Disclaimer: CLAMP owns all. Because if anime is a drug, CLAMP is my dealer.
Warnings: SPOILERS up through chapitres 108-ish. Rated for implied things.
Authors' Notes: Will be eventually made AU, but when a plotbunny strikes you can't help it.
He knelt in the muddy slush, his hands and face and ragged clothes covered in dirt. The other children stood apart from him, watching, worried, as he made the snow dance at his feet with a wave of his hand.
The boy didn't mind when they shied away. He smiled and wiped a muddy hand across his muddy cheek, not minding the dirt and the cold melting snow. He waved a finger and ice crystals whirled in the air and shone like diamonds before his eyes, and he smiled because he knew something the other children did not.
There was a muttering from nearby as the women who ran the orphanage parted, a hurried, "My liege, this is no place for you, please, away" and the crowd parted, the old women and the glaring children, and another young boy dressed in fine clothes and shining jewels stepped forward.
The boy in the mud looked at him and smiled and kept making the ice float in the air. Prince Ashura watched in fascination, then waved his own hand and suddenly the shards of ice became crystalline birds and flew away.
"Come with me," the prince said, and offered his hand to the boy in mud.
Fai took his hand, and was only a little afraid.
When the Dimension Witch asked for his marking, Fai knew that was like the end.
He'd known since he appeared there, standing in the rain and the wet with strangers, the worried boy and the sleeping girl and the dark-clothed man with the scowling face.
'A place where any wish can be granted, for a price,' he'd been told once, when he learned the spell that would take him to her shop. He knew that what he asked would require the heaviest price he could pay. And that even in paying it, she would only grant the wish he asked her to, not the one he wanted granted most.
So he gave her the only remaining gift Ashura had given him, and remembered sitting in the mud and watching crystalline birds wheel away from him and a hand being held out in friendship.
Ashura fed him and gave him fine new clothes to wear and had a bath drawn up for him with warm water. The tub was huge and filled with bubbles, and all the soaps smelled funny and were different colors. While he bathed, Ashura made the bubbles whirl in front of him, bright rainbow colors flashing as they chased each other overhead and whirled like a wheel above.
The food was all delicious and there was more of it than Fai had ever seen before. Ashura did not eat with him, but sat beside him and watched him with bright, interested eyes.
"You'll be my court wizard someday," the Prince said.
Fai didn't believe him when he heard the words, but when he glanced up at Ashura's face he thought that maybe he did. He didn't know what to say, so he swallowed the food in his mouth and replied,
Fai had never been this far from home before, and he thought that he kind of liked it. It was like walking with no guides, finding things that might be just as good as what he'd left.
Except Ashura, of course. No one was like Ashura.
But he thought he liked his companions. A traveler meeting travelers, everyone leaving things behind and carrying them along when they could. The boy, Syaoran, was earnest and tried hard and would do anything for his princess. Kurogane, the big man in black, was bad-tempered and powerful and Fai had decided that he liked Kurogane best because of it. Kurogane was nothing like Ashura. The princess he knew nothing about, because she was still asleep, but he supposed she must be kind, to have such beautiful feathers.
Hanshin was a busy and bustling place and nothing like Celes. He wanted to explore every bit of it and try their food and see their sights. Fai wondered if there were oceans here. He'd never seen an ocean.
The king's advisors didn't approve of Prince Ashura taking in stray child, but the king didn't seem to care and they wouldn't dare say such things in front of the prince anyhow. Fai heard the murmurs of disapproval and let them wash off him like mud. He didn't need approval from anyone anyway, because Ashura approved of him and that was all that mattered.
He hadn't been afraid since that first night when he'd curled up in the large warm bed in an unfamiliar room and had found himself wondering why he'd been taken in, if the orphanage had sold him like a piece of livestock for food or clothes or money, if he was going to be used in some dark way because he was just a dirty little orphan and nothing of importance.
Now he decided that it didn't matter how he'd come to the palace. Fai didn't mind being sold, if Ashura was the buyer. They spent long hours together talking and playing tricks on any noblemen who dared to speak ill of Fai in the prince's presence. Even the servants gossiped, but Fai didn't bother with them and every morning shared whispered secrets with Ashura as he brushed the prince's long, dark hair.
The princess did seem kind, even with the barest memories in her head. He could see from her face when she awoke, that she was kind. Fai decided that he would like her, too, and so the traveling companions would all be amiable ones for the trip.
Fai stood at the window with Kurogane and watched Syaoran in the rain. He wondered if Syaoran was crying. Syaoran had been strong, not to cry at the first. Still, it was a hard thing for someone to bear, he supposed. Having a precious person forget you. Fai didn't know how it felt, but he had an inkling of something similar and he knew that Syaoran wouldn't cry where they could see. He wasn't sure if that strength was good or bad.
Ashura was hesitant when he told Fai what had happened at the orphanage. An avalanche, he said gently. No one had seen it coming. No survivors, all buried beneath the snow. It was all right to cry, the prince said, there was nothing wrong with that.
Fai didn't cry. He didn't understand why the prince expected him to. He didn't care for those people, and now they were dead. He didn't remember their faces at all. There was no point in crying for forgotten faces. Fai smiled instead and told Ashura that they should go play instead of talking about unfortunate things.
The servants nearby heard his reaction and watched him with queer eyes, whispering hurriedly to each other about callousness and inhumanity. Ashura didn't say anything, but took his hand again and they spent the rest of the day in the garden, trying to separate the poisonous plants from the mostly poisonous ones.
Curled in his bed that night, Fai dreamed of faceless people and woke up with his face wet.
The night before they left Hanshin Sakura asked Syaoran about the home she could only just remember. Fai sat to one side and listened as Syaoran described the warm sands of the desert, the kind townspeople, her brother the king and the high priest who looked just like the two young man at that shop where they'd had food.
Kurogane was somehow persuaded to tell them about his home world, and his answers were short and curt. Japan, a land of strong warriors and vicious demons, a beautiful palace and a beautiful princess, both guarded by loyal retainers. He was going back there as soon as he could, and nothing else mattered.
Fai smiled and said nothing, and thought quietly of home.
Ashura taught him all the magic he could, because it was important for Fai to know how to control what he'd been born with. The current royal magician, an old, ill-tempered man, had originally been brought in to tutor him, but Fai didn't like him at all and the feeling was mutual. The old man wouldn't teach the secrets of the strongest magic to a stray cat of a child, and Fai would have no teacher but Ashura. They parted ways soon enough, and the old man went back to serving Ashura's father the king, and Fai got the teacher he liked best.
Ashura knew more about magic than Fai had thought possible, and listened with an eager ear to every bit of information he could get. He devoured all the spell books in the library, staying up until late into the night after Ashura had fallen asleep in the chair beside him, learning and reading and trying his best to be worthy of the prince's praise.
No matter how hard he tried and how much he learned, Ashura was always better. Ashura's movements were smooth and controlled and his magic obeyed him like a loyal pet. Fai's was rougher and more volatile though he tried his best, and Ashura quietly promised Fai that someday he'd be in full control and would stand by Ashura's side always.
One day, Ashura taught him to whistle.
"Can't you use a little magic now?" Kurogane muttered.
"No, sorry." Fai smiled, because he knew a secret. He wouldn't die here, not with Kurogane by his side, and he would do magic for no one but Ashura, who he feared the most and loved above everything.
"You will be my court magician someday," Ashura promised again. They were alone in the prince's ornate room, sprawled together on the bed, naked to the waist and wet from a swim in the charmed lake that sat in the highest level of the castle. No one was supposed to swim in it, of course, but Ashura was the prince and, as Fai had pointed out, who would tell the royal prince where he could and could not swim?
Ashura had been hesitant, but the gleam in Fai's eye was infectious and they'd dived in together, laughing. A pair of servants had hovered nearby with towels, looking scandalized, and whispered to each other about Fai having a bad influence on Prince Ashura. The prince, overhearing this, had stated bluntly that he didn't mind being badly influenced if Fai was doing it and had waved the servants away, while Fai hid his head under the water and grinned like a cat.
"You will be, you know. I'll choose my own royal magician," Ashura repeated eagerly, as if saying it made it so.
The prince's voice was firm and strong, and his eyes were intent. Fai ran a hand through his wet hair and still not knowing what else to say, replied,
The town of Spirit was pleasantly cold and there was snow on the ground. Fai stood outside and leaned on the door as he waited for the others to wake up so they could continue searching for the feather. He had almost missed the snow and the cold, and had been almost reluctant to exchange his warm fluffy coat for the unfamiliar clothes. But he supposed it was necessary, because the coat stood out too much and he needed to find new things anyway.
"What are you doing?" Kurogane grumbled as he pushed his way out the door with a bag tucked under his arm, heading over to where they'd left the horses.
"Ah! Is Kuro-tan worried about me?' Fai smiled. "I'm used to colder than this."
"Hmmph." Kurogane snorted and turned his back. A moment later he whirled, already reaching for the sword that wasn't there as a cold ball of snow struck his shoulder.
"I got you!" Fai sang, waving a hand.
"I'm not playing along, you bastard," Kurogane stated. "Go find something else to do."
"Kuro-kichi's mean," Fai pouted. He waited until Kurogane had turned his back again, then knelt in the snow and began making more snowballs.
"I see what you're doing! If you throw those at me again I'll-" Kurogane did an impressive set of evasive maneuvers as Fai launched a few more snowballs at him.
"What is wrong with you?" Kurogane demanded, grabbing Fai by the collar.
A snowball fell on top of his head, and he looked up to see Mokona sitting merrily on the tree branch above him.
Fai laughed and waved Mokona down, and Kurogane chased them around with a heavy stick, promising a swift death.
When the king died, Ashura went into mourning. The prince locked himself in his chambers and refused to see anyone, not even Fai. He set guards at the door and informed all visitors that he would not be seen until after the funeral.
Fai didn't understand and was very upset when the guards turned him away. Didn't they know that he was allowed wherever Ashura was? He argued with them until Ashura appeared at the door, pale and wan, and bade him leave.
Fai sat in his own room alone, swinging his feet over the side of the bed and wondering why Ashura refused to see him. There was nothing important in the palace for him if Ashura wasn't there, and if Ashura wanted to be alone, he could certainly be alone with Fai by his side. Fai would even have been very quiet, if he was only allowed in.
He thought of faceless people and avalanches and unshed tears, and his stomach felt very odd.
The funeral was a lavish affair and everyone was dressed in dark colors. Fai clambered onto one of the large statues that stood on either side of the throne room, dressed in an outfit of darkest blue that he been delivered to his room by a stiff-faced noblewoman. He watched as Ashura bowed before the dark heavy coffin, the prince's face grave and tear-stained, his words heavy and echoing as he spoke the ancient burial rites in time with the priest. Fai mouthed the words with them, but he didn't know what they meant.
When the funeral was over the guards disappeared from Ashura's chambers and Fai slipped in and lay by the prince's side, quietly listening to him cry.
"You could escape if you used your magic," Seishiro told him.
"But I've already decided not to use magic." This was bad. Kurogane wasn't by his side this time, and the princess could be in danger. The sensible thing to do would be to run. Three worlds prior, he might have. Three worlds prior, he might have done many things differently.
But he wouldn't use magic and he wouldn't leave the princess, and so there was nothing much to do but watch the demons as they jumped at him, and quietly regret that he hadn't had a chance to say goodbye to Kurogane and to see Ashura one more time. And then he died.
Fai opened his eyes and looked at the walls of the glass egg that surrounded him. He didn't quite understand it, but he laughed anyway.
Ashura was the king now, and the old man that had been his father's magician stepped down from his position, all the while making dire pronouncements about Ashura's choices in companionship. The older nobles whispered poison words between them when Fai came to stand by Ashura's side, and were silenced with a look.
Ashura told him that a king keeps all his promises, and ran a hand along Fai's shoulders.
Fai could only remember some of the ritual when the marking was placed. He recalled hands sliding along his bare back, sometimes Ashura's, sometimes ones he didn't recognize. He remembered twisting and panting on the bed, sweat running down his skin with the heat from the torches burning his eyes. Ashura's voice broke through the haze surrounding him, steady and clear as he read the words of magic, but Fai couldn't see the king, his sweat-soaked bangs hanging into his eyes and sticking to his forehead.
He recalled pain shooting up and down his back, remembering clutching uselessly at the sheets below him, his mouth open but unable to produce any sound. His back arched and he gasped for breath, focusing mindlessly on Ashura's voice. He couldn't make out any of the words, only heard the voice as a constant noise beside him, a comforting hum of a song he didn't understand, not yet. His breathing grew ragged and he bit his lip until it bled; he couldn't feel the pain anymore, only the heat and the sweat and Ashura's voice. The chanting reached its climax and Fai managed one soft cry before falling limply onto the bed, shaking and weak.
When he came to, Ashura was sitting beside him, wiping his forehead with a wet cloth. He helped Fai sit up and brought mirrors so that Fai could see his back.
"Now, you are my court magician," Ashura whispered. Fai laughed quietly.
"Okay," he replied, because it was all he could say.
They had only been in Yasha's country only days when Fai fell sick with a fever. At least, that's what he thought it must have been, since he couldn't understand a word anyone said. The doctor Kurogane had dragged in to treat him hadn't seemed overly worried, and Kurogane had seemed more annoyed than anything else.
Fai lay in his cot and sweated and muttered to himself while Kurogane hovered nearby cleaning Souhi, staying just far away enough and looking just busy enough that it didn't seem as if he was staying there for Fai's sake. Fai let himself pretend he knew better than to fall for that, because he was sick and he'd let himself believe anything if it made him feel better.
He didn't understand the words these people spoke, and he understood them even less with the fever burning in his head. None of them understood him at all. The doctor who had come to look at him that first day had grown increasingly frustrated with him, asking questions and getting what he thought was nothing but babble in return, and when Fai had squirmed away from his cold hands the man had said a couple sharp things that sounded distinctly like curses.
Kurogane had come into the tent after that and held him down while the doctor examined him, muttering a few words that were definitely curses. Fai didn't know the language at all, but he still understood only when Kurogane talked, and even when he didn't. When Fai began to shiver Kurogane walked over and silently pulled the blankets over the mage's head, and pulled them down again when Fai started to sweat. Fai could understand the sharp words Kurogane spoke when the ninja wiped a cold cloth over his head, and he knew Kurogane didn't mean any of it when the ninja brought him water and complained because he had to lift Fai's head so the mage could drink it.
It felt like the fever was only getting worse, but Kurogane didn't seem worried and so Fai wasn't worried either, only tired and uncomfortable and floating inside his head. Sometimes Kurogane would leave for a while – they were a part of Yasha's army, after all, and Kurogane had other things to do than play nursemaid – but Fai knew he would always return, and if the blankets were on the ground by then Kurogane would pick them back up and set them to the side until Fai started to shiver again, because for all the angry-sounding words the ninja spoke, Fai knew he wouldn't be abandoned.
The days blurred together in a haze of cold and warmth and sweating, gasping for breath, weak and tired and unable to get out of bed, with no one but Kurogane to talk to, and even that communication all but cut off. Half the time Fai felt more asleep than awake, and sometimes he'd try to lift his head because he couldn't see Kurogane and wanted to be sure the ninja was still there.
He was twisting in the heat once when he suddenly felt strong cold hands grab at him and pin him to the bed, and when he opened his eyes Kurogane was inches from his face, saying something in angry and forceful tones. Fai tried to gather his scrambled wits together to figure out what had happened, all he knew was that he had been hot before, and then he saw that he'd torn his clothes half off and there were bloody scratches on his chest that he'd apparently inflicted himself.
Kurogane's face was still inches from his and the ninja was watching him carefully, but Fai couldn't keep his vision steady and the face kept slipping out of focus. Kurogane still held his wrists and the grip felt firm and unshakeable, and Fai tried to moor his consciousness to that grip, so that he wouldn't be swept away.
A slip of a thought fluttered into his mind like a butterfly, and Fai smiled through the heat and haze.
Though there was little strength left in him, Fai raised his head and kissed Kurogane on the lips, because the ninja was inches from his face and because he could.
Once Fai had recovered from the ritual, Ashura had him officially appointed as royal magician. The king threw a lavish party for the affair, and all the court bowed to Fai as he was given his official title.
As he watched the same nobles who'd once called him a dirty little stray smile greedily at him and attempt to curry his favor, Fai felt a little thrill of triumph. They were dependant on his good will now. The winds had changed profoundly.
That night, he entered his new room, hung with silk and filled with exquisite furniture. The room felt large and empty for all that, and Fai felt cold despite the small fire that had been lit in the fireplace. He slipped out of his room in the middle of the night and sought Ashura's instead.
Any other man would have been punished severely for such a transgression, but Ashura welcomed Fai into his bed and they spent a warm night together.
Fai had been out of bed a week already, and Kurogane had said nothing about the kiss, not as far as Fai could tell. Their interaction seemed limited now to Kurogane dragging him everywhere by the arm and yelling at him whenever he wandered off. Fai didn't bother saying anything, because Kurogane wouldn't understand him anyway and besides, he was more interested in seeing Kurogane's reaction. Fai was beginning to wonder if he'd hallucinated the kiss after all.
He wondered what Kurogane would do if he tried to kiss him again.
A few days after Fai had begun entertaining such thoughts, Yasha invited them to dine with him. Or he'd invited Kurogane, at least, Fai suspected that he was going along more because Kurogane didn't trust him to wait by himself in their tent while he went and managed things. Fai had only just recovered from his fever, after all, and had only begun accompanying Kurogane to the training grounds to show off his own skills in battle. Most of the camp likely still thought that Fai was nothing more than some sort of brain-damaged camp follower that Kurogane was obligated to drag around for whatever reason.
Yasha looked just like the statue they'd seen at the jinja, and as they sat at the sturdy wood table with Yasha at the head and men who were supposedly his generals surrounding them Fai found himself wishing that he could talk to the man, because he had questions he wanted to ask.
But he couldn't talk, so he sat beside Kurogane and ate the food placed before him (and some of the food placed before Kurogane, when the ninja wasn't looking) and let the talk go over his head, sounding like only so much noise to his ears. Kurogane seemed surprisingly vocal, talking to the generals. Fai wondered if they were talking about battles. It felt strange, to be the one sitting quiet while Kurogane did all the talking. In all the other worlds they had been in, it was Fai who often did the talking. He was the pleasant one, after all, and people liked talking to him. Usually it was Kurogane who sat alone and ate and ignored everyone. It didn't feel right, being silent.
After some time Fai noticed that he wasn't the only one being silent. Yasha had not spoken all the time they had been there, had simply nodded at them in greeting and let his men speak for him. Fai wondered why the man did not speak, and found himself thinking that there was something very sad about Yasha, though he couldn't figure out exactly what.
Fai heard his name being said and immediately glanced up to look at Kurogane, who was shaking his head and saying something to one of the generals. Fai felt a smile creep onto his face. Perhaps there were good sides to this. He couldn't be expected to introduce himself if he didn't have the words to say it and didn't know when he was being asked to, and until that moment, Kurogane had never called him by name. It was always 'you' or 'you bastard' (Fai was pretty sure he'd already figured out the word for 'you bastard,' because Kurogane had said it to him so much) or 'that damn magician' and similar epithets. In fact, Kurogane rarely called any of his companions by name. He called them 'the princess' and 'the kid' and 'the white thing,' but never a name.
Fai liked hearing Kurogane say his name, and when everyone rose to leave the table he deliberately ignored the ninja's attempts at communicating with him until he heard his name again.
They went back to their tent and Kurogane grumbled something at him. Fai had no words to ask the question, so he kissed Kurogane instead, just to see what the ninja would do.
Ashura was not gentle with him, and Fai didn't wish him to be. It was Ashura. Ashura could do as he liked, and Fai would gladly curve his body to meet that desire, would tear himself down and burn if Ashura desired it of him.
Ashura's hands were unmarred and always warm on his skin no matter how rough the touch, his fingers long and smooth as they traced the inked lines on Fai's back. Sometimes the long fingernails would draw blood and Fai would still lean into it, would welcome it, would urge Ashura on for more, no matter what color stained the sheets and mapped his body, the pleasure and pain were all one to him and all desirable; he would take any sensation if it was Ashura who granted it.
Fai's skin did not bruise so easily and he became adept at hiding what did, only so no one would talk. The rest of the court already thought him odd enough, no sense in egging the gossip on. Though Ashura promised Fai that any such words spoken against him were grounds for banishment from the royal court Fai still chose to hide all the marks, because it pleased him to do so. It was the secret between the two of them only, as the secrets had always been, and Fai would rather spend the day in silence, exquisitely sore and exhausted, than let anyone else know the things he and the king shared. He was Ashura's alone, and the things between them were only between them. Those outside wouldn't understand.
Fai was Ashura's creature and would not deny it and let Ashura's hands mark his body as they would, as long as he alone was given leave to spend the night in the king's room and when the day began Fai had the silent satisfaction of knowing that, no matter how it should seem to others, the king's eyes were always upon him and him alone.
It was not long after that the clouds grew thicker, and the sun did not rise.
Kurogane's hands were rough and strong, but his touch was gentler than Fai had expected. There were no words between them, there couldn't be in this world, but Fai could feel Kurogane's irritation and confusion, he knew what Kurogane thought even if the ninja didn't.
Kurogane didn't know how to deal with him but would touch him anyway, and was light when he wanted to be rough, because he, like so many others in the camp, saw only smooth white skin and pale hair and assumed that Fai was a delicate thing. Fai laughed at the silliness of it all and tried to goad the ninja into being rougher. He wouldn't scar, not from hands that for all their strength had not a third of Ashura's power. Kurogane could do whatever he wished, he wouldn't be able to draw a drop of blood from Fai's skin.
The only bruises appeared on Fai's wrists from where the ninja had held him down that day he'd had the fever, and Fai tried to coax Kurogane into that strength again, teased him and taunted him with words he'd never understand. Still, Kurogane was not as rough as he could be, and Fai began to settle into the touch that was familiar and let himself feel pleasure however he could and gave in kind. Fai knew that he was always on the edge of breaking, but it would take more than Kurogane to do it. They spent the nights together, and Fai knew that Kurogane would never manage to break him, not with his hands alone.
And sometimes Fai wondered what would happen, if he revealed everything to Kurogane right now while they were tangled together and sweating and had nothing but each other, when his words wouldn't reach and there was nothing either could really say.
The sun had not been seen for too many days and Celes was growing colder. The country had always been seated on the edge of night, warmed by only the faintest sunlight and kept alive by luck and by the ancient magic guarded by its kings. The second morning where the clouds were too thick for any light to be seen, Ashura had taken Fai into the king's inner chamber to check the seals on the old spells and it was clear from the first glance what had happened.
Ancient magic could not hold forever, and the seals were breaking. Once the magic died, their world would die with it.
That night Ashura was rougher than usual, hurried and grasping and desperate, and Fai could do nothing for him but bend into it all and whisper meaningless words. The room was freezing cold because Ashura would not allow a fire, and the only warmth was between the two of them.
When they saw Mokona appear on the battlefield, a small flash of white in the midst of the fighting, Fai felt his breath catch in his throat. An instant later he saw Syaoran and Sakura appear just in front of the Ashura that wasn't his, and Fai glanced over at Kurogane to see what the reaction would be.
Kurogane's eyes were on the two children, intent and thoughtful, but when he felt Fai's gaze he turned to meet it.
Fai knew if he spoke now, Kurogane would understand him. Mokona was here now. If there was a feather here, Syaoran would surely find it and they'd all be reunited and the road would go on again, forever, like always.
Any words he could speak died in his throat. Fai only smiled, and when Kurogane chose to pretend he didn't recognize the two children before them, Fai followed suit because it was all that he could do.
The old spells had been lost, but Ashura was searching anyway. The king tore apart the library, desperate, and Fai followed behind and tried to remember what he'd read so many years ago, when he'd stayed up all night to read while Ashura slept in chairs beside him. Nothing came to mind. Nothing helped. The sun was still missing, and even the plants in the garden were dying.
The country was growing restless. Refugees from the areas even farther north than the castle passed by them, moving southward in hopes of warmer shores, and there was nothing they could do to help the lean and hungry people. Fai sat on a balcony and watched the line of people as it passed far below him, and pulled his coat tighter around his shoulders.
In some areas of the country, the unrest grew too great, and there were uprisings. The nobles flitted about the halls of the castle, twittering nervously about the fear of leaving the safety of the floating castle, of being robbed on the road, of other noblemen who had returned to their home villages and were killed by lean mobs who knew that even now, not everyone was going hungry.
Ashura, still mired in ancient scrolls and dusty books, was short and curt when asked for aid. The royal army was sent here and there to calm things down, but even that was not enough. When rumors came of a small group of men marching on the castle itself, Ashura had no time to bother with them, and sent Fai instead.
None of the men survived and when Fai returned to the castle, the nobles praised him for his bravery to his face and whispered of his barbarism at his back.
Ashura's room was cold that night, and even the king's presence could not warm Fai.
Once the moon reached its height and they were back on familiar ground, Fai attempted to speak to Kurogane. He leaned in close to the ninja so that no one else would hear – he had been silent so long half their comrades didn't even think that he could speak, and there would surely be uncomfortable questions if he suddenly spoke and understood the language that had previously been beyond him.
Kurogane looked at him questioningly and replied. Fai didn't understand a word.
That fact comforted him, and he happily attached himself to Kurogane's arm, smiling wordlessly when the ninja growled at him.
Their time was short now. Fai was going to make the most of it.
Nothing had been found that could save them, but Ashura would not stop searching. The king's temper was short now, and he had no time for distractions. He would not let Fai help him search the library, and if the magician tried to sit with the king while he searched, he would be quickly sent away to quell some new uprising here or there.
Starving mobs were easy for Fai to handle, with his magic, but he quickly developed a distaste for the whole thing. Ashura would say nothing to him when he returned the castle with hands covered in blood, and his eyes were elsewhere. The castle was as bitter and cold as the rest of the world.
One night Fai made his way to Ashura's room to find guards by the door, who told him that the king was not to be disturbed. This time, Fai understood and did not argue.
He wandered into the garden, once made magnificent by secret spells and rare plants that could survive even the normally harsh winters of Celes. They had not survived this unending winter, and lay limp and dead. There was a noise from nearby, and he found a small cat, thin but bright-eyed nonetheless, hiding under a dead bush. Several of the nobles had recently begun moving their families into the castle in hopes of finding safety; the creature had likely come in with one of them.
Fai took it in his hands and stroked its ears, walking back to his room. He drew figures in the air and wrote secret words he'd once read, and soon there was a girl where the cat had been. He named her Chii and smiled when she answered him.
Chii made a fire for him that night, and he did not sleep in his bed, but in a chair by the fire with her head in his lap, stroking her ears and listening to the wind howl outside.
They could talk again, but Fai had nothing to say. He didn't expect anything from Kurogane now, not when they had their companions again and the road still stretched in front of them. It had been a pleasant diversion before, but they had been alone then, the world had been strange and the road ahead had been barred. Fai went back to the same game he had always played, and asked Kurogane for nothing.
The first night in Piffle, long after Sakura and Syaoran had gone to bed, Fai stayed awake and stared out a window, trying to recall something old and dusty on the edges of his mind. Kurogane walked into the room and leaned against the door, and said that he was going to bed, and asked if Fai was coming with him.
Fai turned, startled, and stared. Kurogane just stared back, his red eyes as piercing as ever. Fai had missed that gaze even in Yasha's country, where Kurogane's eyes had been black and cold. He could see things in those eyes now.
He didn't speak now because he didn't have to and smiled because he wanted to, and followed Kurogane into his room, laughing all the way.
They were forbidden spells. Ashura showed them to Fai, the old scrolls unrolled on the floor of the library. The king's voice was hushed and breathless, like an excited child's. Fai felt his stomach turn, and his replies didn't reach Ashura's ears.
These spells could save Celes. These spells could also kill it completely, and the neighboring countries besides. It would all depend on the power of the caster and the will of the magic itself. They depended on sacrifices that should never be made. Fai didn't want to make them.
"We'll cast them together," Ashura told him. His eyes were still not on Fai, only on the scrolls. "With our power, we will save this country. I will fix things, Fai, do you see?"
Fai closed his eyes and shook his head, and Ashura's voice became a distant rumble of thunder.
"You will do this, Fai. I command you." A pause. "The king commands you. You should know the price for disobeying your master."
Fai couldn't reply. Ashura had not commanded him in such a way before, because there had never been any need. Fai would have done anything he asked. If only Ashura required it, Fai would have gladly set fire to the world.
But he had been made to do too many things which he did not want to do, and Ashura didn't see him anymore. Fai simply walked away, and Ashura's words burned in his ears.
That night he didn't even pass by Ashura's room, though he knew that this one time the king would have welcomed him in again. Instead, he sat in his own bed with no fire to warm him, Chii curled fast asleep in a ball at his feet. He lay awake and thought of darker things.
It wasn't until he found that he could no longer remember the face of the boy who had once offered him his hand that Fai realized he was afraid.
"Then it means you've changed as well," Kurogane told him, as they stood celebrating Sakura's victory.
Fai stared at him, and couldn't think of answer. He didn't remember changing, didn't expect to change. He wasn't supposed to. Other people changed around him, but he had planned to stay as he had been forever, because it was better that way.
But Sakura was cheering her victory and Syaoran was smiling and Kurogane was beside him and watching him with knowing eyes, and Fai wondered if maybe he had changed after all, without even realizing.
It was unknown territory before him, but somehow, Fai felt warmer.
Ashura was asleep, and would not wake. The air smelled like death, and Fai knew he was shaking as he dived into the water. But there had been no choice.
He'd known that there was another mob advancing on the castle. He'd known who led them, one of Ashura's closest advisors who'd had enough of this madness. There were ways to save Celes, the man had said. Lesser spells to hold off the death. They would leave if they had to, and seek refuge farther south where the sun had to still be shining. The king would destroy them all, if he did not listen, but Ashura would not listen to anyone but his own voices by this time. So armies had been gathered and defenses set, and now the magnificent castle was silent and dead and there was blood on the snow.
The king would not listen to reason, they had said. He had to be stopped, they told him, but no one had the power for it. It was for the good of everyone. Didn't he want to help everyone? Didn't he care about the people who were suffering, and who would suffer more if those spells were cast? He had not been born into privilege. Surely he could understand this suffering. Surely he could do what was right.
The words were bitter like blood in his mouth and his hands were cold as they ran along the edges of the glass that held the sleeping king, clinically testing the strength of the spell. For the good of everyone. For the good of everyone he had lost his most precious thing, and had gained nothing in the doing. Even if there was life somewhere above, he had no true home in Celes now. The people who had rejected him before would always reject him, and he had killed too many of their own to expect anything else. The only thing that had ever mattered was asleep under the waves and would never look at him again without hate.
It was the right thing to do, they would surely tell him as they whispered ways to send him to his own sleep. Fai wouldn't let them, wouldn't bother with them. He had nothing now but himself, so he would trust only to that. He wouldn't do the right thing anymore, then. It was only himself now. He would keep his own secrets and share them with no one, and run until he couldn't run anymore, because there was nowhere he could safely rest anymore.
Fai ran his hand over the glass coffin one more time and whispered his last secret into Ashura's deaf ears. Then he turned and swum for where Chii was waiting for him. The road stretched on forever before him, and he would have no home anymore.
This new world had a pleasant smell, and the sky was blue above him. Fai lay on his back in the grass where Mokona had deposited him and turned to his side to look at his companions. Sakura and Syaoran were asleep still, and Mokona was already hopping around to get a good look at their surroundings.
"It's nice, isn't it, Kuro-pi?" Fai asked mildly, looking up at the ninja, who had already stood.
"Hmmph." Kurogane shrugged and looked down at him. "Are you going to sit there all day?"
"Kuro-rin's always in such a hurry," Fai whimpered. "I want to relax! And Sakura-chan and Syaoran-kun are still sleeping, so we can take a break now, right?"
"Get up already!" Kurogane glared at him, but held out a hand anyway to help him up.
Fai stared at him for a moment, thinking. Then he reached up and took Kurogane's hand.
This time, he wasn't afraid.