One year passed by in the blink of an eye... But I finally managed to upload part 2 of Accidental Parenting!
Halfway through it, I realized it was gonna be huge so there will be a third (and final) part to complete it.
Thank you for the reviews and the favorites! That made me so happy!
Disclaimer: I do not own Yu-Gi-Oh! GX.
Perhaps for the first time in her life, Asuka actually cooked a decent full meal for breakfast on a Monday morning. In order to do so, she woke up earlier than usual, but thanks to the fatigue that had built up yesterday, she luckily enjoyed a completely restful sleep.
She briefly wondered whether Judai and Emma were as lucky, especially her friend who had worried about being kicked in his (well deserved) sleep. The door to her guest room remained closed the whole time she spent getting ready for her day, and she did not dare to check on them, for fear of waking them.
While she was making sure Judai and Emma would find their meal ready when they woke up by putting the carefully wrapped dishes on the table, she had time to reflect on the events that occured last night. Thinking back on it, she might have overreacted. Emma is a kid, so it had been to be expected that she would throw a tantrum at one point. Not to mention, she might do it again.
Now putting on her coat before stepping out of her apartment, Asuka steels her resolve.
We just have to make sure she feels safe enough until her parents wake up, she reassures herself as she walks into the stairwell, after closing the front door behind her. Easier said than done, but Emma's well-being should be their priority. Ultimately forgiving herself for the weakness she displayed last night, Asuka manages to convince herself that it is only part of the process of her learning to be a responsible adult.
Still, it felt nice that she could rely on Judai.
Her heart beats slightly faster at the memory of him gently comforting a crying Emma, so naturally, as if he were used to it. Asuka hates to depend on someone else; that's partly why she decided to settle down on her own in America, away from home, where she could prove herself that she can take care of herself.
But, right now, the responsibility has extended to a little girl whose life is in their hands. And if she were completely honest, Asuka likes that she shares that responsibility with Judai.
He's dependable and he chose her. Meaning he wants to rely on her, too.
Maybe she should feel more pressured about it, but she only thinks it's something she'd gladly do.
Because we're together, she thinks, recalling their hands clasping tightly together last night, when it was quiet and the other's presence felt equally comforting for both of them.
A clicking noise coming from behind draws her attention. Asuka turns around, only to find Emma standing in the doorway.
"Emma?" She gasps, before going back on her steps to stand before her. "Don't go out in your pajamas, it's cold here," she worries, holding her shoulders to lead her back inside. "Where is Judai?"
The girl rubs her eyes with her hands, not putting up a fight and lazily walking back into her apartment entrance. "In the bathroom," she speaks with a dull voice, indicating to Asuka that she has just woken up.
She then turns around to face Asuka. "Did you need something?" The woman asks but she shakes her head.
Her lips remain sealed, leaving Asuka wondering what's gotten into her. She really hopes she is not about to ask about her parents again, because there is still no answer to give her.
But, oh well. She has just come to the conclusion that she has to take better care of her now, hasn't she? Mimicking Judai's behavior from yesterday, she kneels down in front of her and attempts to give her the most reassuring smile she can. "What is it?"
Words are still not escaping Emma's lips. The girl just stares rather intently at her, looking like she cannot speak what's on her mind. Despite the time's ticking possibly leading her to be late for work, Asuka keeps her composure and patiently waits.
She tilts her head and her eyebrows slightly go up. "Hm?" She gently urges her.
Finally, Emma loses her patience and throws her arms around her neck. "Sorry-about-yesterday!" She shouts in one-go.
Emma hugs her so tightly it becomes hard to breathe, so she gently pats her back until the girl loosens her grip. She eventually pulls back and Asuka is surprised to see her cheeks tinted pink.
Asuka's hand moves from her back to her head to give her another gentle pat. "What are you apologizing for?"
"Screaming at you," Emma replies more distinctly this time.
"But I wasn't mad at you."
"But Daddy said…" Her voice trails off and Asuka raises an eyebrow.
"Judai?" When Emma nods, understanding finally sinks in. Emma's timid behavior and tiny voice make sense all of a sudden, and Asuka finds herself unable to keep carrying the same gentleness in her voice when she says, "He scolded you?"
Did he? Did he really scold the poor girl? Granted, her outburst had been uncalled for, but she needed to let out her feelings. Of course, it was better that she expressed them rather than keep them locked inside—
No, wait. Is that even the point? Judai scolded a child? Why? Did he overthink stuff as well and find that he ought to act like an adult and lecture Emma? Or was he actually mad at her? Why? No, he wouldn't be, since there is no reason for him to. Why would he?
Too many confusing thoughts are going through Asuka's head, and she almost misses Emma's voice speaking again. "Daddy said it's not nice to scream at people when you're… Huh… Hrm." She frowns, looking like she's having a hard time recalling his words. "When you're…"
"Upset?" Asuka offers and the girl beams at her.
"Yes! That's what he said!"
Asuka sighs. Despite a sudden urge to have a talk with Judai about managing a child's education forming in the back of her mind, her first reaction is to prioritize the girl's feelings. "Well, Judai has a point. It's not right to lash out at people when you're feeling upset," she starts and Emma shows her a small face, "But," she adds and the girl perks up, "I understand why you felt that way, and you should know that I was worried about you, rather than mad." Her hand finds the top of her head once again, and she ruffles her hair affectionately. "Are you feeling better now?"
With watery eyes, Emma swiftly nods before squishing her small frame to Asuka's body. "Mommy!" She chokes out.
Not meaning to bring back the girl's tears, Asuka cradles her in her arms. "There, there." She chuckles when Emma nuzzles against her neck, seeking comfort.
The door to her bathroom opens on Judai who finds them embracing. He blinks when his eyes meet Asuka's.
"Everything's alright?" He asks, more confused than concerned.
"Yes," Asuka tells him, gently breaking away from Emma's hug in order to stand up on her feet.
Holding Emma's hand, she walks up to Judai who is still staring at them, probably wondering whether he missed something. He doesn't have to ask, because she answers already, sounding quite amused, "That is usually what happens when you scold a child."
Judai's eyes widen for a second, looking utterly outraged. "I didn't!" Then he adds, muttering, while looking away, "Only told her it was not fair to scream at you."
Looking at his pouting face, her resolve crumbles and she no longer finds it in herself to scold him. After all, he did this for her, her treacherous heart reasons.
(The fact that she is impossibly late for work might be helping too.)
"I see," she simply says, taking great delight in witnessing the fainted pink dusting Judai's embarrassed face. She still decides to cut him some slack in the end, "I have to go. Do you remember what I told you yesterday?"
He looks back at her, serious again. He nods. "Yeah."
"Great. Then, I'll see you two tonight." Asuka smiles down at Emma, who is still holding onto her hand. "Be good and listen to what Judai says, okay?"
"Do you really trust a stranger to take care of the child?"
Amused by how hard Yubel tries to sound as detached as possible even when they are obviously displaying concern, Judai rolls his eyes. "What, you took a liking to Emma or something?" The teasing renders Yubel silent, and they now shoot daggers at him, making Judai laugh. "It's fine, there's nothing to worry about!"
After their dinner together yesterday, Asuka gave him instructions. Since she would have to go to work early, they needed someone to watch over Emma while Judai would check on her parents in the morning. Fubuki is (supposedly) busy with work, so they both agreed to discard that option (very gladly so, since neither he nor Asuka felt like putting up with him).
Asuka texted then her neighbor, Nick's daughter, who helpfully offered to watch over Emma for as long as they needed her to. See, that's why it's important to entertain good relationships with your neighborhood, Asuka told him, suddenly switching to her teacher mode, to Judai's great amusement who played along and told her she was right in mock seriousness. (She might have scolded him for making fun of her and he might have thought her scowl was endearing as he laughed wholeheartedly.)
"I am merely trying to prevent yet another disaster from occurring. You tend to become particularly annoying when you're worried about that brat."
"Sure thing, pal. Sure thing."
Ignoring Yubel's glower, Judai knocks on the bathroom door. "Emma? You done?"
"Yes!" The high-pitched voice shouts over the sound of running water. "But I can't find the towel!"
When Judai opens the door, Emma yelps, standing on her toes before the sink as she washes her hands. "Daddy!"
The frown on her expression looks very familiar and for some reason, he easily guesses he is about to be scolded. "You can't enter the bathroom when someone's inside!"
"But you said you were done?" Judai counters with a raised eyebrow, as he opens a drawer to retrieve a clean towel.
Emma shakes her head, before grabbing the white cloth he hands her. "It is not proper," she says with a dignified air she tries a bit too hard to pull.
Judai blinks, finally seeing where that sense of familiarity comes from. And then, he has to stifle his laugh as he asks, "Are you trying to imitate Asuka?"
The redness of Emma's cheeks is enough of an answer. "No!" Drying her hands with the towel, she mumbles under her breath, "Am not."
"Hey, but that was a good impression, you know."
Emma perks up, a hopeful smile quickly replacing her pouting face. "Really?" A bright smile lights up her whole face at Judai's nod. "Mommy is super smart, she is a teacher and she knows lots of stuff."
Following her out of the bathroom, he doesn't comment on her praising words. To tell the truth, he is quite surprised. Less than one day ago, Emma was complaining about Asuka being too strict, and before he knows it, she now regards her as a role model. When did she change her mind?
There's a mix of longing and admiration in her voice when she adds, "And she's pretty... So pretty!"
Again, Judai remains silent. Despite his supportive nature, he is not one to pay too many compliments to his friends. There was once a time where he would live his life so wildly that there was never an occasion for him to stop and think about what's characteristic of them. Growing up, he has learned to develop his sensitivity and grasp a better understanding of his surroundings.
Thus, he has come to realize a few things about Asuka he's failed to notice until now, insignificant details that he should take no notice of but he does anyways. Just like he did yesterday night, when Asuka's embarrassment after being teased induced a weirdly warm feeling in the pit of his stomach, or even earlier, when her voice failed her and she started mumbling just because he played with her scarf.
Come to think of it, Asuka's tendency to react strongly to teasing was never foreign to him; he vaguely recalls her flushed face in response to a few jokes he threw her way back then in Duel Academia. He used to hardly pay attention, but now her reactions appear in such an obvious way to him that he sometimes feels overwhelmed.
He's becoming more aware of her.
As much as he notices things about her, there is still much he doesn't understand. For now, he stops at simple observations : Asuka is easily embarrassed, Asuka is strong-minded, Asuka is caring...
Smart and pretty... That, too, does sound like Asuka.
There are so many sides to her. But, he can't help but think, there is more to understand about this than simply pointing out her qualities. And then, just like everytime he tries to look deeper into it, there is this weird feeling growing in the pit of his stomach.
Must be the carrots he ate yesterday.
Emma interrupts his train of thoughts by tugging on his sleeve. He looks down at her. "Are we going to see Zoe now?"
Judai is thankful Emma is a sociable child. Were it not for her outgoing nature, she wouldn't be able to bear to meet so many new people at the cost of so many partings in such a short span of days. Even if it is only for a few hours, he feels bad for leaving her to Asuka's neighbor.
But as far as things go, Emma is a ray of sunshine so a smile comes easily to Judai. "Yeah. Don't forget you promised Asuka you'll behave."
"I will!" She assures him, sounding excited enough to quell Judai's worries to leave her in someone else's care. Not quite able to stand still for more than a few seconds, Emma sprints to the front door. "Hurry up, Daddy! I wanna meet Mommy's friend!"
He chuckles, coming to open the door for her. "You sound so excited."
"Yeah! I hope she's just like Mommy!" Judai smiles at those words; the deep affection the girl harbors for his friend feels gratifying to him.
When he closes the front door to Asuka's apartment, there's a strange sensation seizing his heart as he turns around to find himself in front of Zoe's front door.
It was… so simple.
It took only one step to cross the space between the two households. One fleeting moment from leaving Asuka's home to reaching her neighbor's.
There's close to nothing separating them. The feeling is unfamiliar, not like anything he knows. Not when he spends most of his time traveling around the world.
As he raises his hand to knock on Zoe's door, Judai is suddenly overwhelmed by his awareness of the close proximity between the two apartments, in contrast to the infinity driving him away from Asuka.
The words escape him in a mutter, "Must be nice getting to see her everyday."
Failing to catch what he mumbled, Emma looks up at his face. "Hm? What did you say?"
"Oh." His eyes are on her and a smile that does not reach his ears is plastered on his face. "Hum, nothing."
He can feel it.
Yubel's plain surprise. A genuine astonishment that comes so quickly that it leaves no room for anything else. No jealousy or possessiveness about to ruin the harmony between the two soulmates, like it once happened in the past.
But then, Judai can feel them: the questions going through Yubel's mind, reaching his very core, after he voiced out loud an unexpected truth. At the same time, his hearing is getting floored by the loud sound of his own pulse.
With all his senses going rampage, Judai focuses on the door before him, and knocks once.
He can feel all those things. But then, again, the meaning of them all eludes him.
Swallowing his confused heart, he knocks a second time.
Did Emma behave under Zoe's care? Was she okay to be left with a stranger? Did Judai take too long to return to her? Did her parents wake up? Did she properly eat her lunch? Is Judai managing to look after her just fine on his own? Did they come up with something to do all day in her absence? Are they not wreaking havoc in her place?
Those are the worries plaguing Asuka's mind during her lunch break. When another worrisome question pops into her head, she decides she has enough and grabs her cellphone.
Judai answers on the third ring. "Asuka?"
"Hello," she says, before realizing she does not really know what to say. "I…" She clears her throat. "I just wanted to check if everything's alright."
There is a pause on Judai's part. "Oh," he sounds a bit taken aback, but his joviality naturally comes back. "Yeah, everything's fine! Emma had lots of fun at Zoe's."
Emma's voice can be heard from afar, but gradually becomes louder as, Asuka guesses, she steps closer to Judai. "Who are you talking to?"
"Asuka. Wanna talk to her?"
Asuka listens as Emma gasps and seemingly snatches the phone from Judai's hand. "Hello Mommy!"
Chuckling at the girl's antics, she speaks more collectedly, "Emma, it is rude not to answer someone's question."
A quiet Sorry is whispered to Judai before she speaks loudly in Asuka's ear: "I kept my promise, Zoe said I was good!"
"Were you? I am glad to hear that. Judai said you had fun."
"Yeah! I played with Zoe and Gramps!"
There is a shuffling sound at the other end of the phone line. She must have been put on speakers, because Judai's voice echoes in the air when he answers, "She's talking about that old man you've been looking after."
Asuka blinks. "Nick was there?" Now, she can only imagine the utter chaos Zoe's place was plunged into. She might want to bake a cake to go with her apology next time she visits her poor neighbor who had to deal with a grumpy old man and a hyperactive child (she has yet to decide whether said child's identity refers to Emma or Judai).
Emma hums enthusiastically. "Emma and Daddy dueled against Gramps and Zoe! And we won! We won, Mommy!"
"They were pretty strong," Judai adds, just as keen but less childish. "Their Darklord decks were so cool! Right?"
"Yeah! But we were cooler!"
"You bet we were!"
Asuka laughs lightheartedly at the conversation. After all, she might have been overreacting and her worries were truly unneeded. "I am glad you enjoyed yourselves. I'm sure even Nick had a good time with you two."
"Gramps said you must come, too, next time!" Much to her surprise, Asuka finds herself wishing for a next time. Though she is well aware that Emma's presence in her daily life is temporary, her heart still warms up at the idea of sharing those precious times with her and Judai.
"He also said that he feels for you, because we are, I quote, a pain in his beep aching backside," Judai says in a rather monotonous voice that hardly hides his amusement.
"Did you just… say "beep" out loud?"
"Language, Asuka," he emphasizes, in mock seriousness. "A child is listening!"
Silly, she laughs to herself. She would have actually said it, but the idea of playing along is more appealing, if only for the sake of Emma's education. "You are absolutely right. Emma, don't pay too much attention to all the things Nick says."
"But he said something nice!"
"Hm? Did he compliment you?" Nick is a rather austere man, but she would not be surprised that he warmed up to Emma, just like he did to her. For some reason, the man is quite sweet to Asuka.
"Nope! He talked about you!"
"Me?" She hears snickering in the background. "Judai," she warns.
"What?" She can hear his mischievous smile in his voice so she braces herself for his next words: "Don't you wanna hear what the old man has to say about, I quote again, Japan's most precious gem?"
Oh my God, Asuka's mind screams in anguish, this is the last time I'm helping that ungrateful geezer! Did Nick pick up his line from Johan or something? That would explain why Judai even paid attention at all to those words!
Ah, she painfully recalls, he just loves teasing the heck out of her.
"... Like I said, don't pay attention to him."
Judai is the first to react and of course, he laughs his heart out. "You're embarrassed!"
It does not take too long for Emma to join him. "Mommy is shy!"
"Quit it, you two!" She barks, but to no avail. At the very least, she is thankful for being at university, thus saving her from the embarrassment of displaying her red face to them both.
The guffawing not stopping, she sighs deeply. Will she muster enough patience to last for the remaining time of Emma's stay? She is starting to seriously doubt it.
Emma's loud laugh comes to an end when she suddenly gasps, "It's Uncle Fubuki!"
The horror in Asuka's voice only contributes to aggrave Judai's fit of laughter. "He's not here, we're just watching his show on TV," he explains between two poorly controlled sobs. Is he actually crying from laughing too hard at her? "You just sounded so terrified!"
"No, I didn't!" She huffs. Of course, she did! It is bad enough that Judai and Emma teamed up against her. To have her brother of all people join in the teasing would downright ruin her entire day.
Momentarily wallowing in her misery, she is surprised when Judai's voice is speaking again in her ear. Emma's voice is back to the noise in the background. "Did you eat already?" He sounds slightly breathless (the consequences of his cruel mocking) but at least he is not laughing anymore.
She thinks it is quite ironic that she finds herself on the receiving end of one of those questions she had meant to ask upon calling them. Wasn't she supposed to look after her guests? "Yes, I did. Did you? I hope you didn't feed Emma junk food."
"Nah, Zoe insisted we had lunch with her and Nick." Ah, well, the thank-you-and-I-am-sorry-you-had-to-deal-with-my-kids cake will have a neat topping. "It was nice. Like Emma said, too bad you missed it."
"It's fine, I'll join you two for dinner at least."
"Yeah? You think you'll make it before Emma goes to bed?"
"Yes, I don't think I will work overtime tonight." She then recalls it's Monday and recent renovation work on the road has been resulting in terrible traffic jam. "But in case I'm late, just go ahead and eat without me."
There is a pause on Judai's end, long enough for Asuka to wonder whether he's still listening. "We'll be waiting for you," he eventually tells her and the gentleness in his voice takes her aback. Is he still out of breath from his earlier fit or did he just deliberately whisper?
Asuka's throat tightens. "Okay," she chokes back. Her mind blanks, losing its grip on all the questions she meant to ask when she grabbed her phone. Her brain automatically rounds up her next words, "Then, I'll go back to work. See you later."
Seconds after the call ends, she is still staring at her phone screen, blinking blanky at it. Then, coming in a swift blow, the quivering of her heartbeats brings her back to reality.
What was that?
Before she can process what has just happened, a coworker of hers who is sitting nearby calls her out, "It's tough balancing your family life with work, eh?" The woman shoots her a friendly smile, as if Asuka could relate to such a statement. Too stunned to clear up the misunderstanding, she simply nods with a stiff smile.
A family, huh?
To Asuka, family is her parents. Family is Fubuki. Family is her Cyber Angels.
Where do Judai and Emma fit in there? Nowhere, since it's all a masquerade that Judai and she are playing for Emma's sake. The thoughts currently invading her mind are baseless so there shouldn't be anything to get herself so worked up.
But her mind replays the conversation she just had with Emma and Judai, bringing along with it a feeling of casual domesticity. She cannot shake off the cozy sensation coming from the fluttering of her chest, after listening to the sweet girl happily reporting her day, and most of all, Judai asking her whether she will be home for dinner.
It's all fake, yet against her better judgment, it's starting to feel real to Asuka.
By midafternoon, when time is supposed to slow down as he usually feels his laziness guiding him to lay down on Asuka's couch for a nap, Judai finds himself facing a dilemma.
Standing in the middle of the kitchen while Emma is still watching TV in the living room, he stares cluelessly at the counter, on top of which a few ingredients are lying.
Is he really about to do this?
Emma is not paying attention to him at the moment. But that is because she grew tired of begging him to let her test the recipe from the cooking program they found themselves watching by randomly browsing channels after Fubuki's performance broadcast ended. He fears she is merely allowing herself a small break to catch her breath, before renewing her high-pitched pleas.
His ears are still ringing.
If only Asuka were here, she would know how to handle the girl's caprice… Judai has a harder time saying no to Emma.
The rational part of his brain clearly knows he should not, under any circumstance, let Emma turn Asuka's kitchen into a mess… Not to mention he never baked gingerbread cookies.
"I can't believe you're willing to risk your life just to satiate your hunger," Yubel's voice echoes in his mind. They hum dismissively before he can even answer. "Let me correct this : I do believe you're willing to risk your life just to satiate your hunger, because you're that stupid."
"Judai, for once, you shouldn't listen to your stomach," Daitokuji adds in a helpful(?) manner. "Asuka wouldn't be too happy."
"You guys are not helping," he complains. "For one thing, Asuka wouldn't be that mad just because of a stain on her kitchen counter—" He knows she would. "—I think she would be rather happy that I properly took care of Emma!"
Yubel snorts. "You keep telling yourself that until she slices your throat open with that knife over here."
As a very detailed picture of Asuka going for his throat takes shape in his mind, a shudder runs down his back, while Daitokuji makes an offhand comment about Yubel's impressive ability to effortlessly come up with gory scenarios. Judai shakes off the terrifying image from his head. "Why are you bothering me now, anyway? Weren't you busy trying to scan Emma's soul or something?"
At this, Yubel lets out a resigned sigh. "Despite the odd way the young human seems to affect your brain, I found nothing out of the ordinary about hers."
"Kuri!" Winged-Kuriboh suddenly appears to agree with Yubel who glances at the little spirit and gives it a firm nod.
"Yes, little one, were I to fail to find out what it is about that girl that prompts Judai to speak such nonsense, you are to investigate on your own."
"Emma is just a normal human girl, and there's nothing wrong with my brain, thank you very much," Judai interjects as he witnesses Yubel and Winged-Kuriboh sealing their agreement with serious exchanged looks.
Granted, he shocked everyone with his earlier revelation, himself included. That may have sounded quite surprising, as he is still not quite over it. Yet, reflecting back on it, what's so unexpected about him wanting to see Asuka more often? As close friends in their school years, they used to spend a lot of time together. It's rather weird that he got used so fast to being on his own after graduation instead, isn't it? Back then, they casually hung out with everyone, and it made sense because they were friends and that is what friends do.
Okay, he said it would be nice to see her everyday.
Everyday as in seeing her face first thing in the morning, because he could not help but notice that it sets him in a good mood for the whole day.
Someone tell him, what's so strange about it, when they're such close friends that went through a lot together? (His heart starts beating slightly faster.) What's so weird about it, when he spends most of his time wandering around the world, seemingly contenting himself with his spirit friends as company? What's so startling about it, when he made the decision long ago not to get too involved with people because trouble seems to follow him everywhere? (He has a vague understanding that his thoughts are no longer making sense, but his heart beats so fast. It's so loud.)
What's so unbelievable about him wanting to see Asuka every single day, because he misses her when she is not by his side?
Judai can feel his face burning and he doesn't need to meet Yubel's insisting eyes to know there is something wrong about him, after all.
"Emma!" He suddenly blurts out, flustered and in desperate need of a distraction. The girl's head pops into his field of vision, showing him expectant eyes. "So, what'cha waiting for? Let's make those cookies!" He grins at her.
Emma gasps before jumping, elated with his change of mind. "I wanna make lots of them!" She shouts in excitation. "Like, a hundred!"
With his heart still wreaking havoc in his chest, Judai fails to reconnect with reality yet, and easily nods. "Alright, let's do this!"
Yubel wishes they could materialize themselves in a physical form and slap their forehead with their hand.
Judai's brain cells reconnect and reality catches up with him by the time the kitchen counter is covered with a mix of flour and sugar and a spilled forgotten bowl of melted butter begins to form a stain on its surface. Emma insisted she wanted to make chocolate chip cookies first, and a giant gingerbread cookie for Asuka then.
While Emma busies herself with shaping the cookie dough into balls as a first batch is already baking in the oven, he stares in horror at the mess they have made of Asuka's usually perfectly spotless kitchen.
Oh my God, Asuka is going to kill me, he thinks but he still makes a point to pretend he doesn't hear Yubel's sour I warned you.
Well, the harm has been done, so he might as well go all the way to the end. Stepping closer to Emma, his eyes flicker between his own batch of cookies and hers. "Hey, how did you manage to make them all the same size?"
Not breaking her gaze away from her work, Emma furrows her brows and pinches her lips, sticking out her tongue on the side in concentration. "'Followed the instructions," she offhandedly answers.
Judai's helpless stare returns to his poorly shaped cookies. "Well, I think I did too, but…"
"I'm done!" She shouts victoriously. As she puts one fist on her hip, she wipes the sweat off her forehead with her other hand, leaving a stain of flour in its place. "The second batch is ready!" She announces proudly before casting a glance at Judai's. At the sight of the uneven cookies, she scrunches her nose and looks up at him. "Daddy, your cookies are ugly."
"Hey, that's not nice!"
She suspiciously squints her eyes at him. "You've never baked cookies before, have you?" At Judai shaking his head, she gasps dramatically. "But you're an adult! Adults know about this stuff!"
"I'm trying my best, okay?" He sighs. "Alright, since my cookies are no good, let's move on to the gingerbread girl cookie!" Since he is an adult, he had things planned ahead and made sure the icing would be ready in the meantime. "Back to work!" He cheerfully adds (he can't deny he is having fun, even if it's his life on the line right now).
Matching his enthusiasm, Emma claps her hands. "I want it to look like Mommy!" She then looks around her, and bashfully adds, "To say sorry for the dirty kitchen. You think she'll be mad at us?"
He doesn't have the heart to tell the girl with puppy eyes that Asuka will be, indeed, very mad, so he smiles reassuringly. "Nah! Asuka is nice!" But his survival instinct kicks in, so he's quick to add, "But you have to promise to help me clean up before she gets back home, yeah?"
Feeling slightly more reassured, Judai goes and takes the first batch of cookies out of the oven, replacing it with the second one. On the way back to the counter, he seizes a clean cloth and wipes Emma's forehead. "You're gonna turn into a ghost with all that white powder on your face," he teases.
She laughs at his joke, while her hands work the big chunk of gingerbread dough. "Then, you'll use your superpowers to talk to me!"
For her safety, Judai is strongly opposed to letting her witness his powers firsthand. There is also a high chance that she becomes scared of him, were she to find herself face to face with actual Duel Monsters, so he is not risking it. But still, her innocence is endearing, so he allows himself to enjoy it for what it's worth.
Being used to traveling on his own, having to deal with unrealistic situations on a daily basis, he enjoys that little break in his stormy life. Funny, how the most singular experience in his life lately is to play house with a young girl.
Now, domestic life ain't half bad, isn't it?
Once the gingerbread cookie has baked and cooled, Emma excitedly points to it on the table, "Look, Daddy! Does this look like Mommy?" Judai looks down to the rough shape the biscuit has taken in the oven.
He hums pensively. "Well, I can't really tell until we use the icing to draw her…" Frowning as his focus leads him to tunnel vision on the plain cookie, he picks up the pastry brush dipped into a yellowish food coloring. "Asuka's hair is very long. It's eye-catching, right? So I'll draw it first," he informs the girl who follows his movements with her curious eyes.
A visual representation of her takes shape into his mind, as his hands work on the shape of Asuka's long blonde hair, so naturally he drags the brush on the cookie's surface to form her eyes, then her nose, then her ears, and the outline of her face.
His hand stills in the air. He takes one step back and gazes at the made-up Asuka, the illusion of her staring back at him.
"Daddy?" Emma calls out to him, since he has yet to form a single word since he's started working on the icing.
"Bring me the red coloring," he instructs the child who hurries to her feet.
"There!" Seizing a clean brush, he dips it into the red velvet. The movement drags on too long, because his eyes lose themselves in the deep color and his mind blanks on him.
Red reminds him of the warmth of his favorite Hero cards, of his freedom-driven reckless lifestyle, of the shabby Slifer Red dormitories back in Duel Academia, of the blood on his hands from his past mistakes.
But red… Red isn't Asuka's color, right?
He coughs to draw Emma's attention to him, and he smiles down at her. There is no warmth in his expression, but a distant meekness as he draws the line at how far his involvement with Asuka's life goes. It is so clearly visible to him that suddenly, he feels upset. "You wanna try to draw her lips? Y'gotta participate too."
Failing to notice the change in Judai's mood, Emma grins back at him. "Of course!"
One or two days from now, when Emma's parents wake up and life reverts back to normal, he'll walk out Asuka's door. She will greet Zoe and perhaps Nick in the morning when she comes across them in the hallway on her way to work in the morning ; she will spend her whole day in classrooms giving lessons to her students or helping out assistants to figure out their new agenda ; she will get mad, then fondly huff in exasperation when Fubuki calls her in the evening to ask about her day and to tease her a bit. So many constants that shall remain unchanged, while he will be worlds apart from her tiny apartment.
Judai hands Emma the brush leaking with red paint, drops of blood carelessly falling on the ground. His words outdistance his heart then, "The red's too deep. Was aiming for pink but I couldn't find the right mix."
Emma hums dismissively, focusing on the brush smearing the gingerbread cookie with paint too deep to match a rightful depiction of Asuka's lips, and Judai nods along as if she had just validated his point. His gaze rests upon the girl and he thinks that, with Emma's fleeting presence through his life, there are things that are inevitably ephemeral, no matter how much one can hope to make them last, even for a little while longer.
"Asuka never wears red lipstick," he says.
"I don't think she needs it!"
He chuckles darkly. There is a saying that goes Children and fools tell the truth, right? "Yeah, you're right."
When Judai's mood goes sour, he usually grabs his fishing rod and finds a tranquil spot. When fishing is not an option, which is currently the case with a child under his care, he naps.
Baking cookies and cleaning the kitchen turned out to be ordeals exhausting enough to bring Emma to agree to sleep on the couch with him.
He really needed the break, and closed his eyes to rest as soon as Emma fell asleep.
Truthfully, he half expected Yubel to nag him about the uncalled shift of his emotional state, but they remained quiet the whole time. Judai appreciates their respect for his privacy. They always know how to deal with him and his thoughts, better than he does himself, that's for sure.
That conclusion he came to before entering Zoe's place and Asuka's soft voice over the phone really messed up with his head. And as much as he hates to admit it, this is not yesterday's carrots' fault.
He's becoming greedy.
If Asuka noticed anything yet, she never made a comment about it. But really, how any more obvious can he be, when the last time he came to visit her was three weeks ago? Does someone who's supposedly traveling around the world to help people in need have so much free time on their hands?
Doesn't it bother her that each time he comes by, he takes more from her? Does she feel like she can't refuse him out of respect for their long-standing friendship? Asuka is loyal to a fault, and the more time alone they spend together, the more he feels like he's taking advantage of it.
He should know better than to be greedy. Many years ago, he learned it the hard way.
Judai feels like an idiot, so he naps. Sleep unfortunately is no remedy to anxiety, but it still keeps his worries at bay for a blissful moment.
It keeps his mind free from her.
But when he opens his eyes later in the evening, she is the first thing he sees.
"Judai, wake up," she calls softly. He is not sure whether he's dreaming or coming back to his senses, but the blurry silhouette leaning over him confirms the latter.
With his mind still foggy with drowsiness, he barely hears her when she speaks again, "How long have you been sleeping? Emma won't go to bed early now."
Judai tiredly blinks before sitting up. He looks down at the girl still asleep by his side. As he yawns and stretches out his arms, he asks Asuka, "What time is it?"
His eyes follow her as she carefully folds the unused blanket he took out before the nap. Always a neat freak. "It's almost twenty-one."
Judai's eyes go wide. Did he sleep that much? Fussing over his carelessness, he realizes with delay that Asuka is still wearing her coat. "Did you just come back?"
She looks at him again, then nods. "Yes. It has been a long day." There is no doubting her words, when her face looks quite tired but she still offers him a soft smile. "I called about an hour ago to let you know that I would be late, but you didn't pick up. Now I know why."
Smiling uneasily, he shrugs. "Sorry about that." Judai then turns to Emma and he gently shakes her to wake her up. "Got you worried?"
She doesn't give him a clear answer, but he understands all the same, "Well, you know me."
Yeah, I know you. "Hmm." Emma's body stirs and Judai watches over her emerging from her slumber with a fond smile. "So you haven't had dinner yet, right? So let's—" He pauses, his senses suddenly picking up something. "What's that smell?"
Asuka stifles her laughter in her hand. Confused, he stares quizzically at her glinting eyes. "Take Emma to wash her hands and bring her to the kitchen. I have a surprise for you two."
Blinking, Judai misses the timing to ask her what kind of surprise she had prepared for them, before Asuka walks back to the entrance to hang her coat on the rack. He looks back at Emma who is still lazily fighting whatever that has tried to wake her. "Alright sleepyhead, it's time to open your eyes."
He doesn't pick up her words when she mutters back, but he distinctly gets her firm refusal. "Asuka is back. Don't you have some homemade surprise to give her?"
"Mommy?" She absently inquires, and Judai has to try hard not to laugh at her face when her eyes grow big from delayed realization. "Mommy's back! I wanna give her the big cookie we made together!"
That's more like it! Judai grins at her. "First, we go wash our hands! Asuka's orders. And..." He raises one finger and Emma expectantly stares at it. "She says she also has a surprise for us!"
The child gasps. "A surprise?" She excitedly wags her fists and her voice gains a few decibels. "What kind of surprise?"
"We'll find out after we wash our hands," he laughs, as he gets up from the couch, watching Emma jumping to her feet to follow him suit.
Minutes later, Judai regrets ever telling the little girl about the surprise at all, because she has been spending the whole time trying to guess what is awaiting them in the kitchen. And no, she would not take I don't know what Asuka's surprise is, since it's a surprise! for an answer.
On their way to the kitchen, she asks in what may be her twentieth attempt, but Judai has long stopped counting, "A big surprise party with Bunny Bond and his friends?"
He sighs. "Where do you get all these ideas from?" He is pretty confident Asuka's plans do not involve any kind of party whatsoever, and given the mouth-watering smell coming from the kitchen, it might rather result in the three of them enjoying one of the best dinners they ever had.
Emma dashes to Asuka and tackles her with a bone-crushing hug. "Hi, Emma," the woman greets her with a smile, as she ruffles her hair.
Judai stops paying attention to the sweet reunion when Yubel addresses him, "It seems like your moping is about to come to an end."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"See for yourself," they answer. "I am quite surprised that you have not yet recognized the familiar smell."
Judai raises an eyebrow. What are they on about? And he was definitely not moping! After years, he has gotten used to Yubel's weird teasing, so he decides to simply ignore them and his gaze finally falls on the table.
Shock crosses his face.
He gapes at Asuka who is looking at him with an expectant smile ; she must have been waiting for his reaction the whole time.
"Burgers!" Emma shouts victoriously.
Judai's mouth won't close and his slack expression most probably makes him look stupid. "You went to Jack's?"
The table has already been set, with burgers, fries and drinks from Jack's neatly placed in front of three seats. Emma wastes no time in sitting in one of them. Asuka joins her and takes the burger out of its wrapper before placing it in the girl's tiny hands. "I did. Actually, I called earlier to ask about what you usually order. Since you didn't pick up, I went with random menus…" Her eyes are on him, staring back at his astonished gaze. "Hopefully, I got something you like."
Emma interjects her strong opinion, "Hmm! It's so good!", thus prompting Asuka to chuckle.
"I am glad to hear that, Emma. Enjoy your meal." She then looks at Judai who hasn't made a move yet. "Why don't you take a seat?" She teasingly urges him.
Judai's stunned expression eventually morphs into liveliness, breaking into an ear-to-ear grin that he can't repress. "Asuka, come on! You serious?" He asks, laughing in amazement, as he takes the remaining seat. "I can't believe you just did that!" Pouring words are overflowing his mouth, because the strong euphoria he is currently going through is overwhelming.
She smiles at him and his heart tightens in his chest. He can't help but return her smile. "You should eat before it gets cold."
Judai is happy.
Seriously, his face is literally glowing with happiness. Asuka wasn't aware that Jack's burgers were that precious to him.
Watching him and Emma stuffing their faces with burgers and fries makes the effort of standing in line in a fast-food restaurant packed with people after a long day shift on a Monday night worth it.
After making sure Emma would not stain her clothes with greasy sauce by rolling up her sleeves and using a napkin as a bib, she decides to taste her own burger. But when she is about to bite into it, her eyes meet Judai's curious stare.
He eyes the food she holds between her two hands for a moment before speaking up, "What did you get?"
Asuka blinks. "Oh." She thinks for a moment, trying hard to recall the ridiculously long names of the menus and none comes to her mind. "I chose whatever burger that had chicken in its name." Her eyebrows shoot up when she realizes it might not be an innocent question. "Don't you like beef in your burgers?" She worries.
He reassures her with a shake of his head. "I do! They make the best beef burgers!" He then extends his arm towards her. "Wanna taste? I'll trade one bite with one from yours. Their chicken burgers also happen to be the best, in fact." He wiggles his eyebrows, as if Asuka needed extra convincing.
Asuka gently rolls her eyes. If that is not crystal clear at this point that Judai is hopelessly devoted to Jack's burgers, the gleaming reflecting in his eyes leaves no room for doubt.
"Alright." She stands up.
Emma is too focused on her meal and Judai is watching her stepping closer to the drawer, so the room is as silent as a dead body when she grabs a knife.
Judai's voice sounds like he's just seen a ghost when he speaks up, "What are you doing?"
This halts Asuka in her movements. She turns around, knife in one hand, burger in the other hand, and a lifted eyebrow on her face. "What?" Despite her threatening aspect, Judai seems to care for the knife she is holding for another reason that eludes her. She prompts him to speak by raising another eyebrow.
"You're kidding, right?" He asks in a rather grave tone. "Right?" When he realizes she does not catch what got him talking like she has just caused the apocalypse, he gasps. "Asuka! Don't you know it's blasphemy not to use your hands to eat your burger?"
Oh God, of course he would be dramatic over burgers. She holds in her sigh. Patience, Asuka. Patience is the key. "Well, since you asked to taste my burger, I thought I would cut a piece of it to let you eat it."
Judai shakes his head, like she doesn't know what she is talking about, then he turns to the young girl next to him. "Emma, can you show Asuka how normal people are supposed to eat burgers?"
"It's easy!" she beams. Holding her food above her head, she opens big eyes to announce her demonstration. "You bite into it! Like this!" Bringing back the burger to her lips, she opens her mouth wide in an exaggerated manner and sinks her teeth in the burger bun. When she mumbles something right after, Asuka thinks she can figure out the message she is trying to get across. Something along the lines of See, Mommy? You can do it too!
"Fine," she sighs, as she puts the knife back into the drawer that she then closes. When she turns around, she almost bumps into a body. Allowing her no time to process what is happening, Judai leans and, as if following Emma's instructions, bites into her burger.
Asuka merely blinks as she stares, dumb-founded, at Judai reveling in the taste of Jack's heavenly chicken. "The sauce is amazing! Let me check the receipt, I gotta write it down so I can order it next time," he enthusiastically tells her before bringing his burger up to her face. "I think you'll like mine," he confidently adds.
Hesitantly, Asuka leans forward, making a point not to meet Judai's eager stare. Still, she notices the way his face visibly brightens when she takes a timid bite of his burger. He leaves no time for her taste buds to actually feel it before he asks, launching himself forward at her face, "So, how is it?"
With his face a few centimeters from hers, she has to focus to chew her food thoroughly but she still has a hard time swallowing, almost choking.
How is it, he asked.
Blank. Tasteful. Plain. Good. Awful. Why doesn't he step back so she can breathe?
Since Judai doesn't seem to realize how inappropriately close they are standing to each other, she takes the initiative to move, bypassing him to return to the table. Trying to sound as composed as she can, she speaks up, "It tastes good. I think I'm starting to understand why you're so obsessed with those burgers."
He laughs. "You get it!"
Thanks to the safe distance she put between them, her heart starts beating again normally. Is there a way to subtly teach him about etiquette between friends that are definitely not supposed to cross the line of friendship because the attraction is obviously one-sided?
He is going to be the death of her. With each new visit, it's getting harder and harder to hide her crush from him. As dense as a rock he may be, the cat will be out of the bag if he keeps on invading her private space.
Asuka can not allow that, especially since she isn't even sure of her own feelings yet. Each time she convinces herself they are merely the result of an infatuation, it leaves a bitter taste on her tongue; yet there is a terrifying feeling clutching her insides when she dares qualify them as something more. She knows she should be past the point of doubting what she feels for Judai, after all those precious times they have come to spend alone together since they have graduated.
But how could she push those feelings further anyway, when the whole world seeks his attention? When there are so many spirits and souls alike waiting for their salvation by his hands? When Yubel stands by his side, making sure he no longer knows what it feels like to be left on his own?
Or when she knows that no matter what, Judai is going to leave in the morning and she will stick to her sedentary ways?
This could never work, is what she keeps telling herself in hopes that it engraves her down-to-earth sense. It works most of the time, because she knows for a fact that she is content with spending her days at university, teaching to aspiring duelists like her. As infuriating as he may be, she is delighted to talk to her brother over the phone some nights before heading to sleep. Judai is not on her mind at every breathing moment and she is okay with that.
Except when she is not.
Asuka finds herself trying her hardest right after she closes her front door on his leaving back. Sweet smiles and a promise to come back to visit some time and then he is gone, like he was never there to begin with. It hurts more than she would like to admit and her powerlessness is so aggravating that she feels wiser to let it be. She teared up once, after he left her apartment, and it had come as a shock to her because the tears had come out of nowhere and surely, there was no reason to go to such dramatic lengths when she knew that he would be back within a month?
It is not as bad as it sounds though. The helplessness only lasts for so long before she resumes her routine. Why would she abandon herself to such a pathetic state when she has so many little joys in her life? She would hate to associate Judai with grief so it seems only fair to her that she is not in love with him. She is just a woman living on her own in a foreign country, too sensitive for her own good hence why she cares too much when an admittedly very close friend visits on a whim. Long ago, she came to terms with her romantic attraction to Judai but since then, adulthood drove her life ahead and soon enough there was no room left for feelings to bloom.
(She wonders sometimes what it might feel like to kiss his handsome face, but surely, surely, this could merely be an infatuation.)
"Asuka! Hey, Asuka!" The subject of her thoughts snaps her back to reality.
She blinks. "Yes?"
"What's gotten into you?" He asks, arching an eyebrow. "Emma said she got something to show you."
Realizing she has lost herself in her thoughts, Asuka brings her attention back to her surroundings. Both Judai and Emma are done eating and the remaining of her burger has grown cold in her hands. The last piece of bread disappears into her mouth, right when the little girl runs to her with a plate covered with a clean cloth in her hands.
Asuka notices Judai smiling knowingly at Emma and she tilts her head. "What are you holding?"
Beaming at the woman, Emma sets the plate in front of her. "It's a surprise for you!"
"A surprise?" She blinks then looks up to Judai who gestures toward the plate. Turning back her head to it, Asuka lifts the cloth with her fingertips, guided by her curiosity. She then finds herself looking down at what looks like a giant gingerbread cookie staring back at her. Unsure how to react, she cautiously glances at Emma whose sparkling eyes are carefully studying her face.
Thankfully, Emma fills her in on the details. "It's you! Me and Daddy made it together before you got back home!"
"Huh—" She so eloquently reacts, as she gapes at the girl before redirecting her gaze to the cookie. Obvious hints suddenly jump out at her, as she suddenly figures out the long blond hair and the yellow eyes. Unable to hold back her voice, she chuckles at how sweet of a surprise that is. "Oh my God, that is so adorable."
By her side, Emma audibly gasps before turning to Judai and triumphantly throwing her hands in the air. "She loves it!"
"She sure does," he agrees with a warm smile.
"It actually does look like me, doesn't it?" Asuka indulges the child who hums enthusiastically. "Should I taste it? I feel bad ruining your hard work."
"It's okay, Mommy, you can eat it. It's food!" She argues.
So Asuka stands up from her seat and retrieves the cutlery. "In that case, we should all try it."
His chest swells with pride and satisfaction as he eyes a smiling Asuka complimenting the taste of the gingerbread cookie to Emma. The woman's pink dusted cheeks give away her delight which brings a smile to his lips. The cookie indeed tastes pretty good so that is a well conducted mission!
When Asuka stands in front of the sink in order to wash the dishes, he naturally steps in by her side and wordlessly helps her out. She keeps silent as well, but he saw the little step she took in his direction to acknowledge his presence. There is a pleasing feeling floating in the air, as they drown themselves in the background noise of Emma making a point to recite the recipe of gingerbread cookie which she has proudly learned by heart.
Asuka hums pleasantly. "You have a good memory, Emma."
"You really think so?!"
"Of course," Asuka smiles as she glances over her shoulder at her, handing Judai a plate to wipe. "I already knew that but you are a smart girl."
Overjoyed at the praise, Emma jumps in the air as she thanks her in a loud voice, while Judai chuckles beside her. He finds it quite amusing that a gingerbread cookie was enough to mess with Asuka's sense of priorities. Yubel had to snap him out of his astonishment when she offhandedly commented that a few stains on her kitchen counter could not be avoided and thus there was nothing to get mad about.
"You're so transparent, Asuka. Do you like surprises that much?"
He does not miss the redness on her cheeks when she quickly glances in his direction before averting her eyes and clearing her throat. "Well, it certainly doesn't hurt to get them from time to time."
A teasing reply is on the tip of his tongue when she beats him to it to add, "But it is a bit upsetting."
"Hm? What is?"
She sighs and this time, she looks him in the eyes when she hands him a second plate. "It's not fair that you surprised me right after I surprised you. It ruined the impact of my surprise."
Man, she is so funny tonight. "First of all, nothing can ruin surprise burgers from Jack's, trust me." She gently rolls her eyes at his antics. "And then, I don't get what's so upsetting about it. Everyone gets their surprise. It's a win-win."
She seems to consider his words for a moment, but in the end she lets another sigh out. "I still feel like I got played. When you think about it, it is always you who surprises me."
"Me? What do you mean?"
She chooses not to answer, and shrugs dismissively instead. But his guts tell him the answer to that question is important so he repeats, "How do I always surprise you?"
First, Asuka pretends she did not hear him, but his insisting stare and his unmoving hand when she gives him the last plate to wipe are convincing enough. "Aren't you always the one who invites himself to my apartment without warning?" She bluntly blurts out, but she sounds more embarrassed rather than angry. She gives him no time to answer, before she turns around and walks to Emma to offer to turn the TV on for her.
Pretty much all of his close friends get unannounced visits from him. Although some of them complain about the lack of warning on his part, they would not usually label his visits as surprises. Surprises sound special. His crashing to whoever lives near the area he is currently visiting has become a pattern that his friends have grown used to. Of course, they are glad to spend time with him but that is exactly what it is: a short span of time spent together between friends, until next time. As precious as his time with his friends feels to him, nothing sounds particularly out of the ordinary about it and he always thought his visits to Asuka's place to be casual as well. So…
Why did it sound like she is extra aware of his comings by?
Asuka is already back in the kitchen before he has any more time to ponder over her previous reaction. He looks up at her but she seems to be avoiding his gaze.
As she keeps making a point to avoid his eyes while she wipes the table with a rag, he keeps staring at her.
There is nothing difficult with admitting that his heart skipped a beat when she brought those burgers home. Judai is no stranger to Asuka's thoughtfulness and her sharp senses ; he often feels like she can read him like an open book and she has become more and more straightforward about it over the years. It used to be something he felt uncomfortable about when he first became aware of it, but soon enough the awkwardness grew into coziness. Asuka, for all her composed and dignified demeanor, is a very warm person. And Judai doesn't exactly hate that.
So when she came back home with takeaway food from his favorite place after a long day at work just because she knew it would make him happy, there was no way he could have quieted his frenzied heartbeats.
Now he wonders, when she says that he surprises her when he shows up at her front door unannounced, does she mean that her heart betrays her too?
Crap, he inwardly swears as he feels his face warming up. Judai has just realized that he has been standing on the same spot like an idiot, so his feet move on their own to place the chairs correctly around the table. His eyes follow Asuka as she goes back to the sink to hang the rag to dry. He is not fast enough when she turns around and their eyes meet.
Time slows down and he nervously gulps. Again, he does not miss her cheeks blushing under the intensity of his stare. What is she thinking right now, he wonders?
"Asuka, I…" His voice trails off when she visibly tenses up. "I—"
"Daddy! It's your friend with the big hair on TV!"
They both jump at Emma's voice interrupting… whatever was occuring in this kitchen (was it always so small? Why is he suddenly feeling suffocated?).
Judai can not help his stuttering when he speaks again, "I-I'm gonna check on Emma's parents right now."
And neither can she when she replies, "R-Right."
He lamely runs a hand through his hair before he hurriedly exits the kitchen.
Yubel, I'm losing my mind.
Nearly an hour has gone by since Judai left and Asuka is sitting on her couch with Emma bouncing on it beside her. Under other circumstances, she would ask the girl to stop ruining her furniture but at this moment, Asuka couldn't care less.
Her TV is displaying a rerun of one of Manjoume's professional matches. She never felt more grateful to her friend than she is right now. Were it not for Emma's earlier calling when she saw his distinctive hairstyle on the screen, Judai would have…
Well, she is not exactly sure what happened there. But the situation definitely slipped out beyond her control. She has spent a few minutes following Judai's leaving, cursing herself for stepping on a landmine. What was she thinking when she brought up his impromptu visits? The atmosphere was light and he teased her innocently, yet she blurted out the most unnecessary stuff! Fearing he might have taken it the wrong way and felt unwelcome at her place, she tried not to elaborate so as not to give him the wrong idea.
But she felt his staring eyes deep in her bones. It killed her not to know what he was thinking, but at the same time she found relief in Emma's interruption. That was an easy escape, but now she has to deal with a nasty mix of guilt and shame which is rubbing her up the wrong way. If anything, Asuka hates feeling like a coward.
She tiredly brings her hands to her face and sighs. "What am I doing…" She feels like a walking contradiction : yesterday she rejoiced about the seeming progress that has been taking place between them in the past months, and today she lets doubt get the better of her and gives room for misunderstanding and miscommunication.
"Mommy? You okay?"
Asuka raises her face to Emma's worried expression, then she smiles at her. "Yes, I'm okay. Just a bit tired."
The child squeezes the upper part of her body between her arms. "Energy recharge hug!"
Asuka chuckles as she hugs her back, but then the doorbell echoes in her whole apartment.
"Huh? Who's that?" Emma asks but Asuka merely shrugs because she lent Judai a spare key for him to use and she did not expect anyone else at such a late hour.
"I am going to check", she tells her before standing up to walk to her front door.
When she looks through the peephole, her face loses its color. She opens her door and rudely demands, "What are you doing here?"
Emma excitedly runs to join her by her side and cheerfully calls the newcomer's name, "Uncle Fubuki!"
Seemingly unfazed by his little sister's cold welcome, the man proudly states, "Cancel whatever plan you had tonight, we're having a movie night!"
Asuka's night plans originally mostly involved a long sleep because she was exhausted from her long day (she now understands why Judai refuses to wait in line for Jack's. Her back is aching, she might have aged forty years standing there). They certainly did not include undergoing a mental breakdown over an impromptu staring contest with Judai, let alone having to deal with her brother's endless supply of energy.
She deeply sighs. "What is this all about? We are not having a movie night. It's Monday and Emma has to go to bed early."
"I'm not tired, I just woke up! I wanna play with Uncle Fubuki!" She interjects.
Ugh, Judai and his cursed naps! Against a fully recharged Emma after she has slept the whole afternoon away and a Fubuki baiting her with a bag of her favorite candies, Asuka knows it is a battle she can not win. She defeatedly closes her door after her brother who lifts Emma in his arms and hands her his winning ticket.
"Gummy bears!" She gasps as she takes the bag in her hands.
"You told me they were your favorite," he explains with a cheeky smile.
Not quite feeling like pushing her party-killer agenda now that the situation has gone that far, Asuka decides to let Emma have a bag full of candies in the evening and right after she ate junk food for dinner. Forgive me, Emma's parents, she pleads in her heart.
Fubuki seems to be looking for something, before he decides to ask Emma directly, "Where's Judai?"
"Daddy said he got something to do but he'll be back in a minute!" She confidently promises and Fubuki just smiles at her.
Asuka ignores him when he looks at her because she just knows he is about to say something ridiculous, along the lines of the three of them being like a cute little family. Instead, she goes to her closet to retrieve blankets for them to use. "What movie are we watching?"
"There is this romcom movie airing tonight that I have been meaning to watch!" Her brother all too happily answers her.
If looks could kill, Fubuki's corpse would be lying on the ground by now. But unfortunately they don't, so Asuka grits her teeth as she mutters an all but honest, "Great."
He flashes his sister an innocent smile when Emma taps on his shoulder. "I watched you on TV today!"
"Was I fabulous?" He smugly asks as he puts her down and she eagerly nods her head. She then launches into an imitation of his singing and he claps along. "Aren't you a wonderful fan!"
If anything, Asuka trusts her brother and Emma to entertain each other so she quickly enters her room to put together her stuff for tomorrow. By the time she returns to her living room, she comes upon the two loudly chatting together right before something seems to be catching Fubuki's attention.
He steps closer to the two plain rocks Judai and Emma gifted Asuka yesterday, that she has taken care to clean and put on a shelf. Grabbing one of them in his hand, he turns to her sister, "Asuka, what's this?"
Her inside clutches in an unpleasant sensation. She has a bad feeling about this…
"They are gifts," Emma offers to answer. "From me and Daddy!" She adds, tapping her chest for emphasis.
Under Asuka's horrified gaze, pure confusion turns into mischief in Fubuki's eyes as he turns to Emma. "Really? How thoughtful of you two! What was the special occasion?"
Emma hums as she considers it for a moment, before she smiles with all her teeth, "Just because we love her!"
The expression on Fubuki's face is too familiar to Asuka. It is the look he gets when he is about to meddle in her personal life in the most maddening way possible because he feels obligated to as his older brother.
She is in great danger.
Obviously, this is the perfect timing for Judai to open her front door and announce that he is back. He takes one intimidated step back when he catches sight of Asuka moving at full speed towards him.
He barely has time to notice Fubuki's presence behind her when she gravely states in his face, "Don't ask." He doesn't. "We're watching a movie with my brother. Take a seat on the couch."
He blinks, then slowly nods his head. "Huh, sure."
As much as he enjoys the man's company, there always remains an uncomfort feeling nagging at him at the back of his head when Fubuki stares at him with this look.
Over the years, Judai has learned to know what this look entails : Asuka is involved in some way and he is about to feel very uncomfortable.
He tries to shake off the feeling when he sits on the couch and casually smiles at his friend. "Hey, Fubuki."
Said friend wastes no time in greetings and lays a hand on his shoulder. "Judai," he solemnly calls his name. "You have come a long way since our student days. You very clearly still have lots to learn, but you are on the right path."
Judai pretends he understood whatever Fubuki meant and curtly nods. "Thanks, man."
Fubuki nods in return, as if he were confident his message properly came across, before he calls out to Emma. "Would you sit with me when we watch the movie?" He offers as he sits down in the one-seater armchair next to the couch. To make his invitation clearer, he taps on his lap.
"Yeah!" Grinning, Emma jumps on his lap and comfortably settles against his broad torso. "Uncle Fubuki is more comfy than Daddy," she laughs.
"You shouldn't make your Daddy jealous!" The man fakely scolds her but his delight at the girl's comment is embarrassingly obvious.
Judai notices Asuka sighing when she steps closer. She hands her brother one blanket which he covers both Emma and him with, then she sits at a fair distance from Judai on the couch. She puts another folded blanket in the space between them. "You can use it if you want," she kindly offers and he thanks her with a nod.
With the situation smoothly evolving in a natural way, Judai manages to calm down. Watching a movie between friends with a folded blanket as a tacit boundary between him and Asuka… What could possibly go wrong?
The movie night turns out to be even more entertaining than expected. Judai feels a bit bad about it but it is impossibly fun to watch Asuka scolding her brother the same way she scolds Emma.
"Eww, lewd!" Emma and Fubuki say at the same time for the umpteenth time at the sight of the two protagonists embracing each other in a hug.
"Don't teach her that!" Asuka hisses again but to no avail.
"Relax sister, it's not a bad word," Fubuki laughs off.
She sighs in defeat as she slumps deeper in the couch and crosses her arms on her chest. "I give up."
Judai chuckles and then decides it is about time he supports her. "The more you insist they stop saying it, the more they'll keep saying it, you know," he whispers with an amused smile.
She looks up to his face from her spot. "How do I explain this to her parents when they wake up?"
He does not realize he is overstepping their implicit boundary when he lays a hand on the still folded blanket between them to lean towards her, in a comforting manner. "I think they'll be too grateful to you for taking care of their daughter to mind, really," he replies in a quiet voice.
This seems to do the trick as Asuka visibly releases the tension in her shoulders. "I guess you're right." She gives him a grateful little smile in return.
Satisfied with her answer, he slumps back into his spot to focus on the TV screen. His eyes are met with the display of the obligatory kiss scene and he inadvertently avert them. On the side, Emma seems to be watching the scene with great interest, curiosity sparkling in her eyes.
Fubuki notices the sudden shift in her demeanor. Still cradling the girl on his lap, he leans closer to her face. "What do you think about this, Emma?"
Her face scrunches up in discomfort. "It's gross."
Fubuki audibly gasps at her reply. "Nonsense! Kissing is an act of love!"
Despite the numerous defeats she suffered from tonight, Asuka still finds some willpower inside her to interject, albeit tiredly, "Don't pay him attention, Emma. He is being stupid."
Fubuki purposely ignores his sister's comment and goes on, in a patient tone, "People who love each other kiss. It's just what people do. There is nothing gross about it." He gently kisses her cheek to prove his point before he asks, "Was that gross?"
Emma slightly touches her cheek with her fingertips. She blushes as she answers timidly, "No! It was nice," she giggles.
"Good girl," he gently pats her head.
Fubuki is great at dealing with children, Judai inwardly points out, genuinely impressed.
Even a fool like him has his strong points, I guess, Yubel replies.
Paying no mind to Judai's half attempt to defend his friend ("Well, he's not that bad…"), they simply observe Fubuki discreetly poking Emma's side and silently pointing at the couch with his chin when she looks up to his face.
Yubel glances in Asuka's direction and notices how tensed up she looks as she is stubbornly staring at the TV screen and not looking anywhere else. They eerily smile to themselves. Interesting.
Hm? Whatcha talking about?
I think I am about to cringe. Or whatever the verb you taught me the other day was.
Completely confused, Judai looks up just in time to see Emma and Fubuki smiling evilly at him and Asuka.
"Daddy and Mommy love each other, too," Emma declares. Colors leave Judai's face. "Right, Uncle Fubuki? Since they're Daddy and Mommy," the girl asks as she looks up to her partner in crime.
Fubuki nods with a grin. "Right!"
Judai thinks he heard Asuka muttering "You're no brother of mine." under her breath before Emma gives the fatal blow, "So they should kiss each other too!"
Dead people could be heard for a whole minute, as a sinister silence fell upon the living room. The TV is still playing the movie but no one in that room is paying attention to it at the moment.
While Fubuki and Emma keep staring at the two insistently, Judai and Asuka made a point to keep their gaze straight ahead, towards the TV screen.
The silence drags on and on…
"Daddy? Mommy?" Emma finally says.
"Daddy? Mommy?" Fubuki asks after her.
Asuka wishes they would drop this insane act if she ignores them long enough, but she knows better than to believe in fairy tales. She decides to take a curious glance towards Judai's direction, half anticipating his reaction, but— He did not move an inch and kept staring straight ahead the whole time. He frankly is not giving any sign of life whatsoever. Is he dead?
This is getting ridiculous. Asuka sighs and strongly speaks up, "Alright, could we just resume watching the movie? It's getting late and Emma should not—"
Unfortunately for her, neither of her opponents are having it. "A kiss! A kiss!" Emma chants.
"A kiss! A kiss!" Fubuki joins in the chants.
Finally losing patience, Asuka is about to scold them when Judai speaks up in a deadly voice, "Let's just do it."
"What?" She can't help but repeat out loud.
Dramatically gasping, Fubuki sounds at least as flabbergasted as she is at the unexpected development. But Asuka can not afford to avert her eyes from Judai whom she stares at like he has grown another head. Or two. Maybe three heads could translate how shocked she is feeling at the moment.
Finally, Judai quickly casts a glance her way. He grins at her. "I just wanna finish the movie? Would suck if we couldn't finish it before Emma goes to bed," he explains. It's obvious he is trying hard to sound casual but feels otherwise.
Fubuki is quicker at recovering from his stupor than Asuka. "Judai is right! Indulge Emma so we can move on, Asuryn!"
Asuka makes a mental note to show her brother how sharp the new knives she bought last week for her kitchen are. Her hands are trembling from so many colliding emotions so she clenches her fists on her lap. "Okay, fine."
Emma, who was still cheering for them to kiss, stops her chantings and she and Fubuki are now expectantly staring with a grinning face. Asuka tries her best to keep her composure when she leans in towards a very still Judai. When her face gets close enough for him to feel her breath on his cheek, she can hear him taking a sharp breath. Her heart is about to burst out of her chest at the very moment her lips gently presses to his cheek.
The following movements occur in a blur : Asuka sits back on her spot, grabs the remote control, turns up the TV volume.
Fubuki and Emma exchange a look and decide they have done enough so they both resume watching the movie.
Neither Asuka nor Judai utter a word until the end. It takes just as long for Asuka's heart to stop beating like crazy.
Judai has disappeared into the guest room to lay a sleeping Emma on the bed, Asuka bids her brother goodbye at her entrance.
"This sure was an eventful evening," he comments with a shit eating grin on his face.
Too exhausted to wipe it off his stupid face, Asuka merely gives him a stern look. "Thanks to a certain someone, yes."
Sighing, Fubuki lays his hands on his sister's shoulders and rubs them. "Just let go of the tension, will you? I thought that the three of us spending some time together with Emma would help you relax."
She studies his face for a moment and eventually decides to cut him some slack, to some extent. "Well, you definitely took good care of her until she fell asleep." Then she slightly squints her eyes at him. "Now I am twice as tired as before you arrived."
"Then you will have a good night's sleep!" Weak against Fubuki's neverending optimism, Asuka drops the strong facade in the form of a sigh and slumped shoulders. "I know you are doing your best for Emma's sake. But don't forget that I am always here to support you and you can also count on Judai. It's fine to rely on him from time to time, you know?"
Surprised at the change of his tone, she blinks at him as she processes his words. "I do," she mumbles, blushing slightly. "Judai… He is also doing his best."
For once, Fubuki chooses not to tease her and he smiles at her encouragingly. "It's nice, right? To be able to rely on each other like this. It's a nice feeling," he says warmly.
"Well…" Her blushing turns deeper and her voice quieter when she agrees, "It is."
Her brother looks satisfied with her answer. "Alright, then, I'll be on my way!" He announces in a louder voice. "Now that I have made sure that you are alright, I can leave!"
Eventually, Asuka chuckles. "You didn't have to go that far to make sure of that."
"Nonsense! What kind of big brother would that make me then?" He offendedly gasps.
She rolls her eyes. "A normal big brother," she teases him. "Now go. You said you have an early morning flight tomorrow." Taking one step closer, she embraces him in a short but tight hug. "Thank you, Fubuki."
He squeezes her body and lets her go. "Anything for my dearest sister," he smiles. Then he turns around to leave. "Send my regards to Judai and Emma!"
She affectionately shakes her head as she watches over her brother's frame disappearing into the stairway. "I think they've definitely had a lifetime worth of your regards."
Chuckling to herself, Asuka closes her front door and withdraws into her apartment.
Judai is quietly exiting the guest room and closing its door after him. He spots her and steps forward until they meet halfway between the guest room and hers. "Fubuki left?"
"Yes," she says. "It's finally quiet again."
He quietly laughs as he leans against the wall. "Doesn't hurt to have company now and then."
"You and Emma were handling it just fine already."
He specifically does not pick up on her witty come back, and shrugs noncommittally. "The point is that Emma had a good time."
At this, Asuka remains silent. Did you? Is what she would like to ask but his casualness does not encourage her to bring the kiss back on the table.
Well, it's not like it was an actual kiss per se… Her lips barely brushed his cheek. Still counts, if you ask her, but Judai does not seem to agree. He never commented on it and perhaps it is for the best that she does the same.
"Well then," she speaks up, but as soon as the words leave her mouth, Asuka strangely feels dejected. The next smile she gives is strained. "Good night." Then she turns to retreat to her bedroom.
At the uncharacteristically feeble sound Judai made, Asuka turns around again to face him. He is staring down at the floor, eyebrows furrowed. She waits for him to speak again, but he merely breathes in and out.
When she decides to inquire about his odd behavior, his voice rises again, "It was okay, right? Earlier, I mean. We're… We're good?"
She gives him a confused look. "Hm?"
He glances at her briefly then, takes a deep breath and averts his eyes. His hand covers almost completely the left part of his face so Asuka can barely make out the expression he is making. "The couch," he suddenly adds, throwing out keywords now rather than making full sentences.
The message he is trying to convey gets across nonetheless. Asuka realizes now his unusual mannerism reflects nervousness, which spreads to her in a flash. She flushes.
And now, in the quiet of the night, they are looking like two hyperventilating idiots.
"I—," she trails off, and in the same way Judai just did, she takes a deep breath. "I didn't expect you to bring it up."
It is a whole new experience for her to witness the distress over Judai's red cheeks. "Yeah, I sound weird, huh?" He complains as he lets a frustrated sigh out before he hides his face in his hands. "I feel weird."
While the sight of him being flustered is fresh, Judai's nonexistent inclination for romantic physical contact is no news for Asuka, so she is not surprised to watch him tumbling over his own emotions.
"It's alright," she spontaneously says. He raises an eyebrow at her, slightly confused. "It's fine if you don't want to talk about it."
It was not supposed to be that great of a deal. It was not supposed to, but obviously it affected them both more than she thought. He can barely handle it and she thinks there is no worse time than now for her to be heartbroken by the reminder that he does not return her feelings.
Judai looks taken aback, like he did not expect her to say that. The hands on his face move to his neck. "I'm not sure what you mean by that."
Surprised in turn, Asuka stares at him, her mouth slightly gaping. He is being awfully inquiring tonight, while he usually brushes that kind of stuff off which makes it easier for her not to overthink everything. But his current behavior throws her off, so she takes time to ponder over it. Is he attempting to… initiate clear communication between them? To make sure there is no misunderstanding left?
What is bothering him so much about the situation?
Intrigued, Asuka seeks answers. "I know you are not comfortable with that kind of stuff. So, I just meant that it is fine for you not to talk about it any further."
"Ah, but—" He interrupts himself and then sighs dejectedly.
"But?" She encourages him to go on. "I'm not sure what you are trying to get at."
"Can't blame you. I'm not making any sense," he mutters before chuckling sarcastically. He pauses then his gaze settles on her again with renewed determination.
"Did you hate it?"
Sometimes he should know better than asking questions without context, but Asuka just knows right away what he is referring to. The quickening of her heart rate is proof of that.
Should she admit kissing him is something she has been yearning for years now? It's almost tempting. A knot in her stomach reminds her of her apprehension and fears about the consequences, but would it really hurt to be honest, if only a little? The way he tries his best to convey his thoughts encourages her to open up.
Slightly shaking her head, she tries to ignore the heat that spreads on her face. "I didn't."
She watches in wonder his pupils dilating and his lips parting. For some reason, it's easy to guess what he says next, "I didn't either."
Faced with her silence and the bewilderment on her face, Judai is pressed to fill in, "I just felt like telling you. Just so you know."
He sounds nervous, but this is nothing compared to what she is feeling right now. "T-Thank you for letting me know," she says for lack of something better to say.
His eyes are shunning her again. He nods. "Hm."
He is looking somewhere else, but she desperately needs to look him into the eye. "Judai?" She timidly calls out to him, while boldly taking a step closer.
From the corner of his eye, he spots her movement. "Y-Yeah?"
"Actually," she says, then nervously gulps as she clenches her fists, before carrying on, "I liked it. It was nice."
At this point, one of them should point out that it meant the kiss. But Asuka suspects that neither of them is emotionally stable enough to hear the word out loud. She is fidgeting and she can see his hands shaking at his sides.
What is happening… ?
Judai is now looking at her. He gives her a smile, that is unlike his usual cheeky grin, and not quite the mature smirk he shows from time to time. It's different, probably prompted by feelings deeper that he lets on. She feels like she is scratching at their surface level, which is a step she never thought she would take.
Tonight feels different, renewed.
Before she can process what is happening, Judai steps closer and presses his lips against her cheek, the same way she did a couple of hours ago.
When she gapes at him, he chuckles. "You're right, it's nice." He laughs again and rubs the back of his neck, an obvious sign of nervousness. "Now we're even."
Her eloquence fades into the back of her throat. "I-I guess", she chokes. She can only stare at him when he hurriedly bids her good night and locks himself in the guest room.
Left dumbfounded, Asuka hides the mortified expression on her face in her hands. She means to wait on her spot until her heart rate settles down, but it never happens. So she resigns herself to go to her room.
But not before she exhales nervously and mumbles, "Stupid Judai." Trying her best to will herself to move, she can not deny how impossibly happy she is right now.
When he finds himself in the dark of the room, Judai inwardly calls himself an idiot.
Then he walks closer to the bed, and gives himself a pat on the back for the extreme boldness he has just displayed.
And then again, he calls himself the biggest idiot in the universe.
"Why are you hitting yourself?"
Startled by Emma's voice, Judai jumps. When he recalls that Emma is sleeping with him in the guest room, he sighs with relief. "You're not sleeping?"
"I was waiting for you," she whines. "You were talking to Mommy?"
"Yeah, uh— Yeah." He clears his throat. As soon as he lies down beside her, the girl snuggles against him.
A few seconds pass by.
In the dark, he can barely see her face, but that makes it easier to talk. "Emma."
She looks up to his face. "Hm?"
He stares back at her, reconsidering what is on his mind before finally sharing his thoughts, "I did something that I've never done to Asuka— Uh, something nice, I mean! And I was wondering…" He winces at his own evasive tone. "Do you think she liked it?"
Are you seeking love advice from a child?
Judai ignores Yubel's very on-point comment, and waits for Emma to answer.
"What did you do?"
Ugh, just answer the question! "Uh, I… You know, like what she did earlier… To me… On the couch…"
Emma gasps. "You kissed her?"
"Uh, yeah." What the hell is he doing?
While he questions every decision in his life on the spot, she responds with absolute confidence. "Yeah, she loved it!"
L-Lo-Lov— "W-What makes you think that?"
Suddenly, Emma's voice falters and she is more hesitant to continue, "Hm… Promise you won't get mad if I tell you something?"
He is far too stunned to pick up on the warning signals, so he just nods.
"Yesterday, Mickey kissed me on the cheek, like Mommy kissed you."
This is precisely at this point that Judai realizes that, in the past two days, he has just kept getting himself in situations he has absolutely no idea how he is supposed to react to. Some small part of his brain -the responsible one- hints at a mild scolding, something along the lines of "Children are too young for kisses!" but Judai definitely does not feel like an adult right now. If anything, he somewhat feels like he has lost to that Mickey fella, who is an actual child. How did he manage to kiss Emma upon meeting her!?
His face twists as he racks his brains to recall the young boy's face. "You mean that child from the park? Who gave you the rock?"
Emma nods, looking at him apprehensively. That is enough for Judai to melt and he merely chuckles. "He's got guts," he praises him.
Feeling more at ease in response to Judai's supportive reaction, she eagerly whispers more secrets, "He called me pretty." The man hums, signaling that he is listening. "And… And it made me super happy!"
"So you gave Mommy a rock, too. And you kissed her, too," she goes on. "So, she is super happy right now," she concludes.
Judai looks at her in wonder, wishing she could pass on her assurance. It's not that he lacks confidence. He is just confused, so bad that he feels completely lost. When Emma and Fubuki suggested they kiss, his mind went blank on him. Panic seized his whole body because he never considered having this kind of physical contact with Asuka. But the confusing thoughts he battled against the whole day regarding his friend were not lost on his mind, so he decided to go through with it. Her reaction, however, was… not exactly encouraging. She looked like she wished none of this was happening at all. But when he asked her later, she told him she liked it. So, what's the truth in the end?
Sighing his frustration, he wearily runs his hands over his face. "I hope I didn't mess everything up. That would suck."
Emma clutches at his clothes in a tight grip, eyebrows furrowing in a way that seems to be supportive. "It's going to be okay, Daddy! Kissing is an act of love!"
"Please don't quote Fubuki now, that's not helping."
Judai successfully got over his mental collapse, partially thanks to Emma's gushing over Mickey which he used as a lullaby to lure him to sleep.
He has just gotten up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. Upon his return, he spots Emma about to knock on Asuka's bedroom door.
Surprised, he calls out to her in a whisper, "Emma!" The girl effectively turns around. "Don't wake Asuka up, she gotta go to work tomorrow." He walks to her and kneels to get at her eye level. "Why are you up?" He asks, a bit worried.
The girl sniffs. "I just had a nightmare," she answers in a frail voice.
"Oh," is all Judai manages to say before the door to Asuka's bedroom opens, revealing the latter who seems to have been roused from her sleep.
"What are you two doing at this hour?" She questions in a voice hoarse with sleep.
Feeling bad about waking her up when she really needed her sleep, Judai stands up and gives her a sorry smile. "Emma had a nightmare."
"Oh," she reacts the same way he just did. Appearing more refreshed, Asuka turns to the child. "Are you okay? Do you need something?"
Emma scratches her right eye and raises her left hand to tug on Asuka's wrist. "Can you sleep with us?"
Two gasps echo in unison in Asuka's apartment. The two adults look at each other, but neither seems inclined to answer the girl's request. Judai feels mortified at the mere idea of sharing a bed with Asuka. Especially tonight, after he has drained all of his courage supply.
"Asuka is tired, we should let her rest," he advises. "I'll stay with you, so you won't get scared," he suggests with an encouraging but very strained smile.
But Emma is even less disposed to let him catch a break. "When I have a nightmare, Mommy and Daddy sleep with me," she whines, drowsiness causing her to be more willful than usual.
"Let's just indulge her. The last thing we need now is for her to call for her parents again," Asuka suddenly whispers close to his ear. Judai jumps, startled by the unexpected close proximity. When Asuka gives him a weird look, he flushes with embarrassment.
"Yeah, okay, sure," he rambles on nervously as he avoids her gaze. How can she be so calm about it?
Asuka gently holds Emma's hand and smiles down at her. "Alright then, let's all head back to bed."
Striding behind them, Judai urges his heart to settle down. Asuka is doing this solely for Emma's sake, so he needs to get his act together and stop getting all worked up over nothing.
He watches as Asuka stops before the untidy bed and hesitantly glances back at him. Puzzled, he tilts his head.
"I don't know where to lie down," she explains in a slightly higher-pitched voice than usual.
"Uh," he lamely says before stepping to lay on his usual spot next to the wall. Proving that she quickly got accustomed to it, Emma gets comfortable next to him. That leaves a tiny free space for Asuka but she does not complain and lies next to Emma.
Judai does not know how not to make it sound weird, but he asks anyway, "You okay there?"
Asuka chuckles quietly. "Yes, thank you."
"Now we make a human sandwich," Emma jokes. As each person is lying on their back, she wraps her arms around the arms of the two adults surrounding her.
"Are you still scared?" Asuka asks her.
She shakes her head. "Nope! You two are protecting me," she giggles.
"That's true," the woman agrees with a smile. "You should try to sleep now."
Emma closes her eyes obediently. "Okay," she whispers.
Trapped against the wall and Emma's grip on his arm, Judai sighs quietly in his uncomfortable position. "You should try to sleep too," he half-whispers, while staring at the ceiling.
"Yes, I will. Good night, Judai," Asuka's voice answers him and he wonders what kind of expression she has on her face right now.
Ah! Not like he has to worry about it! Judai closes his eyes and waits for slumber to take him away.
In the middle of the day, noises such as the ticking of a clock are engulfed by the ambient liveliness and no one recalls its existence. Yet at night, it manages to become the most irritating noise. Especially when one can not find sleep.
That is the kind of battle Asuka is currently facing in the middle of the night. That, and her quivering heart at the fact that Judai is lying on the same bed, extremely close by.
She sighs. What did she do to deserve this?
"Asuka? You're still awake?"
"H-Huh? Yes, I am," she replies to the sudden whisper coming from his side.
She waits for his next question, but it never comes. Instead, she hears him letting out a sigh. What is he thinking about… ?
"Why are you not sleeping?" A third voice asks out of the blue.
"Emma!" Both Asuka and Judai gasp at the same time.
The woman returns the question and the girl purses her lips. "I want to tell you two something…"
Asuka notices Judai perking up and curiously looking at the child. Equally intrigued, she turns her body to her side so she can face Emma. "What is it?"
Her hands are fiddling with the tip of the sheets. "Uncle Fubuki said… I'm lucky because you are my Daddy and my Mommy," she says in a quiet and timid voice. "I think he's right," she adds. Then she glances at both sides to catch Asuka's then Judai's stares, before she gazes back at the ceiling. "When I go back to my Mom and my Dad, I don't want you to forget about me."
As soon as she is done talking, Emma closes her eyes to pretend to be asleep, but the strained expression gives her a funny face.
This a short lapse of silence, before Asuka wraps her arms around the girl's shoulders. "You don't have to worry about that, Emma. We will never forget about you."
Judai pats her head with his hand. "Of course, we won't! We're pals forever," he heartily joins in.
Emma doesn't answer, still faking her sleep, but she holds tighter onto their arms.
Asuka looks up to meet Judai's eyes and she can not stifle her gentle laughter. "Did you hear that?" She whispers to him.
"Yeah," he tells her, similarly unable to contain his smile. "Told you we were doing a great job."
"Yes…" This time, she can say that she fully agrees. There is no word describing what immense satisfaction she is feeling right now. Judging by the huge smile on his face, Judai obviously shares the thought. Cozy with the comfortable silence, they are bathing in this comforting warmth.
Then, when she moves her leg to a more comfortable position, she feels it brushing another one. At the same time, Judai looks startled so she is quick to say, "Sorry!"
He gives her a stiff smile. "No worries," he tries to reassure her but his tone and his face say otherwise. Asuka can not help but notice how awfully jumpy he is around her tonight…
The comfortable atmosphere from a few seconds ago vanished in the blink of an eye. It's getting awkward again…
Asuka can not take it anymore. Her heart has been on a roller coaster the whole evening. She goes from completely fine to terribly embarrassed in a flash, and Judai keeps reacting weirdly to everything. He went as far as kissing her cheek on a complete whim!
In an attempt to pull herself together, Asuka looks back to their current situation. In the course of one of his hectic ventures, Judai came across Emma who was in need of immediate help. Having no clue how to deal with the situation on his own, he brought the girl to her apartment. Then, the two young adults who are barely in their mid-twenties took upon themselves to take care of a child for a short while, despite having absolutely zero experience in the matter. They, of course, never crossed the line of friendship despite some disturbing feelings being involved from (questionably) both sides. That is, until tonight because Judai suddenly decided that it is fine to kiss each other's cheeks for funsies.
To sum up, they are both pretending to know whatever they are doing for Emma's sake, despite being at a loss and thus letting themselves go with the flow. This nonsense has led them to share a bed and feeling embarrassingly aware of it, because this development is taking them much too further than what they are ready for.
What kind of ridiculous situation is that?
The absurdity of it all dawns like a brick on Asuka who scoffs. "Seriously, what are we doing?"
She glances at Judai who looks at her funny first, before chuckling in his turn. "To be honest, I have no idea."
They stare at each other for a while, until they can not take it anymore and start laughing together. It sounds nervous at first, but gradually becomes natural and it feels so liberating. Asuka isn't exactly sure what train of thoughts prompted him to join in the laughter, but she can hear how genuine his voice sounds. It is the unbreakable deep bond between them that is finding expression.
They keep laughing until Emma hisses, "Shhh! I can't sleep!"
Asuka gently taps the tip of her nose. "Oh, so you can interrupt my sleep, but I can't interrupt yours?" She teases.
"Life can be unfair, Emma, better get used to it now," Judai taunts her then.
"Ugh!" The girl hides her face under the sheets. "Leave me alone!" She grunts, sounding like she is still embarrassed about her confession from earlier.
"Won't do," Judai warns her. Before she can react, he dives under the sheets and tickles Emma with the tips of his fingers.
"S-Stop!" She first manages to keep her grumpy composure before she gives in and giggles. "Daddy! It tickles!" She shows her face and laughs as she tries to fight back.
Enjoying herself, Asuka watches them. She would rather die than letting her brother know about this, but she has to admit that the three of them are cute together.
When Judai lets her catch a break, Emma crosses her arms on her chest. "I'm awake now, because of you," she pouts. "Tell me a story so I can sleep!"
Squinting his eyes at her, he is not buying it. "Just say that's what you wanted from the start."
Asuka chimes in, "Judai travels a lot, he has many stories to share."
"Really?" Emma's eyes sparkle and she gives Judai an expectant look.
"Yeah!" He laughs then ponders for a second. "Alright, let me tell you about the time I became friends with Dark Magician…"
Comfortably nestled together, the two girls listen intently as he tells his story. Endless smiles and laughter fill the night and Asuka knows that, like everything else that she has shared with Judai in their life, this too will become a happy and precious memory.
asuka: i'm in love but also i'm not but also i am. anyway i need time to process my feelings