+ Dedicated to all mothers and their sons.

One gnarled hand reaches out to the meet the leaves, wanting to touch them. But a glass wall stops the movement, reminding her of the barrier that lay between the autumn wind and the empty inside.

She remembers and folds her hands on her lap, quietly resolving to watch the falling leaves outside the window.

Whiteness surrounds her. Everything is white. The bed, the steel, the machines, the door, the wall, her gown, even, painfully, her own hair. She bites her lips and sighs.

A movement reflecting from the window catches her eye. She looks down at her lap. "Don't hover at the doorway," she says.

A perfectly cheerful nurse enters. "Lunch time," she says, laying a tray on the table beside the bed. "Please return to the bed."

"I don't want to eat."

"You have to eat sometime." The nurse purses her lips in worry.

"I want something to drink."

"You have juice--"

"Not that, dammit!" Although it pains her, she manages to whirl around and glare at the nurse. Her wheelchair proves to be annoying, however. The full effect of her glower does not impress the woman clad in, again, white. "I want champagne! Beer! Wine! Sake!"

The woman shrugs. "Sorry, but it's not healthy."

She turns to the window. "Fuck health," she whispers.

The other begins to reprimand her but her ears close themselves from her words. She has heard enough to last her a lifetime. A few minutes later, she is alone once more.

An old woman left, sitting on the wheelchair beside the window, waiting for the next leaf to fall.

~ * ~

The door opens to reveal a woman nearly in her thirties. She is smiling as she holds a bouquet of daisies in her hand. "Hello," she says.

She can see the pain in the newcomer's eyes. She tries to smile. "You haven't been visiting me lately, Keiko," she scolds lightly.

"Sorry, but the kids have so many activities now with exams coming up," Keiko Urameshi replies, setting the flowers on the table. She begins to busy herself with removing the wilted flowers and replacing the water for the fresh ones. "They wanted to visit, too, but Taki and Jun have a school play and Genkai has exams for medical school."

"It's okay." She lays back on her pillow, looking up at the other woman. "We haven't really talked for a while. Just the two of us." She is silent once more. "Yusuke?"

Keiko's hands still for a moment before returning to their duty. "He hasn't been back," she replies stiffly. "If he was, I'd have called you, Atsuko."

Atsuko Urameshi nods. "I know." She closes her eyes.

Keiko touches her arm. "Are you tired?" she asks comfortingly. "I should have called before visiting, I know, but it was really a spur of the moment..."

"No," Atsuko replies firmly, opening her eyes. "I'm fine." She chuckles. "They don't give me wine now. They say it's back for my liver."

"They're right."

Atsuko laughs dryly. "Young people always side with the medics...until they themselves grow old." Keiko remains silent. Finally, the older woman sits up, with the other's help. "It's such a good day. I was waiting for you to go outside."

"You can have the nurses push your wheelchair..."

Atsuko waves her hand, leaning against her as she hobbles to the wheelchair. "Not good to talk to. I like talking to you."

Keiko smiles at this. They make their way through the corridor to the gardens. The trees have already shed their leaves, but some continue to fall. The bushes are turning dry, twigs poking through brown leaves. "It's autumn," the younger says wonderingly.

"Time passes by so quickly," Atsuko sighs. She scowls. "I want a drink."

Keiko glowers down at her. "Atsuko, you should forget about drinking. You should be proud that you've been sober for at least five years now."

"How long has Yusuke been gone?" she asks suddenly.

Keiko looks surprised, pausing from pushing the wheelchair. "Aa? years now."

"He missed most of his children's lives," Atsuko murmurs. "Wasted their youths."

Keiko's grip tightens. "It's not of my concern," she tells her with a clipped voice. "He continues to write at least once a month and I report to him how the children are doing. And about you."

"Report." Atsuko laughs again. "He's just like his father! Leaving and not caring for those children! You should get married again, Keiko. He's not right for you."

"I love him," Keiko replies tightly, not looking at her.

Atsuko holds out a hand and catches a small, dry leaf floating in the wind. She smiles sadly. " isn't enough."

There is no answer. The walk continues in silence.

~ * ~

She dreams of him sometimes. Not her son, but her son's father. But then, her son is the splitting image of his father that it is hard to identify him in the dreams.

The scenes replay themselves in her mind when she wakes. It makes her smile bitterly.

How she had loved her son! And his father, too! How she loved them both. She had given up her virginity to her lover, and she had given up her life to become a mother. But then, love had not been enough. There had been hardships. Little Yusuke had been sick for many months, and she had been too, with worry. Yusuke's heart had suddenly stopped one night that it was a wonder he still lives.

Those were the days that still make her cry. She can remember how her arms held her baby, whispering loving words, letting him soak in her tears. He is her SON. She whispered old myths, stories she read from fairy books. And when those had run out, she told him of her old life.

Telling herself not to yearn was hard. And when Yusuke got better, with a little help from her friends, she found her way to alcohol.

And the alcohol loved her, too! They blended well. She nursed her drinks, and her drinks nursed her. It was her companion through the night.

Yusuke grew up. She knew then that he would grow like his father.

And by then, she loved her drink so much that it began to whisper things to her. It made her hate her husband. And it made her hate her son.

She stopped for a while when her son had "died". She realized how wrong her drinks were. But when she woke, her son had changed. He began to stop spending time with her, stopped wanting her attention altogether. He never came home then.

And the drinks began to beckon to her once more. Finally, one night, she gave up and let the drink love her once more. She never really stopped. But she never forgot the realization on how much she loves Yusuke.

And then, he had married Keiko. Oh, she had been happy! Marriage to Keiko had been inevitable. But then, so was the pain.

Keiko bore Yusuke's first child, a girl. Atsuko waited for the time when they would tell her that they will name her after her, the grandmother, but it never came. They had named her Genkai.

And then the twin boys, Taki and Jun.

Keiko knew of Atsuko's wish to be part of the family once more. When she conceived again, she decided, if it was a girl, to call her Atsuko.

The girl was stillborn.

A few months later, Yusuke had disappeared. He had told Keiko about his trip. Yes, he had told his wife. But he never told his mother.

Atsuko grew old, never stopping herself from listening to the whispers of the alcohol. They are in her blood now, and they are with her.

Finally, Keiko, being successful in her line of work, made Atsuko stay in the hospital. "Your nerves are wrought, you've had too much drink. You'll have to get better," she said.

Abandoned. Alone.

Atsuko continued to nurse her drinks to let the good memories flow. When her drinking stopped, the bad ones threatened to overcome her mind.

Five years of soberness. Five years of hell.

~ * ~

She taps the glass window, wondering if it will break.

Snow continues to fall outside. Whiteness that hides the glaring sameness inside the hospital room. She hates snow. It refuses to let her outside. She hates it for its color. She hates it because of the cold it brings.

She turns to the closed door. Too much to expect that the children will be by during the holidays. Except perhaps for Christmas. New Year is a year spent with friends, not with family. Not with the old people growing older before their very eyes.

The door creaks open, much to her surprise. Another nurse. "Excuse me, Urameshi-san, but if you would like to come out..."

"What for?" she asks, rather sharply.

"You've been alone there most of the time. Maybe you'd like to come outside and talk with the other people?"

"Find someone like me, then," she commands, turning back to the window. "Perhaps, then, I will come out."

The door closes. The nurse does not come back.

~ * ~

"It's Jun and Taki's birthday," Keiko tells Atsuko over the phone. The line is scratchy, probably because of the snowstorm. "We're going to celebrate it. Want to come home?"

Atsuko clears her throat. "No. No, thank you. I'd rather stay here. I'm a little tired."

"Oh." Keiko falls silent. "Well...if you change your mind, I can have the nurse bring you over here. We're having some of their friends over."

"You enjoy yourself then," the older woman tells her. "Tell them happy birthday." She puts down the phone and makes her way to her room slowly. There, she sits on her wheelchair once more, setting her copper cane on the wall.

Winter, spring, summer, fall, winter, spring, summer, fall, winter, spring, summer, fall...

She looks out again, barely seeing anything besides the whiteness that glares at her. Mocking her.

"...come out, Atsuko...go need need us..."

She bows her head, staring at her wrinkled hands, arms. She feels her thin, snowy hair. Her white hospital gown. Thoughts begin to swirl in her head. They're making her dizzy. She holds out a hand to sit down, only to realize that she IS sitting down.

Two tears roll down her cheeks.

"Fuck this," she whispers angrily. "I need a drink."

~ * ~

She awakens to find herself on her bed. A monitor beeps beside her, she knows it is a machine to track her heartbeat. Her wrists are have needles going through her skin. She feels like crying, only she is too spent. Her head hurts.

"For an old woman," a dry voice tells her, "you sure can drink like a young man."

The heart monitor beeps loudly as her heart takes a jump. She strains to look beyond the darkness, but then she doesn't have to. A face makes its way to her.

"Kaasan," Yusuke acknowledges her. He is looking down at her.

Atsuko stares at him for a second, before lifting up a hand as if to stroke his face. Only she draws it back and slaps him as hard as she can.

His face twists sideward, not because it hurt but because it surprises him.

"Bastard!" Atsuko tells him in a dry whisper. "Why the hell did you come back?"

Yusuke turns to her, coldness seeping in his eyes. "I can't even visit my own mother anymore?"

"You left your wife, dammit, where the HELL have you been? Your children NEEDS you!"

Yusuke shakes his head, turning away with an angry sigh. "Shit. Keiko thought this was a good idea. I try going along and now look where it got me." He sighs again, standing. "Shit."

"I don't want to see you," Atsuko tells him coldly. "Get your face out of my sight."

Yusuke turns to her, mouth open as if to say something. Then, he glares at her as he closes it. "Fine," he spits out. The door slams close behind him.

Atsuko closes her eyes, feeling more at rest. But when she opens her eyes, the snow continues to fall outside her window.

~ * ~

"I think spring is close," Keiko says cautiously.

Atsuko nods, surveying the snow around her feet. "Yes. I think so, too."

They continue to walk in uncomfortable silence. The snow has stopped falling, there are already signs of plant life peeking out of the white mounds.

Finally, Keiko says quietly, "Yusuke said you threw him out."

"He doesn't deserve you," was the simple reply.

"I know." Keiko smiles sadly at this. "But I don't deserve him either." She pauses. "He loves you, you know."

Atsuko remains silent.

"He didn't want you to be brought to the hospital. He knew it would kill you to stay away from those drinks. I managed to persuade him." They round a corner. "When he went away, he told us not to tell you. Because you temporarily stopped drinking then. He knew you would be suspicious."

"Children never leave their families behind to suffer," Atsuko replies.

"Talk to him," Keiko tells her. "Just this once. He's your son. You're his mother. You should understand."

Atsuko leans against the leather seat of the wheelchair. "I don't think I can," she says softly. "I can't understand anymore."

"Please, Atsuko."

Once again, Atsuko remains silent.

~ * ~

For once, she remains in the lounge room, waiting. The windows are frozen from the recent snowstorm the night before. She stares outside, hands folded on her lap in her patient waiting. Visiting people have come and gone. She waits.

Finally, a figure hovers a the doorframe. "Kaasan."

Atsuko turns. "Yusuke."

For the first time, she gets a good look of him. Mysteriously, he has not aged much since he was a teenager. He heightened, yes, but his face retains his youthful image. That cocky grin remains on his face. But he is hesitating. "Aa...Keiko suggested we take a walk around the garden...but we'll do whatever you like."

"What Keiko suggested is fine," she replies curtly. She taps on her wheelchair. Yusuke looks at it, unsure for a moment, before taking his place behind her.

They walk past the white hallway, away from the other nurses and doctors.

The garden is still surrounded by whiteness, soft snow at the side. They make their way through the shoveled walk, Yusuke careful as to not the wheelchair slide.

The uncomfortable silence befalls them.

Finally, Yusuke says: "I told you once I was going away."

Atsuko waits for him to continue.

"I was about fifteen or fourteen. I told you I was going away. I told you it was very far." Yusuke smiles. "And you asked if it was farther than America."

"I don't remember," Atsuko murmurs.

Yusuke's smile disappears. " weren't sober then." He sighs, pushing her forward once more. "I don't know if this is working. Keiko told me to try. I'm trying, Kaasan. I'm trying not to be like my father. But it's hard. Especially when I grew up thinking he did the right thing. To leave us."

Unnoticed tears fall on her folded hands.

"I'm sorry...Kaasan."

Silence. Then, Atsuko's soft voice: "Was I that bad a mother?"

A slight breeze blows. "No. Not at all. Not that bad. I just grew up not needing a mother. I never needed one. I needed you." Suddenly, the pushing stops and Yusuke walks in front of her. He smiles, producing out of nowhere a flower that he offers to her.

Atsuko takes it. It is a rose, a rose that is unlike that she has ever seen. The stem is smooth, no sign of thorns. The leaves are soft. The petals are velvety, and redder than the usual red. She looks up questioningly.

Yusuke looks away. "My friend, Shuichi -- no, Kurama -- told me to give it to you."

"Thank him for me, then."

They are silent for a while. Then, Atsuko says dreamily: "Your father gave me all kinds of gifts, then, too. He was so good. I remember, he gave me a rose, too. He was a good man, your father."

Yusuke remains silent.

"Maybe...that was why I fell in love with him instantly. He was charming. He even mystified my family, your uncle, your grandparents. And I loved him. That was why I gave myself to him. In his own way, too, I suppose, he loved me." She touches the petal sadly. "But I was not enough. It never will be. We separated after he graduated. And I never saw him again."

"What was he like, Kaasan?"

Tears are in Atsuko's eyes as she looks up at her son. "He was so much like you," she answers simply.

It is enough.

Yusuke looks down at the snow. "Kaasan...I have to tell you some things. Many things have happened since I almost died many years ago. I--" He stops suddenly as a cold flake touches his nose. "Snow," he says wonderingly, holding out his hand to catch some of the falling ice.

Atsuko looks up as well. They swirl around in a pretty picture, falling on her face, making her feel young again. It is different, this whiteness. This comforts her, does not threaten to alienate her with its glare and shine.

Yusuke unconsciously takes a hold of one of his mother's gnarled hands, molding his fingers with her own. "I like snow," he tells her, smiling. "Do you?"

Atsuko looks up at him. Tears are falling from her son's eyes, and she realizes that there, too, are tears in hers. "Yes," she answers softly. "I love it."

~ * ~

"When Atsuko, Keiko and my baby, died, I lost a small part of myself. When I went away, I promised to myself I'll make it up to you somehow. I didn't care if you didn't love, that's a lie. I wanted you to love me. That's why I went away. I built a home for you, for Keiko, for our children. Where we would live together. And you won't need those alcohol or wine or sake you drink to put you to sleep. I will show you one day, Kaasan, the city I built for the Makai. I named it 'Kaasan', because you can never be anyone else. There, everything will flourish. Mukuro and Yomi approve of it.

"I'll take you there, Kaasan, to the place where age never matters. Only wisdom. Only the strength to survive. It's become my home. It will be yours, too."

~ the end ~



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