The clock read one A.M. Kurogane's eyes burned with tiredness as he waited, but a mixture of irritation and worry kept them from sliding closed and letting sleep claim him. It had been seven hours since the other had left, giving no hint as to where he was going and how long he'd be gone, or if he'd be back at all. He had noticed all day that Fai had seemed distant and vaguely upset but still had expected him back hours ago. Surely his continued absence wasn't a good sign.
The children had wanted to stay up and await the return of their mutual friend but when ten thirty rolled around and there was still no sight of the wizard, he had made them go to bed and leave him alone with his apprehensiveness. It was eleven when the rain started, its intensity moderate at first but quickly escalating into a torrential downpour. That did nothing to stave off his worry. For a while Kurogane had simply paced back and forth in front of the window, trying to squint through the storm to see if there was any sign of Fai coming down the sidewalk. It was an extremely agonizing way to pass the hours. Every drop of rain hitting the window made him more and more irritated, the rumbles of thunder accented his uneasiness, and his mind churned restlessly as it came up with possible explanations for Fai's lateness.
His worry wasn't unfounded; they had learned the hard way when they landed in this world that the storms could be quite nasty. It was rare that they reached the level of blowing down houses, but the winds were strong enough to make it very unpleasant to walk around in, especially when you found yourself caught in a mini-whirlwind of dust and gravel. Faiwas so light that it wasn't difficult for the ninja to imagine him being swept away by the wind. But Kurogane shook his head. Don't think about that, he told himself sternly.
When pacing didn't work, he had found other ways to busy himself while he waited. He decided to make himself useful by preparing for his companion's return. It did keep him busy for a while; building a fire in the hearth, laying out a towel, a blanket and a change of clothes in front of the fireplace to warm them. But once he finished those tasks, he was back to agonizing again. A bath, he thought. I'll run him a bath. Kurogane dragged himself to the bathroom to wash out the tub (which he did mostly for the purpose of wasting more time) and sprinkled in some powdered bubble bath (again, another time waster).
Just as he was about to turn on the hot water, he realized that he still didn't know when to expect the other home and that it could still be another few hours. By that time, the water would be cold. He brushed that thought aside. Of course Fai would be back soon. Kurogane turned on the water and let it run until the tub was full with water so hot that it was almost boiling. Water that hot would reach a pleasant temperature in about half an hour, he reasoned. With that task finished, he returned to the front room to wait some more.
The ninja was back to pacing again. If he had been a cat, his tail would have been swishing with displeasure. It wasn't so much that he had any special inclination towards the wizard; he simply got annoyed when he knew things weren't as they should be. Perhaps he should go out and look for Fai. It was true that he had no idea where to look, but even if he didn't end up finding the mage, at least it would make him feel better than standing around uselessly. His mind made up, Kurogane impatiently snatched his hooded cloak from the hook near the door along with Fai's, which the blond had carelessly left behind. He folded Fai's up and slipped it into his inner pocket so that he could give it to him if they happened to bump into each other. Pulling the hood down securely over his head, Kurogane threw his broad shoulder against the door, forcing it open against the gale and stepped out into the storm.
He chose to search in the direction that the wind was pushing him. It seemed the most logical decision since it would have taken a great deal of effort and determination on Fai's part to go any other direction. The rain was so heavy that he could hardly see five feet in front of him, in spite of the frequent streetlamps. Kurogane gave up on relying on his eyes fairly quickly and sought out the sorcerer's aura instead.
He found himself at the edge of town much sooner than he had expected to. Still there had been no sign of Fai, though Kurogane couldn't really say that this surprised him. It wasn't as if he had been expecting to find notes every so often along the way that said things like "Kuropon, I'm this way" and a little arrow pointing in one direction or the other. Kurogane looked to his left. A small, dense copse of trees stood off to that side, their leaves and branches rattling violently in the wind. Anyone else might have turned away from it as it looked rather foreboding but something about it drew Kurogane closer.
He stepped in between the gnarled but sturdy trunks, being careful not to trip over anything. Once he entered the forest, there was a definite decrease in the wind and he had to breathe a sigh of relief for it. The fact that he could breathe for real for the first time since he had set out was encouraging. Kurogane picked his way through the vegetation cautiously; it was unpleasant having to walk through an ankle-deep sea of wet leaves. But he sensed that there was something in the center of this forest, and that kept him going.
The swordsman was surprised when he finally stepped into a clearing and found it occupied by a small playground. The wind was almost nonexistent here, although it still rattled the treetops relentlessly. Without the howling wind, Kurogane's ears became more useful and the detected the faint squeak of wet chains rubbing together. He scanned the clearing carefully and started when he noticed a tall, slender, dark figure on a swing only a few yards away from where he was standing. He recognized the person as Fai instantly, though the magician had not yet noticed that he had company.
Kurogane experienced a sweeping relief at finally finding the wayward mage, along with a hot wave of anger. Here he had been nearly going crazy with worry while Fai just sat, alone, on a child's plaything, swaying back and forth slightly in the wind and yet going nowhere at all. The ninja watched the sorcerer's futile game with momentum on the swing in silence and it stuck him as being ironic; just when he seemed to be making some forward progress, Fai would push himself back, undoing all that he had done and even regressing before he began to swing forward once more and make headway again.
It also occurred to him as he watched just how beautiful, sad and fragile Fai looked in this setting. His golden hair was wet and stringy, clinging to his pale cheeks and neck in half-hearted curls, obscuring his lonely sapphire eyes from view. The beam from a lone streetlamp shone down on him, illuminating his clouding breath and the drops of fair moonlit rain that slid down his skin. His white short-sleeved t-shirt had become somewhat transparent from saturation and stuck to his skinny body, making him look even more pathetic.
Jerking himself out of his daze, Kurogane removed Fai's cloak from the inner pocket of his own and shook it out to its full size. Silent, he approached the wizard from behind and draped the cloak over his shoulders. Fai, who had not been expecting this, was startled so badly that he would have fallen backwards out of his swing if Kurogane hadn't been there to steady him. Fai blinked up at him in surprise.
"It's time to go back," he growled softly, taking a step backwards to show that they wouldn't be sticking around. Reluctantly, Fai hopped down from the swing but didn't approach his waiting companion.
"Come on," Kurogane said. "I'm not leaving without you."
True to his word, he waited until Fai had joined him at his side before he began to lead the way back to their temporary home. As they walked, Fai glanced furtively up at him, trying to gauge the ninja's mood. Sensing that there was sufficient neutrality in the atmosphere between them, he timidly slipped his smaller hand into Kurogane's. He was ready to withdraw it quickly if Kurogane got angry with him but to his immense relief, his hand was accepted, the swordsman's warm fingers wrapping around it gently. Fai tried to catch a glimpse of the other's expression but it was hidden by his hood.
Some of Kurogane's worry returned when he noticed how icy cold Fai's touch was, how the small, soft hand in his shivered. He said nothing but guided both of their hands into his cloak's pocket to help warm Fai at least a little. When they stepped out from between the trees, the mage had to grab onto Kurogane's arm and hold on tight to keep from being knocked off his feet. It took longer to make it back since they were walking against the wind so by the time they forced open their front door both of them were pretty wet, though Fai had definitely gotten the worst of it. Both of them removed their shoes and squeezed the excess water from their cloaks.
Not a word was said until Fai sneezed, causing the ninja to look down at him sternly.
"You're going to take a hot bath," he ordered. "Now."
Kurogane went and retrieved the warm towel from in front of the fireplace and handed it to him. Fai took it from him without complaint and wrapped it around his shoulders before heading obediently to the bath. He was surprised when he found it all ready and waiting for him. The sorcerer sighed gratefully as he closed the door behind him and began to peel off his wet clothes. Slipping into that warm water was like being revived after death.
When Fai finally joined Kurogane in front of the fire after his bath, dressed in the clothes that the swordsman had warmed for him, it was almost three in the morning. Fai picked up the blanket from in front of the fireplace and wrapped it around both of them, then laid his head on Kurogane's sturdy shoulder. Kurogane glared down at him and Fai put on a lopsided smile, knowing that now that he had been taken care of, he was going to get scolded.
"You bastard," he snarled. "Do you have any idea how… how long it took me to find you?"
Kurogane had caught himself just before the words "how worried I was" slipped off his tongue. Inwardly he breathed a little sigh of relief; that had been a close one. "What the hell were you doing?"
Fai flashed another lopsided grin. "Oh, you know… just hanging out…"
"Like hell, you were," Kurogane snorted dubiously. "People don't just go 'hang out' by themselves at this hour and sit around in the pouring rain, dumb ass."
The magician was silent for a moment as he rethought his strategy.
"Hmm…I guess you caught me, huh?" he admitted, his smile now becoming apologetic. "Really, I…I suppose I was just…feeling sorry for myself…"
Kurogane watched him closely, a frown of disapproval etched on his face.
"I know how Kuronta hates it when I do things like that."
The ninja heaved a sigh of frustration and closed his eyes. "Whatever."
"I'm sorry," he mumbled.
"Huh?" Kurogane said.
"I'm…I'm sorry for making you worry…"
"Hmph," the swordsman grunted. "Who ever said that I was worried?"
"Why else would you have come out in that storm to find me?" Fai pointed out with a smile. Kurogane blushed and looked away, opting not to reply.
"Thank you for that, Kurochan," Fai whispered, moving into his line of sight again and putting his hands on Kurogane's face. "Thank you for finding me. It made me so happy…"
He gently pressed his lips against Kurogane's repeatedly. Once some of the ninja's shock wore off, he pushed Fai down on his back and kissed him more aggressively. Fai could tell now that although Kurogane didn't say so, Fai wasn't the only one who was glad that he had been found.