...Also, this icon is inappropriate. XD;
Title: Staying Strong
Disclaimer: Panic Age is not mine!
Warnings: Gayness and angst is about it, I guess XD;
Author's Note: So, this is set in canon timeline for Panic Age, but I have to make some addendums before the fic XD; Since we know nothing about Tuti's and Ichiban's family situation (all we know is that they play tennis in high grass? XD;) fencer_x and I have decided that Tuti and Nagayan live together and raise Tuti's biological son by a surrogate mother, Ichiban, together. That all makes relative sense, but then, to be fair, we threw Nagayan's biological son by a surrogate mother, lovingly named Sakura, into the fray, just to make things fun. XD; So, while this is set in Panic Age canon timeline, be aware that it's... uh, my and fencer_x's interpretation of Panic Age. XD;;;
The apartment feels empty now, without Tuti around, and though Nagayan would never dream of saying so, he feels it, intensely and unrelentingly, through every pore of his body for every second of the day that he's home without the other man, without his lover, his partner, the father of his children. Despite the fact that their 2LDK is too small for them, really, now that Ichiban's in his teens and Sakura's getting close, too, the space feels dark and cavernous without Tuti's too-loud laughter at the dinner table, Tuti's obnoxious snoring when he's had too much to drink, Tuti's stupid, fatherly smile as he comments on Ichiban's karate trophies, or Sakura's drawings of floral clothing designs, stuck with magnets to their small refrigerator alongside yellowing magazine clippings of old interviews and family photographs of the four of them. The space is a bit messy and rather eclectic, with pastel floral-print curtains on the windows and red tartan covers on the bed, but it's them, it's always been them-- until it was only him, him and the kids, trying to distract themselves from the fact that the fourth member of their family is in the hospital, and there's no certainty that he'll ever be home again.
Nagayan's never been much good at pretending, but suddenly, now he's the only emotional support for the whole family, and as much as he feels the need to simply break down and cry, he can't do that to his kids, can't do that to the two people most dependent on him in the world. Besides, Sakura's been doing enough crying for the three of them; he falls into fits at almost regular intervals, and comes crawling into Nagayan's bed at night with nightmares almost every night. And when Ichiban fails to show the same emotional instability, when he refuses to cry, it only upsets Sakura further, causing him to call Ichiban a plethora of unpleasant names and, on a few occasions, go as far a throwing a few punches. Nagayan does everything he can to keep him calm, to keep him placated, to, at the very least, give him a warm embrace and a shoulder to cry on, but the boy is only nine years old, and how is he supposed to behave when he's been told his father is dying?
Ichiban, on the other hand, does his best to put on a brave face, and that almost worries Nagayan more, in the long run. It's normal, he thinks, to be upset, it's normal to cry and scream the way Sakura does, but Nagayan doesn't know how to comfort Ichiban when he's determined to "be a man" about it, determined not to cry. He wants to tell him it's okay, but he doesn't know how to say it to him, doesn't know how to tell his son that he'll be strong enough for the both of them when he isn't sure that he can be. And so he lets it be, lets Ichiban stay at karate practice late, doesn't say anything when he breaks curfew and goes straight to his room without dinner. Nagayan can't judge, not more than he can judge Sakura's tantrums or his own tight-throated, tight-lipped silence as he swallows back tears again and again and again.
He almost wishes everything would be normal, that he'd have deadlines to make and rehearsals to go to and no one would dance around him like he was a ticking bomb or send him sympathetic looks when they caught his eye. But, of course, that's not how it is, and even Tamaoki is too understanding for someone who always hated Tuti, is pushing back meetings and not asking questions when Nagayan is running late, and god, he feels so much like he's being babied but there's nothing he can do when he doesn't really have the emotional stability to pick any sort of fight. And so he smiles back and nods at the others at rehearsal and thanks Tamaoki nicely and takes the time off to visit Tuti in the hospital while the kids are at school, when he doesn't have to pretend that of course Daddy's going to get better, when he can lean in close and kiss Tuti and just cry.
But then he has to go home and make dinner and check homework and smile, pretend nothing's wrong, pretend everything's okay, and that's how it goes, day after day after day. Wipe Sakura's tears, wash Ichiban's karate uniform, rise, and repeat, and it's so tiring, it's draining, but there's nothing else Nagayan can do.
It goes on like this, on and on and on, but then one day, Ichiban comes home and doesn't go straight to his room, and that, in and of itself, puts Nagayan on edge. He's missed dinner, but Nagayan's packaged up the leftovers for him, and he sits with Ichiban as he eats in silence, watching him, wondering what's up. Hoping against hope that something's not wrong with his son, too, that there isn't something else falling apart in his life. He can't face the fact that he might lose Tuti (any day now, any moment, really, he might get the call), he really can't deal with it if there's anything wrong with Ichiban, too.
But instead, after he finished eating, Ichiban shifts awkwardly a few times before meeting Nagayan's eyes and saying, "I'm going to save Oyaji."
Nagayan can't stop his heart from leaping in hope at the words, despite the fact that he knows that they don't make any sense, and he furrows his brow. "You're... going to what?"
He thinks maybe this is some strange joke, or else Ichiban is confused, but his face is set, his hand balled in fists, and he repeats, "I'm going to save Oyaji. My karate teacher told me about an onsen that has healing water-- I know it sounds stupid, but I looked it up on the internet and it's for real. You've gotta fight a bunch of people, and then you can talk to the guy who runs the place, and then you get this water that really does fix stuff."
It sounds absolutely ludicrous, but, Nagayan realizes, Ichiban is actually serious, and so he asks skeptically, "And who runs this place...?"
"Some guy named Moriyama Eiji," Ichiban replies earnestly, and though his son completely unaware, Nagayan's breath catches in his throat. That's a name he hasn't heard in years, a name Tuti doesn't ever mention anymore, that their kids have never heard. In fact, Nagayan hasn't spoken to any of the members of what used to be *pnish* in years, though Tuti sometimes used to go drinking with Washio-san in the early years after the breakup, and Nagayan honestly never expected to hear anything about the man again. It only made sense-- even Nagayan, who had only been casual friends with his Tenimyu co-star, felt a little betrayed by his sudden disappearance twenty years ago, and he could only imagine how Tuti and the other members of *pnish* had felt at the time... but it's all behind them now, isn't it?
But regardless of Moriyama, there are other parts of Ichiban's story that worry Nagayan, and he puts a hand on his son's shoulder, looking into his eyes. "Fight people, Ichiban?"
Ichiban nodds hurriedly, looking back up at Nagayan with wide, honest eyes. "I can do it, Tousan-- I've been training, honest. I can beat all the people you've gotta beat, and then I'll get the stuff-- I'll save Oyaji."
His eyes gleam with earnestness and hope and what Nagayan suddenly realizes are tears, and though it all makes no sense to Nagayan, it's suddenly very clear that the boy means it, wants it with all of his heart. Whatever this story, this urban legend is, Ichiban really believes it will save his father, and Nagayan honestly doesn't know how to react. Could something this farfetched really save Tuti? Could Ichiban really win some sort of martial arts contest and save his father's life?
Or, for that matter, could Ichiban lose his own life in this martial arts contest? The thought made Nagayan's heart tighten in his chest, and immediately, he tensed, the gravity of the situation hitting him all in one blow. Was he really ready to gamble his son's life to save Tuti's? He knew the answer even before he asked himself the question, though-- it was clearly no.
Drawing his lips thin, he tightens his grip on his son's shoulder for a second before letting his hand fall away, rising. "I'll... I'll think on it," he assures, but really, it's only cowardice talking, he doesn't know how to say no to the boy when, really and truly, he clearly believes in himself. And it's not that Nagayan doesn't believe in him, it's just that he doesn't know what kind of competition this is, and he's sure Ichiban doesn't either-- or at least that's what he tells himself. His son is only fourteen, after all, how could Nagayan ever live with himself if he allowed his child to fight, no matter what for, and lost him in the process?
But still, it's heartbreaking to watch the hope in Ichiban's eyes die away, heartbreaking to watch him stand and nod and trudge towards his and Sakura's shared bedroom as if his world had suddenly collapsed in on him, and Nagayan realizes belatedly that maybe this is how Ichiban's been keeping strong, maybe all the training is toward some end, maybe Ichiban has convinced himself that Tuti isn't going to die, because Ichiban is going to go off and save him. Maybe, Ichiban truly was being stronger than Nagayan... and Nagayan's just taken that away from him.
But before he can fret further, Sakura appears in the doorway of the bedroom, looking up at his brother with wide, teary eyes, and tugs on Ichiban's hand to get his attention. Casting Nagayan a hesitant glance, he turns back to Ichiban, wiping at his eyes with the back of his hand. "Niichan," he voices plaintively, his voice quiet, as if Nagayan isn't supposed to hear, "Are you going to save Papa...?"
Ichiban doesn't answer, only drops to his knees to wipe Sakura's tears away, and Nagayan can only look on at the pair as Ichiban puts his arms around his brother and gives him a tight hug, still wordless. Sakura drops his head to Ichiban's shoulder, tears silently starting afresh as he clings to his brother's arms, and suddenly, Nagayan realizes that maybe he doesn't have to be so strong, maybe he isn't the only one holding everything together, after all.
And so, before Ichiban has a chance to answer, he finds himself in the doorway as well, placing his hands atop Sakura's on Ichiban's shoulders. "He is," he informs his younger son, a smile on his face even as Ichiban looks up at him in disbelief. And as he smiles on as Sakura turns around to hug him instead, as all the life and brightness come back to Ichiban, he realizes that, for the first time in a long, long time, it's not forced.