Disclaimer: CLAMP owns them.

TRC: Next Generation

Chapter 6


"Yes, Shizuka?" Watanuki looked up from where he had been folding Himawari-chan's clean clothes. He enjoyed housework, and he enjoyed it even more when it involved his dear little princess.

Suddenly, Doumeki was standing before him, thrusting something at his face. "We're getting married."

It took Watanuki a second to realize that the object being held right in front of his eyes was a ring. It took him another second to think of a reaction. Then, he exploded.

"What's that?" he asked. "Just 'we're getting married,' eh? Do you think that will do it? You're supposed to ask me, you big jerk, not just announce it like that! Don't you think my opinion perhaps matters just the tiniest bit, too, hm? I bet you've already even arranged for whatever ceremony Yuuko-san had in mind!"

"Ah." The idiot didn't even have the decency to look ashamed as he admitted this.

"I knew it! You can never do anything right, can you? I hate you, Doumeki Shizuka! That's simply not the way you should do it! Everything about it is wrong!"

"You don't want to, then?" Doumeki's expression still hadn't wavered from his usual indifference.

"I didn't say that!" Watanuki yelled. "I never said that! Of – of course I want to! Why do you think I've stood your idiocy for years, you big bastard? It'd be nice to be at least asked, though!"

"What's the point?" Doumeki didn't seem to understand. "If you're going to agree anyway…"

"The point is, you're supposed to ask!" wailed the bespectacled man. "Were you born socially incompetent or did you take a course? What if I didn't want to marry you, hm?"

This time, Doumeki's expression actually changed – not much, but definitely enough for Watanuki the Doumeki-Reading Expert to notice. There was actual… sadness, almost, in his expression and tone as he asked, "You don't?" It wasn't much, but it was there.

At any other time Watanuki might have been moved by this evidence that he was one of Doumeki's very rare weak points – their dear daughter being another one. Now, however, he was too busy being angry. "I already said I do!" he yelled. "But you're supposed to ask before you make the arrangements! The whole point of marriage is that it's a mutual decision, not something you do by yourself!"

"Okay, then." Doumeki sighed, mostly out of frustration. "Watanuki Kimihiro, will you marry me?"

"Huh?" Watanuki was so stunned by the fact that Doumeki was apparently listening to him that he actually stopped yelling for a while. "I – well, I guess I will, then."

"Good." A half-smile danced over Doumeki's lips. "We're getting married, then."

"Why, you –!"

"Look, Kuro-tan!" Fay exclaimed joyfully. "Kiyoshi-chan can stand on his own!"

"I see that," Kurogane said, open adoration in his tone. Usually he might have tried to keep up his tough mask, but there was nobody to see him now, and… Well, after he had practically crawled all over the house helping Kiyoshi when the boy had first stood with support, he couldn't get anybody to believe he wasn't interested in the boy's development. "Let's just hope he doesn't fall over…"

"Kuro-pin is always such a worrier, nyaa," Fay giggled. "Relax, Kuro-in. The boy has pretty good stuffing to keep him from getting hurt if he does fall over."

"No he doesn't," Kurogane replied. "I've never even heard of such a skinny baby, never mind seen one besides ours. He's about half of the children's kid's weight. Sure, the doctors all say he's just frail by nature, so it's probably just your genes, but…"

"Well, maybe he isn't as pudgy as Tomi-kun or the others," Fay said happily, "but he's a healthy little baby. Isn't that most important? And besides, he isn't as old as the others, either, so you can't compare them like that."

"I guess so," sighed the ninja, his eyes still fixed on his son who was flailing his arms to keep his balance. "Oh, fuck, he's falling down!"

"Let him," Fay said, watching as Kiyoshi-chan indeed fell on his skinny little bum. "Now, don't panic, Kuro-rin. If you do, he'll get afraid to try standing again. See?" He pointed at the boy who was now trying to get back to his feet. "Little children are much tougher than they look."

"If that's the case," Kurogane muttered darkly, "I sure hope Doumeki-kun locks that brat of his away while their girl practices standing…"

Fay laughed, then pointed at Kiyoshi once again. "Look! I think he's trying to walk!"

"He can't," Kurogane said disbelievingly, although even he felt rather excited. "He's only just learned to stand. He'll fall over again, and this time he'll hurt himself for sure…" Kurogane had never thought of himself as a worrier. As long as no permanent harm was done, he didn't much care about injuries aside from getting them treated if they bled too much. However, for some reason he couldn't even think of Kiyoshi getting hurt. Letting Tomoyo hold the baby without constantly being ready to catch his son if she happened drop Kiyoshi had demanded an almost physical effort on his part.

Ah, well. It was his duty as a father to protect his son, wasn't it? And he'd be damned if he didn't do it, too…

Kiyoshi indeed started to fall, Kurogane letting out an involuntary shout. However, despite his worries, the little boy didn't fall onto his face and hurt himself. With hands reaching for the ground, he performed a rather clumsy but still successful cartwheel, landing on his feet. A bit wobbly, Kiyoshi stood again, a broad toothless smile directed at his parents.

"Nyaaa, that was so cool!" Fay exclaimed. "That's my boy, Kiyoshi-chan, yes that is! Fay-mummy is so proud of you!"

"…Great," Kurogane sighed. "Two idiots to look after…" Somebody who knew him very well, however, would have been able to detect the pride in his voice. Fay, as it happened, knew him very well.

Therefore, Kurogane wasn't really surprised to feel a hand in his own.

A loud wail echoed through the halls of the royal palace of Clow. A moment later it was followed by a half consoling, half scolding tone.

"Now, that's not nice, Shiro-chan! You mustn't hit others with your sword. If you do that again, I'll take it away, yes I will! And don't cry, Tomi-kun, I'm sure Shiro-chan didn't mean to hurt you, he just didn't realize you would get sad if he hit you. Now, apologize, Shiro-chan! There, all better now, aren't you?"

"Yukito-san is such a wonderful mummy," Fay said cheerfully, smiling as the children now returned to their games. "He can get the children calm down no matter what!"

"Oh, you are much better a mother than I, Fay-san," Yukito replied with a similar smile. "And will you look at Kiyoshi-chan! He's playing so nicely all the time!"

"Oh no, Himawari-chan, don't go there!" Watanuki wailed, rushing to catch his daughter before she could reach out too far from the window. The fall to the ground was long, especially to a little girl. "No, dear, windows aren't a good place to play! Why don't you look at that nice doll instead or something?"

"Watanuki-kun sure has good reflexes," Fay said, still just as cheerful. He apparently wasn't the least bit worried as Kiyoshi was bouncing practically from one wall to another, only pausing to annoy Shiro. The two seemed to have already developed some kind of a strange love-hate relationship – Kiyoshi loved teasing Shiro, who loved getting angry at Kiyoshi.

The children were all different. Himawari was a happy if not a bit pudgy little girl – there was no way anybody could be skinny with Watanuki taking care of their feeding – who only cried if she was hurt. With Watanuki and Yuuko being mostly responsible for her wardrobe, she was usually clad in the girliest of dresses, her long black hair always in two pigtails. Tomi was a quiet and shy little boy, always kind though hesitating, his red hair being the fieriest part of him. He liked playing with Himawari-chan who also preferred calm games, both nicely serving tea to a variety of dolls at the moment.

Shiro, on the other hand, was completely different from his cousin. He was a big little boy, big in the way that suggested he would probably resemble Kurogane in build once he grew up, tall and muscular. Whereas Tomi had red hair, his was almost white blond, well matching their names. In character he was a fiery one, easily irritated especially by Kiyoshi, his favourite toy being a wooden sword he always carried everywhere with him.

Shiro's eternal rival and teaser Kiyoshi was small. Well, in height he wasn't much smaller than the others, despite being the youngest, but he was of the frail kind of child that always seem light enough to be blown by the wind. Not that he probably would have minded – much like his mother, Kiyoshi could never be still for a moment, always bouncing and skipping and somersaulting around. Carrying around a sparkly magic wand he waved around, he more often than not managed to pull his black curls out of the ponytail Fay often arranged it into to keep it out of the way. It was a blessing, all the adults agreed, that his magic was yet to awaken. Who knew what kind of havoc he would cause then.

At the moment, however, the worst he could do was annoy the fiercer crown prince of Clow to no end. And this he was doing well.

"I wonder what's taking them so long," Yukito mused, glancing towards the door of the room as though expecting the children's fathers to walk in any moment. "One monster is not usually much to worry about even when Touya's alone, never mind with three warriors."

"Maybe something has happened?" Watanuki suggested, immediately worried. "Oh, I bet it's Doumeki, that big idiot. He just can't keep his nose out of anything like this, can he? He's only good at archery; if the monster decides to attack he's no good at close combat, he'll get hurt for sure… What will I do if he is hurt? What if the monster's killed him? I can't be a single father! Doumeki you jerk, why did you have to go along? I will –"

The two other men tuned him out, quite used to this by now. Inter-dimensional play dates weren't perhaps too frequent an occurrence but they also lasted quite long, thus providing them with plenty of chances to get to know each other. Thus they knew that not only was Watanuki prone to going to hysterics over the tiniest of reasons, but he was also nigh impossible to calm down. They'd only ever seen Doumeki succeeding in this – more often than not by making him angry instead of agitated. And as Doumeki had now indeed decided to follow the older men to take care of a threatening desert monster, that option was not available.

"I wish the children were a bit older," Fay mused, watching the playing children. "Then we could take them along to see their daddies fighting! That'd be exciting, eh, Yukito-san?"

"Indeed," the High Priest replied. "Shiro-kun sure seems rather interested in fighting – not that anything can be said for sure now, of course, they are only two – so I'm quite confident he will follow his father's footsteps. Not that I mind, of course. If he is going to be the king one day, he will have to be able to fight for the country."

"Ah, yes. You are the one to protect, aren't you, Yukito-san?" Fay smiled. "That is quite admirable! I, too, am responsible for protecting Suwa by keeping up wards around the area. There rarely is anything to protect against, though – my Kuro-rin is so efficient in getting rid of all the onis!"

"So I've come to notice. You are lucky to have such a nice and protective husband, Fay-san!"

"No, you are the lucky one, Yukito-san! Poor Kurogane could never be a king, he's absolutely hopeless at politics, without me he would be completely lost… Although I still love him more than anyone, of course!"

In the background Watanuki continued his fit. Not even the children were paying him any attention.

"Kimihiro-mummy?" a sleepy voice asked. "Shizuka-daddy?"

"Himawari-chan?" Watanuki asked, blinking sleepily. "What is it, dear?" What could his daughter want in the middle of night?

"I had a bad dweam." Himawari-chan sniffed pitifully. "A weally bad dweam."

"Oh, my! Come here, princess. You can sleep between mummy and daddy." Watanuki was by now rather resigned to being Himawari-chan's "mummy" – not that he still was happy about it, no. However, it wasn't like he was the only one, and at least nobody had ever questioned Yukito-san's gender, so it couldn't be that bad.

By his side, Doumeki shifted a bit as Himawari-chan climbed into the bed. Watanuki smiled tiredly, knowing his dear husband was awake, ready to help if any help was needed. It wasn't necessary, of course. Watanuki could comfort one crying child perfectly well.

"What was the bad dream about, dear?" he asked when Himawari-chan was safely cuddled between her parents. "Maybe talking about it will make it go away."

Himawari-chan sniffled again. "I wanted to sleep between Kimihiro-mummy and Shizuka-daddy," she muttered, "but you wouldn't let me."

For a moment, Watanuki wasn't sure how to react. Then, however, he felt Doumeki shifting again, this time with muffled laughter. Well, that was it. Kicking the other man under the covers, he hissed, "She got that from you."

Doumeki didn't respond, naturally. However, Watanuki just knew he was still smirking. The bastard.

"That's mine, you damn bastard!" Kiyoshi's clear voice echoed over the playground. Several of the people in the park turned to look. The words weren't exactly what you'd expect to hear from a pretty little four-year-old.

"No it's not, it's mine!" Shiro announced, defending his claim on the little plastic shovel. "I saw it first!"

"No you didn't! It's mine, my mummy bought it for me, so fuck off!"

"…Is it absolutely necessary for him to use such language?" asked Watanuki, sounding a bit suffering. A meeting in his world was all nice and good, as it didn't involve travelling, but at least in the palaces of Clow and Suwa he didn't have to worry about people staring at them all the time.

"I'm afraid it can't be helped," Fay replied with a tiny smile. "In every other aspect aside from the hair colour, Kiyoshi-chan takes after me, but he seems to have picked up Kuro-tan's way of talking. I've tried to make them both stop, but it's not really working."

"Mummyyy!" Kiyoshi wailed. "Come tell Shiro-rin the damn shovel is mine!"

"Well, that at least is from you, Fay-san," Sakura said with a little giggle as she watched the children in the sandbox. "It's rather interesting, though, that he won't call anybody else by such nicknames."

"Oh, Kiyoshi-chan knows already they shouldn't be used for everyone." Fay winked. "Only your very best friend deserves such names."

None of the other adults could respond before they realized that in the sandbox another kind of commotion was arising. While Kiyoshi and Shiro were still bickering about the shovel, a third boy, older than either of them, walked up to them. The strange boy rather unceremoniously pushed Kiyoshi down on his little bottom.

"You are stupid," the strange boy announced. "You use bad words and you look like a girl!"

"Shouldn't we go stop him, Fay-san?" Sakura asked, worried. Fay, however, just shook his head, intently watching.

"Let's see the kids settle this," he said. "We'll get involved if it gets more serious."

"I do not!" Kiyoshi protested. "Girls have dresses like Himawari-chan!" Big tears rose into his bright blue eyes. "You are mean!"

"So what if I am?" The strange boy kicked some sand over Kiyoshi, who tried to shield his eyes with his arm. "Try to stop me, girl!"

"Unfair!" wailed the small boy. "You're picking on smaller kids!"

"Stop that." The strange boy glanced to his side, seeing Shiro glaring at him with the plastic shovel in one hand, a wooden sword in the other.

"Or what?" the older boy asked mockingly. "You'll stop me, eh? Come on, you don't like him either, do you?"

"That's not true!" Kiyoshi cried. "Shiro-pon likes me!" At this, he clung to the said boy's leg, still not on his feet.

Shiro sighed. "He's not the nicest of guys," he said, "but nobody's allowed to pick on him or else." He raised his sword in obvious threat. "Get away before I hit you!"

Though larger he was, the strange boy was unarmed, and decided – perhaps wisely – to retreat. Shiro glared after him for a while before looking down at the still clinging Kiyoshi.

"Let go," he said, irritated. "I can't stand it when you cling to me!"

"Waaah, Shiro-tan is mean!" Kiyoshi complained, then abruptly stopped crying. "But I like him anyway!" he chirped cheerfully.

Shiro's grimace was almost audible.

"Why isn't Father here yet?"

Yukito smiled gently at his son. "I'm afraid your father still had some duties to attend to. He'll come as soon as he can."

Shiro pouted. "So he loves his work more than me?" he asked accusingly.

"It's not that he doesn't love you, Shiro-kun," the priest replied, "it's just that for a king, the country must always come before everything else. You'll see it yourself if you inherit the throne."

"Then I don't want the throne!" exclaimed the child. "Tomi-kun can become the next king for all I care. Then I can always read the bedtime story for my own kids unlike some idiots!"

"Shiro-kun!" Yukito snapped. "That's no way to talk of anybody, least of all your own father! Now calm down or I won't read the story at all!"

This got him an obedient, if not a bit pouty, silence. Ruffling soothingly the child's light hair, Yukito opened the heavy book on his knees and began to read.

"Once upon a time, in a world far, far away..."

Halfway through the story of exciting adventures, pretty princes and brave female knights – for a son of two men, gender roles weren't of that much importance -- Shiro was fast asleep. With a faint smile, Yukito closed the book. He was just about to pull the covers properly over the slumbering boy as he felt a hand being placed on his shoulder.

"He's asleep already," Touya observed. "Why do I feel like I'm always late for these things?"

"It's not your fault," Yukito reminded. "And you're not, really. Just last week you were present for the bedtime story every day. Shiro-kun just likes exaggerating things a bit, so of course he claims you are never there." He smiled. "He's truly your son, our dear Shiro-chan."

"Well, he'd better be, if he wants to inherit the throne one day."

"Do you think that will really happen?" Yukito asked. "Just now he once again announced he never wants to become the king. I know that doesn't mean anything when coming from the mouth of a sulking six-year-old, but... What do you think?"

"In all honesty? I think Shiro-chan's better suited for the throne," replied Touya. "Tomi-kun's a fine kid, likeable just like his mother, but... No. A queen can get away with being soft at times, especially one loved by everybody like my sister, but a king has to be firm. A king has to fight for his country, be its sole protector if need be – that's what my father taught me. Tomi-kun just isn't like that."

"And Shiro-kun is?" Yukito covered Touya's hand on his shoulder with his own.

"More so than Tomi-kun, yes." Touya glanced proudly at his son. "He'll just have to find his own reason to fight, first. It is hard to grasp the idea of protecting a whole country if you don't even care enough to protect a single person."

"So who was your first reason to fight, To-ya? Sakura-chan, wasn't it?"

"No, it wasn't." The smile was audible in Touya's voice. "It was always you, Yukito."

Next chapter: As time passes, some things change. Some, like Watanuki, don't.