Try and Try Again

All Syaoran, Fai, and Mokona ever knew of it was when Sakura came dashing through the door of Cat's Eye, a little before opening time. With a hastily called "Excuse me!" she darted around the counter and dashed up the stairs.

"Wheet-whoo," said Fai, peering up after her. "Now what's gotten into Little Kitty?"

"Mokona has kept count!" said Mokona, sounding concerned. It held up a small slate, with three ticks marked on it. "That is the third time this week Sakura has come through like that!"

"Maybe something's wrong," said Syaoran, sounding concerned. He made as if to stand, but Kurogane waved him down, getting up from his table by the door.

"Let me."

Fai raised an eyebrow, looking skeptical. "Kuro-woof talking to Little Kitty?"

"Shut up," said Kurogane, sweeping past Fai and up the stairs. "We'll be down in a minute."

He found the bathroom door locked, as he'd expected. After all, she never took any chances on her dashes in here. Nevertheless, he shook the handle, to get her attention. "Oy!"

"I'll be done in a minute!" called Sakura from within, and he heard the faucet turn on. Kurogane scowled, and shook the handle harder.

"You don't have a minute. I want this door open by the time I count to three or I kick it down! One…two…"

The door was flung open, and Sakura stood staring up at him. She wasn't in her waitress outfit yet, which was part of the reason for her haste. However, he knew the other reason.

"Hand," he said, holding out his own.

Sakura held out the hand she held in front of her. The other was hidden behind her back.

"Other hand."

Sakura opened her mouth…and then saw the expression on the man's face. It meant that he was perfectly serious, and wasn't about to be disobeyed.

Slowly, looking unusually sulky, Sakura held out her other hand, palm up. A long, deep gash extended across her palm. She'd made a hasty attempt to clean it, but he'd interrupted and it was still bleeding. Kurogane took the hand, examining it critically. The wound probably painful. However, it was clean. It didn't need that much attention.

"Let me," he said flatly, shunting her back into the bathroom and locking the door behind the two of them. Still gripping her hand firmly, he held it under warm water, dabbing at it with a washcloth. After that, he retrieved the one of the first aid kits, applied some disinfectant, and went to work fixing a bandage. He'd gotten good at using the first aid kits. Throughout the entire process, he had avoided looking at the girl, hadn't said another word. He knew what he'd have to say eventually, but he didn't quite know how to go about it. After all, this was Sakura. He'd never had much to do with her. And he'd certainly never expected that she'd do something like this…

"Where did you stash it?" he finally asked, still not looking at her as he made sure the binding was secure.

Still looking sulky, Sakura pointed at the shower behind them. Kurogane pulled aside the curtain, and found that she'd wedged Hien in the towel bar. Unable to suppress a snort of annoyance, he pulled out the sword and stuck it in his belt, to put somewhere inconspicuous later.

Now, he turned his gaze on Sakura. Oddly enough, he felt calm. If Syaoran had tried the same thing, before becoming Kurogane's apprentice, Kurogane would have beaten the tar out of the boy. But the princess…there was something about her, as she glowered up at him, that kept his temper back.

"You…" he said. "…are very lucky. Matter of fact, if you weren't so damn lucky you might have gotten a lot worse than a cut on the hand."

"I know," mumbled Sakura.

"The white pork bun is right. This is the third time this week." As Sakura looked up, surprised, Kurogane nodded sternly "Yes, I've known from the beginning, princess. You've been practicing with our swords. Do you have any idea how dangerous that is? Those are our swords; they can be used only by us. You're lucky Fai and the kid weren't around when you tried Sohi, because I saw that injury. At least Hien's merciful."

He could see the rant was going over the girl's head, and sighed. What were they teaching princesses on her world?

"What I'm saying is, never use someone else's sword. Get it?"

"Got it, Kurogane-san."

"Good…now, why the sudden interest?" asked Kurogane, leaning against the wall and folding his arms.

"I want to be strong, too!" cried Sakura resolutely, clenching both fists and then wincing. "I want to be strong, so I can protect you and Fai-san and Syaoran-kun and Moko-chan! I don't want you to have to protect me all the time, I want to protect you, too!"

Kurogane sighed. "And you didn't just ask me to train you along with the kid?"

Sakura's rebellious mood dimmed a little, and she glanced down at her feet. "Um…I just felt…nervous…" she mumbled. "About Syaoran-kun…"

"The kid would think that this is the best idea any of us have had on this meandering journey!" Kurogane snapped. "He'd be behind you without question on you becoming stronger!"

Sakura merely went red and said nothing. Kurogane sighed.

"Arms," he ordered.

Sakura blinked, and then held out an arm, looking nonplussed. Kurogane took it and examined it critically, while Sakura watched him in confusion. "Um…Kurogane-san…"

"Too thin," said Kurogane flatly, releasing Sakura's arm. "You haven't got enough muscle. I'm amazed you can even lift Hien, much less Sohi."

Sakura looked crestfallen. "Oh…" she said, starting to turn away. "Yes, that makes sense. All right, Kurogane-san…"

"Freeze," said Kurogane flatly. The girl glanced back at him, puzzled. Kurogane folded his arms. "All I said is that you don't have enough muscle to wield a sword. Yet. With enough training, you could. Hell, I was a scrawny little shrimp when I was younger. So I trained. Hard. If you did the same…" he shrugged. "…you could do well. Or, if you're not up for such intense training, go for something else. I must admit, this country has an impressive array of weapons. I know the wizard can use darts, and probably several other things I don't particularly want to think about." He cast an appraising glance over the girl. "So…don't hide it, okay? Then you just get hurt, and nothing gets accomplished. You want to learn to fight, I'm all for it. Screw what anybody else says."

Sakura just looked stunned, and Kurogane was a little wrong-footed, too. This was probably the longest conversation he had ever had with the princess. Now that he'd said what he had to say, he wasn't quite sure how to follow it up.

"So just…think on it," he said, sweeping towards the door. "And hurry up and change, the wizard's going to opening, soon."

As the door slammed behind him, Sakura remained still, staring after him. Then, she nodded confidently, staring at the gauze bandage wrapped tightly around her hand.

"Yes, Kurogane-sensei."

When he got downstairs, everyone was bustling around making last-minute preparations.

"Good morning, Kuro-woof!" said Fai brightly as he spotted Kurogane descending the stairs. "So, how is Little Kitty?"

"Up to her," said Kurogane with a shrug. "Kid, you ready yet?'

"Yes, Kurogane-san!" said Syaoran, snapping to attention.

Kurogane strode over to his apprentice, but not before sparing a glance back up the stairs.

Be strong, princess.

He pulled out Hien and thrust it into the boy's hands. "I found this laying in the hallway. What have I told you, kid?! If you're not going to take care of a sword, don't even bother…"

Kon Ban Wa