Uli sat at his study desk, a math book open in front of him. He was working on the last couple of homework problems when a sharp wail made him break his pencil lead on the paper. Yuriko was crying again. He and Ryo were the only ones home since Mia, his mom, and Astarte had gone shopping. The guys were at their homes or off doing whatever. Uli waited for Ryo to go take care of Yuriko. Fat chance.
"Uli! Hey, Uli! The baby's crying."
"Could you take care of it, please?"
Sure. Why not? It wasn't like he was doing anything important. Uli closed his book and went to the nursery.
Yuriko lay on her back, her little feet kicking furiously in the air. Her face was red from crying. As soon as Uli stepped into the room she stopped. He checked her diaper. Nothing. She couldn't be hungry. Mia fed her right before she left and she'd only been gone fifteen minutes. "Yuriko. You're driving me crazy! What's wrong?"
Yuriko looked up at him with pursed lips.
Uli picked up on her mental distress. Now he understood. "I'm sorry. He's not coming."
She stared at him with large sad eyes, her thoughts more insistent.
"What do you want me to do? Tie him up and drag him in here?"
Yuriko looked like she was about to cry again. Uli picked her up and rocked her. "Aw, Yuriko. I'm sorry. I didn't mean it. I bet if he got to know you, he'd be here all the time."
"It's not your fault. Really! It's not. Ryo's just...scared." It was hard for Uli to say that. Ryo was his hero and he'd never been afraid of anything before. Uli didn't like knowing that something he'd always been so sure of wasn't true after all. "That Stygia really hurt him."
Yuriko grabbed at his shirt.
Uli sighed. It was weird how he could usually understand Yuriko. Sometimes she spoke in his head, but most of the time he just knew what she meant. "I know. Stygia hurt your mom, too, and she doesn't act like that. People react differently to the same things. That's just the way things are. You'll understand that when you get older." Uli couldn't believe he said that. He sounded like a hundred years old or something.
"I really don't know what I can do. I can't make him come in here...
Or maybe I can! I want you to be real quiet for a bit. Can you do that? When I give you the signal, cry like you really mean it. Okay?"
Yuriko smiled at him.
Uli gently lay Yuriko into her crib. He headed back to his room, passing through the living room on his way. Ryo lay on the sofa. It seemed like he was always sitting there, flipping through channels. He was wearing an old T-shirt and a baggy pair of pants. Uli was sure he'd seen the same clothes yesterday. What was happening to Ryo? Didn't he care about anything anymore? "Hey, Ryo."
"Just watching TV."
"Anything good on?"
"Just the same junk."
"Um, listen, Ryo. I have a big math test I need to study for."
"Good luck on it."
"Thanks, but... I'm not getting any studying done. Yuriko keeps crying. I think she's got the colic. Mia says baby gets that sometimes and it makes them fussy a lot. I can't concentrate, though. I keep having to go check on her. Could you keep an eye on her?"
"I don't think..."
"It won't be long! And she should be okay. She's been fed and changed and everything. She's probably fast asleep by now."
"Couldn't Mia watch her? Or maybe Sage?"
"Everybody's gone, remember? We're the only three here. You don't have to stay with her--just check on her every once in a while. If she cries, just go see what she wants. No problem."
"Thanks!" Uli ran off to his room, shutting and locking the door behind him. He quickly finished his math problems. He needed to do his homework anyway. Uli hadn't exactly lied to Ryo. He really did have a math test to study for--it just wasn't tomorrow.
Uli climbed out the open window and ran around to the other side of the house and snuck back in. He wanted to see what would happen.
<OK, Yuriko. I'm ready.>
Yuriko started crying at the top of her lungs. Uli sat in the hall closet, peeking out through the decorative slats.
"Uli! The baby's crying again." After several minutes of continuous crying, Ryo yelled for Uli again.
Uli just sat in the closet, wondering how long it would take before Ryo got off his butt and went to check on his daughter. He also worried about Yuriko making herself sick with all her crying.
It seemed like forever before Ryo did something. But it wasn't what Uli expected. Ryo was banging on his bedroom door, trying to get him to take care of the baby. Well, Ryo could knock all day. When nobody answered, Ryo headed back to the living room. Uli couldn't believe it! He was going to just ignore her!
<Yuriko. I don't know if you understand me all the time, but this is important. Can you make him feel you like you can with me and Mia? Make him feel how sad and upset you are? Try it. Try real hard.>
Uli winced when Yuriko let out a blood-curdling wail. Ryo couldn't possibly ignore that. And if he could feel her emotions like Uli did... The shuffling of feet in the hallway had Uli crossing his fingers for luck. Come on, Ryo. She needs you.
Ryo was about to go back to the living room and try to shut out the sounds of the baby crying, but something stopped him. He felt... He wasn't sure. It just... Maybe he should check on her. It wouldn't hurt to just take a peek and see if she was okay.
Uli had to force himself to be quiet. He really wanted to let out a big "YES!" and pump his fist. Ryo was actually going to the nursery! He was sure Ryo hadn't even set foot in there since they brought the baby home.
Ryo stood in the doorway to the nursery, debating whether or not he should go in. What was he so afraid of? It was just a baby, right? Yeah, right. Just a baby made from his and Mia's DNA and essence without their permission. Ryo shuddered. He could still feel phantom pains from what Stygia did to them. Thinking about it just made it worse. How could Mia look at the baby and hold her without thinking about it, without feeling it?
He turned away, determined to get away from the nursery as quickly as possible. A heart-rending wail stopped him in his tracks. He frowned. Was she hurt? In pain? Maybe something was wrong with her. He should at least check.
Ryo slowly moved over to the crib almost like he expected it to be full of snakes, ready to strike. He looked down into the crib, expecting to see... Expecting to see what? It was just a baby--a tiny little girl. She abruptly stopped crying, her big eyes getting wider as they met his. Ryo felt compelled to pick her up. As he held her against him, awkwardly at first, a little fist grasped at his shirt.
Ryo smiled at that. She was just a baby, a little baby that wanted to be held.
Ryo looked at her in shock. He'd heard her! Heard her in his head! How was that possible?
<No hate, Dada. Please?>
The emotion behind that one small request shook him to the core. Had he hated her? Mia had said the baby could sometimes feel their emotions. She felt his rejection, his fear, his anger. But she was still just a baby. She didn't understand that it wasn't her he hated. Or at least he didn't think he had.
Had she felt all those negative things that had been running around in his heart? Ryo hugged her to him, tears pricking his eyes. What had he done? It wasn't Yuriko's fault. She'd never done anything to hurt them. It was all Stygia's doing. Mia had been right all along. Ryo had just been too scared to listen. Mia and Uli said she'd been talking to them since the beginning, but he didn't want any part of it. Maybe he'd blocked her out somehow. He could feel her now, her feelings. She just wanted to be loved by her father--the father that had turned his back on her, acted like she was some monster or a freak because he was too scared of what she reminded him of. "I'm so sorry, little one. I'm so sorry. I'll be a better dad to you. I never meant... I'm so sorry." He clung to her, unable to say anything else.
He didn't need to. Yuriko really did understand.
And so did Uli. Uli watched unnoticed from the doorway for a moment before quietly going back to his room. Ryo and Yuriko needed some father-daughter time. Uli smiled. Yeah. Maybe things could get back to normal at the Koji house--well, as normal as a house full of magic warriors, a mythological king, and an ancient goddess could get.
When Mia and the ladies got back from the mall, Mia was surprised to not see Ryo sitting on the couch or in the kitchen getting something to eat. She'd started to think he'd put down roots. Sometimes he didn't even go home--just sat there staring at the TV. Maybe he'd finally gone home. That was good. His family had been so worried about him lately. It had been several months since Stygia had violated them, but Ryo still wouldn't talk about it. Not even to her. They'd been so close before and now they seemed to be drifting apart. Maybe that wasn't accurate. It was more like Ryo was drifting away from all of them.
She went to the nursery to check on the baby. She was sure Uli had taken good care of her, but she worried like any new mother even though she hadn't given birth to little Yuriko. As she approached the room, she felt a calming sensation. Peace.
She was startled by the sight that greeted her. Ryo sat in the rocking chair, fast asleep, little Yuriko napping in his arms. She almost wept with joy. Uli's mother saw her shaking and thought something was wrong. She rushed to Mia's side only to see the same beautiful sight. Hana put her arm around Mia's shoulder.
Maybe things could be alright after all. Mia felt a little fire of hope flare up inside her, one that had been dying down for months in the wake of Stygia's attack. Maybe they could be a family. Just maybe.
Uli lay on his bed, staring up at the ceiling. Hope was a pretty cool thing. <Love you, Yuriko.>
<Love you, Uli.>