A/N: sdkjfaljoa, guys, I'm not even gonna try to hide it anymore; I hate how this story is turning out. I hate it, I hate it, I hate it, I hate it! Argh! Writing it has become a chore rather than something I enjoy and it takes more willpower to sit down and work on it each time. I'm not blaming the person who requested it. In fact, I'm willing to accept most of the blame myself for creating such a shitty story that even I don't want to deal with as the author.

A small portion of the blame falls on Clamp, as well. Honestly, I can hardly even remember the last time I enjoyed a chapter of Tsubasa. For the past two years, I've simply been reading it out of obligation because hey, I've followed it almost religiously for so long, I have to know how it ends. I admit that I'm losing interest in Tsubasa as a whole and even this pairing because with each passing chapter that they're ignored and shoved aside, I can hardly keep alive my hope that something satisfying will happen between them. I'll try to finish Their Love in Fifty Words, simply because I feel obligated, but to be truthful, I'd rather write for Hetalia. Anyway, enjoy this shitstorm.


Kurogane left the marketplace in a rather sour mood. He knew that he should be grateful to Yuuko for stepping in and stopping them from being lynched, but it was hard for him to muster up gratitude when he had paid through the nose for her services. Really, all she had done was tell the crowd that their troubles were caused by a dark elf, give everyone a crash course in the distinguishing characteristics of dark elves and thereby proven that Fai could not possibly be the guilty party. It wasn't like she had really put herself out for them or done anything miraculous, so Kurogane didn't see why he should have had to give her a third of the produce he had brought with him to sell that day as payment.

"Are you saying that your lives aren't even worth a third of your produce to you?" Yuuko had asked coolly, a smug smile on her face.

"I'm saying that you've got no business popping up whenever there's a problem, shoving yourself onto others and then demanding payment for it, dammit!" Kurogane had snapped back. "You're supposed to wait for people to ask for your help, you crazy bitch, not force it down their throats!"

"You handle your business your way and I'll handle my business my way," she replied stubbornly. "After all, this is how I've always operated and it works perfectly well. There's no point in fixing what's not broken, right?"

Just remembering it made Kurogane's blood boil. Of course that way of business worked for her; she gave her customers no choice! There was also the fact that while Yuuko had proven that Fai was not a dark elf, she had done nothing to disprove the theory that Fai was some kind of elf, and that still made them subject to a great deal of mistrust. Although Kurogane didn't approve of lying, he figured that if she was going to charge them so much for her services, she might as well do the job in a thorough manner. At the very least, she could have explained the traits of light elves and pointed out the differences between them and dark elves. That way even those who still suspected that Fai was an elf would know that he was not a danger to them. Kurogane would have explained this himself if he thought the crowd saw him as being even remotely credible.

In spite of the continued suspicion against Kurogane and Fai, the people still needed to buy food. With all the other farmers in the entire town gone, they had no choice but to buy from Kurogane. They had done so grudgingly, making sure that he knew that they were not in the least bit pleased about having to do so. Even his usual female fan club had seemed significantly less enthusiastic than usual (not that he really cared). Regardless of all the grumbling from his customers, Kurogane had had no trouble selling off the last of his produce.

"We're pretty much done here," Kurogane had told Syaoran and Watanuki once they were running low on supplies. "You two can head back and start cleaning out the stables. This guy and I can finish up with this."

The boys had nodded obediently and removed their aprons.

As soon as the two of them had disappeared, Kurogane glanced curiously over at the elf. After the recent turn of events, Fai had started acting strange again. His face was paler than death and it looked as though keeping his smile in place for the customers was costing him an unreasonable amount of effort. The farmer wondered if Fai was feeling sick again. It was probably nerves due the fact that his identity had almost been uncovered and was still under suspicion. Still, he wasn't sure that Fai's obvious uneasiness didn't go much deeper than that.

Kurogane knew that his chances of getting answers out of him about it were even slimmer than usual if the boys were there to listen in on the conversation and that had played a large factor in his decision to send them back to the farm ahead of him and Fai. Kurogane was determined to get some sort of an explanation from Fai as soon as the two of them cleared the marketplace area. The elf was already lagging behind shakily, looking like he was trying not to be ill, clearly lost in his own thoughts.

Kurogane slowed Ginryuu to a halt, waiting for Fai to catch up. Fai was so preoccupied that he didn't even notice that Kurogane was waiting and would have passed by him if Kurogane hadn't reached out and grabbed Fai's forearm, firmly yet gently. The blond started violently at the touch.

"Hey, what's up?" Kurogane asked, his voice coming out a lot softer and more concerned than he had intended. He flushed slightly and cleared his throat. "You look like hell."

If Fai noticed Kurogane's slip-up, he didn't give any sign of it. He just smiled weakly up at his host. "Hmm… I guess I'm not feeling well again."

"What, you worried because those guys back at the marketplace think you're an elf?" Kurogane asked.

Fai continued to smile feebly. "Yeah… It's exactly what Kuropipi said would happen, huh?"

Kurogane regarded him critically through his sharp garnet eyes.

The elf lowered his gaze as if trying to escape the searching look. "Kuropin has been so good to me… I feel bad for making so much trouble for you."

"Bastard," Kurogane sneered. "If you're gonna lie, at least think about what you're saying first."

Fai's eyes instantly snapped back to Kurogane's. "Hmm? You think I'm lying?"

"I know you're lying," the dark-haired man growled. "You were acting pretty damn strange before we even got to the marketplace, ever since the kid mentioned that his neighbor's farm had been burnt down. And your reaction whenever someone mentioned that tailor's name was weird, too. This isn't about them thinking you're an elf; you know something about what's going on."

The look Fai gave him was nothing short of terrified. As irritated as Kurogane was with the blond for his continued insistence on hiding things from him, he couldn't help feeling sorry for Fai just then. He just looked so scared and lost and fragile. Now that he thought about it, Kurogane supposed that he might be at least partly to blame. He had made his accusation in an attempt to wring some answers from the tight-lipped elf, but it occurred to him now that Fai might have misconstrued it, thinking that he was going to hurt or abandon him because of it. In reality, Kurogane had no intention of doing either. All he wanted was to know what they were up against so that he could prepare and face it head-on. Then maybe when Fai smiled, he wouldn't look like he was in such agony.

"Look, would you stop making that face?" Kurogane mumbled, blushing as he set a hand heavily on Fai's head in an awkward gesture of comfort. "I'm not gonna hurt you. I just wanna know what's going on."

Fai heaved a sigh, deep and tired, trying to calm his nerves and his queasy stomach so that he could answer the question. "It's a really long story, Kurosama, and it's… really hard for me to talk about… especially right now… I-I feel like I'm going to… throw up…"

Kurogane had the feeling that Fai wasn't just trying to dodge his questions this time; he really did look like he was about to be sick. He sighed and smoothed Fai's bangs back from his perspiring forehead gently. "Can you at least tell me why my farm was safe from the attacks? Is it because of you?"

Fai nodded almost imperceptibly. "My magic… is p-protecting it… from him…"

The farmer's brows furrowed thoughtfully. "So you know this guy, then? The one who's responsible for all the shit that's happening?"

"…K…Kyle…" Fai choked. He clapped a hand to his mouth, hunching forward as his whole body trembled. Kurogane quickly guided him to the roadside, slipping his hand under the hood of the blue cloak so that he could hold the elf's sweat-dampened golden hair out of his face as Fai surrendered the contents of his stomach to the tall grass. The farmer rubbed soothing circles on Fai's lower back with his other hand, wishing he had some water to offer him as Fai wiped his mouth on the back of his hand shakily. For a few moments, all the blond could do was crouch there, breathing harshly as he tried to regain his composure.

"I-I'm sorry…" Fai panted. "That… was pretty gross, huh?"

He tried to stand, but wobbled precariously. Kurogane scooped him up easily into his arms.

"Don't be stupid," he said firmly. "You couldn't help it."

"And now… I'm m-making even more trouble for you," the elf whispered, laying his head against Kurogane's strong chest. "Even after Kurochuu didn't get enough sleep last night… because he wanted to make s-sure I was feeling better…I'm sorry…"

"Hey, that was my own choice," Kurogane grunted. "If you don't quit apologizing for stuff that wasn't your fault, I'll kick your ass."

He gathered Ginryuu's reigns again and flicked them, setting the horse in motion at his side as he carried Fai towards home. Fai drew several deep, slow breaths, trying desperately to calm himself. Despite Kurogane's characteristic gruffness, the elf knew that he was worried about him and the last thing he wanted to do was cause Kurogane more stress.

The elf's sharp hearing picked up the sound of Kurogane's heartbeat. It was strong and steady in his ear. Fai let his eyes flutter closed as he forced himself to tune out everything but the sound of the farmer's heart. Even though he knew that his situation hadn't changed in the slightest since a few seconds ago, he couldn't help being soothed slightly by the clear, reassuring rhythm.

Kurogane could feel his face getting hot as Fai placed his hand and cheek against his chest, the warm weight bouncing slightly with each step he took. So Fai had been protecting his farm from the attacks. Kurogane couldn't say that he was surprised. After all, he hadn't taken any special precautions that would prevent elf interference. What did surprise him was that Fai knew the one who was behind it all.

Kyle… the name was hardly indicative of the evil he had committed (1). Kurogane resolved to get the full story later that night when Fai wasn't so weak and shaky. He needed to know what this elf had done to strike such fear in Fai that the mere knowledge of his presence caused him to vomit. And then he would kill him, slowly and painfully, for the sake of his own revenge as well as Fai's. The fewer dark elves there were in the world, the better.

Kurogane pulled out of his musings just in time to realize that they were about to pass that högfolk home that had upset Fai so much the other day. He hugged Fai closer, bracing the blond head against his chest. The last thing he needed was for Fai to see that thing again when he was already so upset. Fai seemed to appreciate Kurogane's hug because he nuzzled him weakly, stroking his chest lightly with his fingertips. Kurogane felt his heart flutter peculiarly at the gentle touch, his face heating up again as he prayed that Fai couldn't hear it.

It was early morning before Fai was thrown into his cell, though there was no sunlight in Svartalfheim, making day and night virtually indistinguishable. But there could have been fire and brimstone raining from the sky and Fai would neither have noticed nor cared. Lying before him on the cold stone floor in a mangled, bloody, barely recognizable heap was his first and only love. Kyle had tossed him into the cell after Fai, spitting derisively on the body before turning gracefully on his heel and stalking away.

Fai's throat was sore and parched from screaming and pleading and sobbing as he had been forced to watch Kurogane be tortured in cruel and unusual ways. He had cried so long and hard through the process that he no longer possessed any more tears. Although he still felt as though his heart had been shattered and every last shred of his will to live crushed, he was simply too exhausted to cry anymore.

It didn't help that his eyes kept being drawn uncontrollably to Kurogane's body. He was appalled by the shape it had taken at Kyle's hands and yet he couldn't help continuing to think of it as a sentient thing. He still thought of it as containing the essence of Kurogane's being, the adorably shy, quick-tempered, gruff högfolk man that he had loved. Fai had dreamed of someday whispering sweet words to him, of kissing and holding him, of attaining freedom with him…

The elf felt himself being pulled to his feet and crossing the miniscule cell to Kurogane's remains as if drawn there by magnetic force. Fai began to sob again as he lowered himself to the ground beside the body. He draped Kurogane's broken, battered arm across his waist, nuzzling his face into a small, relatively uninjured place on the mortally wounded chest, hardly noticing as Kurogane's blood soaked his clothing. The first time he was allowed to be held by his lover was that morning as he curled up against Kurogane's dead body.

Kurogane shifted Fai's warm, trembling frame in his arms as they entered his property. Fai had been completely silent on the way home, to the point where Kurogane would have thought he was asleep had he not known how distressed Fai was. He stroked Fai's flaxen hair beneath the hood of his cloak in an absentminded attempt to soothe the elf. It was still damp with sweat. The farmer carried his charge over to the well so that he could draw some water for him.

"You wanna wait inside for me to finish up?" he asked as Fai rinsed his mouth.

Fai shook his head firmly. "I… I really think it would be worse if I just sit around and do nothing…" He gave Kurogane the barest hint of a smile. "I might go a little bit crazy."

Kurogane tilted his head back slightly, surveying the blond thoughtfully. "What, you trying to say you wanna help me with work, then?"

"If you'll have me," Fai replied, looking up at him with such weariness and turmoil in his royal blue eyes that it tugged ferociously at Kurogane's heartstrings. "Kurorinta has done so much for me and I've just… been completely useless… I've done nothing but cause Kuromin pain and trouble…"

"Hey, I thought I told you to shut up about that crap," Kurogane interrupted with a mix of impatience and embarrassment. "If I didn't want you here, I would've tossed you out a long time ago."

Fai let his eyes slip closed and shook his head again, trying desperately to block out Kurogane's attempt at comforting words. He could not allow his decision to be swayed. "This will be my …p-parting gift to you…f-for all you've done for me. I know it's not m-much, but… I think it's about all I c-can do."

A brief silence followed Fai's declaration. Kurogane felt anger and frustration surging up inside of him as those words escaped Fai's lips. He sucked air in through clenched teeth, trying to reign in his temper. "Parting gift, huh? So that's it then? You think you can just fuck things up and then run away from the mess you've made? Is that an elf thing or is it your own shitty idea?"

Fai sighed and lowered his head into his hands. "I can't stay here, I… It's not safe. People are dying, Kurogane. Would you rather I stay here and let more be killed because of me?"

Kurogane was too agitated to be shocked by the fact that Fai was calling him by his actual name. "So you think you'll go somewhere else and the problem will be solved?!" he asked harshly. "Has it even occurred to you that this bastard might follow you, no matter where you go?! If you think that leaving is going to help anything, you're even—"

"I'm ready to pay with my own blood for what I've done," Fai cut in. "I know I can't escape him. I know he'll follow me. He's already proven that. That's why I've decided that the only way this might come to an end is for me to die. If that's what it takes for me to be able to save you this time, then that's what I'll do."

It took every ounce of Kurogane's willpower not to punch that damn elf right in the nose. He stood there for a moment, chest heaving, clenching his fists so hard that his nails left deep grooves in his palms, his shoulders hunched as he shook with suppressed fury. In spite of his efforts to control himself, his rage bubbled over in a great tidal wave and he clipped the elf over the head with his fist.


He grabbed Fai forcefully by the front of his cloak, jerking him off his feet.

"Listen, you stupid bastard!" he snarled. "I'm not some fucking damsel in distress! I don't need saving! You trying to say you're doing this for me?! If you gave two shits about what I think, you'd shut your damn mouth and listen to what I've been trying to tell you from the beginning!"

Fai stared at him, his eyes wide and round with shock. He certainly hadn't been expecting such a violent opposition to his proposal. As kind as Kurogane had been to him in his own strange, gruff way, Fai had kind of expected him to accept his decision and let him go. Why on earth was Kurogane fighting him so hard?

"If you thought you could just vanish after dragging me into this, well… you're too damn late," Kurogane growled. "I'm involved now, and I refuse to let either one of us just roll over and die. I didn't spend all that freaking effort bringing you back from the brink of death so that you could nobly toss yourself off a fucking cliff 'for the good of humanity' or however the hell you're trying to justify this bullshit."

He set Fai roughly back on his feet and turned away. "Whatever this thing is, we're gonna face it together. I've already lost too much," he mumbled. "Like hell I'm giving you up, too."

Fai was so stunned to see Kurogane's ears and the back of his neck reddening that he couldn't even stammer stupidly in response. The farmer cleared his throat brusquely and scratched awkwardly at his flushed nape.

"So, you gonna help with work or what?"

Kyle was not pleased when he entered the cell later that morning to find Fai curled up in Kurogane's mangled arms, staring blankly at the högfolk man's chest. He made a little noise of distain as he unlocked the cell and let himself into the enclosure. Fai was too exhausted and depressed to even lift his head when Kyle entered.

"Really, 200, this is completely ridiculous," the dark elf sneered. "I've given you three whole hours to grieve. You should be done by now."

Fai said nothing, not even acknowledging Kyle's presence. The sound of the dark elf's voice made him sick; he didn't want to see or hear him ever again. All he wanted was for Kyle to leave him alone so that he could die of his broken heart in peace. It seemed, however, that Kyle had other plans for he kicked Kurogane's arms aside and jerked Fai to his feet by his ponytail.

"Oh, look at you, 200," he chided. "You're a mess. Is this any way for you to greet your new lover?"

Kyle purred a body binding spell in Fai's ear, locking him in place so that he could lick the blood from Fai's cheeks without having to worry about resistance. Fai squeezed his eyes shut, revulsion and anger welling up inside him, searching in vain for an outlet. Eventually, licking gave way to nipping and kissing so rough that it left angry little red marks on Fai's ivory skin. The blond could feel the bile rising in his throat, his already shattered spirit moaning in sheer misery and hopelessness. He couldn't even grit his teeth against the pain when Kyle began running his fingers up and down the raw wounds left by last night's whip of punishment.

"It may interest you to know, 200, that I have purchased you from my uncle," Kyle breathed into the crook of Fai's neck. "From now on, you are legally mine in body and soul."

Fai was so frustrated, depressed and humiliated that he couldn't even bring himself to be more horrified by this statement.

"Now that you're mine, I think it's only fitting that I begin calling you by your name," Kyle continued. "I wouldn't dream of doing it with my other slaves, but you're special…Fai. Just think of what we can do together now that I own you."

He grinned evilly as the sound of Fai's name coming from his mouth made the slave shudder. He brought one hand to Fai's soft, supple cheek and kissed his lips, his other hand wandering elsewhere. Kyle laughed coldly as he pulled his mouth away, his glittering black eyes meeting Fai's deep blue ones.

"You really thought you would get to do this with 316 last night, didn't you? I'm so glad I put a stop to that; that thing didn't deserve you. It was filthy, worthless, ugly, a complete waste of skin…Your beauty is fit only for a king."

A strangled sob of agony and helplessness fought its way from Fai's throat, prompting Kyle to laugh and kiss his lips again. "This brings me to my next bit of news, Fai. This may shock you; are you ready?"

Whatever Kyle had to say, Fai was sure he didn't want to hear it but he could do nothing to block out what the dark elf was saying.

"I am going to overthrow my uncle and take my rightful place on the throne," he hissed into Fai's ear.

The blond said nothing in response to this revelation, both because he was physically incapable and because he really didn't feel the need to reply. It wasn't like he had any loyalty whatsoever toward Fei Wang, and he was sure that being under Kyle's rule couldn't possibly be much worse. After all, Fei Wang had already destroyed his mother and Kyle destroyed the love of his life. He really had no reason to carry on; in fact, death would be welcome at this point.

"That old bastard thought he could rob me of my reign," Kyle snarled, digging his fingers painfully into the wounds on Fai's back in his anger. "He thought that sending me to the human world as a changeling would ensure his place as king for the rest of his putrid, pathetic life."

The dark elf let out a harsh bark of humorless laughter. "How wrong he was… My father told me how it happened, how he had been selected by his own father, the previous king, to take the throne as his favorite son. But my father thought that ruling the kingdom would be too much of a bother so he allowed his older brother to take his place and agreed to send his own son to the human world to avoid a power struggle when I became old enough to be king…My uncle thinks I have no idea what took place, and I wouldn't if my father hadn't betrayed him by bringing me back to Svartalfheim and telling me everything."

He pulled away from Fai slightly so that he could look the still-frozen slave in the eye.

"The battle will be difficult, not to mention dangerous," Kyle continued smoothly. "Many slaves and civilians will most likely die."

He ran his fingers through Fai's bloodied golden hair with a twisted semblance of affection. "I won't risk you being killed in the takeover. That's why I'm sending you to the human world; you will be a changeling, just as I was. Once I have succeeded in securing my place as king, I will return to the human world to collect you."

Fai's brain analyzed this proposal sluggishly. So basically what Kyle was telling him was that there would be an indefinite period of time in which Fai would not be under Kyle's stiflingly close watch. During this time, he would be living with a human, posing as a human child. Fai had heard stories of what humans did to changelings if they were discovered. Perhaps if he deliberately revealed himself to his human parents, they would put him out of his misery and spare him a life with Kyle.

"Who knows how long this power struggle may last? It could be years before we see each other again," Kyle sighed as if just thinking about the plan he had made was taxing to him. Then a terrible grin spread slowly across his deceptively fair features. "But who's to say we can't enjoy ourselves a bit before your departure?" His hand strayed again from Fai's back which was bleeding once more after Kyle's nails had disturbed the newly forming scabs. "And we will certainly enjoy our reunion, won't we, Fai?"

Somehow, Fai doubted that very much.

By the time he and Fai had finished cleaning and putting away all the tools he had used during blood month, Kurogane's eyes were burning rather badly with tiredness. He plopped down on a wooden crate in the shed they had just finished straightening and rubbed his eyes irritably for what felt like the thousandth time that afternoon. The skin around them was starting to get a bit sore from the constant bothering. They were probably turning red, too.

He sighed, wishing that this was a normal night where he could just finish his work and collapse into bed afterward. The thought of starting a warm fire in the grate and then crawling under the covers with Fai curled up and already half asleep in his arms was disturbingly tantalizing. But the chances of him being allowed to sleep that night with that dark elf prowling around were slim. He needed to confront the creature and kill it right away before it harmed anyone else. Kurogane knew that elves were far stronger than humans, and though he fancied himself a pretty skilled fighter, he was aware that he had a clear disadvantage due to his inability to use magic. How in the world was he supposed to beat this thing when he could hardly keep his burning eyes open?

Kurogane didn't notice Fai watching him until the blond quietly approached him and cupped his cheek sympathetically.

"Poor Kurochuu," he breathed, running his thumb lightly across Kurogane's cheek. "Your eyes are burning, huh? You look like you could use a nice long nap."

Kurogane scoffed and blushed, but he couldn't deny that the feeling of Fai's warm hand against his chilled cheek was pleasant. "I think we both know there's no way that's happening. Not when we've gotta deal with that dark elf bastard as soon as possible."

Fai averted his eyes guiltily as he opened his mouth to apologize yet again. Luckily, he remembered just in time that his apologies annoyed Kurogane and bit his lip, stopping himself from uttering the words. Kurogane's calloused fingertips grazed his ever so lightly, prompting Fai to glance up and meet his gaze once more. Kurogane's breath caught slightly in his chest when he saw Fai's thoroughly vulnerable expression. It was so much like the one he had worn earlier in the yard before Kurogane had shouted at him, weary and in pain and looking like he was trying his damnedest not to cry because he knew that Kurogane would hate that.

Although the blond had stopped his lips from forming the words of an apology, his expressive blue eyes apologized so profusely that anyone less tough than Kurogane probably would have been brokenhearted at the sight of them. Even Kurogane, despite his usual immunity to such things, felt a painful twinge in his chest. He reached up and awkwardly ruffled Fai's hair again, trying to offer the elf a bit of comfort.

"I don't suppose there's any way I might be able to talk you out of this, is there?" Fai asked, a quiet desperation in his voice.

"Not a chance in hell," Kurogane replied unyieldingly. "I've been waiting years for the opportunity to beat the shit out of a dark elf. It's because of those assholes that…"

Fai waited, his sharp ears pricked in curiosity, but Kurogane just ground his teeth angrily for a moment before sighing and looking away. "Let's just say that I've got a score to settle with those bastards… Even if it's not the same one from back then, it doesn't matter. That won't make me enjoy killing it any less."

Fai was silent, briefly considering asking Kurogane why he hated dark elves so much. But Fai had yet to tell Kurogane his own story, which was a far more pressing matter at the moment considering the recent events, and the memory of Kurogane's dark elf encounter was clearly still painful for him, so Fai opted let it go. He sat down on Kurogane's knee and coaxed the farmer into resting his head on his shoulder. Kurogane complied hesitantly, hating the way he could feel his face reddening at Fai's gentle touch. Fai's slender, delicate fingers began to stroke his hair.

"Kuropipi…" he began slowly. "There's something I've been wondering about… How are we going to keep… keep him… from hurting anyone else? I mean, if I'm staying here, he'll know. This mark on my hand," Fai revealed the dark elf symbol that had been branded into his palm, "makes it so he can sense me when I'm anywhere near him. My magic is strong enough so that he can't tell exactly where I am, but black magic this powerful can't be completely overcome by a single being… So many have died already, and I…I can't stand the thought of causing any more death…"

Kurogane sighed. "Well, it looks like that bastard's doing this because he's pissed that he can't find you, right? If he knew where you were, he wouldn't waste time screwing around with other people."

Fai was silent for a moment. He had asked that question fully expecting this answer, but the thought of actually going through with it made him feel as though his blood had turned to ice. The only way to keep Kyle from killing more innocent people would be to remove his shielding spell, leaving him and Kurogane thoroughly open to attack. Fai knew that Kurogane was unusually strong for a human, but he was equally sure that he didn't stand a chance against Kyle, especially if they were going to let Kyle come to them, fully expecting a fight. The only way that he could see that it would be possible for Kurogane to win would be if he used the element of surprise. He tried to express his opinion to Kurogane but the farmer just shook his head.

"That would be fine if we had any idea where that asshole is, but we're just as much in the dark as he is," Kurogane pointed out. "Unless you can use your magic to track him."

Fai bit his lip nervously. "I…could try," he said doubtfully. "I'm sure he's thought of it, though. He'll have a counter spell in place… I guess I have to take down the shielding spell first, huh? It's taking everything I can do to make sure every inch of Kuropyon's farm is covered…"

Fai trailed off into silence, knowing that he had to remove the spell but finding it hard to force himself. He realized that it was impossible for Kyle to come after them while it was still daylight, but he couldn't quash the feeling that he might swoop down on them the second they revealed their position. Fai couldn't bear the thought of losing Kurogane a second time. Kurogane waited, watching him curiously.

"Did you do it?" the dark-haired man asked eventually.

Fai shuffled his feet guiltily and gave Kurogane a conflicted look. "…I don't want anything bad to happen to you or your house, Kurochii," he said weakly. "If I lost you, I'd…"

Kurogane reached out and rested his sturdy, confident hands on Fai's quaking shoulders. The elf threw his arms around his host, hugging him tightly, nuzzling his face into the crook of Kurogane's neck. Kurogane stiffened a bit at the unexpected reaction, but eventually gave in and returned the embrace awkwardly. His fingers found themselves drawn instantly to Fai's silken hair and began to slowly stroke it.

"I won't let anything happen," Kurogane promised huskily. "I already decided I would never lose anything to those dark elf bastards ever again and I've been training hard since that day to make sure I could keep that promise."

The blond drew a deep, shuddering breath and slowly, reluctantly, removed the magical shield.

"I did it," he breathed, clamping his eyes shut. His head was swimming after having suddenly released the strong spell that he had been keeping up for so long. "The barrier is gone…"

Kurogane said nothing, sensing that what Fai needed most to calm him now were not words but firm, reassuring contact. Fai's hands fisted shakily in the farmer's cloak, as though he expected Kurogane to drop dead if he released his grasp. Kurogane could feel the beautiful elf trembling uncontrollably and had the feeling that his embrace was the only thing keeping Fai on his feet. He couldn't let go, even if he wanted to, he told himself. Fai would fall and probably hurt himself.

But deep in his heart, he knew that he had absolutely no desire to let go. If he could hold Fai this way forever, he could die happy. The thought of kissing the elf's smooth, rosy lips sent a shiver of desire through Kurogane's body and he could feel his cheeks heating up again. This feeling of wanting to stay with someone, of wanting to know everything about them because he wanted to share his life with them for eternity was such a foreign feeling to him. He could honestly say he had never desired it before in his life. Why now? Why so suddenly? Was he going insane?

It was a long time before Fai slowly pulled away from him, wearing just a tiny hint of his old smile. "I guess since I'm not using all my magic for the shield anymore, I can do a soothing spell on Kurokuro's poor, burning eyes, huh? Is that ok, Kuromyuu?"

Kurogane cleared his throat and blushed at the sound of Fai's voice pulling him out of his odd daze. He hoped with every particle of his being that what he had just been thinking about wasn't written all over his face for Fai to see. "Fine," he mumbled.

"You'll have to close your eyes, ok?" Fai instructed quietly. "I need to touch them in order to perform the spell."

Kurogane narrowed his burning eyes suspiciously before letting them slide closed. Fai's warm, soft hands came up to cup his cheeks. The contact made him shiver slightly, a mix of uncertainty and a numb sort of contentment shooting through him. He didn't realize what was going to happen until he felt Fai's breath on his forehead. Kurogane started slightly when perfect, silken elfin lips kissed his eyelids ever so gently.

Although his eyes were technically still closed, the moment when Fai's lips touched his skin was the moment that Kurogane's eyes were opened, so to speak, to a blinding realization. The reason he felt this way, the reason he hated to see Fai in pain, the reason he could hardly stand the thought of being separated from him, the reason his heart pounded and his face went red when Fai smiled at him or touched him…It was so clear. How could he ever have been confused about it? After all, he had never shown signs of mental instability before. Besides insanity, there was only one possible reason for him to feel the way he was feeling right now. He was in love with Fai.

This realization was so sudden and humiliating and unbelievable that it made Kurogane feel a bit lightheaded. How could he have done something as stupid and weak as falling in love? And with an elf, no less. Such was his preoccupation that he hardly even realized that Fai's spell had allowed his eyes to finally stop burning. Fai hesitated, waiting for Kurogane's eyes to flutter open, the farmer's face to redden and his mouth to cuss him out for doing something like that without warning him first, but it never happened. Actually, Kurogane's face was quite red, but other than that he received no reaction for his slightly unorthodox method of pain relief.

Slowly and just as gently as the first time, the elf kissed his eyelids again. Kurogane's skin was sweet and warm beneath his lips and oh, how he craved the taste of Kurogane's mouth. Words could not express the intensity of his longing to kiss him properly… But Kurogane had not given him permission to go there. He was only submitting himself to these kisses because he was hurting and they would heal him; there were no special feelings behind it. Kurogane may have said that he didn't want to lose him and that he didn't mind having him around, but that didn't mean that Kurogane was in love with him. Kissing his lips would be overstepping his boundaries. Fai was sure that he was only spared the expected verbal lashing because Kurogane was so sleepy. If he was at the top of his game, this would surely never be allowed. The elf sighed and pulled away.

"Did that help, Kuronpyu?" he asked softly. The farmer swallowed thickly.

"…Hn," Kurogane grunted, hardly trusting himself to say much more on the matter beyond that without sounding like a total lovesick schoolgirl. He cleared his throat and stood up, brushing off his pants. "Come on, then. You still have to try to track that damn dark elf, and the candles have to be made before dark."

The elf sighed and nodded. Kurogane led Fai out of the shed and towards the house.

"Master!" Chisei shouted, hurrying into the windowless back room of the tailor shop which now acted as their base of operations. "Master, your ward…!"

"I know," Kyle snarled. "He just revealed his position. Damn it all, why did he have to do it now?! Of all the times that damned slave could have chosen to grow a backbone, why did it have to be now?!"

"…Master?" Chisei said, eyeing Kyle uncertainly. "I thought you would be happy…"

"I've just received word of an uprising in my kingdom," Kyle spat. "It seems that word of my absence leaked out and some vigilantes thought they could take advantage of it to make their attempt to seize the throne. I have to go back and squash it as quickly as possible or everything I've done to keep Fai safe during my takeover will have been for nothing."

Kyle's eyes narrowed. "…He just tried to ping us (2). For him to do that right after revealing his location… he must be planning something. Somehow, he must think he's ready to face me. He must think he's got a trump card to play."

"Is it not possible that he's giving up?" Chisei suggested.

Kyle shook his head. "Unlikely. He has never accepted my advances willingly in the past, and I see no reason for him to do so now. Besides, he always did have an unusual amount of fight in him for a slave. My dear foolish Fai is up to something naughty, I'm afraid."

The dark elf sighed discontentedly, rubbing his temples as if to ward off a headache. "Now is not the time to dwell on that. We need to get back to Svartalfheim and stamp out this little uprising before it gets out of hand. Come, Chisei."

Fai's eyes snapped open and he gasped. Kurogane immediately grabbed him by the forearms.

"What?!" he demanded. "Did you find him?!"

"He…he's gone," Fai answered, looking up at Kurogane with utter confusion written all over his face. "I could feel him really close and then he suddenly just disappeared."

"What do you mean, he disappeared?" Kurogane growled. "You think he was killed or something?"

"No, it's not like that," Fai said slowly. "It's… it's almost like he left the human world and went back to Svartalfheim."

"Maybe the bastard's trying to throw you off," the farmer suggested. "He'll probably be back tonight once it's dark out."

"Well… that's possible, but I don't think so," Fai mused. "There was another dark presence with him, but it wasn't an elf. Actually, it felt human."

"The rumors I heard said he was with a human," Kurogane confirmed. "That's probably who it was."

"Mm, traveling between worlds takes quite a bit of energy, especially if you're transporting more than just yourself. A human could never generate enough power to make the hop, so he must have had to transport both of them," Fai explained. "He probably wouldn't do it unless he had a good reason, right?"

Kurogane stared at him uncertainly. "So you're trying to tell me you think we're safe?"

"It seems that way, at least for now," Fai replied with a weak smile. "Maybe I'll have a little more time with Kuropiko after all, huh?"

"Hmph, you're too soft," Kurogane huffed. "This reeks of a trap. If you ask me, that asshole's trying to lead us into a false sense of security."

Fai looked at him wearily. "What do you suggest, then, Kuronpyu?"

Kurogane mulled this over for a moment, trying to decide on the best course of action. What could they do, really? After all, they had no idea when or where they would be attacked. And it wasn't like Kurogane had access to troops he could mobilize or weapons he could stockpile. He was one man with an old family heirloom of a sword and an elf whose magical abilities he could only guess at. As far as he could see, there really wasn't much they could do aside from being vigilant.

"…Just keep your tracking spell up," he answered unhappily. "That's all we can do for now."

Fai dropped into a chair and sighed, lowering his face into his hands as Kurogane set about getting out the things they would need to make candles. He hated this. He hated having Kyle's attack looming inevitably in the near future but not knowing when to expect it. He hated that he was making so much trouble for Kurogane. He hated knowing that when Kyle did finally make his appearance, he and Kurogane would not walk away from the battle unscathed. In fact, the chances were fairly high that neither one of them would walk away from the battle at all.

Fai's light magic should be able to more than hold its own against Kyle's dark magic, provided that their fight took place in the human world, but it was a well-known fact that light magic was stronger than dark everywhere except in Svartalfheim. He couldn't see Kyle overlooking such an obvious detail. If he dragged them both back to Svartalfheim, they would be in big trouble. The cap that had restrained Fai's magic as a slave would be back in place and he had no experience in hand-to-hand combat. He would be mostly useless in that fight. Fai started violently when he felt a large, warm hand rest itself on his shoulder.

"You wanna sit out on candle-making?" Kurogane asked with uncharacteristic gentleness.

Fai shook his head. "I really like artistic things like this, so… maybe it will help calm me down a little, hmm?"

Kurogane shrugged. "I wouldn't really call this artistic. All we're doing is dipping a string in some wax. A monkey could do it."

The elf gave him a small smile, mildly amused as he envisioned a grumpy little Kuro-monkey dipping candles in the middle of a forest. "Well, that's no fun. Why don't I show you how elves make candles? It's a lot more interesting, I think, and they're so pretty when they're done."

"I don't care," Kurogane said. "A candle's a candle, no matter how you make it. It'll have to be bee's wax, though. That's all I've got."

"That'll be fine," Fai nodded, his heavy heart lightening just a little at the prospect of having something to take his mind off his troubles, however briefly. "Kurowanwan can take care of melting the wax; I'll get everything else, ok?"

"Hn," Kurogane agreed, heading over to the hearth to begin building the fire.

Kurogane's eyes roved over the expanse of items before him, his stomach sinking a little. When he made candles his way, he found the process fairly tedious and boring, not to mention time consuming. Fai's way looked like it was going to be even more involved and would take even more time. Spread out on the table were six pots of melted wax of numerous bright colors, courtesy of Fai's magic, along with a bucket of cold water.

Kurogane knew enough about how wax worked to know that if they just dipped the string into the colors one after another, they were going to get something brown and ugly. He foresaw that they would have to wait for each layer of colored wax to harden before moving on to the next. God, this was going to take forever! What had he been thinking, agreeing to do this the "artistic" way? Fai, however, certainly seemed to be looking forward to the process; he was already looking happier than he had all day. Kurogane knew that he couldn't change his mind about this now, not when it was soothing Fai's frayed nerves so effectively.

"How long is this gonna take?" Kurogane asked dubiously, dreading the answer.

"Oh, don't worry, Kurowanko, it won't take as long as you think," Fai assured him. "Besides, we don't have to do every single one in a whole bunch of different colors. We can do most of them the normal way and just make one really pretty one."

"Hmph," Kurogane sighed as he grabbed one of the strings which would act as a wick. "Shoulda known better than to let you talk me into this."

"Let's do our pretty one first, ok?" Fai requested. "We can make it together."

The elf gave him a sweet little smile as he said that and Kurogane couldn't help flushing a little at the sight of it.

"Whatever," he grumbled. "Let's just get this over with."

Fai's breathtaking smile remained as he took his seat right next to Kurogane, so close that the farmer could feel his body heat. With Fai a mere inch from him, Kurogane was overcome with the desire to pull the blond into his lap so that he could hold and kiss him. What wouldn't he give to leave the candle-making up to the elf while he enjoyed the warmth and presence in his arms of the one he loved? Kurogane restrained himself with difficulty and tried to focus on what Fai was now saying to him.

"Hmm, Kurorinta doesn't have everything we need for this so I think we'll have to cheat a little and use magic," he mused. "You don't mind, do you, Kuromun?"

"If it'll make the damn thing go any faster," he groused. "Why don't you just use magic to make them all so we can have it over with?"

"Don't be such a sourpuss, Kuromin," Fai scolded lightly. "You're supposed to be having fun."

Kurogane snorted doubtfully but watched with mild interest as Fai muttered a spell and a ball of white wax floated into the air and began to mold itself into an elongated star-shape. The elf plucked it from the air and handed it to Kurogane who examined it curiously. The wax had already hardened, leaving a perfectly acceptable and well-formed candle. Kurogane would have been perfectly happy with just setting it aside and using it as it was but it seemed that Fai had other plans.

"Now you can start dipping it, ok?" he prompted. "You're going to dip it into the clear, and then in one of the colored ones, and finish by dipping it into the water. Then you start all over with a different color so that you get these really pretty colored layers."

"Still sounds like a waste of time to me," Kurogane griped, though he followed the elf's instructions.

Fai watched him for a moment before making an odd little chirruping noise, a mix of amusement and disapproval. "Silly Kuropyon, you're dipping it wrong."

"What the hell do you mean?" he growled, already a bit frustrated. "If there's a special way you want it done, then mention it ahead of time, dumb ass!"

Fai laughed quietly. "Here, let me help you."

He went around behind his host, draping himself languidly over Kurogane's shoulder like a boneless cat and took Kurogane's hands between his own so that he could guide his movements. Kurogane's face reddened at the contact, but he said nothing. Fai's soft, delicate fingers clasped around his hands, showing him how to properly dip the candle, and their cheeks brushed lightly, causing Kurogane's to heat up even further. Was Fai doing this on purpose to be a tease? Images of himself tackling Fai to the ground and kissing him roughly and passionately flashed across his mind, drawing a shiver from him. If he didn't divert his attention elsewhere, he was going to lose control of himself.

He watched as Fai helped him dunk the star-shaped core into the hot colored wax. Personally, he didn't see anything different about the way Fai was showing him and what he had been doing himself, but he wasn't about to complain. Besides that, Fai's warm weight and closeness was making him pleasantly drowsy. He and Fai worked in companionable silence for a long while until the elf spoke suddenly.

"That's enough layers, I think."

Kurogane, who was already rather tired from having stayed out with Fai the previous night, had sunk into sort of a sleepy stupor during their rhythmic, repetitive work. He started a little at the sound of Fai's voice. Fai seemed to realize what had happened because he giggled softly and said "Sorry, were you starting to fall asleep, Kurochii?"

"Don't be stupid," Kurogane mumbled groggily, trying to sound more awake than he really was, though even he could tell that his attempt had failed. God, was he tired.

The blond smiled fondly. "We're almost done, Kurochan, I promise. Afterwards, I'll get started on dinner so you can take a nap, ok?"

"'M not a little kid, you bastard," Kurogane growled, though his voice had lost its normal venom in his lethargy.

"I know, I know," Fai assured him amusedly. "Kurochin's a big boy. Now let's finish our candle, before the wax cools too much, ok?"

Kurogane grumbled under his breath, something about Fai being an asshole, though the blond didn't seem to take offense at all. Instead he headed over to the kitchen.

"We need a little knife for this next part," he informed the farmer. "Do you have one, Kuronpyu?"

"Hanging on the wall there," Kurogane replied, gesturing to Fai's right. The elf retrieved the knife and returned to Kurogane's side.

"See all this drippy stuff?" Fai asked, pointing out the wax stalactites that had formed during the dipping process. "We can cut it off and make it into its own candle. Watch."

Fai sliced off the excess wax and began to mold the still-soft material in his hands, forming it easily into a mushroom shape. "Isn't it cute?" he chirped.

Kurogane had to admit that it did look pretty interesting. The colored layers had been squashed and stretched during the molding process so that the candle had dots and streaks of brighter colors on top. Fai tossed it into the bucket of cool water to harden and turned his attention to their larger candle.

"This is where it really starts to look cool," Fai said gleefully, glancing over at Kurogane with obvious excitement in his eyes. "You ready for this, Kuropun?"

Kurogane rolled his eyes in exasperation at how easily amused Fai was, but couldn't help finding his excitement slightly endearing. It reminded him of how Fai had been when he had first taken him to see the farm animals. The elf partially shaved off a sliver of warm, pliable wax at each point of the star shape and curled the slices sideways, creating a 3D ribbon effect. Kurogane watched in fascination as Fai's fingers worked deftly and quickly, curling several layers of wax in different directions, the candle growing more elaborate and beautiful with each layer of curled wax he created. Once he was satisfied with the number of curls, he began to slice flower and bird shapes into the top portion, cutting deep so that the multicolored layers were exposed. Fai stepped back from the finished product and grinned at Kurogane.

"What do you think, Kuromyuu?" he asked eagerly. "Here, let's light it and put out the fire in the fireplace so we can see how it looks in the dark."

Kurogane moved over to the fireplace to put out the flames while Fai lit their candle. The farmer moved back over to the table to examine their handy work in amazement. He hated to admit it, especially after having complained about what a waste of time it was to attempt candle-making the elf way, but the candle had turned out absolutely gorgeous. Dancing firelight showed through the thinned walls of wax in the places where Fai had cut designs, bathing the two of them in a warm, flickering glow.

"Hey, Kurotan…" Fai began softly as the two of them stared at the finished candle. "What did you mean earlier when you said you didn't want to lose me?"

Kurogane blushed, glad for the darkness that hid the flush from Fai's view. Why did Fai have to ruin the amiable quiet with such a pointless, annoying question? And how could he answer without either lying or making a fool of himself? He cleared his throat awkwardly.

"There's nothing tough to figure out about what I said," Kurogane grunted. "I don't want to lose you, that's all."

"Well…" Fai poised a slender finger on his lip thoughtfully, "I guess what I meant to ask was 'why did you say it?'"

"I already answered that, too," Kurogane replied with an air of impatience, thought he didn't meet the blond's inquiring sapphire eyes. He could feel his face growing hotter under that gaze. "… Ever since I was pretty young, there's been no one but me. With you here… well, I was just starting to get used to having someone else around."

Whatever answer Fai had been expecting or hoping to hear, that clearly wasn't it. The elf deflated at Kurogane's words, the fragile hope that had been burning quietly in his eyes quickly snuffed out and he bowed his head in disappointment.

"I see…" Fai mumbled. "So you just wanted to have someone else around, huh?"

Kurogane realized that his words had come out wrong. Fai thought he meant that he was so desperate for company that he would take anyone. That wasn't what he meant to say at all, in fact, nothing could be farther from the truth. He didn't want anyone but Fai. Before he could begin to correct Fai's misconception, the elf lifted his head once more to give Kurogane the most heartbreaking smile he had ever seen.

"Sorry for putting you on the spot like that, Kurosama," he said, his voice wavering slightly with the pain he wasn't quite able to suppress completely. "It's just that… Kurorin has become someone special to me so I… I just wondered if maybe I was special to you, too. I guess that was kind of silly, huh?"

Kurogane sighed and rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly. "Look, that's not what I meant, so would you cut it out with that face already?"

Fai's smile became, if possible, even more strained. "I'm sorry, Kurorun. I don't know what other face to make."

The farmer reached out hesitantly and touched Fai's cheek. It was so warm and satiny under his fingers, so perfect and smooth, that he couldn't make himself draw his hand back. He cupped Fai's cheek and stroked the soft skin gently with his calloused thumb. Fai opened his eyes, meeting Kurogane's gaze questioningly, a tiny gleam of hope flickering back to life in those deep royal blue pools once again. The dancing flame from the candle caught Fai's eyes so that they sparkled even more enchantingly than his wax creation.

"I didn't mean that I don't care if it's you or not," Kurogane clarified after a brief internal struggle with his crumbling pride.

Fai waited patiently, his hand coming up to rest on the one Kurogane was using to stroke his cheek.

"Damn it… I'm no good at this kind of thing," the dark-haired man sighed, his face flushing deeply. "Alright, listen, 'cause I sure as hell am not gonna say this again…I lo-"

Kurogane's words were interrupted by a knock on the door. The two men traded glances of frustration and surprise. Of all the times for someone to knock… what awful timing. Kurogane snarled in a rather dog-like manner and stomped over to the door, ripping it open. When he saw his two young farmhands standing there, looking up at him anxiously, his expression softened. It didn't even occur to him at that moment how strange the scene might have looked to Syaoran and Watanuki's eyes. After all, he and Fai had been shut up together in the pitch-dark house with only a decorative candle to provide light. Fortunately for him, the boys were too anxious to even wonder about what might have been going on in there.

"What is it?" Kurogane asked.

"We finished cleaning out the stables…" Watanuki said uneasily.

"But…?" the farmer prompted, knowing that there was more to the story.

"Um… Well, Ginryuu freaked out all of a sudden and when we went to see what was wrong, ah…" the bespectacled boy trailed off, clearly not looking forward to breaking the news.

Kurogane's brows knitted together in concern for his beloved old horse. "Is he hurt?"

"The wound wasn't bad, but…It was elf shot," Syaoran admitted. He held a small piece of parchment out to his employer. "We found this pinned on the arrow. We can't read it, but we thought maybe…"

He glanced guiltily (accusingly?) at Fai before quickly averting his gaze. Kurogane looked between Fai and Syaoran with a frown before accepting the paper that was being offered to him. The parchment was covered in a neat scrawl of shining black letters, though he didn't recognize the characters. Clearly it was written in some foreign language. He didn't have to be able to read the message, however, to get an idea as to what was going on. Kurogane sighed and ran a hand backwards through his hair.

"Alright, well… You two can go," he said to Syaoran and Watanuki. "The last thing I need is for you two to get mixed up in all this."

The boys traded anxious glances before looking concernedly at their boss. But before they could say anything, Kurogane closed the door in their faces. He turned to Fai and offered him the parchment.

"What's it say?" he asked.

Fai took the note with trembling hands and scanned it with wide eyes. "Fai, I'm coming for you tomorrow and you will accompany me back to Svartalfheim. You can't save your human filth and you can't save yourself; your only option is surrender. Rest assured that you will be punished thoroughly for your disobedience. Master Kyle."

Even after he had finished reading, Fai could do nothing but stare at the note in horror. Tomorrow. Kyle was coming tomorrow. For one fleeting moment, Fai considered raising his magical barrier again, but then realized that Kyle must already know where he was if he had known where to send his message. Suddenly all Kurogane's promises to stay at his side and protect him seemed so flimsy and meaningless. Of course Kurogane could never hope to beat Kyle's magic when he himself had nothing but a sword. What had he been thinking, taking down the barrier? Kurogane was going to die again and it was completely his fault. Perhaps if he ran for it that night while the farmer was sleeping…

"You better not be thinking about running, you bastard," Kurogane growled perceptively.

Fai jumped at his accurate prediction and fixed him with that lost, terrified look again, the one that almost pained Kurogane to see. The farmer sighed and crossed his arms.

"It's time you told me your story," he said.

Fai ended up waiting until after dinner to spill his guts to Kurogane. He knew that telling his story would leave him drained and unable to cook anything for them and he had heard (to Kurogane's embarrassment) the dark-haired man's stomach growling hungrily. They had skipped lunch, after all. Once all the dishes had been cleared away, the two of them sat down on the bed, side by side. Kurogane waited patiently for Fai to begin. The blond opened his mouth, but the words wouldn't come. He didn't want to relive all this, not when he had been working his whole life to repress the memories. Fai knew that by the time he was finished, he would no longer be able to hold back his tears, and Kurogane would hate that.

"Sorry, I…" Fai attempted a smile for his host, but knew that it came out looking strained and unnatural, "I guess I'm still kind of scared to talk about it… It kind of hurts just to think about what happened."

That, of course was a severe understatement. As the hideously twisted and painful memories flashed across his mind, Fai could feel his throat constricting and his eyes and nose prickling with the threat of tears. Kurogane looped his arm around Fai's shoulder hesitantly and pulled him close, letting him rest his cheek against his shoulder.

"Putting it off won't make it any easier," he advised. "Just go as slow as you have to."

Fai's eyes fluttered closed and he drew a deep shuddering breath. That didn't help his throat feel any less tight, and tears were no longer a threat, but a promise.

"S-sorry," he croaked again. "Kurochuu probably h-hates weak people, doesn't he? I…I haven't even s-started and already th-this is happening…"

Kurogane gave him what he hoped was a reassuring little squeeze. He found his companion's hand and took it gently. "Look, it's fine. If you need to cry, then go ahead and do it. You don't have to worry so much about what I think."

The elf swallowed hard, gripping Kurogane's hand. The warm, reassuring contact and Kurogane's gruff but encouraging words reassured him, loosening his constricted throat enough to allow speech.

"I guess it started with the dark elf invasion of Alfheim," Fai began wearily. "I was just a child at the time, living with my mother. Freya was her name. She—"

"Hold on," Kurogane interrupted. "…Did you just say that your mother's name was Freya?"

"Yes…" Fai confirmed slowly. "Well, her real name was Freya, though when the invasion happened she had to go into hiding and changed her name to Chii…Is there a problem?"

Kurogane fixed him with a disbelieving stare. Could it be? Surely…surely not. (3) "Freya, like Freyr's sister?"

"Mm, well I don't really remember Uncle Freyr because I was pretty young when my mother left the palace, but yes, they were brother and sister," the blond informed him as if there was nothing extraordinary in the slightest about having the king of the light elves, a god to the human world, as an uncle. Having Freya for a mother was certainly no small matter either. But Fai was looking at him curiously, as if he hadn't the slightest idea why that itty-bitty detail might have caused Kurogane to stop him.

Kurogane shook his head in exasperation. "Ok, go on."

"Well, ah…" Fai shifted uncomfortably. "I'm… I'm afraid you're not going to like this, Kurosama…"

"I'll live," he grunted. "Just say it."

"Um… See, my… my mother committed a terrible sin…" The blond bit his lip fearfully, bowing his head as he braced himself for the outburst he was sure would follow his next admission. "She, ah… she fell in love with… with a dark elf and that's how she had me."

Fai paused, allowing Kurogane time to digest this statement. The farmer was silent for a moment.

"So you're half dark," Kurogane ground out eventually.

His hands curled into fists. In all honesty, Kurogane couldn't say that he was terribly surprised. He had suspected something of the sort ever since that day when Fai had become all stiff and sunburned from being exposed to sunlight. Even though Fai's confession didn't really surprise him, it still hurt. Those filthy, disgusting creatures who had torn his life apart, whom he had sworn to maim and kill at any cost… his first true love shared their blood.

"I'm sorry," Fai whispered with every ounce of sincerity he could muster. "I'm so sorry, Kurosama… You really hate dark elves, don't you?"

Kurogane remained silent, his face turned stubbornly away from Fai. The elf reached out hesitantly and touched Kurogane's hand. To his surprise, Kurogane didn't pull it away. Fai stroked the back of it in a wordless apology.

"Ever since my mother told me that I was half dark, I've always hated and feared that part of myself," Fai continued softly. "I've always done everything I could to suppress it, hoping that I could squash it, but I can always feel the dark magic there even if I don't use it… I'm sorry."

"Damn it, will you quit apologizing?" Kurogane growled. "It's not like you could pick your parents. As long as you don't act like one of those bastards, then it's fine. It's pointless to say you're sorry for something you couldn't help."

He paused for a heartbeat before taking Fai's hand again, a gruff reassurance that he didn't hold Fai's heritage against him. Fai breathed a sigh of relief. Kurogane had taken that much better than he had expected. He cuddled back up to the farmer's side.

"It's illegal in Alfheim for a light elf to have a relationship with a dark elf," Fai explained. "Dark elves can't fall in love, which means they don't have the ability to feel sympathy or compassion. The light elves don't want those traits to pollute their race, so anyone who disobeys the law is punished with a lifetime sentence in Nástrand (4)."

Kurogane considered this new information. What Fai was telling him was that he was the product of Freya, the goddess of love, and some anonymous dark elf, a creature who was genetically incapable of experiencing love. That struck him as being significant, though he wasn't exactly sure what it might mean. It also brought a question to his mind, one that meant something to him personally.

"Can you do it?" he asked.

Fai looked at him blankly. "Do what, Kuropyon?"

Kurogane scowled and blushed. "The love thing, obviously."

A small ghost of a smile tugged at Fai's lips. "For the longest time, I was so afraid that I couldn't. I was so busy worrying about it that I hardly noticed that I did experience love-like emotions, even if the romantic type of love didn't come until much later."

"…Hn," Kurogane replied noncommittally, secretly relieved.

Fai pressed on with his story, telling Kurogane how his mother, in an attempt to spare them a lifetime in Nástrand, had planned to send him to the human world as a changeling. She had been unable to follow through with her plan, however, because she had been interrupted by royal dark elf guards forcing their way into her home. The guards were under orders to gather all able-bodied light elves for use as slaves. Fai and his mother had been separated, sold off to different masters.

He skimmed through the account of the time he spent in slavery. Those years of his life had passed in a haze of beatings and oppression, becoming an unpleasant blur in his memory. It wasn't really important that Kurogane knew all the details of that period in his life. The really important events hadn't happened until quite a bit later. He was just about to begin his retelling of his meeting with högfolk Kurogane when he stopped, his throat becoming uncomfortably tight again. Kurogane glanced over at Fai curiously when the elf stopped speaking.

"S-sorry," Fai choked. "It's… Th-this part is… where it really s-starts to hurt…"

"You want some water or something?" Kurogane suggested. He knew that water wasn't going to ease Fai's pain, but he wasn't really sure what else to do for him. Damn it; why did he have to be so bad at comforting people?

"No, I-I'll be ok, I just…" Fai took a deep, shuddering breath and released it slowly. "J-just give me a second…"

Kurogane waited patiently, giving Fai's hand a little reassuring squeeze. Fai's beautiful blue eyes clamped shut as he continued to force himself to breathe deeply. After a moment, he began his story again, his voice more strained than ever by his constricted throat. Fai started to detail his fateful escape attempt.

"And that's when… I met y-you, Kurokuro," he croaked.

Kurogane frowned. "What the hell do you mean, you met me?"

"Well… it wasn't really you, but…" Fai sighed tiredly. "He was just l-like you…Ev-even down t-to the name and p-personality… Even now… if I cl-close my eyes and l-listen to your voice, I… I could swear it was h-him t-talking…"

Kurogane looked down at the quivering blond, torn between half-surprise and having half-suspicions that had been floating around his mind since the day Fai had first spoken to him confirmed. "You guys were… together, then, huh?" he theorized aloud.

Fai sniffled. "'Together' might be a little too… strong of a w-word, but… I… I did l-love him… Oh god, did I love him…"

Fai's declaration stirred strange feelings in the dark-haired man. On one hand, even hearing about a past love of Fai's hurt a little, but then again, the one that Fai had been in love with, at least according to the elf, had basically been Kurogane himself. Should he be jealous? Should he take comfort in it? Considering how similar Fai claimed the two of them were, perhaps the love Fai had felt for the other Kurogane could now be transferred to him. In honesty, Kurogane had no idea how he should feel about it. Before he could reach a decision, the elf took another deep, tremulous breath and plunged on with the story.

He told Kurogane of his secret, forbidden love with the farmer's högfolk counterpart, how they had to sneak around in order to see each other, always afraid to get too close in case a dark elf caught them. As he recounted the time he had spent with his first love, the incident in which Kyle had first caught them together, his witnessing of his mother's "death", half-formed pictures flashed through his mind's eye, whizzing by in a rush of anguish and heartache. These memories were sharper than the ones he had narrated for Kurogane earlier, not yet dulled by the passage of time. These were still fresh; the metaphorical wounds they had left on his heart were still sticky with metaphorical blood.

Fai had just reached the part of the story where he had confessed his love to högfolk Kurogane when the dark-haired man's hand came up and touched his face gently. Warm, calloused fingers swiped lightly beneath his eyes and came away wet. Kurogane was wiping away Fai's tears. Fai hadn't even noticed their steady journey down his cheeks. His words petered out and he sniffled, reddening slightly as he attempted to dry his eyes on his sleeve. The tears just kept coming. Kurogane's strong arms curled around him and lifted him easily into his lap, cuddling the trembling body against his chest.

Although his voice kept cracking humiliatingly, Fai didn't want to lose his momentum. He realized that if he stopped his story now, he would probably never find the strength to continue. The elf didn't give all the gory details of högfolk Kurogane's death, instead simply stating that he had been forced to watch his lover's slow, painful demise. He could feel himself on the verge of another breakdown at the excruciatingly recent memory, but knew that the final bit of the story was the most relevant part to Kurogane. Fai couldn't let himself go to pieces before he told it. Still, even exerting all his willpower and self-control, the ending came out in gasps, chokes and stammers.

By the time he had finished, Fai could no longer restrain his overflow of emotions. He buried his face in Kurogane's sturdy chest and sobbed, his attempts to bite his lip and muffle the noise making almost no difference. His tears weren't just for the Kurogane he had already lost, but also for this new Kurogane whom he was just starting to love and would certainly be ripped away from him tomorrow just as brutally as the first one had. The first time had shattered him. If it happened again, he was sure that he would become the same soulless, empty shell that his mother had become when her master had ripped out her earring.

Kurogane lied back on the bed, taking Fai down with him. Everything made sense to him now, and frankly, he couldn't blame Fai for bawling his eyes out. The farmer rubbed the elf's back soothingly, letting him cry. Even as he tried to calm Fai and thought over everything that the blond had told him, there was one thing from the very beginning of his tale that simply refused to leave him alone: Fai was the son of Freya, the goddess of love, and a dark elf, a creature who was genetically incapable of experiencing love. What would have happened if Fai's love for the other Kurogane had been realized? What would happen if Fai's love for anyone was realized? As silly as it sounded, even in his own head, Kurogane couldn't help thinking that this detail was important.

When Fai's tears finally dried, his throat felt sore and raw and his eyes stung. He knew he must look awful right about now. Bowing his head to keep Kurogane from seeing his disgraceful appearance, he pulled slowly away from his host with the intention of going out to the well to wash his face in cold water. Shyly, ashamed of his performance just now, Fai chanced a glance at Kurogane. To his surprise, Kurogane was fast asleep, apparently having lost his long battle with the fatigue that had been threatening to overcome him all day. A tired smile formed on Fai's lips as he brought his hand to the farmer's warm cheek and stroked it softly.

"Thank you for holding me and listening to my story, Kurochan," he whispered. "I feel a little bit better now."

Kurogane said nothing, too deep in his dreams to even hear what Fai was saying. Fai nuzzled against him once more, placing a small, gentle kiss on Kurogane's throat.

"I know you can't hear me know, Kurochuu, but I want to say this anyway before I lose my nerve, ok?" Fai continued quietly. "I just want to let you know that I love you, and it's not only because you remind me of the other Kuropii. As similar as you two are, this Kurotan is his own person, and even though I loved my other Kurotan very much, I still love the things about this Kurotan that are a little bit different."

Kurogane sighed in his sleep and wrapped his arms more securely around Fai's slender frame, drawing the body heat closer. Fai let his eyes flutter shut.

"Remember that, ok, Kuromyuu?" he breathed. "Remember that I love you for you, and not because you're like him."

With those important words out of the way, Fai allowed his exhaustion to claim him and drifted off to sleep, snuggled safely in Kurogane's arms.

A/N: As I was writing this chapter, I kept getting the strangest sense of déjà vu. Then I realized, "holy crap, is it just me or is this like an angstier repeat of that miniseries I did where they were princes together? It totally is. Fuuuuuuck…" Maybe my subconscious is trying to tell me something, like that I want to usurp some country's throne and live out the rest of my days as a tyrant queen. Pfft.

Oh, if you want to see the candle that Kurogane and Fai were making, check out this video (remove the spaces): http: //www. youtube. com/watch?v = k7OjRYQAm64 It's pretty short but I thougt it was really interesting.

(1)- Because I'm a name-meaning whore, I feel compelled to tell you that Kyle's name means "narrow and straight". Just a bit of useless trivia for you.

(2)- The source I learned this word from said that it was military slang so I don't know how many people are familiar with it. If you "ping" someone, it means you're using some sort of satellite to confirm their location.

(3)- Ah, Freya. As mentioned in the story, she is the sister to the god Freyr who is king of the light elves. She herself is the goddess of love, beauty and fertility and the main goddess in Norse mythology. It worked out so conveniently that Freya also happened to be the name of Chii's twin in Chobits and that Tsubasa mentioned that Fai's Chii was modeled after his mother. I love when things work out nice and neat, don't you?

(4)- About Nástrand…I'm no expert on Nordic mythology or anything, but it appears to be their version of hell. Prose Edda, an Icelandic collection of old Norse tales, describes it as such: On Nástrand [Strand of the Dead] is a great hall and evil, and its doors face to the north: it is all woven of serpent-backs like a wattle-house; and all the snake-heads turn into the house and blow venom, so that along the hall run rivers of venom; and they who have broken oaths, and murderers, wade those rivers, even as it says here:

I know a hall standing

far from the sun,

In Nástrand:

the doors to northward are turned;

Venom-drops fall

down from the roof-holes;

That hall is bordered

with backs of serpents.

There are doomed to wade

the weltering streams

Men that are mansworn,

and they that murderers are.