Should've taken a cab, Takaya thought muzzily, peering at a passing street sign. It was very, very late--or very early, and once past the city center the crooked little residential streets were dauntingly dark. But if he had gone straight home he knew that he would never have been able to sleep tonight.
It had been a difficult case: a young boy, barely into his teens, caught selling drugs to his classmates. Takaya had known even before talking to him that he'd been lying to the police about being tricked into it to support an ailing mother. The boy was no innocent: he'd known exactly what he was about. And yet, innocent enough to be terrified, and child enough to mask the trembling inside with defiance.
The boy was a runaway, quick and intelligent enough to have been picked off the streets by the yakuza to be trained as one of their distributors. He had been given a place to stay, food and clothes, companionship after a fashion--and if not warmth or kindness, at least he was left alone. And if he abandoned the society that had abandoned him--well, so what?
It had been gut-wrenchingly hard, seeing the despair and loneliness in those fierce eyes, not to reach out to the boy. This was the most difficult thing he'd had to learn in his job: compassion that went only so far and no further. He knew that he could not allow these children to become dependent on him, and yet it took all his will some days to stop himself--days like today, when he felt as if a promise were the only thing separating him from that boy. He had clutched to that promise for these five years, struggling desperately to find his footing in a world torn part--trusting in it with everything he had, trusting in the peace they had built. Yet searching, ever searching...
A thin wail, a baby's cry, cut into his thoughts. At first he paid it no mind, but it went on and on, and before he knew it he was walking toward it, then running, growing more frantic with every passing moment.
He found its source at last in front of a small hospital clinic: a tiny cloth-wrapped bundle lying alone, abandoned, on the hospital steps. He stopped still, panting, then approached slowly, heart pounding in his throat, mind a whirling chaos--no it can't be, it can't be; at last, at last...
But in the moment he touched the warm cheek and a tiny hand curled around his finger, he knew--he knew. He knelt there for a long time over the child, joy burning liquid tracks down his face as the world turned again beneath his feet, full circle, become complete--become right again.
The next conscious moment he had was of being on a train, staring down into the baby's eyes, arms wrapped tightly around a warm little body whose aura glowed with that achingly familiar thread of amber.
And then he was standing before the spacious grounds of a familiar temple as dawn streaked the sky in a glory of lavender and rose. He had visited not infrequently over the past couple of years, on New Year's Day and in an official capacity (both supernatural and otherwise), but had never stayed longer than necessary. He hesitated a moment, then resolutely headed for the family quarters. But even before he reached it he spotted the woman he had come here to see, standing with a gentle hand against the trunk of a camphor tree, gazing up at the eastern sky.
"Harue-san?" he said, approaching slowly so that he would not startle her. She turned, and a hand leapt to her mouth as she saw him.
"Takaya-san...! Oh!" her eyes widened at the sight of the baby. "What..."
"I found him abandoned," he explained, "and since I don't know anything about babies, I was hoping, um, that I might ask for your help."
"Of course!" she took his arm and hurried him toward the main house with motherly haste, asking no further questions.
He told her all he knew as he helped her washed the baby, change his diapers, and hunt down a baby bottle and milk with a brisk efficiency that left his head spinning.
"I had a dream about Yoshiaki this morning," she told him as she handed the baby back to him, sipping warm milk contentedly. "He was very like this as a baby, so solemn, so quiet and well-behaved, doing everything he could to avoid causing trouble for us. He was the same when he grew up, and somehow that made me even more worried about him. But with you, I saw him reaching outside of himself, reaching for something more... Takaya-san, I know I have asked you this many times, and I know why you have refused, but I would like to ask you one more time. Will you not consider moving here and living with this family? I am not above pointing out that even though you work for the Family Court, a single man living alone, who has never married, will not be given much consideration in an adoption plea. But if you are backed by this temple, with a guarantee that the temple will care for the child whenever you are unable to do so..."
Takaya swallowed against the burning in his throat, staring at this woman who treated him with all the kindness of a real mother, for the simple reason her son had loved him. "How...how did you know I was planning to adopt him?"
Mrs. Tachibana smiled. "Why did you bring him here instead of to a hospital or notify the police?" She patted his cheek. "Takaya-san, I am a mother."
He returned her smile, blinking back tears. Naoe, you gave me the gift of your family. Maybe now I can give them back to you. "If my presence here won't cause you pain, then I will gladly accept."
"Good," she said firmly. "I'm sure my husband will be delighted to have some real help around the temple. We will expect you to work for your keep, of course."
Takaya laughed. "Of course." He took away the empty bottle and peered at the tiny face. The large black eyes were still fixed on his. "Are they all supposed to be this...er...awake?" he asked worriedly.
Mrs. Tachibana chuckled. "Let me show you a trick I used on my children..."
She led him outside again into the trellised garden where the gentle early-morning sunlight glowed against deep green rose leaves and a riot of wisteria in full bloom. She sat him down in a chair of carved redwood with a deep, soft cushion. "Here. Lean back. Now turn the babe's face a little--yes."
Luxuriating in the warmth, Takaya watched the baby's eyes half-close, then close completely as the sunlight touched his face.
Mrs. Tachibana smiled gently as Takaya's eyes gradually slid shut. She remained beside them, watching over man and child as they dozed together in the beginning of another beautiful day.