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.
“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.”
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?”
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?”
“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?”
“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.