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.
Of course, then there’s the idiot: if the brat and the princess tire her out, then he goddamn exhausts her. He’s all touch-and-go, cobwebs and dead ice in the back of his eyes even when he smiles and laughs brightly (and falsely) as the sun through the window; he flirts worse than a noblewoman searching for a husband. If she cocks her head and squints, she can picture him with his shaggy hair swept up in a variety of pins, dressed in various shades of bright blue; he’d stand out for certain, with his naturally-pale skin and blue eyes and blond hair. He’d be popular in court for his exotic looks, and the idiot women would flitter around this idiot man and they’d flirt stupidly with each other and it would be a match made in Kurogane’s own personal hell.
“Hey, hey, Kuro-pin~” comes a voice breathed into her ear; long thin arms fold themselves around her from behind. She goes stiff immediately — this is another thing that pisses her off, that he acts that stupid but still walks so quietly she doesn’t notice him until he’s already pressed up against her, his nose in her hair and his arms secure around her waist. It infuriates her, because she is a ninja from a family of warriors; she is one of Tsukuyomi’s two elite bodyguards, and he still gets in under her radar and into her space like it’s nothing at all.
“Gerroff,” she growls. She rolls her shoulders, trying to shrug him off, but he only clings harder.
“Ah-ah,” he tsks. “Kuro-sama, how cold!”
“Get off,” she repeats again, and grabs his wrist when his hand twitches upward. “What do you think you’re doing.”
He nuzzles her cheek through through her loose hair. He tugs his hand against her grip, and she lets him cup his long fingers at her breast, over black jacket and black shirt and black camisole. (She’d wanted to just bind her breasts, as she’d always done, but President Daidouji had insisted, and she looked too damn much like Tomoyo for Kurogane to actually refuse.) His chin is sharp and uncomfortable, digging into her shoulder, and she leans her head back to glare at him as best she can.
“What do you think you’re doing,” she repeats.
“Kuro-tan’s warm,” he says, and his own breath gusting hot and damp against her neck. She doesn’t actually shiver, but she bites the inside of her cheek. “She looked so comfy, I had to come say hi.”
“You’ve said it,” she mutters. His lips press soft and damp against the line of her jaw; she feels the pressure of his teeth without their edge. “I’m not your goddamn huggy toy.”
“But you really are comfy,” he protests. He licks her ear, a quick feline swipe, and hugs her closer. His body is long and hunger-lean against her own. She has thought before — though she’d never admit so aloud — that she might crush him, if she were to press her body atop his. “Kuro-chuu~”
She growls. “Look, you–”
As soon as she turns, however, he lets go, dancing just out of reach. He smiles at her with his hands tucked innocently in his pockets, his head tilted just so. He doesn’t look at all like a pervert that was groping her not five seconds ago. The warmth he left makes her body feel strange and uncomfortably heavy. Kurogane scowls at him, her blackest and fiercest, and he only laughs in a voice like false sunshine and dust.
“Don’t make such faces, Kuro-sama,” he tells her. “A pretty woman shouldn’t look so unhappy! It’ll be bad for her complexion~”
“If you think,” Kurogane begins, bristling. The words feel strange and stick in her throat; she forces them out anyway. “We don’t have time for that sort of idiocy. I’ve got more important things to worry about–”
“Of course,” says the idiot mage, and his eyes are brilliant and blazing-cold. But his smile doesn’t change, gentle and summer-sweet; she’s a little surprised that the clash between the two doesn’t cause his face to crack. “Kuro-sama is always so busy, isn’t she, taking care of all of us, watching out to make sure things are going smoothly …”
Kurogane snorts and crosses her arms. The heat in her belly is finally beginning to dissipate. “You morons should take care of yourselves,” she says. “I just hate seeing a sloppy job.”
He laughs; he reaches out a hand and presses his cool index finger to her lips. It tastes just faintly of ozone and cold stone. “Of course,” he says. Something flickers across his eyes and almost softens them; for a moment she thinks he might actually kiss her.
He’s never tried before.
“Kuro-sama is such a neat person, after all,” he says. His hand falls away from her face. He steps further back and breaks into a huge smile, spreading his arms wide. “But I won’t lose to her! I’m going to be a wonderful mommy to the children!”
It takes a moment for his words to register, and then she just stares. “–What.”
“Kuro-daddy doesn’t have to worry, I won’t try to steal her place as the bread winner!” He winks coyly, one finger to his cheek. “I’ll be sure to take good care of our children, don’t worry~ I’ll show Kuro-daddy I can be a good housewife!”
“You — you –” Kurogane’s hands twitch. She thinks that his neck would fit very easily between her squeezing fingers. “What the hell–”
He laughs and he spins away as the door opens and the kid comes in with the princess close behind. They greet each other, and Kurogane hangs back, glowering, until the damn white meatbun notices her and comes springing for her face, cheering her name. She bats the thing aside, and then it’s too late, she’s drawn in as the kid shows her the new parts he’s picked up and the princess gives her the newest Magayan issue, picked up during shopping, and the mage is the one standing back and watching now, his smile old and quiet. Kurogane can only meet his gaze for a moment before she turns away.
She licks her lips once and tastes a trace of cold there, and pretends that she doesn’t.
It wouldn’t be as annoying, she thinks, if he could at least be consistent about it. She doesn’t have the patience and he doesn’t have the courage, but at least she doesn’t change the rules of their dance on a whim.
Kurogane wakes that night of his weight on top of her, and he’s surprisingly heavy for a man that’s so skinny that he might blow away in a good strong wind. He leans over her with his hands pinning her wrists to the bed and his face so close that she can feel his breath against his cheek. They stare at each other, and there is an understanding between them that she could throw him off if she wanted — unexpected weight and all — and simply chooses to remain quiet beneath him instead. There is a solemness in his face that she’s never seen in waking.
He says nothing when he pulls back. She doesn’t expect him to. His mouth is warm against her neck and along the curve of her breasts. He lingers there, longer than she expected: close-lipped and silent, rubbing his cheek against the swell of them, against the hard sharp rise of one nipple, then the other. He keeps his eyes closed the entire time, like he’s trying to absorb the feel of them — and there’s a scathing comment sitting there on her tongue that dries up at the sight of his face. Any other man she’d accuse of being a pervert, but his expression is like a little boy lost, reaching for — something — and she stays silent.
Cool hands drift down her sides and spread long fingers against her belly. She makes a noise finally, and he slides away finally from her breasts, his mouth open and trailing across her skin. He bites her hip with sharp teeth and rolls his tongue against it when she growls at him, and finally she reaches down and sinks her hands into his hair and pulls.
Easy as breathing he follows; he doesn’t even try to fight. She growls at him again, and loses the noise in a more breathless sound as his head dips between her legs. His breath is hot and quick and his tongue (which pisses her off so much out of bed, because he talks and talks and says nothing at all and what does he even want) is fast and clever, moving slickly into her, against her, and his hands clamp on her hips, pinning them hard to the bed. There is a surprising amount of strength in his skinny arms, and she’s left to curl her fingers in his fine silk-thin hair and gasp curses in stuttering awkward time with the movement of his mouth.
Unlike his fights — unlike everything else she has ever seen about him — he is almost brutally efficient about sex: it doesn’t take long at all before she claws at his head and arches hard into his mouth and says a single word that just might be his name.
When she falls back, gasping for breath, shaking from the intensity of it, his hands loosen and he pulls away. Kurogane forces her eyes open and stares as he slips away, tall and slim and pale against the window.
“Oi,” she says. It pleases her to hear her voice steady, if rough — she sounds less breathless and more alert. “Don’t you wanna–?”
He pauses. He turns to look at her. The smile on his face is so serene and insincere that it burns away the lingering good feelings of her orgasm. She drags herself up onto her elbows, scowling.
“What, you don’t wanna?” she says, eying him. He stands still and doesn’t even bother to hide the tent in his pants, and if she looks, she can see the strained tension at the corners of his mouth. “Right, like I’d believe that. I’m not a virgin, y’damn mage, you’re not going to hurt me.”
“… Oh,” he says; his smile never wavers. “But I could, Kuro-sweet, I could. I could hurt you so badly, and you wouldn’t know for months.”
She sits up, then slides off the bed to stand facing him. She has the odd feeling that she in her nudity is still the stronger in this staring contest.
There is a shift without movement, and Kurogane grabs his wrist just as he starts to take a step back. He tenses, and she realizes he’s trembling just a little, his gaze darting from side to side and never quite focusing on her. When she tugs on his arm, he locks his knees and won’t budge. Long seconds pass, and his erection still doesn’t go down. She glances at it for a moment, and she thinks of how there is some power just in this, in the proof that he wants her, though he shakes when she touches him, that he pulls back when she steps closer.
Another woman might make a joke, she thinks; the witch, maybe, or even Princess Tomoyo (though that is a dangerous thought, as Kurogane is fairly certain that she’ll butcher the first man who tries to have Tomoyo like that) — like how he’s not that big, that she’ll not realize the extent of the damage he might cause her. She is not another woman, though: she is only herself, so she looks him steadily, waiting till his eyes finally dart to meet hers.
“You want this,” she says, enunciating carefully, “you get all of it. You can’t just stand with one foot in and one out. Nothing moves forward that way.”
She doesn’t know what she really expected from that — not a confession, certainly, nor anything romantic (they’re not, they’ve never been, though he first crawled into her bed all the way back in Koryou, and wasn’t that lifetimes ago — he’d done the same thing then, hadn’t he, his mouth and his hands but not the rest of him). Something, however, firms in his eyes, and he tugs his hand gently from her grasp. It takes effort to hold her tongue, but she just watches him as he places his hand against the curve of her belly. His fingers curve and his eyes are so, so sad.
Kurogane opens her mouth to say — something, she doesn’t know what — and he leans the distance between them and kisses her.
His mouth is soft. It tastes of the sugar-drink he was nursing before bed and of herself, warm and wet and it surprises Kurogane enough that she stays quiet. The fingers of his other hand brush her cheek, following their curve, and then he pulls back.
“Ah,” he says, and his thumb brushes her lip. “Good night, Kuro-sama.”
She blinks at him, then narrows her eyes. “You know,” she says, “I’m not going to keep letting you back into my bed if you’re not going to make up your own damn mind.”
He laughs. It sets her teeth on edge. “Of course,” he says lightly. “Of course, Kuro-sama, but it’s late~ we should be getting to sleep, won’t we, we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us tomorrow~”
“Only one more week until the race.” He smiles at her again, and it surprises her to realize that it looks real. “We’d better be ready, hmm?” He steps back again, this time before she can catch him, glancing back over his shoulder only once; he lays a finger to his lips and winks, then is gone.
Maybe, though (she thinks as the meatbun opens its mouth and the world swirls gold around them, as there’s that strange feeling of dissolving as the world begins to shift to a new one), the most consistent thing about him is the inconsistency.
“You’re still an idiot,” she tells him, in those last moments. “It’s annoying.”
“Yes, Kuro-sama,” he says. “I know.” But his lips quirk and his eyes glitter, and she finds herself smiling back.