(A/N) A-noni, Eldarsevenstar, Moro-chan, Kingleby, and Slivershell, thanks again for your wonderful thoughts on my story. Everyone else…you guys really don't like reviewing, do you? Maybe I'm just deluding myself into thinking that the story is that popular, but I sincerely doubt that five of you managed to wrack the hit count up by two hundred. Meh, oh well, at least the story has hits. Maybe you'll all have something to say now that we've come to the last chapter. Yes, the story really is coming to a close. I can hardly believe it myself. I've never had a story idea pan out so fast. On the subject of this being the last chapter, it took about a week longer to write than I expected. I just wanted it to be as perfect as possible, since it is the end.
Speaking of the end, I have two very funny stories to soften the blow. I was out driving the other day and I saw this car in front of me. The three letters on its license plate were NIH and I automatically think "Nihon"! Who wouldn't? Tee-hee. But that's not what makes it a funny story. The creepy part is that the very next day (not even kidding) I saw a license plate with the letters CEL and instantly thought "Celes"! Is that something spooky, or what? The other thing is something that happened on Youtube. I was video surfing, as is my wont on Wednesday evenings and stumbled across a tribute to Fai. It caught my interest because the summary started with "OMG! HES NOT GAY! STOP SAYING HES GAY! (or something to that effect) Fai has Chi. There was that beautiful episode that had them together." I saw that and I seriously started laughing. Episode?! Lol, that's rich. Let's all ask "the anime" what cannon is. I apologize if anyone takes offense to that. It just happens to be my opinion on the subject. Besides, I imagine that if you've gotten this far in the story, you wouldn't be particularly partial to FaiChi anyway. And yes, the chapter title has the same name as the sixth Tsubasa DVD. I couldn't help it. I thought it was such a cool title.
Warnings: There is a lemon in this chapter, but after having received no complaints about the last one, I don't feel compelled to say where it is. I imagine if it bothers some people, they can tell when they should stop reading and when to start again. There are also one or two slight spoilers up to chapter 182, if you haven't read that far in the manga. Nothing that will kill you should you learn it. There is also a great deal of line stealing in this chapter. If you recognize the sources of my thievery, then you automatically get the assurance that you are extremely cool. Cheers!
Well, enjoy the last chapter. Hope it's not too long for anyone's taste.
The Center Of The Labyrinth
Chapter 6: A Wish Upon Waking
Their first steps were uninhibited as Fai and his companions moved into Goblin City. Everything was quiet. Not a single living thing stirred…and that was what Fai found disturbing.
"I don't like this," he whispered for the second time that day.
"Where is everyone?" Sakura asked.
"Obviously they heard the Mokona Modoki were coming and got scared," Mokona announced, puffing its chest out with pride.
As if that thoughtless comment about their cowardice had called them, a swarm of shadow goblins swept down upon them. The city was suddenly filled with writhing, shrieking shadows. Before long they were completely surrounded.
"Eh…maybe that scared crack was a bit out of line," Fai said, smiling apologetically at the wall of seething shadow that surrounded them. But they would not be pacified. The shadows came at our heroes all at once, fangs and claws forming out of the breathing darkness. Syaoran, Sakura, and the Mokona siblings all used magic to fight off the shadows. Fai was the only one who had nothing to fight with. So he would dodge any attacks aimed at him, though he knew that he couldn't dodge forever.
Syaoran was the first to realize that Fai was defenseless and immediately jumped in to help him out. Sakura was not far behind. Fai found it interesting to watch the fighting style of this Sakura. The Sakura he knew was shy and demure and, as far as he knew, had no real fighting ability. This Sakura was not shy in the least. If Sakura-hime had been in this situation she wouldn't have been able to fight for fear of her modesty. This Sakura did not seem to care one way or the other. Whenever she performed one of her powerful magic attacks, Fai's coat would occasionally fly back. But this didn't seem to bother her. She fought on…until the poisoned fangs of one of the demons pierced the delicate skin of her neck.
"SAKURA!" Syaoran screamed as she fell, immediately moving to catch her. The Mokona quickly moved to cover the young couple. Fai stood, watching them, unable to move.
"Sakura…hime?" he whispered, suddenly overcome with memory. He was back in the arena…his blade buried in Sakura's chest, his face covered in her blood. He hadn't been able to stop it…just like now.
"Sakura! Sakura, can you hear me?" Syaoran shouted desperately.
"I'm…sorry," she whispered, reaching a hand up to his face. The poison was fast.
"No! Don't talk like this, Sakura! You can't give up! Stay with me," he pleaded, hugging her body to his chest.
You can stop this. You know you can.
Fai stiffened when he heard the voice. Ashura? The staff? He wasn't sure anymore.
It could heal her.
"I…I lov-" Sakura's voice died away mid-sentence. Her head flopped hopelessly to the side.
"NOOOO!" Syaoran screamed.
It's not too late. You could save her…and defeat the goblin army.
"NO!" Fai screamed, dropping to his knees and clutching his head in his hands. He had sworn not to use the staff again. "LEAVE ME ALONE!"
Tell me, how do you propose to fight creatures with no physical bodies? Will you really let her die…again?
Fai suddenly felt hands around his waist. He knew no one was there, but he could still feel the hands as they snaked up his body, over his shoulders, and down his arms to firmly grasp his hands. Then the staff appeared in them. He half collapsed into the arms that held him, but still they forced him to hold the dark staff.
"SAKURA! PLEASE DON'T LEAVE ME!" he heard Syaoran screaming.
NO! Another voice sounded in his head. If you do this, there's no going back. I don't want to lose you!
Unfortunately, the other voice was louder.
If you don't do this, then you will lose him…forever.
That was all it took. Fai took the staff firmly in hand as he rose to his feet.
Fai turned the staff towards Sakura and fired a quick blast of healing energy towards her. He tried to maintain control of the staff as he turned to face the shadow army, but it was no use. The staff had him completely in its power.
Fai was gone.
"So, Kurogane, what do you think of my creation?" Ashura asked smugly.
Truth be told, Kurogane was horrified at his "creation", but that did not show on his face. The only thing to be seen on the surface was anger.
"What have you done to him?"
"Me, personally? Not a thing. I merely started the process by giving him the staff. It was his choice to use the power. Little Fai brought this upon himself."
Choice? What choice? There had been no choice at all. Ashura had backed him into a corner, leaving him no other option. Even though Fai was not a vampire here, Kurogane imagined that it would look something like this if the vampire in him ever went berserk. Prominent fangs grew from his mouth and killing claws sprouted from his fingers. His movements were more fluid than normal, more animalistic. His beautiful blue eyes were gone, replaced by fiery gold; and just as there was no blue to be seen in those eyes, neither was there any humanity. Fai was no longer using the staff; it was using him. It pained the ninja to see the mage this way. Kurogane wanted Fai back. He wanted his Fai back.
"Bring him back!" he hissed dangerously.
"I cannot do that. The power of the staff is a law unto itself. I simply gave it life."
"Can he…ever come back?" the swordsman asked, uncertain for the barest of moments.
"Oh, I hope so. I want to see the look on his face when he kills you. I want to watch the light leave his eyes."
Kurogane pounded a fist helplessly against the glass, expressing his rage in the only way left to him. It wasn't the thought of his own death that scared him. He did not fear to die. What did scare him was the thought of what his death would do to Fai…especially if it was by his own hand. Not only would the magician die without his blood but judging from what he'd seen these past twelve hours, such a thing would destroy him from the inside out. Let Ashura do with him what he liked…he could bear it; but he could not bear to see Fai hurt…not anymore.
"No more," he said. His voice held a quiet command in it.
"What was that? I didn't quite catch it," the Goblin king sneered as he lowered the cage to ground level.
Kurogane lowered himself to his knees within the crystalline sphere, holding his hands out before him in the manner of a suppliant. It felt so damn awkward. He had never thrown himself on anyone's mercy…not ever! But now, he was past caring. Honor be damned. Fai was too important for that.
"Please," he began calmly. "Let me go to him. He won't come here while he's like this and I know that's what you want. Let me try to bring him back."
Ashura seemed to consider the plea a moment…then turned that same wicked sneer on the warrior.
"You really do care for him? Are you willing…to give up your life for him?"
"Yes," he answered without hesitation.
"All right then. Go on, little Kurogane, bring him back…if you think you can."
Kurogane's eyes widened briefly. He had expected many things to come of his request, but this was not one of them. Why was he letting him go? What was the catch?
"What are you waiting for? The longer you wait, the more likely it is that you will lose him forever. Your voice might be the only thing that can call him back. Go."
Syaoran had seen many things during his time in the labyrinth. But never in all his young life had he seen such wanton destruction. Goblin City was in ruins. The army of shadow goblins had fled in fright before the power of the staff. But Fai had still managed to destroy a great deal of them. When the mage no longer had them to slay, he turned his lust for destruction upon the city itself. Now, instead of shadow, the party was surrounded by fire, smoke, and rubble. Syaoran was grateful that Fai had managed to heal Sakura before losing control but she was still weak…and he was honestly afraid of what Fai would do when he ran out of things to destroy. Would he turn on them? Would he be able to protect Sakura?
"Syaoran?" Sakura coughed weakly. "What's that coming towards us?"
The young man glanced in the direction that she was pointing and saw a dark figure moving towards them through the flames. As it drew nearer, the figure took on a distinctly human shape.
"It's him!" Syaoran gasped in shock. "The ninja!"
"Mage!" the powerful swordsman shouted once he was within earshot of the berserker. The beast ceased its rampage, not out of recognition, for indeed, there was no recognition of him to be seen in its eyes. It was the power, the insistence in the voice that caught its attention. A challenge! Fresh meat! Something new to destroy!
Kurogane extended the unsheathed Sohi towards the creature. Unfortunately, Ashura had not allowed him the use of a sheath. He would have preferred not to risk the naked blade around the wizard when he was in this state. However, he would work with what he had. He stared intently into the eyes of the creature that had taken Fai from him.
"I know you're still in there. I will have you back. We're going home together." All of this was spoken in a firm, calm voice.
The recognition did not show in the bloodthirsty eyes of the possessed thing, but at the sound of these soothing words, Fai suddenly felt himself stirring beneath the conscience of the staff. He found himself gazing out at Kurogane through his own eyes, unable to speak to him, unable to go to him and warn him to run…that he was far too late. But he could do nothing. His body was not his own.
Please, Kuro-min, run! Just run! You can't save me. It's too dangerous!
The Fai creature sprang forward, shooting bolts of lightening at Kurogane as it closed the distance between them. Kurogane easily dodged them all. Almost faster than the eye could track, it was above him, bringing the staff down to crush his skull. He quickly raised his sword to guard against the blow. Sparks flew as steel clashed with magic. Once again, he locked eyes with the beast. He could feel its lust for his blood in the way their weapons pressed together, each struggling for dominance. Against his will, the swordsman felt rage rising in his chest. This thing wasn't Fai!
"GIVE HIM BACK!" he screamed, allowing his anger to overcome him. He pressed forward with Sohi, forcing the creature back. Quickly, he pressed his advantage, slashing the blade forward, putting all the power he possessed behind it.
The demon fell back as the blade slashed its chest. A sharp cry left its lips and suddenly, it was no longer just the creature…it was Fai. Kurogane took a step back, shocked at what he'd done. Fai was still in there. How could he have forgotten that? Horror swept through him as he stared down at his blade. What had he always told the kid? If you aren't careful you can cut what you don't mean to cut. He was only too aware of the depths of his own taste for blood. Well…he would not give into it this time. He would pull Fai back from the darkness…even if it cost him his own life.
Kurogane gazed at the wound in Fai's chest. The demon was so enraged by the attack that it wasn't even taking time to heal it. Blood was seeping freely from it, coating his front with blood. Fai was not in any immediate danger but that slash could prove fatal if not tended to properly. Once he had taken stock of this, Kurogane raised his sword high above his head…and flung it with all his might, as far as he could. The weapon disappeared into the flames. That done, he locked eyes with Fai once more.
"I won't raise a blade to you while you're like this. You might kill me…I know. And I know that I could have easily beaten you with Sohi…but then you would have been hurt…and I couldn't bear that."
The real Fai heard him. The expression on the ninja's face hadn't changed, but Fai was just beginning to realize how well he understood the language of his eyes. They said so much now…things too deep and personal to be captured with mere words.
I love you. I'll always protect you…even if my life ends tonight.
NO! PLEASE! Fai screamed inside his own head. I love you, too! For god's sake, Kuro-sama, run! Don't stay here and die! I BEG YOU!
But the beast inside him was moved neither by his desperate cries nor Kurogane's impassioned words. A cruel sneer twisted its face as it sprang forward, seizing the defenseless man by the throat. Even as the life was choked from him, Kurogane weakly reached up both hands and placed them on the arm that held him.
"Please," he whispered. "Wake up."
YOU FOOL! Fai continued screaming, trying his hardest to break the staff's hold on him. Don't die, damn you! Fight! Why won't you fight?!
There! Kurogane thought triumphantly as his vision started to grow dark around the edges. For a split second, a flash of blue amongst the molten gold. For that last moment, the face he loved was before him, even if it was awash with terror. For that hairsbreadth of time, the vice around his neck loosened. But the next instant, the demon was back, forcing its claws into his chest and tearing the beating heart from within.
When he felt Kurogane's lifeless bulk slump forward in his grip, when he felt the last breath escape his lungs, when he saw the light leave his red eyes, leaving them wide open and empty…Fai lost it.
The demon reacted to his anguish. It went even crazier than before. Insane, inhuman cries escaped its mouth and it tore at the wound in its chest, spilling more blood. Fai and the staff were truly of one mind now, wanting nothing more than to be lost in destruction. And the only things left to destroy were…his companions. The beast picked up the staff from where it had fallen during the scuffle and charged the others.
"Fai-san!" Syaoran cried out as he drew his own sword, leaping forward to defend Sakura. "Stop! Remember who you are!"
"WHY?!" the creature screamed as it shot blast after blast of searing magic at the young man. He dodged them all and still managed to deflect everything away from Sakura. But he knew that he wouldn't be able to keep it up forever…not against such awesome power.
"I WANT TO DIE!" Fai's true voice broke through the creature's enraged screaming.
Please, someone…anyone! Give me death! Slay me! Send me…to be with Kurogane. Let us be together at last!
The tormented wizard suddenly heard the ninja's voice in his head, felt his presence around him as surely as if he stood beside him. He collapsed, as if he couldn't support himself any more. He curled into a ball and sobbed broken-heartedly. With the sudden loss of his spiritual rage, the demon possessing Fai's body dropped weakly to its knees.
Kurogane! I'm sorry…so sorry. I couldn't control…I couldn't stop it! It's my fault again. I've destroyed everything! Forgive me! Please forgive me for what I've done to you! I- I killed you. Oh dear gods, I killed you! I murdered you with my own two hands.
Fai suddenly felt warm arms around him, holding him close, rocking him gently. Lips pressed against his ear, whispering comforting nothings to him.
It wasn't you. You mustn't think that it was.
Fai kept his eyes tightly closed. He didn't want to wake and confirm that he was hallucinating…the last cruel dream of a mind before slipping irrevocably into madness. This small comfort just made him cry all the harder, knowing that he would never truly feel these arms around him ever again.
Shh. Don't cry. I'm here now. We're here together. Just hold onto me.
Fai held onto the warm body, even though he knew it wasn't there. He wanted to freeze this moment in time, to hold it and never let it slip away from him. In this last moment, he could pretend that Kurogane was still alive, that he would not have to face a life without him in it.
Please, he begged. Let my last moment be this one. Let me dream forever of you. Don't leave me!
I'm not going anywhere. I'll always be with you.
Don't say that! Don't say goodbye!
That isn't exactly what I meant.
Can't you…wait just a little longer? I won't be long. Let me come with you.
Fai suddenly felt the embrace tighten around him, almost to the point of a stranglehold. Stop right there, mage! You don't get it, do you? No one's dying. You never killed me.
What are you talking about?
Open your eyes. The ninja's voice was gentle again. Fai shook his head, not wanting to see the reality.
Fai, the strangely gentle voice came again. Gentle, but firm. It did not invite debate. Fai finally opened his eyes…and found that Kurogane was really there with him, holding him and smiling down at him.
Is it…really you? He whispered, hardly daring to hope. Kurogane leaned down and rested his forehead against Fai's.
Yes. I'm really here with you, speaking to you in spirit.
But, then…what happened? What did I-?
That thing you destroyed wasn't really me. It was a puppet created by Ashura to torment you. It acted exactly like me. I tried to act through it but…I don't really have this whole magic, spiritual thing down yet. I'm still alive up in the castle.
Thank heaven! The mage half-screamed, burying himself in the swordsman's embrace, the tears pouring down his face now tears of joy rather than sorrow. I was so afraid, Kuro-rin. I thought-
Shh, Kurogane shushed him yet again, holding him tighter to comfort him. I know what you thought. It's all right. I'm right here. I won't leave you again.
But…what can we do? I can't beat this thing.
Yes, you can. You have to.
Hell, Fai, if you don't know how to fight magic, who does? All I know is battle. I know that strategy is its own strength. Maybe you can't outmatch Ashura in strength of magic, but nothing is unbeatable. When facing an opponent, you use his own strength against him. We have to find out what Ashura's weak point is. That's how you defeat this thing.
Fai pondered the ninja's words as Kurogane pulled him into a sitting position. He half-expected him to let go once that was done, but he didn't. His arms remained loosely draped around his waist and shoulders. He blushed lightly when he realized that he was, in fact, sitting in Kurogane's lap. He leaned slightly into the embrace, savoring the feeling of the swordsman's chest rising and falling against his back. For that brief moment, all other thoughts were driven from his mind. He was just so relieved to be able to feel his heartbeat, so grateful to know that he was still alive, nothing else seemed to matter. Unfortunately, his happiness was soon tainted by something foul. The feeling of Kurogane's arms around him carried him straight back to the dream swamp…to the nightmare where he was pinned beneath Kurogane and the warrior wanted nothing but his body. He stiffened, suddenly afraid that he was dreaming again and this warmth would be ripped away from him, replaced by uncaring eyes and a false touch.
Kurogane had been thinking the same warm thoughts as Fai. He'd been thanking whatever deity there was that he'd been able to reach Fai's heart before he'd been driven completely over the edge…even though he still had no idea how he'd managed to pull it off. He'd been expecting the mage to pull away from him, but was happily surprised when he did not. Hesitantly, he let his chin rest on his head, happy that Fai was facing away from him so he couldn't see the tinge of red that he couldn't manage to control. He had to resist the urge to hold the wizard tighter. Even as a small, tender smile worked its way onto his stern face, he couldn't keep his mind from drifting into the darker possibilities…of what might have happened if he hadn't been able to intervene. Would Fai have disappeared…forever?
Suddenly, Kurogane felt the mage stiffen in his arms and all of those dark thoughts immediately jumped to the front of his mind. Fai was fragile right now. Even the tiniest tip in the balance of power could break him. His safety was what was important right now…not his own confused feelings.
What's wrong? He asked, willing his overprotective arms to stay loose around the magician's body.
Kuro-pin…why did you come here?
Kurogane sighed, slightly frustrated. Did he really have to ask?
I came because you needed me. Ashura couldn't keep me locked up forever. I wanted to protect you. I…always want to be here for you…if you need me.
And why…do you feel the need to protect me?
Yet another sigh escaped the swordsman. Here it was. The moment he had been dreading and anticipating…the moment he had been hoping would not come, and at the same time, the one thing he wanted above everything else. He was a man of actions, not words, and with Fai, the few words that he had did not come easily. He wanted so badly to bare his heart before this man, to tell him the truth and give him everything that he was…but the words just wouldn't come. This was not the dream. There were other things in his head besides Fai's blinding smile. But…even those things were becoming less and less important when measured up against his realization that, even if everything had been a dream, that smile was real. He wanted that smile back.
Because…I care for you. More…than life itself…I care for you. I couldn't stand back and watch that crazy bastard hurt you anymore.
Fai began to weep silently, one eye shedding salt, the other shedding sweet water. It was the answer he'd secretly longed for…and that was going to make things all the harder. He loved Kurogane. He loved him. He always had. He had known it the moment their eyes met in Yuko's shop. Of course, he hadn't always known exactly what it was that he felt for the ninja. He hadn't recognized it for what it was until that moment he woke up in Tokyo, saw the concern in his normally stoic face, and knew, even in the very moment he was acknowledging his love, that he could never have it. And now…now he knew that Kurogane returned his feelings. The web of lies that the Labyrinth had attempted to spin around his heart only served to affirm the warrior's feelings for him. Now…at the very moment he should be embracing him, kissing him and telling him how much he loved him, Fai could feel his heart breaking within his chest. Ashura may have lied about many things, but there was one thing he'd said that Fai knew to be true. His own happiness destroyed the happiness of others. Back in Tokyo he had sworn that he would not allow himself to fall in love with Kurogane. If there was love, there would only be pain for both of them…and Kurogane would come out worse because of him. He had broken his own vow. He had unwittingly let himself fall head-over-heals in love. He had ruined everything. Certainly the swordsman had proved his own love time and time again, but now he would have to make this dream end…for both of them. He loved Kurogane enough to give him up, though it would shatter him to do so. He wanted his puppy to be happy, even if it removed him from the picture. The only way to save Kurogane from his curse was to break his own heart. Perhaps…Kurogane could wake up and he could remain asleep, dreaming forever of love and never actually knowing it…never able to hurt anyone again. But before that could happen, he had to rescue him from the castle, and in order to do that he had to call on his love for the other man. It was the one thing the Goblin King did not understand…the only thing that might be able to stand against the power of the dark staff.
Kurogane was just starting to feel Fai's tears drip down onto his arms and was about to ask him what was wrong when the wizard started to speak again.
I don't think I'll ever understand it. Are we dreaming…or in reality…or…he trailed off.
Or maybe somewhere in between, he suggested, giving the mage a tight hug. As his grip loosened, Fai seized the hand that held his shoulder and brought it to his face, fondly caressing it.
You've no idea how long I've wanted to hear you say it, he whispered, more tears leaking from his eyes as he kissed each fingertip.
That you care for me, he said, finally turning to face him. He was aware that this was mostly likely the last chance he would have to talk with him before everything ended. I…care for you, too, Kuro-tan. I want for you to be safe and happy…no matter what. So…will you please help me break Ashura's spell?
Kurogane didn't like the way Fai made his request. It sounded too much like the magician was saying goodbye to him. But still…if he had a way for them to escape, then he would help. Hesitantly, he leaned forward and placed a chaste kiss on Fai's cheek. He wanted to do more, but he was afraid of breaking this fragile path they had forged together. He didn't want to drive the man away by being too rash.
I don't know what I can do to help you, mage. But I'll do whatever you ask.
Just be here. Stay with me. Hold onto me. Let me feel you near me. Let me know…that there's someone for me to love…who loves me in return.
Kurogane nodded his consent and hugged the mage again. It wasn't so impossible a request. In fact, it was more of a reward than a demand. But, just as Fai was turning away from him, the ninja had the strangest feeling that he would not see him again. Acting purely on instinct, he turned Fai back around, seized his chin, and pressed his lips against his in a brief, frightened kiss. He didn't understand why, but somehow he knew that he couldn't let this moment pass them by…unconsummated.
Fai made a small whimpering sound against his lips. He gave into the kiss for that brief moment, but then he pulled away, breathing hard and hiding his face against Kurogane's chest.
Kuro-rin, he murmured softly. Thank you.
Kurogane could tell that there was much unsaid within him, but Fai did not look at him after that. He turned to face the other way, still seated in the warrior's lap. He easily wrapped his arms around the wizard's body just as he'd asked him to do, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Fai raised his hands, calling down power, and Kurogane held him as tightly as he could, pressing their two heartbeats together as one. Light built around them and the staff appeared in his hands. The swordsman could feel both of their souls shake as the forces of light and darkness battled in the space created by Fai's magic. Slowly but surely, Fai felt his own mind come into possession of his body. Kurogane was no longer visible outside of the astral plane but he could still feel his presence as surely as if he still held him in his arms. He leaned into the support of that presence, calling on every strong emotion he'd ever felt for the ninja and the little family they'd all built together.
"I love you, Kurogane…with all my heart," he whispered, channeling the strength of that love into the staff. The dark thing wavered for a moment…and then shattered into a million pieces, banishing the darkness from him.
How did you do it? He heard Kurogane's voice in his head.
"Darkness has no place where there is love. You…and Sakura…and Syaoran…all taught me that," he answered, smiling in exhaustion. For a brief instant, he knelt there on the ground, breathing in their triumph…but the next moment, everything was lost.
Fai's senses were suddenly overrun with pain and his mind was filled with the incessant buzzing of the labyrinth. It filled him up until it was everywhere and everything and there was nothing but the buzzing.
"AAAAAAAAAAH! NOOO! STOP THE NOISE!" he screamed helplessly, clutching his head in his hands as he collapsed to the ground.
What's happening?! Kurogane shouted. Then he heard Ashura's voice in his own head.
Don't you remember? That staff not only endowed little Fai with powerful magic, it also protected him from the magic of the labyrinth. Without the staff, he is weak, too weak to hold up his own mental shields. The labyrinth will burn away at his brain until he dies.
You just try stopping it, Ashura taunted him mercilessly.
Fai, meanwhile, was writhing on the ground in agony. The magic was draining his very essence away and he had no strength to fight it. Images attacked his mind. Kurogane, Sakura, Syaoran…all murdered. Fai's broken body…the accusing eyes. His own vampiric claws holding Kurogane's still-beating heart. Ashura-ou…run through. Sakura…stabbed. All of Celes cut down by someone they trusted. The murdered, broken bodies of a thousand innocent people decried as sinners by an insane man. A tower, tall beyond measure…its cold bricks stained with his own blood…endless snow…frozen hearts. His father, reduced to a rotten corpse by a wasting illness. His mother, hanging from the ceiling…smiling. Kurogane run through with an ice spear…Kurogane! A hand reaching, ripping his eye from his head. Blood pouring down his throat. The metallic tang of it as he drained the life from the only man he'd ever loved. Endless pain. Kurogane bleeding to death in his arms. KUROGANE!
"NOOO! PLEASE, NO! I DON'T WANT TO REMEMBER THIS! I DON'T WANT THESE MEMORIES!"
But they are yours, nonetheless, the buzzing magic screeched in his head. Do you want to be rid of them? Then give yourself over to me. Forget that you ever were. Let me climb into your very soul and claim you for my own. Come lie with me in the darkness…forever.
Fai tried to resist, but he was too weak. The magic was inside him, erasing him, bleeding away everything he ever was or would be.
"It's…eating…my mind…Kuro-chan," he moaned pitifully. "What…can I do?"
"No," the dying mage mumbled feebly. "Not…you. I want…Kuro-sama."
What are you talking about, magic boy? I'm right here! Can't you feel me?
"Can't…see you…can't…touch…" his voice trailed off into nothing as his eyes slid closed. His body continued to struggle but the movements were growing weaker and weaker.
He's fading fast, little ninja!
NO! This couldn't happen! He wouldn't let it! But…what could he do?
"Kuro-pii…where are you?" he whimpered, his voice growing fainter, everything cascading ever faster into oblivion.
Fai…I'm here! I'm right here! His non-corporeal form was kneeling right beside the fallen man and yet he had never felt farther away from him. He vaguely noticed the presence of the wizard's other companions around them, but their cries did not register in his fevered mind. Nothing else mattered right now. He couldn't just let Fai slip away like this.
Damn it, Fai! Don't do this to me! You can't give up now! TELL ME WHAT I CAN DO TO SAVE YOU! He was screaming now, his hard-won control gone in the blink of an eye. He couldn't let it end like this! After everything…the clone, Reed's curses, Ashura…he was not losing Fai to this fucked up King of the Goblins. But…no sword he could wield…no amount of strength he could gain...none of that could ever stand up to the magic of the labyrinth. Of what benefit was his great strength, what was it good for, if it could not save him?
Magic is really very simple; he suddenly heard Tomoyo-hime's voice in his head, calling out to him from some long-forgotten memory. All you have to do is want something badly enough…then make it happen.
Hadn't he been doing that all along? Did he not want Fai enough? Had he not sacrificed enough for him? Had he not given enough proof of his love? Was everything…just not enough? Was more still required? He would pay whatever price was asked of him. Whatever power still needed proof of his need for the mage…he would prove himself over and over again. He would give up however much of himself as was needed to be with Fai. What more could he do to prove that he wanted to save his life?
Or…was he overcomplicating this? Was it as simple as…?
Would you have his worthless life spared? This voice was different. Not Ashura's…the labyrinth?
He's not worthless, Kurogane insisted angrily.
Can you save the boy from himself? What is he worth to you?
Everything, the warrior answered without hesitation. He smirked to himself, realizing how much like the kid he sounded. But he couldn't help how sappy the words were. They were nothing but the truth. He's everything to me.
You say that you will kill anyone who tries to take away the people you care about. Are you willing to slay your own self…for the sake of the one whom you love most of all? If you wish to see those eyes open…then you must give all of yourself.
I will do it.
Kurogane moved to straddle Fai's body, leaning down very close to his face.
I will protect you…always.
Fai's eyes snapped open as he felt the buzzing pressure lift from him. It was replaced by an intense, tingling pressure against his lips. A kiss? For a brief instant, he could see blazing red eyes gazing unflinchingly into his.
"Kuro-tan?" he whispered faintly.
What? You didn't believe me? What kind of idiot are you? His voice sounded strained.
Yuui of Valeria…Fai D. Fluorite of Celes…Do you hear me?
Yes, it's me. Your time is almost up. Surely by now you've realized that there is someone who does not want you to disappear forever. If you don't go to him now, then he will disappear forever. Rise and reforge your shields.
"My…shields?" Fai muttered slowly, his mind only just recovering from its near death experience. He didn't hear the princess' voice after that, but he was slowly starting to understand what it was that she was trying to tell him.
Kuro-pipi…are you still here? He asked, calling out with his soul instead of his voice.
Kurogane could barely hear the magician calling out to him. He was feeling like he had taken the entire goddamn labyrinth on his shoulders. Indeed, he had done something like that. He had placed his own soul around Fai's mind like a shield. Tomoyo had been right. The magic had been as simple as his desire to protect him. It wasn't pain he was feeling now. Lacking a body, he could not feel pain. It was more like slow suffocation…being slowly buried under tons and tons of earth. He would hold himself as a shield for as long as he was able, but he was no longer certain how long he could last. Before long the weight of the labyrinth would shatter his very being into nothingness.
I'm here, mage, he grunted. But you've got to hurry. I don't know how long I can keep this up.
Just what are you doing? Fai asked. Kurogane noted the rising panic in his voice.
Holding back the labyrinth. If we both want to get out of here, you need to pull up your own shields and get your ass up to the castle.
Fai wanted to be angry with him for recklessly throwing himself into the path of so much raw magic, but he knew that Tomoyo was right. Little time remained. Quickly, he pulled his magic back around him, warding his mind against the labyrinth. He could almost feel Kurogane exhale as he released his grip on the magic.
The instant Kurogane heard the scream of rage he was torn away from Fai. As he was slammed back into his own head, he heard his glass prison shatter around him. He fell the short distance to the floor, slamming painfully into the hard stone. The next thing he knew, Ashura had seized him by the throat and was glaring into his eyes.
"Damn you, you meddlesome ninja! You weren't supposed to actually be able to help him! Fai was mine! He was within my grasp! You'll pay for this!"
Kurogane smirked defiantly at the Goblin King. He would have wrenched himself free of his grasp and stood on his own were it not for the fact that his head was still spinning mercilessly from the trip back into his body. But still he kept that defiant gaze on his captor, plainly telling him that he'd lost.
"Oh, I think not. I still have a trump card waiting in the wings. No more games, little Kurogane. Do you remember how I said that next time I would not hold back?"
The swordsman didn't even have time to think before he was born away on a wave of pain. Kurogane was gone, swallowed up by pain. This time, he could not help it.
Fai was aware of his absence the second Kurogane was ripped away from him. He sat up and glanced around, confused by the sudden loss of his warmth. The next moment, he felt Sakura's arms around him.
"Oh, Fai-san. Thank goodness, you're all right!"
Fai was about to respond when loud screams suddenly echoed down to them from the castle. For a moment, it did not sink in, but then his eyes widened in terror as he began to realize just who it was that was screaming.
"Kurogane!" he cried through a dry throat. He jumped to his feet, pulling Sakura with him.
"Wait! You mustn't get up yet," Syaoran insisted, reaching out a hand to steady the mage. When he could stand on his own, both children backed away from him.
"I have to help him," Fai said quietly, his voice filled with resolution.
"Finally! On to battle Ashura! Charge!" Mokona cheered, ready to race ahead. But Fai easily plucked it and its twin out of the air.
"I'm sorry, Mokona. But I have to face Ashura alone."
"But why?" Sakura asked. "He's dangerous! You'll need our help."
"I can't ask that of you. I'll be fine. Besides…this is the way it has to be done."
"Well," Mokona started slowly. "If this is the way it has to be done, then Mokona supposes that this is the way Fai must do it…but…if you need us…"
"Yes," Syaoran continued. "Should you need us…for any reason at all…"
"I'll call," Fai assured them before gathering the four into a big hug. "Thank you all for everything. I could never have gotten this far without all of your help. Please, get to safety. Find a way back to your own land."
"Fai-san," Sakura started, taking his hand in hers as Syaoran and the Mokona began to move away through the smoke and fire. "Thank you…for saving my life."
Fai seized Sakura in a brief, tight hug. He had no right to accept thanks from Sakura, no matter which version of her it was, but he still took comfort from the small gesture.
"You're welcome, my princess. Now go. Get yourself out."
Sakura seemed a touch confused by the title he'd bestowed upon her, but she finally took it to mean that he was simply wishing her and her prince a happy future. Giving the wizard a quick kiss on the cheek, she turned and ran to join Syaoran. The last he saw of them was the young lovers joining hands as they disappeared into the night. Then Fai turned and started to move quickly towards the dark castle…towards his own future.
Come to me, little Fai. Step into my web…your grave.
Fai took a moment to compose his fevered thoughts in the raging quiet just outside of the great hall. He felt extremely light-headed…probably due to the blood loss. The screams had ceased awhile back as he'd made his way through the darkened corridors and he was afraid of what he might find on the other side of the double doors. Was Kurogane…?
What are you waiting for, child? Are you afraid? You and I both know you're out there. Why don't you come inside and we can all have a nice chat.
Fai swallowed one last time before finally moving forward and shoving the giant wooden doors open and forging ahead into the hall. As his eyes swept the room, his heart leapt into his throat. For a moment, he feared that he was too late.
Kurogane was hanging from the ceiling…but not in the same way his mother had been. He was bound hand and foot by some strange yellow substance. The ropey material was arranged around his neck in such a way that if his other bonds were removed, it would snap his neck. Thorny vines covered with roses were intertwined with the blonde stuff and these, too, were wrapped around his limbs. Occasionally, the naked thorns would dig into patches of exposed skin, drawing thin trickles of blood. What scared Fai most was that he wasn't moving. His head hung down, resting hopelessly against his chest. His only comfort was the fact that he could still see the slight rise and fall of his chest as he drew breath. There was no sign of Ashura.
Fai knelt down and grabbed a handful of the silken blonde substance. It was everywhere, filling the room. He rubbed the stuff between his fingers…and half choked on the realization.
"My god, it's-"
"Your hair," Ashura's voice suddenly sounded out of nowhere. Fai's gaze darted around the room but the Goblin King was still nowhere to be seen. "You foolishly gave of yourself to the labyrinth…and my labyrinth uses what it takes."
Fai sank despairingly to his knees. He had never seen Kurogane looking so utterly helpless. Even in sleep, the ninja normally carried himself with quiet strength. Now…his usual sense of awareness was gone. He hung limply in the grip of his bonds. His face, usually so hard, so intuitive, was now riddled with pain. His body shook with every ragged, shallow breath he struggled to take.
"Fai…" he whispered, his voice barely audible. The sound broke the magician.
"Please," he cried. "Let him go. I did what you said. I solved the labyrinth. Why are you hurting him? We had a deal! A fucking deal! Do you hear me? Keep me here if you want, but let him go home!"
"As usual, you are wrong, little wizard. You may have solved the labyrinth, but you've not yet defeated it. You haven't defeated me."
Fai stiffened as he felt arms wrap themselves around his waist. This time they were real. He suddenly found himself sitting in Ashura's lap, with the King of the Goblins holding him the exact same way Kurogane had held him not ten minutes ago.
"You do understand what it is that's killing him, don't you?" the king whispered in his ear as his hands traced delicately over his body. "The hair is you, of course. But the roses? What could they possibly be there for?"
Fai shook his head, trying to block out the image and the disgusting feeling of Ashura's hands on him.
"Those roses represent his love for you. Minute by minute, their thorns drink his blood dry. It's you…you and his love for you…that will kill him in the end. Can't you see that your love would be so much better off if you were dead?"
Fai hung his head in despair. He knew it to be true. The undeniable proof was right before his eyes. Kurogane wouldn't even be here if it weren't for him.
"How unfaithful you are, little Fai. You swore not to love him…and yet we have the proof of your love right here. These blossoms are not just his love. They are yours as well. You're truly determined to kill Kurogane, aren't you? Just like everyone else you've ever cared for."
"STOP PLAYING WITH HIS HEART!" Fai suddenly heard Kurogane scream. He glanced up and saw the swordsman staring down at them. He'd managed to lift his head a little, but the command had clearly taxed him. Now that he was more aware he fought to keep his pain from showing but he couldn't hide the fact that he was struggling for each breath he took.
Ashura jerked his head and the hair rope around his neck instantly tightened, painfully snapping his head back. A small cry escaped his lips as several of the vines moved to his chest to draw blood directly from his heart.
"KURO-CHAN!" Fai cried in panic.
"But playing with his heart is so much fun. Such a fragile thing. So easily broken."
As he watched Kurogane struggle to breathe, a great rage suddenly rose up inside Fai's chest.
"YOU CAN'T DO THIS!" he screamed, tearing himself away from Ashura and moving easily to his feet, though he couldn't deny the fact that the move caused his head to spin.
Ashura glared up at him as he, too, rose to his feet.
"Fai, beware," he warned as he moved towards the wizard. "I have been generous up until now. I can be cruel."
"Generous?" Fai laughed bitterly. "What have you done that's even remotely generous?"
"Everything!" Ashura snapped as he started to pace. "Everything that you wanted, I have done. You asked to be separated from your Kuro-knight. I took him. You've wanted him for the longest time. I provided you the opportunity. I offered you a solution to your curse. I didn't actually make you kill him back in Goblin City. Quite frankly, I'm exhausted from granting your every wish. Is that not generous?"
Fai stared levelly at his tormentor, his gaze an equal mixture of heartache and anger.
"You hurt Kuro-sama.
Ashura shook his head. "I can see I'm not getting through to you. Well…if this is the only way…so be it."
Fai half expected to be launched into battle with the king, but realized his fatal mistake when he shot a bolt of magic over his shoulder. He spun on his heels, turning just in time to see the attack strike Kurogane head on. The bonds that held him up were incinerated and his muscular bulk crashed to the floor.
"NO!" Fai screamed as he raced towards the fallen ninja. The smell of burnt hair and smoldering roses filled his nose as he rolled Kurogane on to his back. Fai was about to feel for a pulse when the swordsman's eyes suddenly snapped open. He easily climbed to his feet, as if he had not just experienced the most intense physical pain anyone had ever known, as if he was not bleeding from a thousand different puncture wounds. Fai knelt there at his feet, fear filling his throat, threatening to suffocate him, as he stared into Kurogane's now black eyes. They were empty of absolutely everything. The mage would have paid his very soul to see something…anything in those eyes. He would have preferred disgust, hatred, the lust from his nightmare…anything but this vast nothingness.
"Mm, Kurogane, get rid of this nuisance for me, won't you? He's caused me enough aggravation."
"As you wish, my king," he said blankly. Then he raised his hand and a sword appeared there out of thin air…a sword with a silver dragon figurine for a hilt.
"Ginryuu?" Fai whispered, recognizing the warrior's first blade. Before he could say anything more, the man slashed out at him with the sword. Fai leapt back, barely avoiding another painful slash wound.
"Please! Kuro-wan-wan! Stop!" he shouted as he continued to dodge the possessed swordsman's swift attacks. "This isn't you! You only serve one person! Remember? Tomoyo-hime!"
"Don't bother," Ashura chastised him. "Your words cannot reach your ninja where he is. He's mine. His mind belongs to the labyrinth!" he declared triumphantly, sneering wickedly as he watched the one-sided battle. This was it. The killing blow. This was the thing that would shatter their already fragile psyches.
"And in case you were wondering, this is no illusion. If he kills you now, you will really be dead…and it will really destroy him."
"Kuro-myuu, wake up! Remember who you are! You have to remember! Can't you hear me?" Fai continued his pleas, but his cries fell on deaf ears. Kurogane kept up his relentless onslaught. And, unfortunately, it was not so easy to stay balanced in a room filled with hair and thorns. Fai eventually lost his footing on his own blonde tresses, giving the ninja the opening he needed. He brought Ginryuu down hard on Fai's left shoulder. He didn't quite manage to slice clean through, but he pierced bone and muscle and the arm was left hanging by a few sinews, useless. Fai cried out in pain as blood gushed from the fresh wound. He dropped weakly to his knees. The blood loss he'd already suffered had drained his skin of what little color it had.
Kurogane lifted his chin up to look his opponent in the eyes, just as he had in Outo. Only now, instead of a harmless sheath, he was using a naked blade. The vines, still thickly covered with both thorns and roses, quickly twined themselves around him, effectively pinning him in place. He could feel the painful kiss of the thorns as they dug into his flesh and began to drain away more blood. Kurogane could cut his throat whenever it suited him.
"Now, my slave…make it end. Complete the nightmare and slay your one true love!"
"No!" Fai cried out weakly. "No, this can't happen! Kuro-chuu…I solved the labyrinth. You're free now. Are you listening?!"
"It's no use. You can't wake him," Ashura continued to taunt them. "Not even your love can break the spell I've cast."
"Kuro-pon…" he murmured gently.
He may have your mind…but your heart belongs to me.
Suddenly, Fai ripped his right arm free of the vines, shredding a good deal of skin in the process. Fai didn't see it, but when a cry of pain escaped his lips, Kurogane's eyes briefly flashed red.
"Kurogane," Ashura interrupted, all traces of his sadistic taunting gone. He was suddenly not so certain of his own power. "What are you waiting for? Kill him. Kill him now!"
"As…my master…commands," he said slowly, as if struggling against something. He raised Ginryuu high above his head, ready to deal the killing blow.
"I'm so sorry," Fai cried, fresh tears spilling down his face. "This is all my fault. If I didn't exist, you wouldn't be like this now. But…it doesn't have to end this way. Look, Kuro-woof." As Fai spoke he reached up to his own face and plucked the rose from behind his ear. Against all odds, the fragile bloom had remained safely tucked where Kurogane had first placed it.
"It's the rose you gave me," he said tearfully as he held it out to the warrior. "Don't destroy it."
"Kurogane!" Ashura shouted harshly. "Do it! DO IT NOW!"
Fai cringed as the sword began its downward slash, but just as soon as the attack had begun, it was stopped. Kurogane had grabbed his sword arm with his free hand and was holding it back. The sword arm was struggling to finish the attack, but his other hand was struggling just as hard to prevent it.
"I…won't…" he started, fighting his hardest against the spell in order to get the words out.
"Please, remember. It's our rose! Everything we are to each other, everything we've shared."
"KILL HIM!" the Goblin king screamed angrily.
"NO!" Kurogane screamed just as loudly. "I…WON'T…KILL…FAI!"
More tears slid down Fai's cheeks as he watched the struggle on his ninja's face. His eyes alternating from black to red to black, and the look changing from the nothing of the spell to determination to break the spell, and finally, to terror that he wouldn't be able to overcome it and that he really would kill the mage.
"Kuro-koi…please," he begged. "I would give up all my magic…if you could just be yourself again. Come back! I love you!"
Kurogane screamed; a jarring, pain-filled sound that caused the hairs on the back of Fai's neck to stand on end…and Ginryuu finally dropped. But the only things to die as a result of this were the vines imprisoning Fai. Kurogane allowed the false Ginryuu to clatter away as he sank to his knees. He collapsed against Fai, loosely placing his hands on his waist. He rested his head against Fai's chest, not allowing him to see the few tears that he couldn't prevent from escaping. He was sick over what he'd almost done.
Shredded as it was, Fai reached up his right arm and wrapped it around Kurogane. "You're back," he whispered joyfully into the swordsman's hair. "I knew you'd come back to me."
"HOW DARE YOU!" Ashura's rage swept through the great hall like a scorching wind. Fai fought to hold onto Kurogane but neither his injuries nor Ashura would allow it. The wave of magic tore the weakened ninja from him and slammed him into the far wall.
"KUROGANE!" Fai screamed as his body crashed to the floor and lay still. The wizard struggled to his feet as Ashura bore down on him.
"How dare you break that spell?! You'll pay!" Having said so, he shot a bolt of lightening at Fai. It struck the mage head on and he collapsed to the floor. Though the blast had weakened him even more, he immediately began to get to his feet again. He'd not even been standing a full second before Ashura hit him with another bolt of magic. Again, he fell. And again, he slowly began to rise.
"Stay down, damn you!" the goblin King raged, striking him once more. "Or would you rather I killed your ninja first?"
"No," Fai rasped as he struggled to rise. The world was spinning violently around him. He'd lost too much blood. But still he persisted in remaining on his feet.
"Whether I live or die makes no great difference," he told the king as he glanced back at Kurogane. He was all right. He was moving. But for some reason, he couldn't seem to stand and he was dragging himself forward across the floor, breathing heavily all the while. "But even if you do manage to kill my body, you can never destroy what we really are."
"And what is that?" Ashura snapped.
Fai smiled ironically to himself. If the Goblin King did not already know the answer to that question then he never would, and the exhausted mage was not about to explain it to him.
"Through dangers untold, and hardships unnumbered," Fai began to chant the words from Tomoyo's story as if he were casting a powerful spell. "I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the Goblin City…to take back the man that you have stolen-"
"STOP!" Ashura commanded, blasting Fai to the ground with another spell. He knew. Powers be damned, the wizard knew!
Slower than every time before, Fai rose to his feet. His breathing was ragged and his eyes were glazed over with exhaustion, but still he rose and continued moving towards the terrified Goblin King.
"For my will is as strong as yours…and my kingdom is as great…"
Ashura's eyes widened in horror. Quickly, he turned to kill the downed ninja, but then…
"You have no power over me," Fai declared, his eyes lighting up as the revelation washed over him.
Ashura shrieked with an inhuman rage as darkness swept into the hall. The living, seething shadows that had once served him, now swept down and devoured the Goblin King whole. Then, almost as fast as the shadows had come, they were gone…Ashura, Goblin King, with them.
Amaterasu and Souma both jumped about a foot in the air when they heard Tomoyo's scream from the adjacent room. The two rushed into the priestess' little sanctuary.
"What's wrong?!" Souma demanded.
Tomoyo was staring, shocked, at the altar before her. Mokona was perched on her shoulder. She had been praying for Kurogane and Fai's safe return and a flash of vision had broken into her conscience. The little princess turned terrified eyes on her older sister.
"Their time has run out. If they do not return now, they will be lost forever!"
Once silence had filled the great hall again, Fai collapsed for the last time, coughing up blood as he went.
"Fai!" Kurogane called out weakly as he watched him go down. He pulled himself the last few feet to the fallen man and struggled to his knees, ignoring the pain in his broken ankles. Then, being careful of his injuries, he gently pulled the magician into his arms.
What have I done to you?!
"I'm sorry," he whispered into the other man's ear. "I almost…couldn't control it. I might have-"
"It's all right, Kuro-woof. I'm fine."
"You're not fine!" he shouted, placing a hand on the arm that could no longer feel his touch. "How could you say something like that?!"
"That your death makes no difference? It makes a difference to the kids and the pork bun. It…makes a difference to me."
"It's nice of Kuro-sama to say so, but in the end, no one's death really makes a difference. Everyone dies. And…Kuro-rin…please…know that I was happy to have had you in my life…for however short a time."
"Don't do this!" Kurogane started angrily. "Don't say your goodbyes. Not yet! I still want you in my life. I want you in my life for many years to come. Please…come home with me, mage. It's not too late. We can leave this place. Everyone's waiting for us."
I will give you up, Kurogane…but…please, let me have this last moment.
Fai shook his head, a sad smile moving across his face. "Kuro-pii…just forget about me. Let me sleep here forever. But you…you must wake up. You can go home and make sure that Mokona and the kids are all right. You can go on living. Please…just leave me here."
"No," the angered ninja hissed. "Stop trying to play the goddamn tragic hero! I refuse to forget about you, and I'm not leaving here without you, either. We're going home together! If you stay, then I'm staying, too."
"Why?" Fai cried. "Why would you do that?!"
"Because I love you, damn it! I thought you would have understood that by now."
Hot tears slid down Fai's face as he shook his head once more. He'd been dancing this dance with Kurogane ever since they'd first met. He had won hollow victories at first, just barely managing to keep the nosey ninja at bay, but Kurogane had won the war and claimed the prize…his love.
"I do. I know. I know that you love me! And I love you. That's why I have to stay here."
"What the hell are you talking about?!"
"If we fall in love…it would destroy us. It's my curse. My joy of you would destroy your own joy…somehow."
"That's a load of bull shit and you know it! That fucking curse only works because you let it! If you want it gone, you have to get rid of it yourself!"
"It doesn't work like that, Kuro-chan. I'm doing this to protect you."
"DON'T SAY THAT!" Kurogane yelled at him. But then he was reminded of just how frail the body he held was by a shudder and a barely suppressed cry, and he held the mage closer to his chest. He then continued in a calmer voice. "If you're tired of fighting, if you've had enough, just say so, and I'll let you sleep forever if that's what you want. But don't say that you're staying here in darkness because of me. I can't accept that."
Fai suddenly got a dreamy, far-off look on his face, as if someone had just whispered the secret to eternal life in his ear.
"You know…we could both stay here."
"We could stay asleep forever. We could live inside this dream and never feel true pain again. We could be whole here. I wouldn't have to drink your life away here."
"No one forced me to become your prey, Fai. It was my choice…because I wanted for you to live." But even as he explained this, Kurogane was pondering Fai's words. They could stay here. It wasn't impossible. He could spend an eternity here, blissfully in love with Fai. Perhaps it would be better for Fai if they stayed asleep forever.
But…could they really do that? Live forever within a coffin made of sweet dreams and leave everything else behind? It was not an existence he would choose for himself, but if it was what Fai wanted, then he would stay by his side.
"Is that…what you want?" he asked calmly. Azure eyes gazed curiously up at him, wondering what exactly he was meaning to say. "If you want to stay here…then I'll stay with you. You don't have to be alone anymore. Just tell me what you want, Fai."
Fai felt more tears forming in his eyes as Kurogane's own ruby orbs gazed tenderly down into them.
"Kuro-tan would really…stay with me forever?"
"What happens if they don't wake up?" the black Mokona asked the Dimensional Witch from its place on her shoulder. Yuko sighed in disappointment.
"Then it means that they have chosen to leave reality behind and spend an eternity dreaming only of each other. A painless existence, yes. But not a true one."
"He's right, you know." Fai suddenly heard a voice he recognized. "If you truly want to be rid of the curse of misfortune, then you must do it yourself."
Fai glanced away from Kurogane…and saw the familiar broken corpse standing before him…the same accusing eyes.
"Fai," he whispered. "Please…stop torturing me. I'm doing the right thing, aren't I?"
"No," the shade insisted, the look on his face the look of a petulant five-year-old. "I wasn't kidding before when I said that you'd failed me."
"How have I failed you?" he asked, glancing shamefully away from his twin.
"Because you're pretending to live!" Fai said angrily as he knelt before the two men. "You're doing everything except actually living, Yuui! You're driving me crazy!"
Fai vaguely found himself wondering why Kurogane didn't seem to notice any of this.
"I didn't save your life so you could throw it away! You have a wonderful life you could be living. You have Sakura, and Syaoran, and Mokona…and you have someone who loves you," Fai said sadly as he sat down in his twin's lap. The elder Fai didn't notice it at first, but the spirit seemed to be getting younger. His hair was getting shorter and the grim was slowly vanishing from his body.
Fai closed his eyes tightly. There was nowhere else for him to look. One direction held Kurogane's strangely gentle face and the other held the upset face of his long-dead brother.
"Is it even real?" he asked sadly. "We've been…dreaming…for so long. Am I simply dreaming that the deepest desire of my heart is finally mine?"
"Oh, it's real," Fai assured him. "That man loves you more than he loves air. You can trust me on that. If Kurogane could breathe for you, he would."
Fai suddenly felt the small boy's arms around his neck. He opened his eyes and saw Fai before him as he remembered him…from before the valley.
"Do you have any idea how few people find love like that? I don't wanna see you throw that away because you thought you didn't deserve it."
"We're not cursed, Yuui. We never were. Valeria just wanted someone to blame for what couldn't be helped. What is it, really, that makes you so afraid to be with him?"
"I don't know. I guess…I… I am afraid of losing him. I don't want to get close to him…only to have him taken away…like everything else."
"Please…Yuui, don't be so afraid of losing something that you never try to have it. You might not get hurt…but you won't be loved either."
Fai smiled warmly as he returned his brother's hug.
"It's time to go back. He is waiting for you."
Kurogane was about to answer Fai's question when he happened to glance up…and see two faces that he had not expected to see ever again.
"Are you angry with me?" he asked his father. "For falling in love with another man?"
His father gave him a wry smile. "Of course not, my son. It was certainly not something I expected. But if you love this man…truly…then you have my blessing."
"Mine, as well, my child," his mother said, ever the warm smile beside his father.
"It's going to be difficult from now on, isn't it?" he said, gazing down at Fai, who seemed to be staring off into his own little world.
"Love is not easy, even if you do go down the…traditional route," his mother said with a giggle.
"But…I have other obligations, as well. To Tomoyo, to Nihon-"
"Be that as it may," his father interrupted him. "You also have an obligation to honor what is in your heart. In life, I had an obligation to Amaterasu and to Suwa. That did not mean I could not honor my love for your mother. Why can you not honor both your commitment to the princess and to the man you love?"
Kurogane continued to gaze down at Fai as he listened to his father's words, gently stroking the tendrils of blonde hair that fell across his face.
"Maybe you're right."
'We're your parents. We're always right. If it's so hard for you to be with him, why don't you make an honest man out of him?"
Kurogane's eyes flew wide open at his mother suggestion. "You're…serious?"
"Isn't that what people do when they fall in love? Youou…what is this terrible demon in you that keeps you from going to this man and telling him that your heart breaks for him?" she asked, a look of sadness crowding out the warmth.
"I've already told him that I love him," Kurogane said indignantly, more than a little surprised by the use of his true name. It proved to him just how serious they were.
"Love? What is love to your Fai?" his father said slowly. "It is a thing that has only ever been taken away from him. He fears to love. If he is ever to know it, then you must show it to him."
Having said so, his parents moved towards them. They both knelt down and embraced him. The mighty ninja was almost moved to tears as his mother bent down and placed a gentle kiss on Fai's pale forehead.
"We wish you joy of each other. We wish you every happiness. May you have days filled with sunshine and nights filled with bliss," his mother began. Then his father picked up the chant.
"And at last, when you come to the end of your road, may you die side by side, so that you will never know the pain of separation."
Kurogane felt a tremor travel down his spine as the two stood. Those were some of the traditional words spoken by the parents at a wedding ceremony.
"It's time to wake up," his father said with an encouraging smile.
"He is waiting for you."
"Yes," the swordsman answered softly. "I will stay with you forever. I'll dream with you for eternity…if that's what you want."
"But that's not what you want, is it?" Fai said, reaching up his shredded hand to touch Kurogane's face.
"No," he answered truthfully. "But I want you more. Wherever you choose to go, I will follow you."
Fai's face seemed to lighten, as if a great weight was being lifted from his shoulders at long last. He grinned wryly, the happiness in his face sincere. But even as the joy swept through him, the life drained out of him. Even though everything was coming together at last, Fai knew that he didn't have much time left.
"Thanks for that, Kuro-pipi. But I won't make you stay here. I want things to be real again…no matter how much that might hurt. That's what I want. I want to go back with you," he whispered, his voice growing weaker by the minute. Kurogane had to lean down close to him to hear his next words. "But…Kuro-min, I don't know how."
"Don't know how to what?"
"I don't know how to leave. I don't know how…to wake up," he moaned as his eyes slid shut.
"Oi! Stay with me, mage!" he ordered shakily. "Don't worry. We'll find a way."
"It's…c-cold," he mumbled.
For a moment, Kurogane was confused. It wasn't even remotely cold in the great hall. But suddenly, he remembered his own nightmare and clutched desperately at Fai's body, disregarding his injuries and his pitiful moans.
"Don't you dare talk like that, Fai! I'm taking you out of here…somehow." He would find a way. He refused to believe that he couldn't!
"I'm…sorry…I don't…know how…" his voice drifted off into nothing and he spoke no more. His head fell back against Kurogane's shoulder and the frantic warrior had to strain to hear his breathing.
"Don't go to sleep, damn you! If you give up now, you won't be able to wake up! Can't you hear me?!" He shook him in an attempt to wake him but nothing would rouse the mage.
"Fai…" he whispered, his voice thick with pain. "Just hold on a little longer. I'll get us both out. Don't…leave me."
Kurogane pressed his cheek against Fai's. Both cheeks were wet. The only difference was that Kurogane's cheek was warm…Fai's was not.
"I don't know how," he murmured weakly against Fai's lips, almost as if he was confessing his greatest sin. "I don't know how to wake you up. I don't know how to make the dream end."
But you do, a calm, reasonable voice suddenly sounded in his head. You do know how to wake the sleeping prince and make the nightmare end.
Kurogane pulled back from Fai a little ways and gazed down at his unnaturally pale face. He hadn't been aware of just how well he knew the mage's face until this moment as his eyes roved over it. He knew every line, every curve and hollow. Finally, his gaze rested on the mage's lips, and his mind began to drift back…back to a time when he'd been too small to even lift a sword…back to old tales his mother used to tell him in the cradle. Was it really that simple?
The uncertain ninja placed a hand against the back of Fai's head and drew his face up to his. Then, slowly, reverently, he pressed his lips against Fai's in a deep, lingering kiss.
The first thing that the mage and the ninja saw when they awoke was the crystalline color of the other's eyes, or, in Fai's case, eye.
"We're…back?" Kurogane asked uncertainly, reaching out a hesitant hand to touch Fai's face.
"Was it…just…did…any of that…?" Fai stuttered, clearly confused.
"No, it was real. I was there, too," Kurogane assured him.
Fai sat up and glanced around. It was still night. They were back in Kurogane's room, as if they had never been gone. They had been lying on his futon, facing each other. As his gaze swept the room once more, looking anywhere but right beside him, Fai acutely felt the renewed absence of his left eye. When he finally did glance back down to Kurogane, he could see the thick layer of bandages that covered his stump of a left shoulder. They were well and truly back to where they'd started from.
Fai turned away from Kurogane, turning to look out into the black night. Before long he felt the ninja's remaining hand on his shoulder.
"Fai…look at me."
Fai shook his head.
"Everything's different now."
"What do you mean?"
"I…I'm not sure. I'll just…I'll go now," Fai said sadly as he rose from the futon. He was terrified to be the first to bring up everything that had just happened between them.
"Hey! Wait!" Kurogane protested, quickly moving to follow the retreating mage. He seized his arm and circled around him to look him in the eye. "Don't go."
"Why not?" Fai asked bitterly.
Kurogane didn't answer him. He simply pulled the bewildered magician into a one-armed embrace and kissed him for all that he was worth.
For a moment, Fai's single blue eye was wide in shock. But before long, he was drawn into the warm, inviting, heat of the kiss. He moaned softly against the swordsman's mouth and Kurogane took the opportunity to slip his tongue into Fai's mouth. He dipped in and out, drinking deeply of the slighter man's lips. The wizard's arms snaked eagerly around his body and Kurogane's own hand traveled upward, tangling in his golden locks, pressing them even closer together. Fai drank just as deeply of him. Already he could feel the familiar passion building between them.
When at last they separated, Kurogane did not relinquish his hold on the mage. Neither did the blonde make any move to disengage from him. He rested his head on the ninja's chest, keeping a tight hold on him. Kurogane let his hand remain where it was as he nestled his chin down on top of Fai's head.
"I…want you to stay," he finally answered.
"I was afraid," Fai murmured against his chest. "I was so afraid…that everything was just a cruel dream."
"Fai," he began, the use of his name telling the wizard that he meant what he said. "Everything I feel…is as real now as it was then."
Fai looked up, the open, vulnerable expression in his eye capturing Kurogane just as surely as if he'd bound him with chains.
"You mean it?"
"Of course I mean it, you idiot," he said softly. "I've always meant it. Back there, in the castle…I was afraid that I'd lost you…and it would have been my fault." His battle-hardened expression did not change, but Fai could hear the self-loathing in his voice. Kurogane was not the type to linger on things, so these small intimacies told the mage just how deeply this had affected him.
"No, Kuro-pon. Don't blame yourself," Fai said, comfortingly massaging his back. "You saved me."
"We saved each other," the warrior corrected. He was not going to take undue credit for the rescuing in this little misadventure.
"We've always saved each other," Fai said as he snuggled back against Kurogane's chest. Kurogane returned the hug just as fiercely, knowing the words to be true. They had been saving each other ever since they had first locked eyes in the bitch's wish shop. Perhaps they had both made another wish there…a wish neither had even been truly aware of having…a wish they had paid for with blood, tears, and heartbreak…a wish that had now been granted.
"And we'll keep saving each other," Kurogane said with a determined smile. "I'll always be here for you if you need me."
"I need you, Kuro-sama," Fai whispered fiercely.
Kurogane moved his hand to Fai's chin and lifted his face so he could look him in the eye, trying to gauge his meaning. The way he said it…confused him.
"I don't know why, but…everyday…just to know that you're sitting in the next room…for no reason at all, I need you. Weren't you the one who said I should come home with you? I want to live in the country your ancestors built. I want to live in the place where you live. You asked me what I wanted. I want to be with you…always!" The words came spilling out of his mouth faster than he could control. For a split second, fear clouded his eye at everything he'd just confessed. But then he felt the other man's lips press against his ear.
"It's all right," he said soothingly, all the while marveling at how this man could simultaneously bring out the best and the worst in him. "I feel the same. I want to be with you always…if you'll let me. I hate thinking that I won't have you forever."
Relief blossomed on Fai's face like the sweetest flower. His shoulders shook as he attempted to hold back his tears. He'd been crying far too much lately, even if it was for joy this time. He supposed it came from holding everything back for so many years.
Kurogane easily kissed the stray tears away as he covered Fai's face with kisses, eventually moving back to his trembling lips.
"I love you," he moaned against his mouth, wondering, not for the first time, how it had happened. Easily keeping the wizard off balance with his bruising kisses, he moved the two of them back towards his futon. The fall onto the sheets happened so naturally that the ninja wasn't quite sure if he or Fai had initiated it. The kissing continued but a few moments later, Fai interrupted it by placing a firm hand against Kurogane's chest.
"Wait- Kuro-rin…we can't- be doing this right now."
"Why not?" he asked, disappointed.
Kurogane brushed the magician's concern aside. "I can handle it. Besides…so much is happening right now. Who knows when we'll get another chance?"
Fai didn't need any more persuasion than that. He moaned softly as Kurogane helped him remove his unfamiliar Nihon clothing. As the soft fabric slid from his body, Kurogane kissed as much of his ivory white skin as he could reach. Fai reached up and clumsily started to remove Kurogane's clothing without much success. The warrior sighed, smirking down at Fai as he sat up and began to guide the mage's inexperienced hands with his one hand.
"You don't…have anything…do you?" Fai asked hopefully as he worked. Kurogane was about to tell him that he didn't when he noticed something that he hadn't before, something sitting beside his futon. It was a small red bottle sitting on a piece of paper. The confused ninja raised his hand, gesturing for Fai to wait a moment as he climbed off of him. Fai whined pitifully at the loss of contact.
Kurogane moved the bottle and picked up the sheet of paper. It was a note.
I imagine you'll be very angry with me when you figure out exactly what this letter means, but that isn't particularly important right now. I'm very happy to see that you and Fai are back alive. Let me be the first to offer my congratulations. I just wanted to address something that I figured might be an issue with you. While it is true that you've sworn your service to me, the vow that you made has no real claim on your heart. Know that you are free to give your heart to whomever you deem worthy. If you wish, I even give you permission to grant your love the gift of your true name. All I want is for you to be happy, and I don't want the vow you made to me to stand in the way of that.
P.S. Enjoy the little present from Mokona and I.
Kurogane growled as he set the letter down and picked up the bottle.
"What is it, Kuro-daddy?" Fai asked, still lying where Kurogane had left him.
"Nothing. Just making a mental note to kill Tomoyo," he answered as he popped the glass stopper out of the bottle. The scent of roses filled his nose. He was having trouble deciding whether to feel angry or grateful. Angry at Tomoyo and the witch's obvious hand in their adventure in the labyrinth; grateful because his princess had just released him from his last inhibition towards being with Fai. Some masters refused to let their servants divide their loyalty even a little bit. But he should have known that Tomoyo wouldn't be like that. He wasn't quite certain if he was ready to give Fai his true name yet. He knew that he would someday…just not now.
"Kuro-chii…are you all right?" Fai asked nervously. He must have been lost in thought longer than he'd realized. He shook his head as he shrugged out of the remainder of his clothing. Then he showed the bottle of rose-scented oil to his lover.
"Apparently I do have something. A present from Tomoyo and the pork bun." He shuddered as he said it. Normally he would be loath to accept anything that was even partially from the manjuu, but the oil was a bit of a necessity right now.
"Ooh," Fai started with a wolfish growl. "Was Mokona thinking dirty?"
"Who cares?" he said, setting the bottle back down until it was needed. Then he tackled Fai with renewed ardor. For a moment, Fai allowed the ninja to ravish him with his lips. However, almost before Kurogane realized what was happening, Fai had seized him and flipped him so that he was on top.
"Hey! Wha-" he started to protest, but Fai quickly placed a finger to his lips.
"Kuro-puppy should let Fai-mommy be on top this time," Fai teased him as he moved slowly down his body. "He is hurt, after all. And now…it's my turn."
It took all of Kurogane's will power not to release on the spot as he watched the blonde engulf him. He threw his head back and squeezed his eyes shut, trying his hardest not to moan too loudly as the moist heat that was Fai's mouth worked at him.
But almost as soon as the teasing pleasure had begun, it was over, and Fai was moving back up into his line of sight.
"No…fair!" he groaned, on the verge of tears as the wizard crawled back up his body and settled his warm weight on top of him. A teasing smirk graced his face as he traced the fingers of his right hand up and down his chest.
Kurogane was more than a little pissed at all the teasing, so he decided to pay his kitty back for it. He plunged down between them and seized Fai's throbbing need in his hand, working at it with nimble fingers.
Fai bent over double at the sensation, practically melting into Kurogane. He clutched desperately at the sheets beneath the swordsman, panting with desire.
"I want you," Kurogane whispered in his ear. Fai was tempted to giggle at that. That particular desire was no great secret. But what would have been a giggle was turned into a gasp as the man gave him one last swift jerk before reaching for the open bottle of oil. He would have applied it himself, but Fai immediately realized the problem and took the bottle himself, slathering a generous amount on his lover's fingers.
"Rose oil?" he commented softly as Kurogane reached beneath him to test his readiness. He tried to suppress his groans as the ninja began his first gentle explorations.
"Yeah," he moaned just as softly as he moved his fingers in and out of the other man, preparing him. Suddenly, he stiffened when he felt Fai's hands on him again. The mage was already starting to coat him with more oil.
"Heh, someone's eager," he teased, reaching up and stealing another kiss from the magician.
"Mmph…Kuro-mmm…" Whatever nickname he'd been about to use was cut off by his loud moaning. Grinning impishly at the effect he was having on the blonde, Kurogane finally pulled his hand away from him and Fai moved into position over him.
For a split second before they made that final plunge, they gazed deeply into each other's eyes. They both knew that once they did this, there was no going back…but in the same instant, they both realized that they did not want to go back. Whatever future they had beyond this moment, they wanted to make it together. Fai leaned forward and gave Kurogane one more kiss before settling himself down upon the ninja's aching hardness.
A long hiss escaped the smaller man's mouth as his warrior slowly entered into him. At first it was painful, but before long, he grew to enjoy the feel of him and began to move up and down the hard length of him.
"Oh…Kuro-wan-wan's so…big," he moaned, throwing his head back in pleasure as Kurogane hit his sweet spot. The swordsman would occasionally try and thrust up to meet him, but it was difficult to get the proper vantage point with just one arm, so he lay back and allowed Fai to slam down upon him. Instead he used his hand to pleasure the mage as he thrust above him.
"Mm…Fai…mage…Fai…Oh gods, Fai!" He groaned over and over again as the tight walls of the wizard's body drew him ever closer to his climax.
"KURO-SAMA!" Fai screamed as the swordsman brought him to ecstasy, thoroughly coating him in his seed. Kurogane was only seconds behind him, his own release drawn from him by Fai's body involuntarily tightening around him. "FAI!" he cried out, releasing his own hot passion between the mage's legs.
Fai lifted himself off of Kurogane and collapsed beside him, basking in the warm afterglow of their lovemaking. It had been every bit as good as the dream. It had been better. It was real. Kurogane turned onto his side and brought his face very close to Fai's.
"That was wonderful, Kuro-chan," he whispered happily.
Kurogane did not speak. For a moment, he just lay there, burning the image of his lover, disheveled and glowing with pleasure, into his mind. This was how he wanted to remember his mage. Not the ten million false grins that had come before; like this, right now. If he died tomorrow, that would be all right. He had this memory to carry into the grave.
"Fai…if I were to promise you something right now, would you be lucid enough to understand it?" he asked uncertainly.
Fai opened his eye, tilting his head to one side in slight confusion.
"Yes. What is it?"
"More than life…more than honor…I love you. I offer you myself."
Fai drank in that pledge like water. He knew he would have to carry it with him for a long time before he heard the words again. It was Kurogane. He would not always be able to say them aloud. These were words that were just for each other, when they were alone. This life they chose to make together, it would be full of hardship. They would not always be able to openly express their love as they wanted. They would not always want to. But in this moment, before time started to move forward again, they could at least acknowledge that it was there…that it would always be there.
"Kuro-koi, more than life…more than any magic the worlds could show me…I love you. I give you everything," he said solemnly, sealing their vow with a long, loving kiss.
As Kurogane drew him close with his one arm, Fai was reminded of another promise he'd made. One he hadn't told Kurogane about. The fact that he'd sold away the last of his magic in order to get him a new arm. There was much he hadn't yet told his big puppy. Things like…Sakura…the real Sakura. It was not the best way to begin a relationship, but he also knew that all of these things would come to light eventually. For now…he had Kurogane, and he would be able to wake up beside him until the day when he did not wake from his sleep.
That would be enough.
"Hn?" Kurogane mumbled sleepily. His thoughts were a jumbled mess of how Tomoyo would never let him live down the mess they'd made…and Fai.
(A/N) Well, I hope everyone enjoyed it. I apologize for any OOCness in this chapter, but I just had to indulge my penchant for their relationship, seeing as how it's been so woefully lacking in recent chapters. Also, in regards to the whole wedding ceremony thing, I actually have no idea how ancient Japanese weddings were conducted, so that was just some creative license on my part. This is also probably the longest chapter I've ever written for anything. There just wasn't a good place to split it in two. Hope it's not too presumptuous of me to ask, but what did everyone like best about the story? A favorite scene perhaps, or something to improve on? I just want to know what to focus on in the next story.
Speaking of the next story, I've got plenty of new crossover/AU ideas. Chief among them are Sleeping Beauty, Little Mermaid, Anastasia (odd, isn't it?), Phantom of the Opera, and Romeo and Juliet. I'll do all of them eventually, but will most likely do the sleeping beauty story first unless someone can come up with a terribly compelling reason for me not to. I've got so many wonderful ideas for it, including a certain trio from xxxholic playing the three good fairies. So yes, keep your eye out for that, cuz it's gonna be a bundle of fun. If anyone has any other ideas, don't hesitate to let me know. I love ideas.