Fay wondered how long it would take for somebody like him to starve to death.

The memory of blood in his mouth was a constant pain in the back of his mind, like a ever-present dagger in his skin, the coppery taste of it, the breathe of air that accompanied it, the ebbing of the hunger deep within his stomach, a hunger that was far beyond any human hunger he had ever experienced. He wanted blood, that much he knew, but he didn't want Kurogane's blood.

( Not after… )

He was thankful for the steady pulse of time that would sometimes drown out all coherent thoughts into nothing but a white static haze, and thankful for the other vampires keeping their distance, but most of all, he was thankful that Kurogane didn't try to make him feed nearly as often as expected. Perhaps he sensed something from their first feeding, something that told him it was best to keep some distance for a while. Perhaps it was his own instincts telling him what would be best.

But he did ask him to drink, inevitably, and that was the hardest part.

Ever since his first real meal, Kurogane had been too much of a temptation. He could see the beating veins in his wrist, in his neck, he could hear the blood pumping through his body -- he could smell it. It was the same overwhelming sense of something larger than him pressing against his windpipe until he had to struggle to breathe, but this time he did struggle – he struggled as fiercely as he could – because this time he did not want to drink, he didn't want to be a burden, and he definitely didn't want to see any more images from Kurogane's head. He wanted to be alone, and he wanted to starve, but most of all, he wanted to be alone. That wasn't so much to ask for, was it?

Kurogane let him be, for the most part. Fay assumed it was because there was nothing to say between them. He approached him with the knife in his back pocket several times already and Fay had slipped out of the room as best he could, hoping the Kurogane would not pursue. Most of the time, he didn't.

Most of the time.

It was the same excuses, the insisting lack of hunger (a lie, a terrible lie that he knew Kurogane could see right through) or saying he needn't worry (which was only half true, Fay could take care of himself, he just didn't want to. And that was his choice, wasn't it? To die?) But if all else failed he would simply say "Kurogane." and that dark, frustrated look would seep back into his eyes until he gave up and walked away.

Fay knew it wouldn't last forever. Kurogane was stubborn. But that didn't mean he couldn't avoid it for all he was worth.

After some time, Fay found the discarded mirror again and studied his reflection carefully, fighting away the childlike fear that threatened to consume him once more. He saw the same pale face, the same white fabric covering his eye, the same scared expression, the one that seemed to silently scream 'help me, I'm drowning.'. Drowning…as if the acid rain had soaked into his skin and the water was all around him, suffocating him just like that invisible hand did whenever he smelled Kurogane's blood. Drowning.

The vampire in the mirror never smiled back at him, no matter how many times he tried to curve his lips back upward. He was failing – even when he felt the first fake smile, the man in the mirror didn't return the gesture.

Fay narrowed his eyes, searching, trying to find the right face, the right mask to slip on now that he was alone and had time to mull over his choices. He saw, at first, the broken soul, that ball of lead in his stomach that never seemed to go away, a screaming thing with jet black hair and white eyes and blood splattered across it's face.

And then he saw the fool, the jester, the idiot with the mask, the happy thing he had tried to pass himself off for. The smiling one that still had both his eyes and had fooled at least two of the other four in their party. The damned idiot that never saw what he had coming.

Then, himself in that icy blue kimono, his face whiter, eyes brighter the way only a fantasy image could make them, those hands entwined with his hands, those lips on his lips….

He placed the mirror down shakily. The words raced though his mind again; I can't forgive him.

I can't forgive him for taking pity on me.

I can't forgive him for letting me live.

If I do forgive him…I'll be even closer to him.

- - - - -

"Kurogane, don't." he said wearily.

The man looked down at him with those intense eyes, his broad shoulders unshaken, the knife in his pocket a silent declaration of what was to come. His mouth was pulled into a tight line – displeasure, Fay thought – and the black shards of his hair seemed messier than usual. Fay looked down at his feet, at last, because he could not stand to look into his eyes any longer. There was so many different secrets hiding in there, so many different emotions and so many different words. Fay didn't want to make out what those words were, in case one of them was his own name.

Especially if one of them was his own name.

( I don't deserve that kind of love.

Not when I should have died yesterday. )

"You're hungry." he said flatly.

"I'm not, Kurogane. I'm – "

Kurogane took a step forward, bringing their bodies only mere inches apart. Fay stopped suddenly as a feeling of claustrophobia seemed to set in, freezing him where he stood and making his throat close up before he could finish.

Paths seemed to stretch out again, all of different lengths and shapes, and Fay inwardly smiled a grim smile. He remembered this. Chose the easiest path, the quickest way out. Run.

But he couldn't run. Kurogane was quick, and with that determination in his iron gaze, Fay know he would simply catch him and force the blood down his throat, if it came to that. He bit back a weak sigh and felt his body shake slightly with the effort of it.

"Please." he whispered the word as if it were a final plea before a death sentence.

Kurogane shifted his weight to the other foot and continued to pin him down with that gaze, like a butterfly to a corkboard. He could feel the eyes on him, boring into him, tearing him apart and caressing him and it was all so wrong he couldn't stand it anymore. He wanted to cry out, or shout, or turn his face away as if he had been slapped, but really, was it that bad? Was it that horrible to have someone want you? Was it so…?

…painful…?

"I'm responsible for your life now." he spoke, and Fay heard every word with stunning clarity, as if there was nothing left in the world but the two of them and what they must now do. "I won't let you die. If you don't want to live…I'll force you." His tone become something like steel at the end, hard and coarse and determined. Fay shook his head once –

( they're your private thoughts, I can't -- )

-- then stilled when he heard the clear sound of a blade slicing against skin, and the sharp feeling of instinct overcoming him.

( You don't know that I can see them, can you? Your thoughts, your fantasies… )

"You're selfish." Kurogane said. "If you died, what would the kid and the princess do?" he stepped closer, and when Fay didn't move, he brought his wrist up to the mage's lips himself.

Fay watched the blood slip down the curve of his tanned forearm and realized that his fingers were shaking.

"Kurogane, I – "

I what? I'm sorry, but I can't? I'm sorry, but I don't want to see you in love with me the way you were never supposed to be? Or just plain 'I'm sorry', sorry for making you suffer, sorry for being alive and causing that blood to flow in the first place, sorry, sorry…

"…I…" he whispered so softly that he doubted Kurogane could understand.

"Shut up." Kurogane muttered, tangling thick fingers in his hair and guiding his head down. Fay gasped when the warm blood met his lower lip, then stilled as the flow of it gathered across his mouth, past the front row of teeth, too close now to pass away. He shivered once, dreading what was to come as he ran his tongue across his teeth and tasted the blood, then moved to Kurogane's bare wrist -- the open wound, the steady flow of red and the loud undercurrent of a thick, quickened heartbeat…

The thoughts began to pour in.

He saw in his mind's eye a beautiful creature, a vampire, with long extensions of fangs that touched the rose-petal contours of his lips. His golden hair was long and tied back lazily with red ribbon, and his body was half-cloaked in scarlet robes. He smiled a little, lopsidedly, then his white-blue eyes melted into pitch blackness, until they were like empty holes driven into his face…

"Good morning, Kurogane…"

Fay felt his entire body jerk with the effort to pull away, but the combined force of his own hunger and Kurogane's hand holding his head steady kept in him place.

The thought shifted and changed, like watery ink on paper, then dripped into a new scene, a new memory, something twisted with other fragments of thoughts and moments and scenes from a bigger picture, smaller puzzle pieces that still fit together. He saw a beautiful woman with long black hair tied behind her head gracefully, a woman in a elegant silver kimono with a white face and blood on her lips – a woman with a sword stabbed through her chest by a disembodied hand which seemed to float through an orb of blackness, materialized in the atmosphere.

Tears poured down her face, her eyes wide and pained, stunned – the expression only a dying human could wear – and her lips moved soundlessly, spelling something out, something…

She fell, and the sword was gone, and suddenly she wasn't a woman at all – it was a man, a blonde-haired man with long limbs and pale skin and eyes the color of a cloudless sky. The blood from the stab wound was turning his white attire steadily red.

"Don't die." A voice whispered, and Fay saw a dream-like Kurogane melt into the memory, some of his features distorted and blurry -- but it was the same spiky hair, the same broad shoulders and hands. "Don't you dare die..."

He kneeled down beside him, scooping him up into his arms. The dream-Fay smiled up at him brokenly, as if to say 'what's wrong? I'm not dead. I'm breathing, see?'

But I can see right through your fake smile, mage.

He leaned down and kissed the watery image of Fay shakily on the mouth, and when nothing happened, he deepened the kiss, desperateness mixed with pain, the sort of kiss one might give if they knew it was their last.

But I'm not dying. I'm right here – you made me live, remember? You forced me.

You…

The images of Kurogane's thoughts began to move slower and slower until they seemed to stop all together, and Fay realized numbly that the feeding was over and they were back to real life again. He stared at him, stunned, unsure of what to say or do or where to look. Kurogane watched him quietly with that pained, calculating stare that seemed to pierce straight through his chest and wrap iron fingers around his heart.

"You look scared." he said thinly.

"I'm fine." Fay heard himself say from some distance away. His thoughts raced until they seemed to move too fast for him to track, a blur of quickened voices and vibrant colors mixed with dark splashes of gray. I'm not dead. I'm not dead. I'm breathing.

Does he think of me that way, too? Think of me as the proxy of someone who has already died?

Is that why he kept me alive? Because he's failed to save someone in the past?

But the puzzle pieces weren't fitting together in the haze of his confusion. He twisted them and turned them and tried to make them work, but they remained the same – faded and curled at the corners, bloodstained and ruined, unreadable.

What am I to you?

- - - - -

"You're wrong." said a voice at the doorway.

Fay sat with his hands folded in his lap and didn't look up. He knew the face that would greet him, and he didn't want to see him. Confusion and uncertainty assaulted him from all angles, and his head was throbbing with the effort to try to sort out the right thoughts from the wrong. They were just images, one voice would say, just passing thoughts – they don't necessarily mean it's what's true. And then another would insist that he saw them himself, and what better proof would he need? Words could lie, he knew that firsthand, but thoughts were different.

The silence stretched out between them. Fay dared a small glance upward and saw the still-healing scar on the man's wrist with newfound guilt and another onslaught of Kurogane's memories.

( Kisses, fantasy kisses, himself, skin glowing white, sparkling with beauty, smiling down at Kurogane with willing eyes, kissing him sweetly, like the carefree thing he had passed himself off to be… )

"Your wrong." Kurogane repeated, taking a step into the room. His footfall seemed magnified in the heavy silence of the atmosphere around them. "Whatever it is that you're thinking, you're wrong."

"Kurogane knows what I'm thinking?" he asked silkily.

"I know you're thinking something messed up." he answered grimly. "I can tell. Your eyes…"

Fay lifted his face completely and met those charcoal orbs of blackness, just to try and prove his point. "There's nothing wrong." he said steadily.

"You're a terrible liar." he shot back, his voice deep and pulsing with a determination. Fay glanced back down at his hands and tried to clear his head from all the different possibilities that bombarded him. "I can't forgive you." he said at last. "For not letting me die."

"Then don't." Kurogane said, beginning to turn around now. The silhouette of him – his spiked hair, the muscles in his arms and the curve of his hips and waist – was like a dark scribble on a piece of white paper. "Just live."