Timeless

Disclaimer: I own nothing. Nada. All is CLAMP, CLAMP is all.

Author's Notes: Written for the Fairytale Challenge on the Kurofai LJ. Ended up a tad longer than I expected. On the bright side, this fic is currently finished, the rest of it is just awaiting editing/htmling, so updates should be fairly frequent. Loosely based off The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson.

--

Light reflected off the ice on the walls, and hands worked. Long fingers wove the tiny shining strands of magic and the colors darted off and on across the shining walls. Blue, then green, then a warm pink and a burning red, a cold black and a shining bright yellow and blue again, over and over, repeating.

Hands worked. Fingers played the strings of magic like strings of a harp, weaving and winding and each strand was a piece of light and a musical note. It was almost done. It was almost perfect.

Hands worked. Carefully, carefully. Like lifting a warm pot off the fire that warmed it, careful not to burn the hand or spill the soup. Blue eyes were narrowed in concentration. Almost done. Almost done.

Hands worked, and then something shuddered somewhere, and it stretched. There was a cry of frustration and anger and the hands grabbed for the strands as they slipped away from the frantic fingers, first the yellow and then the pink and the green. The red held for some time and drew blood as it snapped. The blue went last, fluttering away like a lost coat, and then black swarmed over the piece.

The black mirror sat perfectly formed for a minute, shaking, and then everything fell away.

Glass broke and scattered, and the man stood bleeding in the darkness, panting and shaking with the effort and disappointment. There was a cry from above. A familiar voice.

He ran, but he knew it was already too late.

Outside, the snow fell.

--

A warm wind blew, and a girl ran through a crowded cobblestone street. She glanced backwards once, furtively, and then darted into a shop. The bell above the door ringed wildly as she entered. She brushed the dust off her skirt and smiled at the blond man who had just appeared from the back room with a few loaves of fresh-baked bread.

"Ah, Sakura-chan!" The blond man smiled brightly at her. "Good afternoon!"

"Good afternoon, Fai-san!" Sakura ran a hand through her disheveled hair and smelled the air. "That smells delicious!"

"It's just baked. And what brings you here?" Fai moved over to the counter as he spoke, one hand reaching out to pet the white cat that slept on the end closest to the window.

"Oh, right!" Sakura dug into the pocket of her dress and pulled out a small list. "My brother--"

She was cut off by the ringing bell as the door banged open. A brown-haired boy entered, breathing hard.

"My lady, you shouldn't run off like that!" The boy took a moment to catch his breath. "I almost lost sight of you."

"Syaoran-kun." Sakura looked a bit guilty. Fai glanced between the two of them, and his ever-present smile seemed to grow a little wider. "Are you all right? I'm sorry, I was….I was in such a hurry."

"I'm-I'm okay." Syaoran still looked a little out of breath but managed a smile anyway. "You shouldn't run off by yourself, my lady. Lord Touya, your brother, would be upset if anything ever happened to you. It's my job to--"

"Don't worry so much, Syaoran-kun," Fai broke in. "Sakura-chan's as safe as houses in this town. Now, what brings you two here, hmm?"

"Right, right." Sakura handed him the list. "It's from my brother. We're having a party tomorrow evening and since everyone knows Fai-san makes the best breads and pastries in town I told him I'd bring you the order."

"Mmm, I see, I see." Fai nodded, looking over the list.

"Also, um, I thought…" Sakura fidgeted a bit, glancing over at Syaoran out of the corner of her eyes. Fai smiled knowingly.

"There's a lot of baking I'll need to do," Fai said. "Syaoran-kun, could you do me a favor? Kuro-pin's out back unloading some ingredients he bought for me at the market earlier, would you go help him? Kuro-tan's such a handful and I might have to send him out again, and the unloading will go quicker if you help. You can go out the back door."

"All right." Syaoran nodded to him, bowed quickly to Sakura, and then hurried past Fai towards the back of the shop. Fai leaned on the counter, resting his head on his palms.

"Was there something else you needed, Sakura-chan?"

Sakura craned her head a bit to see past him, just to be sure Syaoran was out of sight, then leaned in close.

"The party tomorrow, it's—it's for my birthday," she explained in a hushed voice. "And Syaoran-kun, you see, Syaoran-kun doesn't know when his birthday is. So I told him his would be the same as mine, because Syaoran-kun should have a birthday. And he says I shouldn't get him anything because he's just a servant, but I—I wanted to…" She trailed off, blushing.

"Don't worry, Sakura-chan." Fai straightened, patting her on the head. "Now, I'll have some work to do tonight to get everything on this list done and ready by tomorrow, and I'm sure when I have Kuro-rin deliver we'll need a little something extra to be delivered straight to you, yes?" Sakura's face brightened and Fai beamed back at her. At the window, the white cat looked up at them both for a minute, flicked its tail, then turned over and went back to sleep.

"Thank you so much, Fai-san!" Sakura said. "How much do you want for it, I should--"

"No extra charge," Fai replied. "You're one of my best customers, Sakura-chan. It's on the house."

"If you keep giving away free food, you'll have no money left," a voice grumbled from behind him. Fai turned his head as a tall, broad-shouldered man stepped through the door, followed dutifully by Syaoran.

"Kuro-tan!" Fai chirped happily.

"I told you to stop calling me that!" the other man snapped.

"Kurogane-san and I finished bringing in the ingredients," Syaoran reported as he rounded the counter to stand by Sakura.

"Thank you, Syaoran-kun, that was a big help." Fai gave a sigh of long-suffering. "Syaoran-kun's such a good, dependable worker, but all I usually have to help me is stupid Kuro-pin, who's always complaining. It's not fair."

"I wouldn't complain if you would call me by my full name, dammit!" Kurogane growled.

"Now, if that's all you need," Fai said cheerfully, ignoring the smoldering man at his side, "I'd better get started on this order. You can tell Touya-san I'll collect the payment when Kuro-pan brings you the food. And the 'special' order will be ready, too." Fai accompanied this last with a wink. "Is 4:00 a good time for delivery?"

Sakura nodded. The children said their goodbyes and headed back out the door, Sakura dragging Syaoran behind her, keeping a firm grip on his hand.

"What was that about?" Kurogane asked after they'd gone.

"Just doing a good deed," Fai said lightly, laughing. "Don't look so stiff, Kuro-kichi. Sakura-chan and Syaoran-kun are good kids, you should be happy. Smile, smile!" He darted around Kurogane, waving his hands.

"If you touch me, I will kill you," Kurogane hissed warningly.

"Kuro-pin is mean." Fai pouted. "I should fire you. You shouldn't threaten the person who pays your wages, Kuro-rin."

"I should quit, and then see who you get to drag the bags of flour back to the shop," Kurogane countered, crossing his arms. "Not to mention deliver the food."

"But if you quit, you wouldn't have any money and you'd starve, right?" Fai wandered away from the other man, idly petting the white cat as he went. "Kuro-pin would starve all alone, wouldn't he, Mokona? And I bet he'd be lonely without me." Mokona the cat kept sleeping.

"Like hell I would!" Kurogane snapped. "And it's Kurogane. Can't you at least say it right once?"

"But Kuro-pin is a much cuter name," Fai said simply. "I can't have a big, hulking black thing working in my shop and scaring my customers. But if I give you a cute name, you're not so scary anymore. That's why you're 'Kuro-rin'!"

"Don't call me that!"

Fai laughed again, leaning against the wall and looking out the window. There was a long pause, and when he spoke again there was something wistful in his voice.

"Say, Kuro-tan…how long have you lived here? Before I got here?"

"A couple years." Kurogane shrugged, watching Fai with sharp eyes. In the month and a half he'd been working at this shop, he'd rarely seen its proprietor so oddly serious.

"Does it snow here, in the winter?"

"Sometimes." Kurogane shrugged. "Not much. Why?"

"I was just wondering. Because it's such a nice spring day, and I wondered…" Fai shook his head, laughing softly. "Winter shouldn't come in a place like this. I just wondered if it did."

He turned back to Kurogane and this time the usual smile was firmly back in place.

"Well, it's going to be a busy day. I'll need some help. Now, Kuro-pi's no good with cooking, so I'll need you to go get me more ingredients." Fai's smile had fangs in it. "Heavy ingredients."

Kurogane sighed and wondered, not for the first time, why he had ever taken this job in the first place.

--

Cold wind blew over the hills, softly. Something glittering was carried along with it.

Fai glanced up from where he stood in the back room of the shop, pausing in the middle of kneading a lump of dough. His eyes were heavy with frost.

Something was coming.

Fai shook his head as if trying to clear something away, and went back to his baking.

--

Sakura sat on the hill outside the manor house, smelling the flowers and looking down at the small sparkling lights from the town below. The sun had set some time ago, and she could see the stars above. A small package was still clutched at her side, and she shifted a little nervously.

"Lady Sakura?" Syaoran approached carefully. Sakura smiled at him and gestured for him to sit down beside her.

"Did you enjoy the party, Syaoran-kun?"

"Your brother did a very good job planning it," Syaoran said. "Shouldn't you be inside, my lady? Lord Touya will wonder where you've gone and it's getting late."

"I wanted to come out and see the flowers," Sakura said. "You know, Syaoran-kun…sometimes I think I can hear them. The flowers, I mean. When I was little, there was only one out here, a little lily. And I kept hearing a voice saying 'I'm lonely, I'm lonely.' So I asked my father and he said that if I couldn't stand that lonely voice, I should always try my best to make it feel happier. So I planted all these flowers, so the lily wouldn't be so lonely anymore." She glanced at Syaoran out of the corner of her eye. "And you helped me plant them, too. Remember, Syaoran-kun? My father had just hired your father to archive the library and we used to go everywhere together. We were out here all day, planting flowers."

"I remember." Syaoran smiled slightly. "My father was really happy when I came back inside, even though my clothes were dirty. I didn't really know why."

"Your father was a kind person," Sakura said. "And he gave you that book the next day, remember? The one with all the flower names in it, so we'd know what we'd planted when they finally started to grow."

"Mm." Syaoran nodded. Sakura shifted in the grass, clutching at the little package hidden at her side.

"Syaoran-kun…do you remember how you told me -- how you told me you never knew when your birthday was, because your father had found you in an orphanage and I—I said I'd give you a birthday, remember?' The words tumbled out in a rush. "And I gave you my birthday so we could celebrate together and since it's my birthday it's yours too and I want you to have this." Sakura half-shoved the package into his hands.

"M-my Lady, I…" Syaoran stammered, going immediately red in the face. Unsure what to say, he opened the little package. Inside was a small sugar-glazed pastry.

"I know it's not a cake or a big fancy party but I wanted to…." Sakura trailed off. "Is—is it okay?"

"Lady Sakura…" Syaoran swallowed and nodded. "Thank you very much. But you didn't have to."

"I wanted to," Sakura said firmly. "And—and I don't want you to call me 'Lady Sakura' anymore, either, and I won't call you 'Syaoran-kun.' We've know each other since we were little! I'm going to call you 'Syaoran' from now on, and you'll call me 'Sakura,' okay?"

"My Lady…"

"'Sakura!'"

Syaoran looked at her determined face and nodded.

"All right. L—Sak--" A cool gust of wind suddenly blew by, and Sakura thought she saw something sparkling a moment before Syaoran collapsed, clutching at his right eye.

"Syaoran!" Sakura jumped to her feet. "Syaoran, what's wrong? Syaoran!"

Syaoran couldn't speak, still clutching at his tightly shut eye, and Sakura turned and ran for the house, yelling for help. Syaoran's eye cracked open.

Inside the brown eye, a hint of blue began to spread.

--

"Why the hell do you need me for this?" Kurogane grumbled as he helped Fai set the fresh loaves of bread out on the shelves. The shop had only been open for an hour or so and outside the sky was gray and overcast.

"Because it goes faster if you help," Fai replied brightly. "Besides, Kuro-pon will get lazy if he sleeps in every day!"

"Don't call me--" Kurogane was cut off as the front door flung open and a figure stepped inside.

"Sakura-chan?" Fai immediately dropped the remaining loaves onto a shelf and hurried towards where the girl stood in front of the door. She was shaking slightly and her face was wet. "What's wrong?"

"I-I'm sorry," Sakura said, gasping for breath. Her face was pale. "I'm sorry, Fai-san, I know it's early but I—I don't know who else I can talk to and—and something's wrong!"

"It's all right, Sakura-chan, calm down. What is it? What's wrong?" Fai led the girl over to a chair and gently pushed her into it and then knelt down beside her. Mokona the white cat jumped onto her lap and the girl held him close. Kurogane leaned against the wall and watched.

"Oh, Fai-san, it's awful! Something's wrong with Syaoran-kun!"

"What happened?" Fai's voice was gentle, but Kurogane couldn't see his face.

"I don't know!" Sakura burst out, clutching Mokona closer to her chest. "It was two nights ago…I was about to give him the present you made for me and—and I'm not sure what happened. He just fell suddenly and grabbed at his eyes, like something was hurting him. And I ran and got my brother and Yukito-san and they called the doctor in, but no one could find anything wrong. But one of his eyes has turned blue."

"Blue." It was a statement, not a question, and there was a strange note in Fai's voice. Kurogane leaned forward a bit, trying to see the other man's face.

"And…and he's acting different." Sakura fidgeted a bit in her chair, running her hands over Mokona's ears. "The night of my birthday…I almost got him to call me by name. But when he woke up the next day, he started calling me "Lady Sakura' again, and when I just called him 'Syaoran,' he told me not to. He didn't yell or sound angry, he was just…cold. And all yesterday, he was acting the same way, like he didn't even know who I was. He never even smiled at me to let me know he was all right. He's just been…I don't know. It's like he's not Syaoran-kun anymore, and I don't know what to do."

"Have you told your brother?" Fai asked. His voice sounded kind and gentle, but to Kurogane there seemed to be a strange, hollow cast to it, as though the other man was telling a very careful lie.

"Yes," Sakura said. "But the doctor looked at Syaoran-kun and so did Yukito-san, and they can't find anything wrong with him. But Yukito-san said…he said he thinks something did happen, he just can't figure out what. And I just don't…" Sakura shook her head miserably. "I don't know what to do."

"You said something got in his eye, right?" Fai asked as he stood. From where he stood, Kurogane could finally see the other man's face. Fai's expression was grim, and his eyes were very far away.

"Yes," Sakura replied. "Do you think it was some kind of—of poison, or something? What if it's hurting him, and there's nothing I can do?"

"Don't worry so much, Sakura-chan," Fai said, smiling gently. The smile looked fake to Kurogane's eyes, but Sakura didn't seem to notice. "I'm sure there's something that can be done. Here, why don't you eat something? You look like you haven't had anything in days." Fai brought her a warm pastry and a glass of milk, which Sakura took gratefully.

They talked for some time more after that. Fai remained eternally reassuring and kind, but the more he spoke, the more Kurogane doubted every word the man said. There was something wrong with the blond man's voice, a tone that Kurogane couldn't remember hearing before but that he decidedly didn't like.

At last Sakura seemed to have been cheered up a bit and Fai sent her on her way with a kind wave. He remained standing at the window for a moment after that, watching as the girl disappeared down the street.

Kurogane crossed his arms and waited.

"Hey, Kuro-rin," Fai said at last, and his voice was subdued and more serious than Kurogane could ever remember hearing it before. "I think I'll close the store early today. You should go home."

"It's still early," Kurogane replied mildly. He nodded towards the door. "Do you know what she walking talking about? The thing that happened to the kid?"

"Hmm?" Fai's face was all calculated innocence. "I'm just a baker, Kuro-tan. Why would I know anything about that sort of thing?"

"Because you don't act like a baker," Kurogane said firmly, looking straight into Fai's eyes. "You weren't surprised when she told you what happened."

"I heard things when I was traveling," Fai said dismissively, moving away from the window and heading towards the back room. "That's all it was, so you don't have to make that sort of face. It'll give you wrinkles, Kuro-ki." Fai sailed lightly past him, the false smile pasted firmly on his face.

Kurogane grabbed him by the arm and pulled him back.

"Why did you want to close early?" Kurogane gazed steadily into Fai's surprised face. The blond man stood there for a moment, then his face hardened alarmingly and he pulled away.

"Just a feeling." Fai kept walking, his back to Kurogane. His voice had changed again, and there was something miserable lurking beneath the layers of false cheer. "Stay inside tonight, Kuro-pi. There's going to be a snow tonight that no one should be out in."

"It's too late in the season for snow."

"Is it?" Fai gave a hollow laugh as he disappeared into the back of the shop. "Well…strange things happen."

--

The sky was dark outside, and Sakura sat awake in her room.

Syaoran was still acting strange. When she returned from talking with Fai, he had been standing outside watching the clouds. He had barely returned her greeting before deliberately turning away from her, trampling the flowers as he went back inside.

"There must be something I can do," Sakura whispered to the empty room. Her eyes traveled to the package sitting on her dresser. Syaoran's present, which had been forgotten after he'd collapsed outside. Sakura had brought it with her when she went to see him after he woke up, but he hadn't even looked at it. Still, Sakura couldn't bring herself to get rid out it.

"I'll give it to him when he's better," she told herself firmly. When, not if. "I'll give it to him then."

A frigid wind blew in from the window and Sakura shivered. It was strange for the night to be so cold this time of year. She slid out of bed and padded towards the window, intending to close it, but stopped when she saw what was happening outside.

Snow was falling.

"How strange," Sakura murmured. "It never snows at this time of year. It's already covering the ground."

The moonlight reflected off the snow on the ground below, and that was when she noticed a figure moving resolutely towards town.

"Syaoran-kun?" Sakura leaned out the window to get a better look. He was nearly out of sight, but somehow she knew it was him.

Sakura grabbed her shoes and a coat, and quietly exited the house, following the footprints in the snow.

--

It was late, but Kurogane was still awake, polishing his sword. It had been a long time since he'd used it, since he'd felt the need to hold it in his hands.

He'd been a mercenary, once. It wasn't hard work and it had paid well, but at some point he'd just gotten bored. So he'd left and ended up in this stupid little town where few people needed a bodyguard and fewer carried a sword. He'd gone to the manor house at first to apply for a job as one of Lord Touya's guards, but he'd been informed that the house was well-protected with its current roster, thank you, and the door had been all but slammed in his face.

Which was when he'd seen the 'Hiring' sign in the window of a small shop. Kurogane still didn't know why he'd gone in and he certainly didn't know why he'd stayed, after the owner had immediately latched onto him like a leech, chattering aimlessly. Kurogane knew he should've left the first time the word 'Kuro-tan' was uttered. But he hadn't. He'd taken the job doing manual labor for a crazed blond baker and he'd kept working, even as his employer continued to call him by ridiculous nicknames and demand that he smile more.

It wasn't the type of job he had ever expected to find himself working at, but somehow it wasn't so bad.

Kurogane gazed at his old sword thoughtfully. He never used it now, other than for the occasional practice run just to make sure his skills were still sharp (and besides, there was something very satisfying about stabbing a bale of hay and pretending that it had blond hair, blue eyes and a stupid smile) but it was still his most important possession.

He thought of Fai's grim face and found himself gripping the sword just a bit harder.

The idiot was hiding something, that much was obvious. Kurogane just wasn't sure what. So he polished his sword and stared out the window, thinking.

When he saw the snow start to fall he stood up and, with his sword at his side, walked out into the snow and listened.

It was far too quiet outside. There seemed to be no one on the streets. Not even a stray cat could be seen. Kurogane tensed up and wasn't sure why. Something in the cold air warned him to be on his guard.

He wasn't sure how long he stood out there in the snow before he heard the noise. A soft jingling of bells and a strange whistling of the wind, almost impossible to hear even in the silence. Kurogane strained hard to hear it, and then looked up.

Something was moving in the sky. As it got closer Kurogane could see it more clearly, and what he saw made him wonder if he was having a very odd dream. Shining silver in the moonlight, a beautiful sleigh cut through the sky pulled by strange-looking creatures, wolves made of snow and white wind, only half-seen, with tassels and tiny silver bells on their harnesses. A single figure sat in the sleigh, but from the distance Kurogane couldn't make out its features. The sleigh arched as it came near, headed towards the town square.

Kurogane pulled out his sword and followed.

The town square was dark, but as the sleigh came closer the lamps lit, one by one, casting eerie shadows on the snow. Kurogane pressed himself into the shadows on the edges of the square and crouched down, watching.

There was no noise as the sleigh touched lightly down. The man riding inside rose slowly, long black hair flowing over his shoulders. His glittering golden eyes surveyed the land before him and he extended a hand forward, as if greeting someone, but he did not speak.

Another figure appeared, moving steadily towards the outstretched hand. As the person got closer Kurogane recognized Syaoran, the boy's face uncharacteristically cold and grim. One eye had indeed turned an icy blue.

Syaoran walked straight past the strange wolves until he stood before the dark-haired man. The man made a gesture with one hand and Syaoran bowed low before him. The wind blew, and the snowfall grew thicker. Kurogane couldn't suppress a shiver of a cold, but the two standing in the lit square seemed to feel nothing.

Syaoran stood then, and the black-haired man led him towards the sleigh.

"Syaoran-kun!" A voice broke the silence of the scene. Syaoran didn't pause as he climbed into the back of the sleigh, but the dark-haired man turned to look as Sakura appeared, out of breath and still in her nightgown, wearing only a light coat and a pair of boots.

The black-haired man stared hard at her but did not speak. His expression was imperious and unmoving, with neither malice nor kindness marring his smooth features. If not for the way his hair and clothes moved in the wind, Kurogane might have mistook him for a statue. Sakura paused for a moment, then seemed to gather her courage and stepped forward.

"Please." Her voice was a thin shadow of itself. "I don't know who you are, but…please. Where are you taking Syaoran-kun?"

The man didn't reply. His brow furrowed as she moved closer and suddenly he raised a hand. Ice gathered around his fingertips.

"Sakura-chan." Another voice cut through the night, and the dark-haired man lowered his hand. Kurogane could only stare as a tall, slim figure melted out of the shadows and made its way into the square.

"Fai-san?" Sakura's voice was uncertain, as if she wasn't sure who it was she was seeing.

Fai was dressed in the same clothes he had been wearing that morning, save for the addition of a fur-lined cloak. His face was carefully cheerful as he looked at her, and Kurogane felt a growl rising in his throat.

"It's too cold a night for a young girl to be out alone, Sakura-chan," Fai said. "Why don't you go home? You look tired."

"Fai-san, I—I don't understand." Sakura looked back and forth from Fai to Syaoran and back again. "What's going on?"

"What is going on?" Kurogane took the moment to make his entrance, sword at the ready. Fai's eyes widened in surprise.

"Kuro-pon." His voice was hoarse and it took him a moment to recover. A wry smile crept across his face. "You never listen to me, do you, Kuro-pi? I told you it was a bad night to be out."

"You did. Because you knew." Kurogane moved so that he was between Sakura and Fai. "Where are you taking the kid?"

"Somewhere far away." Fai stepped closer to the sled. His eyes were dark and hooded, and his expression unreadable. "You're better off going back home, Kuro-rin. Take Sakura-chan and leave this place, and forget."

"Don't be an idiot," Kurogane growled. "Give the kid back and then tell me what the hell is going on."

"I can't do that." Fai looked as though he was going to say more, but at that moment the black-haired man moved forward, pressing a finger against Fai's lips. Fai looked surprised for a moment, then closed his eyes.

"King Ashura…" It was a mere breath of word, and then Fai fell to his knees in a bow. The black-haired man, King Ashura, placed a hand on his head as he walked past the blond, towards where Kurogane stood. Kurogane raised his sword, still aware of Sakura standing behind him.

"Don't hurt them," Fai said softly, and King Ashura raised a hand.

Ice dotted the edges of Kurogane's vision, and then everything went dark.

--

"Kurogane-san! Kurogane-san!"

He could hear a voice. Kurogane was vaguely aware of someone shaking him, and of something cold and wet seeping through his clothes.

And then he remembered snow and a man with black hair and Syaoran with one blue eye. Remembered Fai standing in the moonlight with wide eyes, bowing low.

Kurogane opened his eyes, and Sakura was there. Her face was flushed with the cold and her hair was wet. The lights in the square had gone out, and Kurogane wondered how long he'd been asleep.

"Where is he?" he growled. "Where'd that bastard go?"

"I don't know." Sakura shook her head. "That man – the one in the sled – I saw him raise his hand and I saw you fall in front of me, and then I just felt so sleepy. And when I woke up he was gone and Syaoran-kun was gone -- and Fai-san, too." She bit her lip. "I don't understand. Fai-san's always been so kind to me. But he knew that man, the one who took Syaoran-kun away." Her face grew suddenly determined. "I'm going to find him."

"Eh?"

"Syaoran-kun. I have to go find him!"

"You don't know where he went," Kurogane pointed out.

"Before I fell asleep, I saw them go," Sakura said. "Fai-san and that other man climbed back into the sleigh and then it went in the air again. I saw which way it was headed just before I passed out. I can start following in that direction and then I'm sure I'll find someone who saw them pass. There must be someone who saw where they've taken Syaoran-kun. I'm going to find him and bring him back."

"I'm going with you," Kurogane said and didn't even realize it until the words were out of his mouth.

"Kurogane-san?"

"It's a pain, but I'll go with you," Kurogane repeated. "There are bandits on the road, and you don't know how far you have to go. And I have a blond idiot who's going to have to answer some questions once I catch up to him."

"Kurogane-san…thank you." Sakura stood, wiping the snow off her dress. "We should get moving--"

"Don't be stupid," Kurogane said, not unkindly. "You're not even dressed and we don't have any supplies. You can't just run off unprepared. And you need to tell your brother."

"But if I tell him, he'll make me stay here!" Sakura argued.

"I'm not having his troops come and arrest me for kidnapping his little sister," Kurogane stated. "You talk to him and get us some horses. I'll get what supplies I can, and I'll meet you at the bakery first thing in the morning."

"But…" Sakura's voice trailed off miserably. "All right. In the morning."

--

The scenery flashed by far below and Fai lay in the sleigh at King Ashura's feet, his head resting in the king's lap. There was no sound but the whistling of the wind and the soft tinkling of bells.

Where they traveled, snow fell, and Fai could not recognize anything below them. Even so, he knew there were moving closer towards home. King Ashura's wolves moved like the wind, and nothing could match their speed when all their master's will was set upon them. Fai's eyes were drawn to the boy sitting silent in the back of the sleigh.

He remembered Sakura's betrayed voice and Kurogane's angry gaze, and looked away.

King Ashura ran a hand through his hair, and Fai reached up to clasp the king's hand in his own, moving his face upwards to look into King Ashura's.

"I'm sure this time it will work," Fai said softly. King Ashura gave no response, his face as cold and impassive as ice. "We won't fail this time, I promise. I will get your heart back."

King Ashura kissed his hand, and they rode on in silence.

--

Kurogane lay half-asleep in a chair leaning against the far wall of the bakery. He hadn't bothered to go back home the night before, instead making his way to the closed shop and letting himself in. The shop seemed somehow cold and lifeless without its proprietor, and Mokona the cat mewed piteously as Kurogane entered the store and began placing the leftover bread in a knapsack. He'd fallen asleep in the chair some hours later, his sword sheathed at his side.

He could feel the rising sun on his face but remained in the chair. The breeze that blew through the window was strangely warm, as if there had been no snow the night before. Kurogane half-expected Fai to come bursting into the shop at any moment, chiding him for sleeping in such an uncomfortable position that would no doubt leave him cranky all day, as if the night before had only been a dream.

Someone banged on the locked door and Kurogane opened one eye, wondering if he should bother going to check and see who it was. The person outside knocked again, and he rose reluctantly. Mokona appeared from out of nowhere and curled around his feet as he made his way to the door.

Sakura stood outside, wearing a warm cloak and carrying a knapsack over her shoulder. She was leading a pair of horses and looking around furtively, as if to make sure no one had seen her.

"You're early," Kurogane remarked.

"We should go," Sakura said earnestly. "The trail must be getting cold."

Kurogane raised an eyebrow suspiciously.

"Did you tell your brother?"

"I left him a note," Sakura said defiantly. Kurogane wondered if he should just close the door on her. "He wouldn't let me go if I told him! I left a note for him and for Yukito-san too. I'm sure Yukito-san will keep him from sending anyone after me."

"But we should go before he wakes up," Kurogane finished darkly. "All right." He went to retrieve his own supplies, wondering grimly why he had ever agreed to this.

"Mokona," Sakura murmured as the cat padded towards her. She picked the cat up and stroked its fur. "Do you want to come with us?"

"We are not taking the damn cat," Kurogane said firmly.

"But I'm sure he misses Fai-san," Sakura said. "I don't want to leave him alone."

"It's on your head," Kurogane said. He eyed the horses clinically. "Can you ride them?"

"I know how!" Sakura said, looking a little annoyed. She turned away from him and stared off into the distance.

"Are you sure you want to do this?" Kurogane asked her.

"Yes," Sakura replied. Her voice was serious, and it somehow didn't quite suit her. "I have to find Syaoran-kun. I just can't sit around and do nothing. I have to find him!" Her hands clutched at her knapsack. "I brought him his birthday present, too. When we find him, I'm going to give it to him and this time he'll call me by name. I know he will."

Kurogane watched her for a long moment before nodding.

"Then we'd better get going. Lead the way, Lady."

--

The castle was shining and cold, and Syaoran sat on the floor in the throne room, surrounded by innumerable sheets of thin glass. He moved them about in strange patterns, never speaking, his eyes intent. He seemed to notice neither the cold nor the bleached white bones that adorned the lower half of the throne room like grim statues.

On the dais overlooking the room, King Ashura sat on his regal throne, imperious and cold like stone. Fai knelt at his side, looking down.

"Keep working, Syaoran-kun," Fai murmured. He looked up at King Ashura. "He's doing well, my king. He might be able to fix it." Fai rose slightly so that his face was level with King Ashura's. "You'll wake up soon. It will only be a little while longer, so just wait."

King Ashura took his hand and gazed at him impassively. Fai closed his eyes and tried to turn away, but King Ashura's hands reached up and turned his face.

"King Ashura?" Fai breathed and King Ashura gestured towards a raised ice tablet that hung on the wall. Something flickered within the ice and then a picture appeared, of two familiar figures on horseback. Fai's breath caught in his throat and King Ashura ran a hand along the side of the blond man's face.

"Yes, I understand." Fai closed his eyes and nodded. "I won't let them interfere."