Title: Family Portrait
Warnings: Angst, fluff, BABIES.
Spoilers: EOS, supposes an ending where Kurogane and Fai eventually return to Nihon.
Pairings: Kurogane/Fai, Yuui/Tomoyo.
Asayo, asa-yo, morning world; Yuzuki, yuu-tsuki, gentle moon.
It was spring, and in a rare moment of charitable weather the entire court had eagerly seized the excuse to move outside. The cherry blossoms had almost finished dropping their leaves, and only a few pale clusters of petals still clung to the branches; but the green leaves were just starting to unfold, and they cast the castle garden in a haze of pale green light.
Amaterasu, at the central dais, was surrounded by courtiers and generals as she conducted the necessary business of state; but Tomoyo's presence as Tsukuyomi was not called for now, and so she was free to wait within call - lounge about indolently, really - by the pond with the rest of her family. Her husband and his brother sat nearby, and Kurogane and Souma lounged on the wooden step; ostensibly to guard their respective liege lords should trouble beckon, but mostly just there for the pleasure of conversation.
The conversation, as it often did, centered around her children. The twins were playing together under the shade of one of the smaller cherry trees, down by the edge of the pond.
"And you are certain they're not cursed, Tomoyo?" Yuui asked anxiously.
"I certainly don't think they can be," Tomoyo replied. They'd had this conversation more than once before, but Tomoyo understood what was driving it - not a lack of faith in her abilities, nor any doubt of her truthfulness; but old fears that had been ground into him through too many years of practice to easily dispel. Those scars, buried deep, combined with the worry born of love for his children, and drove him to seek reassurance long past the point where it would have been necessary.
"The Witch of Dimensions told you, did she not, that the Curse of the Twins was caused by the two of you having an excess of magical power?" she said, directing the comments at both Yuui and Fai, who sad nearby with a mirrored look of anxiety on his face. "And if that dangerous excess is not present, then there is no curse; you, Fai, traded half your magic in exchange for Kurogane's arm, and Yuui's own magic is restrained by the presence of the marking."
Yuui nodded, while Fai's lips quirked in a half-smile as painful memories reflected in his eyes. Tomoyo gave him a sympathetic smile, remembering those painful days when Fai had first come to Nihon, when Kurogane's life had hung in the balance. That was a bond that the two of them shared that no one else did; always a memory, if never a regret, for what they had each sacrificed for Kurogane.
"No such danger exists in our children, Yuui," Tomoyo said gently. "Only Yuzuki has shown any indications of magical talent; her sister does not. And while our daughter will no doubt be a powerful priestess some day, hopefully with both our contributions, there is no reason to think that her level of power is such to endanger the fabric of our world."
"There are other kinds of curses," Fai said in a reserved voice. He glanced at Yuui, the two of them locking eyes for a moment before they turned back towards Tomoyo. Their hands crept together, as they often did, a gesture that seemed almost unconscious.
Tomoyo sighed. "If logical supposition is not enough, then will you trust your own senses? No ill luck has befallen either on our children, ourselves, or our country since you and Kurogane returned, Fai. The weather has been good, the harvests plentiful; none of the dissident lords have been any particular trouble since the girls were born, and even on our borders we have had peace. "Although," she said, turning to include Kurogane in the conversation, "I really wish you would reconsider the post of Ambassador."
Kurogane grunted. "Princess," he said, not taking his eyes off the scene across the lake, "Don't get me wrong. I understand that when you sent me packing on my journey, it was necessary for the future to come about, and I learned a lot and gained a lot of things from that journey. All the same, I'd really rather you not make a habit of it."
Tomoyo laughed lightly. "But that's exactly why you would be a perfect ambassador, Kurogane," Tomoyo said. "You and Fai both."
Fai laughed, and Kurogane looked at her with his eyebrow just slightly raised. "Kuro-grumpy a perfect ambassador?" Fai asked. "Do tell."
Tomoyo fanned herself slowly; more to have something to do with her hands than because she was really too hot; the light canopy set up over the wooden platform overlooking the pond did a more than adequate job of keeping the sun off. "You and Fai have been to more different countries, more worlds than most people in this world could even comprehend exist," she said. "Even I myself, though I used to walk to different worlds in my dreams, never set foot there. There is literally no other person alive in Nihon today who has more experience with understanding different cultures and people than the two of you."
Kurogane made an irritable motion as though her oblique praise were a horsefly to be brushed off. "You really can't compare that to an ambassador's duties," he said. "All those worlds we went to, we just were there to get one thing done and then leave. We weren't trying to arrange treaties or negotiate trade or whatever the hell else ambassadors do. I don't have the training to play games in politics, and frankly I don't have the patience either."
Tomoyo gave him an appraising look. "I'm not sure whether you're trying to fool me or fool yourself," she said, "but either way, you underestimate your intelligence - and your skills. Besides, while you might not be as, ah, polished as our more typical diplomats, you would also have Fai."
Kurogane gave a long sigh of weary patience. "We've had this conversation half a dozen times," he said. "And it doesn't matter how qualified you think I am to be ambassador to Chuukoku, because I don't have any particular desire to go to Chuukoku. Or to Izumo, or to any of the other places an ambassador would have to go. I spent long enough just trying to get back here. My home is here, Princess."
"This will always be your home," Tomoyo said gently. "But can you really tell me - with no reservations in your heart - that you don't want to travel again, see other places? You were a warrior unsurpassed, you changed worlds; and now you find yourself confined to a castle and a village barely a few square miles in diameter. You have been pacing your chambers in the dead of winter, and the palace guards have finally mutinied of the ever more elaborate scenarios you try to put them in for the sake of 'training.' Tell me truly, Kurogane; are you not restless for new walls, new horizons?"
This was met by a stubborn silence, and Tomoyo smiled to herself. He wouldn't say "yes," because that would be one step closer to giving in to her; but he couldn't say "no" because it would be a lie.
"My home is here," he repeated stubbornly instead. "My place is here. Defending you, and the girls."
He looked back at the water, and this time Tomoyo's gaze followed his; a part of her mind had always, always been on her children. Five springs had come and gone since the twins had been born, and one some mornings Tomoyo was still astonished by how quickly they had grown, shooting up like saplings.
They were as alike in appearance as reflections in a mirror, but from the very beginning differences had begun to show between them. Asayo was technically the eldest - by less than an hour, but in questions of succession that hour was all that mattered. From the very first day she had been noisier, more demanding, faster to pick up words (if only so that she could demand that the things she named be given to her.) She was quick to laugh and quick to burst into angry tears, going from one to another mood like a cloud passing swiftly over the sun and then gone.
Yuzuki, whose eyes had only darkened to a clear blue - unlike her sister's deep brown - had always been quieter. By their first birthday Asayo had already begun speaking her first words, but Yuzuki hardly even seemed to try - not that she needed to, of course, with Asayo constantly 'translating' on her behalf. Her father had fretted for months until finally, at the age of two and a half, Yuzuki suddenly spoke - perfectly formed sentences, with words they each could have sworn they'd never taught her. That formed the pattern for the years to follow, with Asayo barging impatiently ahead to try new things, and Yuzuki trailing calmly behind to master them while the adults were not looking.
Both of them had the adults of their family, and indeed all of the castle staff, wrapped firmly around their tiny fingers, and Kurogane had fallen harder than most. Kurogane had always been firmly devoted to serving and protecting his princess. The arrival of new princesses - two new princesses - two young, adorable, helpless new princesses who were utterly defenseless (and also utterly incapable of telling him off) had sent Kurogane into something of a guardian overdrive.
For weeks after the birth of the twins he had lurked menacingly on the roof over the nursery where the babies slept, ignoring all of Fai's complaints - and Yuui's - and Souma's, and the rest of the castle guards - until Tomoyo herself had had to firmly admonish him to stand down.
This refusal to leave their side was just another facet of the same thing, Tomoyo knew. Even the relative peace of the last few years, with few martial disturbances and no attacks on the castle itself, had not caused him to relax his vigil. But he would have to admit, sooner or later, that the twins would get by all right without him - just as Tomoyo had.
Because, Tomoyo thought sadly, someday her daughters would grow up; and as the empress and the high priestess of Nihon, they would find themselves faced with a world of dangers that "Kuro-ojisan" could not protect them from.
If the time came that she really needed Kurogane and Fai's services as ambassadors to Chuukoku, Tomoyo decided, she would turn the problem over to Fai and let him be the one to convince his stubborn lover. For all that they bantered, for all that Fai teased and Kurogane growled, she knew that her dear friend could not deny anything Fai truly wanted of him for very long.
In the meantime the sun was bright, the garden was full of green light, and the still waters of the pond perfectly reflected the images of two children playing under a cherry tree as their guardians watched from an indulgent distance.
The idyllic scene was cut by a sudden shriek; Kurogane came to his feet, and two blond heads and a dark one turned towards the source of the noise as Souma, Yuui and Fai all reacted. The girls had been playing some sort of clapping-game with indecipherable rules; any attempt to explain the game to adults tended to break down into the twins' personal gibberish that they used to communicate only between themselves. But somehow, something had gone wrong; and now the twins were squabbling in loud indignant voices where just moments ago they had been playing in perfect harmony.
The nursemaid hurried in to separate them before Tomoyo or Kurogane could move; she set them apart and spoke in quiet, placating tones that failed to carry across the distance. Asayo whined and stamped her foot, but her protest was overruled by the nurse; Yuzuki gave her sister a gloating smirk.
Puffed up with injured dignity like a cat, Asayo turned and stamped away from her sister. She went to the nearest tree and attacked it with great gusto, pulling herself up along the trunk and teetering precariously on the branches.
"Oh, for gods' sake," Kurogane said. "Who taught her to climb trees like that? She could fall and break her neck!" He hopped off the platform and started around the pond, towards them.
"Now, Kurogane," Fai said with an impish grin. "I hardly think you would be one to forbid her from climbing trees, when from everything I've heard you were quite the agile little tree-climber yourself as a child. I'm sure she can handle a few scraped palms and bruised knees!"
"I wasn't going to try to forbid her from climbing," Kurogane shot back. "It's a good skill to know. But if she's going to climb, then I might as well teach her how to do it right."
As her sister stomped off, Yuzuki tossed her long hair behind her and settled herself back on the long grass above the pond. She picked up a doll which the nursemaid had brought out for her and cradled it in the crook of her arms, talking quietly to it in a nonsense language as she moved the doll's head up and down in response.
Yuui watched his daughter with shadowed eyes, the corners of his mouth pulled tight. "I don't know what to do when they act like that," he said under his breath, and Fai nodded emphatically.
"I don't see what you're so worried about," Souma said, watching Yuzuki at play. "Dolls, climbing trees, playing house, it's all little girl stuff."
Fai just shook his head, and Yuui sighed, wondering how to explain it. He knew Souma thought that he fussed too much, and he knew she had reason to think so. Yuui's own childhood - long lost in patchy strands of nightmare - had been so bad, he often felt like he honestly didn't know what he was doing. Thank the gods for Tomoyo - sweet, patient, wise Tomoyo who always seemed to know just what to do without ever making him feel like less of a man for not knowing himself.
But watching his daughters at times like these - the times when they squabbled and argued and sometimes even fought, wrestling or pulling hair or even scratching each other with the furious abandon of the very young - made him feel that something was dreadfully wrong. He had never fought like that with his brother. Never. And from the little Fai had been willing to share about his own long-buried childhood, Fai and his brother had never clashed so violently as children either.
He and his brother had always been close, so close, as close as one person wearing two skins could be. Yuui had thought that was because they were twins, that all twins were like that - it was just a mark of how different they were from normal people. But Asayo and Yuzuki were different, and that distressed him on levels he couldn't even fully name.
"I just don't understand - why they aren't close," he said lamely, trying to find some way to give his fears a voice.
"They're pretty damn close already," Souma said. "They play together, eat together, bathe together, and half the time they crawl into each other's cots and sleep together. How much closer do you want them to be?"
"But look at them," Fai protested, and Yuui shot his brother a grateful look. "Asayo is climbing trees - Yuzuki never wants to do that, she refuses to do anything that will get her dress dirty. And Yuzuki is the only one that likes dolls. I tried to give a doll to Asa-chan the other day and she just threw it away."
"It's more than that," Yuui butted in, feeling Fai was not explaining the problem very well. "Recently it seems like - everything they want to do is opposites. If one of them wants a toy, the other doesn't want it. If one of them doesn't like a food, the other will immediately claim it's her favorite food ever. Why are they being like this?"
That last question came out more helplessly than he would have liked.
"It's perfectly normal," Tomoyo reassured them. "The two of you were so very close in part, I think, because you had no one else... you clung together for support because apart from each other, you were alone. But our children have us, and so many others to love and help them; they don't need to cling to each other for comfort and safety.
"Neither of you were ever in the position of being the younger sibling… but I was. Growing up with Kendappa, I could be quite contrary!" She smiled reminiscently.
"I find that hard to believe!" Fai commented.
"I don't," Yuui said, and laughed at the mock pout Tomoyo gave him.
"Everything I did just had to be different from the things she did, just because she was the one who had done them first," Tomoyo explained. "Like in our music lessons - she learned to play an instrument, so I insisted on learning to sing instead. I wanted something that would be only mine, something that would be only me. Asayo and Yuzuki are doing the same thing, that's all."
"And besides," Souma added in. "Just because they're twins doesn't mean they're exactly the same. Just look at you two. Even if you never got into screaming matches like the girls when you were little, you're not exactly the same either."
"What do you mean?" Yuui and Fai chorused as one, with the same defensive note in each of their voices, and Souma burst out laughing.
"Oh please, do I really have to say it? You two are not the same! You're different people. I mean, one of you married a gorgeous princess and the other shacked up with a ninja with more muscles than brains, how could you get more opposite than that?"
She'd meant it as a joke - probably - but Fai flushed scarlet and Yuui couldn't help his own reaction; his face drained cold, and he lowered his head and stared fixedly at the roots of the trees as though they contained a hidden answer.
"Yuui?" Fai said, and his twin's voice was so full of hurt and reproach that he couldn't bear to raise his head to see the expression that went with it. He shook his head, keeping his eyes on the ground.
"What?" Souma said. "I'm just sayin' -"
"Could we be alone for a minute, please?" Fai cut across her, and there was a moment of shocked silence. He stood up and pulled on his twin's hand, away from the canopied wooden platform and into the shadow under the trees.
"All right, Yuui, this has gone on long enough," Fai said, and his voice was quiet but held an edge of steel. "You've always had a problem with Kurogane and me, and I've never understood why."
"It's not like that," Yuui said quickly, and looked up to meet Fai's gaze. "I - I never said anything to him, or to you, that I didn't like it. I wouldn't."
"Did you think that if you didn't say anything, I wouldn't notice?" Fai said acidly, but there was a note of real pain in his voice. " Look, I know that Kurogane's never exactly been your favorite person in this world, but this isn't just about him. This is about me and him, and if you -"
"I don't," Yuui interrupted him. "I - I'm sorry. I don't know how to explain this. I don't have anything against Kurogane. He - he makes you happy, and I thank him for that, even if we'll never exactly be bosom buddies."
"So it's me you have the problem with?" Fai said, his voice cracking. "You think I'm, what, a pervert? A freak?"
"No!" Yuui's voice rose high enough on that that Souma and Tomoyo, chatting with each other a dozen yards away, looked up in surprise. Yuui hurriedly lowered his volume.
"Please don't," Yuui said softly, his voice barely more than a whisper. "I don't think that. I don't… I don't know how to say this."
"Try," Fai said, his voice slightly ragged around the edges.
"I just don't…" Yuui raised his hands helplessly. "It's - it's like the girls all over again. I don't understand how we could be twins and - and be sodifferent, about such a… such a basic, fundamental thing. We're the same. We should be the same, and if you love men then what does that say about me? I - every time I see you two together, every time I'm reminded, then I just can't help but think… I can't help but wonder that you aren't really him. Or else that I'm not really… your brother."
He ran down helplessly. Fai's face could have been carved out of wood, it was so expressionless. "I'm sorry," Yuui said in a small voice. "I know I'm being stupid, and selfish -"
"Yeah, you really are," Fai said.
Yuui flinched, his mouth tightening, but he couldn't really say anything to that. Fai drew in a deep breath of his own, and brought his hands up to press against his face.
"Yuui," he said in a helpless voice. "You are my brother, and I love you. But this… this isn't really about you, okay. What's between Kurogane and me, it isn't about you. I never…"
He ran down, stopped to collect his thoughts, then went on. "I never thought about men that way, when I was younger," he went on in a more normal tone. "I can't say I ever really looked at women, either. But if you think me liking men is the same as having the same color hair or eyes, or being allergic to mushrooms - something that both twins should share - it's just not that simple.
"Kurogane saved my life, Yuui," Fai said, with a quiet simplicity like the sun rising. "In so many, many ways. He saved me from dying, and he also gave me my soul back. He was the first one since my brother died to see me as I truly was, and to really believe all the same that I was worth something. He was the first one who kept faith with me, the first one, who made me understand that life could be more than betrayal and pain. He cracked open my shell and he peeled me out and dragged me to stand in the sunlight, he sacrificed more for me than I ever thought I was worth and he's never regretted it, not for a day. He taught me to love again, Yuui, and it didn't matter whether he was a man or a woman or a green blob monster from Vega with three eyes and tentacles. It didn't matter.
"Love was never about men and women to me," Fai finished. "Love was… about Kurogane."
"Papa?" A clear, high voice broke into their argument. Yuui jumped, Fai did a double-take, and both brothers looked down to see Yuzuki standing beside them. The doll was still in her arms, and she looked up at them with large, solemn blue eyes the same shade as their own. His daughters were so beautiful, so perfect, that Yuui sometimes forgot that they were his as well as Tomoyo's; but Yuzuki's eyes always reminded him.
She looked worried, and Yuui wondered anxiously how much of the conversation she could have overheard - or understood. He cleared his throat. "What is it, cabbage?" he asked, using the nickname he'd adopted for her.
Yuzuki looked from one of them to the other, her face creased in a frown. Then it smoothed out, and she turned towards her father. "Papa, come play with me," she said. "I want to read Tama-chan a story, and I want you to help." She held up her doll - named Tama-chan after one of the palace cats - in appeal.
"Yuzu-chan, I could tell you a story," Fai offered, taking a quick glance at his brother's face.
"No!" Yuzuki said sharply, and he stared at her in surprise. Yuzuki usually took such pains to be sweet and demure, he sometimes forgot that she could be as strong-willed as her sister. "I want Papa to do it! You're not the same!"
"What?" Yuui said in surprise, and Yuzuki pointed one tiny finger at him.
"When Fai-oji tells stories, he does voices and noises," she said. "When Papa tells stories, he draws pictures to go with them. They're not the same. And Tama-chan wants to see the pictures!"
"Um… of course I'll come tell you a story, cabbage," Yuui said, blinking rapidly. Yuzuki's face split in a broad smile, and she grabbed his hand and pulled him towards the edge of the pond. Before she could pull him off, Yuui impulsively turned and put his hand on his brother's shoulder.
"Fai… I never looked at any women either," Yuui said breathlessly, and Fai stared at him in astonishment. Yuui gave him a wan smile. "Not before I met Tomoyo. Oh, I noticed that they were pretty, and I complimented on their clothes or hair because it was an easy way to make myself pleasant… but I never really felt anything for any of them. Tomoyo was… the first person to ask me stay. To make me welcome. The first one to understand me, and to accept that person that she understood. She found a way to cure my curse, and then she cured me so that the curse didn't matter any more."
Fai smiled, bright and warm and Yuui had never wanted anything else from this, his brother, except for him to be so happy. "I'm grateful for Tomoyo, then," he said.
"So am I," Yuui said. "Every day."
Fai went back to the canopy where Tomoyo and Souma were still waiting, and she smiled at him as he settled down again and looked out over the garden. Somewhere in the interval, Asayo had decided that the tree she had tried to climb was not enough challenge and moved on to a bigger one. The branches were too high for her to grab, so Kurogane put his hands around her waist and boosted her above his head, and Fai's heart nearly burst with love.
"It can't last forever," he said, the last remnants of the fear and heartbreak that his old life had taught him.
"Nothing lasts forever," Tomoyo said quietly, and when he looked over at her he saw the same love shining in her eyes as she looked at her husband. Yuui was seated cross-legged on the grass, Yuzuki leaning against his side as he sketches on the piece of paper in his lap and talked the story to her. "But we have today."
~end of Family Portrait.
~end of the Ill Luck series.