This is my first time writing crack ever, so here's hoping that it's okay! Generally I think my brain is mostly crack anyway, so it made sense to give this a try. It's sort of long, and there are language issues because Kuro-pin is such a bad mouth, a lot of fainting, and shameless plugging of random detergent brands. Yeah, I think that qualifies it as pretty crack, too.

Enjoy!

--cy.


It had started out as a perfectly normal day for Kurogane. They had gotten the chance to kick some Tower gang butt (and promptly lost their chance for escape), avoided capture by hostile refugees (but still ended up being dragged back to their base), and all three of his teammates were acting strange.

He'd been assigned to watch Sakura, one of the strangest, who had fallen asleep right away. Granted, this made her very easy to watch, but it didn't leave much for Kurogane to do. He was about to ask around to see where they sold his ninja manga-- he had a feeling that he was behind on a few chapters and thought her highness's nap time would be an apt time to catch up--when he suddenly made the disconcerting observation that Sakura had stopped breathing.

Rushing to her side, he took her pulse.

Nothing. Crap.

There was no way in Hell he'd be able to sneak out for a magazine now.

His next plan of action was to jerk open the room's door as soon as possible to get help. However, in doing this, he nearly careened into a robed person standing just outside.

The two stared at each other.

Kurogane narrowed his eyes.

"I'm going to overlook the fact that you were spying on us and not pound your ass. You're going to get a doctor. Got it?"

The underling nodded and dashed off. Moments later, a woman with long, flowing blonde hair entered.

"I heard that you had need of a doctor."

Kurogane nodded and gestured to the prone form of Sakura. "She doesn't have a pulse and she's stopped breathing."

The woman turned to leave.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?!"

She gave him a tired look.

"If her heart isn't beating and she isn't breathing, what do you think I'm doing? There's a really good episode of General Hospital on and my orange creme frappe is melting."

Confused at this woman's foreign speech and strange ways, Kurogane nevertheless persisted. He made his voice the most sympathetic it could be, even though he really just wanted to cut her up into tiny pieces for leaving him with this problem. It was not very sympathetic-sounding.

"Come on, I know it doesn't look too good, but unless she goes back to normal I can't get back to my homeland and protect the princess I left behind, who's been patiently waiting for me for a god-awful long time, probably being attacked by demons because I'm not there to protect her."

What, was the truth so unbelievable?

"Uh-huh." She made for the door.

"And it's as much a pain for me to guard her as it is for you to help her, but I'm not gonna quit bugging you until you give me some help."

She turned back to the girl lying on the bed. "Well, I suppose in a terribly unlikely event, her soul might have fallen prey to the intoxicating effects of the gigantic Sphere of Dreams and Other Weird ...Stuff hidden in the water supply in our basement." She blinked. "We really ought to get that thing checked out. This is the third one it's eaten this week."

"'...Stuff', huh?" Kurogane sighed, brow furrowed. This was sounding worse and worse. "There any way to get her out of that thing?"

"Well, it works with some victims to wake them with a kiss..."

Kurogane looked down at Sakura, then back up, mortified.

"Or, you could just storm our basement, fight the sphere's two guardian vampires, and break through level upon level of high security personnel in funny robes in the process."

"I like that option."

Storming the basement wasn't as bad as he'd originally thought. Even though he was carrying Sakura in his arms, villagers flung themselves at him, roaring fierce battle cries and harrowing curses.

"You don't understand! We really do need that water to survive! Please understand, we're not like you time-space travellers: we can't just go from place to place and get more water--"

Kurogane had had no difficulty dispatching them. Most he shoved down the stairs in front of him, others into corridors, so long as they didn't obstruct the passage downwards. There were an awful lot of enemies out today.

Just as he was about to pass down under an archway, Sakura's body slowly began to fade away from his grasp and vanish into thin air.

"What the hell is is?"

He grabbed at wind gusts that were causing her to disappear in utmost distress. "She didn't melt away or something because I didn't get her to the water cooler in time, did she?"

"No, she's just gone down there of her own accord."

Kurogane turned on his heel, only to find himself face to face with the same woman that had seen to Sakura before.

"How did you find me? And if she was going to go down there eventually anyway, why the hell did she make me carry her down all those stairs in the first place?"

The woman shrugged. "Fate works in mysterious ways. To answer your other question, you left a trail of destruction and disgruntled villagers behind you, so it wasn't that hard." She pointed down the stairs. "If you want to prevent her entire body from merging with the Dream Sphere, you'd better hurry up and get down to the basement."

Seeing that she would offer no further help-- not even pointing him down the correct staircase-- Kurogane wound up, fifteen minutes later, wandering around the lobby of the Diet building. He'd been in two coolers, a bathroom, a railway station, a pastry shop, and all manner of pantries and offices, and still couldn't find the right staircase to take him down to the basement. The villagers, still wary, had not yet come down to the lobby for him to demand directions of, so he was, for all intents and purposes, stuck.

By a happy coincidence, he didn't have to wait around for them to creep down much longer.

"Kurogane! Kurogane!"

A small, white pork bun hopped to him with all its might and latched onto his sleeve.

"Mokona doesn't know what to do! Fai threw Mokona into the arms of a stranger and then jumped into a pool to go swimming! Moko-chan felt very hurt and unhappy and really was mad at Fai for a while, but..." Tears were in its eyes. "Fai hasn't come up for air at all! Everyone thinks he's drowned! Please, you have to save him!"

Kurogane could have killed that magician. How dare he go dying on him too? Ninjas of Nihon did not have to deal with all their comrades suddenly deciding to die on the same day for no reason at all. First, Sakura had run off to some ball of dreams and ...Stuff, and now Fai had gone swimming off the deep end! Why hadn't the mage taken care of the girl in the first place? Then they could have gone weird together and left him out of it to go find his manga and terrify the villagers. Honestly! Why did no one around here seem to appreciate him?

"So...Fai went for a swim?"

Forget Sakura. He'd give Fai a piece of his mind and then go find the floating orb of dreams or whatever that thing was...

Mokona nodded, worriedly. "Right there! Fai threw Mokona to someone scary and there was a big splash."

The water looked pretty deep. Kurogane wondered why the villagers would need a secret basement supply with vampire guardians if they had all the water they would need right in front of them. He decided that he really didn't understand many things about this world and that it would be best to move on as soon as possible.

He dove into the water, his ears catching Mokona's yelp as it was splashed.

After a long time of swimming down and not needing air, Kurogane was fairly impressed with his newfound breath-holding ability. He'd never been this good back in Nihon. Maybe Tomoyo would finally let him stake out intruders in the Shirasaki moat now. He'd been wanting to do that forever and she'd always refused him permission because she doubted he could hold his breath that long, and that his emergency reed breathing apparatus would work.

Ha! He'd show her. Now she'd have to let him be her swamp monster.

That reed would have worked anyway, regardless.

Dim shapes came into view. He squinted at them, and then upon recognizing whom they were, his breath caught in his throat.

And consequently, Kurogane choked, the fact that he was underwater and therefore couldn't breathe abruptly coming to mind.

He took another breath to steady himself. No need to panic now, he could always swim back up...

Then it hit him. His trademark maniacal smile spread across his feasures. He'd so get to guard Shirasaki in the moat now that he could breathe underwater!

Happy as a kappa, he swam and breathed for the rest of the way down to where the shapes were. He could make out a long shape, which he assumed was Fai, a glowing thing, which was circle-shaped, and two others.

He headed for the mage, who appeared to be lying on the floor and wailing.

"What do you think you're doing here? I've had to deal with a potentially dead princess and all you can do is lie around on the pool floor. Though," he surveyed the surroundings, "it is a pretty cool pool. What's the big light thing?"

Fai moaned something incomprehensible and trembled as he struggled to sit, hands clutching at his face.

"You don't know either? Well, that sucks. Look, I swear I didn't do anything, but Sakura's really sick. She isn't breathing or anything. I talked to a doctor about it and they said that it was the bright sleep ball of ...Stuff they keep hidden downstairs for some reason. So I need to get her back from that or else I have to..." He trailed off. "Hey, what's wrong with you?"

Too weak even motion at his face, Fai whispered:

"Kuro...my eye..."

And then promptly fainted.

Kurogane was not pleased.

"What, you got chlorine in it? Too bad. Toughen up a little."

Kurogane had learnt about chlorine the hard way in one of the past worlds they'd visited. Syaoran had to explain the blue liquid to him in full and even then he still hadn't been willing to trust the water after that. The mage should have worn swimming goggles (Syaoran had also shown him these). That he didn't and just went swimming on a whim was his own fault.

Going away from the body of the mage, Kurogane came upon Syaoran next. He was surprised.

"You were supposed to be watching Fai! What did I teach you about minding your responsibilities?"

Syaoran gave him a haunted look. Something was different about him, something that Kurogane couldn't quite place...

"My responsibility is to find the feathers. That I must do at any cost."

Annoyed, the ninja waved it off. "Yeah, I know. That's what we all have to do, but the team takes precedence, alright? We can find the feathers more quickly if we're all living and working together." He stopped, disgusted. "And I can't believe it's come to me having to give you a speech on the importance of friendship. Remind me to seriously maim someone later so I can feel less queasy about that."

"I no longer need a team. I work my effectively on my own."

Kurogane grimaced. "Syaoran, you'll stop stealing my lines if you know what's good for you. You can't even say them right anyway. Have you seen Sakura lat--"

Suddenly, he noticed something strange.

"When did your eye become blue?"

Syaoran looked away, because, obviously, that hid the offending eye very well.

"Don't tell me that the chlorine did this too."

His fist clenched. Dammit! Not another one down! How was he supposed to keep his team in order and get back to Nihon if everybody kept dying or getting injured by pool chemicals?

He would not be denied his position as Skirasaki kappa. Oh no, he would not.

"No. I ate it."

Well, there's your problem!

"Syaoran, how many times have you been told not to eat the pool water? You have no idea what's in it, who's been swimming in it, and now look what it's done to you! If Fai weren't sleeping, maybe he could fix it for you, or at least help you find you a nice eye patch to hide it..."

Damn that mage, damn him for his napping...He had no idea how to handle something like this. They didn't have mutated, chemical kids back in Nihon...

He was really starting to wish that he'd just bitten the bullet and apologized to Tomoyo in the first place. So, it would have be a hit to his pride. Anything was better than this. Things were so much simpler in his own country.

"No. I ate Fai's eye."

Silence. Even the bubbling circle of sleepy doom Stuff wasn't making a peep.

Kurogane was very deeply disturbed.

"Did it taste good?"

Syaoran considered this. Before he could make a return comment, Kurogane spotted something oddly princess-shaped floating toward the strange sphere of ...night stuff.

"Sakura-hime!"

He swam towards her as fast as he could. The princess had plastered herself to the pulsing orb, eyes still shut. Kurogane was tempted to go back up to the surface and demand to know why the damned thing wasn't working in waking her. She appeared to be pretty comfortable.

He gave her a few shakes.

Nothing.

"This is such a pain. I'm never going to get my manga if she doesn't wake up."

Something flittered across her features. Her lips mouthed the words, "wake up," and she opened her eyes groggily.

"My ...most precious person..." She focused on him. "Kurogane?" Then, horror. "Oh no! I meant Syaoran-kun!"

A nervous blush blossomed across her cheeks. "I could never like you that way, Kurogane-san! I'm sorry, but it would never work!"

Kurogane was about to break in that he didn't even want to think about that when--

"What's wrong with Syaoran-kun?"

"What isn't wrong with Syaoran-kun? Answer me that. The kid's starting to angst more than Fai and me put together. And that is absolutely unacceptable."

He paused, remembering.

"Oh, and he said something about eating Fai's eye..."

That might have something to do with why Syaoran was looming over the wizard, mouth poised over Fai's face.

"Save me, Kuro-bun! His teeth are... sharp!" The magician gasped.

"Hey! HEY!" Kurogane yelled at the boy as he ran over to him, leaving Sakura to her own devices on the orb of insomnia. The boy in question had now begun nibbling delicately at the magician's upper cheek. "Stop that! We don't eat people that are in the group, got it?"

Syaoran looked up at him, and then once more began gnawing at Fai's head. Fai, meanwhile, managed to get in a few more squirms, gasps, and fruitless wiggles before fainting again.

"Hey, is none of this getting through to you, kid?" He shook Syaoran roughly, causing something that looked suspiciously like a yin-yang bouncy ball to topple out of the boy's grip. It hit the ground and in a moment, a burst of smoke spread clouds across their line of vision. Kurogane supposed that this was a good thing because the sound of hacking from Syaoran's direction assured him that the boy had, at least momentarily, given up on his treat.

The coughing noises were also accompanied by a curiously loud thump! and the realization struck the ninja that Fai had just hit the dirt. Well, if he was this beat up and still going, he could probably make it a little longer. And so, Kurogane resolved to leave the prone magician where he lay and instead see what the smoke cloud had brought.

To his surprise (or maybe he'd been expecting it all along-- stranger things had happened to him today), a boy identical to Syaoran appeared, identical in every aspect, that is, except for clothing. Clearly this new arrival had more fashion sense that the one they'd been stuck with all this time. Dressed all in black with a frown thoroughly smeared on that adolescent face of his, he struck a fighting stance. Kurogane approved. Sure, there was that little matter of the bat insignia on his chest to straighten out, but that was a little thing compared to munching on mages, wasn't it?

Before he could make any inquires as to where the kid had come from, or how he'd managed to keep his black clothes so nice and dark--Kurogane had had quite enough of his best Nihon fabrics inadvertently lightened by a certain someone's inability to separate whites from darks-- the two suddenly spun into a raging battle.

"Hey! Can one of you tell me which fabric softener or detergent I ought to use to retain color in a normal wash cycle?"

The blurs of the two boys spit out the following answers:

"Downy bright color formula!"

"No, you fool! Tide with Bleach Alternative!"

A few more grunts between the enemies, and then the second voice again:

"And set it to soft knits to preserve color in your cloak!"

Kurogane stared in wide-eyed amazement. He couldn't believe it. After all these years of letting whomever happened to be there handle the laundry, he'd finally found the truth...

He absolutely had to know more.

The two kids continued to fight: their blows punctuated by battle cries of, "Downy Bright!" and "Tide with Bleach!" Kurogane stepped forward to them once more as though approaching an altar.

"So my cape really ought to go on the delicates cycle?" This meant it would probably end up with Sakura's underwater static-clinging to it, or soaked to it...he grimaced. Tomoyo-hime was going to hate him for sure, but if he could just have his clothing actually be as dark as midnight for once...it would be worth all the awkward laundry moments in the world.

"Don't listen to him, Kurogane-san!" A hard whack. "He's trying to win you over with his radical ideas! Don't believe him and his delicate wash--"

The other Syaoran must have hit him at this point.

"Delicates wash! Tide with Bleach!" The last word was screamed.

"No, you want Downy Bright, Kurogane! He's an imposter!"

"Silence! He needs Tide, Tide and true colors! And make sure you have cold water instead of warm."

This latest seemed to be a positive affront to the kid. "What?! Never! Hot water shall always prevail!"

Kurogane searched his pockets frantically for a piece of paper and a pen. Crap! Now as soon as he got all this information, he had no method to remember it all. Bolting to Sakura, he found that she'd decided to nod off on the dream orb, which seemed appropriate, but was nonetheless distressing. The ninja was pretty sure that she must have had a scrap of paper somewhere on her, but if they were going to be using the same delicates cycle from here on out, he wasn't going to complicate things by riffling through her clothing while she was still wearing it.

His next target was Fai. Still unmoving, the magician gave no reply when he asked about paper or a pen. So, nudging his side with the toe of his boot, Kurogane prepared for a more desperate search.

"Kuro...guh...?"

"I need a piece of paper. Just go back to sleep."

Limbs writhed, and a rattling moan issued from deep within Fai's throat. "Can't...my ey--"

"Oh, shut up about your eye already! I know, okay? I'm working on that. But right now I have a crisis on my--aha!" He held out the small pad of paper triumphantly. "Be back soon. Just stay put."

Fai might have tried to make some sound of protest or snark at how all he really could do at this point was "just stay put", but the pain must have been too great for him because he shortly was on the floor again.

By the time Kurogane got back to the fight, great changes in the dynamic had taken place. For one, Mokona, who had somehow made its way down here too, informed him that Syaoran-kun had ripped Hien out of his mouth and that it needed a check-up for cavities now. Kurogane mused that Syaoran seemed to be in a distinctly let's-pull-stuff-out-of-our-friend's-heads mood today.

"But isn't it cannibalism if he eats that stuff?" He said this to no one in particular, just out of wonder, and the duo seemed to pay no notice. They had much more important problems to preoccupy themselves with.

"Scrubbing Bubbles!"

"Blasphemy! You need 409!"

"But will it remove scum stains with ruthless efficiency? Will you stake your life on it?"

"Yes! It's even safe for all bathroom and kitchen surfaces! 409 Deluxe with spray-on nozzle!"

"No! I will resist! Stay with me, my bubbling friends with toilet wand!"

"Toilet wand?" Kurogane said to himself. Fai certainly hadn't mentioned that kind of magic.

"Scrubbing Bubbles!"

"409!"

And so it went for a while, as Kurogane recorded all the useful tidbits he'd learnt from their previous conversation. Still, though many questions remained unanswered.

"What do you two think about Febreeze?"

All action stopped.

Both gave him hard, cold stares. Ice would melt in Celes before he saw kindness in those eyes.

"Well, I happen to like the little spray nozzle..." He muttered, a little miffed.

"Spray on! Tide and Febreeze stand united against you, fiend! Freshness lovers, to me!"

The Downy, Scrubbing Bubbles-supporting Syaoran halted, and looked unsure. For, as he had correctly reasoned, nothing in the universe could match Febreeze. Except maybe Pinesol, but that was with a full can and a practiced hand and even then it was iffy. Besides, they hadn't had many pine trees in the desert, so Syaoran was pretty much doomed anyway.

Sensing the moment of truth was soon at hand, Syaoran backed off from the fight, back towards Fai before Kurogane swatted him away. "Give up already! And tell me whether a powder or a liquid is best."

The Syaoran in retreat yelled, "Powder!" just as the black Syaoran roared, "Liquid!" Sakura, just awakened from her snooze by the ferocity of the melee, paled as she glimpsed her beloved beating a hasty retreat, pursued by...her other beloved?

"No, Syaoran-kun! No! Please don't go! Who will I have to hide my feelings for?"

Tears were streaming down her face in rivers, pouring all over the orb on which she was still perched, hands clasped.

Kurogane saw the tears absorb into it with a foreboding squeal. "Sakura, stop crying! You're making the ball of dreaming sleepiness uncomfortable!"

This did stop her crying, but it also earned him a rather odd stare.

"What? That's its name, isn't it?"

And, in the next moment, regardless of everything around him, Syaoran-kun vanished, body torn into wisps by the gusts of wind.

"Is that painful?" The ninja asked the princess, who was more experienced than he in these matters. She shook her head.

"Not really. It's sort of like being wrapped in a warm quilt on a water bed."

A moment.

"Did they have water beds in the desert?"

"Well, that's true, but..."

She flicked a tear off the side of her cheek, causing it to hit ball's surface.

And then the ball, orb, sphere--whatever it was with all the Stuff inside--exploded.

Fai gave a long cry which was very disturbing, and settled for a deep rumble of pain when Kurogane yelled at him for making too much noise. The ball, on the other hand, had been replaced by a pair of young men in black.

"Who in Hell are you?"

One of them frowned. "We're the vampire twins. Why else did you come here but to see us or fight us for the Sphere's cure?"

Kurogane sighed. "Look, I'm done with that dreamy ...Stuff. All I wanted to know was what detergent you used and then I'll be on my way. Don't make me fight you for it." He added dangerously.

The same one that had spoken before rolled his eyes, perturbed. "We're vampire twins. Our clothes don't need to be washed to stay clean. Or," he grinned evilly, "keep this shade of onyx black."

The ninja thought a moment, and then his decision was made. He held out a hand. "Me too, then."

"No."

He could have screamed, but he held his composure. "Why not?"

The other one explained this time, softer, gentler. "Because you'd use your powers merely for yourself and your own shirts, would you not?" Seeing the guilt on Kurogane's face, he nodded. "This is a gift not for oneself alone. However, there is one here to whom we will give the power, someone who would not abuse it and would use it for the sake of others, not merely his own personal gains."

Kurogane bit his lip. Well, fine. So, the kid in black got the nice clothes. He'd force him to hand over all his dry-cleaning secrets one day.

Instead, the vampire twins flew over to Fai.

"WHAT?! What do you mean, he gets to become a vampire and I don't?"

The arrogant one spoke. "It is because we have judged him worthy."

"But he's a magician! His clothes are already perfect!"

The vampire smiled at him condescendingly. "Well, I suppose if you really want..." His voice trailed off teasingly.

"Yeah?"

"We could make you the bait." And with that, he laughed and with his twin, now done with their labor, swam back into the murky reaches of the water.

Sakura looked around sleepily in the silence that followed. "So we met mermen this time, huh?"

"No."

"I've always wanted to meet mermen, ever since that lake world we visited." She yawned. "With the big shiny scale.Why do you think they didn't have tails?"

"Because they weren't mermen to begin with."

"Must be. Too bad." Another yawn. "Good night...Kuro-chan..."

"What was that?!"

Too late. He should have known the princess's sleep habits by now, but he couldn't resist yelling at her slumbering figure and shaking her by the shoulders for an explanation.

Meanwhile, Syaoran stood by, only slightly aghast at what he'd been left with.

"Man, if these are your friends, I'd hate to see your enemies."

Kurogane shot him an angry look, then dug into his pockets and threw a purseful of chance at him. Syaoran caught it, a little offguard, as he had been trying to figure out when he could sneak back off to his own world...back to that nice, glowing green tank of his...ah, home.

"Take that, buy me some bleach. Or whatever you said would work. And some dryer sheets, too, for the static cling. Oh, and if you happen to pass a manga store, pick me up one of these..." He pulled out one of the books he kept on him and then cast a glance on his companions. "And you're wrong. They're not that bad. They just happen to need a lot of sleep."

This seemed very true to Syaoran as he sped up the many flights of stairs (he'd take the wrong staircase a couple times, only to have Kurogane holler up at him to go right, go left, "or just come the hell down already, I'll do it myself"), seeing the magician soaked in his own blood, and the princess hugging the remnants of the orb like a giant, malformed pillow, Kurogane overseeing them both.

Syaoran shivered, hoping that they hadn't seen the bat symbol on his shirt. He had a feeling that he didn't want to get on that guy's bad side, but the last thing he needed was for them to know about his secret identity...

"Hey, kid."

Syaoran nearly fell off his stair. Which, being around a hundred feet up, would have been a very bad thing.

"Y-yes?"

"Did you manage to get his eye back?" The ninja called from the ground level.

Eye...? What eye? Who had--oh, crap.

Fai.

"Was I supposed to?"

Kurogane sighed.

"No, just let the kid run off across the universe with somebody else's eye rolling around in his head. Oh well. I suppose I can always take care of that business the next time we meet."

Syaoran had no doubt that he would. And, as he rushed up the stairs to find a laundromat and a comic store, he had a feeling that he'd be stuck with this group for a very, very long time.