She remembers the stories that the maids used to tell of her mother, behind cupped hands when they thought no one else was listening: how she had not always been that fragile pale creature who spent her days either in bed or by the window and stared out at the falling snow; how she had been wise and lovely and kind, beloved of her husband and her people.
Such a pity, the maids sighed, such a shame that the honored princess would be the one who gave birth to the twins of misfortune; how sad that someone so fair and gentle would be the one to bring disaster upon the world — and so tenderhearted that she *hid* the twins of misfortune in the desperate hope that if the rest of the world did not know of her sin, then perhaps its curse would be averted.
That is the image she holds in her mind when she creates a grave-keeper for her brother: a soft voice and a mother’s face, loyally keeping watch over that tiny glass coffin. She is not the only woman in King Asura’s court, but she is the only one who doesn’t serve in capacity as a maid or a cook or healer; she is the only one whose spells can raze entire mountains to dust. She keeps her hair cropped short and is grateful for her spare build; the men know she’s a woman without *knowing*; they look at her like a comrade, like the king’s trusted wizard — but no nobler, no more higher in rank than the rest of them.
Princesses are creatures that get referenced in the books of Asura’s library, sweet-faced and pure-hearted. She isn’t one. She can’t be one. She doesn’t know how.
She has rough hands in her gloves and her magic devours and destroys. King Asura calls her beautiful, but in the way that the snow-covered landscape is lovely: spare and cold and unforgiving, rather than warm or kind. She does not have the arms to embrace the hurts of the world to her breast; all she has room for was her wish, and the path to achieving it.
And then: the ice king went to sleep.
And then: the desert princess lost her “heart.”
In the winter of another country, they give her a dress to wear. She looks at it blankly and doesn’t quite understand how it works — in Celes, in Valeria, if women wore dresses, they were hardly more than ornate heavy robes over dense warm undergarments. Jade Country is not even a fraction as bitterly cold, but the dress still seems … impractical. She would much rather wear a frock-coat and trousers, as she’s seen the boy and the ninja (Syaoran-kun and Kuro-pippi, Kuro-tan, Kuro-sama) wear. The dress feels like a pretense.
“Fay-san?” the princess mumbles from the bed. She’s been carefully wrapped and warmly tucked away, poor little thing; for a desert princess, all this snow must be a terrible shock.
She fixes an immediate smile on her face and turns, still holding the dress. “Sakura-chan?”
“Are you having trouble?” Very slowly Sakura sits up; she rubs both of her eyes like a child. It’s cute. “That’s a very pretty dress.”
“Eheh~ do you think?” She holds it up against herself in model. “Hmm, but it’s not really to my tastes. Where I come from, dresses are rather impractical! It’s cold all the time, so we just wear lots and lots of layers. Only royalty–” She cuts herself off, so quickly that she tastes blood and the inside of her cheek stings.
Princess Sakura shakes her head. She untangles herself from the bed with dreamy, deliberate slowness. She’s still so obviously tired, the poor thing, and she crosses over to the fireplace and takes the dress.
“I’ll help you,” she says. She smiles, and the firelight casts warm shadows across her smooth face. It makes her look young and old and beautiful. “This style is tricky by yourself, anyway. Someone needs to lace you up in the back.” She smooths the dress’ full skirt and her little fingers are snow-white against the dark green velvet. “Turn around, please, Fay-san?”
And in spite of herself she does, letting Sakura help her wrestle into the dress with its voluminous skirts and layers and soft bell sleeves; sits with her head bowed forward and breath sucked in as the little princess tugs on the laces to pull them appropriately tight. Fingers brush the nape of her neck, playing against the short hair, and she freezes.
“Fay-san has such pretty hair,” the princess says in warm admiration. “It’s so soft, and the color is so nice! Have you ever thought of growing it out?”
She thinks of her mother (of Chii), and long, long cascades of white-blonde hair covered in nets of seed-pearls and braided with tiny crystals of blue and white. She thinks of the dirty unwashed rat’s-nest of hair that King Asura himself cut for her, and the way the messy tangle had hidden her brother’s face, softened some of its sunken hollowness.
“No,” she says, but leans into Sakura’s petting anyway.
There’s another princess here, too, hundreds of years dead but still lingering on, watching over the castle that she kept in life. Like the stories in Asura’s collection, she was beautiful and sweet and protected the children of her kingdom, gathering them into the shelter of her wings.
The ghost speaks to Sakura of course; the little princess has a power that will grow all too soon — but more than that, it is one woman to another, one princess to another.
Neither of them acknowledge her, and she keeps her face turned away, not watching.
It all goes wrong, of course.
It always goes wrong.
There is nowhere you can go to outrun your own curse, after all.
Sakura weighs so very little, even with the metal braces on her still-lame leg, the ones their new sponsor has been generous to provide her. She stumbles once — only once, drifting weightless as one of her own feathers — and already has her equilibrium back by the time Syaoran catches her hand. She smiles at him vaguely, and she cannot be seeing him — she has to be seeing the other Syaoran, *her* Syaoran — but it doesn’t show in her eyes or on her lips when she thanks him.
Even now, taken apart and clumsily stitched back together again — even now, tired and grieving and far from home — she is every inch a princess. There is steel in Sakura that will not bend nor break; madness will not take her as it did Valeria’s crown princess, years ago.
She stays close to her princess and maybe allows herself to bask a little. Sakura is a soothing presence compared to Kurogane’s anger (and he’s so angry these days, paranoid and watchful and growling with every breath — well. She had earned his ire by now, hadn’t she?) and the awkward almost-familiar edges of this new Syaoran. She walks two steps behind, one to the left, as she had always walked behind her king; she follows her princess to her room.
“I must be a horrible person,” Sakura says, in the relative haven of her room. She turns and is leaning in close, her tiny fragility and terrible strength curled into a compact package that smells of leather and chemical fruits. The princess’ slim little fingers trace the collar around her throat (for you, my princess, only for you, it’s no burden) and her green eyes are dim and quiet. “It’s not even his fault, but I can’t …”
She takes her princess’ wrists in her own and marvels at their delicacy: a little pressure here, a push there, and it would snap between her fingers. She kisses one palm, then the other. Like this she can smell the blood that rushes so close to the surface.
“Syaoran-kun has his own burdens,” she says into white skin, her lips shaping words directly to flesh. Sakura shivers and bites her lip. (Poor little bird, she doesn’t even understand her own embarrassment.) “He would never blame Sakura-chan for having her own, and he’d take them from you if he could.”
Sakura shakes her head. For a moment she is that earnest innocent girl again: the princess beloved of her people, unaware of the darker, harsher things in the world. “It’s not right, though. I was the one who made the decision to do anything I can to get Syaoran-kun’s heart back — the real Syaoran-kun, the one who’s real to me …” She reaches up and brushes careful fingers against the bottom of the eye patch. “And Fay-san, too, has been hurt because of me …”
“No,” she says, and then again, “No. Sakura-chan, no.”
“I want everything to be all right,” Sakura murmurs. “I used to be able to say that. ‘Everything will be all right!’ Right now, I can’t believe it myself.” She presses closer, warm soft flesh and a pulse that pounds rabbit-quick in her thin breast.
“If my princess wishes,” she whispers, “then it’ll come true.”
Sakura shakes her head. “I’ve made so many wishes,” she murmurs. “Too many wishes, and they all flew away …”
She moves before that voice fades into silence, scooping her princess up before the little girl can fall and cradles her close (soft as feathers, so light she might vanish with a heavy breath) and carries her to bed. (Tiny princess, brave lovely child, royalty she herself will never be.) She has another kiss for each palm, and it grieves her to feel calluses forming there.
Her own magic is only destructive, and never has she regretted that more.
Sakura blinks at her, slow and tired, and she leans down until she can feel her princess’ breath against her own mouth.
“Whatever you wish,” she says against slack lips. “Whatever you want, if it’s within my power …” She can hear each individual beat of Sakura’s heart, the wet rush of blood under fragile skin. The creature that’s living in her skin can’t have anything but Kurogane’s blood, but its hunger takes so many forms: for the white smooth skin of Sakura’s neck, for the gently shallow rise of her breasts, for the instinctive poise that is a *princess*–
She pulls back. Sakura is asleep.
She touches Sakura’s parted lips; she touches the slow steady pulse in her princess’ throat and touches her own tongue to her fangs until they cut and she tastes blood.
She’s hungry, she thinks. She should find Kurogane.