The Worth of A Smile
Disclaimer: Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle belongs to CLAMP.
Pairings: Kurogane/Syaoran, almost Syaoran/Mokona. I'm serious. Or not. Maybe it's just Kurogane's head playing with him.
Warnings: Heavy SPOILERS, especially for the Tokyo and Infinity Arc. Some language too, since this is Kurogane we're talking about.
Timeline: During Infinity Arc.
Summary: "It was hard to look at him, even Kurogane had to admit that."
Notes:SPOILERS BEGIN HERE. Okay, so it's Kurogane/RSyaoran, my alternative fav pairing in Tsubasa because CSyaoran/Sakura is so canon that it hurts. And so is KuroFai. Makes me sad that there aren't many KuroSyao fics out there. The agony of a fan of crack pairings… Anyway, enjoy the read.
The most amazing thing about the kid, in Kurogane's opinion, was his ability to stay quiet.
Like a damn statue. Or some lamppost on the fucking sidewalk. Which was ridiculous because with that much power and magic rippling under his skin, all he could manage was to stick out like a sore thumb.
Admittedly, it was rather disturbing to a degree. He would speak up when he needed to make a point and contribute a line or two on the ongoing conversation, but never for any idle chitchat. Most of the times, he would be content to stay at the sideline, watching everything through placid brown eyes, an invisible seal over his lips. After spending months traveling together with a cheerful, warm-hearted, sometimes overenthusiastic Syaoran, this was clearly a drastic change.
The princess understood this best. The mage was trying to – Kurogane knew how hard he was trying – but forgiveness had always been a complex, if not perfectly unfathomable issue. The fact remained that someone he had trusted had betrayed him in a way so horrible that it seemed unlikely that these wounds would ever stop bleeding. Like him, to Fay trust did not come easily. Thousands of rusty gates and barriers, wrought by past scars and an instinct to protect oneself, rendered 'trust' almost impossible. He armed himself with a scowl and viciousness, the mage with a smile and constant elusion. They weren't too different, really, because in the end, all boiled down to one point. It had always been safer to doubt, question, suspect – and pretend.
An automatic defense mechanism.
While it had proven to be useful many many times, against the trusting, oftentimes naïve children, it simple fell dead at their feet – absolutely useless. Until now, Kurogane honestly still couldn't say why, but there was enough suspicion that it had something to do with innocence.
Whatever it was, all he knew was now it had gone, blown away by cold, angry gusts of reality. The princess lost the person most precious to her. The kid lost his own heart, common sense, and overall his humanity. What little balance their odd, twisted group had managed to build around never-ending fear and doubts, crumbled into dust.
Then, as if fate hadn't gotten enough laughing from them, another kid came along.
To be fair, nobody wanted to see him as a replacement of someone who was already very close to their heart – or from another point of view, someone who ripped off and ate eyes of powerful, blonde magicians – but it wasn't easy. That they shared the same face was only the tip of the damn iceberg. The same heart, the same kindness, the same fierceness in passionate brown eyes. The list could go on and on until the end of the world and still, there would be some things they hadn't mentioned yet. It was hard to look at him, even Kurogane had to admit that. And to make things worse, the kid knew this.
And what was his reaction? An easy question. Like his clone, this kid had no objection at all on becoming a martyr and taking the burden of the whole world alone on his small shoulders. Silently. Bravely. Unflinchingly.
If Kurogane hadn't been already too concerned about the current fragility of their group, he would have beaten some sense into the boy. Like, literally. The persistent silence and I'm-too-guilty-to-smile attitude didn't help. In fact, it only convinced him even further that something had to be done quickly. The kid needed serious help.
He might not be the one who could give it though. As if transfixed, the ninja listened silently to the faint voices floating out from Syaoran's bedroom. One was cheery and bright and… cute – the kind of 'cute' that made you want to tear your hair out if you listened to it too long. The other one didn't sound exactly happy, but the door was half-ajar and from where he was standing, Kurogane could see that the kid was smiling.
If the sight wasn't so mindboggling, the ninja might realize that for the first time ever, Syaoran lowered enough of his guard down to allow somebody coming close to him unannounced. Usually, no one could go within twenty metres from him without alerting him in any way. Spending half of their fucking life in some damn aquarium really could turn someone paranoid.
And the kid was smiling. Sure, it wasn't the the-world-is-full-of-birds-and-flowers-and-I'm-inordinately-happy smile, but it was a smile nonetheless and Kurogane found himself staring. It wasn't the first time he had ever seen a smile on Syaoran's face. After all, the Syaoran he used to know wore a smile like he wore his heart. On his sleeves, honest, open for the world to see – before he lost it anyway. It was different for this Syaoran. It looked different – restrained, a little sad, almost guilty, as if the wearer felt that he didn't deserve it.
Which might be the real case now that he thought about it. Kurogane felt his hands fisting as the idea rolled in his head. This kid was unbelievably stupid. Feeling guilty over the whole mess he couldn't really do anything about.
He was still smiling as Mokona continued to chatter and bounce happily around the room. The ninja watched silently when the smile widened a little, losing the touch of melancholy in it, and for the briefest moment, he thought that the kid would laugh at last.
Something inside him must have died or malfunctioned because Kurogane suddenly felt his heart stop beating. The laughter brightened the boy's solemn face, making him look younger, much more relaxed, and for one horrifying moment, the ninja found himself thinking of how beautiful it was. He caught the disagreeable thought on time and tied it down firmly before throwing it out of the proverbial window. 'Beautiful' was a term used for princesses, like Tomoyo-hime. Or Sakura who was currently sleeping in the next room. Definitely not for angsty pretty bo– damn it!
It took him his entire willpower not to bang his head on the door or some other conveniently-accessible hard surface. The kid would drive him crazy, he just knew it. And to worsen things, he realized that he had been discovered. Syaoran spared a glance at the door and his laughter ceased, the smile dimmed, replaced by instant frigidity and silent wariness.
Kurogane cursed under his breath. Of course, knowing him, he was bound to screw up sooner or later. He only wished that it had been the latter.
Even the way he addressed him was distant, a far cry from the gentle sound of his laughter. It must be automatic, the ninja thought resentfully, that glaze of iciness and courteousness coating the boy's voice. He barely acknowledged Mokona's overly energetic greeting as he stomped into the room, glaring at nothing in particular because he sure as hell couldn't glare at Syaoran when everything about that smile, that laugh was fresh still in his mind.
"Is… there something wrong?" the boy spoke again, a trace of hesitance in his question.
"No," his answer came out curt and positively harsh. Kurogane fought against a particularly strong urge to hurt himself when his unsympathetic retort diminished the last bits of emotions from Syaoran's face, leaving it even stonier than before. Okay, so it was a wrong move. Not his fault though. Hadn't expected the kid to be so fucking sensitive.
Trying to ignore the sardonic laugh echoing in the back of his mind, the ninja cleared his throat. "You should get some rest," he said again and was as pleased as he was displeased at how indifferent he had managed to sound. "Tomorrow's going to be rough. Better save your energy while you can."
There was a flash of surprise in the boy's eyes. What Kurogane hadn't expected, however, was the faint curving of lips – an almost smile – as Syaoran nodded. "Kurogane-san too."
No, it didn't affect him, the ninja thought determinedly, but quickly realized that he was not convincing anyone, least of all himself. Discomfort and frustration mounting, his only option was to look away. "Yeah," he mumbled gruffly and turned around, leaving the room just as quickly as he had come in. He had to get out from there.
"Good night, Syaoran! Sleep tight!"
Oh, right. He almost forgot about that stuffed animal. Kurogane waited until they were a good distance away from the boy's room and then caught the bouncing little ball of energy which was humming cheerfully on his shoulder.
"She's already asleep."
The creature waved one small, white hand – or paw, whatever it was. "Don't worry, Mokona will come in quietly–"
"No," the word rumbled at the back of his throat and his stomach suddenly clenched uncomfortably. "You stay with him."
Talk to him. Listen to him. Make him smile.
Kurogane hadn't realized that his eyes, his voice held such intensity until Mokona gave him a half-confused, half-wary look. "But what about Sakura?"
"I'll be on watch," he answered quickly. Nothing new. He had been on constant alert since what had happened to the mage. The fact they had been continuously spied on since they had arrived here didn't help to ease his high-strung nerves.
Apparent disapproval, however, was what he got as the result of his careless answer. "Kurogane should have some rest. Syaoran said so too."
He was thisclose to blurting out 'really?', but luckily the word refused to leave the tip of his tongue in any manner. Getting a grip on himself, he pushed Mokona to bounce off his hand. "Shut up and go, shiro manju. You're bothering me."
"Kurogane is mean!" Mokona pouted. "Syaoran will be upset if he knows you're planning not to sleep again!"
Will he really?
The ninja swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry. "Just go," he growled, hating how weak and unsteady he sounded. The kid really screwed him up. And the damn rabbit-look-alike seemed to know it too, because a look of realization dawned on its face and damn if it didn't make him want to kill and destroy something, preferably the closest living thing around at the moment.
"Kurogane should talk to Syaoran," Mokona said sagely, multiplying his homicidal urges by the hundreds. "Really talk. He'll be very happy if you do that. It will make him feel less like a stranger."
"Maybe later," the ninja responded evasively. He heard the disbelieving sniff but didn't say anything, only intensifying his glare by the second until Mokona huffed and went to the direction of Syaoran's room. He was left there standing in the empty corridor, trying to figure out why he still felt like a total trash.
Perhaps he really should talk to the boy. He wasn't that good with words, but Mokona was right. This Syaoran didn't know what to do himself, had no place in the world after disappearing from it for so long. He might act all cool and brave, but in the end he was still a fifteen-year-old boy searching for something he didn't exactly know what.
And for the ninja, it was a good enough reason to protect. They fought, they hurt, they cried, and life threw every kind of bitch and bastard it could at them, but Kurogane wanted to think that as long as he could still smile like that – this boy who probably didn't have any reason to smile at all – it meant that they hadn't lost yet.