Disclaimer: Nothin's mine, all your characters are belong to CLAMP, etc. etc.
Author's Notes: I have other fics I should be working on but...I couldn't help myself. I've been in a Tsubasa mood lately and Fai and Kuro-pin are so much fun. Hopefully this turned out all right. On a completely different note, my poor spellchecker was just about killed by the amount of Kurogane nicknames in this thing. And I haven't posted anything since ff. net brought in QuickEdit, so I can only hope it completely didn't eat my formatting. -
Kurogane was not happy and his face showed it. It wasn't that he minded being dragged from world to world all the time. It wasn't his favorite thing to do, but all in all his life could be worse. He did, however, object to navigating a crowded marketplace in a strange land just to find out where the hell a certain irritating magician had disappeared to.
The world Mokona had sent them to this time was apparently without a feather, but did have a bustling marketplace full of all manner of things. Clothes, food, jewelry, animals...there were stalls for all of them. It had seemed perfectly sensible when Fai had suggested that, rather than going straight to the next world, they stick around in this one for a short while and try and barter for supplies. So far they'd managed to find friends and aid in almost every world they'd been to, but that didn't mean that every world would be safe. Even Syaoran had agreed that taking a break to look around couldn't hurt.
For his part, Kurogane had actually found himself agreeing with the stupid mage for once. He'd even agreed with the suggestion that they should split up in order to cover different sides of the marketplace. He'd been perfectly fine with all of it until Fai had wrapped his arms around the ninja's shoulders and chirped, "I get Kuro-tan!" And just to make things worse, Mokona had decided that he wanted to go with 'Kuro-tan' as well.
What did I do to get saddled with those two? Kurogane thought darkly as he continued to stalk through the marketplace. It wouldn't surprise him at all if the two had gotten separated from him on purpose, just to annoy him. Kurogane felt his temper flare again. He'd been reasonable so far, hadn't he? He hadn't sent the stupid white manjuu flying for jumping on him all the time and parroting Fai's stupid nicknames. Not only that, but he'd gamely resisted the urge to grab the damn mage and shake him, demanding to know exactly why the man was insane (which he had to be, because Kurogane couldn't think of a single sane man who would willingly name himself 'Big Kitty' or take the risk of naming someone as dangerous as Kurogane 'Big Puppy').
He was just about to turn around and go back to where they would be meeting Syaoran and Sakura and leave his two companions to find their own way back when he heard Fai's unmistakably cheery voice. The mage was saying something and there were several small voices replying to him.
"And then the Big Bad Kuro-Wolf said, 'Give me those sweets or else I'll eat you! Grarr!"
Kurogane turned a corner and stared. Fai, with Mokona settled comfortably on his shoulder, was sitting at the center of a group of wide-eyed children. He appeared to be telling them a story, with Mokona acting as an impromptu chorus.
"Rarr! Rarr!" The white creature jumped around, growling. "The Kuro-Wolf was very mean!"
"Right, he was," Fai agreed cheerily. "He growled and started advancing on the stray Mokona, growling fearsomely! And then---Ah! Hi, Kuro-pi!" Fai waved brightly as Kurogane stomped over to him.
"It's the Kuro-Wolf!" Mokona chirped.
"What are you doing?" Kurogane asked gruffly, ignoring the wide-eyed stares Fai's audience was giving him.
"I'm just telling the children a story!" Fai gave him a perfectly innocent smile that Kurogane didn't trust in the least. "They thought my clothes were weird and wanted to know where we were from, see, so I started telling them about how Mokona and Sakura-chan and Syaoran-kun and Kuro-rin and I were all on a big journey and then they wanted to hear more stories and we couldn't disappoint them. Right, Mokona?"
"Mokona is helping tell stories about the Big Bad Kuro-Wolf," Mokona added helpfully.
"The what?" Kurogane felt a twitch coming on.
"The Kuro-Wolf!" Fai's face was all innocence. "Haven't you heard that story before?"
"I don't want to know," Kurogane stated. "We don't have time for this. Come on." He grabbed Fai by the arm and prepared to drag the mage to his feet.
"But he didn't finish the story!" a brown-haired girl in blue and white broke in.
"Yeah, we wanna hear the rest!" added a boy.
"Don't be so mean, Kuro-Wolf!" piped up a third child.
"I'm not a wolf!" Kurogane snapped.
"Aw, just one more story, Kuro-tan," Fai said.
"Yeah, one more story!"
Kurogane stared at the clamoring children helplessly. Fierce armies and cunning assassins he could handle. A group of complaining children and a mage giving him sad puppy eyes were another story entirely.
"All right, all right." Kurogane sat down beside Fai and scowled. "Go ahead."
"Yay!" Fai and Mokona cheered, and the children all exchanged excited glances.
"What story should we tell this time, Mokona?" Fai asked the white creature brightly.
"Mokona knows lots of stories!"
"So do I. Hmmm, let's think..." Fai looked thoughtful.
"How about the story of the stupid mage who wouldn't shut up?" grumbled Kurogane.
"Ooh, good idea, Kuro-pan!" Fai said. "Let's see...so once, there was a mage who wouldn't shut up because he was under a curse. Because of the curse, he could only talk and talk, but he had no one to talk to because he was imprisoned in a high, far away tower by an evil king."
"Which evil king?" one of the children broke in. "There's lots."
"Really? Lots and lots?" Fai said, cocking his head. The child nodded seriously.
"King Ashura," Kurogane broke in suddenly. He stared intently at Fai. "The evil king's name was Ashura."
Fai whirled to face him. His face was pale and hunted, and for a moment Kurogane thought he saw something like anger flash through the mage's clear blue eyes. He barely had a chance to recognize the emotion before it was squashed down and replaced by the usual dulled happiness and the pale, empty smile.
"Right. King Ashura." Fai's voice had lost none of its cheer, but it didn't sound right to Kurogane. "He was the one who placed the curse on the mage. He lived in a castle made of ice and kept the mage away from everybody who entered. Nobody even knew the mage was there except the birds who came to his window."
"And Mokona came too," Mokona said.
"Yes, and Mokona," Fai agreed, nodding. Kurogane thought his voice still seemed emptier than usual. "Mokona always came, and the mage talked to him. He told Mokona all sorts of things and they became good friends. Because of that, Mokona decided one day that he would go find someone who could enter the castle and rescue the poor cursed mage.
"Mokona traveled far and wide, until one day he came upon a man." Fai's voice suddenly lightened again. "The man was dressed all in black and had red eyes and a really mean face, like this." Fai hunched his shoulders a bit and gave his best exaggerated scowl. The children giggled, and Kurogane had a sudden, sinking feeling. "It was the brave ninja Kuro-rin, and he had just been scolded by his princess."
"Kuro-rin was scolded," Mokona parroted cheerfully. Kurogane found himself wishing he could kill them both with his mind.
"Poor Kuro-pi had been sent away by his princess to travel the long lonely dirt roads, all alone and by himself," Fai continued, making a few expansive hand gestures that Kurogane supposed were somehow meant to convey the 'long lonely road.' "That was when Mokona appeared before him and told him that there was a mage locked away in a high lonely tower who needed rescuing."
"And the ninja," Kurogane interrupted, "told the stupid white manjuu to go away. Kurogane had better things to do than save loudmouth mages."
"So Mokona sat on his head," Mokona stated, jumping on Kurogane to illustrate the point.
"Get off of me!"
"Mokona sat on Kuro-mun's head and told him, 'I won't get off until you go rescue the mage.'" Fai took up the story again. "Kuro-pyon was very mad. 'All right, you stupid manjuu. I'll save the mage if you'll get off my head,' he said angrily." Fai spoke Kurogane's lines in the deepest, angriest voice he could manage. Kurogane did his best to pretend he hadn't noticed. "So they set off towards the castle of the evil king."
"Are you done yet?" Kurogane growled, still trying to pry Mokona off his head.
"With Mokona leading the way, Kuro-wan headed towards the ice castle," Fai continued as if Kurogane hadn't said a word. "Within a very short time he came upon the deep dark woods that marked the edge of...King Ashura's territory." Fai's cheerful tone didn't waver, but he kept his eyes turned away from where Kurogane sat. "Once he was there, though, Kuro-puu found he couldn't enter the forest. He tried and tried, but the magic barrier around the forest made it impossible for him to enter. But he wanted to save the mage--"
"And get the white manjuu off his head, dammit," Kurogane interrupted.
"And get Mokona off his head, so Kuro-mi looked around to try and find some way into the forest. Finally he came across a large cabin just on the edge of the enchanted forest. It seemed very out of place, so Kuro-nyuu went over a looked inside.
'Do you know where you are?' a woman's voice asked Kuro-run. Poor Kuro-myu was very confused and shook his head. A lady with long black hair came out of the cabin and looked expectantly at him."
"Yuko-san!" Mokona added helpfully.
"Her name was Yuko-san and she was a very powerful witch," Fai said, nodding in Mokona's direction. "She told Kuro-pan that she could give him something that would let him get through the maze, but he had to give her something very precious in return."
"So the bitch made him give up his sword," Kurogane grumbled. "And Kurogane told her no way, so she threatened him and said he'd never get out of the place if he didn't hand it over and he had no choice."
"So poor Kuro-pipi handed Yuko-san his sword," Fai said. "He was very annoyed, but he wanted to save the mage, and this was the only way to do it."
"He wanted to get the dumb manjuu off his head, you mean," Kurogane said bluntly. Fai glanced back at him for a moment, his face unreadable, then turned back to his audience. He was still smiling, but Kurogane couldn't see his eyes.
"He wanted to do both," Fai continued. "So he gave up his sword, which was a very precious thing for him to give. And Yuko-san told him that you call tell a lot about a person by what they have to give, what they're willing to give. But Kuro-sama was very impatient and didn't really listen at all, not the way he should have. He was very mad about his sword instead, and Yuko-san gave him a cheap replacement to use until he could find a better one. Then she removed the spell and Kuro-muu was finally able to enter the bewitched forest.
"The forest was very large and spooky, but Mokona directed Kuro-kichi through it towards the castle. Kuro-min complained a lot because he was still mad about losing his sword. So Mokona told him, 'Mokona knows where to get a good new sword!' He led Kuro-chi to a lake in the middle of the forest. Kuro-bun walked right up to the lake and gave his meanest face and asked where the sword was." Fai took a moment to demonstrate Kurogane's meanest face by narrowing his eyes and looking as angry as possible. Mokona, still on Kurogane's head, imitated the expression. Kurogane resisted the urge to grab them both and haul them back to wherever Syaoran and Sakura were.
"It was just then that a biiig dragon rose up out the lake and said, 'Ninja Kuro-pya--"
"Kurogane! Can't you use the full name for once?"
" 'Ninja Kuro-ki, I will be your sword if you can defeat me.' Kuro-ri was very happy and agreed. He took the replacement sword that Yuko-san had given him and started fighting the dragon. Like this!" Fai took a stick and began waving it about in a wild imitation of swordplay. Kurogane had to move back a little to avoid being hit by the waving stick.
"That's not how you demonstrate swordfighting!" the ninja stated. He grabbed hold of Fai's wrist and moved the mage's arm about in a more measured, sedate manner. "Like this. You can't just wave it around like that. You'd get killed if you did it like that."
"That's why I have you here to help me, Kuro-rin," Fai said, looking Kurogane in the face. Despite the lightly teasing tone, his eyes were calm and serious.
"Hmmph." Kurogane released Fai's arm. "Anyway, so Kurogane defeated the dragon. And? Hurry it up."
"Of course, Kuro-maa," Fai said. "The ninja Kuro-tako defeated the dragon by using his great sword skills that he just demonstrated -- that was very impressive of him, wasn't it, Mokona? -- even though he destroyed his cheap sword doing it. But the dragon lived up to his word and so he became Kuro-myu's sword. With his brand new sword in hand and Mokona on his head (still), Kuro-tan set off towards the castle. He had just left the lake behind when--"
"When he reached the stupid castle at last," Kurogane interrupted, seeing that Fai was ready to launch into yet another 'harrowing tale of Kuro-pi.' Clearly, if Kurogane wanted the story to end he was going to have to do it himself. "So Kurogane took his new sword and entered the courtyard of the castle. He went to the throne room and--"
"And there was no one there." Fai's voice sounded very far away. "There was no one in the throne room. There hadn't been anyone in the courtyard either, or in the magnificent halls of the castle. Not even a corpse could be seen. Kuro-tan walked around the entire castle until he came to the stairs of the highest tower. He ascended the stairs and came upon the room at the top. The door was unlocked and inside was the cursed mage, the only person in the entire castle."
"So the ninja asked," Kurogane broke in, looking at Fai intently, "why the stupid mage was still there. If the place was empty, why didn't he just walk out instead of making the ninja walk all the way out there with a white manjuu on his head?"
"The mage looked at Kuro-mun and smiled," Fai continued, his voice as hollow as his smile. "He replied, 'I'm still here because I was waiting for you.'"
"Which is stupid," Kurogane said. "The ninja told him that. 'Why are you waiting for me, when you could just rescue yourself? You didn't need me at all!'"
"The mage shook his head and said, 'You wouldn't understand, would you?'" Fai's face was turned towards Kurogane, but he seemed to be looking at something invisible just beyond where the other man sat. " 'I was never waiting to be rescued. I was waiting for the person who would rescue me. If I left on my own, I wouldn't be in this tower anymore, but I would still be waiting. No matter how far away I went, I would still be waiting. What's the point of being rescued if no one ever comes to do it?' "
" 'Yeah, I don't get it.' " Kurogane took up his part again. " 'If it was me, I would've left this place long ago. I would've fought to get out if I had to. I hate guys who won't save themselves.' "
"The mage expected Kuro-puu to say that." Fai had begun smiling again, the secretive smile that Kurogane could see right through, and that Fai knew Kurogane could see through. "Because he always said things like that. 'Sometimes you can't save yourself. You can kill a thousand armies, run from a thousand evil kings...you can walk right out of the tower, Kuro-chi, and it won't matter a bit. Sometimes you have to wait for someone, or the saving won't be worth it at all. I knew you were coming, so I stayed here because I wanted you to save me. Why else did you think I would be here, if I wasn't waiting for you?' "
Kurogane didn't answer. He stared hard at Fai, who was still smiling that same damn smile and looking at something Kurogane couldn't see. Part of him almost wanted to grab Fai and shake him just to see if those smiles would fall away like apples dropping from a tree, to see what those secrets would look like if they ever managed to hit the ground. The other part of him won out and he just grunted and stood up, grabbing Fai's wrist as he did so.
"And then they left and went home, the end," he stated. "Come on. The kid and the princess are probably waiting for us and you've wasted all this time telling stories to a bunch of brats."
The children immediately started protesting, but a fierce glare from Kurogane managed to quiet them a bit.
"Kuro-chan's so mean!" Fai pouted as Kurogane dragged him away. "You said I could finish the story!"
"Kuro-rin's mean!" added Mokona, jumping off Kurogane's head and bouncing back through the marketplace towards where they were meeting Syaoran and Sakura.
"You took too long telling it," Kurogane stated, ignoring Mokona. "Besides... what was that part at the end about anyway?"
Fai looked up at him and beyond him.
"Couldn't you figure it out, Kuro-min?"
"How were you going to end it anyway?" Kurogane deliberately changed the subject.
"I don't know," Fai stretched his arms and walked around in a lazy circle. "Maybe they lived happily ever after, more or less, except that Kuro-pin was as dense as ever and the mage still didn't shut up and they never got the white manjuu off the ninja's head. But still, happily ever after."
Kurogane stopped walking for a moment and turned to look Fai in the face. The mage's smile was old and shut tight, a dusty book with an old lock.
"All right," Kurogane said finally. "Happily ever after, more or less, now come on already." He reached out and grabbed Fai by the wrist again, dragging him forward. Fai looked up again, and this time Kurogane thought that there was something just a bit more real in that smile, in those eyes.
Kurogane kept a tight hold on Fai's wrist, and together they headed back through the marketplace.