many thanks to Chris White and K2p2 for some brilliant betaing....
I thought it was brilliant too, when they told the rest of us she was going to have a baby. I pestered them to get married before it was born, but aniki kept saying that it would be better after the baby was born, I accepted that, I mean I don’t think onechan wanted to look like a watermelon in her wedding pictures.
She got huge too, I thought her stomach would burst open as the baby grew inside it, and she got grumpy. Sometimes she moaned so much I thought aniki would hate her for it, but he didn’t. He wasn’t so lovey-dovey with her though, not like he was when they first started dating, but I thought that that would get better once the child was born.
What surprised me more was how much attention Joe gave her too. He would help out wherever he was needed, and I didn’t think he would. I mean he doesn’t seem the type to get all silly over babies. Still, onechan seemed to appreciate it, she was ever so grateful when he was able to help her get to the medical bay once it was time for the baby to be born. And he waited with her until aniki arrived, too. To no one’s surprise, aniki had been out on his mail run when the call went out, so maybe it was lucky Joe was with her.
I didn’t want to be around all the yucky stuff, as Ryu had told me it got. I saw enough blood and gore during missions, I didn’t want to see any when fighting wasn’t involved. Ryu stayed with me at the J, so we were both there when aniki told us she had a baby girl. Joe turned up while we were celebrating, and we had to tell him. He thought it was brilliant too, just like Ryu and I did.
We went to see them as soon as aniki said she was up to it. We took cards and gifts and balloons, and onechan started crying as soon as she saw them, which I thought was pretty weird. I mean, she should be happy now she’d had the baby at last; she was certainly grumpy enough before it was born. I’ll never be able to work out how girls’ brains work. I’m not sure if I really want to now.
As for the baby, I really can’t see what all the fuss is about. I’ve never seen one so tiny before, but I always thought they were supposed to be beautiful. Well this one was anything but. Its skin was all wrinkled, and she couldn’t open her eyes or anything. Still I cooed along with everyone else, and told onechan how lovely I thought the baby was. I even asked what her name is, but onechan said she hadn’t decided.
Aniki and onechan had been assigned married quarters, a floor above ours, once they became a family. I didn’t know there were such things, since our rooms were all on the same floor, but apparently they were provided for maintenance staff and others who had their husbands or wives working for the ISO too, although there wasn’t any ‘children’ living there. I’d snuck up a time or two to see, but there were only babies and preschoolers with their mum’s and dads.
I might have liked having kids my own age to hang around with. Nah, the mums tended to leave the building once their kids got to school age, so they would grow up “normal”. That’s like saying I’m not, but I’m the mighty Swallow, and the rest of them can’t say that, so I guess they have a point.
Anyway, it must have been a week later when all the trouble kicked off. I hung around with Ryu a lot more those days. We were heading back to his room to see a new computer game, Ryu said it was the best shoot ’em up he’d ever tried. I wanted to see if I could get as good as Joe with it, but instead we ran into aniki in the corridor.
He looked in a right mess. His right hand was covered in blood, and there was a lot of it splattered in his hair and on his clothes. Not unusual if we were on the battlefield, even a good sign that we’d won that particular battle, but here, we don’t see it too often.
“Hey, Ken,” Ryu started to say, “What the.....” Aniki’s only response was to push past us and tear down the passage as if he had an army of armed goons chasing him, and his birdstyle failed to activate. Ryu looked at me and shrugged. I wondered if we should go after him, but then we heard the groaning coming from Joe’s room.
I was almost sick when I looked in there, and that takes some doing. Joe was almost completely covered in the red stuff, laid out on the floor, barely conscious. Ryu called for the emergency med team the minute he saw Joe in that condition, and then checked for vital signs. We all had basic first aid training, but when it came to stuff like this, Joe himself was the one who was most qualified. Ryu was still trying to bring Joe round when the med team arrived, and we had to let them take over from there.
Still, we called Hakase as soon as we could, and stayed with Joe while they took him to theatre, hanging around ‘til we found out he was out of danger.
“Who did this Ryu?” I wondered out loud.
“It doesn’t take a genius to work it out, ya know.”
“But why would Aniki do this to him?”
“I ain’t got a clue,” he conceded. “But Jun might be able to shed some light on the matter.” I’d never seen the normally happy-go-lucky Owl look so grim before, as he called onechan to come down to the med bay.
“Jun.” Ryu’s voice sounded sterner than usual. “You need to get down here, Ken’s beat Joe up pretty badly.”
Onechan arrived with the baby, just as Joe was brought out of theatre, and hooked up to the monitors. I was watching through the window against his bed, but once I saw onechan arrive, I backed away.
“What makes you so sure Ken did this?” she started, immediately.
“Who else can get the better of Joe like that?”
“Not this badly, Jun, it’s almost like Joe LET Ken beat him half to death,” Ryu answered. “Besides, I’m here, so is Jinpei and you now, so where is our noble commander?”
Onechan sat in the nearest seat, looking ready to burst into tears. If Nambu hadn’t turned up at that time, I’m sure she would have. I didn’t know what to do, or what to think. Ken and Joe fought all the time, but it always ended amicably.
This seemed so much worse than that though, and I couldn’t understand it. I looked from onechan to Ryu and back again. Nether of them seemed prepared to shed any light on the situation. I doubt if Ryu really knew anything anyway.
“Ryu, babysitting duties,” Nambu instantly took charge. “Jinpei, watch Joe, any change in his condition let me know. Jun, come with me.” To my relief, onechan followed, leaving the baby with Ryu and me. I sincerely hoped Ryu knew what to do, because I wouldn’t have a clue if she began to cry.
“If anyone can get to the bottom of this, Nambu will.” I’m not sure who Ryu was trying to convince, himself or me, but I agreed with him instantly.
At least Sarah didn’t cry or anything. She was a bit more fun to watch than Joe was, but she still didn’t do much, except try to suck my finger when I put it in her tiny little hand. That kid sure has a tough grip on her, that’s for sure.
She fell asleep before too long, so then it became boring. Joe continued to lay there, covered head to toe with bandages, or so it looked like to me. Even Ryu didn’t have much to say.
“So why would aniki do this to Joe?”
Ryu just sighed. “I don’t think it’s for me to say,” he said at last. “I told her at the time that things would turn out like this, but she wouldn’t listen.”
“What things Ryu, what are you talking about?” I asked. He knew something then, but wasn’t telling.
Something was going on here, this wasn’t right, and I didn’t have any idea what the right thing to say or do was. Nobody told me anything.
“Nothing.” He looked down at me, with sadness in his eyes I’d never seen before, and sighed. “Just a shame there had to be an innocent little baby stuck in the middle of it all.” Ryu looked at the child now sleeping peacefully in its carrier. “Makes you wonder what’s gonna become of her, don’t it?”
“But she’ll be fine though, why shouldn’t she be?”
“Of course she will,” Ryu smiled at last. “She has all of us to watch over her, we’re not gonna let anything bad happen, now, are we?”
“No way.” I was just about to go into my “Mighty swallow” speech, when I noticed Joe’s eyes flicker open, through the window to his room. I rushed to the glass, pressing my face against it. Sure enough, he was waking up. “Joe has come round; I’d better let Hakase know.”
I rushed to his office as quickly as I could, once outside though, I could hear their voices, but quieter than usual, so they wouldn’t be accidentally overheard. Nevertheless I put my ear to the door to catch as much as I could. I heard onechan mention aniki by name and something about it affecting their performance. So I’d already missed the main point of the discussion then. I had a creepy feeling I didn’t want to know too much more.
I knocked on the door, so they would know I was there, and then poked just my head around. “You wanted to know, Joe’s come round,” I told him simply, then seeing onechan looking at me, her eyes red and swollen from what must have been a lot of crying, I added, “but Sarah’s gone to sleep.” There, I’d done my duty. Ryu was still watching Sarah, so I doubted he would be able to play games now. All I could do was mope about trying to piece together all the clues I had, and not come up with any satisfactory explanation. Yet anything I could think of couldn’t make any sense of it all.
Joe had obviously done something so bad that aniki would want to kill him. And the mess Joe was in, that was a serious beating too. Joe didn’t defend himself or aniki would have been in a similar condition too. I wondered if aniki had gone to the airstrip, and if so, would he let me know what on earth was going on?
Some time later, I finally got to see Aniki at the airstrip. He wouldn’t tell me why he had hit Joe like he did, but that’s was ok, he said he was sorry he had done it anyway. It’s funny how simply saying sorry is supposed to make everything better. OK, I wasn’t the one hurt, but giving Joe an apology wouldn’t make Joe’s injuries go away. I told Aniki, that he needed to say that to Joe, not to me, but he just looked away.
“So when will you go back to base? Onechan still needs you to help her with the baby. Don’t you miss your daughter?” He flinched, then turned quickly away, leaving me with just a memory of pain in his eyes.
“In good time, Jinpei.” Aniki told me. “There are things going on here that I don’t understand, so I can’t expect you to.”
“Well I think it’s neat. For years, she’s been like a mother to me, and all this time I’ve been the youngest in the team. It’ll be great to be a big brother for once. Will you be moving into the Snack J or will she join you here with Sarah?”
Aniki didn’t answer straight away; instead he bent down to fuss a large stripy cat that weaved its way between his legs, meowing for food.
“I don’t know, yet.” He said, bending down to pick it up, holding it gently in his arms, as though it were a baby. “Nothing’s been agreed. I think she needs more time on base to get into a routine.”
I must have looked puzzled at him because he went on. “She has the professionals around her, and we’re both new to this parenthood lark, so it’s just easier to be where the experts can be nearby to help when there are things we don’t understand.”
That sounded reasonable enough I suppose. Although onechan had some experience from looking after me, but then, I wasn’t that small when onechan found me. I’m sure I didn’t have nappies on back then. So what aniki said did kind of make sense. But then, wouldn’t he want the help and advice from the professionals too? If, like he said, they were both new to it.
“If you’re wondering, I think Joe’s going to be ok.” Even though he hadn’t asked, I thought it might make him feel better, but he just grunted. The cat had jumped down and come to check me out now, rubbing itself along my shin by way of greeting. “I only wish I knew what he’s done to make you so angry so I don’t make that mistake myself.”
At last, aniki laughed, but not happily.
“I think I can safely say that won’t happen.”
Ok, still not saying. Maybe changing the subject will put him in a better mood, so then when he’s feeling better, I can try asking him again.
“Cool, so where did the cat come from?” I leant down to scratch it behind its ears.
“No idea, but it better return there soon. I’ve no money for my food, never mind anything else, and I’ve no interest in the ‘gifts’ it brought me earlier today.”
“You sound like you’re living here all the time now. You’re going to come back soon aren’t you?”
“Yeah, sure I am Jin. I just need some time to work things out myself, y’know. I’m still the commander of the team if that’s what you’re worried about.” Aniki mussed up my hair a little. But I’d got something of an answer out of him. “Having a kid of my own is a big deal, I need to see how I really feel about it, before we’re totally on our own with her.”
“Yeah, I suppose I can see that.” I agreed eventually, although I couldn’t really. Wasn’t all the time onechan was pregnant long enough to get used to it coming? It was beginning to look like aniki was going to keep this up though. Really, that’s what I’d resigned myself to.
All this time talking and asking him stuff, and I was still no closer to knowing anything. WHY? Why was all this going on around me, and why wasn’t anyone telling me anything, and why couldn’t it all stop and go back to the way it was before? “I’d better go get some food for the cat then, do you have a name for it?”
“Nope, I’m not planning on keeping it.” Aniki just shrugged. “You want to feed the thing, then knock yourself out, although I’ll never get rid of it then.”
“Be back soon then.” I made my exit, glad to get away from him for a little while. I almost wished I hadn’t promised to go back with food for the cat.
I thought having a baby around the house would be cool, but it’s hard work. Despite onechan’s best intentions, I’d still be woken up during the night with Sarah crying for night feeds, and the smell from her nappies was enough to put me right off my food. What I did find odd though, is that aniki didn’t move into the J as I’d been expecting him to, no matter how often onechan would tell me he would. Before Sarah was born, you couldn’t keep him away
It was always Joe, turning up every so often and taking Sarah out, and Joe that brought her back again too. While she was away, onechan wouldn’t say much, just sat alone moping if she wasn’t working in the J anyway.
If I tried asking her about aniki she would just brush me off, or change the subject altogether and send me on some useless chore or other. And I’m not supposed to suspect anything was wrong? If anything it sent more alarm bells ringing than before.
If we saw anything of aniki these days it was only in training. He would complete the schedule, and then just rush off on his own. I tried asking him what he was doing once, but he ignored me and just left. Since my talk with him, he’d barely set foot inside the J, except for once, about a week ago maybe when he finally paid off his tab. Onechan wasn’t around at the time and I’d sort of got the impression that aniki had planned it that way. He didn’t stay though, some guy had come in and shouted his mouth off about Ken messing his sister about, and aniki didn’t hang around for long after he left.
Aniki? With some guy’s sister? Have I walked into some kind of parallel universe or something? Had he met someone else and onechan was cross with him then? Somewhere, deep inside, I felt my stomach begin to twist into knots. That would sure explain a lot, Joe was taking Sarah over to him so onechan wouldn’t have to see him here. Joe and I were both ready to give this stranger a good thumping if he were ready to start anything. How dare he suggest that aniki would go with anyone except onechan! I’ll soon put him straight if he dares show his face here again. I didn’t like this ‘brother,’ guy. Not one bit. I’m glad Jun wasn’t here to hear his lies.
Onechan and aniki were meant to be together, so he couldn’t just start meeting others, could he? It sure didn’t explain why he beat Joe up, unless that was about something different altogether. Great! Now I have two problems to sort out, since the supposed grown-ups haven’t got a clue how to sort things out for themselves.
Sarah was a bit bigger now, but still couldn’t do anything. She would kind of smile at me if I looked at her, but she didn’t find any of my funny faces amusing.
If anything should have warned me about the big changes that were afoot, then Joe returning with Sarah, and onechan rushing straight out should do it. Joe hung around the Snack J with me, just making small talk, although he kind of hinted to me that aniki wasn’t intending to move in. That wasn’t any surprise any more. When I thought about how long I’d hoped this would have been resolved by now, I began to realise this was much worse than I’d thought. Joe knew a lot more than he was letting on. But it just occurred to me that I didn’t have Joe’s version of events at all.
Aniki warned Joe over his bracelet that onechan was on her way back, and Joe went outside to meet her, while I made a pot of coffee for us all. I couldn’t hear what was being said when she arrived, but Joe brought Sarah up, and was about to go change her, when he stopped and asked me if I’d give Sarah her bottle when he’d done. I realised that this was a good opportunity to ask him if he knew anything.
“Only if you tell me what’s going on.” I bargained with him. “I’m fed up with being kept in the dark about everything that’s been happening around here, I know something big has happened but nobody will tell me anything and I’ve had enough.”
Joe had to think for a minute, then sighed.
“Ken’s not Sarah’s father, ok? I am.” He might as well have kicked me in the stomach, but he continued. “Maybe you should have been told sooner, but we didn’t know how things were going to pan out.” He looked down at little Sarah, even brought her up close to kiss her bald little head. “I’m hoping to be a full time dad to her, if Jun will let me.”
I didn’t know what to say to that. I couldn’t believe it. It was the last thing I’d expected to hear, since it meant that onechan had cheated on aniki, and she would never have done that. They loved each other. Onechan didn’t love Joe, at least not the same anyway. She couldn’t…could she?
When she came in, she looked dreadful. To see her, anyone would think she hadn’t slept for months. Perhaps that was almost true with the baby waking up in the middle of the night. I wasn’t sure how I felt towards her any more. She was my big sister, not by blood perhaps, but she was the one to care for me. It used to be that she did everything I supposed a mother would do, and I’d always wind her up something rotten in return. Now she seemed different to me. She suddenly went from the most important person in my life, to someone I didn’t know at all. I hated her for making me feel like that.
Joe had got Sarah cleaned up and changed. When he saw Jun he passed Sarah straight to me. I took her bottle and started to feed it to her, and made onechan go to bed. She made a feeble attempt to argue with me, but Joe backed me up so she had no choice but to go. He followed her into her room with a mug of coffee; they were in there for quite a while. They must have had a lot to talk about so I left them to it.
I had a lot of questions myself, and I was going to bang on the door when I’d finished feeding Sarah, but thought better of it. They had done talking from what I could hear, and if I’d had any doubt about what Joe had said about him being Sarah’s dad, that had gone out of the window.
I sat back down on the living room sofa, and remembered to burp Sarah as I’d often seen onechan do. I’d just forgotten to cover myself with a towel before I did. And not just gas came up either. Dammit. I couldn’t put her down in the mess she was in, and I couldn’t trust myself to change her either. I didn’t want to hurt her.
“Onechan!” finished or not, I need some help with this. “Onechan, Sarah’s puked all over me!” It wasn’t any surprise when Joe came out and took her off me, and at least I was able to get a shower. Feeling fresh and clean, I sat with Joe and asked him to explain what really was going on.
“Are you really going to be her dad then?”
“No ‘going to be’ about it, I am and that’s all there is to say. You had better get used to it.”
“So are you going to move in here?”
“We haven’t made any final decisions yet,” Joe admitted. “I think we’ll be together though, I sure want to.”
Had he detected the sadness in my voice? Was that why he kept his voice quiet? He was sure talking to me like a grown up for a change.
“Jeez, I don’t know. Why did we do it? Why wasn’t Ken her dad? I’m sorry Jinpei, but I don’t have those answers. I wish I did. I do know that I love Jun, and will do anything for her and Sarah.” He was trying to be honest at least. “If you’re worried about how this affects you, then don’t be, things don’t have to change that much. It was going to be Ken, but you’ve got me instead.”
That’s cool.” I stood up and put my jacket on. “I’m out for a while, let onechan know I’ll be back for my stint at the J ok?”
“Sure squirt.” His attention had gone back to the baby. I shrugged and left him to it.
I didn’t plan to call on Ryu. I’d just jumped into my buggy and began to drive, just wherever it took me I suppose, and ended up outside his beach hut. Lucky for me he was home, I don’t know what I’d have done if he’d been out at sea. Well, perhaps I’d have waited for a little while, but after that I don’t know. The first thing he did when he saw me was prepare some food. How did he guess I was hungry?
After we’d eaten, he waited for me to say something. The stupid thing was that I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t even know what I’d gone there for so why would I know what to say? Ryu seemed to sense this though, and after a few minutes of silence, he decided to speak for me.
“Lemme guess, things are all different at home and you don’t like it much?”
How did he know? Had he known all about it all too and didn’t tell me either? What else was I being kept in the dark about?
“Did you know Joe is Sarah’s dad then?”
“You kidding me?” Ryu looked genuinely shocked. “Sorry, I had no idea. So that’s what it was all about then.”
“All what?” Was he going to come up with another piece of this puzzle that I hadn’t known about?
“Ken beating Joe up like he did, that would make sense if he had discovered that Joe had fathered ‘his’ child.”
“But onechan wouldn’t cheat on aniki though.”
Ryu apparently wasn’t sure what to say to that. I’m sure he knew what had gone on between them, but he just wasn’t sure how to tell me. He might have been surprised that Joe was the dad, but not so shocked about what they had done for it to happen. Well I’m almost grown up, I know about sex and stuff, how hard can it be?
“I don’t think Jun saw it as cheating as such,” he began, understanding my need for an explanation. “I think there was one time when Ken let them be together, or so I’ve been led to believe anyway. Maybe that’s when she became pregnant.”
“Then why would aniki be so angry about it then? Sad yeah, maybe, but if he let them then he shouldn’t be angry.” Yup, there’s no arguing with kid logic like that. I felt sick, deep inside. This was my family, my team. I couldn’t understand how they could behave like that. I certainly didn’t understand how Ryu could be so calm about it all either. I was mad at them, disappointed that my big brother and big sister weren’t going to be the perfect family I had so wanted them to be.
“Do you know Joe’s with onechan now? He told me he loves her, and he might be staying there forever?”
“So they’re gonna make a go of it then?” Ryu gave that some thought. “I can see how that would be awkward for you.”
“Can I stay here? Please, Ryu?” I didn’t want to face them, it wasn’t right somehow. I couldn’t sit and watch the pair of them playing happy family like aniki didn’t even matter any more. “I just don’t like it there any more. I was looking forward to aniki living there, but not Joe.”
“Tonight? Sure, you know you’re welcome any time,”
“Yeah? Well that’s great, but I didn’t mean just tonight.”
“How long were you thinking?”
“I’m not sure.” I shrugged. “At least until Sarah doesn’t keep waking everyone up.”
“That can be quite a while yet. Even when she stops waking up for feeding, she will wake up when her teeth come through.”
“How do you know all that stuff?”
“Seiji,” Ryu answered with a grin. “I had to go through all that when he was born, and I can understand how annoying it can be, but at least he was my little brother, and we didn’t go swapping his parents around while he was a baby.”
“You’re lucky to have a normal family, Ryu.”
“Hey what’s normal? How normal is it when you can’t tell your family what you do for a living because it might put them in danger?” He smiled and gave my shoulder a reassuring pat. “I know what you mean though.”
“So can I stay then?” I persisted. “I won’t be any trouble, I promise. I’ll even help with the tourist trips. I know everything there is to know about the marine life around these parts, and I could be like your tour guide!” Suddenly I’d found some unexpected enthusiasm.
“You know, maybe for a few days, then we can talk with Jun and Joe.” I think that impressed him, so much so that he was actually considering what I’d said. “We can tell them we’re giving them time to settle down as a family. If Jun’s ok with you staying here, and I’m happy that you’re not going to be any trouble.”
Ryu sighed. “It must be really bad around there at the moment. Two days, then we talk to Joe and Jun, ok?”
“I won’t be any trouble, Ryu, I promise!” I couldn’t believe I really meant it, too.