He had thought many times about coming home, about how he would prove himself to Tomoyo-hime, and Souma, and everyone else, those little names and blurry faces that used to matter. He thought about how he would explain losing his prized sword, preparing speeches and apologizes in his head before deciding they wouldn't do and starting back at square one. He thought about how he would introduce Mokona, Syaoran, Sakura, and Fay. He had anticipated, of course, that all of those matters would pale in comparison to the relief of being back home, but sitting before Tomoyo-hime now, Kurogane was beginning to have his doubts.
"Will you be leaving?" Syaoran asked apprehensively before they had entered into Tomoyo-hime's private quarters. Kurogane had mentally cringed at the sound of his voice; a hesitant, almost weak sounding tone. Syaoran was a strong kid, and he knew personally that he didn't weaken easily, though common sense said that the four of them were all friends and it was only to be expected that one of them leaving would stir up their emotions. But Syaoran hadn't asked again, and at the time, Kurogane hadn't answered.
Would he stay? He wanted to, of course. It was his wish, after all. But they weren't through searching yet, there were still many feathers left to gather, and part of him knew perfectly well that the children looked up to him – that they needed him. Mokona was a softie, and he knew the white manjuu would not let him leave without his share of scolding and crying. And Fay…
His mind was racing as the four of them sat in traditional seiza before the princess, who was speaking kindly about their being welcome for as long as they pleased, and thanking them for taking good care of the ninja in her stead. Kurogane was silent through most of it, though Syaoran added a few things and Sakura and the princess had exchanged a few very affectionate words before they had retired to explore Nihon as a group, upon Tomoyo's ushering.
They walked, half in awkward silence and half in forced conversation, about the thin walkways and finely dressed people. His heart smiled, seeing Sakura tentatively holding Syaoran's hand, then skipped a beat nervously as he stole a glance at Fay, who was walking with his hands behind his back, that damned fake smile plastered to his face.
After what seemed like hours they returned outside Tomoyo-hime's door, and Syaoran once again poised the question; would he stay?
Kurogane didn't know.
"You can't go!" Mokona pleaded helplessly.
"Kuro-tan wants to leave us." Fay said with an overly-dramatic expression of mourning.
Kurogane had looked between them with a straight face, though his mind was still unsure of the answer. "Come on." he muttered at last. "The princess said she has clothes for us to change into. Let's all meet up at the guest room tonight."
"Good idea. Sakura and I can look around.."
"Then I'll go convert our money to yen." Fay volunteered.
"Don't you spend anything!"
"Who, me? Kuro-rin, I wouldn't dream of it!"
Kurogane mumbled a few curses before turning his back on the group and heading inside, hearing their footprints keeping up with him just a few feet away.
"Tomoyo-hime likes to design clothing. She said she'd make a lovely outfit for Sakura-chan."
"Really? How kind…"
"Tomoyo-hime sure is considerate, isn't she?"
Kurogane listened to their unimportant chatter and said nothing.
- - - -
The sun was a lovely orb of orange in the sky, and Sakura and Syaoran had already appeared, fully changed and sporting attractive Japanese clothing, said a few words, and disappeared back into the town to explore. Fay had yet to turn back up. Kurogane waited until, after a few hours of nothing, getting up grudgingly and looking for the mage himself.
"He better have a good excuse for not returning…." he growled as he prowled the streets looking for the man. There were men and woman passing, sometimes arm in arm, girls gossiping, children following obediently behind their parents and laughing to themselves over their own innocent banter. He looked into every shop window, every alleyway for the sight of the mage, wondering why someone with such un-Japanese features didn't stick out well enough for him to see.
At last he stopped in front of an elegant home, peering through the slightly-ajar and glowing paper doors to see two women in geisha's clothing talking to each other cheerfully as three older men sat cross-legged, nodding in agreement and sipping sake…
He peered into the room, squinting his eyes. One of those girls was blonde, and looked suspiciously like…but no, it couldn't be him…
"Ah?" The one in question said, holding one slender hand (could it really be his…?) to her lips in a gentle expression of surprise. "Excuse me, gentlemen, I'll be right back!" she said happily, rising to her feet politely and bowing once before slipping out of the room.
Kurogane stood by the door, his face feeling suddenly hot. In a few seconds, the 'geisha' appeared before him, smiling slyly like a child caught playing a prank. It was easy to recognize him now, with this startling bright eyes and blonde hair. He wore a neatly folded sky-blue kimono with embroidery of delicately-sewn gold carp and pink threaded patterns. In his hair were several expensive-looking ornaments that stood out against the pale contours of his face. If he hadn't been so stunned, the ninja might have taken the moment to marvel at the mage's transformation. "Hello, Kuro-pi." he said sweetly. "Would you like to come join us?"
Something snapped in his head, and in an instant he had the mage pinned to one of the wooden supporters, one hand fisted in the front of his kimono. The other geisha in the house gasped loudly and clapped both hands over her mouth, and the men leaned forward to see what was going on. None of them dared interfere. "These are not the clothes Tomoyo-hime gave you." Kurogane hissed.
"Ah, Kuro-chin." Fay laughed so easily that they might have been discussing the matter of tea, which only served to fuel the anger in the other man. "Well you see, I converted the money, but here in Nihon it all amounted to so awfully little…and then I met Tsukiko-san here, and she suggested I join her to make a few extra yen – "
"Do they know you're a man!?"
"Oh, details, details!"
Kurogane wanted to slap him. "Do you even realize what geisha's do?"
"Come on, Kuro-myu! We were just having some fun! Live a little!"
"You can't just become a geisha in one day! It's a lifelong profession! It's something you train for since childhood! You realize that if you get caught, you could get in some serious trouble – you and all your friends here as well!"
Fay's eyes darkened suddenly. "What do you care? You're leaving us anyway."
"Who said I was leaving you?"
"Your eyes did." He challenged. Inside, 'Tsukiko' and the others were muttering to themselves, eyes locked on the scene before them.
"I never said…"
That fake smile widened. "In that case, Kuro-sama, come inside! Relax!"
"I'm not – " he began hotly, but Fay had already taken his hand and dragged him back into the room. Once inside, Kurogane found himself reeling under the stench of alcohol. The surprise had melted of their faces, and the man had settled down again. One of them had slid up beside Tsukiko, and Kurogane watched, slightly sickened as he breathed down her neck. "You know this guy, Tsukiko-chan?" he asked.
"No, I'm afraid not." she smiled in welcome. "Fay-chan, is this your friend?"
Fay nodded happily. "Everyone, this is Kuro-tan!"
"It's Kurogane." he growled, sitting down beside the blonde.
"Fay-chan, was he bothering you?" One of the men asked with a mocking pout, inching himself closer to the mage. "He didn't mess up your pretty kimono, did he?"
"I'm fine, Hajime-san." Fay said briskly.
The man moved closer, placing one hand on the mage's leg. Fay didn't so much as flinch. "He got dibs?" He slurred, and Kurogane could smell the alcohol on his breath.
"Dibs?" Fay repeated with feigned innocence.
"Yeah." Kurogane snapped, and both Tsukiko and the other three men all stopped to look at him. "I got 'dibs.' Get your dirty hands of him."
He reached over Fay's lap to slap the Hajime's hand away, and the man drew back with a dark look. "Look, you, I was here first – "
"He doesn't want you." Kurogane spat. "Can't you take a hint?"
"Kuro-tan, don't – "
"Don't tell me what not to do!" before he knew it he was shouting. Fay shrank away from him like a wounded animal. "I'm trying to help you here! Once you learn to take care of yourself – then you can say 'don't!'"
"Kurogane-san – " Tsukiko began.
"Shut your mouth, lady." He said dangerously.
"What makes you think you're calling the shots?" Hajime spoke up suddenly. "Look at you – you're nothing but a brute. What makes you think Fay-san wants you?"
"Hajime-san, please – " Fay began with another 'let's all get along' smile, but the man reached over and took his wrist, jerking him forward. "You shouldn't have offered yourself up if you weren't prepared to take it." he threatened.
Kurogane began to reach for the man and then froze. Offered himself up? "You did what?"
"You didn't know?" Hajime grinned suddenly. "Tsukiko-san and this guy are both up for grabs. All he asked for was a few thousand yen."
Fay stiffened. Kurogane stared.
"Kurogane-san, I think you should leave." Tsukiko spoke up suddenly.
"Wait." He said, scrambling to his feet and reaching for the money Tomoyo-hime had given him to spend in the markets. He threw it down on the table before all of them. "There. That should be more than enough. Take it."
Tsukiko reached for the bag and drew the drawstring. A look of honest surprise came across her features. "Where did you get all this?"
"That's enough, isn't it?" he said, this time noticing the note of panic in his voice. He seized Fay by the arm and pulled him up off the ground. "Come on, we're leaving."
"Bye Rikuo-san, Kazahaya-san, Hajime-san!" Fay waved to them cheerfully as Kurogane dragged him back out the entrance. "Bye Tsukiko-chan! I'll stop by to return your kimono tomorrow!'
"Uh – goodbye, Fay-chan!" Tsukiko said, waving back at him, still looking a little confused.
"Aww, but this means that we just ended up losing money instead!" Fay said with disappointment once they were safely away. Kurogane looked around the streets, frowning, before continuing to drag Fay away from the people and into one of the back alleys. "Now I'll have to make up for Tomoyo-hime's money that you gave them – "
"Shut up." Kurogane seized him by the shoulders and pushed him against the ally wall once they were out of the sight of the townspeople. "What the hell do you think you were doing back there!"
Fay flashed a fake smile again, and Kurogane felt his blood boil. "We were low on money, so I was trying to – "
"No. Tell me the truth." Fay's smile faltered for a moment, and he stared up at the ninja with jewel-bright eyes. "But Kuro-tan, I'm not lying."
"You're not the idiot you make yourself out to be." He pushed. "The Fay I know would never dress himself up like a goddamn doll and sell himself for a few yen in a world he's not even vaguely familiar with. What were you trying to do?"
Fay said nothing.
"Did you hear me?" Losing his patience, Kurogane tightened his grip on the mage's shoulders, making him wince. "Kuro-sama, stop – "
"How am I supposed to trust you now!?" he demanded loudly. "It was tough enough watching over you to make sure you didn't get yourself killed, now I have to watch over you to make sure you don't get yourself fucked?"
"I wasn't going to get myself fu – " He choked on the word, his face burning red.
"Look at you." He mumbled, feeling his own face get hot. Fay certainly didn't make a very convincing geisha, looking more so like a child's attempt at dressing up than anything, but that didn't change the fact that there was a disturbing aura about him, like that of someone who had deliberately tried to get caught in the wrong situations. "You look like a whore in those clothes." he said finally.
"That's how you like it, isn't it?" Fay wormed out of his grasp, blushing furiously. "Come on, let's back to the palace, so you can see your precious Tomoyo – "
"Is that what this is about?" Kurogane asked, stung. "Tomoyo?"
Fay turned his back on the ninja, arms limp at his sides. "No, it's about you leaving – " he sputtered before he could catch himself.
Kurogane pressed himself against the mage to whisper in his ear. "I'm not leaving you."
The blonde's shoulders hunched under the fabric of the kimono. "What?"
"I said I'm not leaving you."
"Why didn't you tell me earlier?" the tone was painfully revealing, heartbroken, something rare in the case of the mage. "I hadn't decided earlier." Kurogane said honestly.
"Then what made you decide?"
Kurogane was quiet. For a moment he closed his eyes and wondered how to word something that he himself didn't even understand. Then, without even thinking about the consequences, he brought his arm up around the blonde and slipped his fingers into the fold of his kimono. Fay's breath hitched sharply.
"I don't know." He brushed his finger's against the skin he could reach. "What do you think?"
Fay turned his head slightly, and pressed his fingers softly against the back of the ninja's hand. Kurogane turned his head just enough to see the man's expression; a lost, dazed look he had never seen him wear before.
For a moment it seemed the blonde was hesitating between submitting and pushing away. And then, softly, he mumbled; "I'm a man, Kuro-chi."
"I know that." he said stiffly.
"Do you? Sometimes I'm not so sure."
The hand against his skin tightened, grasping some of the material of the kimono in the process. Fay didn't move. "I said I know."
There was silence. Desperate, Kurogane released the kimono and turned the mage's face toward him. Fay looked at him through unreadable eyes.
At the time, he hadn't known what to do. He had never seen this side of the other man, he had never even dreamed it would ever been presented to him outright.
And then Fay had hesitated, and in an instant the real him had vanished, hiding beneath his usual, smiling exterior. "Let's go home, Kuro-tan." The false cheerfulness had fallen back into place, and he turned to head back unto the busy streets again.
Drained, Kurogane could only follow.
- - - -
A few hours had passed, and Kurogane and Fay were back on their feet and in normal outfits. It was nicer – so much nicer – with Fay dressed in his intended, normal Japanese clothing. At least, that's how Kurogane thought it should have been. But somehow, even though it was him that made Fay change and return the kimono to the geisha, he found himself a little disappointed to see Fay back in normal attire. That kimono had made him furious, but at the same time, there was something distantly pleasing about it.
He frowned, trying to pick apart the incident as best he could. Of course it made him angry to see Fay do something so thoughtlessly foolish, but he supposed it was a double edged blade. It was ridiculous…but there was a strange attractiveness to seeing the blonde like that. Seeing him so…submissive was the word, he thought. A submissive Fay.
Then again, he had never been one for public attention. Not that he had ever been one for romance either. There was really no time – not in his life. There were no blood and kisses, there was only blood. Only blind, hot blood and killing…before he met the others. Before he met Fay.
Would he really enjoy a thing like that – public attention, and kisses, and all that foolishness? He had seen the love between others, a heart-warming love that might leave any man lonely, but with Fay it could only be foolishness. It was silly to want to put love in the same sentence with a man who could not even show his true smile. And yet he kept thinking of that damn kimono, and his hair swept back like a doll's. It was hypnotizing, the thought of it. The fold of it's fabric around his tiny waist. So thin. One could fit their hands around a waist like that so easily, so very easily…
He jumped a little to see that Fay had walked ahead of him and stopped, peering up into his face with large, blue eyes. He froze, glanced around him quickly to see where they had stopped, and found themselves on the edge of the street, a few feet from a open store. "What?" he said at last, when he was sure that no one was pausing to watch them.
"Did you tell Tomoyo-hime yet?"
"Tell her what?"
"That Kuro-pi isn't leaving us, of course!"
"No. And don't walk in front of me like that, you're going to make us trip – "
"Then what are we going this way for! Tomoyo-hime is that way!" Fay took his hand and began to pull him in the opposite direction.
"H-hey!" he stammered, but Fay looked far too happy with himself to be daunted. "Come on, come on!" he whined. "Kuro-chi, don't be so slow!"
"Then don't pull me so hard." Kurogane snapped in return.
"Kuro-rin's yelling at me!" Fay tried his best to sound pouty in spite of his giggling.
"I'm not yelling, damn mage!" he huffed loudly, and then suddenly his eyes caught sight of their join hands and a shiver of apprehension ran down his spine.
He wondered if it was something he could get used to seeing – their hands laced together like that. It was a thought that went far beyond his previous musings about affection and Fay and that dreaded kimono, and beneath all of it was this overwhelming feeling of possibility, one that said given a few months, they two of them might have already stopped thinking of themselves as 'just Kurogane' and 'just Fay,' but Kurogane and Fay together as one.
Together. Kurogane let the word sink in. Together. The cliché of it normally would make him hesitate, but now it only made him calm.
For a moment he could almost picture it: a life that reminded him strongly of one of the dimension witch's fabled worlds…a world where the only ruling god was Destiny.