After years of ripping humans apart, when Hidaka Ken first held his son Kaoru, it was his secret fear that he’d look at the baby and see nothing but gristle.
What he actually felt was fear itself, a massive surging terror.
The one million things that could harm him or take him away?
Something like that.
You and every other parent, Schuldig replied.
Fortunately for them both, Ken’s team had rallied round. Thanks to Yuki, the Koneko’s new nursery had state of the art monitoring technology. Kryptonbrand were diligent in health checks. And there was never a shortage of babysitters, whether it was Uncle Michel volunteering for bathtime or Uncle Ran, looking strangely maternal, toting Ken’s kid around the shop in a sling. Nana stepped in when the Uncles were absent.
Thanks to - and sometimes despite - their layers of protective care, Kaoru was growing up well. Tall for his age, robustly healthy, independent and smart, if unaccountably stubborn. Ken blamed the Fujimiya influence for that…
And you want me to embrace this?
“It’s a good thing,” Ken replied. “It means you care for someone more than yourself.”
“I ask again,” Schuldig said, turning to favour him with a cynical glance.
Ken shrugged. “If you don’t you don’t.”
Their kids were playing down by the shore line. Ken had bought them fishing nets and buckets in a local store but these had been abandoned quickly in favour of splashing about in the waves. It was a school day so they had the beach mostly to themselves and the novelty of getting wet in their clothes, which Ken expected to regret shortly. He and Schuldig were situated further up the beach, Schuldig perched on a large flat rock, while Ken burrowed around in the shingle. From time to time he found the exact right pebble, sliding it from one hand to the other while he considered the weight and shape, and then adding it to the precariously balanced stack he was building on a patch of sand.
“I would not tell anyone this, even you,” Schuldig eventually replied.
“You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t care at all. You didn’t make the trip for the weather.” They’d had many such discussions, fragmented and inconclusive, since Schwarz first approached Ken with their offer. For obvious reasons, there wasn’t a lot of trust to build on.
Up on his rock, the German was a study in angles, sitting cross legged and bare armed in his skinny jeans and teeshirt. He was leaning forward, one elbow resting on his raised knee and a cigarette held loosely between his long fingers. Sea breezes fluttered his hair into his eyes. In Tokyo, he’d been startling and vivid and terrifying but out here he was pale and thin and almost normal. He reminded Ken of a crane fly and occasionally of Yohji. Schuldig lifted the cigarette to his wide smiling mouth and blew smoke in Ken’s general direction.
Yohji’s better looking, Ken thought deliberately.
“The part about the weather is right,” Schuldig said promptly. Their excursion into Wales had coincided with a week of rain, which hadn’t surprised Ken but had frustrated the German, who was already less than enthusiastic about indulging Ken’s fit of nostalgia. But Ken was saying goodbye to part of his life, to most of it really, and it made sense to give the boys time to get to know each other before everyone was uprooted. And besides, this was where Kaoru was born.
Ken balanced his exactly perfect pebble on top of his little rocky tower and shuffled away from it before standing and brushing the sand off his clothes. Schuldig held the cigarette out suggestively and Ken sat on the rock beside him, glancing furtively towards the boys before accepting the offer.
“Your one vice,” Schuldig said ironically as Ken inhaled, then coughed. “Kudoh said you never smoked your own.”
“You never spoke to Yohji,” Ken said, frowning as he passed the cigarette back.
“A good point,” Schuldig replied, unabashed. “It wasn’t me he said it to of course. I was very shocked all the same. Your body is your temple or something like that.”
Ken favoured him with a long and meaningful look. “You know I wasn’t really planning on a long life, especially when you bastards kept trying to end it.”
“Ja ja,” Schuldig said casually, drawing Ken’s attention back to the present. The boys were climbing up the shingle towards them. “And if you do not buy the cigarettes you do not have them in the house. Crawford used to say the same boring thing. You must get Takatori to introduce you properly in Tokyo, I am sure you will become excellent friends.“ Then he smiled brilliantly. “Hello kinder. What can your loving father do for you now? By which I mean this loving father, of course,” he clarified, patting Ken’s knee in a robust show of affection.
“There’s a jellyfish,” Kaoru said breathlessly. “In the water. I think it’s dead though.”
“It looks like giant snot,” Shige said, with extra descriptiveness.