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Of Falls and Landings
By the time they found him, it had been long since over. Ashura was leaning against the wall of the empty house, blue veins stark against a pale face, his eyes open and milky from exposure.
Fai was lying in a far corner, unmoving. Kurogane blocked the door before the Syaoran and Sakura could follow him in.
The air reeked of copper and sweat and mildew and something thicker. There were blood trails and slivers of the mage's familiar coat leading to the pale body sprawled face down against the floor. When Kurogane drew closer, he could see deep, festering gashes across Fai's back and arms in places where the skin was once smooth. Fai's face was left unmarred, and Kurogane tried not to think on why Ashura left Fai looking like a perfect wind up doll. He bundled up the still body in his cloak and retrieved the feather clutched in the mage's cold fingers.
They skipped three dimensions before they found a country with decent medical care. Feathers, they could come back for, but Fai would not last. It took hours getting him patched back together, and for days, the mage wouldn't wake. When Fai finally opened his eyes again, Kurogane saw the glassy sheen in the blue eyes and he knew.
This time, Kurogane didn't need smiles to tell him Fai was broken.
The witch took one look at Fai and shook her head. "Ashura took too much of him when he took his magic."
"Can he get better?" Syaoran asked.
"Maybe, if he wants to."
There was a heavy moment of silence as they all looked at the bandaged figure perched at the edge of the window. Fai was leaning forward with a nonsensical smile, delicately balanced, looking as if a strong breeze would pull him out onto the streets below.
Sakura's eyes brightened hopefully, but Kurogane knew better when it came to self determination and Fai.
"Will you do something about it?" Kurogane demanded.
The witch looked at him. "Do you have anything of equal value you are willing to exchange?"
They continued on with a princess who lost her heart and a mage who lost his mind and Kurogane wondered if laughing was appropriate at a time like this.
Losing his magic seemed to take away his voice as well. Fai fluttered about, looking without seeing, never speaking, and always smiling.
Sakura followed Fai at first, trailing behind him constantly speaking as if to make up for his silences, but the mage's fixed expression unsettled Kurogane. He knew better than both the kids how dangerous Fai truly was, and he knew there was still something razor sharp beneath empty eyes. Kurogane kept to watching Fai closely.
So most of the time, it was Kurogane and Fai, Syaoran and Sakura, whenever they looked for other feathers. They always roomed together, partly because Kurogane half expected to be the mage to slip off a window sill in the middle of the night and partly because it was pointless renting a room for a man who never touched the bed. Whenever they were alone, Kurogane'd taken to talking at Fai, but Fai's eyes were always looking at someplace not here.
One night he woke up with the sensation of feather light kisses dusting over his face. He froze, not daring to breathe, until he felt cold fingers coiling around his neck, tensing and poised to squeeze. On instinct, he moved, and Fai crashed onto the floor with only a quiet gasp. He shifted, lifting his head and smiled a smile that left Kurogane cold for the rest of the night.
Fai was eradic. Some days, he wandered away, disappearing for hours before one of them, usually Kurogane, tracked him down and brought him back. Other days, he barely moved, draped against the windowsill, his graceful fingers tracing invisible patterns in the sky.
Once, Kurogane returned to their room and found Fai, his back to a mirror, carefully and deliberately carving lines on his already scarred back with pieces of a broken glass. There was no hesitation in his movements, even when every stroke drew blood, Fai's hand never wavered. In two long strides, Kurogane snatched the glass away from the mage, cursing loudly. Fai's eyes narrowed and then Kurogane was fighting to keep Fai's hands from closing around his neck. He caught Fai around the waist and pressed the struggling mage on the ground face first, mindful of his back, and Fai abruptly fell still.
Syaoran burst into the room, drawn by the noise, and paled at the sight. "I'll get the bandages," he said quickly.
Kurogane glared at the mage, feeling a sharp surge of irritation. Kurogane knew Fai could never fix himself, but he also didn't think Fai could break anymore than he already did.
"You idiot," Kurogane hissed. "You're not even trying."
Fai's eyes ghosted over him with wry detachment.
It wasn't until much later, after Kurogane had wound bandages over half the mage's back back, that he realized Fai had been retracing the intricate tattoo the witch had taken.
Kurogane didn't understand Fai. Even when the mage was more or less whole, there were so many convoluted loops to him that it hurt just tracing the corners. It had bothered him that Fai spoke constantly but never said anything that mattered. Kurogane had pushed him a few times, even though it was against his nature to pry, trying to unravel what he could of the mage, but the parts that Fai had let him see never added together into anything complete.
And now the pieces made even less sense. Kurogane didn't know what the tattoo meant to him and didn't understand why Fai seemed determined to reclaim it. He didn't know who Ashura was to him and didn't understand why Fai couldn't kill the king until he was already dying himself.
But Kurogane did know Fai was the kind of person who needed somebody else to live. He knew Fai would never save himself. But it was impossible piecing back together a puzzle that he never knew the image of in the first place.
One of the worlds they came to seemed to be caught in a state of perpetual winter. It was ice in all directions and snow was always falling. Fai came alive in that world, his blue eyes glittering from the reflection of the sun against the snow, his smile the brightest Kurogane had seen for a long time.
One afternoon, Kurogane returned from gathering firewood and found the house empty. The children had gone away early that morning to gather information, and Kurogane cursed when he realized the mage had wandered off again.
It was easy to follow Fai, with his footsteps crisply outlined on the ground. He found him deep in a forest behind their small house, standing absolutely still with the hood of his coat thrown back and his blond hair laced with snow. When Kurogane came to stand beside him, Fai tilted his head to one side with an odd look of concentration on his face. Then Fai turned, raised himself on tiptoe, and kissed him.
Kurogane caught Fai's hands, expecting them to reach for his throat again, but Fai didn't struggle and only leaned closer until he was resting completely against him. Fai's kisses were feather light, shy even, and he never stopped smiling between them. Something in Kurogane snapped then, and he wanted to push back, to pull and tear until something finally changed about him. His hands closed around Fai's upper arms and he returned Fai's soft kisses with harsh ones of his own. He kissed the Fai until he could no longer smile, and ran his fingers though the blond strands and trapped his face so Fai could see nothing but him, feel nothing but him.
When it was over, Fai's lips were turning faintly blue from the cold. Kurogane moved away slowly and wrapped Fai up in his drier cloak and Fai smiled again and chased the snowflakes that fell out of Kurogane's hair with his finger.
This couldn't go on.
Even though he'd never expected Fai to fix himself, he hadn't believed Fai would be like this forever. He supposed some part of him had expected Fai could better, even if it was just a little.
Kurogane was beginning to think a little wasn't enough, and nothing would enough until Fai was whole again.
The night after he had found Fai in the forest, he plucked Mokona from Syaoran's head and found an isolated corner behind their house. When he asked for Yuuko, Kurogane began to wonder why he had waited so long.
"I think you already know what I want," Kurogane told her.
The witch's smile managed to convey no humor at all. "What are you willing to exchange?" she asked.
On hindsight, Kurogane realized going home might have been one of those dreams people hold on to when they have nothing else to want. He had wanted to go home. He didn't trust Souma to keep Tomoyo-hime safe without him around, and Tomoyo-hime was the kind of leader who deserved the strongest. But he knew the princess was strong too, and Japan most likely moved on without him without so much as a hitch. He also knew that home wouldn't feel the same anymore if he ever did return, not after seeing to many different worlds in so many different shades, and not after Fai.
He had changed along with everything else, and now, he wanted something and the thought of returning home didn't feel half as real as this did.
"I want to change my wish," Kurogane said finally.
The witch didn't pause. "No."
"What? Why?" Kurogane snapped.
"That is not of equal value," Yuuko said quietly. "What you want in return is more costly."
Kurogane gritted his teeth in frustration, "I have nothing else."
The witch watched him contemplatively for a moment, then closed her eyes. "Your memories of Japan will be sufficient."
"My—" Kurogane turned away and scowled. He could give up never returning home, but he didn't know if he could let go of those memories. He grown up in Japan, studied, fought, and served and giving that up was like letting go of himself. Then he thought of Fai and realized that was one thing he could not let go of either.
He supposed that was fair, a piece of himself in exchange for Fai.
Kurogane wondered if this was the true strength his princess wanted to find—being able to give up something without expecting anything in return.
Kurogane leaned back with a sigh. "Fine."
When it was over, Kurogane thought about his home and remembered a raven haired princess and a sharp faced ninja but couldn't remember any of the places at all.
Fai was sitting by the window again when he returned, his back towards the door, his head bent slightly in concentration. Fai visibly tensed when the door slipped shut with a click and didn't move even when Kurogane moved to sit beside him, leaning against the wall.
Fai's eyes were fixed on his reflection in the window plane. He was frowning slightly, as if something about that face was unfamiliar.
"Kuro—" Fai broke off and coughed. His voice was harsh and hoarse from disuse, and his lips moved as though he could no longer remember how to form words. "What did you pay?"
It wasn't surprising, Kurogane decided, that Fai realized so quickly what had happened. He had hoped before that Fai would never know, but he should have known better. "I'll tell you later," Kurogane said after a long silence.
Fai turned to look at him then and Kurogane realized he had never seen the mage look so brittle, not even when he had found him beside Ashura. It was strange to not see a smile on that face now. The unfamiliar rawness in Fai's eyes made Kurogane's breath catch, and Kurogane wondered if this was the Fai with no masks left.
"I am the kind of person you hate the most," Fai said slowly. "But you bargained with the witch for me. That's not… like you, Kurogane."
"Idiot," Kurogane said softly. "If I hated you, I wouldn't have bothered to save you so many times." Then he added as an afterthought, "Don't call me that. It sounds really weird, coming from you."
Fai laughed, and abruptly fell silent when Kurogane traced the curve of Fai's cheek. The gesture felt awkward and unfamiliar to them both.
"I'm in love with you, I think."
Fai paled, blue eyes wide. "What? When I was…"
"No," Kurogane snapped. "Before that." He drew closer, watching the shifting expressions on Fai's face. "I didn't exactly decide on this. If I did, I definitely would have chosen someone far less troublesome. But it really can't be helped."
Fai looked slightly apprehensive. Kurogane realized what he just said really didn't sound very flattering. He wasn't good at this, but he figured the mage could do his own reinterpretation.
"I'm going to kiss you now," Kurogane decided aloud.
Fai licked his lips and swallowed slowly. Kurogane was momentarily distracted by his tongue. "Are you asking for permission?"
Kurogane paused to think on that, and a small grin spread slowly across his face. "No, it was just a warning."
As he leaned forward and tangled his fingers in Fai's hair, Kurogane thought maybe one day, he could put enough pieces of Fai back together for him to live for himself, but for now, this was enough.
… And so, a whole lot of issues go on completely unaddressed, but the rest is up to your imagination.