Chapter 8: Round Four
AN: Someone said they wanted to sleep with chapter seven.
Well . . . look out for paper cuts, okay?
Touya and Yukito have an ambiguous relationship in this fic. So you can decide what you want them to be. I think it's important that, while I'm not going to make them romantic in any of my stories, I represent them as close as I found them to be in the anime. I'm not going to be a whiny squeamish brat and make them Americanized buddies, but I'm also not going to write them as overtly romantic because of my religious views on that sort of thing.
You probably didn't care about any of that. Anyway, please enjoy!
Sakura woke to the clanging of steel and shouting voices just after midnight. Running blearily to her balcony, she saw the castle guards racing toward the training field where the tournament was being held - but this was the middle of the night and no one should be out there.
Anger and fear leaking adrenaline into her veins, Sakura leapt from the balcony railing, whispering "Fly" almost as an afterthought. If the warriors were rebelling, then it was her family's stupidity that got them into the castle in the first place, and it would be their fault if any of the guards got hurt. But if they were rebelling, they wouldn't have taken the fight outside, would they?
Her confusion and fear fed her anger. Whatever the cause, they weren't supposed to brawl amongst themselves – it was a cause for immediate dismissal from the tournament.
Wait – were those swords? Where the hell did they . . .
Eyes wide, she swooped low over the mass of men and cried out to them. "Stop it! Stop it NOW!" The guards, she could see, had corralled the stragglers and were trying to calm the fighters. The warriors below her seemed to slow and several stopped to look up at her appearance.
She descended furiously into their midst.
Syaoran almost lost a finger when he saw her, shining white in the moonlight. Her nightgown flickered around her, far too little for a woman to wear in company even if it had yards of fabric all around her. Her wings allowed her precise control over her movement. Her feet were bare and graceful as she touched the cold ground, and Syaoran almost knelt in front of her, so awed was he. Everyone had stopped fighting by now, but he kept his senses open for surprise attacks, panting a little and rubbing the sheen of sweat away that was starting to trickle into his eyes.
"Who," she said in a low, dangerous voice like liquid flame, "started this?"
A few of the men shifted, but none stepped forward. They all knew the penalty for fighting amongst themselves.
Finally, Syaoran moved forward with a sigh, the men in front of him parting and looking nervous as the white winged champion turned to watch him approach her. Her expression was slightly stunned. "Syaoran Li?" she asked, a little breathless in her surprise.
He knelt before her, bowing his head low before standing again. Even then, he did not look her in the eye but gazed at her feet. "Forgive your humble servant and his friends, my lady. We had thought," here he grimaced as if mildly embarrassed at himself, "that a bit of sparring might prove useful to sharpen our skills with the sword, as that part of the tournament is quickly approaching." He looked around, grazing past a few eyes and giving the silent message that none of them were to contradict his story. "We had not intended," he turned back to her and looked contrite, "to wake anyone up. And though it is always the supremest of pleasures to see you, I must confess that I am sorry to have disturbed your rest." On "pleasures," he took her hand and bent over it, letting his eyes soften just for her, concentrating on how much he loved her and how beautiful she was so that he might translate that sincerity into his gaze. When he finished speaking, he kissed her hand.
When he stood up again, he knew from the self-conscious posture and light blush on her cheeks that none of them would be going home that night. "Oh," she breathed, her voice smaller, "I suppose that's all right. But if you're going to spar again," she frowned a little but looked more flushed than angry, "please let someone know so that this doesn't happen again."
"Of course," Syaoran agreed, looking around for agreement. "I think I speak for everyone here when I say that it won't happen again." There was a glint in his eye that was less than friendly as he perused the other men, reminding them of their friends that lay unconscious or bleeding already from Syaoran's defensive maneuvers – men that would not be able to continue in the tournament. He decided that most of them got the point, but he would have to keep an eye on the rest.
"Okay." She was breathless and her body wavered as if she would both like to go and stay at the same time, and an endearing smile played around her mouth. "I guess . . . um . . ."
He smiled indulgently. "We'll clean this up. You need your rest." He bowed and watched her turn away.
"Good night." Most of the guards went with her but a few stayed to see that the injured warriors got back to the castle, shaking their heads at the damage on some of the men.
No one really spoke until they were back in the servants' hall and the guards had left.
"Thank you," one of the men offered, but his eyes widened as Syaoran rounded to glare him down.
"Don't you – any of you – think that I did that to save your hides. I did it for me – I'm not about to get thrown out of this tournament just because you can't control your impulse to kill foreigners. No, I'm going to make it my personal duty to make sure all of you lose. If that means I have to fight each and every one of you myself, fine." He whirled around, knowing he'd just made enemies of men who could have been friends and wondering if this was the wisest road. He paused. "And if any of you," he said in a soft but carrying voice, "attack me again, it won't stop at broken bones – screw the rules. I'll kill you."
"You don't think that it's just because you're foreign, do you?"
Syaoran turned to the pale-haired young man sitting beside him. Yukito had a large basket of meat pies and bread – more than Syaoran could have eaten in a whole day – and had sat down beside the young Chinese lord to eat it.
"What?" Syaoran asked, surprised that the young man was speaking to him. It wasn't that he didn't think Yukito would speak to him, but there was a pale, white-haired man standing beside the champion, watching the current fight, and Syaoran was confused at how the young man could be in two places at once – unless they'd lied to him. "How're you . . . ?" he began, but Yukito chuckled around a mouthful of bread and tried to speak. He failed and swallowed before trying again.
"Look in Yue's hair," he murmured. They weren't sitting near anyone else, but Syaoran understood the need for secrecy, so he tried to remain nonchalant as he peered at the silvery locks of the tall, blue-eyed man.
"There's something yellow moving around in there," he said finally, curious.
"Kero," Yukito said, eating a meat pie in two bites and smiling as he pulled out another. "The spell is Mirror – the princess has used it to get away from court functions several times. I think this is the first time she's had Mirror impersonate a guard. Anyhow," he stuffed another meat pie in his mouth, smiling serenely all the time, "about my question. You don't really think they're after you because you're foreign?"
Syaoran blinked at him. "How did you hear about that?" he asked quietly.
Yukito became stern, which meant that his smile failed to reach his eyes and he stopped eating for a moment. "My question first."
Syaoran sighed. "Well, it's the only reason they gave me."
"Just because someone gives you a reason doesn't mean it's the only one they have. There are other foreigners here, you know. A few princes, even. You haven't noticed them?" he said when Syaoran looked surprised. "They're the ones with their own guards around them." He pointed to a forbidding ensemble of dark-skinned men. He turned back to Syaoran with an appraising look. "But even you should be able to tell that all the other men are afraid of you. You're a favorite to win – why shouldn't they attack you and make things easier for themselves? Plus the fact that the royal family obviously prefers you," he shrugged and ripped some bread off with his teeth. "They're resentful. Of course they'd go after you."
"I guess that makes sense," Syaoran agreed, thinking about this. "Yeah. It does."
Yukito only nodded and offered him a meat pie. Syaoran declined. He would be fighting a little after lunch today and he could barely think of food.
"Then," he said carefully, "you know that I lied."
Yukito paused with the bread halfway to his lips. He lowered it slowly. "You're going to tell her yourself," he said, and his tone brooked no argument. "She deserves to hear it from you. If you deserve her, then you'll do the honorable thing." He paused, ripping pieces off of his bread into smaller pieces. "If you don't, I'll tell her. Then I'll make sure you're the next one to fight her."
Syaoran sighed and ran a hand through his hair, a little put out at the threat. "Why don't you ask me to castrate myself? It would be so much easier."
"I'm not letting you take the easy way out," Yukito said, but the corners of his mouth were twitching.
Yukito was right. He had to tell her. But . . . "How did you find out?"
The pale-haired man gave a soft, laughing smile. "You think I don't have my spies? Besides," he leaned forward, "you need to keep your voice down."
Syaoran blinked, remembering how he'd yelled at the other men. He opened his mouth then closed it again like a fish.
"The guards heard you. You're lucky they came straight to me and not to someone else. I told them to leave it alone."
Syaoran turned back to the fight with a lot on his mind.
"I need to talk to you." Syaoran had finally caught her alone just after lunch. He pulled her a little behind the stands and faced her.
"Are you worried?" she guessed, eyes concerned.
"What?" How could she know he was scared to tell her the truth?
"About the fight," she said. "Are you worried about it? You're opponent's pretty tough." She became confused when he only stared at her. "Or is it something else?"
Syaoran ran a hand through his hair. "I wasn't worried until now," he muttered. Honestly, he'd been too concerned with how to break the truth to her to even think about who he was fighting. But he shook his head and looked at her. "I have to confess something. I lied to you last night." He forced himself to look her in the eye, her shocked, sad, evergreen eyes that suddenly didn't seem so warm. Her trust was faltering. "I'm sorry," he continued, desperate to get that trust back. "I shouldn't have. I just . . . didn't want anyone to say I won because all the good warriors got thrown out."
"And who says you'll win?" her voice was restricted and her face white. She was upset, irrational, hurt. She didn't know whether to feel betrayed or not. He had lied, but he was telling her. Did that make it okay? Should she trust him again?
"They attacked me," he told her, wincing. "You can ask Yukito, if you like. But that doesn't make it my decision whether to tell you or not – I should have. I should have trusted you. I didn't. I'm sorry." He finally allowed himself to look away but his breathing didn't come any easier. He had confessed, but she had to pronounce a verdict.
"Don't do it again."
His head came up in disbelief. He stared at her solemn smile. "That easy? You're not going to yell at me or kick me out of the tournament or send me to the torture chamber?"
"You deserve another chance," she said, then smiled impishly over her shoulder. "But I will tell my brother."
Syaoran groaned. "A hit."
"Don't you ever ever lie to my sister again. I will personally kick your ass."
That was the victorious greeting that Syaoran got once he got off the field from his fight. He was panting and sweaty, his shirt sticking to his back and his palms slick, and a shallow cut across his forehead, but it was obviously too healthy for Touya's taste.
"In fact, I ought to beat you down right now." The prince cracked his knuckles.
Syaroan looked at him, wondered who would win if they were both fresh, and then collapsed onto the grass. "Go ahead," he replied, stretching his legs out and letting the wind cool him off. He didn't actually want to fight, and was angry enough to strike the prince back if he tried, but he was far too worn out to argue about it. "I deserve it, and I'm too tired to fight back. But once you're finished, will you please lay off? It's hard to get a girl to like you if her dearest brother is constantly making threats."
"What's going on?" A smiling pair approached the two young men. Yukito looked with knowing eyes at Touya, and Sakura sat beside Syaoran.
"That was a good fight," she told him, cheerful. Then she looked at him more closely and lost her smile. "Oh, that cut looks terrible. You should have it cleaned." She stood up and pulled him with her. "Does it hurt?" she asked as they moved away from the other young men.
"Not really," he replied, embarrassed and wanting to seem tough. It actually stung pretty badly. "And it's just a graze."
"Well, it's bleeding," she replied, staunchly refusing to listen to his protestations that he was fine. "And bleeding is never good."
"Thank you," he replied, meekly submitting to the hands of the man she'd taken him to. He understood infection as well as the next warrior and knew it was best to get any wound cleaned immediately.
The man doctoring him was a curiosity, though, because no one in this land had healing powers. Healing magic was highly valued in China, though Li didn't have any of his own, and, being from a high house, he had only ever been tended by a magical healer.
Sakura grinned at him. "I wanted to get you away from Touya, anyway." When he looked at her, surprised, she added, "I said that I would tell him - I didn't say that I wouldn't protect you from him."
"You are kind and merciful," he replied. He was relieved that she would have to protect him from her brother - it meant more time around her.
AN: (Married now. Joy!) I decided that I'd go ahead and post this chapter because it would just be an insanely long time before I posted if I tried to fit the whole day in.
There will be a delay in the next chapter because I'm busy with my classes, but rest assured that it will come.