Late night discussions
He lay in bed for a moment, listening to the sound of Emiko-san breathing, soft and even, beside him. Then he heard the sound that had woken him again, soft footsteps going down the stairs. Dark must be awake -- and if he was making any noise at all, it was an indirect invitation to anybody who might be awake to come downstairs and join him, and Dark knew that the only one who woke when they heard Dark going downstairs at three am was Kosuke.
He was never sure, but he thought Dark liked him, and trusted him in a different way than he did Emiko-san and her father. He liked and trusted them because they were family. Kosuke was not a Niwa. Sometimes he thought that was why Dark liked him.
(That, and Kosuke thought that Dark was prepared to like anybody who made Emiko-san happy. Kosuke hoped he made her happy, he really did. She made him happy. So Dark liking him probably meant that he made her happy. Kosuke tried not to think what Dark would have done to someone who made his beloved Emiko unhappy.)
Kosuke slid out of bed and put on his slippers. He tried not to think about it because technically it was his son he was talking to at three am. He felt like he should be sending Dark back to bed because he had school tomorrow -- but then again Daisuke never showed any signs that he minded or even remembered Dark's late nights.
And Kosuke kind of liked talking to Dark at three am.
He went downstairs quietly, holding his breath at the squeaking stair that none of the others, even Daisuke, seemed to step on, and moving to the kitchen. There was a faint, glowing light in the kitchen, which appeared and then faded.
Kosuke sighed. For an immortal spirit, Dark had awful tastes sometimes. He wondered if Emiko-san knew about it. Knowing her, she did but pretended not to notice as long as Daisuke didn't eat them. He walked into the kitchen.
"Hang on a second," said Dark's voice. Kosuke waited until Dark flipped on the light above the sink. Dark didn't like full light when he was up late; he prefered the shadows but he knew that Kosuke didn't have good night vision. (Well, thought Kosuke, compared to the rest of the world, his night vision was fine. It was just compared to the Niwas that he was blind in the dark.) The kettle on the stove was already steaming gently, and there was a mug on the counter beside it, with a tea-strainer filled with loose tea, ready for the water.
And it would be, Kosuke knew, the type of tea he liked best. He also knew better than to say a word about it.
He looked at the table and shook his head. Dark grinned at him. "I LIKE it," he said.
"I know you do," said Kosuke, walking to the stove and pouring water into the cup. "But Choco-Frosted Sugar Bombs aren't something you'd expect Dark Mousy to eat."
Dark chuckled. "When I was with Daiki we used to stop at this little taiyaki stand after a heist. His mother thought it was terrible."
"Did you bring her any?" asked Kosuke.
"Of course we did," said Dark. "We'd bring her sweet potatoes, too. She said we were only trying to get on her good side and she was ashamed of us." He smiled, an affectionate remembering smile. "She'd complain about it the entire time she was eating. Daiki's father used to buy her sweet potatoes when they were courting, I remember. She thought that was terrible, too."
Kosuke shook his head. "I'm sure his mother was happy you brought her some," he said, lifting the strainer off the cup and shaking it gently to drain the last of the water from the tea leaves.
"Oh, she was," said Dark. "But she was a terror for propriety." He crunched on a spoonful of cereal. "Nice girl," he added. "Looked just like a - a Girl's Festival princess doll."
Kosuke dumped the used tea leaves into the compost bucket and turned around, raising an eyebrow. "I didn't know you'd ever seen one."
"I STOLE one," said Dark proudly. "The entire set, prince, princess, retainers and all. 'Course I sort of think he made them for the Niwa girls anyway. But I stole them, fair and square."
Kosuke, unfortunately, had just sat down and was in the middle of taking a sip of tea. He choked, and Dark leaned over and grabbed the cup before he dropped it. He set it on the table and got up to pound Kosuke helpfully on the back.
"WHAT?" he gasped, finally.
"Serious," said Dark. "The Niwa I was with had this sister about ten years younger than he was. The Hikari -- man, what was his name? -- just so happened to make a princess doll set. Not that I call a Girl's Festival set where the princess has a red-feather pattern kimono much of a coincidence."
"She was really tickled with it."
Kosuke boggled. Nearly twenty years he'd been a member of this family, and they still managed to surprise him. "Why did he --"
"He liked little girls," said Dark. "Not in that way, I mean, he just, y'know, liked 'em. Type of guy who'd paint a kite -- he did beautiful kites, I think we have one somewhere -- and just find a kid to give it to. I remember one he did that looked so much like a butterfly you expected it to land on a flower."
Kosuke blinked. "Kites?"
"Not something you'd think a Hikari would do, huh?" said Dark, eating cereal.
"You sound..." Kosuke hesitated. "You know the Hikari family very well, don't you?"
"We go a long way back, yeah."
"You seem fond of some of them," said Kosuke.
"They weren't all crazy bastards," said Dark, as if making a great concession. "Any more than all the Niwa were all like Daiki and Daisuke. They're just people, you know?"
"And it can't be easy carrying around Krad like some time bomb waiting to go off," added Dark.
"I've noticed..." said Kosuke, slowly. "In the records. The Hikari clan doesn't live long, do they?"
"No," said Dark. There was an edge to his voice, a warning.
Kosuke went on anyway. He had to know. "How long does Hiwatari-kun have?"
"How should I know?"
"Dark," said Kosuke, looking at him. "You know them better than anybody."
Dark sighed. "Honestly? They're like drones. They live just long enough to breed."
"If that." Dark poked at his cereal with his spoon. "Dammit, it's all soggy. I hate it when it gets all soggy."
"Dark," said Kosuke, gently. "I need to know." He was not a Niwa. He would never be a Niwa. But he was bound up with them now, as surely as if he had been born into the clan.
Dark looked at him. Kosuke was stuck by the weariness in his eyes, the weight of his long existence living from one Niwa son to the next. "You know that Hiwatari is the last of the direct Hikari line."
"There are no branch clans left," said Dark flatly. "The Niwa -- we've still got some branches here and there. If Daisuke gets run over tomorrow, the worst that would happen is that I would have to wait for one of the girls to have a son. At best -- Emiko's still able to have children. I wait. There'll be another Niwa eventually."
"Krad does not have that option," said Dark. "Hiwatari is the /last/, Kosuke."
Kosuke swallowed. "That wasn't what I asked."
"Hikari Satoshi is dying," said Dark, very calmly. "He won't live long enough to produce an heir. He doesn't want to."
Kosuke stared at the table. Better that than Dark's inhuman eyes. "Which? I mean, doesn't want to have an heir, or --"
"He doesn't want to live," said Dark, still in that terrible, calm voice. "You don't have any idea what it's like for him. Remember when I had to fight Krad? And Daisuke got knocked out?"
"He lives with that drain every day," said Dark. "Every day of his life, Kosuke. Try to imagine that."
Kosuke stared down at his tea. A reflecting image, he thought. You could tell fortunes in reflections. "How long?"
"I don't know," said Dark, tired and very, very old. "But this is it, Kosuke. This is the fucking /end/. It's going to be settled in this generation, one way or the other."
"There's nothing we can do," said Kosuke. He meant it as a question, but it came out as a statement.
"Pray," said Dark. "Hope. Love your son. What else can you do?"
There was a long silence. Kosuke tried to imagine Hiwatari-kun waiting to die, waiting for Dark to come and knowing that his appearence would bring him one step closer to his end.
"It's not so bad," said Dark suddenly. Kosuke looked up and Dark grinned at him, sly and amused. "He's got one thing going for him, at least."
Dark chuckled, like there was a joke he was keeping to himself. "Daisuke," he said. "You think he's going to stand there and let his friend die? He's half you, Kosuke."
Still chuckling, Dark closed his eyes, and when he opened them again, he was Daisuke, sleepy and a little confused and ordinary.
Daisuke rubbed his eyes. "What am I doing in the kitchen?" He looked down and made a face. "Ew. He always makes me clean up his messes."
"Daisuke," said Kosuke.
Daisuke blinked at him. "Dad? What are you doing up?" He didn't wait for an answer before picking up the bowl and stumbling to the sink.
Kosuke watched him. He remembered the day Daisuke was born, sitting on the bed with Emiko-san. Look, she had said, his hair is sticking up just like yours.
He's got your eyes, he replied, fascinated by the way Daisuke's hands opened and closed. And your hands.
The baby opened his eyes and for one moment they were the milky unfocused color of a newborn -- and then his pupils slit and his irises turned purple. He stared at them for a long moment, old eyes in a newborn's face, and then he blinked and they were ordinary baby eyes.
Oh, said Emiko-san, softly, reverently. He's a Niwa. He's really a Niwa.
Kosuke had shivered, but he managed a smile when Emiko leaned against him and said, drowsily, Finally ... we can have carp flags ... at Boy's Festival ... and fell asleep, smiling.
"Dad?" said Daisuke. He sounded almost awake.
"Hmm?" said Kosuke. His son had hair that stuck up like his and Emiko-san's eyes and her slender, capable hands. How had he helped create him?
"I'm going back to bed," said his son.
Kosuke nodded. "Daisuke --"
Kosuke hestiated, and shook his head. He got up and rumpled Daisuke's hair. "Sleep tight."
"Night, Dad," said Daisuke, and stumbled out of the room.
Kosuke sat for a long moment, staring into his tea, and then got slowly and rinsed out his cup. Ordinary things to be doing, he thought, in an ordinary room, when somewhere else there was a boy who slept -- did he sleep at all? -- and woke alone, waiting to die.
He turned out the light and felt his way out of the kitchen and up to their room. Emiko-san hadn't moved. Kosuke looked at her, watching the way she breathed, soft and even, and then turned and went quietly into Daisuke's room.
Hikari Rio had died shortly after her son's birth. The records were vague on the reasons; a secondary infection she'd never quite recovered from, side effects of something or another. They just live long enough to breed, Dark had said. He wondered if she had ever gone to her son's room to watch him sleep. He wondered what she had thought.
Daisuke was bundled under his covers, his head half-covered by With. With liked sleeping on Daisuke, for some reason; he always had, although when Daisuke was younger he had slept on the pillow beside him. Kosuke pulled the covers gently over his feet and smoothed them down, then removed With and put him on the pillow beside Daisuke.
Pray, Dark said. Hope. Love your son.
I've been doing that since the day I found out he was going to be born, thought Kosuke. Is it going to be enough?
There was no answer.
taiyaki: a traditional sweet -- basically it's a pancake shaped like a fish filled with red bean paste. Yes, it sounds strange. IT IS TOTALLY THE BEST THING EVER.
Girl's Festival: On March 3rd, there's a festival especially for little girls, and one of the things traditionally done is setting out a set of dolls that represent the Emperor, Empress and their Court.
Boy's Festival: May 5th, one of the things traditionally done is flying carp-shaped flags for every boy in the household.
(both festivals, obviously, involve LOTS OF CANDY.)
"Not that I call a Girl's Festival set where the princess has a red-feather pattern on her kimono much of a coincidence." -- the name 'Niwa' is actually written with the characters for 'red' (or 'rust') and 'feather', so basically it's a pun on their name.
All this backstory I'm dumping in? Is pretty much NOT canon because you find out buggerall about the Niwa and Hikari clan history during the actual manga.