Shadow: Here's for the first forays into the weird and wonderful fandom that is Tsubasa/CLAMP - is it just me, or are those evil ladies making it incredibly hard to categorise their work now? Everything overlaps in such whirly-swirly ways the fans' heads are going to fall off out of sheer dizziness.
As for this - Hansel and Gretel meets East of the Sun and West of the Moon meets Snow White, with a strong siding of Rapunzel and Little Red Riding Hood, and the occasional dash of Cinderella. And others. Probably. (Tsubasa fits too well to fairytales.)
Full Summary: 'Fairytale' is a very trying place. Children get abandoned; loves fall under evil spells, and various members of royal families get abducted on an almost regular basis. Even with a witch on-hand all ills can't simply be wished away – but then, if it's really the 'happy ever after' you're looking for, it's quite obligatory to start with 'once upon a time…' AU, with heavy reference to canon.
Pairings: KuroFai, AshFai, SyaoSaku and DoumWataHima(ish?) Basically, anything implied (or outright stated in recent chapters of the manga with some pairings) in CLAMP canon that my mind stumbles across.
Warnings: As you can perhaps tell from the pairings above, there's shonen-ai, boy x boy. If you don't like it, and read it anyway, please don't waste your time complaining. There will also probably be spoilers for the latest chapters of XxxHolic and Tsubasa at various points, or just advanced chapters that you should really know about anyway. (It seems hard to believe the clones were a secret at some point.) ...Also - magic, violence, woe, and the potential of bloody mayhem in the future. Just so you know. ^^
Important Note: (Sorry, this is the last thing, and then I'm done.) I've swapped around the names of the twins: Fai, in this, is the Yuui-of-Valeria, Fai-of-Celes and the Fai who treks from world to world with the rest of the (Scooby) gang. Yuui, therefore, is Fai-of-Valeria, the twin who, in canon, died. Now that's clear...
Chapter I: The Sleeping Beauty
Once upon a time, a very long, long time ago, there was a kingdom called Valeria, which was constantly covered in ice and snow. Although a rather cold place to live it was also incredibly beautiful, its citizens happy as the land itself was prosperous and at peace.
The King of Valeria was childless. His wife, the Queen, had died when she was still a young woman, and the King had sought no other to replace her after her passing. The King was forever sad about her death, but did not mind so much being without child. He had an heir – the Crown Prince, his little brother, whose own young wife was heavy with child, flush with the life growing within her. The kingdom looked forward to the birth of her baby, the Crown Prince's baby, the child that would one day wear Valeria's Crown.
The princess gave birth to twins. They were beautiful: twin boys, with hair that would grow as golden as the sunshine, eyes as blue as the never-ending summer sky. They were magical – the bright spark of magic in their small hands when their parents touched their tiny fingertips -, stronger than their parents, innately stronger than nearly everyone. Porcelain white, talented, vivacious, perfect.
But they were twins.
It was a well-accepted fact twins were bad luck, in this the land that thrived on magic and superstition. Two lives where there should be one, displacing the natural order with mirrored chaos. When twins were born in Valeria, they were immediately left out in the frozen wastes beyond the cities to die - that was the way things were done. When the twins were dead, natural order could be realigned, and life could continue.
The Crown Prince and his wife didn't put their children out to die. As the midwives gathered around the princess' labour-bed gasped in horror, in revulsion, the Crown Prince clutched his two boys to his chest, wiping them clean when the attending nurses refused to come near. He watched over the children as his wife slept, recovering from the birth, keeping them safe from the wary, scowling eyes of the rest of the palace, of the rest of Valeria. He defended them before his brother, the King, and pleaded for the twins' lives to be spared. They were children, innocent of the ridiculous stigma attached to them. They were royalty; it would be a sin to let them die.
The King, convinced by the desperation in his brother's blue eyes, frowned down at the two tiny lives draped in the robes of Valeria's royalty. His heirs, his blood, swallowed up by the cloth and world they were smothered in. "What have you named them?"
"Fai," the Crown Prince replied, motioning a hand to the nursemaid who reluctantly carried the eldest child, "and Yuui." He gestured to the remaining boy, cradled by another maid.
The King looked imperiously down upon the babies, on the children of misfortune, ready to condemn them. And then his brother looked at him, pleading, and the King's resolve died.
"…They are your sons." Hope flared on the face of the Crown Prince, disbelieving and elated all at once. "Do with them as you will."
The Crown Prince kept them, living, breathing, and wonderful, and raised them. His wife stood by his decision, doubtful as she was of it, stony-faced when Valeria glared her small family down and said she'd brought nothing but bad luck to the kingdom, she'd spawned the misfortune of them all.
Yuui and Fai were…just children. Little boys, tiny bundles of life, barely a fortnight old. Yes, they were twins, but they were angels when they slept, precious gifts from above. They were innocent.
The Crown Prince contracted a strange disease and died before his children saw through a year, and half the country died with him as the sickness ravaged the populace. The royal twins were blamed of course, the survivors wishing to drag the babies from their cots and leave them in the barren wild, but their mother protected them, and appealed for the King's aid. The King aided her. The children lived.
The cattle became ill, drinking from streams infected by the human dead. Most of them died, and the food supplies plummeted. Hunger set into the country. The royal twins were blamed, the famine-struck citizens wishing to have the babies abandoned in the wild. Their mother protected them, appealing for the King's protection. The King once more aided his brother's widow, and the children lived.
Slowly, carefully, Fai and Yuui grew up in a country that hated them. They were three when famine hit Valeria again; six when the sickness that killed their father returned; eight when the river that fed the main cities of the country inexplicably froze over; ten when their mother, tired of everything, committed suicide. Everything was their fault, their problem. Everything was because the Twins of Misfortune were alive, and protected by the Royal House.
Without their mother to appeal for them, the twins were at the mercy of the King, who was faced by the hordes of his angry people. Old, sick, and weary of such massive loss of life, the King ordered the children to be taken to the furthest reaches of Valeria, to the dense dark wood that bordered the edge of their country. The children were to be left there, to fend for themselves as they would, and hopefully to die.
The twins were not present when the King decided their fates, excluded from the throne room whilst the adults discussed them. Fai, however, had snuck down from the chambers he shared with his brother, leaving Yuui asleep. Fai listened as the King gave the commands, and he cried.
It was done as the King commanded. The twins were plucked from their beds within the night, Yuui still mostly asleep, clutching confusedly onto the form of his blank-faced brother. The children were placed within a black coach, the royal insignia absent, with two guards to accompany them, and a driver to whip on the fastest horses the country could provide. Valeria wanted rid of the twins as soon as possible.
They arrived at the forest by dawn, the guards taking the children deep within the trees in the morning mists, dragging them along. The guards, focused on their mission, looked only ahead. Yuui, tired and confused, focused only on not tripping over his feet. Fai, little Fai, focused on dropping the pearl-white pebbles he'd gathered from the palace gardens before leaving his home, leaving a neat trail of stones behind him his twin and he could follow back out of the forest.
When the guards left them, deep within the misty forest, Fai waited a while. The guards had promised to come back, thinking the twins were stupid children, and Fai had glared after their retreating backs, holding tightly onto Yuui's hand, the younger sibling drowsing against his brother's side. When about an hour had elapsed Fai shook Yuui awake, and the two followed the path of pebbles Fai had made on their way in, winding around the trees to find their way home.
The twins were, however, unlucky. Walking too quickly they stumbled across the guards who had deposited them in the forest to begin with, the two men having stopped in the shade to eat breakfast. Catching sight of the little princes and their 'path' one guard reached out to snatch the boys, dragging them off again, deeper into the forest than before. His partner, staying behind, set about destroying the pebble-trail, the only real way the princes had of getting back out of the wood.
Fai and Yuui were abandoned in the forest on the edge of Valeria, age ten. They were given no provisions; the only thing left with them was the clothes they wore and each other. The last Valerian to see them alive was the guard who left them in the forest, the twins with the sunshine hair swallowed up by the dark trees.
In Valeria the years slowly passed, one by one. The country's woes, rather than improving, declined all the more rapidly after the royal twins were lost, famine, sickness and eventually revolt running rife. The country fell inwards, destroying itself, and soon there was nothing left of Valeria but half-forgotten towers vanishing under the snow.
In the nameless kingdom the years passed, centuries, and the eternal ice and snow began to melt. New life started in the strange kingdom, dark-haired travellers arriving from over the sea beyond the distant mountains, taking a liking to this new land that showed signs of flourishing green. The travellers settled down there, bore families, and they called their new home 'Nihon'.
More time passed – eons, generation after generation. Nihon grew strong, expanding, its people happy and content. The land was fresh with flora, the crops plentiful as each and every year as the rains came, as the sun shone down. On the edge of Nihon the dark forest grew, lush and cool, but those of the kingdom rarely went into it, thinking the place enchanted. It was said spirits lurked in the leafy groves, witches and the fey, and the few brave souls who'd moved amongst the trees had heard laughter echoing back at them, circling around and around.
Nobody remembered Valeria, the ruined kingdom of ice. Nobody remembered the tragedy of the Royal House, and nobody remembered the two little princes, abandoned to the dark forest, lost for such a very, very long time.
The twins were happy with that.
There was dead silence in the forest as Kurogane went through his training exercises, save for the faint inhale and exhale of the man's own breath. Moving slowly through his exercises Kurogane strained not to hear the quiet, concentrating on his own heartbeat, the strong grip he held on his sword, Ginryuu. Although he'd been coming to the forest for a good few months to train he had still to grow completely accustomed to the silence; as a shinobi, personal guard to Tsukoyomi, Tomoyo-hime, he was expected to be in-tune with the natural world. The forest on the edge of Nihon, dark and dense and seemingly endless, was an entity outside of normality, apparently living in and of itself, but devoid of noticeable life. The trees, tall, ancient and stately, seemed eternal, branches whispering archaic secrets overhead.
The people of Nihon said the forest was enchanted, full of mad spirits that would snatch your soul and your sanity and leave you a raving lunatic. Kurogane found the stories laughable but useful – barely anyone ever went to the forest, too afraid of it, and so the shade beneath the trees was a good place to get some undisturbed training done. The castle, Shirasagi, was a noisy place, and so Kurogane escaped it and the city surrounding it once a week to ride to the forest, whiling away half a day with his exercises. He was the strongest shinobi in Nihon already, but that was no excuse to become lax and overconfident.
Evening drew on, the shadows lengthening beneath the trees. Kurogane halted his work for the day, taking a short break and then going to mount his horse, tied to a tree near a small brook not that far away. If he rode quickly he could get back to the castle in time for a late supper before checking in on the princess and going to rest – but, of course, his horse seemed to have other ideas.
Seemingly possessed – as the horse was usually a much more docile, obedient creature -, the horse veered sharply left, away from the path Kurogane knew led straight out of the forest. Yanking at the reins did not deter the beast in the slightest, Kurogane actually forced to duck down on the equine's back – with some quite colourful curses - to avoid being hit by low branches as his mount contrarily picked up speed.
Riding, riding, riding – Kurogane had no idea what had gotten into his horse, and didn't dare to look up to see where he was going. Strong as he was he could still quite easily get concussion if one of the branches hit him full-on in the face, hunkering his large frame down as he muttered a string of colourful insults to his mount's back.
And then the horse stopped. Dead. For no apparent reason.
Kurogane looked up – and froze. "What-?"
Before him, in a clearing amidst the trees, lay a case. Crafted of crystal and silver it caught the light of the setting sun, throwing rainbows upon the thick grass all around. Sliding down from his horse Kurogane approached the case – and frowned, spotting the strange creature - apparently lying fast asleep – within.
He – she – it looked human. Androgynously pretty and young, looking to be in their late teens or early twenties, with pale skin and golden hair that fanned around their head. Kurogane had never seen anyone with hair that shade before; the people of Nihon were dark, and to find this odd person in the middle of the forest with a sunshine mane –
The very logical thing to do would've been for Kurogane to get back up upon his (crazy) horse and get as far away from the clearing as quickly as possible. That was what his shinobi instincts were screaming at him to do, the hairs on the nape of his neck rising at the supernatural feeling lurking around the crystal case. And yet –
"Oi." Kurogane rapped his knuckles on the top of the case, trying to get the attention of the one within. "Idiot, wake up." Enchanted or otherwise, one really shouldn't fall asleep in the middle of the forest, even if it was inside a sparkly case-thing.
The sleeping blond didn't stir.
"Oi." Kurogane smacked his hand down on the crystal-glass, determined to wake up the idiot. "I'm speaking to you!"
The blond slept on.
Kurogane scowled – a fearsome sight -; sliding his hands down the crystal to find some edge he could grip to open the case. Finding one he slid his fingers underneath, muscles straining for a few minutes to lift the heavy lid and fling it back, the roof of the casing smacking into the grass on the other side with a tremendous racket. Nobody could have slept through that.
The blond did, the stranger's chest rising and falling in unfeigned, peaceful sleep. Kurogane frowned, and poked the slumbering youth before him in the stomach, setting a wrinkle in the shirt the sleeper was wearing. There was no response.
This…reeked of magic. Uncomfortable as the light within the forest died, Kurogane swiftly made his decision. He reached down and plucked up the blond stranger, putting the obviously enchanted youth over his shoulder and heading for his horse. Tomoyo-hime was a miko; she could probably do something for whatever was keeping the boy asleep.
Climbing up onto his mount and putting the stranger before him to stop the blond falling off Kurogane set off home, pleased to note his horse seemed to have regained its sanity as it automatically trotted back the way it had came. It was time to be getting back to Nihon, and to Shirasagi.
"Watanuki~!" The sing-song trill happily echoed throughout the little house on the island in the middle of the lake in the middle of the enchanted forest, bouncing from room to room to room –
Or perhaps that was just Mokona, drunk from sake, sparkles swirling in the little black creature's wake as Maru and Moro gave squealing chase.
And the demon behind them all –
"What?" Watanuki Kimihiro burst through into the main parlour of the house, hands on his hips as he glared down at the somewhat drunken form of his personal tormentor.
Yuuko smiled and waved at him, reclining rather lazily on one of her long couches in her usual indecent sprawl. "More sake, Watanuki!"
"Already?" Six empty bottles already littered the room, as well as a stack of empty plates Watanuki knew he'd have to clear up later. Yuuko was a witch in more ways than one – food and alcohol seemed to disappear within moments of being anywhere near her.
"That was the dinner sake!" Yuuko pouted at the scowl her employee shot her way. "Now we need the evening sake!"
"With snacks!" Mokona chose that moment to burst in through the parlour doors, bounding up to bounce on Watanuki's head. "Mokona wants snacks!"
"Snacks, snacks~" Maru and Moro joined hands around Watanuki's person, dancing around the boy in a circle.
"Nikujaga!" Yuuko seemed to have caught onto the theme, clapping her hands together in delight and rising to a more upright position.
Watanuki flailed, the girls spinning around him springing away at the roar with a delighted squeal. "You just ate!"
"Nikujaga~!" Mokona was undaunted, bouncing, bouncing, bouncing on Watanuki's head. The poor boy could feel a headache coming on. Two, in fact. One for each of Mokona's jumping feet.
"Fine!" Watanuki reached up to grab Mokona, firmly setting the little creature down on a nearby table. "I'll go make you nikujaga."
"Yay!" The cheer came from all present, Watanuki turning on his heel in a huff.
Yuuko waved after him. "Watanuki, don't forget the sake~!"
Watanuki stomped his way back down to the kitchen where he'd been originally working, dragging out the ingredients he'd need from the cupboards with entirely more force than was necessary. Yuuko was a demanding mistress, whimsical and strange, and there were many weird and wonderful ingredients lurking in the kitchen's stocks, there to meet whatever demands the demented witch made upon her overworked servant.
…Yuuko was a witch who granted wishes, for a price equivalent to the wish requested. Watanuki, plagued by demons and spirits, had fled his home in Nihon, running after the rumours of the woman who lived on an island in the middle of the enchanted forest. He'd found the island, as Yuuko said did all people who had a wish strong enough, and he'd found Yuuko herself. (Oh, how he wished he hadn't.)
Watanuki had wished to be free of the things that haunted him. Yuuko had agreed to grant him his wish – for a price. Watanuki would work at her house, at her shop, for an indeterminate amount of time, until he'd worked a time equal to the price of his wish. (Yuuko remained stubbornly vague as to when such a time would be.) But Yuuko was a wicked, evil witch –
"Watanuki!" That was Yuuko, calling from the parlour again.
Watanuki stuck his head out of the kitchen door, and yelled back. "The nikujaga isn't ready yet!"
Yuuko ignored the comment. "We have a customer!"
"What?" It was night-time – the shop barely ever had visitors this late. But – there was Maru and Moro, bouncing through the front doors, apparently having had rowed over the lake to fetch their customer as each girl was attached to one hand of one very, very confused-looking boy.
Watanuki stared at the stranger, adjusting his glasses as he took in tousled brown hair and dark, weary brown eyes. He was dressed in a brown cloak – the stranger definitely had a theme going on -, with black boots and gloves.
The stranger stared back at him, taking in the white apron Watanuki wore whilst he was cooking. "Are you…the witch of this island?" He didn't sound very impressed.
"That would be me." Yuuko chose that moment to make her dramatic entrance, pulling back the sliding door leading to the parlour with a dramatic flourish and standing there in her usual form-fitting choice of wear, begging to be ogled. (It was such a pity the effect was night totally wasted on the two human boys currently with her.) "Welcome to my shop!"
The customer started forwards. "I have a wish -"
Yuuko laid a finger on his lips, smiling gently. "In good time. Aren't you exhausted after your long journey? Come, have something to eat and drink."
"But I -"
"An hour or two won't harm her, I promise." Yuuko looped an arm around the brunet's shoulders, pulling the boy into the parlour with her. She was gentle, careful of the tiredness that radiated off the stranger's form. "Watanuki -"
Watanuki winced, meeting the demon-witch's red eyes as the woman looked back over her shoulder.
"Bring some oden for our customer!"
"You said you wanted nikujaga!"
"Oden, oden~!" Maru and Moro ran past, singing as they danced after their mistress.
"Sake~!" Mokona gleefully bounded after them.
Watanuki debated the usefulness of smacking his head off the wall.
Kurogane stood, arms folded across his chest, and glared down Amaterasu, Kendappa-ou, the Empress of Nihon, as she looked down at him from the dais on which stood her throne. He'd dumped his enchanted luggage down in a spare bedchamber not far from his own, sliding off to inform Tomoyo-hime - but informing Tomoyo-hime meant informing Souma, a fellow shinobi, and Souma had slunk off to inform the Empress and….here they all were.
Amaterasu was unimpressed by her sister's guardian's glare. "I have had all manner of strange things brought to my palace over the years, Kurogane. Foreign, exotic creatures carried by ambassadors from faraway places, trainers from this very Nihon presenting me with beautiful native birds and fish. I even remember Souma bringing me a dead frog once, when she was four." Souma flushed cherry-pink, Tomoyo – at her sister's side - smothering a giggle behind one hand as Kendappa continued, "But you, shinobi…only you could bring me a dead boy from the enchanted forest."
"He's not dead." Kurogane scowled at his Empress, ignoring the chiding looks shot his way by Souma for his tone. "He's still breathing."
"Comatose, then." Amaterasu amended. "…Kurogane, I must say I really don't approve of you using physical violence against a fellow human being merely because their hair is a different colour than your own."
"Hey, wait a-!" Kurogane spluttered, sensing the implication in his sovereign's words. "I didn't knock him out!"
"Then who did?"
"How should I know?! It's a little hard to ask someone when they won't wake up!"
"Always so rough, Kurogane-san." That choice comment was from the princess, Tomoyo beaming angelically at her shinobi as she dropped her hand from her mouth. Souma tittered in the background, Amaterasu following suit – women.
Kurogane scowled, and fixed his eyes on the miko. "Can you wake the guy up or not?" There was an odd headache pounding away at his temples – probably a by-product of being surrounded by so many (women) who delighted in making his life a certain kind of hell -, and he felt a little weak – probably from lack of food; he hadn't eaten his supper yet.
"I'll have to examine him before I can tell you." Tomoyo's tone became more serious, his eyes wide and solemn. "But I'll do my best."
"…Thank you." Kurogane bowed his head slightly – the most respect he showed to anyone. He wasn't all too sure why he was all that bothered about the fate of the blond stranger he'd taken from the forest only…that enchanted sleep. It bothered him, much like the all-out thundering in his skull, headache waging war with his patience.
He left the throne room when dismissed, sidling along to the kitchens to grab a few rolls to eat before heading for his chambers. The rolls, although plain, were hard to swallow – Kurogane's throat felt as if it had closed up, his stomach doing turn after nauseous turn in his abdomen. He felt dizzy, sick, stumbling into his room and collapsing on his futon still wearing the black cloak and mask he'd worn for his training that day.
Sleep came to Kurogane quickly – or rather, swift unconsciousness.
It was night over Nihon, and over the forest on the edge of the kingdom. The stars were out and shining, the waxing moon hanging as a sickle over the trees. Silver light shone down on the opened crystal case in the forest clearing, catching the glass and silver and making the area all around glow – magically, beautifully, disrupted.
From the trees on the edge of the clearing a figure stepped – a young man, lanky, blue-eyed, blond. His hair was cut short about his face, his clothes shades of white and blue. He carried some strange flowers in one hand – nothing natural, the flora looked artificial, on closer inspection revealed to be crafted out of glittering ice. (Spun out of magic and wishes and dreams, with heartsorrow and grief for the blooms.) They had been brought - presumably - to lie upon the crystal case as a gift or offering of some sort, but when the visitor caught sight of the thrown-back lid –
The flowers were dropped, snapping as they made impact with the hard ground. Blue eyes – brilliant, brilliant blue – were wide in horror, utterly, utterly aghast, flickering around the clearing as if to look for the form missing from its bed on the silver. Seeing nothing but the moonlit-drenched forest the man turned back on his heel with a cry, and disappeared the way he had come.
The forest fell silent again, impassive.
"Kurogane-san?" Tomoyo tapped on the door leading to her shinobi's chambers. It was late, stupidly so, but Kurogane always woke the moment she called for him – the princess knew that for a fact, having tested it when she was younger, and Kurogane took pride in his ability. "Kurogane, are you there?" Some servants had said this was the way the man had come, so Kurogane should probably be inside. She wanted to tell him about her preliminary examination of the boy from the forest, that strange blond… "Kurogane?"
There was a low whine from inside the room.
Somewhat worried by the noise Tomoyo carefully opened the door, sticking her head around to look inside. If Kurogane were…sleeping or busy she'd go away again, but –
"Oh." The princess' eyes widened, her grip tightening on the doorframe.
The large black wolf wearing Kurogane's mask and cloak looked up at the princess-miko from where it sat on the shinobi's futon, red eyes pitifully mournful. It whined again upon seeing Tomoyo, struggling to get out of the cloth encumbering its four-legged form.
Tomoyo pushed the door open a little wider, and came inside. She addressed the wolf, hesitant but unafraid, sensing no ill-will from the creature. In fact - "Kurogane…?"
The wolf barked once, sharply. And nodded.
"Kurogane-san," Tomoyo knelt beside her shinobi's side, slightly flummoxed as to what could have caused the man's sudden transformation, "just what did you do?"