Summary: Kurogane recovers from Celes and has a moment with Fay. [Spoilers for chapter 166]

Note: Set immediately after chapter 166. Written before 167 was published. T for blood.


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Living, I Suppose

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The landing is rough coming out of their desperate escape from Celes. Kurogane collides hard against the ground, his still-rushing adrenaline thankfully dulling the pain.

Syaoran is close, a tangle of limbs with the princess' body pinned protectively against his chest. The boy is panting hard, his feverish eyes quickly assessing Sakura's state before darting around to check their surroundings. He winces, as if he's still struggling with what had been affecting him at the castle.

Then Kurogane winces, feeling a burning pain at his shoulder as if his mind had finally registered the injury. He wills himself to look; his entire side is sticky and warm, the stump of his arm glistening red-black. The ninja fights the acid clawing threateningly up his throat and tries to reach over with his other hand to stanch the pain, only to find a weight stopping him. He looks down and realizes that Fay is still on his arm, pale as death, dried blood trailing from his lips, his breath shallow. Fay's half-lidded eye meets Kurogane's for a brief moment before the ninja's body finally gives way to shock. Dazed, he watches the ground rush to meet him.

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Kurogane would later recall that he couldn't recall much at all that week he slept. Only that a face like Tomoyo's and maybe a little like that priestess in Hashin hovered over him, her features blurred, her voice far away as she applied something cool to his forehead. He remembers turning his head carefully, fighting the dizziness, to look for the others. Syaoran was there, sitting with his hands folded and back bent, his jaw set and eyes hard with worry. The princess and the mage were nowhere at all. He wondered vaguely if he had missed the funeral and fell back to nothingness.

-'-

There are seventeen cracks in the ceiling and a spider web in the corner.

Kurogane blinks slowly, his head drowning in too many pillows. The constricting layers of gauze and bandages are strangely comforting, though his repose is interrupted by a persistent itch in the space where his arm should have been. He curses at himself when more than once he tried to scratch at it only to find air.

There is a rustling at the half-open door and Kurogane shifts his eyes only enough to confirm a wisp of blond hair visible in the gap. It was silent for a long time as the mage stood stock-still just beyond the entryway.

Kurogane doesn't call out to acknowledge him and resumes blinking at the ceiling.

In time, Fay gingerly enters the room, leaning heavily on a crutch. He doesn't say a word, though (at least from Kurogane's peripheral vision), the mage looks as miserable and as lost as the child he saw in memory. With some effort, Fay lowers himself silently into the bedside chair.

There were a lot of things that Kurogane could have said, even more that he could have been feeling, every one of them tainted bitter and hot. What came out was: "You shouldn't be moving around."

He feels cold fingers slip under his own and a thumb brushing gently against the back of his hand. Fay stays mute.

"What are you doing here?" Kurogane asks, feeling the slightest flicker of irritation.

A strained, sad smile pulls across the mage's face. His voice is very small.

"Living, I suppose."

And in the silence before Kurogane could decide on a reaction, Fay's expression suddenly contorts as if some pressure finally burst inside his chest and he chokes out a sob. His body bows, his hot forehead presses against their entwined hands and he shakes.

Kurogane couldn't dredge up the energy to be annoyed or surprised. Or to attempt to figure him out.

He doesn't guess at the reason, doesn't guess if it's shame or guilt or regret or resentment or even relief.

But something does resonate with his soul and his heart strings draw taut enough to tighten his throat.

He didn't really have time to weigh the consequences or rationalize his reasons with the castle walls crashing around them and the curse closing in like a noose. His body had moved on its own, fulfilling an unspoken promise he himself had not fully understood. His whole being is still too numb to know if it was worth it; Kurogane is not thinking about that right now.

He frowns a little, watching Fay's back heave with silent sobs, and pulls his tear-slick hand away. The mage doesn't protest or look up, only grips at the sheets tightly as if it were the only stable thing left in a world crumbling around his ears.

Kurogane had said time and again he didn't care about Fay's past, and maybe some day Fay will believe him. But the past does matter, and, having seen Fay's memories, the deceit, the mental mess of a child too desperately wanting, Kurogane could not blame him for trembling at his bedside. They're both alive; there's time later for understanding.

He places his hand on Fay's head, wills himself to not pet the tangled mess of hair, and turns his mind blissfully blank.

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A/N: This one-shot was inspired by a piece of fan art by LovelessInma. It can be found here: community. livejournal. com/ kuroxfai/ 712704. html. And the phantom limb is really something some amputees experience!

Thanks for reading. Your comments are appreciated.