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“Can I stay with you tonight?”

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Problem children. That’s what everyone called her kids. They’re broken, damaged and difficult, and only an idiot would adopt them.

“I guess that makes me a fucking idiot, then!” Komaru snapped more than once during the long adoption process, making the person who said such a hateful thing flinch.

Ever since she officially adopted the kids, those sorts of comments have died down. But Komaru knows her kids get bullied for being ‘weird problem kids’ and she wants to yell at everyone who does this.

Yes, her kids are, for want of a better word, damaged. Each of them ended up in the social care system because their parents were abusive. Each of them has trauma and triggers and things that make parenting them a massive challenge.

But the kids are not the problem. The only problems are the bastards who did such horrible things to their children.

But that’s not important. All are in jail or dead, and the kids are in a safe, caring home. And all five of them – Masaru, Kotoko, Jataro, Nagisa and Monaca – have the same surname: Naegi. Because they are her kids.

Yeah, there may be extra problems that come with raising traumatised kids. But they are her children, and they are the only children she wants.

And she will fucking destroy anyone who insults her kids in front of her.

---

The kids seem to struggle the most at night. Komaru supposes night time brings darkness and silence and isolation, and must bring back many unpleasant memories. Only Monaca has her own room (she needs the extra space to store her wheelchair and other mobility equipment), so Komaru knows the others don’t get lonely at night… but, still, sometimes…

They need to be with her.

In the year the kids have been her children, each of them has come to her in the night at least once, and asked the same question: “Can I stay with you tonight?”

---

Kotoko

“Don’t cry. I’ll be gentle.”

Gentle

Gentle

Gentle!

As that horrible evil wrong word swirls through her mind, Kotoko jolts awake. Her heart pounds and her stomach churns with nausea, and tears leak from her eyes. She takes in a shuddering breath, grateful that Nagisa hasn’t woken up.

She sniffles, tucking her knees up to her chest and hugging them. Kotoko buries her face in her knees, shuddering. It has been two years since she was taken away from her parents (two years since the police came and she went to the hospital and her parents got arrested and everything was busy and scary but then a policewoman said she would never have to go through… that again and she was so happy she cried until she was sick), but the dreams won’t go away. Will they ever go away?

Kotoko glances at her sleeping brother, not sure what to do. She could wake him, but Nagisa is also a mess, and it seems mean to wake him up.

She… she could go and see Mama.

She has been the daughter of Naegi Komaru for three months, but Kotoko has never gone into her Mama’s room in the night. She never went to see her parents at night – she was never at home at night – so she isn’t really sure if it’s… appropriate.

But her tummy churns and the tears won’t stop, and she’s so… scared.

No, she’s going to do it!

Sniffling, Kotoko climbs out of bed and pads across the bedroom. She opens the door and wanders out onto the landing, shivering despite not being cold. When she reaches Mama’s door, Kotoko hesitates, before knocking.

“Mama?” she whispers.

For several long, long seconds, she just stands there, shivering and sobbing. Irrational fear flickers in her mind (will she be mad? Will she take me back? Will she let some man give her money and take Kotoko somewhere and…?) and she wants to throw up.

But then the door opens, and Mama looks down at her.

She’s half asleep, her hair all messy, but she bends down and puts her hands on Kotoko’s shoulders.

“Kotoko, are you okay?” she asks. “Why are you crying?”

And Kotoko gives up trying to hide it, slamming against Mama and burying her face in her chest. She sobs and trembles, and Mama pulls her into a tight hug. And Mama whispers soft soothing things and rubs her back, and it helps so much.

When the tears have almost stopped, Mama gives her a tissue and says, “Are you feeling better?”

“A lot,” she mumbles. “Thank you.”

“Not a problem, darling.”

Kotoko stares down at her feet, twisting her fingers in her hair. Now the moment has come, the thought of asking makes her feel… pathetic.

“Mama… can I stay with you tonight?” she mumbles.

“Oh, Kotoko, of course you can.” Mama pats the bed, sitting down. “Come on, climb in.”

“R-Really?”

“Of course.”

“Thank you, Mama,” Kotoko says, scrabbling into bed beside Mama.

And she snuggles up with Mama and tells her all about the horrible dream, and Mama holds her close. And when Kotoko falls asleep, she doesn’t have a bad dream.

---

Masaru

Masaru tosses and turns in his sleep, frowning and gripping at the sheets with trembling hands. Weak groans escape his mouth, his eyelids flickering as he dreams. Except it’s not a dream. It’s a nightmare.

“Fucking stupid brat!”

Pain. Red marks littering his back. A bruise he has to make up lies about at school.

“You can’t do anything right!”

The smell of alcohol and cigarettes. more pain.

“I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry!”

Babbling apologies endlessly, but not stopping it.

Crying in a heap on the floor.

When Masaru wakes up, a whole jolt runs through his body, and his heart beats so fast he can hear it drumming in his ears. He lies there, eyes focused on the nightlight beside Jataro’s bed (his brother won’t sleep without a nightlight, but Masaru doesn’t mind; the dark reminds him of being shut in the closet for hours) and trying to ignore the memories.

His eyes burn, but Masaru won’t let himself cry. He knows Mama said it’s good to cry, but he just can’t get over the fear of being yelled at for snivelling. He sighs, wishing he could forget it all. But he never will.

He doesn’t know what it stands for, but the doctor said he has PTSD for a reason.

He’s such a mess.

Masaru sits up, glad to see Jataro still asleep. he doesn’t want his brother to see him like this. Again, he knows emotions aren’t bad, but… he doesn’t want to look weak. He has only had his siblings for four months, and… they might hate him if they see him so weak and pathetic.

His heart rate won’t go down, his chest tightening like someone has wrapped a snake around his ribs and it squeezes tighter every time he breathes in. Masaru lets out a shuddering breath, pressing his hands to his chest. His heart pounds and pounds, but he can’t get in enough air.

Panic overwhelms him and he darts out of the bedroom. Masaru forgets to know and barges straight into Mama’s bedroom, dropping to his knees and gasping for breath.

The light snaps on and Mama looks down at him. And then she scrabbles out of bed and joins him on the floor.

“Masaru?” she says, putting a cautious hand on his back. “Oh, baby, it’s okay.”

“I c-can’t… breathe,” he gasps, the tears finally spilling over.

Thankfully, Mama doesn’t point this out. Frowning nervously, she helps him sit up straighter, rubbing circles on his back. “It’s okay, darling. I think you’re having a panic attack. Just breathe, okay. I want you to breathe in for eight seconds, hold for five seconds and breathe out for eight. Can you do that for me?”

Masaru nods, and starts following Mama’s plan. As she counts, he heaves in the deepest breath he can manage, his lungs screaming, and holds it. Dizziness starts building up in his head, but he holds for five seconds before blowing out a long breath, puffing out his cheeks like he’s blowing out candles.

He has no idea how long it lasts. All he really knows is he’s really, really scared – but Mama is here. For the entire panic attack, she counts to help him time his breathing and rubs his back and whispers soothing things, and Masaru realises this is what a parent is supposed to be.

When it is finally over, Masaru slumps against Mama, trembling. Mama pulls him into a cuddle, and he rests his head on her shoulder.

“Are you feeling better now, baby?” Mama asks.

He nods against her shoulder, sniffling. “Y-Yeah. Thank you. Um… Mama…” He doesn’t really know how to say it, but he wants to. “I… Can I stay with you tonight?”

“Of course you can,” Mama says, giving his forehead a kiss.

And Masaru climbs into bed and Mama gives him a tight cuddle, and whilst everything still feels wrong… this is so nice.

Masaru falls asleep faster than he can remember, snuggled up with his Mama.

---

Jataro

Jataro doesn’t talk much. To be honest, he mainly keeps to himself. He knows life with Mama is different and how being a kid is supposed to feel like, but he can’t stop wondering if… his birth mother was right about him.

He dreams about her a lot. And the dreams are always the same. He curls up in bed, body tense and eyelids flickering, and dreams yet again.

“You’re disgusting.”

“I can’t bear to look at you.”

“Get out of my right.”

“Fuck off, Jataro!”

“Here, wear this. Now nobody will have to see your disgusting face again.”

The mask is hot and disgusting and he can’t see properly with it on. But she doesn’t let him take it off. She never lets him take it off.

Soon, when he sees his reflection in the mirror whilst baving a bath, Jataro wonders if she is right.

Is he ugly?

Tears well up behind his closed eyelids, and trickle across his cheeks and ono the pillow when he opens them. Jataro rolls over, relief flooding through him when he sees the comforting, soft beam of light from his nightlight, but the tears won’t stop.

Mama always tells him that he isn’t ugly (and even if he was, she would still love him), and that everything his birth mother said was false and she was a hateful woman who deserves to be in prison for child neglect. He knows all this.

But, still, he can’t get the fears to stop.

Jataro pulls the too-long sleeves of his pyjama shirt down over his hands, and scrubs at his eyes and nose. He sniffles, wanting to curl up under the bed and hide.

No. he doesn’t want to hide. He doesn’t want to be alone.

He wants Mama.

It has been sixth month since he was adopted by Naegi Komaru and become Naegi Jataro, and these have been the best sixth months of his young life. Mama cares about him – she loves him – and every ngiht he prays to every God he can think of to let him stay here. Mama nurtures his talents in art (and tells him his art is good, no matter what he was told) and gives the best cuddles, and gives him presents and takes him on day trips and goes to yell at the teachers when she learns he’s being bullied at school. He loves her. And, just like Nagisa said, she’s exactly the sort of Mama every kid deserves to have.

So even though it’s the middle of the night, Jataro gets out of bed and tiptoes through the dark, still house. When he reaches Mama’s bedroom door, he knocks, scrubbing at his face again.

After a few seconds, he hears footsteps and the door opens. Mama looks down at him, and her face crumples.

“S-Sorry,” Jataro mumbles.

“What for?” Mama says, leading him into the bedroom and shutting the door. “Jataro, why are you apologising?”

“Your face… I made you upset.”

Mama twists her face into a smile, bending down so they are face-to-face. “I’m not upset. I was just worried to see you crying. But it’s not your fault. Here, come and sit on the bed.”

“Are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure.”

As Mama grabs a box of tissues, Jataro hops up onto the big double bed and crosses his legs. He sniffles, taking a tissue when Mama holds out the box and blowing his nose.

“Thank you,” he mumbles.

“No problem, baby. So, wanna tell me what’s the matter?” Mama says, putting her arm around him.

Jataro lets himself slump against her, more tear trickling down his face. “Um… I had a… bad dream.”

“Do you want to tell me about it?”

He shakes his head. “Just… don’t wanna be alone.”

“I understand,” Mama says, carefully brushing a few stay hairs out of his eyes. She plants a kiss on his forehead, hugging him.

“Mama… Can I… stay with you… tonight?” he whispers.

Mama smiles. “You sure can. Come on, let’s get under the covers. Do you want me to leave the lamp on?”

“Yes please.”

Mama pulls back the blankets and lies down under them. When Jataro snuggles beside her, she covers them both with the blankets, and puts her arms around him. He cuddles close and Mama holds him tightly, whispering soothing things.

It takes him a long time to fall asleep, but when he finally does Jataro dreams about Mama – his real mom – and all the awesome things the Naegi family do together.

---

Monaca

She shifts awkwardly in her sleep, small whines coming out of her mouth as her head fidgets on the pillow. Even in her sleep, Monaca can’t get comfortable, a frown of discomfort etched on her sleeping face.

But even if the pins in her spine and her paralysed legs weren’t making her uncomfortable, her sleep would still be restless. Because, like far too many other nights, Monaca is having a nightmare.

It’s always the same: a nightmare about that day.

The day she got her spinal cord injury.

Dad and Haiji hate her. She knows that. And she tries to act like she couldn’t care less, but it hurts.

She didn’t ask to be a bastard child. But they hate her. They blame everything on her.

When angry, Dad screams at her until she sobs. When angry, Haiji hits her, forming dark bruises on her pale skin.

Sometimes, Monaca fantasises about murdering them. But she never goes through with it. Because she’s a coward.

Haiji comes home late, drunk and angry and ranting about something or other. Monaca knows by now that to survive in the Towa household she needs to hide when her dad and brother are mad.

But this time, it doesn’t work. Haiji storms up the stairs and bursts into her bedroom. Monaca tries to crawl under the bed, but he grabs her by the wrist and drags her to her feet.

“Where do you think you’re going?!” he snarls.

Monaca stares at him. she’s very good at being a bitchy kid when she gets into fights at school, but years of her awful home life have made her somewhat… passive around angry people. Especially teenage boys and adult men.

“Haiji, please, let go,” Monaca says, his fingers digging into her wrist.

“No! come with me, you little shit.”

She wriggles as her brother drags her out of the room.

“What a-are you doing?” she cries.

“Dad’s business partners found out you’re a bastard. He’s gonna lose billions of yen thanks to you. go down there and apologise right now,” Haiji spits, voice slurring and his breath stinking of alcohol.

Monaca thrashes, trying to get away. Going downstairs will get her screamed at and beaten. She’s a good kid. She doesn’t deserve this.

Why didn’t she kill her family when she had the idea?

“No, get off!” she cries, straining to get free.

And as Monaca pulls against his grip with all her body weight, Haiji loses his grip on her wrist. Monaca shrieks and staggers backwards, off balance, and Haiji swears and tries to grab her.

But she stumbles backwards… and falls.

She tumbles down the stairs, bones breaking and pain shooting through her body. She hits the hallway floor with a horrible cracking sound, and pain explodes in her back. Monaca sobs hysterically, and when she realises she can’t feel her toes, she cries until she passes out.

Monaca wakes up, trembling. Her heart pounds in her neck, memoires of the pain and terror swirling in her mind.

That was nearly two years ago, but it feels like it was yesterday. For the entire year she was in the care system, Haiji never once said sorry. And for the seven months she has lived with Komaru, her family have made no attempt to contact her from prison.

Her eyes fill with tears and Monaca scrubs at them with the backs of her trembling hands. She hates crying, especially at that memory. She’s away from all that awful stuff now, but the tears won’t stop flowing.

As she lies there, aching and sobbing, something occurs to her. She remembers Jataro telling her that Mama let him sleep in her bed when he was upset, and he had a good sleep.

Maybe if she stays with Mama, she won’t dream about the day she almost died?

It’s worth a try.

With a reasonable amount of skill, Monaca sits up in bed, wriggling so her legs dangle over the edge. She switches on the lamp and smiles when she finds her wheelchair exactly where she left it – at the side of her bed with its breaks on. Carefully, Monaca hauls herself into the wheelchair, tucking her hands behind her knees to move her legs, her feet on the footrests. She shifts in her seat, grunting at the pain in her back, and unlocks the wheels.

Okay, time to see Mama.

Still crying silently, Monaca wheels out of her bedroom and through the house, stopping at Mama’s bedroom door. She knocks, and waits for Mama to appear.

“Monaca?” Mama says, half asleep. “Oh, baby, why’re you crying?”

Monaca sniffs. “I… had a nightmare. Can I… stay with you tonight?”

Mama leans down and gives her a soft kiss on her clammy forehead. “Of course you can.”

She wheels into the room and gets into Mama’s bed, wincing as she gets under the covers.

“Are you in pain?”

“A bit.”

Mama sighs, hating how Monaca’s back always hurts. “Would you like some pain medicine?”

She doesn’t want to be a bother, but… No, she’s not supposed to act like that anymore. If she needs something, she should ask.

“Yes please.”

Mama smiles and slips out of bed. She returns a few minutes later with a bottle of liquid pain medication, the strawberry flavoured one that Nagisa loves.

“Here you go,” Mama says, pouring some medicine onto a spoon and easing it into Monaca’s mouth.

She swallows the sweet liquid, offering a weak smile.

“Okay, so, would you like a cuddle?” Mama asks, putting the bottle on the bedside table.

Monaca nods. “Please. I… don’t wanna be alone.”

“I understand, darling. Just lie down and I’ll cuddle up with you, okay?”

Nodding again, Monaca awkwardly shifts to lie on her side, pain throbbing in her back, and Mama snuggles closer, slipping her arms around Monaca’s trembling shoulders.

Like always, it takes Monaca a long, long time to fall asleep. But Mama stays awake and cuddles her until Monaca finally drifts off to sleep

---

Nagisa

Nagisa is dreadful at sleeping. Even the medicine his doctor gave him to make him drowsy don’t help that much. He runs on nervous energy, and the act of lying down and doing nothing until he falls asleep makes no sense to him.

Maybe… maybe it’s because he doesn’t know how to sleep. For years of his life, his parents used him as a lab rat, and the sleep deprivation must have left his sleep cycle messed up. He can take naps in the day when tired enough, but sleeping at night is really hard.

Most nights, Nagisa doesn’t fall asleep until 2am. As Kotoko sleeps in the other bed, he spends most of his night lying on his tummy with the blankets over his head, a torch in one hand and a book in the other. And Nagisa reads until he falls asleep, waking up hours later with the pages of his book stuck to his face and the torch’s batteries dead.

Tonight is no exception. Long past midnight, Nagisa falls asleep with his face in his book, lying on his stomach in a position that will give him backache. His sleep deprivation means that, when he does fall asleep, he’s pretty much dead to the world, and Nagisa sleeps through most of Kotoko’s nightmares or movements in the other bedrooms.

But there is something that almost always interrupts his well-needed sleep: nightmares.

He’s so tired, so painfully tired that he could sleep for weeks. But he stays at his desk, writing.

His eyes burn with fatigue, every muscle in his body aches and his brain throbs. But he keeps working.

If he stops, his parents will be mad.

Somewhere nearby, a door slams.

Oh crap!

They’re coming. He isn’t doing good enough. They are going to punish him.

Please don’t come in.

Please!

Nagisa awakes to nausea churning his guts and tears already leaking from his eyes. He sits up slowly, trembling, and sniffles, trying to calm himself down. He has these nightmares a lot, but they never stop scaring him.

No matter how hard he tries, he can’t calm down. He feels so sick, and anxiety shoots through his entire body.

He… he doesn’t want to be alone.

He wants Mama.

And even though an irrational part of his mind is telling him that he will get punished for getting up in the night, Nagisa climbs out of bed and hurries to Mama’s bedroom door. He knocks, trying to calm his breathing and wipes his eyes on his sleeve –

But the moment Mama opens the door and looks at him, he crumples and starts to sob. He doesn’t hear her speak, lost in fear and violent sobs, but Nagisa feels arms embrace him and the warmth of Mama’s hug. Crying so hard he thinks he might be sick, he feels Mama lead him to the bed, where she helps him sit. He clings to her even tighter, crying and crying.

And the entire time, Mama rubs soothing circles on his back, and murmurs things he doesn’t hear.

And when it’s finally over and Nagisa mumbles apologies and sniffles and manages an awkward, “Can I stay with you tonight? Please?” and blows his runny nose, Mama gently kisses his forehead and holds him close.

“Of course you can,” she says. “Anything to make you feel better, baby.”

And Nagisa starts crying again, but smiles through the tears as he mumbles, “Thank you for… being my mom.”

And Mama looks like she might cry as she says, “Trust me, darling. It’s not a problem. I love you.”