Chapter 8: Tell Tale Hearts

From a young age, I was hyper aware that something was…off about me and my family.

My parents, ones Inoue Enkaku and Jiko, were co-CEOs of a pharmaceutical company previously owned by my grandfather, Tsumetai.

He died a few years before I was born, but Michi-nii told me he’d been a cold and distant man, that he and father didn’t get along at the best of times.

It did explain Father’s personality. Artic storms were warmer than he ever was, and Mother wasn’t much better.

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I often wondered why our parents didn’t like spending time with us…or I guess…just me.

My youngest memories are filled with instances of my parents leaving me behind, occasionally with Michi-nii, always under the gentle gaze of one of our neighbors, Tsuchiya Himawari-baasan.

She was a kind old woman, mother of five and widow of ten years. She always called me “Azuchan”, a nickname Hinata picked up later, and she always treated us as if we were her own grandkids, something we appreciated.

But after Tsuchiya-baasan died and Michi-nii started going to college in the city, I was…alone.

But a lot of people had bad parents, right? I wasn’t special for it.

…Now I didn’t know what to think.

“What do you mean you’re my dad?”

My world was spinning at the words the wheelchair bound man before me had just spoken.

He had dark skin, with blue curly hair and gentle yet tear filled golden eyes, a layer of scruff around his nervously smiling, fang filled mouth.

He looked like me. I looked like him.

Down to the series of birthmarks flanking along the curve of our right eyes, him two while I had three.

To make it even worse, the scent in this room; dried grass, sunshine, rain and cinnamon, was so painfully familiar I felt as if I’d just come home.

Not a stranger’s room, but home. A feeling I didn’t even have in the house I’d lived in most my life.

He was fidgeting with a worn leather corded bracelet around his wrist as he nodded.

“I wish it were under better circumstances, Azuki-chan, but-“

“How do you know my name?”

“I… I’m the one who chose it for you.”

“That’s…”

I could hardly focus.

It wasn’t possible. This strange man couldn’t be my father. Because if he was, then what did that mean for me?

If he was my dad, did that mean that Mother and Father had treated me the way they had because I wasn’t theirs and that’s why they didn’t want me-

“Azuki-chan.”

Without realizing, I’d slid to the ground, head clasped in my hands as he has rolled over to me. On his lap was a stack of papers and photos.

“I know…it might be a little much but please believe me when I say…” He held out a small photograph, its edges worn. “I have loved you from the moment I knew you existed, little moon.”

I feel a sudden surge of burning heat in my eyes at his words as I hesitantly took the photo and looked at it, all while realizing I couldn’t recall having ever heard my parents say they loved me, their icy indifference so different from the pulsating feeling in my chest now.

He loves me…

“It’s…us?”

In the photo, seemingly taken in this very room, is a younger version of the man before me, Kasuchi Satsuki, beaming with tears on his face and a tiny slumbering baby in his arms, bundled up in pink with a mass of dark brown curly hair on her head.

“Cutest little thing I’d seen in years.” There’s a smile in his shaky voice, laced with warmth and affection. “You were just a few days old when I got to see you…and I refused to set you down for the first few hours, even for a second…I was so scared they’d take you away if I did, and I wanted as much time with you as I could get.”

“If…” My voice wavered, cracking before I cleared my throat. “If you’re my dad…how did you…is my mother not my mother?”

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“As far as I know, she is.” He exhaled softly. “I’d been confined here after my accident for a long time before they approached me with the prospect of being a donor. At first…I didn’t want anything to do with their project…but after a while, thinking it over, I decided I wanted a reason to keep going…and you became that reason, Azuki-chan. From the moment they sent me a picture of the first sonogram.”

He showed me more photos, the two of us together in this room or what appeared to be the exercise yard I could see from my cell. Occasionally, there were other kids, and I can’t help but notice how some of them seemed to be the same as the ones outside.

He was beaming as he told me stories of my earliest years. Apparently, I used to hate squash (still do), love tomatoes (still do) and he was the one who made my wolf plushie, Uta, who I still slept with after bad days.

The photos and stories stopped after I turned three or so.

“They don’t let any of the kids stay past four…” He explained to me while fighting tears. “It broke my heart when they stopped bringing you to see me…as it did with a lot of the other parents here.”

“But…why?”

My question had been for everything, not just the subject if our separation, though it was clear Kusachi didn’t take it that way.

“I’m not sure…I wish I knew more, Azuki-chan. I wish I could help you…you and all the others.” Hesitantly, he lays a large scar covered hand on my head. “But I know you’ll be strong enough to face whatever challenges await you.” He smiles. “You were always a tough little warrior, Azuki-chan.”

“Just…” Overflowing, I look down, sniffling, trying in vain to wipe my eyes. “Just call me Azuki…Dad.”

I felt relieved that I wasn’t the only one crying now as tears immediately started falling down his face.

“Oh Azuki…”

I moved onto my knees and hugged him, leaning into his shoulder as warmth flowed down my cheeks. He hugs back with a surprising strength, arms soft but slightly muscular. All the while he was near sobbing.

“Geez, Dad…” I manage a chuckle. “You kinda cry a lot, huh?”

“I’m-” His voice broke. “I’m just so happy to finally have you back again. You don’t have to say it, but I want you to know that I love you, little moon…Always have, always will.”

“Thank you…” I can’t fight the hitch in my throat as I cling to him, finding myself nearly in the same state. “Thank you so much…”

I guess this is where I get being a crybaby from, huh?

Once we’d calmed down, we talked more, and he shared some of his secret stash of food with me. Turns out, we both love apples.

Before too long, they came to take me back to my cell and while Dad cried again, he reassured me that he’d see me again soon.

“I was promised at least one more visit before they…ship you all off.”

The memory of why I was actually able to meet him comes flooding back as they lead me out.

“Wait-! Dad! Where are they sending us!?”

“Home! My home! Your home!” He tried to roll after me only to be stopped by a soldier.

“What does that mean!?”

“You’ll understand when you get there, Azuki! Belecia is-!”

“Shut up!”

There’s a heavy thud and a pained grunt that nearly sends me rabid. But before I can properly react, I feel the sharp sting of a needle and my world goes black.

~×~

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