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Before She Was Queen

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               People often said that children were a blessing. Some people went as far as to say they were a curse. When Akihiko was told he was going to be a father, he didn’t really know how to feel. He was excited, sure; he loved Minako very much and he was happy to start a family with her. But, he was nervous as well. Would he be able to support them? Would he make a good dad? Would he be able to have the patience to deal with a crying child after a long day at work?

               Every ounce of concern and doubt faded away when he held his newborn daughter in his arms.

               Not to say that every day was easy, but Sae was a fairly well-behaved child. She cried at night sometimes, but after either attention or some food, she fell right back asleep. The toddler stage proved a little more challenging. Akihiko knew that toddlers like to get into everything, but he didn’t realize that everything meant everything. There were things Sae would find that he didn’t even know were in the house. However, a simple ‘no’ was all it took for her to stop and understand. Honestly, he was proud. If that was all it took to raise a child, he would do it all over again.

               And then Makoto was born.

               At first, he thought she would be just as easy as her sister. Using Sae as a guide, he made sure the house was baby-proofed better than before. He made sure to have anything and everything dangerous a growing child could get into out of reach. There were locks on cabinet doors; food was put on higher shelves (especially the sweets; Minako wouldn’t share even with her daughters). Sae had even gone as far as putting anything she didn’t want her younger sister touching in locked drawers or containers.

               He should have known he wasn’t going to get off so easily this time.

               Sae was sitting with her mother, showing her the new book she had picked up at the school library when the first sign of trouble started. Akihiko had come home from work, tired after wrapping up a major bust, and sat down beside the two of them. In retrospect, he should have wondered where their almost two-year old daughter was, but with the safeguards, he wasn’t too worried.

               He got as far as loosening the tie around his neck when he heard something crash in the kitchen. All three of them fell silent; Minako spared him a look, but he was up quickly to figure out what had happened. He walked into the kitchen to find a chair against the counter, the fridge wide open, and Makoto laying flat on her back. His initial response was to panic. Was she okay? Did she hurt herself in the fall? But upon closer inspection, he saw a bag of cookies under one arm and what appeared to be milk covering her face and the majority of her front. He confirmed it was milk when he noticed the carton on the ground by the door.

               He bent down next to her and her lips dropped into a frown. From what he could see, she managed to climb onto the counter and found her mother’s stash of cookies. From there, she appeared to climb into the fridge for the milk, and that was where she stumbled and fell. He almost laughed, but the tears forming at the corners of her eyes stopped him.

               “Are you okay?” he asked, unable to stop himself from smiling. She blinked a few times, and then she started crying. He carefully lifted her off the floor and inspected her for any possible injuries. She didn’t seem to have any bumps on her head or tenderness in her arms or legs. He hoped it was just the fear of the fall that was the reason for her tears.

               He wanted to check her for a concussion (she had been laying still for a few minutes) when she fell to the floor and screamed. Minako came into the room, Sae right behind her, and Akihiko felt a jolt of fear in his heart. He knelt down by where she was crying into the floor, his hand resting on her back.

               “What’s wrong?”

               “Are those Mom’s cookies?”

               Akihiko reached for the bag of crushed cookies and Makoto wailed louder. Minkao placed herself on her other side and scooped the crying child into her lap. She laughed while she stoked her hair.

               “It seems she has a taste for amazing things, too.”

               He stared at the bag in his hand, then back to her. “She doesn’t seem to be hurt, but she could have a concussion.”

               Minako continued to work her magic on calming her daughter down. “Oh, I doubt that.”

               “Oh?”

               She smiled at him. “I’m sure she’s just upset. Broken cookies are really hard to dip in milk, after all.”

---

               A similar situation happened not even a week later.

               Sae was at the dining room table working on homework. Minako (thankfully) was out with friends so he was left to help Sae and keep his eye on Makoto. He had turned his back on his youngest for five seconds when he heard her rummaging around in the kitchen.

               Sae glanced up at him, wondering if he was going to get up and investigate, but he decided to remain seated. Everything dangerous was locked up, right?

               He at least called out to her. “What are you doing in there, young lady?”

               The rummaging didn’t stop.

               “Makoto, what are you doing?”

               The noise stopped, and Akihiko was worried she managed to get into something she shouldn’t have gotten into it. He sighed heavily as he stood from his chair.

               “If only she was as easy as you were.”

               Sae smiled proudly in return.

               He turned and began making his way towards the kitchen when Makoto popped out from behind the wall wielding two kitchen knives, one in each hand.

               He literally jumped back. “Makoto! Where did you get those?!” The toddler stammered back as he yelled at her, and her smile quickly turned into a pout. “Put them down, now.”

               Thankfully, she did what she was told and put the knives on the floor, then she proceeded to throw herself on the floor and started throwing her fit. He grabbed the knives and placed them on the table before he addressed his daughter.              

               “Makoto, those are not toys. You can’t play with them. You could have hurt yourself, or you could have hurt someone else.”

               She continued to cry into the floor, her legs occasionally thrashing about to enunciate her disapproval with his decision to take her new toys away from her. He sighed and rubbed the back of his head. Sae never did anything like this, so how was he supposed to tell her that he wasn’t the bad guy? Where was Minako when he needed her?

               He was thrown out of his thoughts when Makoto stood up and threw herself at him. At first, he thought she just wanted to cry on something more comfortable than the floor. Then she threw her first punch. And another. He sighed as the toddler continued to use him as her own personal punching bag. Was she really that upset with him?

               An idea popped into his head after a few seconds. While he had taken harder hits back in the day, she was still surprisingly strong in her beating. He lifted her up as he stood, turning to Sae who was watching the scene while trying to hold back her laughter.

               “Finish your homework and don’t slack off,” was all he said as he disappeared into his room. He promptly dropped his daughter onto the bed, which earned him another round of screaming and crying. He paused for a split second to ponder where her energy was coming from. Sae had thrown fits, sure, but nothing nearly as long and dramatic as Makoto’s. Was he like that as a child, too?

               He shook his head and walked to the closet. He began rummaging around, looking for his punching gloves when he felt a tug on his pant leg. He looked down, startled for a moment, and found Makoto staring up at him with a pitiful, but adorable pout on her face.

               At least she wasn’t screaming anymore. He patted her head before he continued his search. He felt Makoto try and pull him away, likely so she could continue beating up on him. She yelled once in an attempt to get his attention, but soon after he found what he was looking for. He turned to her and smiled.

               “Here,” he said as he handed her an old pair of boxing gloves. Minako always asked him why he kept them, but now he felt he had a good reason. “You can fight me whenever you want if you wear these.”

               Makoto’s eyes grew big as he sat down in front of her to try and slide her small hands into the gloves. He laughed when she dropped her arms to her side, clearly surprised by the weight. Another frown formed on her face because of it, which resulted in another flare of anger and she lifted one gloved hand and popped him under the chin. He laughed again, and she attacked him in her fury. When she got older, he would teach her how to fight properly.

               He would soon come to regret ever teaching her at all.

---

               Over time, it dawned on Akihiko that no matter what measures he took to keep Makoto out of anything, she would find a way around it. He could have sworn she was a magician. He had no idea how she was able to get into locked rooms, drawers, or reach items placed well out of her reach. So, they stopped trying and worked harder on telling her ‘no’ or explain why she wasn’t allowed to wield knives or reach into the oven when Minako was making dinner.

               It never stopped her from trying, though.

               Makoto had also mastered the art of pouting. He had a hell of a time telling her ‘no’ a second time because of it. Her temper tantrums were usually very rare now, and he couldn’t decide what was worse: his daughter’s ability to push him around, or listening to her screaming when she was told ‘no’ for a fifth time.

               They were all sitting in the living room, the TV replaying headline news in the background. Akihiko sat next to Sae, who was talking about the newest book she had recently finished. Makoto stood on the couch next to her mother for the sole reason that Minako had ice cream. She made her first mistake in offering the child one bite. He watched Makoto jump beside her, one taste obviously not enough to satisfy her. He knew where Makoto got her sweet tooth from.

               However, Minako appeared to be more immune to her daughter’s pouts than he was. That or she really didn’t want to share, which wouldn’t surprise him either. The first ‘no’ sparked his attention. He turned to them and saw the beginnings of a pout forming on Makoto’s face. She turned her face to him when Minako said ‘no’ a second time, eyes pleading with him to help. He bit his lip to keep quiet. The third ‘no’ elicited an angry grunt from Makoto. When she said ‘no’ again, he watched Makoto drop down on the couch, her face planted in the seat back. He couldn’t help but find humor in how dramatic and comical she was at the moment. He also knew where she got that from.

               “Honey, it’s getting late. If you eat any more, you’re not going to sleep.” Minako placed the now empty bowl on the table in front of her as she turned to her daughter next to her. “You can have some more after lunch tomorrow, okay?”

               He laughed along with Sae when Makoto threw her head back and cried. They were both silenced by the glare that came from Minako. She wrapped her arms around her and picked her up off the couch.  

“I think someone is ready for bed.” Makoto continued to cry into her shoulder, but he could tell that her cries were due to exhaustion rather than from being upset.

               At least, that’s what he had thought.

               He was forced awake by a tapping on his shoulder in the middle of the night. He thought it was Makoto, up and ready to find something new to get her hands on. He was mildly surprised when he turned over and found Minako smiling at him.

               “Can you do me a favor?”

               He rubbed at his eyes, slightly annoyed that she woke him up. “What’s that?”

               “I’m really thirsty.”

               He sighed heavily. Not only could Makoto look at him the right way to get whatever she wanted, but Minako could easily do the same. She rewarded him with a quick peck on the cheek, so it wasn’t all bad. He shuffled out of bed and she whispered to him before he reached the door.

               “I’ll give you more of that when you come back. For your troubles.”

               He heard her giggle when he stumbled. He had long since resigned himself to fall victim to her teasing. He felt immature, but a quick glance back at her made it all worth it. “I’ll try and be quick then,” he said with a smile as he walked out of the room. He would only be gone for ten seconds.

               At least, he should have been, back before they had kids.

               He jumped out of his skin when he saw a shadow in the kitchen. He walked into the room to find the freezer door wide open, a chair propped up against the fridge, and a familiar figure standing on said chair.

               He released his breath and ran a hand through his hair. He couldn’t see exactly what Makoto was doing as the freezer door blocked his view. He approached her carefully so he didn’t startle her and have her fall off the chair. She must have heard his footsteps as she straightened up on the chair.

               “What are you eating, Makoto?”

               Using the freezer door as leverage, she slowly leaned back enough to look at him. There was chocolate covering her face, her fingers, and now the freezer handle. He also realized that she did not have a spoon in her hands. Did she seriously use her hands to eat the ice cream?

               Her eyes were wide, and he wondered if that was because she was experiencing a sugar rush, or if she knew she was in trouble. The smile that spread across her face a second later confirmed the sugar rush. He walked up to her and lifted her off the chair and closed the door. The damage was far worse up close. She had ice cream in her hair, on her shirt, under her eyes, on the floor, almost everywhere.

               “How in the world did you get ice cream in your hair?” he asked as he reached for a towel. How long had she been standing in front of the freezer to begin with? How much ice cream did she actually eat?

               She put up resistance when he grabbed her hands to wipe them clean. She fussed even more when he swiped the towel over her face. However, when he turned to run the towel under some water, Makoto bolted out of the room. Thankfully, she didn’t make it too far as she barreled into her mother.

               “I was wondering what was taking you so long.” Makoto found the situation entertaining and laughed as Minako picked her up. She ran a hand through Makoto’s hair after discovering the chocolate remnants he had yet to clean up. She didn’t seem at all surprised to find some in her hair.

               Akihiko sighed. “I have no idea how she managed to get ice cream everywhere.”

               Makoto giggled in her mother’s arms. “Looks like someone isn’t going to be sleeping any time soon.”

               He later realized she was referring to him.           

---

               Akihiko would never forget the day Makoto’s curiosity met its match.

               It was for two reasons. Reason one: Sae did not come home from school that afternoon, which prompted a frantic phone call from Minako while he was at work. He left immediately to question the teachers at the school, all of whom had sworn they saw Sae leave with a friend. He relayed the information to Minako and told her to contact all the people she could have left with. She had called him back shortly after he left the school to tell him Sae was at a friend’s house and that she would be dropped off as soon as possible.

               So he came home and sat, fists clenched tightly waiting for the knock on the door. When it came, Minako was kind enough to answer and thank the friend’s mother for bringing Sae back. She stepped into the room with Sae behind her and he couldn’t contain his anger.

               “What were you thinking, going off to a friend’s house and not telling us?!”

               Minako stepped between the two of them. “She’s home, that’s all that matters.”

               “Yeah, Dad, that’s all that matters.”

               He knew one day that Sae would get mouthy with him; every growing child did. But he wasn’t ready for it. And he wasn’t ready for it to happen the way it did. He tried to keep his tone calm, but it was hard. She seemed to brush off the fact that she had scared the hell out of her parents. That and Minako didn’t seem to be angry at all.

               “What if something happened to you? We would have no idea where you were! You didn’t even think to call us when you got to your friend’s place!” When Minako put a hand on his shoulder to calm him down, he moved out of her grasp. “You’re going to be grounded for a month!”

               When Sae scoffed and rolled her eyes, something in him snapped. He was grateful that Minako decided to play mediator before he ended up doing something he was bound to regret.

               “Go to your room, Sae. And don’t you dare roll your eyes at me.”

               He saw her scowl at both of them before she huffed in annoyance and slammed the door to her room. He let out a shaky breath. Words were on the tip of his tongue and he desperately wanted to yell at his daughter so she could realize exactly what she had done. However, Minako stood before him with a frown on her face.

               “I know you’re upset, but she’s okay. She’s home now.”

               “She didn’t say a damn word to us about where she was going!” He rubbed the side of his head in frustration. “How are you not upset about this?! What if she was kidnapped? What if she was hurt? What if she was-,”

               “She wasn’t,” she interrupted. “She made a mistake, but I’m sure she’s learned her lesson.”

               A crash came from the kitchen, dispelling any retort he was about to make. In his concern for one daughter, he forgot about the other. He dropped his head to his chest and took a deep breath.

               Minako laughed. “I’ll talk with Sae.” Another crash. “You can deal with Makoto.”

               He almost told her that he wanted to deal with Sae, but she was halfway down the hall when he lifted his head. He sighed again before he turned towards the kitchen. He was fairly certain that Makoto was climbing on the countertops; it seemed to be something she enjoyed doing. The cabinets were locked, however, so he was interested to see what she was getting into. He was even more curious to know what she was knocking around.

               He found her sitting on the counter with a small bag in her hand. Before he could even figure out what it was she was holding, she grabbed a fistful of the contents and threw it into her mouth. He walked up to her as she continued to munch on her new treat, then he realized what she was eating. He grabbed the bag from her hand and held back a laugh as her face twisted in disgust and began coughing. He did chuckle when she started spitting out black flecks and looked up at him with tears in her eyes.

               “I will take this as a sign that you won’t like coffee?” he asked as she continued to cough and spit to rid her mouth of the coffee grinds. “You probably shouldn’t eat everything you see, Makoto.”

               He picked her up off the counter as she started to cry. He walked to the sink so she could wash her hands, then placed her on the floor. He filled one of her cups with water and handed it to her. He smiled as he watched her face contort due to the remaining bitterness, but she continued to drink the water until she appeared to flush the taste out.

               “Maybe this will teach you to stop going through everything?”

               He should have known better.