There’s No Such Thing As Coincidences

The east wind brought in the smell of rain and wet leaves, despite the hot clear blue of the summer sky. Watanuki paused in his sweeping to shade his eyes, looking into the distance, but there was nothing but heat visibly shimmering from the low-set rooftops.

“Watanuki,” Yuuko said from the porch. She lay sprawled in the shadows, long bare limbs and her white stomach exposed in the gap between her bikini top and low-slung shorts. She had one arm over her eyes and a glass of melting ice-cubes in her other hand. “Leave the gate open.” Continue reading

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No Small Thing

(Pay attention. Breathe.)

“The rules are simple,” says the smiling man. He holds up the collar and turns it, showing them where it fastens shut and where the chain hooks in. “The master gives commands. Strength of will determines whether the move can be made.” He pretends to consider, pursing his lips briefly before smiling again. Under that friendly veneer lies something akin to a threat. “Both the will of the master and the piece must be resolute, and in absolute sync.”

(In. Out. There is a feather in this world, and they have to find it. Otherwise, Sakura will–) Continue reading

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by thorn uncut

“You’re not serious,” Fay protests. He leans into the mirror, so that they’re cheek-to-cheek, and for maybe the first time in their lives, the reflection is different. “Uncle will be furious, you know that.”

“But Uncle isn’t coming tonight,” Yuui points out sweetly. He pouts at the mirror and carefully applies paint to his lips, the way he’s seen their mother do. “He’s off on another one of his little war campaigns. This is our party, and he doesn’t even have to know.” He kisses the air a few times, testing, then sets the paint-pot aside. Without looking away from the mirror, he slides his arms around his twin’s neck in a loose half-hug. “It’ll be fine. Think of it as a joke, Fay! It’ll be wonderful!” Continue reading

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as it often goes

It took approximately three laps around the estate with lullabies low in Masahiro’s throat the entire time before Kohime finally fell asleep. Even then, he continued humming as he carried her back to his own room and lay her gingerly down. To his relief, his young niece didn’t even stir beyond the butterfly-soft flutter of her breathing. He pulled the blanket up loosely around her, then sat back with a sigh, rolling his shoulders to try and work out the stiffness that came from accomodating the toddler’s weight for so long.

From the corner of the room, curled in a snug ball, Mokkun lifted his head and yawned. “Oi, oi,” he said, and got to his feet. “Don’t tell me that’s enough to tire you out, Seimei’s grandson.” Continue reading

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What Hates You (Will Someday Kill You)

There is a hall of the Minamoto estate that is filled, one end to the other, with the stuffed preserved bodies of youkai in their natural forms. Here there is a dragon with its jaws spread wide; there is a rokurokubi whose neck stretches the entire length of the hall; there’s a delicate sphere of amber with a tiny winged spirit trapped inside. There’s a crane spreading her wings as a fine kimono slides from her shoulders; there is a nue who lifts her head under a kappa’s outstretched arm. All of them are very fine trophies, put together with grace and care: the sword-marks that killed them have been stitched back together and carefully hidden from sight. They look alive, each and every one.

There is a parlor in the Minamoto estate as well, one fashioned after the sitting-rooms so popular in the west, though decorated with a delicate — and undeniably Japanese — eye and hand. It connects off the hallway of youkai, so Kantarou can move easily from one to the other. Continue reading

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The List Starts From Here

The good:

One, there was no loss of strength in his grip or his arm in general. He could still swing a sword with the same deliberate strength as before. Amaterasu herself had complimented him after a sparring match. A lesser man might have gloated or worse; Kurogane had instead just slung the practice blade across his shoulders and grinned till his face ached. Continue reading

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Dance (Shall We?)

The first mistake the professor makes is in pairing them up. She looks at him and curls her lip in disgust, and there is a tight pressure in his chest that makes it near-impossible to breathe. He doesn’t remember the professor’s words — they wash over him and fade to white noise before he really registers him. She puts her hand in his, small and cool to the touch, and it’s there, on the tip of his tongue to say it — I’ll cut off your claws before you can have him — and she hears it anyway. They stare at each other even after the music starts; it’s only when the professor’s voice rises, sharper than before, that they move. Continue reading

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(it’s) a kind of magic

“I never regretted it,” was all he’d say, years later. He would tuck his hands into his pockets, and if there was a window close by, he would turn to it and smile. “Not once.”

+++

Summer was a hot and sticky affair, one Suzuki Daisuke spent mostly sprawled across the floor, fanning himself, with his clothes as open as they could be and still remain decent. Those days he was all long skinny limbs, with bones jutting out under his sunburned skin, all of his energy sapped away by the rolling heat. Once his sister, annoyed by his laziness, had dropped a glassful of ice-water on him; when he’d gotten over the initial shock, the coolness had felt so good that he’d spent rest of the week pleading with her to do it again. It wasn’t until she’d threatened to do it with tea instead that he’d given up and gone back to his battered paper fan.

The nights weren’t much better than the days, the air heavy with humidity, the buzzing of cicadas giving way to the rasping of crickets. Sometimes, though, he liked to go outside after the sun had set, walking until the lights of his house were completely gone before turning around to feel his way back through the dark. If the moon was full and bright, he would go barefoot along the road with his sandals dangling from one hand, watching his feet on the gravel, one step after another. Continue reading

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at last laid bare

“Hey, Boma,” says Daisuke.

He turns his face so that his cheek is pressed against the wall instead of his nose. He can vaguely see the reflection of them in the metal: Boma’s dark head bent so close to his own. Just a few short steps away, the rest of Kabuki Road is abuzz with life, and the noise itself is like a cocoon, an extra layer of insulation between them and someone else. Boma’s timing has never been the best — he picks and chooses when to approach Daisuke without any sort of discernible pattern, sulking deliberately in the shadows until he’s noticed and called out. Continue reading

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but here’s the catch

There is a game Seimei enjoys very much; shhh, you mustn’t tell Ritsuka. It’d be game over if Ritsuka found out, and Seimei hates losing.

The rules are very simple: when Ritsuka is asleep, do not wake him. Continue reading

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those things unasked

She wears mostly black in this country, like she does in every other — black jeans and a low-cut black tanktop and a light black jacket over that — all provided by President Daidouji, of course: after she practically adopts the princess, she takes the rest of them under her wing as well. New clothes are provided for all of them, and if the ones for the princess are better-made and higher-quality, none of them comment. The idiot mage, in fact, absolutely dotes on her, worse than he did even back in Outo — he pets her and compliments her and makes grinning sidelong comments to the brat, which makes both him and the princess turn bright red and sputter and never quite look the other in the face. They’re so young that sometimes it makes Kurogane tired to be around them; she was that young, once upon a time, though never quite so in love: she’s never entertained hopes that the moon would ever be in her reach. Continue reading

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a nameless first meeting

He is eight years old the first time they meet: the day of the harvest festival, when people from as far away as the capital come to Suwa to buy and sell and trade, and the entire province is turned into an extravaganza of lights and music and celebration. Despite having brand-new clothes for the occasion (stiff and uncomfortable for not being properly broken-in yet) and a stern warning from his mother to keep his face clean, he sneaks off soon after breakfast, avoiding the servants who rush here and there and shout passed-along orders at each other. His father might be the lord of the area, but his mother commands her people with practical efficiency that would impress any general. Continue reading

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various genderswitch

Firefly (Mal)

It ain’t that he’s got a problem with women in charge — his momma’d whup him good if she ever heard him saying gorram idjit things like that — it’s just that the woman who’s tryin’ to bargain his services right now — in front of his current employers, no less — puts him in the mind of a coyote, sharp-eyed and this side of too-lean. Like as not she’d seen hard times since the war, and that was liable to make anyone mean, man or woman. The black ain’t a kind place for anyone, and a woman’s twice as likely than a man to gut you goin’ down — no hard feelin’s, darlin’, just how business is. You gotta be able to stand on the weight of your own reputation, and not everyone’s hand the raisin’ Jayne’s had at his momma’s knee. He’s not plannin’ on gettin’ himself shived because on account of anyone.

Still, she’s got a mighty temptin’ offer and she looks him straight in the eye, easy as you please. She ain’t the sort who’s ever gonna back down, this Mal Reynolds, and that’s more than some of the chickenshit he’s worked for previous. If her pay’s good as her word, Jayne reckons he’s got the time to stick around. Continue reading

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For Want of Kindness

“You are your father’s child,” her mother sighs, and touches her face with soft fingertips. “Don’t lose that kindness, my darling, and your heart will be as strong as your arm.”

+++

Kurogane’s first kiss is when she’s fifteen and two years in Tomoyo’s service. It comes from the princess herself, when it’s just the two of them alone in her chambers: the princess embroidering a length of green silk to eventually be turned into an obi, and Kurogane reading — because Amaterasu insisted on her continuing proper education — while trying not to feel rather desperately out of place. There have been a few who’ve muttered jealously of the special affection and attention that Tsukuyomi lavished upon Suwa’s displaced heir, but Tomoyo pays them no heed, and Kurogane does her best to follow that unruffled example. She’s flattered, of course, and honored to the point of embarrassment, which she disguises with gruff clipped speech and narrow-eyed glares.

Still, there is no way to gracefully decline a request from one’s princess, especially when one doesn’t particularly want to, because Tomoyo is a soothing quiet presence and sometimes she sings as she works: things Kurogane’s mother sang to her, when she was still young enough for lullabies.

And then: “Kurogane,” says Tomoyo.

She looks up and the question dies unvoiced as Tomoyo leans forward. The princess’ lips are absurdly soft, and Kurogane is half-tempted to recite the poetry she’s just been reading. Up close, the princess smells like lavender and incense, and the curve of her mouth is a warm smile that lingers even when she pulls back.

Kurogane can’t do anything but stare, though her tongue swipes out automatically across her bottom lip. There is no lingering taste there like the romances like to claim, but her entire mouth tingles from remembered pressure. “P– Princess,” she manages, and her voice has gone low and husky in her surprise. “What–”

Tomoyo beams. “I wanted to,” she says. Her dark eyes are gentle, as is her hand when she touches Kurogane’s cheek. Her little fingers were soft; even the calluses were smooth. “Because you were there, and because I am fond of you, Kurogane.”

It isn’t a confession: the one woman who inherits Tsukuyomi’s name takes no permanent lover in her life; though she may spend time as she wishes, her duty must first and foremost be to the barrier she maintains around Japan. Kurogane knows this and still flushes like an idiot girl at the warmth in her princess’ eyes. It’s embarrassing.

“I,” she starts to say, then falls silent. Tomoyo continues to smile steadily at her, so she takes a breath and leans forward herself this time. The princess meets her halfway, still smiling.

Kurogane’s second kiss is soft as the first and becomes a memory she carries fondly for the rest of her life.

+++

It goes without saying that she does not like the mage.

The princess is not her princess, but still one nevertheless, and thus will be protected. The kid’s not bad — a bit rough around the edges, but he’s got a fighter’s spirit and the intelligence to recognize and respect his betters and learn from them.

The mage, on the other hand, is like every single woman that has annoyed Kurogane in life: the soft-bodied fluttering butterflies that simpered in Amaterasu’s presence and fawned upon Tomoyo, the women who laughed too shrill and too bright, like it could hide the bruised shadows in their eyes — the women who would not accept the responsibility to change their own fate. She smiles like it means nothing and forgets Kurogane’s name when she remembers them for everyone else, even that damn white porkbun. It doesn’t take a genius to see that the mage is hiding a secret that’s gearing up to explode, but the princess is too weak and tired to notice anything but her own exhaustion and the kid is (rightfully) fixated only on her.

Which means it’s up to Kurogane to keep tabs on the idiot mage; for now they’re stuck together, and she’s not about to let a moron ruin her chances of going home.

That doesn’t mean she likes it, though; it rankles to be around the mage when the idiot won’t even lift a hand to defend herself. Even if Tomoyo was not half the warrior her sister-empress was, she knew — and more to the point, would use — enough magic to defend herself nicely. The mage doesn’t even pretend to try.

Instead she plays the part of a fool, spoiling the princess shamelessly and teasing the kid for his devotion — never unkindly, though he sputters and blushes red anyway — and indulging the white porkbun’s attempts to be cute.

And she flirts shamelessly with Kurogane with her lashes coyly lowered and her lower lip caught between her teeth, with cuddling Kurogane’s arm between her small breasts and leaning in so close that her breath feathers against Kurogane’s ear. She’s far bolder than the women of court, but always backs off just shy of actually promising anything. Only she knows the steps to her dance, and Kurogane has no patience for it. One of these days, she thinks, she’ll flirt right back, because nothing will get the damn mage off her back faster.

For now, however, it keeps the idiot close, and the last thing Kurogane wants is to have to chase down the moron if she decides to go off and sulk.

Soon, though. Any day now.

+++

They arrive in a world where the princess’s feather is kept at a shrine and worshiped as a holy object. The High Priest is a broad-shouldered black-haired man whose smile never falters as he listens to their story and says that, if the princess is really their world’s goddess come to reclaim her feather, she must prove it. Just a few simple tests, he promises, and has a young acolyte lead them to their rooms. The mage is conspicuously silent the entire time, white as a ghost and not looking anyone in the eye as they walk down the hallway. The princess is given her own room, but both she and the kid look so piteous that he’s allowed to bed down on her floor, just to stay close. Kurogane and the mage are placed in the room next door, and as soon as the door closes, she turns on her idiot companion.

“That man,” she says. “His name was also ‘Asura.'”

The mage laughs; it’s a hollow rattling sound. “Ah,” she says. “How observant, Kuro-chuu. You noticed.”

“It’s not the same ‘him,’ though, is it?” Kurogane narrows her eyes. “The same soul, but not the one you’re running away from.”

Instead of answering, the mage slinks towards her, reaching up to slide skinny arms around her neck. She leans in close, fitting her narrow body against Kurogane’s own and lets her lashes flutter against Kurogane’s jaw. She smells nothing like flowers, just of wind and the burn of ozone. “Hey, Kuro-sama,” she breathes. “If I asked her to protect me, would she say yes? She’s such a devoted bodyguard, I’d have nothing to worry about if she were to watch over me …”

It’s instinct that makes her lash out; in a single sharp twist she shakes the mage off and turns. “Don’t be stupid,” she says. “You can take care of yourself. Try doing that instead of relying on others.”

The mage hits the wall with one thin shoulder and doesn’t move. Her head falls forward and she laughs again. “Ah,” she says. “Ahaha, that’s right, what was I thinking. How rude of me to ask.” She lifts her head and her smile is wide and brilliant and absolutely false. “I’m sorry, Kuro-sama.”

Kurogane glares, her hand drift to her waist and the sword that’s no longer there. Instead of trying again, though, the mage drifts away from the wall, shedding her long coat into a pile on the floor. She’s still wearing the clothes of the last world underneath — a long black dress that shows off her modest figure — and this she doesn’t bother taking off before she drops onto one of the narrow cots, face-down as always. Kurogane stares at her for nearly twenty minutes before she’s certain the mage is asleep, and only then does she move, stepping out of her boots and setting aside her own coat before she lies down, facing the other woman.

A thin shaft of moonlight comes in through the room’s single high-set window. It catches in the mage’s pale hair and makes it glow silver. Kurogane knows from experience that it’s soft as rabbit-fur, though the tips are rough with split ends. She misses Tomoyo suddenly and acutely, a thought that follows her down into sleep.

When she wakes the next morning, the mage is gone.

It isn’t until the princess passes her tests — with flying colors, really, carried by her inherent good luck — and receives the feather from the smiling High Priest that the mage reappears, strolling out from behind one of the temple’s marble pillars, as though she’d been there all along. She congratulates the princess on her win and neatly avoids the question of where she’d gone, and doesn’t look the High Priest in the eye; for just a moment she glances at Kurogane, and her lips quirk in an ironic biting little smile. She nods, so faintly that anyone else looking might have missed it, and then the transport spell opens around them like an unfolding flower and she’s gone from sight.

+++

Be kind, her mother had always whispered, before and after her illness took hold. Be kind, my darling, always be kind and especially to other women; there are those who won’t recognize it for what it is, and they’re the ones who need it most of all.

+++

They come to a world of perpetual winter, which is nearing the end of its lifespan. The mage theorizes that it’s only the presence of the princess’s feather that keeps it alive, but a blizzard keeps them confined to a building that must have been an inn, once upon a time: there is a bar in the main room and a number of bedrooms on the second floor. Neither Kurogane nor the kid trust the food still in the larders, and the white porkbun takes it upon itself to contact the Witch. They end up trading a silver bracelet set with an emerald (one of the princess’s wins from a poker game in the previous world) and the ruby stud in the mage’s right ear for a hot meal from the Witch’s assistant. Kurogane takes apart one of the rickety chairs for kindling and they light a fire, setting up their bedding close to that tiny source of warmth; the princess drops off almost as once, cuddling the white porkbun in her arms, and the kid lasts only a little longer before his head sinks to his chest and his breathing evens out.

Almost at once, the mage produces a small bright blue bottle from her coat pockets and uncorks it; even at a distance, it smells potently alcoholic. She sips it gingerly and makes a face before she holds it out to Kurogane in offering.

“When it’s this cold,” she says, and it sounds almost like apology, “it’s good to warm up from the inside.”

Kurogane eyes her suspiciously, but her smile is more wry than anything else; the firelight does nothing to hide the shadows in her eyes. It is possibly the most honest expression she’s had in their long time traveling together.

She drinks. It burns the whole way down.

When she gives the bottle back, the mage is closer than before. They’re not quite touching — there’s about a handspan of space between their knees — but she’s there in Kurogane’s sphere of awareness, a cool muffled presence that’s white as the snow outside. If she looks, she can see the other’s bowed head and slumped shoulders. If she looks away and then back again, the mage is closer still, and the smell of alcohol is heavy in the air.

“Oi,” Kurogane says, with her voice pitched low to prevent waking the kid or the princess. She knows damn well the mage is watching her, somewhere behind that tangled shaggy mess of hair. “Did you want something?”

The mage laughs. It verges on unkind. She tilts her head and shakes her hair from her eyes, staring blank and unblinking into the fire. “That’s the question, isn’t it.” She shakes the bottle, then takes a heavy drink. “Ahh, Kuro-tan, you should know better than to ask.”

“I did anyway,” Kurogane says, and snatches the bottle before the mage can drink again. “You’ve been staring at me all night.”

“Have I?” The mage blinks and tries her most innocent wide-eyed look. She presses a finger to her lower lip, as though she doesn’t know how damn easy it is to see through her facade. “Well, Kuro-ko is quite pretty, after all. She’s tall and strong and looks good whether she’s wearing a dress or a suit.” A smile twists her mouth, unkind in comparison to her previous expression. “She’s brave and she’s kind, and she takes care of the children so well in spite of being so growly. And with all this snow–” she lifts a hand and waves it languidly, “she is definitely the most interesting thing to look at. Of course, it’s always interesting with the faces Kuro-chama makes, but …”

Her knee brushes against Kurogane’s own now; through the layers of clothes they’re both wearing, her flesh is cold. Kurogane narrows her eyes, but doesn’t immediately pull back — and that, she sees, surprises the mage as long seconds tick past.

“What about you?” the mage asks. Her initial hard smile has faded into a bare twitch of her mouth and her knee trembles like she might break apart. “You’re asking something like this, so is there something you want in return?”

Kurogane looks. It’s not the first time: the idiot is exotic enough to someone from a world of black-haired dark-eyed people, and has a fineboned delicate face that straddles the borderland of androgyny, and she is nearly as flat-chested as the sleeping princess. She’s all angles and edges that would be better-suited for a man, but she’s flashy enough to draw the eye, even in a white world where she could easily blend in.

“Kuro-ro? Is there something on my face?”

“Idiot,” she says. “Don’t–”

“Don’t?”

She reaches out and closes her hand in the loose collar of the idiot mage’s shirt. With a twist of her wrist, she tugs the other woman forward, ignoring the pale hands that rise up and bat at her arm — other than that small token protest, the mage doesn’t fight at all, though her body goes stiff and trembling. Her eyes open wide, pupils dilating to pinpoints, and her breath comes rapid and harsh against Kurogane’s cheek. Kurogane brings her other hand up and lets it slide into the mage’s hair, soft and damp from melted snow, and uses that grip to hold her still.

(Be kind, my darling, her mother had whispered, be kind.)

“You piss me off,” she says, and kisses the other woman.

It’s nothing like the quiet gentle exchange with Tomoyo a lifetime ago, or any of the others who followed, men and women alike. The mage’s mouth falls open almost at once and she presses desperately close, but her kiss is passive — she makes a noise once when Kurogane’s teeth score her lower lip, and there are cold fingers which flutter lightly against Kurogane’s own, and does nothing else. Kurogane tastes blood and pulls back, and it isn’t just the reflected firelight that’s turned the mage’s face pink.

“Oh,” the idiot whispers. She looks more like she’s been stabbed than kissed. Under Kurogane’s knuckles, her heart is pounding so hard it seems like it must be painful. There is blood on her mouth that matches the taste on Kurogane’s tongue. “Oh–”

“I keep telling you,” Kurogane growls. “Make up your own damn mind about what you want. Moron.”

“Kuro-sama–”

“Either live in the past and die,” Kurogane growls, and lets go with a shove, “or look to the future and live.”

+++

Kurogane is no stranger to blood or death. She’s killed over a thousand in her years of service to Tomoyo; it’s the reason she’s on this stupid journey in the first place. She’s had battles where her hair dried stiff and red and she was banished to the bathhouse for the entire day before Tomoyo would allow her back into the palace. Never once did her arm falter: she did whatever necessary to protect her princess, her empress, and herself.

But she wraps the bandage as tightly as she can around the mage’s idiot head and sees her fingers shaking and she thinks of how her mother apologized for her failures before she died.

+++

Giving blood should hurt more than it does, she thinks: she’s cutting her own flesh, or else she’s offering an injury for the mage to lick, and it should hurt. It should sting to some small degree, but all she feels, watching that bowed pale-gold head, is the dull anger of disappointment.

“Kurogane,” the mage says, lips moving against her skin. Her voice is a low throaty rasp that turns Kurogane’s name into something that isn’t quite an insult. “You should try to sleep instead of brooding.” She leans back and runs her thumb over her mouth, gathering blood before she licks the digit clean. “It’s not healthy to stay up and worry about things.”

Her hand flashes out before she can stop herself; her hand fists in the mage’s shirt and pulls up. There’s a fleeting sense of deja-vu, but it dissipates when the mage moves of her own accord, pressing against Kurogane’s hand and draping herself across Kurogane’s lap like some oversized sleepy-eyed cat. A cold face presses to Kurogane’s throat, and a moment later there are fangs, delicately pressed to her jugular.

“Kurogane,” she whispers. “Would this make you feel better? You’re the great and noble warrior who saved me from myself. Such kindness should be rewarded — I’ll give it to you, if you want. I’ve seen you looking, I know you’re curious …”

A cold palm ghosts up Kurogane’s arm, tracing from bleeding wrist to bare shoulder before smoothing inward, until it rests across the slope of one breast. There are still fangs against her skin when the mage continues: “If you want, I’ll be–”

Kurogane shifts her grip until her fist is a flat palm, and shoves. The mage doesn’t bother to try and break her fall; she tumbles to the ground and lands in a splayed pile of limbs. The scrap of ribbon tying back her hair has come loose, and so the mess of it flutters around her thin face, hiding most of it. Kurogane gets to her feet and stands over the fallen woman.

“If you think that is what I want,” she growls, “you’re an even bigger idiot than I thought.”

She doesn’t wait to hear the answer before she stalks away, towards the room she’s splitting with the kid.

When she sleeps that night, she dreams of a world in its death-rattle winter, of startled blue eyes and the taste of alcohol and blood on her tongue.

+++

Just before they come to Infinity is a world ruled by women; the High Queen looks at the princess’s pale composed face and the leashed danger in Kurogane’s posture and is immediately smitten. She treats the princess like she might her own daughter, but to Kurogane she is less coy, letting their eyes meet directly and keeping her fingers pressed to Kurogane’s wrist. She is tall and slender with pale shoulder-length hair, and Kurogane drinks a little too much wine and lets herself grin in response to the queen’s flirtation, all teeth and assessing appreciation.

They kiss twice: once after the princess and the kid have retired for the night and the mage has disappeared with the white porkbun, with the queen’s arms soft around Kurogane’s shoulders and her hair soft between Kurogane’s fingers. She kisses sweetly and gently; it reminds Kurogane of Tomoyo from years before. The second time, however, she sees that the queen’s eyes are wide and shining and bright blue, and she looks up in time to see a long lean figure walking away, and she recognizes those footsteps in spite of herself.

It isn’t guilt that makes her disengage from the queen’s willing arms, but it’s close.

When she returns to her room, the mage is apparently asleep, belly-down upon the bed and her head turned away from the door. Kurogane listens to the steady sound of her breathing, and it’s on the tip of her tongue to ask: where did you come from, you said you served a king but what were you, why did I look at Queen Yuui’s face and see yours–

She swallows all of these words and takes to her own bed.

+++

Go!” says the idiot, the idiot, and for the first time in so, so long her one eye is clear. Celes is closing all around them and there’s no time for anything but action.

(If you want this, her princess had said, dark eyes liquid and sad, if you desire this with all of your heart, then make a wish and pay the price.)

Her faithful Souhi, who has served her so well for so long, cuts easily through muscle and bone. And it hurts, it hurts so damn badly, but when she reaches in and hauls the idiot-mage out of the cage crafted by her own magic, all that really matters is the smug satisfaction that she’s won.

+++

Mother, she thinks as consciousness slips away, would you still say I’m kind? Or would you think I’m selfish?

+++

So maybe this is her prize, all things said and done — her reward for her time in exile and saving a princess from her tower in one fell swoop.

Always with the royalty, she thinks — her first kiss and her final one and both of them are princesses, though with what she knows, it will be a long time, if ever, before Fay admits her heritage.

It’s all right, though. For the first time in so long, it’s all right. The star-jasmine is in full bloom and there is a delicate wreath of it woven into Fay’s long hair, though underneath she still smells of wind and ozone, and that’s all right too: Kurogane is pretty damn sure she wouldn’t know what to do with anything else.

“Kuro-sama,” Fay says drowsily. She tilts her face up, her expression kittenish and sweet but for the gleam in her gold eye. “I’m hungry.”

Kurogane snorts and lifts her bandaged wrist. “You’re a greedy bastard,” she says without heat, but stops at Fay’s cool fingers upon her hand.

“No,” Fay says as she levers herself up and leans over Kurogane; her kimono gapes wide open, showing off a long stretch of white skin. She smiles to show off her fangs. “I’m hungry.”

“You’re still greedy,” Kurogane tells her, but reaches up to hook her fingers around Fay’s neck and pulls her down. They kiss easily and without hurry as Fay settles close and her fingers skip to pull Kurogane’s kimono open. Even now her fingers are still cool, and Kurogane makes a vague surprised noise as they skitter across her warmer skin. “Oi–”

Fay breaks the kiss with a laugh. She flicks her thumb against a nipple, an appreciative hum rising in her throat at how it tightens at her touch. “I see,” she croons. “Kuro-sama likes that, then.”

Kurogane rolls her eyes and tugs her down for another kiss, this time biting at Fay’s lower lip until the other woman purrs and there is blood between them again, copper-bright and salt-sweet. Fay sucks her own lower lip into her mouth for a moment, her eyes heavy-lidded, and then she bites Kurogane’s ear hard enough that her fangs catch and pierce soft skin. When Kurogane mutters protest, Fay laughs in her ear: “I like the taste of yours better.”

“You’re a bit of a pervert, aren’t you,” Kurogane mutters. She settles her hands on Fay’s narrow hips and hooks her thumbs in the obi, pulling it loose. “You’re saying strange things.”

Fay laughs again. “I think Kuro-sama is the pervert,” she says. “Because she’s letting me do all these things.” She nuzzles at Kurogane’s throat and then lower, her fangs tracing the heavy slope of one breast; her mouth is only slightly warmer than her skin when it closes around the nipple. For how clever her tongue is with speech, it’s more clumsy in action, but her fingers are still deft and fast, and they continue to warm as they pass across Kurogane’s bared skin.

It takes little effort to roll them so that Kurogane is on top, and Fay’s hair is spilled across the pillows. She laughs as she peers up through her lashes, spreading her hands across her own narrow stomach: the kimono has fallen open, exposing bare flesh from collarbone to hip. Against Kurogane’s tanned skin, Fay is bone-white, and the contrast is something that Kurogane can’t help but watch as she tugs the rest of the cloth out of the way and sets her hands against Fay’s sides.

“If I’m a pervert,” she says, raising an eyebrow at the idiot (her idiot, for better or worse), “then it’s your fault.”

Something gentles in Fay’s expression at that. She reaches up and touches Kurogane’s cheek lightly. “Ah,” she says. “Kuro-sama is kind, isn’t she?”

“No way in hell,” says Kurogane, but lets herself be pushed back again, and closes her eyes when Fay kisses her.

And Fay might have been clumsy before — might still be in a raw unpracticed way — but she learns fast and adapts easily as breathing; she uses her teeth more than her tongue, once or twice leaving bitemarks that bleed. Her hands never quite warm completely; they leave her skin tingling in their wake, which is stupid and embarrassing to admit, but doesn’t make it any less true. Kurogane is allowed to sink her fingers into Fay’s hair and hold on, to pull for more and push for less, but every time she tries to move otherwise, Fay turns to press a kiss to her skin and whispers: next time, later, please, I promise.

It takes more patience than Kurogane will ever admit to allow this; she growls threats and promises that hardly make sense even to herself and holds on so tightly that later, she’ll find long stands of golden hair tangled around her fingers, yanked loose in her distraction. Fay herself is murmuring, her breath cool against Kurogane’s belly, things that are almost too private even as they are now — you’re beautiful, I’ve wanted, I’ve wanted, please …

Kurogane makes herself open her eyes, leaning up onto her elbows to look down as Fay settles between her legs, pushing them open.

“Oi,” she says. Her voice is more breathless than she likes, scraped down to a raw rasp. She struggles to adjust her balance so she can press her palm to Fay’s cheek, which is cool and smooth against her palm. “You know. You know that I. I …”

Fay smiles. It’s beautiful. “I know,” she says. “Tell me again later.”

She leans down and Kurogane falls back upon the bed, and anything else she meant to say or even think fades as the world goes white.

+++

Kurogane wakes later to a weight draped across her chest. There’s an arm around her waist and a head that is tucked, almost determinedly, under her chin. Blonde hair tickles her nose and she has to turn away. When she does, her burden mutters in protest and bites her shoulder — just a nip really, a warning that she ignores until she’s settled more comfortably, with Fay in the crook of her arm rather than puddled atop her.

She rests her open palm against Fay’s back, counting each soft breath. Even in her sleep, now, the idiot smiles and presses in as though comforted by Kurogane’s presence alone.

Since no one can see, Kurogane smiles herself and kisses Fay’s forehead before going back to sleep.

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Impending

1. Muko-iri was a common-law marriage custom practiced in ancient Japan, in which a man would visit a woman nightly until his parents died or she became pregnant, at which point he would move into her household, and eventually they would be considered married.

2. Koi (the fish, naturally) are considered a symbol of fertility.

+++

Kurogane woke to a heavy weight concentrated low on his hips. Normally this wouldn’t be a bad thing, but when he opened his eyes and looked at the person sitting atop him, he thought he’d probably have to revise that thought.

“Please don’t take this the wrong way,” Fay said, holding up a pillow. “But this is all your fault, so I have to kill you.”

–Definitely revised to a bad thing. Even at their worst, Fay had never seriously tried to kill him, though maybe one could raise an argument for the “honeymoon” after their settling in Japan (though Kurogane had protested this terribly: if they weren’t actually married, how the hell could it be a honeymoon? — though Fay, sneaky bastard, had just left it to Princess Tomoyo for explanations. Even now Kurogane wasn’t sure how he’d been convinced, but all right, that’s how it was), which was … beside the point.

He batted the pillow away and rolled, pinning Fay beneath him with ease.

Too much ease, really, and that made him suspicious. He squinted through the gray early-morning light (because no matter how the princess giggled at him, his eyesight was fine, damnit) down at the pale face beneath him.

“Oi,” he said. “Now what’s wrong?”

Fay stared back at him, one gold eye unblinking. “This is your fault.”

“You’ve mentioned,” Kurogane said, with what he thought was extraordinary patience. “How about telling me what‘s my fault.”

“Are you sure you want to know, Kuro-sama?” Fay’s voice turned silky, almost smug: it was a tone of voice he’d thought they’d left behind. “You might regret it if you knew.”

“Goddamnit,” he growled. “Just fucking spit it out.”

And Fay smiled, manic and wild and not really okay at all, all fangs on full display.

“I’m pregnant.”

+++

“How is this MY fault?” Kurogane demanded. “I did NOTHING.”

Tomoyo blinked at him, so mild and sweet that she wouldn’t harm a fly; it was the same sort of expression that she reserved for particularly irritating diplomats before crushing them under her dainty little heel. “Well,” she said reflectively to her teacup, “you’ve done a lot of very enthusiastic and noisy ‘nothing’ for a good six months now. If you’re old enough to understand that part, you should also already know that when a man and a woman come together like that without precaution–”

“That’s not what I meant!” Kurogane growled. He was not in the best of moods: after her revelation, the first thing Fay had done was kick him out of their bedroom, — Kurogane’s bedroom, damnit, though the damn idiot made herself at home there without welcome — so that he was left to go stalking the palace halls until he came across Tomoyo, drinking tea and reading petitions that would eventually go on to her sister. “The point is that damn woman is a vampire now, or have you forgotten?! Vampires aren’t supposed to be able to — to — be like that! How is that even physically possible?! Their bodies aren’t– and HOW THE HELL DO YOU KNOW HOW NOISY WE ARE ANYWAY?”

The princess sipped her tea. She made a pleased noise at the taste. A faint breeze stirred the bells that had been braided into her hair for the day.

“Well,” she said reflectively, “once you hit a certain volume, you shouldn’t be surprised when you’re heard.”

Kurogane made a few strangled noises. His hands rose and his fingers flexed harmlessly in air; it took a few minutes to remind himself that No, The Satisfaction Of Wringing Her Little Neck Is Not Worth It And Besides, Souma Would Yell A Lot.

Tomoyo, was serenely unthreatened by the possible danger to her life, pouring herself more tea. “As for your other question …” She turned abruptly serious eyes on him, her smile fading into a solemn line. “I don’t really know how. Even without magic of her own any more, your Fay-san comes from powerful bloodlines. Her own mother was a twin, and even if one dies …” She looked down into her cup again, her face solemn. “There’s a magic that lingers in the blood, Kurogane. You mustn’t underestimate that.”

“She what?” Kurogane stopped. He ran through Tomoyo’s words again and frowned. “You’re saying that’s why she–?”

“It might be,” said Tomoyo. She didn’t look entirely convinced herself, which for her was about as close as she ever got to saying how uneasy she felt. “From what I understand of her original world, twins were inherently magical, and this brought disaster upon …” She stopped, apparently at the look on Kurogane’s face. “Kurogane. You didn’t know this?”

He shrugged, glowing at the pale blue sky outside. “I had more important things on my mind when we were there,” he said. “Like not letting that idiot get herself killed out of some sense of martyrdom.”

Tomoyo looked at him steadily. It reminded him of the same way his mother had sometimes looked at his father, the rare times she thought he was being incredibly dense and was tolerated simply because he was “cute.” To his surprise, it worked remarkably well.

“Kurogane,” she said sternly. “I don’t think you should be having this conversation with me. How is it that I know your wife’s mother was a twin and you don’t?”

“Oi,” Kurogane protested. “I try, it’s just that the idiot won’t ever tell me anythi– WHAT DID YOU SAY SHE WAS.”

She opened her eyes wide, covering her mouth with one tiny hand and one perfectly-folded sleeve. She looked small and innocent and harmless, and Kurogane didn’t buy it for an instant. “Your wife, of course.”

“SINCE WHEN–” Kurogane reigned himself in with effort; the glint in Tomoyo’s eyes was something he’d long ago learned not to test, even before she’d sent him on that damn journey. He took a deep breath and let it out. “Since when was she my wife.

Tomoyo giggled behind her sleeve. “Well, you did do things a little backward,” she said brightly. “Normally, the husband moves into his bride’s home, but that would have been sort of awkward for the two of you, wouldn’t it? It’s all right, Kurogane. Now that she’s bearing your child, you two are finally official!” She clapped, beaming the entire time.

“What,” said Kurogane. It felt very much like he’d missed something. “What.”

Still brightly, Tomoyo said, “Muko-iri.”

Kurogane’s jaw dropped.

“Of course, it wouldn’t do for my dear Kurogane to feel unloved by his princess,” she went on, still smiling. “So you mustn’t worry about the preparations. The ceremony is just a formality at this point. I’ll take care of everything for you.”

What–”

She rose to her feet, gathering the folds of her kimono around herself gracefully. She made shooing gestures at him with both small hands. “Go on, go on, there’s nothing to be ashamed about,” she said. “Go on! Tell her the good news.”

Kurogane rather thought that this news was about as good as his wakeup call that morning, but Tomoyo had that sweet smile on her face that said if he didn’t leave, he was going to be drafted to help her with these … preparations, whatever they entailed. Judging from the smile on her face, it would probably be a great deal of pointless things that would drive him crazy within the first half-hour, if that.

One of his first lessons — given to him straight from his father — had been “know when to pick your battles.” And granted, maybe he’d never been the best at following that advice, but he was older with years of travel under his belt.

When Tomoyo drew in a new breath, eyes suddenly glinting, Kurogane chose and fled.

+++

“Now there’s something I never thought I’d see,” Souma said dryly. She leaned against the wall, her arms crossed over her breasts and her legs crossed at the ankles, one thin brow raised eloquently. She turned her head slowly, looking at the rows upon rows of demolished practice dummies. “Kurogane here, instead of picking fights with real people.”

Kurogane stabbed the practice sword into a dummy’s chest hard enough for it to break off its pole, which was satisfying in its own small way. He imagined it with Souma’s face instead, but that only made him feel a little better. “What,” he growled. “You volunteering?”

Her other brow rose eloquently. “Hardly,” she said. “Though thanks to you, we’re rather out of practice targets.”

He snorted and flicked his wrist, tossing the dummy aside. “Shouldn’t you be with the princess?”

Souma blinked at him, then smirked. She didn’t do it terribly often, which was probably a good thing — it made Kurogane nervous, though he’d never admit it as much aloud: the problem a lot of new recruits had was in thinking Souma didn’t have a sense of humor. She did, but she usually kept it under wraps, and when it did come out …

“All right, out with it,” he snapped. “What’s so damn funny.”

“Kurogane,” she said gently, and damn if that wasn’t setting off all sorts of warning bells in his head, “allow me to be the first after our princess to congratulate you on your marriage.”

He could feel a vein pulsing in his temple. “What.”

“The princess is having a wonderful time sorting through what fabrics to use for your outfits,” Souma said, deadpan except for the twinkle in her eyes. “I managed to convince her that the cherry-blossom pattern wasn’t exactly appropriate, but she really had her heart set on it. You might have to make do with the koi pattern instead.”

“I hate you,” Kurogane said with feeling.

“I know you do,” she said sweetly.

+++

The door wasn’t locked when he finally returned to his rooms (he hadn’t challenged Souma to a fight to the death, though it had been damn close) — which was a good thing, because damnit, they were his rooms and if that idiot woman thought he was going to be locked out of his own rooms, he was going to have to take Drastic Action, and he’d already received one scolding from Tomoyo for destroying palace property this week. But since it wasn’t, he pushed the door open and peered cautiously inside. There was no sign of Fay or any of the boobytraps the idiot sometimes tried to surprise him with, so he risked entering.

“Oi,” he called.

There was no answer. Kurogane considered the implications of this and put a hand on the hilt of his sword (still no Ginryuu, nor even Souhi, but a good sword regardless, one that Tomoyo had commissioned for him when he’d come home to stay) before advancing further into the room.

“Oi,” he said again. “You in here?”

Still silence. Kurogane considered his options, then used his thumb to flick the sword a half-inch from its sheath. He prowled from the doorway, cataloging details: the bed had been remade, the pillow destroyed in their earlier tussle was replaced, the little potpourri stand on the bedside table was cleaned up, and the curtains were pulled tight over the windows. His eyes cut sideways, towards the folding screen in the corner of the room (another present from Tomoyo, the silk painted with a dragon flying its way through clouds of snow).

With a sigh, he let the sword sink back into its sheath and crossed the room. He pushed back part of the screen, leaning against the wall. “Oi.”

Fay didn’t look up. She had an obi in each hand, draped across her palms and dangling close to the ground: one that was dark blue in color, embroidered with silver peonies and the other crimson with golden feathers. Her kimono hung loose and low on her shoulders, the exposed undergarment underneath also askew. She turned slowly, holding up both hands.

“Kuro-sama,” she said softly. “What do you think would work better?”

He blinked. “They’re both okay,” he said cautiously. “What the hell, you never cared before.”

“It’s important,” she said. She raised her head. Her face was paler than it had been just hours ago, and the smile that wobbled on her lips was annoyingly familiar. “When a woman becomes pregnant, she wears red, for good luck. Warm colors, to protect the baby against the cold.” She spread her fingers and tipped one hand, letting the red obi slip to the ground. “But the royal family wears blue. The queen especially. It’s considered terribly bad manners to show off her pregnancy.” She stretched the blue obi between both hands, then pressed it to her waist. “Kuro-sama, I wonder if Tomoyo-chan told you anything of what she knew about my family.”

He grunted briefly, leaning his shoulder against the wall. “She … might’ve mentioned a little,” he said cautiously. “Not that it matters.”

“Oh, no, of course not.” Fay beamed as she continued wrapping the obi around her waist. It looked pathetic, with her kimono still gaping around her. “Kuro-rinta doesn’t care about the past, just the present and maybe the future if there’s fighting involved.” She fumbled briefly while trying to tuck the ends of the obi. “Haha, whoops–”

Kurogane made an irritated noise. He took the obi from her and draped it in the crook of his elbow, pulling briskly at her kimono until the folds lay straight on her thin shoulders. “Idiot,” he said. “You know how to do this, you shouldn’t need my help.”

She laughed, quick and nervous. “Kuro-pii, how nice~”

He growled at her and got another laugh. Once he was satisfied with the look of the kimono, he ducked down and retrieved the red obi from the ground. He ignored Fay’s startled noise as he began to wrap it around her, perhaps a little more tightly than necessary — but really, the idiot was still so skinny that he could feel the bony just of her hips through layers of cloth. How she could even tell she was … the way she was … was beyond him. Possibly it was one of those Mysterious Things that came instinctively from being woman and mage both.

Well, former mage but current vampire — that counted for something, right?

“Kurogane,” Fay said. The tone of her voice wavered.

He finished tucking the obi, tugging briefly at the kimono underneath it and straightened. “Ah?”

“The blue–”

He looked at it. It was still there in the crook of his elbow. The sight of it made a vein tic in his temple; he could feel it pulsing in time with his heartbeat. Lightning-fast, his hand snapped out, grabbing a fistful of Fay’s kimono and hauling her in. She made a startled noise, going stiff against him.

“Look,” he said, biting off his words in short clipped syllables. “Idiot. You’re here now. You fucking chose it, so you damn well accept it. Nothing is going to happen. Not to you, not to me, not to princess. You got that?” He punctuated the question by shaking her briefly — not that hard, but enough to rattle her till she put a hand on his wrist for balance.

Fay blinked rapidly at him. “Kuro-sama–”

“And if it’s good luck to wear red,” he said, a bit more gruffly now, “you should wear the goddamn red. It looks good on you.”

He looked around quickly, then leaned his forehead against hers. “You’re sure you’re … right?”

Her fingers moved briefly against his wrist, not quite a caress, then fell away. “… yes.”

Kurogane’s stomach did an odd flip. He was older than his father had been, when he was born, and Suwa still lay in demon-infested ruins; he could technically claim the lands, though they would take years before anyone could hope to settle there safely. He’d killed the closest thing he’d ever have to a father-in-law without flinching; he’d made a wish to keep this irritating, idiotic, infuriating person with him and sacrificed his arm to see it come true. And now, nearly a year later, she was still leaving her clothes in his room and presenting herself to be tripped over when he was on patrol and took tea with Princess Tomoyo — and he, in spite of threats and the occasional property damage, hadn’t actually gotten rid of her yet.

“… Kuro-pin?” Fay said. She wasn’t quite hesitant, though when he focused, he could see tightness at the corners of her mouth and her one good eye.

He set his hand — the flesh-and-blood one — against the back of her head, curling his fingers in shaggy pale-gold hair. “All right,” he said.

Fay blinked again. “… All right?”

“So you’re — okay,” he said. “No stupid nicknames, got that?”

“Eh?”

“Nicknames,” he said, aggrieved. “You’ll confuse the brat if you never call it by its real name.”

And the moron just laughed at that — a good laugh, at least, one that sounded real and proper — and put her skinny arms around his neck. “But doesn’t Kuro-pokkuru think they’re cute? I think they’re cute~”

“Moron,” he said, annoyed, but let her kiss him anyway.

+++

About an hour later, he realized he hadn’t actually mentioned the marriage thing.

(Fay kept her hands stranglehold-tight in his hair and her open mouth against his throat; he could feel her fangs, though she never broke skin. He slid his hand down the curve of her back and she arched into it, her small breasts pressed hard to his chest and her one eye glowing gold. Her lean body was comfortably heavy over his, her voice rising and falling. And damnit, all right, maybe Fay was being a bit loud but he wasn’t even when she fucking bit him — not hard enough to draw blood, but his entire body jerked with it and he may have made some sort of noise himself but — oh, fuck it.)

… Later, he decided; he was going to need all his wits for that one.

+++

Kurogane woke later, disoriented from too much sleep, and swatted sleepily at the cold finger tracing patterns along his chest. In his ear, Fay just laughed and started drawing along his arm instead. He squinted an eye open and found her smiling face hovering close to his; there was a relaxation in her now that hadn’t been there earlier. “What.”

“I had a dream, Kuro-sama,” she said. Down his real arm, she wrote the kanji for his name. “I saw Sakura-chan.”

“The princess?” That woke him a little more. He swatted at her fingers again and propped himself onto his elbows. “Is she–”

“She’s fine,” Fay said lightly. “More than fine. She married Syaoran-kun, of course.”

He grunted. “Thought so,” he said, and jumped when cold fingers skittered across his abdomen. “Oi–”

“We’re grandparents,” Fay added. “It looks like time in Clow runs a bit faster than it does here.”

He caught her wrist before her hand could venture lower. “We’re what?”

“Kuro-daddy, how cold!” She pouted at him, lower lip shiny-wet. “Sakura-chan is a mother now, and all you can say is ‘what’?”

“The brat and the princess–”

“Twins, in fact,” Fay went on. “A boy and a girl. Named after us, even.”

Something in the tone of her voice warned him, too brittle to be sustained for long. He pushed himself further up until he was sitting properly, and Fay was leaning against his side. “Twins, huh,” he said, his voice neutral. “They’re doing all right?”

“Sakura-chan is very happy,” Fay said, blandly cheerful, and didn’t look up. “She said she thinks that maybe her daughter has inherited some of her magic, and if so, maybe she could teach her how to travel in dreams, and we could meet. Wouldn’t that be nice? She misses us.”

“She’s softhearted,” Kurogane agreed, with the same blandness in his voice. “Twins?”

Fay flinched. Before she could use that momentum to get away, he turned and threw an arm around his waist, using that and his own bulk atop her to keep her pinned. Blandly, he said, “Not bad, huh? Twins. The brat’ll spoil them, but the princess’ll make sure they grow up okay.”

“Ahaha,” said Fay. She turned her head to one side, staring at the wall. “Or maybe Sakura-chan will spoil them and Syaoran-kun will be the strict one.”

“Nah,” said Kurogane, and pressed down harder with his weight. “But who knows, with twins. Maybe they’ll switch off.”

“Kuro-sama,” she protested, pushing at his chest with limp hands and a fraction of the strength he knew she could muster if she wanted. “You’re heavy~”

“You don’t need to breathe that much,” Kurogane said reasonably. “I’ve seen you hold your breath for a lot longer.”

She pouted at him again, though it didn’t hold together as well as the first. “Ahhh, Kuro-pin’s such a bully~”

“Twins,” he said again, stressing the word, and Fay twitched again. “Is that what you’re worried about?”

Fay remained quiet for so long that he almost prompted her again; when she spoke, her voice was quiet. “My mother had a twin sister, Kurogane.”

“Yeah?” Kurogane tried to gentle his voice in response, but it came out mostly gruff instead. “Tomoyo mentioned.”

“They killed her sister when they were infants,” Fay went on, her voice fading in and out. She still wouldn’t look him in the eye. “To prevent the curse. My mother … never quite recovered from that. When my brother and I were born, she …” She bit her lip, hard enough to draw blood in a bead that welled and then slid down the corner of her mouth. “But the thing is, Kurogane, my grandmother had been a twin, as well. Her brother was killed. Three generations of twins: my grandmother drank herself to death, my mother killed herself when my father died, and I …”

Kurogane shifted his weight. He used his thumb to wipe away blood from Fay’s mouth before it could reach the pillow. “You think you’ll be the same.”

“In Valeria, twins are a sign of misfortune,” Fay whispered. “You can delay it, but in the end–”

Kurogane caught her chin in hand, jerking her head up. “Idiot,” he said. “Didn’t you listen before?”

“Kuro–”

“You’re here,” he stressed. “You’re in Japan. Not Celes, not Valeria, nowhere but Japan. And even if you are having twins, it wouldn’t matter.”

“Kurogane, that hurts–”

“Being pregnant isn’t an excuse for being even more of an idiot than you normally are,” Kurogane growled. “If you’re going to be a mother, you’d better fucking act like one, you got that?”

She stared, and didn’t bother trying to say anything in argument. Taking encouragement from that, he continued, “I wouldn’t mind twins. In–” He hesitated, then let go of her face, bracing his hand against the bed for balance. “In Suwa,” he went on, more gruffly than before, “they were considered good luck.”

Fay’s one gold eye went wide. “Eh …”

“It meant a bountiful harvest and an easy winter,” he muttered. “Because if the gods sent a woman twins, it meant they knew that easy times were coming, and the family could handle it.” He watched her cover her mouth with both hands, and said, “If we have twins, that won’t be such a bad thing.”

“Oh,” she said quietly, muffled by her hands. She didn’t start crying, thankfully, but she looked about as moved as he’d ever seen her. “Oh, that’s …”

“So,” he said gruffly. “Are we done now? You’re going to stop waking me up with your goddamn issues?”

She gave a small watery laugh. “I didn’t wake you before,” she said. “You came in and interrupted me getting dressed.”

“It happened two out of three times,” he said. “It counts. You’re done?”

“Yes,” she said. She smiled at him and he almost flushed, surprised by the warm genuine affection in her eyes. “Yes, I am.”

+++

He woke some time later with hair in his mouth and long skinny (cold) limbs wrapped around him. Even before her conversion, Fay had been a heatsink, but now the idiot cuddled like she’d freeze to death without the contact — and considering how cold her arm was, draped on top of the blankets, maybe that wasn’t too far from the truth. Kurogane plucked at her wrist and got muttered at; he shifted his weight and she rolled against him, shifting to accommodate his movement. It freed his hand enough that he could reach down between them and rest his palm against her naked belly.

It didn’t feel any different from the day before, or the day before that — or the weeks into months before that. She still looked too skinny for this sort of thing, and though it had been determined that she could still eat some food, blood would still be the most important thing.

Trust this idiot, of all idiots, he thought, to do this to herself. He pressed gently with his fingers and felt her stomach twitch under his hand. It’d be a pain, that was for certain: but he’d already gotten involved, so like it or not, he was committed now. Honor demanded it.

And, really … it wasn’t so bad. Kurogane let his arm settle around her waist and let her press her cold nose against his collarbone. He closed his eyes — not that he was still tired or anything, because even if he wasn’t a teenager any more, he wasn’t old

Kurogane closed his eyes and did not dream.

+++

Princess Tomoyo was no longer a dreamseer, but she could still dream: so she did.

The princess of Clow met her beside a long lovely river, dressed in air white and barefoot among the long cool grasses. She smiled and caught Tomoyo’s hands and kissed both cheeks, and Tomoyo kissed her back in turn, pleased at the healthy shine in the other girl’s bright eyes and soft face.

“Thank you,” said Tomoyo. “Kurogane is a clever man, but sometimes he forgets that about himself.” She sighed fondly. “I think Fay-san must be the same way.”

Sakura just shook her head, still smiling. “I didn’t do anything,” she said. “I just wanted to see Fay-san again because I was worried, but I didn’t need to be.” She squeezed Tomoyo’s hands. “Everything will be all right.”

“If Sakura-chan believes it,” Tomoyo said, “then it’ll certainly come true.”

Princess Sakura beamed. “Dream about the wedding for me,” she said.

“In detail,” Tomoyo promised, and let Sakura’s hands slip away from hers, watching the other girl turn to the river and step lightly down, running across the water to be swallowed up by the mists of the dream.

+++

Tomoyo woke, but down the hall, in the comfort of his own (shared) bed, Kurogane slept on.

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