Author's Notes: Implied KuroFai? Spoilers for the first season of the anime.

The Art of Manipulation

I.

"Magic," Fai said, with a quick movement of his wrist towards the fire, "is just the art of manipulation. To change form from one thing to the other is only a matter of will." He turned his head and he smiled at them calmly. "What do you think that means?"

Sakura raised her hand timidly as if they were in a classroom and Fai nodded at her solemnly, for all the world like a pleased teacher. "Sakura-chan?"

"Magic is in everything."

Fai tilted his head, infinitely patient. "Like what?"

Sakura shifted on her knees, clearly thinking hard. "Like a catepillar that becomes a butterfly, or even the delicious cakes that you make, Fai-san!"

The wizard clapped in delight. "Wonderful, Sakura-chan! You are a very good student." Fai's elbow nudged Syaoran who hads remained silent throughout the exhange. "Syaoran-kun needs a little work though." But there's sunlight in his words and Syaoran smiled in the face of them, still reserved but feeling at ease as he always did around Fai.

Syaoran already knew a great deal about magic.

II.

"It's snowing," Sakura said from the window, her hand pressed against the glass. Syaoran put down his history of the region and joined her, his expression easing as he watched the crystal flakes drift lazily downwards.

"Look, Fai-san and Kurogane-san are outside!"

Syaoran did see them. They were walking towards the inn at a slow pace and Kurogane had odd splotches of snow on his armor where Fai had pelted him with snowballs. He looked grumpy but Syaoran wasn't really concerned, he always looked grumpy. Beside him, Fai was laughing and he had snow in his hair, a bit of color on his face from the cold. He was perfectly at home though, the icy temperatures not bothering him in the least. His pale looks against the everlasting white made him seem suddenly etheral, like some mage of the past who could call stars and make storms.

"Magic," Sakura said softly, watching the two.

Syaoran agreed.

III.

"Can you pass the salt, Sakura-hime?"

Sakura smiled at him prettily and he felt his cheeks heat as she handed him the shaker. They were all sitting down together for dinner before he and and Kurogane headed out to fulfill their nightly occupations as demon slayers. The ninja sat at the head of the table with Fai at the foot, leaving Syaoran and Sakura sitting across from each other. Mokona was perched on Fai's head, happily muching on some sweet confection the wizard made for him and getting crumbs all over Fai's jacket. It was a peaceful scene of a family spending a moment together and Syaoran felt a sudden ache for his father and the world he'd left behind.

Fai noticed something in his demeanor and, before Syaoran could even react, he got a warm bread roll right in the face. Blinking in surprise, he looked over at the mage while Sakura giggled and Kurogane's eyebrows twitched.

"Eat up, Syaoran-kun," Fai said impishly. "After all, tomorrow Kuro-mii's cooking and I don't want you children to starve."

"Are you saying I'm a bad cook, you damn wizard?" Kurogane growled. Fai put his face in his hands and smiled angelically.

"Of course not, Kuro-puu! I'm saying you can't cook at all."

The rest of the dinner consisted of Kurogane chasing Fai around the table, shouting about revenge and the like, while Mokona pranced happily across the pudding.

Still laughing, Sakura raised the tea pot and tilted her head. "More tea, Syaoran-kun?"

He lifted his cup and smiled back, past forgotten. "Please."

IV.

"Once upon a time, there was a princess."

"Oh, Fai-san," Sakura said, a sleepy smile on her face. "You've already told me that one."

Sitting on the edge of her bed, Fai winked cheerfully in the dark. "I told you about the other princess, not this one. This one is short and cute and is far too old for bedtime stories."

Sakura smiled sheepishly, pulling the sheets over her mouth. The princess always had a hard time the first night in a new world - that sudden jarring wrench as they free-fell, landing on foreign soil and looking about for any immediate signs of danger. On those evenings when she was feeling out of place and confused about her role in their little party, Fai would sit by her and speak to her. He had a very pretty voice, light and airy. He could do serious voices well, too, all smooth and dark. His stories never failed to make her fall asleep and she sometimes wondered if there wasn't a little magic in his words before the thought vanished as her thoughts usually did.

"The princess had a puppy, the most loyal puppy in the whole kingdom. She never went anywhere without him. He was called-"

"Syaoran-kun!" Sakura interjected and Fai laughed.

"Yes! That was his name. Syaoran-kun."

"Fai-san?"

He blinked. "Mm?"

"Will you do magic again someday?"

Something moved across his face but she was too tired to figure out what it was. "Why do you ask?"

She yawned daintily. "I think it must be very beautiful when you do magic, Fai-san."

Fai smiled, a very sweet, almost nostalgic smile that transformed him into something other than a man, something more.

"I suppose I will, one day. You'll see it then, Sakura-chan. I promise."

V.

"Fai." For once in his life, Kurogane was stunned to near speechlessness. On the ground in front of him, Fai lay on his back, blood running down the side of his face and pooling under his back like grotesque crimson wings. He was very pale and his breathing was quick and raspy. Only a few feet away, the kid and the princess stood in shock, tears sparkling in the corner of Sakura's eyes.

"Fai-san," she whispered painfully, her hands clenched in the folds of her dress. Syaoran put a hand on hers in mute reassurance.

For the first time since Kurogane had met him, Fai didn't smile and joke to lighten the girl's spirit. Instead, he looked up and caught Kurogane's eyes, agony darkening the bright blue irises.

"Kuro-chi," he said, and Kurogane knew exactly what he was asking. Bending down, he lifted the wizard's frail body, tucking him against his chest and feeling blood immediately soak into his shirt, smear his armor. Fai's head fell back, exposing his long throat as the pain of movement sent him into unconsciousness.

Over his shoulder, Kurogane barked orders. "You two find shelter and stay put."

"But, Kurogane..." Syaoran objected anxiously.

"Stay here."

The boy nodded reluctantly and Kurogane was off, instantly, searching for a quiet, private place for the man in his arms to die.

VI.

"Draw a circle," Fai told him weakly, his eyes half-closed. "All the way around me. Do it quickly."

Kurogane, for once, did as he was told and then stepped back, restless with the desire to do something, anything. Fai actually smiled a little, as if he knew exactly how he was feeling.

"Don't worry, Kurogane. It'll be alright."

It took the ninja a moment to realize that Fai had called him by his full name, but by then a wind had risen, tousling Fai's blonde hair and kicking up leaves. Fai was chanting under his breath, a long string of smooth syllables that must have been his native language. It sounded full of cold water and deep sea creatures, iciciles on a cloudless day.

Kurogane's circle in the dirt flared to light and words started to write themselves around it, things he couldn't read in that blinding brightness. He threw a hand over his eyes as it intensified and he heard Fai cry out once before it died abruptly, taking the unnatural breeze with it.

Ten feet away, Fai lay still, chest rising and falling as he slept peacefully. Kurogane cursed at him as he picked him up gently and carried him back where he - they - belonged.

VII.

"Once upon a time there was a magician who could do all sorts of things. He could talk to birds and Mokonas." Mokona squealed happily. "And he could do magic without even trying."

Sakura reached out and laid her palm across Fai's folded hands, watching his face worriedly.

"Fai won't wake up," Mokona said sadly. "Why won't he wake up, Sakura?"

She sniffed and rubbed at her eyes. "I don't know, Mokona. Kurogane-san says he did magic to save himself and we just have to wait for him to get better."

Mokona squirmed in her lap. "Let's tell him the story of the big doggy and kitty! Fai likes that one and so does Mokona!"

Once upon a timeā€¦

VIII.

"Kuro-chan."

He was on the verge of dozing when that soft voice called his name and he lifted his head to find Fai opening his eyes. Kurogane moved to his side, suddenly quite awake, and glared down at the prone mage.

"It's about time you woke up," he said shortly, crossing his arms. "You've been asleep for five days. The kids are upset."

Fai chuckled wearily, the action seeming to drain him of what energy he had. His eyes fluttered closed again and Kurogane's expression sharpened.

"Oi. If you're going back to sleep, at least eat something." He pulled a tray with a bowl of cold soup closer to Fai's futon. "The princess'll be upset if I don't get something down you."

"I broke a promise, Kuro-moo," Fai said, levelly. His eyes had opened again and Kurogane actually felt relief upon seeing that familiar azure. He also knew exactly what the wizard was referring to.

"So you used magic," he shrugged. "Would you rather have died a horrible death in front of the kid? He'd never forgive himself." When Fai didn't respond, he added, "And I'd never forgive you."

Fai smiled ever-so-slightly. "You really are a big puppy, Kuro-wanwan."

Kurogane huffed in annoyance.

IX.

Syaoran lifted his head at Fai walked into the room leaning heavily against the cane he had acquired in Outo. Kurogane was next to him looking irritated as usual, but he seemed alive again, more animated now that Fai was back.

Next to him, Sakura had her hands clasped together in joy and her eyes were shining.

"Magic, Syaoran-kun," she said brightly. "And it is beautiful."

X.

"Why did you finally decide to use magic, Fai-san?"

The wizard smiled lazily.

"I was manipulated."

The End