Title: Almost Sober
Disclaimer: You know the drill, I'm not CLAMP, etc, etc.
Pairings: KuroFai, Sakura/Syaoran
Rating: Meh. PG-13.
Warnings: Umm, not much. A little unresolved angst. Nothing bad, I promise.
Summary: This is the final chapter of the 1920s AU! Oh, God, what will I write now?
A/N: This doesn't mean it's over. I'm keeping this universe, I love it too much not to.
Fai ran a hand through Kurogane's slicked-back hair, spiking it up. "Kuro-puppy, why d'you look all spiffy today?"
The bootlegger sighed. "It's that witch giving out my wages. She says I scare off customers. What a load of-"
"If they knew Kuro-daddy like I do, they'd know he wouldn't hurt a fly," Fai said, grinning. "He's just darb, really."
"Shut it," Kurogane said, pushing Fai off the barstool. The violinist caught himself and giggled uncontrollably as he regained his seat.
"Seriously. Kuro-pup is the real McCoy, an old-fashioned gentleman."
"Are you gonna tell me what you want?"
"Aw, lighten up, puppy! I want a fruit juice."
Kurogane paused. "A what?"
"A fruit juice," Fai said. "You know. You squeeze the fruit and drink what comes out. I bet you could just grab an apple and do it by hand, you're so strong."
The bootlegger was getting suspicious. He'd never even seen Fai drink water. "Why the change?"
The violinist shrugged. "What change? Maybe I'm not in the mood to get lit."
There had to be something going on. Fai was – Well, Kurogane hated to even think it, but he drank a lot. It didn't help that he was in a gin mill all night, every night. Alcoholic was not a word he wanted to associate with this man, but…
"You're always begging free drinks off me, Doumeki, whoever's working the bar," he said, trying not to make it sound like too much of an accusation.
"Do you know what today is, Kuro-daddy?" Fai asked, changing the subject.
"No. I don't ca-"
"It is five weeks before New Year's. Ninteen twenty-eight. It's been exactly, on this very day, three years since I met you." He said this with unexpected gravity. "You know, three years is a long time to be goofy over some guy you aren't sure could ever love you back."
Kurogane wasn't sure what to say, and settled for a sort of "Hnnh?"
Fai was staring at him expectantly.
Finally, he managed to say, "Three years? I thought you'd been working here two."
"We met one night on a boat in New Jersey," Fai said, smiling crookedly. Kurogane had at least known him long enough to be able to identify the hurt in his eyes. "It was cold. You gave me a cigarette and told me I was annoying."
"And you gave me that stupid damn nickname," Kurogane said, remembering. "Big puppy."
"You do look like a great big puppy," Fai said. "Grr." He rested his head on the bar. "I'm glad you remember."
"Wait up," the bootlegger said sternly. "You said something else. 'Three years is a long time to be in love with someone.'?"
"It is," the violinist said. "Isn't it? A three-year, cross-country crush."
Kurogane put away the glasses he'd been cleaning. "It isn't long if someone loves you back."
"I'd like my fruit juice, thanks," Fai said, smiling more genuinely now. "Today is my starting point."
"I think maybe I should give it a try. Living sober. I think maybe I can face things now."
"What made you decide?" Kurogane wanted to know.
"A couple things. A few nights I regretted. Mostly it was… Having someone to depend on."
Kurogane stared at him. "You gonna tell me who?"
Fai laughed and laughed, and wouldn't tell him, and blew the paper off his straw right into the bootlegger's face. Moonshine for Kurogane. One crutch for another.
Oh, well. This one was more fun.
Darb – A great/reliable person or thing.
The bar was more crowded than normal, and so it was a minute before Kurogane, bartending as usual, saw the long, black, troublingly familiar ponytail. Never one for subtlety or carefully-considered decisions, he grabbed the man's shoulder and spun him around. "What the hell are you doing here?"
Ashura smiled at him in a bright, brittle way he knew only too well. "I'd like a club soda, if you please. It wouldn't do for me to break the law more than I already am, would it… I'm sorry, was it Kurogane?"
"Get away from my goddamn bar," the bootlegger growled.
"Ah, I'm sorry, sir, but I'm off-duty now and I'd hate to have to go on-duty very suddenly."
Kurogane paused. "Was that a threat?"
Ashura's smile was knife-thin. "You seem like the kind of person who knows exactly what a threat sounds like."
They stared at each other for a minute, testing the waters. A few club regulars, possibly recognizing the signs of Kurogane's famously bad temper growing short, slunk away from the bar. As if by magic, Yuuko appeared, radiating cool collection. "Can I help you, sir?"
"Hello, Ms. Ichihara. I'm not here on business. Unless your bartender causes trouble, I assure you this entire visit is off the record."
"Down, boy," Yuuko said, patting Kurogane on the arm in what he considered an unnecessarily condescending way. "What do you need, then?"
"Actually, I'd like to talk to Mr. Kurogane. Now that he's not going to kill me, at least." He accepted the glass of fizzy water that Kurogane slammed down on the counter with good grace.
When Yuuko has left, he sighed. "I'd hate to blow the whistle on this place now. She seems like a very decent woman."
"She's a wage-docking bearcat is what she is," Kurogane muttered. "What do you want?"
"The band if playing very well, isn't it?" Ashura asked, ignoring him completely. "Very pretty."
"Yes," the bootlegger said automatically, then stopped. His eyes widened. "You wouldn't dare."
"I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about," Ashura said cheerfully, sipping his half-glass of club. "I was just going to say they all play very well. Especially the violinist."
"He does," Kurogane said.
"A… A credit to his teacher, I would say," Ashura said carefully.
The policeman reached into his bag. "Give him this, would you? Don't say it's from me, if you hate me that much."
Kurogane took the rose. "What is this?"
"A rose, don't you-"
"I mean this. Why are you doing this?"
The smile dropped. Only for a second, it dropped. He'd gotten good at understanding glimpses, though, and for that second Kurogane could see everything, insecurity and fear and a plea for forgiveness. "Okay," he sighed. "I'll give him the goddamned thing."
"Thank you," Ashura said, and meant it. He turned to leave, but paused. "Oh, and… Kurogane?"
"If you break his heart, you'll have New York's entire police force chasing you down. I'm sure we understand each other."
Kurogane actually laughed. "Got it."
He gave Fai the rose at the end of the night and told him it was from an admirer.
On New Year's Day, it was decided that while three years might be an acceptable amount of time to harbour unresolved affection for someone, four was pushing it. Yuuko would have complained about the noise coming from Kurogane's room, but she was really just happy they'd finally got past the whole stupid "awkward" thing and, well.
She did go up there during a lull to explain through the closed door that if they broke the bed they were paying for it. You could actually i hear/i the embarrassed silence. Yuuko went downstairs to antagonize Watanuki, laughing to herself.
Kurogane felt like an idiot. He was standing in front of his own apartment door, holding flowers and a box of chocolates, and he was actually not sure if he was more afraid of staying out there and risking someone (God forbid Yuuko should find him like this) seeing him, or going in.
Well, he decided, it was Valentine's Day. It was the time for this kind of thing. And his libido was slowly but surely overriding his fear of being hugged into the floor.
"Hey, I'm back," he called into the apartment, nudging the door open with his foot. "Hey! Where are you?" With a mounting sense of dread, he hurried into the apartment. "Fai!"
Fai was in the kitchen, listening to the radio and smoking. He had a glass in his hand. The air smelled like cheap moonshine. He looked up at the bootlegger with glassy, red-rimmed eyes. "You're home. Oh God, you're home." He grabbed Kurogane in a desperate, scared kind of hug.
All Kurogane could think to say was, "You're crushing the roses."
"It was on the radio," Fai told him. "Al Capone had seven people killed. It was… Oh, God, I keep thinking someone I know is going to end up dead. Please, please tell Ms. Ichihara you can't do it anymore. I don't want you to get hurt."
"I'm not going to get hurt," Kurogane said.
Fai was more fragile than usual in his arms, as crushable as a Valentine's Day rose. Kurogane realized how scared he must have been.
"Please, Kurogane. We don't need the money. I know you can't just sit behind the bar all day, I know, but I can't stand the idea that you might… Oh, thank God you're okay, thank you, thank you…"
Kurogane kissed him, carefully, because anything else might break him. "It's Valentine's Day," he said.
"Yeah," Fai said quietly. "Yeah, I guess it is."
"I got you flowers. And chocolate."
"I'm no jane," Fai said, his depression lifting.
"I seem to remember a certain cross-dressing incident."
"I mean you didn't have to buy me flowers," Fai explained.
"But the chocolate's okay?"
Slowly, Fai smiled. It was a watery smile, the kind of smile you have right after a good long cry. But it was a real smile. "The chocolate, puppy-dog, is absolutely copacetic."
Kurogane stopped running rum across the border. He's bartending for Yuuko at night, and has a mostly legal day job teaching at a shooting range.
Fai still plays violin at the Cat's Eye. He and Kurogane can't get married, but they've both got rings, just for show.
A few days after the last date in this story, the stock market crashed. Luckily, Yuuko had a "feeling" and told her employees to withdraw their stocks right away. As of now, they are financially stable.
The "crossdressing incident" is, in fact, canon for this storyline, and can be found a hrefsmokexscribbles./10431.html#cutid1 here /a.
Everything in here is as close to historically accurate as I could reasonably get it. Thank you to EVERYONE who stuck with me.