Title: Lost in Translation
Dedication/Blame: Konnichipuu on DA and her wonderful art spawned this mess ^^ http : / konnichipuu deviantart com/art/Steampunk-Love-197569056 (remove spaces to resolve)
Manga: Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle
Summary: Post-series. In a world where everything runs on geothermally generated steam and technology has evolved accordingly, the group find themselves forced to live up to Mokona's declaration of being a 'family.' Unfortunately, Fai and Kurogane still haven't reconciled where they stand emotionally. Will the assumption that they're married be the kick in the ass they need to move forward?
As the after-images of the previous world faded away, Fai swiveled to take stock of their new location. It was night here, but definitely winter given the chill damp that hung in the air. They'd landed below a brass, y-shaped street lamp decorated in thick scrollwork and covered in a fine patina of rust. Faint light filtered through the clouded globes.
Tall, slender brick houses rose on either side of them. Fai had seen this type of architecture in several previous worlds, but this one lacked the general overlay of soot the others had. Even so, every exposed bit of metal was slightly rusted.
An elegant statue in the middle of the square caught Fai's attention, and he crossed to it. Tubes of metal of varying height rose from the ground. The shortest barely reached his waist, while the tallest was almost twice his height. A deep humming issued from the tallest, and Fai peered into the shorter one.
A hand wrapped his elbow and yanked him back several steps. He could hear the others sprinting to reach him and the new arrival.
"The air coming out of that can melt the skin off your face." She explained. "Could make for a bit of a bad day." A slow tune began to play from the statue, each new note accompanied by a metallic churning beneath the base.
"That's amazing!" Syaoran leaned between Fai and the newcomer. "How does it work?"
She launched into an elaborate description involving drilled gears that turned to allow air to pass through the pipes in a specific order to create the tune.
"Oh, you've done it now. Get her started and she'll never stop." The words were good-natured and earned a long-suffering, over the shoulder eye roll from the woman though her words barely faltered. He shoved a gloved hand in Kurogane's direction. "How do you do? I'm Mika, and that's Sari, since she probably hasn't introduced herself."
"Kurogane." He shook Mika's hand
Mika leaned forward on the handlebars of the bike he was astride. The thing was elegant, clearly a powerful machine given the massive piston between the wheels, but also etched and inlayed in intricate designs. Parts were covered by hammered metal, while other mechanics were left open to the environment, all without making the machine look unfinished.
Fai stepped away from the sculpture, intent on meeting Mika – they needed to find lodging and food, and Sari was clearly too focused on her explanation to be a good source of critical information.
"You look a little lost."
The voice wasn't entirely friendly, but Fai couldn't quite put his finger on what exactly bothered him about the tone. He turned, cloak flaring with the quick movement and smiling mask descending with practiced ease. "Just new to town."
"I certainly haven't seen you before." The man was non-descript - a little taller than Fai with short brown hair. The bike propped up beside him looked as generic as its rider and was certainly nothing compared to Mika's.
Had he not spoken, Fai likely would have continued right on past. "We arrived about fifteen minutes ago, and Sari and Mika have…." Fingers brushed his bangs back out of his face before dropping down to cup his chin and tilt his head upwards, effectively cutting off the sentence. Fai knocked the man's hand away with a gentle sweep of his arm. The hold on his face was not all that strong. "Can I help you?"
The man responded by grabbing his chin in a tighter grip.
Fai's smile faltered a little. Over the course of their journey, Kurogane had slowly and methodically chipped away at his armor. The result: Fai no longer even bothered to hide his emotions around Kurogane as he usually received a swift kick in the ass if he tried, but he also found it harder to maintain the fake visage when it counted. If the man didn't remove his hand from Fai's person in the next ten seconds, Fai was going to remove it for him, and in two more seconds, his intentions would be plainly displayed on his face.
A forceful blow landed on the man's elbow, tearing his hand from Fai before he could move. Kurogane used the momentum of the strike to throw the majority of his bulk between Fai and the other man.
"What?" The man sneered at Kurogane. "He's not marked, so he's fair game."
"Fuck off, Orin!" Suddenly Sari was between all three of them and shoving him away. "Do you have to hit on everything that moves? Here's a better idea – fix up that junk-heap of a bike, and maybe then you won't have to strong arm someone into filling your bed."
"Mind your place." He was stronger than he looked. With a single hand on Sari's shoulder, he sent her staggering.
Fai and Kurogane caught an arm each, supporting her as she regained her balance.
"Don't touch my wife." Mika loomed over the much-shorter Orin, who shrank back a couple of steps before retreating the rest of the way to his bike. "Was there something else?" He queried when Orin continued to glare.
With an irritated huff, Orin kicked the bike to life and sped into the darkness.
"Oh, my word, I am so sorry about that." Sari stepped out of their grasp, dusted her wide-sleeved blouse off and adjusted the leather tool belt hanging at an angle across her hips. "Some of our men are impossible. You're from a very long ways away, aren't you?"
"Very far away." Fai agreed.
"You're all traveling together?"
"We're a family!" Mokona chimed in for the first time since they'd landed. "Kurogane's the daddy, Fai's the mommy, Syaoran's the kid."
Sari caught it on pure instinct when it leapt towards her. "And you are?"
"Mokona is Mokona."
"Fascinating!" She hooked a finger under one of Mokona's paws and stretched it out, examining its belly, feet, and massive ears. "I've never seen an automaton this small. How on earth do you fit the engine in there? What does it run on? How…?"
"Honey." Mika broke through her stream of questions. "Perhaps now is not the time."
She let go of Mokona's feet and gently deposited it back in Syaoran's hands. "Right. Sorry." Sari looked pensively at Fai. "So, you're the wife?"
Something in the way she said the words sounded strange. Fai had encountered it before. Mokona's ability to translate worked exceptionally well ninety percent of the time, but every once in a while, it seemed to be searching for the right word to capture the nuances of meaning in the original. This was one of those times. The people in Celes had close to twenty words to describe snow, and fifty if you included descriptors of ice, hail and freezing rain. He suspected that all of his words for snow would translate to one or two words in either Syaoran or Kurogane's language, since they simply did not have the need for that level of discrimination.
"Yes." He agreed more for Kurogane's reaction than anything else. He was not disappointed.
A glower started to creep across Kurogane's face, but Mika spoke before he had a chance to voice his frustration.
"You'd all better come with us. We've got enough room. And besides." He turned his attention to Fai. "We have to do something about you."
Fai pointed an innocent finger at his face.
The house was jam-packed with bits of gears, metal and machinery. Sari threw her shoulder against the door to shove back a stack of boxes blocking it and managed to wedge it open just far enough to let them pass. "Come on in. Sorry it's a bit of a mess."
Only about half of the width of the hallway was clear floor, so Fai stepped carefully. Even with the extra attention, his cloak still snagged on the corner of a chest, sending the precariously stacked papers on top of it flying. He knelt to gather them.
"I can take those."
He started to place them in Sari's outstretched hands and stopped. These drawings are… Complete with marked off dimensions, the drawings diagramed out articulated joints for fingers, knees, elbows and even a couple of full limb replacements. The engineering behind it was different, but they bore a striking resemblance to the mechanical arm from Piffle. "These are beautiful."
"Thank you." A look of pride that could only belong to a creator crossed Sari's face. "I've only actually made about half of these." She studied the pictures as she spoke. Her brows drew down, and she dug through her pocket and scrawled a notation on one before setting them aside. "I can take your coats."
As Syaoran and Kurogane shrugged out of their capes, Mika slid past them. "And if you two will follow me, I can show you to your rooms."
Kurogane didn't budge.
Mika laughed. "We're not going to hurt him. We just want to forestall another incident like what happened earlier. Trust me, Orin's on the tame side of single people around here."
"He said that Fai-san wasn't marked. What did he mean?" The anthropologist in Syaoran was showing through.
"You really are from a long way away, aren't you?" Sari was stroking their cloaks in interest, running her fingers over the strange fabric and stranger designs. Her hand left the fabric and rose to toy with the narrow cylinders of hair that hung from the ornamental barrette high on the back of her head. "When you're bonded to someone, your hair is twisted and combed, like this." She held up a dread to illustrate. "You mark yourself as belonging to someone else as a means to remind yourself that you are no longer living for yourself, but also to show everyone else that you are…off the market, for lack of a better description."
"But, your hair isn't…" Syaoran looked over his shoulder at Mika and searched for the right word.
"Dreaded." Mika filled in. "No, only the wife's hair is dreaded."
There was that weird undertone again. Fai cocked his head to one side, trying to fill in the words that weren't translating properly.
"It's improper for a wife to seek out a husband, so there's no need." Sari elaborated
"So you're going to…dread… his hair?" Kurogane spoke for the first time since they'd entered the house.
This had gone too far. Claiming to be the mom of the group was one thing, but doing something to display that he was Kurogane's lover – he mentally stumbled on the word, unwilling to use wife given his obvious gender-contradiction to that word – was something else entirely. Love was a terrifying thing. He hadn't quite realized what he had been wishing for in his prison all those long years ago, but he was smitten now, and whether or not Kurogane returned the feelings, he would follow him to the ends of the Earth.
After they left Sakura in Clow, Fai had expected…something. Anything. Kurogane had, after all, declined the option to return to Nihon. Deep down, he supposed he realized that he could be the initiator, but he had spent his entire life hating himself, and that was not easy to forget. How could Kurogane possibly love him? Sure, he had risked his life many time's over; he had even given body parts, but perhaps that was only a passing fancy. Perhaps…
Fai shook himself. "I understand your concern, but we're travelers and just passing through. Couldn't we just…?" He trailed off, shocked by the Kurogane's fleeting dark look.
"I wish." Sari was digging through one of the piles, finally extracting a box full of a myriad of beads. "With that color hair and those beautiful eyes, you're way to exotic to pass up, and like Mika said, Orin's on the tame end. The single ones out there are single for a reason, and they rarely take no for an answer."
"Do it." The growled words brooked no argument.
His emotional mask dropped down so easily that he almost forgot how long it had been since he'd last used that vapid smile to hide from Kurogane. "Aarara, are you worried about me, Kuroi?"
And was gone before it was even fully in place. In any typical conversation, Fai would resort to teasing, but he had never ribbed Kurogane about caring for him, too worried that the answers would be the truth and not something that he wanted to hear.
"This'll take a couple of hours." Sari explained, catching Fai's arm and tugging him through the clutter towards the back of the house. The hall opened into an enormous vaulted chamber. The amount of stuff was about the same, but the place seemed much more open simply because of the sheer size. She parked Fai in a chair underneath one of the hanging lights.
Mika bent to speak to Syaoran and Mokona. "I'm going to prepare dinner, if you wouldn't mind helping."
"Of course not!"
When Kurogane attempted to follow, Sari put a hand against his chest and held him in place. "Not you. I need your help."
"Probably a good idea. Kuro-tan doesn't cook all that well." Fai teased gently, glad for the opportunity to break the gravity of the previous conversation.
Sari grinned from one to the other. "You've been together a while, huh?" Neither answered, but that didn't seem to faze her. "Here." She dropped the box into Kurogane's hands and kicked a stool in his direction. "The beads should signify both you and him. Pick some out for me."
Fai tried to watch him, expecting him to simply snatch out the first few, but lost his line of sight when Sari shoved his head forward.
Practiced fingers pushed his long bangs over his face and then brushed the remaining hair straight back. She picked out a square of hair and began combing it up towards his scalp. The process was slow, but oddly relaxing. She worked from the front of his hair to the back, combing everything save his bangs into tight dreads.
"Alright. That's done it!" She planted her hands on her hips and surveyed her handiwork.
Fai raised a tentative hand to his hair, which was much shorter than he could ever remember it being.
"Oh, you can touch them, they're not going to fall out. There's a mirror on the wall over there, somewhere." She gestured. "But give me just a minute to do the last touches before you look. Got the beads?"
Kurogane handed her a small, shallow box that he'd sorted the beads into, and she threaded them carefully over Fai's dreads. She fished out an elastic bit of string and strung the remainder onto it before wrapping it around Fai's dreads to make a chunky ponytail. "Now you can go look." She said triumphantly.
Several more engineering drawings hung on the wall in front of the mirror, and Fai eased them out of the way. As he'd suspected, his hair was extremely short, but it didn't look half bad. The beads ran in a couple of rows through his hair. He leaned closer to get a better look.
A mixture of red and ice blue winked back at him.
"I do like the colors you picked." Sari's voice carried easily across the room. "Your eye colors are probably the best identifier you could go for. They're both unique here."
Perfect translator or not, Mokona's ability had never been able to interpret Kurogane's grunts. Mostly thanks to his time in Yasha's camp, Fai had become moderately fluent, but this one was not in his mental dictionary.
The food had arrived seconds after Sari finished with Fai's hair and had been simple, yet delicious. By the time they'd finished and cleaned, they were all yawning. Mika had pointed them in the right direction. Up the stairs – the first door on the left was for Syaoran and Mokona and the second for Kurogane and Fai.
There was only one small problem.
A very small problem.
Fai eyed the narrow bed.
"I'm sleeping on the floor." Kurogane yanked the extra blanket from the foot of the bed. The motion made him wince.
"Don't be silly, Kuro-chi. Your arm's still bothering you."
"Don't you even think about sleeping on the floor, mage."
They stared at each other, daring the other to back off. Finally, Kurogane growled, "It's too late for this." He shed his shirt and crawled into the bed, lying on his side on the far edge with his back to the middle.
Fai slowly joined him, taking up a similar position on his respective half. In all of their travels, they'd only shared a bed a handful of times and only at the very beginning of their journey, when Fai's desire to annoy Kurogane had outweighed any thoughts of future complications. Ever since Tokyo, Fai had meticulously found somewhere else to sleep.
The heat radiating from Kurogane's back filled the oh-so-small space separating them and gradually lulled him to sleep.
He woke wrapped in Kurogane's arms with his forehead nestled against the wide chest and cheek resting on the rough metal of the mechanical arm. He raised his head carefully, surprised the Kurogane was sleeping on his bad side and curious as to whether the position was bothering him.
Creases from a scowl of faint pain marred his face, and Fai raised a hand to smooth them. Perhaps he would help them reach Piffle on the next jump. Tomoyo may have been brilliant, but the arm had never really fit correctly, and it hurt to see Kurogane in pain.
Damn love. If I'd known…. He smiled and gently pushed Kurogane on to his back, easing the pressure on his arm; the bed was so small that he had to glue himself to Kurogane's side not to fall off, but he didn't particularly mind. I would have wished for the exact same thing.
To be continued!
Love it? Hate it? Think I should never, ever ever try to write steampunk again (because I'm totally with you on that one :/)