floor," Nakamoto gasped as Neuro closed the window.
"My own investigation suggested that Three's father was not responsible for the imp's current situation. After listening to your message, I deduced who the would-be murderer must be. It looks like I arrived just in time; the mystery is on the tip of my tongue."
Nakamoto stiffened. "I don't know what you're talking about!"
"If we tell our suspicions to the police, they can get permission to view the security data from the hospital. Whoever walked out that door with Three will have been captured on their cameras."
"Well, well fine then, better prison that putting up with that monster," Nakamoto burst out, pointing an accusing finger at Three. "You want to know about this kid? I thought he was normal, so yeah, I took him in for Megumi." Her criminal transformation began, skin turning green and cracking. "I got all his paperwork from her house with the safe combination that she gave me, and I tried to take care of him, I tried so hard, but I realized that there was something not right about him. He's vicious. He tore through furniture like it was nothing more than chew toys, hauled himself up fourteen flights of stairs like it was light exercise, and slept for less time than I did." Webbing started to grow between the fingers of her outstretched hand. Her mouth elongated and came to a sharp point, merging with her nose to form a beak. "This is not a one-year-old. This is an abomination.
"I took him out to the park yesterday, because he's always better-behaved outdoors. He snapped one of the metal bars on the playground and he wouldn't eat anything I brought and then I noticed that there was no one else around." The top of her head shifted flat, then concave, and Nakamoto poured the remainder of her water into the cavity, looking every bit like a tall kappa, creatures known in stories for drowning humans. "Megumi was dead, her husband was probably dead, and she said they didn't have any friends, so no one would miss their baby if he disappeared." She chuckled darkly. "If only it were that easy. The minute I got his head under the water he fought back with that unnatural strength. Bit my hand and almost broke a bone. After a few minutes I gave up and left him in the pond. Either nature would finish the job for me, or someone else would pick him up. Either way, I wouldn't have to see him ever again. I even burned his paperwork and trashed the baby toys in a public garbage can. But then, barely a day later, the great Katsuragi Yako knocks on my door with the brat on her hip like it's perfectly normal to be toting around a stranger's baby! He doesn't even have a single bruise from where I held him down."
At this point Neuro stepped forward, seeming to fill the whole space between Yako and Nakamoto. "Itadakimasu." It felt like the air was being sucked out of the room, and Yako had to keep a mesmerized Three from crawling towards Neuro.
Neuro finished feeding and the woman collapsed. He'd apparently called the police before revealing himself, and when they showed up Todoroki immediately spotted Three crawling around the apartment and gave Yako a look. Yako smiled sheepishly and escaped with Neuro and Three once she'd given the officers her testimony.
"So what happened with Godai's lead on the gate?"
"It seems there are only three and a half demons in the city."
Yako's eyebrows shot up. "You mean –"
"The demon that opened the gate and the demon that had a hand in the imp's creation were one and the same. As I suspected." He kept walking even after Yako skidded to a halt.
"What do you mean, 'as I suspected'? You didn't mention this to me at all."
He turned around with a condescending look. "You didn't guess? And you call yourself a detective."
"Fine then, oh great Neuro-sama, reveal your deduction." She jogged to catch up.
"Three's father killed Kanemoto and Fujino and was seen afterward by Godai's contact, which is why the demon he described was covered in blood and why only some of the blood was burning off – some of it was his, and the rest was the humans'. The two attackers had moved locations, likely in order to keep themselves anonymous, but the gate-maker tracked them down and you can imagine how the scene played out. However, he was not a strong demon, as demons go; he likely fled to Hell in order to replenish his strength and heal his injuries, and he used up a great deal of energy doing so. Given the description of his extensive wounds from Kagome himself, I would estimate that there's only a 3% chance he survived. Not impossible, to be sure, but I do not believe he will be back on Earth for some decades, if at all."
"Poor Three." Yako knew the sorrow of losing a parent, but to lose both so young was all the more tragic.
"He will grow into a fine demon even without his birth parents. At one year, he's already fearlessly thwarted an attempt on his life. His skills can only improve from here." That was an odd way of putting it, but very Neuro-like. "Those foster families will have their hands full. A child of Hell is different than a human, strong and wild. It takes years to grow out of it and to learn control."
Yako thought about how strong and wild the adults of their species were and shivered at the idea that Neuro was considered controlled by his people. "Ugh. I wouldn't want to inflict a baby you on anyone."
"Do you have an alternative plan?"
Yako took a few minutes to seriously turn over that thought in her mind. "Well the ideal would be to give him to someone who knows about demons. That would help with the whole strength problem and demon-proofing the house. But it would also probably be better to have some human influences too, since he's half human and living on Earth. Three probably doesn't have all the power that full demons have, which could lead to a problem with bullies if he went back to Hell. The best combination would probably be –" She cut herself off, realization striking as her mind caught up with her mouth. "– a combination of human and demon parents," she finished, sighing. "Crud. We're pretty limited with our choices of humans who know about demons and of demons who live on Earth."
Yako knew what had to be done, and she already had an inkling of how daunting her task would be. The logical side of her was warning her that she was about to do something rash. Raising a child with Neuro? The past twenty-four hours proved that Yako was woefully unprepared to be a parent. All of the knowledge that human parents should have under their belt, like feeding and sleeping schedules, how to identify signs of illness, how to potty train, how to recognize important developmental markers, and so on, were all currently missing from Yako's intellectual repertoire. Plus, she didn't think that Neuro had ever been a parent either. The whole idea was pure madness.
On the other hand, though, Yako had unique insight into areas such as making the apartment safer from demon temper tantrums, dealing with uncannily silent movement and wall crawling, and handling unwelcome pranks. After her time working with Neuro, she was also pretty handy with a fire extinguisher and knew exactly how to deal with a wide variety of hazardous materials. And if Three ever got too strong for her to safely stop, Neuro was still around to do it for her. Neuro would have insight into his demonic nature, and Yako would be familiar with his human one.
Furthermore, she'd already gotten sort of attached to Three and she'd hate to see him end up in a home where no one understood him. A half demon with no guidance from his brethren might end up in a bad place mentally and physically, especially if his needs weren't being met by the foster family. A balance of human and demon support would give Three his best chance at growing up healthily.
Three decided to squeeze her arm as she took a breath to speak. "Ow! Three, stop it!" That was going to leave a bruise. Then, turning to her partner, she said in one quick breath, "Neuro, would you be okay with joining me if I decided to take care of him?"
There was a long moment where she thought he was going to say no because it would be too much trouble, but then he grinned. "How could I say no to another slave? This one will be infinitely superior to the rest of the humans on the planet, and I will have the opportunity to train him myself."
Gods, this was a huge life change, not something that should be decided in the span of five minutes, but it felt right. She may not be equipped to be the parent of a human, but no other human was prepared to be the parent of a demon.
"Neuro, if we do this, there are a couple of things we have to agree on right now." He gave her a look that dared her to order him around. With a cautious step back, she continued, "First, I should probably be the officially documented parent in case you have to go back to Hell someday." He nodded, consenting to the logical point. "Second, no torture until he's old enough to retaliate." There was no nod, and she waited for a response.
"Of course, Yako," Neuro replied in his totally-lying voice.
Yako let it go for now. "Third, while I realize he's going to be dragged along on our cases during his formative years, he is allowed to join extracurricular activities and have a normal life, if that's what he wants."
"He should develop many kinds of skills that will be good for crushing his enemies," her partner agreed.
Neuro split off for the office when Yako decided to stop at the convenience store with Three. She called up her mom at work while dropping off the groceries and told her the news.
Haruka laughed in response, apparently unsurprised. "If that's what you want, then we're going to need to have a long talk tonight. We could also start to work out the adoption process together – it's going to take some time before you get approval. Is seven o'clock okay to come home? I'm ordering takeout."
"Yeah, seven's fine. I'll call you if I run into a case."
Her mom was unruffled about the whole thing, and Yako thought about everyone else's reactions to hearing that she was adopting a one-year-old. It had been a slow news week, so the papers would probably speculate loudly about why Yako had suddenly decided to become a single parent. Kanae would be initially shocked but then roll her eyes and tell Yako to get married already. Godai would be absolutely pissed when he learned that there was going to be another demon floating around, but he'd still probably babysit in an emergency. "Oh!" She gasped. "Akane, I forgot to ask. Are you okay with this? Since you're living with me too, I should have talked to you first."
\It won't be ordinary, to be sure, but I have faith in you, Yako-chan (*•̀ᴗ•́*)و ̑̑/
Yako's shoulders sagged in relief. "Thanks. As long as Neuro doesn't encourage his demon traits too much, I think the kid will manage to be halfway normal." She should start making a list of rules now.
\Hn. I'm betting he'll pick up Neuro's curiosity and affinity for mischief/
"Frankly, that's a terrifying thought."
\But I believe the baby will learn your compassion too/ Akane added.
She smiled. "Thank you. I can certainly hope."
There were no clients when Yako, Akane, and Three got back to the office, so Yako flopped onto the couch with her soon-to-be-son. He gurgled pleasantly.
"You're pretty cute, Three." Then she looked over at the room's other occupants and spoke up. "We should give him a name. Nakamoto-san said she burned his birth certificate, so we don't know what his parents named him, but I don't really want Nakamoto-san to decide what he's going to be called for the rest of his life."
\Will he be a Katsuragi, or are you going to leave his family name as it is?/
"That's a good question, Akane. Hmm… I think we should leave it until he's old enough to make the decision himself. I don't want him to feel like we've kept knowledge of his birth family from him."
\Okay. What about a first name?/
"I don't know, but we're not permanently calling him Slave #3. Do you have any ideas?"
She'd been talking to Akane, but it was Neuro who answered. "Karma," he suggested from the ceiling. Yako stared up at him, but he didn't look like he was joking. She thought of India again and how they really would have to go back there at this rate.
\Why?/Akane asked for both girls.
Neuro smiled sharply, and his answer was as simple as it was in line with his way of thinking: "Because any fool who tries to pull one over on my protégé will get what's coming to them."
Well, Yako had no doubt he was right about that.
"It's got a nice sound to it," she admitted. Yako ruffled the baby's hair. "Welcome home, Akabane Karma."
Hope you liked it! I have bits and pieces of other stories for this crossover series, but it may be a while before anything gets posted.