Fai has a series of strange symbols printed across the back of his neck, just below his hair.They aren’t Valerian, though sometimes you think they look similar. They’re pitch black against the skin of his neck and you spend hours running your eyes over the patterns, until you have them burned across your brain.
You have markings too, between your shoulders, right against the knobs of your spine. You need a mirror to see them, for no amount of twisting brings them into your eyeline. The writing is not Valerian, looks not the slightest bit similar. You do not recognize it, cannot fathom what it means. Fai copies the markings down for you, as you do for his, and he is very careful to insure every line of the strange writing is in place.You keep the paper secret and close, just as Fai does.
No one tells you what the symbols mean. Instead, you and Fai piece together the truth from overheard conversations and the few books you’re allowed. They are names, names of the people who are meant solely for you. You do not ask what it means that you cannot read yours, that the language is like nothing you’ve ever seen. They do not want you to know the truth, so you do not show you do. But at night you run your eyes over the foreign letters Fai has written, the inky Mark on your brother’s neck, and remember: there is someone in the world meant just for you, and you are meant just for them. Whatever you may be, the gods have given you that.
* * * *
They take the paper with your Mark written upon it when they leave you and Fai to rot. You trace the symbols in the snow, try to carve them on the walls, hold onto it. You fail, for the snow always blows away and the carvings lack the small details you need. You lose the Mark day by day, the once familiar lines becoming blurred in your memory. You wish you knew how to say the name, had something to shout alongside your brother’s. A name you can say is harder to forget.
* * * *
They throw in sinners. Then citizens. Then soldiers. Then finally nobles. You use the bodies as ladders in an effort to climb higher, to just reach the top and escape for help. You try not to look, though you still see their Marks. You wonder if their Named One shared the same fate, if they had met at all, or if there is a person outside searching for them who will never know why they can’t find them. You try not to think about it.
* * * *
Awake, you climb. Every day you get closer to the top.
Awake, you remind yourself your Mark isn’t Valerian. Fai’s isn’t Valerian. You take comfort in that. One day, you swear, you’ll escape from here with Fai and you two will go to these places with languages neither of them recognize. You wonder if Valerian is as strange looking a language to your Named One as theirs is to you. You pray that in that place, so far away from Valeria, with a language that looks so different, they’ve never heard that twins bring misfortune.
Sleeping, you dream of your Named One coming to find you. You dream that they’re older and already set out to discover the place with the strange language they can’t read. That they hear about the twins locked away and learn your name and come to rescue you. That you’ll free Fai together and leave for your new home and maybe find Fai’s Named One on the way. You dream of a place where its warm most of the year and rarely ever snows. You could do with never seeing snow again.
Sleeping, you dream of a large, warm hand resting against your back, over your Mark.
* * * *
Your Named One does not come. Fai’s does not come.
* * * *
A man with a bat upon his chest comes instead. You make a choice and Fai falls. You never forgive yourself for that.
* * * *
You are in Celes now. Fai- the real Fai, though you have taken his name so that you can never forget your life is no longer your own- sleeps underwater.
King Ashura helps cut your hair to what it was before the valley and servants help scrub the dirt from you skin. They are kind for all their work does not let their hands to be gentle and when your bath is finished, you are left alone to dress. You don’t do so immediately, instead twisting in front of the mirror until you can see your Mark again. You stare at it until your eyes again remember the shape of it, until tears well up and you can’t see through the warmth and pain and longing of it all.
You will not forget it again, no matter where you end up.
* * * *
The clothes they give you are heavy things, designed to keep out even the slightest chill, and they cover every inch of your back. The nobles in Valeria had worn specially tailored clothes that showed off their Marks; you think if you asked, you could acquire clothes that do the same. You do not ask.
You will not give the Mark up but it is still the only part of you that is purely Yuui and your life is Fai’s now. You hide it away, alongside dreams of sunny places and a gentle, reverent hand on your back.
* * * *
You live, you learn. Celesian is close to Valerian, different enough to make you work at it, close enough to trip you up when you thinks you’ve got it. The sight of the language stirs a half-forgotten memory of black on pale skin. But the courage needed to check Fai’s Mark escapes you and you never know for sure if Fai’s Named One is Celesian.
It does not matter if you did know for sure. You learn eventually that the people of Celes have no Marks. King Ashura is as fascinated by the concept as you are horrified at the lack of it. You cannot imagine not having your Mark, for all you cannot read it. Knowing there was someone out there just for you had been the biggest comfort you had in the valley. You wonder how the people of Celes manage to find someone just for them without knowing their names.
King Ashura’s eyes are kind. “Just as you would, Fai.” he answers gently. “We take longer, and we have more false starts, and sometimes it takes a long while to see that who we want is right next to us, but we find eventually, just as you would.”
* * * *
Eventually you learn to love the snow again.
You make Chii in your mother’s image, though she bares no Mark because you cannot remember your father’s name.
King Ashura gives you a magical tattoo. It is carefully designed for you and the long neck of the phoenix curves gracefully around your Mark, framing it in much the same way Valerian fashion would have. You love it immediately.
You grow up, earn the title of D. You learn to smile again.
* * * *
A monster comes to Celes
* * * *
You refuse to forget your Mark again. You write it down again and again, carefully at first, making sure each line is perfectly in place. Eventually, it gets easier, you get quicker. You’re careful with the evidence, erasing it, burning it sometimes. The only permanent writing is on your mirror in black paint. You stare at it sometimes at night and make random sounds you pretend are names.
King Ashura is the sole person in Celes to know of the Mark and what it means. Eventually, he asks to see it. It’s been years since you arrived and you trust him, so you write it down with careful strokes and hand it over. Ashura examines it for several minutes, looking perplexed. When he leaves, he takes the slip of paper with him. You don’t ask after it.
You’re surprised, though you shouldn’t be, when Ashura admits that he has searched for the language. In all the time you’ve been here, you haven’t allowed yourself to do the same, to see if it is a language that exists here at all. That way lay too much temptation to seek out your Named One in this world. Despite yourself, you’re eager to know.
The language does not exist in any of the countries Celes has knowledge of. You try not to let the disappointment show.
* * * *
The monster has always been in Celes. You just aren’t sure if its Ashura or you.
* * * *
You follow that man’s plans. You go to the witch’s shop and make a wish to travel to other worlds. The man you assume is the witch’s pawn is tall and broad and blood-stained and you are immediately wary of him. The boy is consumed with the girl and you have to admire his earnestness, for all you’ve sworn not to care.
Your price is your most precious thing. “The markings on your back.” The witch says and you’re unsure if she means your tattoo or your Mark. You fear it may be both.
Your life is no longer yours, you remember, and you agree. You can see the black ink of your Mark in the middle of the thick blue lines of your tattoo as the witch takes them both and you focus on breathing past the grief.
It is nothing compared to what the boy gives up, you decide. After all, what is the use of a Mark you cannot read when you’re blindly rushing between worlds?
* * * *
The last piece of Yuui is left behind at the shop and you refuse to mourn.
* * * *
Hanshin is an unwelcome shock. It is the start of summer here, the sun not yet brutal, and for all you can’t read it, the language is terribly familiar. You want to cry, you want to scream, you want to break something because here, here is your dream twisted into something unrecognizable.
You choke it down and smile, smile, smile. The ninja is easily to irritate, the boy too honest. Tricking them is almost too easy and you refuse to think about anything outside that purpose.
“I’ve always thought there was a strength in crying when you needed to.” You say, eyes dry despite the deaths on your hands. The ninja looks over at you, eyes sharper than they were yesterday, but you don’t see it.
You refuse to care about these people, but you send your Kudan to the boy anyway. Ashura once said you were too kind. You hope you are cruel enough for this.
* * * *
In Koryo, you absent-mindedly scratch at the wooden floor as you watch Kurogane repair the roof. It is only as you go to stand that you realize you have carved your Mark into the floor. You scratch it out quickly and pay careful attention to what your hands are doing from then on.
* * * *
You do not write the Mark again, but you think about it at least once every day, running your mind over the familiar shapes, to make sure you haven’t forgotten it.
* * * *
Your resolve breaks in Jade.
The country is altogether too much like Celes for comfort and the smell of fresh snow is overwhelming. You change into the world’s clothes in a small, private bathroom, equipped with a tiny mirror. You hesitate once you strip off the last of your tops then turn around. You twist until you can see the length of your back in the little mirror.
Your back is bare of any marks.
You knew it was so, but the sight sends a shockwave through you. You choke and your legs collapse. You kneel on the floor, shaking heavily for all you do not cry. You remember your horror at the concept that Celes did not have name Marks and want to laugh.
If you laugh, you will cry. If you cry, you will break and that is unacceptable. So you do not. You force yourself to your feet and methodically dress in your new clothes. You greet your companions with a smile.
You leave behind you a broken mirror.
* * * *
Syaoran proves himself to be a master of many languages over the journey. You think you could ask him about the Mark, write it down for him, and maybe finally get an answer. You don’t.
* * * *
“If you want to go somewhere, you can go by yourself. There’s no need to ask anyone.” Kurogane says in Outo.
It takes everything you have not to laugh in his face. The valley looms in your mind again after all these years, your desperate struggles to get out. In the end, you’d been saved by another, at the cost of the real Fai. A dark part of you wants Kurogane to end up in a place where for once he cannot escape by his own power.
“Not everyone is like you, though, Kuro-tan.” You say instead, light in the face of how nasty your thoughts are. You turn back to the singer, unable to help the wistful smile you let slip. “Hm, how should I put this? You see, I’ve been waiting for someone too. Someone who can stay by my side.”
Your back feels cold and bare now, for all the Mark never gave off heat.
You turn to Kurogane and expect him to be angry. Instead he merely watches you, eyes too sharp. His whole expression says he knows you just gave away something important, though he doesn’t know what. This man sees too much of you, all the parts you don’t want him too. It is too dangerous and you smile dumbly and laugh until the look changes to one of honest irritation.
You do not let on to your unease even when he turns away, for you swear he has eyes in the back of his head.
* * * *
You know in Outo that you are too close and too fond of the children.
Mokona claims you as the group’s mother and you do not protest. Another life and you think you would kneel at the girl’s feet and swear yourself to her. You would kill for these children and it shakes you to realize.
Worse, is the only half-realized threat of Kurogane. You have always been wary of him. You have always respected his abilities, in the distant way you do all difficult opponents. In Outo, you learn to respect him for his kindness, for how easily he takes Syaoran as a student. It takes a while to see how differently he shows his affection, but when you do, you admire and envy how unrestrained it is. He respects the children, though not you, and now that he does, nothing seems to hold him back from doing so.
You have not realized it yet, but you want this man to hate you and like you in equal measure.
* * * *
You die in Outo, an Oni’s claws at you throat. You have a split second to be relieved, and shocked at your relief. The choice to betray the children, whatever you feelings for them, is out of your hands.
You awaken in Edonis. The relief that washes through you then is stronger than in the cafe, as is the answering shock. Your wish to live was strong enough to kill your brother; you shouldn’t be surprised that it persists despite everything.
* * * *
It turns out Celes is in the small percentage of worlds that do not use these strange symbols. You try not to feel cheated.
Valeria, in turn, turns out to be in the even smaller number of worlds with name Marks. No other world you visit has them as far as you can tell. You are not sure how you feel about that. The Mark has brought you comfort and grief in equal measure.
You would like to say you wouldn't trade it for anything, but haven't you already?
* * * *
You kill in Yama. You have destroyed two worlds, you remind yourself. What’s one army compared to that? Kurogane cannot know how much it costs you to end more lives, purposely now -though you choose to continue to exist, so aren’t they all done purposely-. All the same, Kurogane presses a silent hand against your shoulder after every battle. If it is comfort or congratulations on a well-fought battle, you aren’t sure, but you know what you take out of it.
You confess everything in Yama. It is late and you are so tired. You are tired of lying, of pretending you are alright. You are tired of fighting and killing. Mostly you are tired of feeling alone. Earlier, you had caught yourself writing out your Mark for the first time since Koryu, completely without your conscious consent.
You sit in the dark, on the ground instead of your cot, and pray Kurogane cannot see your expression, for all you can make out every line of his. You tell him about the valley in Valeria, about Ashura’s slaughter in Celes, about your brother lying dead in a pool, all of it your fault. You tell him about the man with the bat, about Syaoran’s seal, about your own curse. You look him in the eye, black, like your own, and you don’t like it at all, and tell him, “My name is Yuui, of the country of Valeria and I am going to kill you.”
It is the first time in... forever, that you have said your name, your real name, out loud.
Kurogane cannot understand your words, but he seems to know they are important all the same. He sits on his own cot, silent and attentive through your whole speech, almost respectful. His eyes are no less sharp for being the wrong color, but for the first time you don’t care that this man can see all of you. Kurogane must know you are being cowardly, only saying this when no one can understand, but there is no reproach there.
When you are done, Kurogane leans forward, something oddly compassionate in his face. “Fai,” he says and you do not know what follows.
You do know it is the first time he has used your name and it fills you with an odd, not unwelcome, warmth.
* * * *
That night changes something between them, though neither of you mention it.
You want this man to like you more than you want him to hate you, though you do not yet realize it.
* * * *
In Piffle, your mask slips. You are too comfortable around Kurogane now, and you do not know it.
* * * *
You think that if the children had been born in Valeria, they would have each other’s names printed on their skin. The witch would have taken the Marks as well as Sakura’s memory, you think. You aren’t sure what would hurt Syaoran more, the empty patch of skin where Sakura’s name used to be, or the blank space where his was.
You don’t think about it again after that.
* * * *
Disaster comes. Disaster always comes.
* * * *
You have always found Kurogane’s affection, once earned, to be unrestrained. You wish you had remember that better.
You do not have words all you lose in Tokyo. An eye, a bit of magic, humanity.
Your Syaoran is gone with nothing more than an undone spell. You try to hold onto him. You fail. You’d never thought you’d succeed, but you had to try. (If it had been someone else, not you, not a cursed twin, maybe they would have succeeded.)
You do not want to die. You do not want to live. You do not want to hurt anyone anymore, through purposeful betrayal or mere existence.
“Let me die.” You beg, with voice and eyes-eye, one eye, its gone, its gone, Syaoran’s gone, come back.
For some reason, you have earned Kurogane’s respect, his affection, and Kurogane loves without restraint. You do not think he knows how to do otherwise.
Kurogane does not listen.
* * * *
It is Tokyo and your body is on fire. You scream as you change and Kurogane is your only anchor. You realize, finally, finally, that you do not want this man to hate you, not even a little bit.
* * * *
It is Tokyo, and you wake up.
Kurogane is waiting.
You do not want this man to hate you, but-
You made a choice a long time ago and it is not so easily undone. You are all pawns in someone else’s game.
Your life is not your own.
* * * *
“Good morning, Kurogane.”
* * * *
“Why is Sakura-chan the only one who went to collect the payment?”
“Its what the princess wanted.”
Your fingers itch oddly, nails threatening to become claws. You stare at Kurogane with rage, with hurt, with disbelief. You want to laugh at this man, who seems to pick and choose randomly who he lets indulge in suicidal actions, but if you laugh, you will cry. And you will not cry in front of this man and the boy with your son’s face. They already have too much of you.
You do not know what it means that Kurogane allows Sakura this, merely because she wished it, but will not let you die, despite you nearly begging for it.
You do not know, but you do not like it.
* * * *
You have a role to play. You do not forget it again.
* * * *
You do not say it out loud, but you admit that the Syaoran who left was as good as your son.
You should not admit to it, but Sakura is as good as your daughter. She is a clone, just like your son, and you will lose her some day, just like your son.
She will take more than your eye when she goes and you should back away now.
* * * *
There is no feather in this world, but the last one was hard, and you are all tired. When Sakura demands you stop and rest, you obey.
You can now outlast the rest of the group for stamina, even Kurogane, if you are well-fed. (You are always well-fed, Kurogane will allow nothing less. You do not allow Kurogane to believe for a second that he is forgiven.) That is why you are chosen to fetch supplies.
The currency from the last world translates well to this one, a relief. You’ve learned you make a good thief but you do not prefer it. It is not hard to find the required medicine and food and you are relieved to be able to return to you current lodgings and sleep. Despite this, you pause before a shop on the way. You can not read what the sign says, but it does not take much to realize what it is. A tattoo shop.
For the first time since Tokyo, your back feels cold and bare.
You walk away quickly but the idea stays with you.
Barely two days later, you return. You sketch your Mark on a paper and show on a mannequin where you want it. You have not drawn it since Yama, but you have not forgotten it. Your uncle almost stole it from you once and you will not let it happen again. Your brother and Reed and Kurogane’s damn eyes can have every part of you that is Fai but this Mark is Yuui and they cannot have Yuui.
The sweet lady who does the tattoo warns you that there will be pain, that the skin is too thin across the spine. You do not laugh and say you don’t have a left eye, but you let your remaining one do it for you. The answering smile is not sheepish or pitying, merely an acknowledgment of strength. You decide you like this woman.
It does hurt and your vampire healing does not seem to know what to do with the ink. When its over, a little square of bandage is taped over it and the sting of the needle follows you to the apartment.
The burn fades quickly and you know the tattoo heals completely within the hour. Still, you leave the bandage on all day. You are not sure why it takes so much courage to remove it, but it is a trial to find the necessary bravery.
The bandage is right in the middle of your back. Before, you would have needed help removing it. Now, you have claws.
You hear the door open just as you throw your shirt to the bed. You close your eyes and pray it is Sakura.
“What the fuck happened to your back?”
Of course its not Sakura. You will never be that lucky.
You turn to look at Kurogane with a false smile and refuse to cross your arms over your naked chest. “It’s a tattoo.” You answer blandly. “I was missing my old one so I got a new one. Wasn’t sure how the healing would take to the ink, so I kept it covered for a while.”
As if your Mark could ever compare to a mere tattoo.
Kurogane continues to watch you, suspicious as he is of everything about you. You raise one hand and let the claws slide out. Kurogane tenses, like he sees a threat in the action. You think there might be one. “Don’t worry. I can handle it, Kurogane.” You are still amazed the pain a simple name can cause in him.
You let the claws slide away and walk, seemingly without care, to the attached bathroom with its small mirror. You close the door solidly behind you.
A swift flick of your fingers and the bandages falls away in tatters.
The ink is pitch black against your skin, just as you remember it. It is like it never left at all. Your eyes fill with tears at the sight and they are not good tears. A near year without it has not changed the fact that you cannot read it. Having it again does not change that you are alone in a group. You have not found your Named One and you know you never will.
You have to lean against the sink for support, and then you still fall to your knees. You hang your head and let the tears fall, silent for however much you want to scream.
Repainting your skin with your Mark is not a comfort, you realize. It is a punishment. A part of you always knew that.
* * * *
You hide it beneath layers again and do not speak of it. Kurogane does not ask and you would not answer if he did.
* * * *
It is Infinity and you swear yourself to your daughter. You had thought that, in a different life, you would kneel at her feet and do so gladly.
You do not kneel and the woman who stares back at you is more queen than princess now. The name you use does not belong to you and your life is not yours to swear to her service. You do so anyways, for she is your daughter and you will fight and kill and die for her.
* * * *
It is Infinity and Sakura accepts your words with sad, knowing eyes. You wonder then if someone in your group finally suspects your coming betrayal. You think to be surprised that it is Sakura who doubts, Sakura, naive and trusting.
But you are not. For Sakura has broken and mended and grown beyond that. She is a queen and a general and though she is still good at heart, she is sharp-edged now. Reed has forced her to change. Reed and yourself and your son. You would mourn your hand in it all but nothing good has ever survived your touch and it is not surprising.
She does not speak her suspicions and you do not ask after what you see in her eyes.
* * * *
It is Infinity and your daughter dies at your hands. Nothing good ever survives your touch.
* * * *
It is Celes and you are destroyed.
Kurogane has always seen too much but now the whole of you is spread bare before. You do not want him to hate you but you cannot expect anything less now. Kurogane watches you and Syaoran cries for you- your boy, your poor boy, why do your sons have to suffer because of you?
Even as magic gathers at your trembling fingers, their eyes hold no blame. You dare not to hope you’re forgiven, but you might be anyways.
* * * *
It is Celes and you are set free.
Fai dies. Ashura dies. Celes collapses. You’ve made your choice and you’ve chosen your children.
Your past is finally laid to rest. For the first time since the valley, for the first time since your birth, your life is finally your own. It is a heavy weight, but it is yours and it will not be taken from you again.
* * * *
It is Celes and you are saved.
Kurogane sees the whole of you and loves you without restraint despite it. An arm is given for your freedom and Kurogane pulls you from the ruins. You can do little more than stare.
You think you begin to understand finally, finally, what makes you different from Sakura in his eyes.
* * * *
Kurogane is dying and you love him more than you can say.
* * * *
It is Nihon and you again dream of sunny places that see snow but rarely, of a family laughing and happy, of a man who will save you and you will save in turn.
Kurogane sleeps, so you wait. His princess watches over you when she is not tending him and you find reasons to love her as Kurogane loves her. It is no wonder that Kurogane serves her so faithfully. You would do the same if you had not already sworn yourself to Sakura.
Princess Tomoyo treats you to fresh clothes and gentle smiles and her eyes see too much, for all you know her dream-seeing to be gone. You wonder if it is a trait of the people of Nihon.
It is late spring here, and the smell of it carries pleasantly across the palace. You rest in an open doorway, staring out at the gardens as you wait for word of Kurogane. Syaoran finds you like that and approaches with hesitant steps. He does not seem to understand yet how to act around you, for all he does not blame you for anything.
You smile at your son in greeting. He is your son as much as his clone is, you admit now, and when this is over, you will gather them both close and not let go until there is no doubt how you think of them. (There is no other ending to this. You will not allow it.) “Good morning Syaoran-kun.” You greet pleasantly.
His answering smile is timid. “Good morning.”
You turn your gaze back to the gardens and wait to see what Syaoran will do. It takes a moment of awkward shuffling then Syaoran slowly approaches and kneels next to him. “My apologies.” Syaoran says after a moment.
It is not what you are expecting and you turn to him with a raised eyebrow.
Syaoran dips his head. “Your memories were not mine to see.” he says and you remember Lecourt, where the other Syaoran had been so terribly apologetic for unwillingly seeing Kurogane’s memories. The two really are quite similar.
“My idiot boy.” You mutter fondly and gently flick Syaoran in the ear. He jerks back just slightly in surprise and otherwise does not seem to know how to react. “You have nothing to apologize for. It was hardly your decision.”
You can see the minute Syaoran realizes you’ve claimed him as yours, for a befuddled warmth fills his eyes, as if he has received an unexpected git, though highly welcome.
“Did he blame the other you in Lecourt?” You continue and they both know you speak of Kurogane. You are at an impasse on what to call that man. Not Kurogane, not ever again. You aren’t sure you ready for nicknames again though. Both were distancing maneuvers and you aren’t sure you can make them anything else. A name can cause too much pain to choose wrongly.
Syaoran shakes his head in answer so you nod to show that’s all that needs to be said. The following silence is peaceful.
“We know everything then?” Syaoran asks, simple curiosity.
“Well, not everything. A proper magician must have some mystique.” you say and you smile to show you are joking. Mostly joking.
You cannot fathom why, but out of everything, Ashura did not show them your Mark. You think it may have been kindness; Ashura always did seem to believe the Mark to be more intimate and private than it was. Ashura called your Named One your “soul mate”, so you think you can understand why he did.
It might also have been cruelty, that the two in your life most likely able to read it have yet to see it.
Syaoran laughs brightly in understanding. “In that case, I have to know. Fai or Yuui?” he asks, and it makes you pause.
You tilt your head back in thought. “Yuui...” You say, just to taste the name against your tongue again, trusting the boy not to take it as an answer.
You are not sure who Yuui is anymore. The only part of Yuui you remember is your Mark and in the face of everything Kurogane is, you cannot bring yourself to much care beyond a childhood dream. But Fai is your brother, and a man who did not belong to himself. Fai is a reminder of failures and duties you no longer need.
“I don’t know.” You answer honestly. “I’ll tell you when I do.”
Syaoran accepts it with an ease and understanding that makes you squint at your boy in suspicion. You do not ask though; if Syaoran wants you to know, he will tell
* * * *
Kurogane awakes eventually. You do not know what to call him. You do not even know what to call yourself. Celesian is not given to endearments, they are all too intimate and you need to speak with Kurogane before you dare the use of any of them. The only endearment you know in Valerian already belongs to a name you cannot pronounce and you will give it falsely to Kurogane who means so much.
You wish you had thought to ask Tomoyo about Nihongo endearments before she’d entered the room.
You are called in and you obey. You have no endearments so you call him Kuro-tan and hope it is enough.
* * * *
* * * *
Nihon, and your daughter dies again at the hand of your son.
You all mourn and you all prepare to rescue the daughter you have not met but know you cannot help but love.
You pull yourself eventually to Kurogane’s room, for you can’t stand the silence of your own after all the death. He understands this without you having to say it and does little more than shift over in invitation. You strip down to the thin sleep pants Tomoyo has given you, a match to the equally bare Kurogane, and slip in next to him. There is an intimacy here you need to talk about, but it is late and you are heart-sore and just barely healing. You can see in each other’s eyes that it will wait until morning.
When you shift onto your side, Kurogane wraps an arm around your waist and draws you back against his chest. You can feel his heartbeat like this and you let it soothe you to sleep without a word.
* * * *
You awake up with a large, warm hand pressed over your Mark. You dreamt of this as a child, in the cold and snow, and it is as wonderful as you thought it would be. Tears well before you can think to stop them, but they are good tears and you do not mind having to breathe past a knot in your throat.
Kurogane shifts behind you, because of course he’s awake. “Hey, you okay?” he asks, hand being lifted in time with your ragged breathing.
You swallow and tell the truth. “I used to dream about something like this as a child. Its better than I’d imagined.”
Kurogane rumbles wordless understanding. A careful thumb rubs over the Mark and you sigh and lean into the caress. “This is the tattoo you got?” Kurogane asks and something about his voice is off.
You twist as much as you can without displacing the hand on your back in order to see his face. Kurogane is staring at your Mark with a frightening intensity. It would be odd for Kurogane, you realize, to find a name he doesn’t know on your back, written in a language you’ve proven yourself unable to use. “Its not important anymore.” You say gently.
Kurogane finally meets your gaze and you freeze under the heat of it. “Where did you see this?” he demands.
“Its my Mark.” You say dumbly, as if Kurogane could possibly understand everything that little word means.
“Mark?” Kurogane repeats. “How is this your Mark?”
You shift onto your back to see him better. “You know what it says?” You ask and there is a little boy hiding in your voice still desperate to be taken somewhere beyond the cold and snow.
Kurogane’s expression cracks open, at either your words or your tone. “You don’t?” he asks carefully.
“Of course not. You know I can’t.”
“But you got a tattoo of it?” Kurogane is dubious, suspicious. You do not like that look anymore.
“It’s my Mark.” You say again. “I’ve always had it. It... do you remember, when we first met, what the witch asked from me?”
“The markings on your...” You can see when Kurogane understands. His eyes go quite wide. “You... you’ve always had this?” He asks, voice low and soft. You find yourself turning onto your side and leaning forward to hear, and the space between you is suddenly small and intimate.
“Always.” You answer in a whisper. Something is happening behind his eyes that you do not understand. It is now, when you cannot understand him and wish to, that you realize you’ve always been able to see as much of him as he has of you. You just didn’t want to look.
Kurogane hesitates then carefully curls an arm around your side. He again presses a thumb against your Mark. You are startled to feel him tracing lines against you skin, even more when you realize what he is writing. You know those lines better than you know your spells. You wonder how long Kurogane stared at your Mark to be able to replicate it so easily without looking.
Kurogane leans in then, forehead pressing against yours, and you do not dare to even breathe.
It takes you several distracted seconds of watching Kurogane’s lips to understand what he has said. Then a few more to realize what it means. Kurogane has given you your Named One.
“You-o.” You repeat quietly, reverently. It is the answer to a child’s dream and you wrap it gently around your memory. A balm to the healing thoughts of Valeria. You have placed so much meaning upon your Mark, not all of it good, and now you lay it to rest. The last scattered pieces of your past brought to a close.
Something in your chest loosens and falls away. You feel set free.
You feel suddenly daring.
You lean forward and kiss Kurogane, because you want to and you’re allowed to. It is a simple, short kiss, but you are safe and warm and cherished and you’ve never wanted anything else.
“Thank you.” You say when you pull back and you trail a gentle hand across Kurogane’s face. You aren’t sure what you thank him for. For saving you. For believing in you, and trusting you, and loving you. For giving you the name you’ve been waiting your whole life for. He cannot possibly imagine everything the Mark means to you but he has given you it anyways.
Kurogane’s new hand cups the back of your head suddenly and you are pulled in again, impossibly close. Kurogane kisses like he loves, you learn, unrestrained and passionate, and he holds you like you are something precious. You are breathless when he pulls away, and your heart feels too full for words.
“Tell me about it.” Kurogane asks, hands gentle on your back as you catch your breath. His eyes are warm with affection and you would give him everything if you could.
It takes a moment to collect yourself. “Its something that happens in Valeria.” You say, and the way he holds you tighter when you say ‘Valeria’ is the best kind of comfort. “I haven’t seen anything like it on other worlds. Children there, we’re born with a name written on our skin.”
You hesitate, then say, “Fai’s was here,” and tilt your head down to tap a finger briefly against your neck. You continue to speak to Kurogane’s chest. “We couldn’t read his either. I think it was Celesian, but I never got the courage to check.” The pain that steals your breath is familiar, but healing. It no longer threatens to crush you.
Kurogane’s metal hand still cups the back of your head and you lean into it for comfort. Kurogane does not push, lets you recover yourself without a word, instead rubbing comforting circles across your head. “The Marks,” you continue after a moment, “are- are supposed to be the name of the person who will mean the most to us. Someone, someone in the whole world whose meant just for us.”
Kurogane freezes, just briefly, fingers pausing their motion across his hair. “Soul mates.” Kurogane says after a minute of tense silence, in which you begin to wonder if you shouldn’t have said something.
“That’s what Ashura called it.” You say hesitantly. You lean more fully against him and wonder if Kurogane regrets giving you the name now that he knows what it is. You think in his place, you would. “I don’t care. I want to be here.” You add quickly. You say ‘here’ and encompass everything in that one word; Nihon and this room and Kurogane’s arms, what they are and what they’ve become.
Oddly enough, Kurogane begins to laugh. You stare, because you were not expecting that, and you do not understand the sudden humor and brilliant warmth on his face. ”Hitsuzen, damn witch.” You hear him mutter and you do not understand that either.
“Kuro-chan?” You ask and the smile he gives when he hears the nickname warms you all the way through.
Kurogane pulls back just slightly so he can see you fully. “In Nihon, we have use names.” He tells you, running a gentle hand through your unbound hair.
“You do?” You ask, surprised. Celes did not use them, but the library had contained books about use names, and you know the concept. “Kurogane’s not your real name?”
Kurogane just watches you patiently. It hits you hard, the knowledge that you already know Kurogane’s real name. He gave it to you himself, before you could understand what it was and before he knew what it would mean to you. “No.” You breathe, disbelief. “No way.”
“It never occurred to you?” Kurogane asked, amused now. “You knew the name was Nihongo and it never once occurred to you that the name was mine?”
“No.” You repeat, still dumbfounded. You hadn’t even considered that the Mark could name someone from a different world. (Dumb of you, considering you’ve spent the better part of your life believing Fai’s Mark was Celesian.) You push yourself up so you’re leaning over Kurogane and carefully brush the hair from his face. He stares back with gentle eyes. “You-o.” You breathe.
“Yuui.” Kurogane replies in turn.
You laugh, delighted, because this man is everything you’ve wanted and dreamed of. You do not have the words to explain that to Kurogane in full. You show it with kisses instead.
* * * *
There is a little boy waiting in Valeria to be saved. (An arm will be given to pull you from the ruins of a closing world because you are loved.)
There is a child trapped in a valley, dreaming of sunny places and happy family. (Nihon is warm and full of the smell of blooming flowers and you have found a family for yourself. It is small and broken right now, but it is yours and you will not let it go.)
There is a young man in Celes trying to understand how anyone could find their other half without a name Mark. (You have fought for and against Kurogane and chose him long before you understand just who he was.)
There is a man in a shop giving up the only precious thing he has left. (You have gained more than you could imagine in the giving of it. You broke with the loss of it and again the gaining of it, but your family has helped you rebuild.)
You wish you could reach out through time for just an instant and drag all these versions of yourself to this moment, to show them how happy you will someday be. You want to tell them not to give up hope just yet. The one promised to you is not perfect, he is too wonderful to be perfect.
Then you let go of the past and surrender to the future.
* * * *