ATTN: The Rating has been upped from 'T' to 'M'. I repeat, the rating has been changed, and it's all this chapter's fault.

Chapter 12: Cornered

The first thing Kurogane saw was white, the off-white color of a ceiling. For a moment, he wondered if he was actually dead, and if this was what happened to those souls who parted from the waking world. That thought was torn away the moment he tried to move. He was hurting far too much to be dead.

It was only then that the room's other details began to come into focus. Moonlight shone through windows that were just out of his view. Kurogane noticed that he was laying on an old futon and his head was resting on a soft pillow. It was a strange feeling for him to be under sheets, because he was usually the one who would volunteer to sleep sitting up, ready to attack should anything go wrong. Even in his own world, he would never have laid on his back to sleep. It left him vulnerable for attack.

It took a great effort, but Kurogane was able to prop himself up to glance around. A shiver went down his spine and an eerie déjà vu overcame him. The room he had been resting in was the very same room he had given to Fai when they had first arrived in this new world, that day that Fai had been hurt so badly. Kurogane could remember sitting opposite Fai's still form, watching over him.


Glancing up with concern in his eyes, he saw Fai sitting across from him against the brick wall, holding his knees and sleeping like a child. His soft blond hair hung in front of his eyes and Kurogane didn't think he looked comfortable at all. If anything, Fai looked like he was going to freeze, since he had turned his shirt into bandages for Kurogane. Instead he wore only torn pants and precious blood stains. Kurogane couldn't help but stare at what had become of Fai, that pitiful, helpless man.

Kurogane rubbed his temple with a hint of frustration. He was never sure what to make of Fai. Kurogane silently wished that Fai could look at least a little peaceful while sleeping. It would give him a certain peace of mind that he didn't have at the moment. Seeing Fai looking worse for wear left him feeling the same. It wasn't sympathy; Kurogane refused to say it. No, it was something else entirely. It wasn't quite foreign, but it wasn't quite familiar either. It was that knot that seemed ever-present in him, tugging and pulling and reminding him of new emotions that he had never felt before, emotions that made him feel weaker than he ever had. Was it love?

A small yawn from Fai made Kurogane look up again in surprise. Fai's eyes fluttered open and he stretched a little. Kurogane could hear a couple of Fai's joints crack, but it didn't look like Fai minded much at all. It reminded Kurogane of the sound of snapping bones, something that he was far too used to.

" Oh…Kuro-pon, you're awake," Fai said in a tiny voice. He offered a sleepy smile.

Neither one of them said anything. Eons and eons passed and not a word was spoken. Every so often, one of them would look as though they were about to speak, but their words would freeze and they would look away. There was nothing to be said. There was nothing that could be said.

" I…thanks," Fai said, looking away from Kurogane. " Thank you. For, um, you know…"

Even after he had allowed the situation several hours to sink in, it still seemed surreal, as though Ashura would come back to life if his name was simply whispered in the dark. Fai couldn't and wouldn't meet Kurogane's eyes.

" Er, yeah," Kurogane said, awkwardly glancing towards the wall. " It was nothing. Forget about it."

They couldn't forget though, neither of them could. Even though the storm had cleared, they could still hear the thunder in their minds and they could still recall everything that had gone down. The images were still fresh in their weary minds and the silence amplified the noise from that day. Something else had crept into Kurogane's thoughts though, slinking and twisting its way around the memories until it was the only thing Kurogane could think of.

" Fai," Kurogane said, subconsciously trying to count how many times he had called Fai by name. " What the hell did he want with you? I think you owe me some answers."

For a long time, Fai didn't answer. When he finally did speak, his voice was quiet and shaking and completely devoid of his usual confidence.

" When I was a child, my magic was uncontrollable," Fai whispered. " It was raw and dangerous, just like it is now. I…I caused a lot of accidents, you could say. Before I knew it, my childhood home was ablaze, simply because I had gotten angry with my parents."

Fai smiled in his usual sad way, because he knew no other way to react. " It's strange looking back on it now. I don't even remember what it was that had made me so mad. All I know is that when the flames died, I became a homeless orphan.

" The people of my town believed I was dangerous, so I was captured and brought to our king," he laughed bitterly. " They wanted to put me to death for the things I'd done. I was a little monster after all."

Kurogane couldn't fathom putting a child to death. It was something that would have been completely immoral in his Japan. It made him wonder about the harsh world that Fai had come from, and it made him wonder if he was really so strange for leaving it behind.

" The king though…the previous king," Fai added, " was a very kind man. His final decision was to keep me at the castle and train me to become his chief magician, his high priest if you will. The townspeople were infuriated, but I was grateful."

" For a while, things were good," he continued. " They were very good. I had gone from being homeless to living in a castle and from being the mast hated thing in the town to one of the king's most precious magicians in training."

Fai paused for a moment, trying to decide whether he could honestly say that things had been wonderful. His hands shook slightly as he continued.

" The king…he introduced me to his son," Fai said, staring at something Kurogane couldn't see. " His son was older than me by seven years, but he still regarded me kindly. He…his name was Ashura."

Kurogane could see that this was the part of the story where things would take a sinister turn, where Fai's words would stray down a dark alley and wait to eat at his heart. He wanted to reach out and tell Fai that he didn't have to go on. He wanted to, but his curiosity prevented that from happening.

" We had become fast friends," Fai smiled weakly, " or at least as good friends a child and an adult can be. But one day, the king mysteriously died and it was up to Ashura to take the throne."

Fai suspected who had murdered the kind king, but he didn't say. Judging simply from Kurogane's expression, he knew it was a mutual feeling.

" I had been fourteen at the time," Fai said. " He told me that he was going to get married, and somehow…it hurt. I didn't want to share him with anyone else." He grinned again, but it was bitter and resentful, " I suppose from an early age I mistook that for love."

" Part of inheriting the throne is inheriting the Ashura family jewels," Fai continued, keeping his eyes away from Kurogane's. " Those were the jewels he had on his forehead. They hold an immense power."

" You mean the things he used to-?" The words had flown from Kurogane's mouth before he could stop them. Fai nodded solemnly.

" Yes," he said, " and that was the rest of my childhood. He manipulated and used me for whatever I could give him at the time." Fai's bitter laugh froze the air around them. " I can't tell you how many mornings I woke up unable to remember the day or even the entire week before. I would count scars that I didn't remember receiving. Sometimes I was his weapon, sometimes I was his friend, and sometimes…"

Fai couldn't finish the sentence. He didn't seem to notice when Kurogane crawled his way over next to him, or rather he pretended not to notice. If he were a better person, perhaps he would have told Kurogane to go lay back down and rest, but Fai had decided a long time ago that there was a dark shadow that loomed over his soul.

" But…but it didn't matter, because he would hold me in his arms and tell me how much he loved me," Fai's voice began to crack. " He said that he loved me and I believed every word of it."

Kurogane peered over at Fai, trying to determine whether or not he was crying. He had his head on his arms, but he was silent as the grave. After a deep breath, Fai rambled on with his story.

" It was extremely heartbreaking to realize that I had been used," Fai said. " I avoided him whenever I could and I could never meet his eyes. The memory lapses never stopped either. Infact, they became more frequent...and longer."

" So…our duel then…" Kurogane interrupted with a darkly concerned look on his face.

" That's right," Fai said. He glanced at Kurogane, looking very tired. " I don't remember any of it."

The silence was unsettling. Rain would have been a soothing melody to their weary hearts, even if they were both cold and waterlogged. The air around them seemed to speak more than words could ever say. Finally, Kurogane clenched his fists and spoke viciously.

" That bastard," Kurogane growled. " If he weren't already dead, I'd kill him."

Fai laughed, but it sounded empty. " And Kuro-pon learns nothing from his curse," he said.

Somehow, Kurogane didn't find it quite as funny. When he didn't respond, Fai began again.

" That's what my tattoo was for, the one the Dimensional Witch took as my payment," he said. " It kept him out of my mind. It was painful, but once I had it all I had to do was wait and play along. That was how I found out what he had been doing to me. It was hard…made me sick."

Kurogane caught something in Fai's voice. He sounded different now, a little more bitter and vengeful. Infact, his overall presence morphed into something Kurogane would have never guessed that Fai was capable of, pure hatred.

" Eventually though, waiting was no longer enough," Fai said. " My country was in war with another. I had been instructed to eliminate their troops, however…"

Fai's voice trailed off there. He glanced down at his hands, remembering how they had been red with the blood of not enemies, but comrades. Without realizing it, his hands began to shake.

" I betrayed them all, just to get to Ashura, or rather, Ashura-ou," Fai felt very far away from Kurogane. His mind was floating miles and miles above the dream that the Dimensional Witch Yuuko had transformed into his reality, and he was terrified that he would crash and burn. "I…I killed them all."

Kurogane wished he could say that he was surprised. He had suspected very early on that Fai had been a combat veteran, and it was the sort of thing that took a mental toll on someone. Something in Kurogane stomach churned when he learned it was an act of treason. It was something that was simply not done in Japan, and only the lowest of the low would relinquish their honor and betray their country that way. Traitors were the usually first in line for execution.

" Ashura-ou was certainly surprised," Fai grinned morbidly. " I think that shock might have been the only reason I was able to defeat him when we finally went into combat." Shifting slightly, Fai's smile faded. " However…I couldn't kill him."

It was true. Even after all of the abuse that Fai had suffered through, and after everything Ashura had done to him, Fai hadn't been able to follow through and kill him.

" I sealed him away instead, with a powerful spell," he said, mentally mourning his assistant, Chi. " Then I ran off like a coward." Fai's eyes met Kurogane's for the first time.

" And that's what happened, ne?" he finished half-heartedly. "That's the whole story."

An uncomfortable silence hung over the room. It was peaceful, and yet at the same time it strangled Kurogane, who wanted to say something but couldn't figure out exactly what it was that needed to be said.

" You're right," Kurogane said, his voice as rough as ever. "You are a coward."

Fai glanced over at him with wide eyes. It was fine when he called himself a coward, but to hear someone else say it only drove the point home. Somehow, it hurt more than he had expected it to. Fai wondered if it was because it was Kurogane who had said it.

" You're an idiot if you think you're a bad person because of it though," Kurogane said. " Everyone can be cowardly sometimes. It's a part of being human, just like no one is going to hate you for breathing the same air."

Kurogane had never been someone that was very eloquent. He was often very Spartan in speech and flowery words, in his opinion, were for little girls and a certain mage sitting before him. He knew very well that his blunt remarks often came across as rude. Thus his words wouldn't exactly be remembered as a brilliant speech, but Kurogane didn't care, so long as he got his point across.

" That was oddly profound for you, Kuro-tan." Fai smiled, but there was little emotion behind it, if any at all.

" Shut up, Mage," Kurogane growled. " Haven't you said enough for one day?"

The words were out of his mouth before Kurogane even realized it. Once again, he had spoken without thinking and this time it looked like it had hurt Fai. At the same time though, it didn't look like it hurt him at all. He was still grinning like an idiot, but Kurogane knew better.

" I suppose you're right, Kuro-wan," Fai said, leaning into the cold wall behind him.

Kurogane knew that his words had stung Fai, but he wouldn't apologize. He never apologized for anything before, because his pride wouldn't let him. Somehow, glancing at the beautifully sad figure beside him, he couldn't help but wish he could throw his arms around Fai to somehow comfort him, and whisper in his ear. Of course, this wasn't something Kurogane intended on doing. Infact, the fact that Fai was making him feel this way and think these things irritated him beyond belief.

Before Kurogane had the chance to say or do anything though, Fai had pulled himself onto his feet. It proved to be a very difficult task, as he felt as though he would collapse at any moment. He was tired, but that was nothing new. He always felt just a little weary, a result of running for so long. In many ways, he never really stopped running. He just began running from different things.

" Well, I'll let you get some rest then," Fai said. " I'm sure you're still sore from…you know."

He laughed awkwardly at himself and began to head for the door. Fai thought that he had kept his final thought to himself, because it was something that he would never have said intentionally, though perhaps he was lying to himself again.

" Besides, I'm probably the last thing you need, ne?"

Kurogane wondered how anyone could say something so incredibly false.

" Don't," he said, once again speaking before thinking.

Fai's hand hovered above the doorknob. He turned his head towards Kurogane, who was still sitting against the wall. He lacked the strength to do anything else.

" Kuro-chi?" he asked, looking bewildered.

There was nothing Kurogane wanted in that moment more than to take back that one word. He found himself boxed into a corner that he had created, and there was only one clear path out. All Kurogane could do, was grit his teeth and continue.

" I…I want you to stay," he said. " I want you to stay here, with me."

In Fai's mind, his knees shook and he collapsed to the ground, shuddering in a fit of ecstasy. It was a statement that seemed to come from nowhere, a statement that he never would have thought Kurogane would say. In reality, one of his hands found its way into his hair, his fingers tangling the blonde locks.

" Funny," Fai said, both amused and surprised, " I was under the impression that you hated me."

Kurogane was about to ask, "When have I ever said that?" but he stopped when he realized that he had, infact, told Fai that he hated him. He had done this on many occasions actually, and it was no wonder that it seemed odd to Fai.

" Maybe I do," Kurogane said. " I still want you to stay though."

Fai didn't say anything for a moment. He stood there dumbly, fighting with himself. Part of him still wanted to leave; this was far too uncomfortable for him to take, for anyone to take. Something tied him in place; something bound him to where he stood.

" Why?" Fai asked. His voice betrayed his smiling face. " I'm an idiot and a coward, and I'm most certainly replaceable. There's nothing extraordinary about me, nothing that would appeal to you."

Kurogane had stopped listening only a few words in, and clutched the wall behind him. Slowly and painfully, he forced himself first to his knees and then to his feet. Fai did nothing but watch and admire the strength that he did not possess.

Without uttering a word, Kurogane sort of hobbled over to Fai's place by the door, though even hobbling he radiated amazing spirit and determination. When he finally made it over to Fai, he clutched Fai's shoulders, mostly to keep himself upright.

" Because," he said. Kurogane wasn't a man of flowery words. He could say it a thousand times and it would never be as eloquent as the way Syaoran had put it. As long as the point came across though, it didn't matter to him. " I don't know what the hell I would do without you anymore."

It's an almost supernatural feeling, a spiritual connection, when two people understand each other so completely that words can only cripple them. It's something that can be felt in the air around them. It crackles and burns, and it sparks. So when Kurogane and Fai subconsciously pulled closer nothing was said, when they leaned in there were no sweet words before their first kiss, and when they tumbled down onto the futon, discarding their bloody garments, neither of them spoke, except for sounds of spontaneous passion.

Anyone passing outside may have seen a mystical blue glow from the upstairs bedroom window and may have been utterly captivated. Of course, there was no one out at that ungodly hour. There was only Fai, Kurogane, and the rope that tied their hearts in knots.

((A/N: Thank you for the reviews! I'm really sorry this is so late. I'm been really busy lately, and I've been working on it a little bit at a time for a long time now. It really should have been up a lot sooner than this. Actually, it was supposed to be a lot longer than this, but I decided to split it into two chapters. Which means that, yes, you guys get one more chapter. : ) I'll try my hardest to have that real last chapter up for next weekend. So please R&R and I'll have it up soon.))