i. realization hits
Syaoran Li knew perfectly well how babies were created. He had four older sisters; all of the gross parts of a girl's life was inevitably something he knew about, so he knew when a girl was most likely to be able to have a baby. He knew Sakura wanted to have children; heck, he wanted to have children too. Although he would never have admitted it (except, maybe, in the middle of the night when he could pretend to be sleep-talking, to Sakura), he was tickled pink by the idea of having a baby girl. He imagined taking her to the park and getting her horseback riding lessons and reading her bedtime stories.
Having a boy made him a little more nervous. With his luck any son of his would be his damned clone, and Syaoran knew perfectly well what kind of a son he was: honorable, but a stubborn pain in the ass. (Another thing he could never admit. His brother-in-law would laugh himself sick.)
He and Sakura had been married for three wonderful years before she uttered the words that would change his life forever.
"Syaoran ... I think I'm pregnant," Sakura said as they lay side-by-side in their bed.
His first reaction was one of total joy. Sakura was clearly thrilled herself. It wasn't exactly that they'd been trying but Sakura had gone off the pill a few months before, so it wasn't a total surprise.
The next two days entailed life as usual, but with a lot more excited phone calls to family members and friends. Syaoran walked into the house one evening to witness the tail end of Sakura's conversation with Tomoyo over the phone (she was overseas; her disappointment at not being home for the big announcement was audible for several blocks, Syaoran was convinced). "Obviously we won't know for a few months if it's a boy or a girl, but I can't wait! We've got to go get a baby carrier for the car and a cradle sometime this month. Oh, Tomoyo, as soon as we know the gender you've got to go clothes shopping with me!" She noticed Syaoran standing nearby and winked at him, mouthing 'I love you'.
Syaoran smiled mechanically and nodded, but for some reason, the word 'cradle' had come around the back of his head and hit him like a ton of bricks.
Sakura was pregnant. At the end of this there was a baby. There was going to be someone else as important as Sakura in his life, and there was only nine months until then. And in the meantime, Sakura would be vulnerable and --
His oldest sister had her first kid when Syaoran was fourteen. He'd only been home for part of the pregnancy, and had flown home shortly after the birth to offer his blessing as the patriarchal head of the Li Family. He remembered, suddenly, the morning sickness, and the careful diet, and the weird cravings, and everything else he'd tried to forget but couldn't because his sisters wouldn't shut up about it, and he saw all that happening to Sakura.
"I-I ... I'm going to the library," he told her quietly, kissing her quickly, and he was out the door.
Sakura went out shopping for dinner after she'd hung up with Tomoyo. (She and Syaoran traded off weekly whose responsibility dinner was. Syaoran didn't hate cooking, but it wasn't his passion, and Sakura was competent, and half the time they made dinner together anyway, but tonight she got to pick.) When she got home she found Syaoran sitting on the corner of the couch in the living room, a stack of books next to his elbow. They had titles like Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy, What to Expect When You're Expecting, and The Expectant Father: Facts, Tips and Advice for Dads-to-Be.
"Syaoran?" she asked curiously.
He looked up distractedly. "Hm?"
"You know, Naoko-chan just had a kid, and Risa-chan is expecting too, and I can talk to Mom and Aunt Sonomi about it ... we don't need all those books." Sakura smiled at Syaoran's enthusiasm.
Syaoran considered this for a moment, then turned back to the open book in his hands. "You're pregnant," he said, as if that explained everything.
"Yes, I am." Sakura put down the groceries in her arm and crossed the living room, taking the book out of Syaoran's hands and replacing it with her own fingers. "It's going to be all right," she promised, and kissed him.
Syaoran kissed back, and when she withdrew, he looked a little less ... whatever-it-was. "If you say so," he said, a bit dubious.
"I do. Now, are you going to help your poor, pregnant wife with dinner or are you going to read those books?"
Syaoran smiled. Sakura would find that was increasingly rare in the months to follow.
ii. morning sickness
Syaoran rolled over in bed and threw his arm over Sakura.
Okay, he tried to roll over in bed and throw his arm over Sakura, but where Sakura was supposed to be there was only empty space. He woke up suddenly when his arm hit the bed and sat up in a hurry. "Sakura!?"
"In here." Sakura's voice came from the bathroom, an uncomfortable croak. Syaoran was out of bed and at her side in approximately 0.9 seconds, a new record for expectant fathers the world over.
"What's wrong!? Is it morning sickness!?"
Sakura was hunched over the toilet, which was answer enough, but she nodded anyway. Syaoran rubbed her back awkwardly. There wasn't anything a pregnant woman could take for an upset stomach. He searched for something to say while Sakura took deep, calming breaths. "Er ... the books all say this is normal, and actually a good sign in--"
"I know, Syaoran," Sakura said wearily. She turned her head to smile a little.
Syaoran reddened. "Ah, so does Mother. And my eldest sister," he added on a more personal note.
Sakura turned her head back to the porcelain god. "Mom says so, too." She closed her eyes, her face pale. "Ugh ..." She started to throw up again.
Syaoran would have given anything to take away this apparently perfectly normal part of pregnancy. He'd felt bad for his sister but right now he felt sick himself. Who thought that this should be a painful process anyway!?
Sakura finished for the moment, panting for breath. "Can I get you anything?" Syaoran asked. "Water? Coffee? Anything?"
"Water," Sakura breathed, and Syaoran was flying to the kitchen for a cup.
When he came back, Sakura was sitting up properly, looking slightly less pale, and the toilet was flushing. "I guess I'm not eating breakfast ..." she said with a smile.
"No, you have to," Syaoran started to protest, but Sakura held up a hand. Syaoran obediently shut up and handed her the glass of water.
"I don't care what the books say," she told him. "If I eat now I'll just throw it all up again." She sipped the water. "Don't worry, Syaoran - really. I'll be fine."
Syaoran sat down face-to-face with her. "I'm going to go take it up with whatever god decided morning sickness should be part of this."
Sakura laughed. "If you find him, give him a good shock for me!" she said cheerfully, and Syaoran felt his worry lessen just a little.
But the waking nausea continued for nearly a month and a half, almost every day. Sakura recalled, as she rested her sweaty head on the toilet and Syaoran fretted, a time many years ago when she had sewn Syaoran a yukata and hurt her fingers so much while doing so that she came to school every day with more bandages on her fingers. Syaoran had nearly had a heart attack by Saturday - and he hadn't even confessed at that point. He probably thought he had a right to fret over her now. Well, he did, but this was getting ridiculous.
"Syaoran, my love," she said gently. "Get some rest. For me," she suggested.
"I know you care," she said. And she did. She knew he meant well. "But if you keep doing this, I'm going to start sleeping at Tomoyo's house, just so at least one of us sleeps through the night."
The threat was effective. Syaoran kept getting her glasses of water - a glass of water was always stationed by the toilet by that point, actually - but he left her (mostly) alone.
She decided it was okay if he wanted to sit outside the door and wait for any cries of distress. Syaoran couldn't help being himself, after all.
iii. a family talk
Touya and Yukito visited about three weeks after Sakura's announcement. Yukito and Sakura hugged and thrilled together about the child while Syaoran and Touya looked on and studiously ignored one another.
"I'm going to treat Sakura-san to lunch," Yukito announced.
"Why don't we all go?" Sakura suggested. Syaoran thought that was a good idea, but Touya suddenly pierced the back of his neck with a glare. Syaoran returned it in good spirit.
"I think To-ya has something to discuss with Syaoran-kun," Yukito explained in a stage whisper. "Let's leave them be, all right?"
"Hoeh?" said Sakura.
"Go ahead," said Syaoran.
"I made To-ya promise not to commit fratricide," Yukito said cheerfully.
"Yuki," Touya said flatly.
"Anyway, let's go!" And with that Yukito had Sakura out the door and off to the safety of the great outdoors. Syaoran didn't like it - didn't really like leaving Sakura alone anywhere, all considered - but this was Yue, so if anything happened she'd be safe.
"Kid," Touya said flatly, "We can make this talk long and painful or short and sweet. So listen up."
Syaoran leveled his glare more tightly. "I can take anything you dish out," he answered.
"I'm not here to kick your ass. Although I should," Touya said, "Because I can't believe. You. Got my little sister pregnant."
Syaoran felt he had a right to be indignant about that. "Memo to Kinomoto: we've been married for three years. Thank heaven your mother never had a brother like you or you'd never have been born. Wait. Is that a good thing?"
"You little--!" Touya growled, but he visibly restrained himself. Syaoran reflected that Yukito could really make Touya do anything. It would have been a real shame if they killed each other, though. Their child would be fatherless and Sakura would be really angry if Syaoran killed Touya.
"Sorry," he said, because that had been a little harsh.
"Hmph." Without this small aggravation of a child being introduced to the world, they really were better at getting along. "Anyway, I want to make it perfectly clear: if anything happens to my baby sister, if you make her cry, if you make her sniffle, I will come and find you, and no one will ever find your remains."
This conversation was familiar. Syaoran felt himself flushing with the memory of the day before their wedding. "You know I won't," he promised.
"Well, it goes double-fold now that she's gonna have a kid." Touya crossed his arms. "Hear me!?"
"I hear you." Syaoran considered for a moment. "... Look, if I make her cry, I'd deserve anything you dished out. But can you give a little leeway for mood swings? My sister went positively nuts halfway through the whole thing, so ..."
Touya's gaze drifted for a second or two; Syaoran realized he was remembering something. Sakura's brother's memory was extraordinarily good, so he wondered what he was thinking of. "... A little bit." Touya put his forefinger and thumb close together to indicate how much 'a little bit' was.
Syaoran hoped there wasn't any tearful calls to Touya in his future. Sakura was a wonderful, unmatchable amazing person, but pregnancy did funny things to women.
"What did Brother have to talk to Syaoran about?" Sakura asked Yukito over ice cream.
Yukito beamed at her. "Don't worry about it, Sakura. Everything will be fine."
Sakura sighed. "Tell Brother that Syaoran would never hurt me, okay? Please? Syaoran's just as excited as I am."
Yukito nodded obediently. "I'll tell him. But I think talking with Syaoran will still make him feel better."
iv. cerebus's reaction
"WHEN WILL HE BE ABLE TO PLAY VIDEO GAMES WITH ME!?"
"Ahahhaa ... K-K-Kero-chan ..."
v. natal care
Tomoyo returned from France and took Sakura on a wild shopping spree. Sakura and Syaoran were well-off - quite well-off if one considered the wealth in investments Syaoran's family had in Hong Kong - but Daidouji Toys made the Li family fortune look like tiddlywinks. She proudly set out to purchase as much baby stuff as Sakura would allow, which meant the cradle, car seat, bouncy chairs, bibs, baby bottles, and toys up through the age of five were all attempted buys. Sakura put her foot down after the cradle and car seat, thanking Tomoyo but she'd be buying the rest, thank you.
Tomoyo said she understood. Then she started showing off all the baby clothes she was designing.
"See, I have ones for a girl, and for a boy, and gender-neutral," she explained. "I can start on the gender-neutral ones right away, but you have to tell me the moment you know." Tomoyo got stars in her eyes. "It would be just wonderful if you had a little girl! She'd be just like Sakura-chan, adorable and perfect in every way!"
"Hoeeeeeh ..." Sakura said eloquently.
"Why is Sakura saying 'hoeh'!?" Syaoran shouted from the other room, sounding entirely too irritated.
"It's okay, Syaoran-kun!" Tomoyo called, and laughed her high-pitched laugh. "Oh-hohohoho!"
"I don't believe you! I'm coming!"
"Hoeeeh," Sakura said again.
"You should go on maternity leave," Syaoran suggested one day as they sat on the couch. Syaoran was rubbing her feet. It wasn't really necessary, but Sakura wasn't about to complain; Syaoran's hands felt wonderful.
"It's a lot too early for that," Sakura protested, sighing her ecstasy. "Besides, I like being a teacher's aide and modeling both - I won't have to stop modeling until I start to show." Her breasts were starting to show, of all things - she had gone up half a cup size. Soon she would be showing, but maternity leave was for when she was about to be due.
"I think you should stay here and rest," Syaoran protested. "You shouldn't work too hard."
"I don't," Sakura said without much force. She closed her eyes. She was kind of tired ...
"Are you tired?" Syaoran asked abruptly. "You ate properly today, didn't you? You took your vitamin pills? You've got to make sure you get your vitamins right now." His voice was panicked. There had been a lot of that in the last three months.
Sakura laughed. "Yes, Syaoran," she said patiently. "I'm just tired. It's late!" It was - it was getting on towards eleven o'clock.
"Oh." Syaoran clearly hadn't accounted for this; he looked a little startled. "Hm. Well, bedtime it is." He put her foot down with the greatest of care, then picked her up off the couch princess-style. "I'll carry you there."
Sakura couldn't help a yelp of surprise. She wrapped her arms around Syaoran's neck. "You don't have to," she laughed.
Syaoran's face was perfectly straight. "Yes, I do. You don't have to walk anywhere in this house ever again, between now and when you give birth. You just tell me."
Sakura considered this with a finger on her lips. "Mm, I'll take you up on that - five months from now, when I actually need it," she teased. "You just like carrying me."
"Well - that too," Syaoran admitted, carrying her towards the stairs.
Sakura laughed again, leaned up, and kissed him, and if both were perfectly honest, she didn't get to rest until some time later.
vi. they find out the gender
Syaoran gripped Sakura's hand tightly as she lay on the doctor's table. She'd flinched at the cold gel they'd put on her still mostly-flat stomach and Syaoran had wanted to take the doctor's hand off.
He was feeling like that a lot lately. It was mostly just protectiveness. Part of it was probably lack of sleep. He wouldn't admit to either.
The doctor pressed the ultrasound machine to Sakura's stomach. It made a funny whirring noise. "Everything looks good ... very normal. Your blood pressure is good, your iron levels are a little low - but not out of normal range," the doctor added hastily at the look the husband gave her. "The baby is developing at a normal rate - see, here, you can see the head." He indicated where on the ultrasound screen.
Sakura cocked her head. "I can kind of see it," she admitted. The ultrasound was a little hard to make sense of for the inexperienced eye.
The doctor smiled. "Actually, the angle is pretty much perfect for telling the gender. Would you like me to tell you?"
Sakura looked at Syaoran; Syaoran nodded and squeezed her hand. "Yes," she said enthusiastically.
The doctor beamed. "Well, then, you'll be proud to know you're having a lovely baby--"
vii. picking a name
Syaoran was rubbing her feet again. Sakura wasn't entirely certain why, but having her feet rubbed felt a lot better now than it had even a few months ago. It wasn't like she'd gained much weight yet - how was it that her feet hurt so much? And how did Syaoran know?
He had her propped on a mountain of pillows on their shared bed and she was enjoying a cup of tea. Sakura couldn't remember asking for any of this.
"How about Akira?" Syaoran asked.
Sakura considered it. "Mm, no ..."
Syaoran shrugged. He flipped to another page of the baby names book he'd picked up at the library. He smiled at whatever he read there. "What about Botan?"
Sakura laughed. The name meant 'Peony', which was Syaoran's favorite flower. (He claimed it was cherry blossoms, but Sakura blushed and accused him of making horrible puns.) "Would you really want that? Here, let me see it." She grabbed the book off the bed and flipped to a random page. "Hiromasa," she read, and showed Syaoran the kanji: broad-minded.
"With my luck," Syaoran grumbled, "he'll be just the opposite. Try another one."
"Isamu?" Sakura suggested. "Rock?"
"That might be a little better," Syaoran admitted.
Sakura flipped to the back of the book and giggled. "We could name him Tsubasa."
"Li Tsubasa. Um ... that isn't a girl's name?"
"It could be," Sakura grinned. "If the doctor is wrong, we could keep the name."
Syaoran switched feet. "You could dream about the future tonight and tell us what we name our kid," he suggested.
"But picking out a name is more fun," Sakura protested. "Oh, we could name him Ookamiko."
Syaoran's eyebrows shot to the top of his forehead. "I hope you're joking."
Sakura sipped her tea. "What, you don't want to name your son after yourself?"
"If we do that, we might as well just name him Xiao Lang," Syaoran suggested, rolling his own name into its proper Cantonese pronunciation.
"Why not?" Sakura asked.
Syaoran met her eyes. "Why?" he countered.
"Because you know our son will be just like you," she said warmly.
Syaoran groaned aloud. "That's what I'm afraid of," he groaned theatrically, and Sakura laughed.
viii. first kicks
Sakura wanted to paint the baby room green. Syaoran had no objections to green. She wasn't precisely irritable, but Syaoran was loathe to deny her anything at this point, due to two things: (1)she was Sakura, which already made Syaoran perfectly willing to stop the sun in its tracks if it would make her happy, and (2)she was pregnant, and Syaoran would never forget the day his eldest sister went utterly ballistic because Syaoran had forgotten to put down the toilet seat after using the bathroom and threatened to castrate him should the opportunity arise. Since Syaoran's eldest sister was generally the most level-headed of his four siblings, the incident had kind of stuck with him. She had apologized later, but Syaoran bore in mind that if it could happen to his sister, it could happen to anyone, even Sakura.
Syaoran liked green, anyway. So they went and picked a shade, or rather, Syaoran put in one suggestion and then let Sakura choose a shade, and she was extraordinarily picky about it, which told Syaoran It was Starting. She was beginning to show a lot, she'd put on pounds - Syaoran was positive she was more beautiful than ever before. But she was also liable to turn into a mother bear at any point.
At least the morning sickness had stopped.
So now Syaoran was painting the baby's room. Sakura had wanted to help but Syaoran made her lay down and rest, after making sure she was as comfortable as humanly possible and promising a foot rub after he was done. Sakura clearly enjoyed them right now. Syaoran's sister had always been rubbing her own feet whenever she sat down, so something about pregnancy made them hurt.
"Oh!" said Sakura suddenly.
Syaoran dropped the paintbrush in the paint bucket, splattering speckles of green on his pants, and ran down the stairs. "Sakura!?" Sakura beamed at him. False alarm. He waited expectantly.
"The baby kicked!" Sakura said, clearly delighted.
Syaoran's eyes widened. "Really?" He came to her side, sitting next to her on the couch. "Can I feel?"
Sakura grasped his wrist gently and pressed his hand to her upper stomach. "It was right about here ... ah!"
Syaoran felt it. It was a little soft thud in the center of his palm, but he felt it. He beamed back at Sakura. "He really did!" It felt like, for the first time, Syaoran could really imagine that it was their son growing there. And abruptly, he felt strong emotions rise in his throat.
He turned red with embarrassment.
"Syaoran?" Sakura asked softly.
"I-I'm going to go finish painting," he stammered.
"Oh, Syaoran," Sakura said with a smiling sigh, and she kissed him. "I'm excited, too."
ix. weird cravings
Syaoran would die before he admitted aloud that he was sleeping only a few hours a night. Practically every time Sakura shifted he was awake. As the due date drew closer it became harder and harder to relax into their bed every night.
From everything he had read, they had dodged a lot of bullets; Sakura could have miscarried, she could have developed any number of horrible pregnancy-related conditions, she could have become weak like her mother had ... but so far, everything had gone so smoothly that part of Syaoran was waiting for the other shoe to drop.
It was probably for the best, then, when Sakura woke up abruptly one night. "Syaoran," she said sleepily, "I kind of want ice cream and broccoli."
Syaoran blinked at her.
"Isn't that weird?" she asked, rubbing her eye. "But I really want it. Like ... I need it right now ..." She started to sit up.
"Don't get up! I'll get it for you." Syaoran hastened to his feet. "Will chocolate ice cream be okay?" He was pretty sure they had frozen broccoli.
"That sounds perfect." Sakura sighed and settled back on the pillows. "Thank you, love."
"Anything," Syaoran promised, leaning over to kiss her. Then he went downstairs to the kitchen. Much to his relief, there was frozen broccoli in the freezer after all. Six minutes, one scoop of ice cream, and two spoons later, he was on his way back upstairs to Sakura with the requested chocolate ice cream and cooked vegetables (okay, microwaved vegetables). "Is this okay?" he asked as he came back into the room. Maybe Sakura wanted raw broccoli. Syaoran didn't think they had any and there wouldn't be any place with raw broccoli open at - he checked the bedroom clock - 2:23 AM.
But Sakura was fast asleep, her breathing even. Syaoran blinked, then smiled at her sleeping face. She was so beautiful.
He ate the ice cream himself. It would have been a shame to let that much chocolate go to waste.
"Syaoran ..." Sakura said several nights later, shaking him gently. "Will you go to the convenience store with me? I want beef jerky really badly."
Syaoran blinked awake from a rare hour of sleep. "Hm?" he mumbled. "Uh ... beef jerky ... okay ..." he fumbled for the edge of the bed. "'re not gonna fall asleep 'fore I come back with it, right ...?"
"Hoeh? Syaoran, you're speaking in Cantonese again. Here, let me get my shoes. I'll drive, okay? I'm sorry I woke you up, but I'd like it if you came with me."
"Nah, 'm up, 'm up," Syaoran groaned, concentrating on speaking Japanese this time. He rubbed his eyes and sat up. "Where are we going again?"
Sakura laughed quietly. "Never mind, Syaoran. I'll be right back."
"No, what was it? Sakura--? Wait!"
x. mood swings
Thursday was movie night. Unless Syaoran had to be in Hong Kong or Sakura had a night modeling job, the two of them would sit down and watch a movie together, and they took turns picking the movie. Syaoran tended towards Kung Fu Action flicks and Sakura alternated between stories of intrigue and chick flicks, but mostly it was an excuse for Syaoran to rest Sakura's head in his lap and stroke her hair, or have popcorn fights (the Stuffed Animal usually started it). Tonight they were watching Ever After, and halfway through the movie Sakura suddenly burst into tears.
Syaoran would have jumped a mile high if Sakura's head wasn't in his lap. "What!? What is it!? Does something hurt!?"
"N-no, nothing like that ..." Sakura wiped her eyes. "I just ... I was thinking about how the movie ends and I just suddenly wanted to cry ..." she sniffled.
Syaoran reached for the tissues on the coffee table. "But the movie has a happy ending," he protested.
"Yes, I know! It's so lovely," she sniffled. "Thank you." She took a tissue and blew her nose. "I don't know why I'm crying, it's just ... it made me so happy that everything ends up all right that I wanted to cry."
"Mood swings," Syaoran told her.
"Hmm?" Sakura blinked up at him. "Oh ... do you think so?"
"I know so," Syaoran said smartly.
"I've felt okay up until now, though ..."
"It's normal," Syaoran said. "All the b--"
"Books say so," Sakura finished with him. "Honestly, Syaoran." She rolled her eyes.
"What? They've been right so far!" Syaoran protested.
"Hmph. Who knew you were such a bookworm," she mocked good-naturedly.
"I learned to read on Clow Reed's diary," Syaoran told her.
Sakura blinked. "For real?"
"Wasn't that hard?"
Syaoran shrugged, turning his gaze towards the screen again. "Oh, it's the best fight scene."
Sakura offered a watery giggle in his lap. Syaoran chose to pretend she was laughing at something other than himself.
xi. baby clothes
Syaoran came home to no less than fifteen bags on the kitchen counters. "What the ...?"
Tomoyo came bursting into the room, Syaoran's only warning her high laughter. "Oh-hoho! You'll be all right for clothes until little Syaoran is three years old!"
Sakura came in behind Tomoyo, red-faced and moving slowly. Syaoran stared at her. "T-Tomoyo-chan, if you keep buying everything what are people going to get for the baby shower ...?" She turned pleading eyes to Syaoran. "I'm sorry, Syaoran, we just went out and we got carried away ..."
Syaoran peered into one bag. It was filled entirely with socks, some of them little bigger than his thumb. "... You didn't carry any of these, did you? Daidouji, you made the bodyguards carry everything, right?"
"Syaoran," Sakura said in exasperation.
"What?" Syaoran demanded.
"Never mind," Sakura decided.
"Don't worry, Sakura-chan was treated just like the princess she is," Tomoyo promised.
"Good," Syaoran said. He ignored the wink Tomoyo sent his way.
xii. baby names, part two
"So when did we decide on the name Syaoran?" Syaoran asked. He had been on the phone with his mother for the better part of an hour that day, chattering in Cantonese; even if Sakura hadn't heard the conversation, she would have known by the way his shoulders were set. Syaoran was the family head but he respected his mother very much.
"We didn't," Sakura admitted. Syaoran was rubbing her shoulders. It was her lower back that hurt the most, but bending over enough for Syaoran to get easily at the places that needed attention was getting difficult. She was determined to return the favor, if Syaoran would sit still long enough to let her. "But I don't know what else to call him right now."
Syaoran was quiet for a little while. "It's fine," he said at length. "At least, as a name to use."
Sakura blinked. "Hoeh?"
"Mother had a premonition," Syaoran said. "It wasn't much, but she wanted to know if we'd picked a secret name out yet."
Sakura twisted to look at Syaoran. "A secret name?"
"For when a baby needs protection," Syaoran said, solemn. "Because names are powerful things. You know that - you have to call the Cards by name to invoke them, and to seal them, too. Hiiragizawa put a spell on me once just by using my name. So some children are given a fake name and a secret true name, to protect them."
Sakura could have had a dream about the future at any time. She had purposely fought to not do so, so the dreams hadn't come - she didn't want to be afraid or expectant, so she avoided looking into the future. But now, she wished she had, at least a little. "Does our baby need protecting?" she asked in a tiny voice.
"I don't know. But it can't hurt," Syaoran said. He squeezed her shoulders reassuringly. "We have to pick a really good one, though."
"So it can't be Ookamiko?" Sakura asked.
Syaoran snorted. Sakura correctly interpreted it as a laugh.
"How about I try to divine a name," Sakura suggested, "with the Cards. We haven't played for a while, and I think they would like the exercise anyway. And don't you dare say I can't use magic right now because I'll hit you over the head with your own sword," Sakura threatened.
Syaoran's teeth clicked back together. "... I think divining the name would be good," he agreed.
"We'll do it together, then," Sakura said.
They did it at midnight, when Sakura's signs in the stars were at their zenith, and wrote the name on a scroll with a Chinese brush. Syaoran sealed it and they put it away, and from then on, they called their unborn son 'Syaoran'.
xiii. baby shower
Sakura was the sort of lucky person that got two baby showers. One was for the usual sort of people - Tomoyo's mother, her old classmates that were still her best friends, and coworkers that wanted to give her and the baby gifts.
The second baby shower was for guests of a closer nature.
Syaoran tended to conveniently forget how insane things were when everyone was put in one room. He liked to forget because even though everyone loved Sakura, Syaoran was far less tolerant and so gained a lot more people than usual to glare at or be awkward around.
Hiiragizawa had flown back from England with Mizuki-sensei in tow. He'd accelerated his aging so he matched Mizuki's age better, which made him look even more like the portrait of Clow Reed that hung in the Li family's house. Fujitaka got along well with everyone and was perfectly willing to play caterer for a largely magical party, luckily. Spinel Sun and Cerebus were at war over the takoyaki supply- and Ruby Moon was cheerfully harassing Yukito; Touya was taking turns glaring at Ruby Moon and Syaoran. Syaoran glared back and watched Tomoyo, Sakura, and Eriol make small talk (Tomoyo was taping the whole proceedings, which made Sakura blush a lot. Syaoran thought he ought to object but Sakura was cute when she was harmlessly embarrassed). Mizuki-sensei eventually grabbed Touya's attention. Syaoran had the feeling that Yue was on the verge of making an appearance. And Sakura's mother was somewhere in the room as well, because Sakura kept talking to what looked like thin air to Syaoran. He could sense an unusual aura, but with very nearly everything in the old Kinomoto house being magical at the moment, he was a little overwhelmed.
He retreated to the kitchen at length, leaving him (somewhat) alone with Fujitaka.
"Ah, Syaoran-kun. How are you holding up?" Fujitaka asked as soon as Syaoran stepped into the room.
Syaoran considered this seriously. After all, this was his father-in-law. "I'm all right," he decided. He made an admission. "Nervous."
Fujitaka smiled over his shoulder at him. "I know exactly how you feel. Nadeshiko was already suffering from health problems when Touya was born, and I was so worried for her, and for our son. I barely slept for weeks before and then, with the child, it was impossible to sleep much afterwards." He laughed a little. "Don't worry so much. For Sakura, everything will surely be okay."
Syaoran dropped his chin to hide a tiny smile at Sakura's invincible spell. "... Thank you," he said quietly.
"Every father needs encouraging words now and then," Fujitaka said.
If he had anything else to say, it was drowned out by Kero and Suppi flying into the kitchen at top speed. "TAKOYAKIII!"
Yukito drew Sakura aside. "Sakura-san," he said softly, "Can I speak with you for a moment? Actually, it's not really me, it's the other me ..."
Sakura blinked and nodded. Yue hardly ever came out for anything that wasn't a magical crisis, so she rarely saw him these days.
Wings sprang from Yukito's back and enveloped him, and a moment later it was Yue standing in front of her. "Mistress," he said quietly.
Sakura beamed at him. "Yes, Yue-san?" she asked gently.
"I just ... wanted to know ... when your son is born, may I meet him?" Yue wouldn't meet her eyes.
"Of course you can! Why wouldn't you be able to?" Sakura exclaimed, slightly distressed that Yue felt he needed permission. "Yue-san, I miss you when you're not around a lot. You should visit more often, you know," she chided.
She thought Yue might have blushed. A little. And was that a tiny smile? It disappeared when she blinked. "As you wish," he said.
"Would you like to feel him kick?" Sakura asked, reaching for Yue's hand. "He's already practicing Syaoran's martial arts, from the way it feels." She pressed his hand to her abdomen.
Yue's eyes definitely widened at that, and again when little Syaoran obliged to demonstrate his strong legs. "He ... already ..."
Sakura's smile widened. "I think you'll be very good friends," she promised.
Eriol managed to corner Syaoran near the stairs, much to Syaoran's disgruntlement. "Hello, my cute descendant," Eriol intoned cheerfully. "If I didn't know better, I'd say you were avoiding me."
Syaoran didn't bother to offer even a smile. "That's not too far off," he answered. Having Eriol be significantly older - and, irritatingly, taller - than himself was disorienting. To know that this was, in mind at least, the man whose footsteps he had been expected to follow still made him uneasy. He didn't know how to speak to Hiiragizawa still (casually or formally? It threw him right back to elementary school). And part of him would never forget feeling that Eriol was somehow a rival for Sakura's love.
"Don't be so embarrassed," Hiiragizawa said, as usual cutting straight through the confusion to the heart of the matter. Syaoran blinked. "I'd prefer you to still think of me as your former classmate, not as Clow Reed. I'm not him, not really. Although I will admit it's fun to see you off-balance."
Syaoran glared at him. Eriol laughed. "I only wanted to wish you the best of luck. I suspect you'll need it."
"Don't tell me you've been peeking into the future."
"You wound me. Honestly, I can't do that at will any more. Sakura took that power from me, much to my relief. No, this is just brotherly advice, from one Li family member to another: the boys in your family are somewhere between the ideal children and the most horrible hoodlums on earth."
"I know that already," Syaoran snapped.
"You admit to being a hoodlum?"
"Stop teasing me," Syaoran grumbled.
Eriol smiled. "But it's such fun," he sighed.
"Did you have a good time at the party?" Sakura asked that night, her head cradled against Syaoran's shoulder.
Syaoran considered this. "Yeah," he decided. "... guess we're in the home stretch now." His hand trailed over her stomach.
"Just about," Sakura agreed. "Exciting, don't you think?"
"Sure," Syaoran said, staring at the far wall.
Two months and the rest of our lives to go, he thought.
xiv. maternal leave
Sakura was three weeks from starting maternal leave when the woman showed up. "My name is Eri," she said with a bow. "I'm here as your personal assistant."
"My what?" Sakura asked, distracted by the English papers she was grading for the teacher she worked for.
"Your personal assistant." The woman seemed a bit nonplussed. "I'm supposed to carry your bags for you and drive you around ... surely Li-san told you?"
Sakura looked up and blinked at her. "Hoeh? Really?" At Eri's nod, she sighed and got to her feet with what felt like entirely too much effort. Eri pulled out her chair for her. "Excuse me," she said politely, "I have to call my husband."
"Syaoran! I don't need a personal assistant!"
"Sakura, I just--"
"Really! I can still do everything myself! And I'll be resting starting three weeks from now, so you don't need to--"
"Please." Syaoran's voice turned pleading. "Just put up with it, for me."
"..." Sakura relented. She knew Syaoran wasn't sleeping much any more and he worried too much. "All right," she consented. "But only for you."
"Thank you." Syaoran was quiet for a moment. "... will you let me carry you everywhere now?"
"You're pushing it," Sakura warned. "But I guess I'll allow it. Just for you, mind." Her voice turned teasing.
She could almost hear him blush over the phone.
xv. birthday present
Sakura proudly held up her day's work two weeks from the birth date. "Look, Syaoran," she declared, "I made little Syaoran a personalized blanket!" Indeed, she had successfully sewn together a fleece blanket with 'Syaoran' embroidered into the corner. Sakura's needlework would never be perfect, but it was so exquisite and personal that Syaoran imagined their baby wrapped in that blanket and had to kiss her.
Syaoran thought of the blanket he had just bought at the store - it was much bigger and quite elaborate - and decided that it could be a secret until later.
xvi. and the promised day arrives
There is a law etched into the fabric of the universe, and it reads like this: the baby will come at the most awkward time possible. Sakura, despite her invincible spell, was not immune to this phenomenon. In fact, the baby violated all usual 'first baby' rules and came one week early, on April First - Sakura's birthday.
She experienced her first contractions at four o'clock in the afternoon, guaranteeing that Syaoran would be unable to come to her rescue for at least an hour as he came home from the office.
It was a Catch-22 situation, Sakura reflected as she lay on the couch and tried to breathe slowly. If she called Syaoran, he'd cause twenty accidents trying to get home. If she didn't call and got Tomoyo to take her to the hospital, he'd still cause twenty accidents coming to the hospital. If she didn't call anyone, he'd be somewhere between horrified and livid that she had handled her own labor for over an hour at home.
"Little Syaoran," she groaned, "why now?"
Little Syaoran had nothing to say about that. At least, she reflected, he'd gotten himself oriented the right way again before he got too big. For about a week he'd kicked her in the bladder twice a day.
She wondered what Syaoran would think if she used Fly to take her to the hospital right now. It probably wasn't a good idea.
About half an hour later she decided to call Syaoran after all.
"Hello?" Syaoran said, sounding distracted.
"Syaoran-- It's time," Sakura said.
She heard his gasp. Then, "I'm not going to be home for another twenty minutes!"
"I know. I'll be fine until then," she told him. "My water hasn't broken yet, it could be a false ala--eeek!"
Her water broke. Little Syaoran was coming.
"Never mind," she said weakly.
"Call Tomoyo-san," Syaoran said sharply. "I'll be back in five minutes." And before Sakura could ask, he hung up again.
Well, Tomoyo was the natural next person to call. Sakura redialed. "Tomoyo-cha--"
"It's time, isn't it!?" Tomoyo cried. "I had the feeling! I'm on my way right now!"
Sakura could only "Hoeeeh!" into the phone.
Syaoran pulled the car over at the first turn, found a parking space, then bounded from the car. If anyone had cared to look up that day, they would have seen a young man in a business suit jumping from roof to roof, cursing a blue streak all the way to his home.
The ride to the hospital was probably harder on Syaoran than it was on Sakura. Syaoran was true to his word and got home in five minutes. "I took the direct route," was all he would say. Sakura chose not to ask about the car. Tomoyo arrived a few minutes later, prepared with a driver and her camcorder, and they all rode together in the back while Sakura called her brother and father. Syaoran made a phone call home and sounded so strained as he spoke in Cantonese that Sakura was sure his mother knew exactly what was going on the moment he said 'hello'.
The contractions started to hurt in earnest when they were a mile from the hospital. Syaoran clutched her hand, white as a sheet. Sakura knew she was sweating and tried not to shout when her muscles contracted without her command. "I'm sorry," he apologized when her face cleared.
Sakura laughed weakly. "You'd better be," she said, and Syaoran had the gall to actually look stricken, swallowing hard. Sakura reached up with her free hand and touched his face. "I'm only joking. This is exciting," she promised.
"If you say so," Syaoran said, dubious.
Once they were in the hospital, Sakura was rushed to the maternity ward where nurses fussed over her and she was asked if she wanted an epidural injection, but the contractions were coming faster now and she was having a hard time concentrating.
A doctor came in, a male one. Sakura looked up with relief but Syaoran immediately objected. "A woman doctor!" he demanded.
"It's okay, Syaoran," she panted. "I really don't mind." But she was grateful Syaoran was thinking of her modesty. She didn't think she could have any for something like this, though.
"... All right ..." he agreed, reluctant, and the doctor gave him a wary look before checking under her gown.
"I'm afraid the baby is coming a little too fast for drugs," he said. "He's determined to be born today, this one!"
"You can't give her anything!?" Syaoran shouted.
The doctor startled. "I'm sorry, she's dilating very quickly. We'd best proceed without delay."
"It's all right," Sakura told him, and squeezed his hand. Then she started to crush it as a particularly strong contraction started, and she couldn't help a groan of pain.
Syaoran was very white when she looked up.
"Syaoran?" she asked quietly, and that was when her dear, loving husband slumped to the ground and fainted.
Syaoran woke up to a male voice saying "Push! Push!" and Sakura crying out with effort.
"You're doing fine!" said a nurse.
"Aaaugh!" Sakura cried, and panted for breath.
"He's crowning!" said the doctor.
Syaoran almost blacked out again, but luckily, Tomoyo was there. She patted his cheek. "Syaoran-kun," she said patiently, "you've got to be awake for the best part!"
"The best part, she says," Syaoran groaned. He struggled to sit up. Tomoyo was doing an admirable job of both supporting his back and filming the whole thing at the same time, and Syaoran turned to look at Sakura who was sweating and gasping and trying to smile.
"Push!" the doctor ordered, and Sakura cried out again, half-sitting up. Syaoran practically leapt from his bed to grab her hand again, and she crushed the feeling from his fingers.
He wasn't going to leave Sakura to do this alone.
The next five minutes were the longest of his life. Syaoran would later claim (truthfully) that he couldn't remember any of it. The next thing he would be able to recall was when scissors were pushed into his hand. "Do the honors?" the doctor asked, and Syaoran, dazed, cut the umbilical cord even as the nurses cleaned the protective mucus from his son's nose and mouth.
Little Syaoran immediately burst into the wail of a healthy newborn child.
He wasn't all that cute, truth be told, but at that moment, Syaoran didn't think he'd seen a baby more beautiful. The nurse wrapped him in a blue cloth and put him in Syaoran's arms. Tomoyo was over his shoulder filming, and Sakura gasped, "Let me see him! Syaoran, bring him over here!"
Syaoran sat heavily in the chair next to Sakura and leaned over her, looking between his wailing son and his tired wife, and he nearly burst into tears. Thankfully for his dignity and posterity, he refrained.
"He's perfect," he said, and carefully rested the baby in Sakura's arms.
Sakura cried for them both, rocking Little Syaoran gently and whispering one of her nonsense songs that she sang when she cooked and cleaned and did little chores, and slowly the baby began to calm. "This is the best birthday present I could have asked for," she said, looking at Syaoran with so much love in her eyes that he couldn't even react.
"Sakura-chan! You're so cute I think I'm going to faint!" Tomoyo cried.
"That's Syaoran's job," Sakura said tiredly, and gave a watery laugh.
xvii. heir to the throne
Not that Syaoran gave it much thought at the time, but their son was the inheritor of a magical legacy. He was a son of the extremely powerful Li family and the Mistress of the Sakura Cards, and the grandson of half of Clow Reed's reincarnation. Inevitably, there were yet more gifts to be given.
Syaoran already knew that his jian sword would go to his son as soon as he was old enough. What he did not expect was the present that came from his mother.
The matriarch of the Li family arrived in Japan the day after Little Syaoran was born. Sakura was still sleeping much of the time. Syaoran was resting by her bed, stroking their baby's cheek, when she swept into the room.
Syaoran shot to his feet in reflex reaction. "Mother," he said respectfully.
"Xiao Lang," his mother said with a nod and a tiny smile. Syaoran offered her the spare seat, but when she declined, he remained standing as well. "Your sisters are here. It seems the Card Mistress' brother is no more keen on them than when he first met them," she said.
Syaoran imagined his sisters swarming in the adjacent room, annoying Touya, and decided to just be thankful that his mother hadn't allowed them into the room.
"I'll speak to your wife later," she said, "but for now, it is customary that the matriarch give a gift to the firstborn son." She held out her hand; Syaoran lifted his own, and his mother put a brooch into his palm. "When you pass on your sword, give him also this brooch, with his true name etched into the jewel. Then he and his sword will never be separated."
Syaoran looked at the little golden brooch; he could feel its magic. He closed his hand around it and bowed. "Thank you, Mother."
She smiled again. "I believe your sisters have a personalized bib for little Xiao Lang," she informed him.
Syaoran blanched. "Of course."
"We will return home before they can insist on a shopping trip."
"Thank you," Syaoran said with relish.
"That is my present to you, my son. Make sure you sleep while you can."
Syaoran took that, rightly, as a warning.
Sakura and Syaoran came home a day later. Little Syaoran slept peacefully through the ride; Sakura was still very tired and she was under orders to confine herself to one floor of the house for at least a two days to let her body recover. She held little Syaoran close as they came in the front door.
On the foyer table was a bouquet of out-of-season flowers. Beside it rested a teddy bear that looked remarkably like Kero-chan; around its neck was a pendant made of fine silver with a set emerald that seemed to almost glow with its own light. An envelope rested under the teddy bear's stubby leg.
Syaoran picked it up, and with a nod from Sakura, opened it. "Dear Sakura-san," he read, "This is from the Cards, Cerebus, and Yue, although the other me won't admit to anything. They worked together to create the pendant - my other self says it's for protection, when he's older - and the teddy bear was Kero's idea. I picked it out, though. We hope little Syaoran likes them! Sincerely, Yukito." Syaoran folded up the letter and picked up the bear. "... He'll match well with 'Sakura' and 'Syaoran'," he remarked, referring to the bears still resting on the nightstand in their room.
Sakura was a little teary-eyed. "I have to go thank the Cards," she said, "And introduce them."
Syaoran offered her an arm. "Let me help you up the stairs," he said gently.
xviii. reliving the experience
"And this is the part when Syaoran fainted!" Tomoyo explained cheerfully to her rapt audience.
Kero-chan burst into uncontrollable laughter, as did Touya. Syaoran glared at them both.
"Don't worry, I did the same thing when Touya was born," Fujitaka told Syaoran sincerely.
"It was kind of cute," Sakura reassured him.
xviv. end of the beginning
Syaoran laid little Syaoran into his crib; Sakura gently tapped a Card, and Glow sprang from it, decorating the room with little gentle lights to keep him company.
"It was worth it, wasn't it, Syaoran?" Sakura whispered, wrapping her arm around Syaoran. Syaoran returned the gesture, squeezing Sakura gently.
"Are you kidding?" he murmured. "This is only the beginning." When he thought about how much was ahead of them - four hours of sleep at a time, the terrible twos, the first day of school - it was all overwhelming.
Sakura rested her head on his shoulder. "Everything will surely be all right. One day at a time, okay?"
Syaoran closed his eyes and exhaled. He felt as though he'd been holding that breath for nine whole months. When he opened his eyes he looked at Sakura. "You know," he said quietly, "I'm happy." He bent down to kiss her.
They kissed for a long time.
"I love you, Sakura," Syaoran added when they pulled back.
"I love you, too, Syaoran," Sakura breathed.
"And yeah," Syaoran admitted, "it was worth it."
Sakura giggled. "Then let's have another."
Syaoran stiffened for a moment, then growled, "Only if you can promise me a girl."
Sakura smiled against his lips. "I'll let you know," she promised.
And they lived happily ever after, Syaoran hoped as he picked up his wife and carried her (laughing and beaming at him) to their bed.
PWEW THAT WAS LONG. At least it's done. Yay!
Fun Fact: there are nineteen parts to this story - the same as the number of cards in Sakura's deck in the manga. Whee!
Acknowledgements: This entire fic is totally the fault of Tiffany, who called me yesterday and said Syaoran would be hilarious while Sakura was pregnant. That pretty much forced me to write this fic. The format and aspects of the outline are thanks to Suppi-chan's 'Gonna Get Married!'.
Spoilers and other notes: Little Syaoran has a hidden name, since I'm presuming this is the kid that grows up to be the star of Tsubasa. Hence, of course, the joke about naming little Syaoran 'Tsubasa'. ;; I couldn't think of a good hidden name so you don't get to know what it is either. ; Finally, 'Ookamiko' translates to 'Little Wolf' - the same meaning as Xiao Lang/Syaoran. That's why Sakura thinks it would be hilarious.
Thanks for reading!