Title: Our Summer Sleeps
Chapter 1 of 2: I'm Wide Awake, it's morning
Summary: Sometimes, even the hero makes the wrong decision. And some battles leave no winner. KuroFai Spoilers to infinity and beyond.
NOTE FOR AMERICAN HARD COPY TSUBASA READERS: Please disregard the following note. Actually, you shouldn't be reading this at all, as it has spoilers.
NOTE FOR NON-ENGLISH READERS: ASHURA DIED. IT WAS SAD. BUT KUROGANE HAS HIS ARM STILL, SO SMILE.
It wasn't like any of them had signed a binding contract or anything. It just… wasn't expected Kurogane or Fai would reach their goals before Syaoran reached his. It was carefully not thought about, now that Fai did think about it.
No one asked Kurogane about his country, really. And Kurogane wasn't exactly open and sharing on any topic.
Neither of them signed a contract or anything. They hadn't promised each other anything. Truthfully, Fai didn't even know where he stood with the belligerent ninja. But.
"What a beautiful country," Fai crooned, spinning along the sakura blossoms after he recovered from their landing. He tossed this way and that, smiling idiotically.
'Cut it out,' Kurogane would have said. 'Stop embarrassing yourself.' Fai stopped dancing when the silence stretched too far. He then realized, with a distant sort of disappointment, that Kurogane wasn't looking at him at all. Anxiety (all from a distance, as if the feelings weren't his) set in when he realized what Kurogane was actually staring at, and what that look on his face had to mean.
"I'm… home," the swordsman breathed.
Fai has smiled any number of false smiles in his life, twisted his face to play the ultimate game of pretend, but never in his life had a smile felt so fake as the one he pulled on then. "What a beautiful country you have, Kurogane-san," Syaoran murmured, while behind him Sakura looked at him and Kurogane with a furrow in her brow.
"Princess," Fai called, desperate to change the subject (just for a second, just for a minute). "Is there something the matter?" By the time watchful Syaoran turned round, her expression had smoothed itself out. Ah, royalty.
"N-nothing. I was just thinking."
"Ah?" Fai lifted his eyebrows in interest. "It looked troubling." Like all good plans, operation distract-Kurogane had characteristically blown up in his face.
"Princess," the man bellowed. "Suwa!"
The female ninja appeared in front of them so quickly, Fai almost didn't see her. She held throwing stars across her chest threateningly, but lowered her hand when she saw who was making the noise. "Kurogane?"
"Suwa. Where's the princess?"
Suwa composed herself quickly. "I left Princess Tomoyo back at the --" The sound of horse running stopped her midsentence. She and Kurogane shared a look that Fai noticed was one of commiseration.
"Kurogane," said a wonderfully regal voice. Fai saw that Princess Tomoyo did look exactly like the child from Piffle. He wondered if they shared the same personality. "We are so glad you have returned to us."
"WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING? YOU RODE ALL THE WAY OUT HERE WITH NO GUARD?" Fai had forgotten what a set of lungs Kurogane had. He realized, with a start, that Kurogane hadn't raged at him for a while now.
The brown-haired ninja bristled. "Don't speak to the princess that way, Kurogane!"
He spun to face her. "And you. I leave and you let her run around wild? Do you know what will happen if she gets abducted? Dammit, I shouldn't have left!"
Somehow, during this rant, Kurogane had grabbed the horse's reins and started to lead it back to the palace. Syaoran, Sakura and Fai followed, stoic, confused, and bemused, respectively.
Princess Tomoyo immediately had the tea room prepared. "You must tell me about your journey."
Kurogane settled back, and talked well into the night. Well, talked was kind of stretching it. He reported, she listened, and occasionally interuppted him to get more insight from Sakura, Syaoran or Fai. Mostly from Sakura, though. It seemed all Tomoyo's across all the worlds were enamoured of her.
Fai sat with his now-cool tea in his hands. This was where Kurogane wanted to be. What would happen now? He stared into the cup as if for answers.
He glanced over to where Sakura sat, the top half of her body now sprawled across the table. Syaoran blushed and bowed in Princess Tomoyo's direction before righting Sakura. "I'm sorry. She's impossible to wake like this. Do you have anywhere she can…?"
"Of course!" Tomoyo-hime murmured, clapping her hands twice. "Would you mind guiding Syaoran-kun and Sakura-chan to a guest quarter?" She turned to Fai. "Would you like to accompany them, Fai-san?" Fai knew, even through polite phrasing, an order when he heard one. He stretched one hand above his head, holding his elbow with the other, and yawned rather theatrically.
"I am a bit tired." He rose and followed the determined looking Syaoran holding Sakura bridal-style out of the room. Fai didn't bother to look back at Kurogane, knowing the ninja and the princess had something more to discuss. It didn't agitate him any less, knowing that.
The rooms they provided were next to each other. One room for each, except Kurogane. Kurogane, Fai supposed, still he had his room from before. Did Tomoyo-hime visit it? Did she have the servants keep it clean? Or did she abandon it, leave it to wither until his return? Fai watched the servant help Syaoran with the door to Sakura's room, and then retreated to his own.
The room was simple enough. Mats on the floor, a low table and a window that looked out into the garden. There was a closet and folded blankets in the corner, which Fai supposed served as a bed. He sat gingerly to the side of the window and looked outside. Carefully, he thought about nothing.
A knock at his door. "Come in," he called cheerfully, turning to face the sound.
"I'm sorry, Fai-san," Syaoran's voice called as the door slid open. "Was I interrupting something?" The blonde smiled disarmingly at him.
"I was just enjoying the sights."
The boy's face set into his worried look. "That's what I came to speak to you about. I know you and Kurogane-san, even though… From what I know of him, I cannot determine whether or not…"
He took a breath. "What I mean to say is, if Kurogane-san stays, Sakura-hime expects you to stay as well." He swallowed audibly. "As do I."
Fai put on a confused face. "Does Sakura-hime no longer require my services?"
"I-It's not that. She just said 'Please tell Fai-san to put his needs before mine.'"
Fai lowered his gaze, deciding he'd had enough. "I see. Please tell Sakura-hime that I said I have not yet made my decision, but if she would wait for me…?"
"Is it because Kurogane-san hasn't made his?" Syaoran blushed lightly, but stood firm. Fai just turned back to his window. "…Fai-san… I never expected to have help on this journey. I… Please heed Sakura-hime's words." Fai heard the rustle of clothing that meant Syaoran was bowing, and the sliding of the doors as he left. The wizard leaned his head into his hands and sighed heavily.
"I have to stay here," Kurogane said as soon as the door opened. "She needs me."
Fai paused where he stood in the hallway. "How did you know it was me?"
"Close the door already," Kurogane's back said. "You're letting the cold in." The room was slightly bigger than his. Kurogane had the brazier going, explaining his order, but otherwise the rooms were the same. The only personal effects were the clothes in the closet. The window in Kurogane's room was the same size as the guest room, too. Although the moonlight was stronger here, and it made Fai's hair look golden.
"Kuro-mou really knows how to decorate."
"I never had any interest in things like that. I only come here to sleep and get changed." Fai crossed the room, opening the door next to the closet.
"And a bathroom? Wheet whoo!" Despite the lightness of their conversation, Fai's eyes were dark and Kurogane had a deep frown on his face. It was a testament to how stubborn they both were.
"Pfft. You'd better like it. Tomoyo-hime seems to think we should share a room."
Fai suddenly deflated, leaning against the threshold to the bathroom. "Oh no. Wouldn't want that." I can't have that.
"What will you do?" Kurogane asked, ever the blunt one. He didn't even turn to face Fai."You will need to feed."
"I have to stay here," Kurogane repeated. "She needs me."
Fai sat next to Kurogane, watching the sparks in the brazier. His calm voice made a frightening dichotomy to his words. "Then why don't you finish what you started? You made this decision for both of us." Kurogane rose and leaned against the sill of his window.
"I'm not like you, mage. I don't like to lie, and I finish what I start. But Tomoyo-hime needs--"
"Shut up," Fai interjected monotonously. He simply stared at the embers, hunched over and stoic. "I didn't ask for this. This isn't my fault."
"Shut up," Fai whispered harshly. "Shut up. This is your fault. I didn't ask for this. I didn't need you to save me. I was ready to die." In a rage, Fai grabbed Kurogane by the collar of his uniform. It was so easy, he realized. And it would be just as easy to drag Kurogane from world to world. His portable-food-source-prisoner. But what would that make him? He settled for hissing, right next to Kurogane's ear -- up close and personal, just the way he disliked it-- "I don't need you."
He hated the sweet smell of Kurogane's lips, like the cake he could no longer eat. He hated the strong curve of that jaw, and the wide eyes, as if Kurogane couldn't believe… what? Couldn't quite believe that Fai was holding him against his will? Couldn't quite believe Fai had the strength? Disgusted, Fai released him, only to realize he had been holding Kurogane an inch or two off the floor. He grinned recklessly at Kurogane's undignified stumble and turned to leave.
"Idiot," he called. "You'll die."
"Didn't you promise to kill me before I attempted something like that again? Can you keep that promise?"
"If it keeps you from doing something stupid, I'll kill you a thousand times over." Fai helplessly turned back, showing Kurogane the shocked look on his face. "You think this is the only option?!" He continued, ignoring the pain his nails were causing his palms from his clenched fists. "Grow up! You're acting like a spoiled little kid."
Fai looked down, unable to keep that red, red gaze. "What makes me so special? Why do you keep doing things like this for me? You don't even know me!"
Kurogane pressed his forehead against his fingers, as if trying to rid himself of a headache. To Fai's relief, his eyes were closed. "You're so frustrating. It's hard to imagine one person being this dense."
He couldn't stop his face from forming a self-deprecating smile. "I'm sorry to have troubled you for so long, Kurogane." And left before the other could get another word in. There was only so much he could take, after all.
"Do you really want to leave," asked Mokona in the morning. "Really, truly?"
Fai fixed a smile for him. "Really, truly," he echoed. Behind him, the princess and her two top ninja-guards were seeing them off. Although Fai wondered if Kurogane would be there if Tomoyo-hime were not.
He decided he didn't want to know.
"Goodbye everyone," he heard Sakura call out. He could imagine Tomoyo-hime's tears, delicately dabbed away by her silk kerchief, as she hugged Sakura for the last time.
"Thank you," Syaoran added. Fai had tried so hard to save him, even though he had known it wasn't him. The collective pause as they waited for Fai to say his piece stretched into something awkward. "Well," the blonde ended cheerily. "Shall we go, Mokona?" The cute plush' s face was curled into a sympathetic frown, but he opened his mouth, spread his wings, and they were as good as gone. However, Fai turned just as the winds kicked up and saw Kurogane's face.
It's too late for that, he thought, oddly tickled that he had been the one to bring such an expression to that face. But. He untied his eye patch quickly and urged it out of range of Mokona's spell. It just managed to flutter into Kurogane's hands before they left that Japan behind.
When they landed in the next world, (it was an embarrassing incident including a bathroom, a tub and a roll of glitter stickers,) Fai realized that he hadn't fed for the whole time they were in Japan.
And he would never feed again.
But that would mean… That would mean that the last time he fed from Kurogane was Thorsday in a country with grassy clifflands and broad, blue oceans. Thorsday, he had overheard from one of the natives, was a time when everyone should feel their strongest, in honor of the god the day was named after. Fai decided he didn't need strength, not when this was the result. His body was still sore from the transformation and he swore he could still feel his eye, the one Syao-- the one the clone had taken.
They had been shacked up in a large tent that a "neighbor" had been generous enough to lend them, provide they did some labor in exchange. In this world, Kurogane had worked in a smithy, and when Fai smelled him, his nose wrinkled from the smell of the furnace. The last time he had fed, Kurogane peeled off the thick gloves he was given for the heat, and looked at him expectantly. "No," he had said then. Kurogane scowled. "You smell like that place, the smitee."
"Smithy," Kurogane rumbled, stalking past him to head for the lake. Fai sighed, like he had dodged a bullet, and Kurogane had popped his head back into the tent. "Stop standing there like an idiot and hurry up."
So he had followed Kurogane to the lake, distracted himself with some grass while the man bathed, and waited. Kurogane lay next to him when he was done, still damp but clean. It was then Fai realized, as he looked down at Kurogane with his eyes closed and his arm out, as if he were waiting for Fai to lay down beside him and stop twirling that damn blade of grass; as if he didn't mind if Fai continued twirling that blade of grass as long as he eventually drank from him; as if he was content: it was then Fai realized that he liked Kurogane. And that was dangerous.
Kurogane, laying on the grass completely un-clued in to Fai's thoughts, opened his eyes. "Would it be strange for you?"
"Would it be strange for you," he asked, staring at Fai with those horribly beautiful eyes, "if I lay like this? Would you rather I sat up?"
Fai looked at Kurogane's arm, where the green shoots had curled around it slightly (of course, his bicep was so big that that was about all they could manage), and wondered. "No," he had said, laying a hand on Kurogane's arm. "No," he repeated sadly when Kurogane jerked at his touch. He stretched himself across Kurogane's body, and felt him breathe.
"What are you doing?" Kurogane asked calmly.
Fai moved his hand from the forearm to the shoulder, and contemplated, for a minute. "Feeding," he had answered, and bit him on the opposite side of where his hand was, where the neck met shoulder. This way, he had thought at the time, was deliciously intimate. He felt Kurogane arch slightly under him, and felt every breath afterward, from heaving to lulled out at the end. As if having his blood sucked from his body made Kurogane relax.
Fai blinked, and let the memory slip away. His hands, he noted, were clenching and unclenching. His knuckles were very pale compared to the rest of him.
It hadn't taken very long for him to get hungry. It was probably a combination of stress and loneliness. He wore himself out between protecting Syaoran and Sakura, trying not to think of Kurogane and planning his next step. He was no longer a knight; he had become a rook.
He didn't sleep much, but he thought in excess. It had been so simple to stomp off in the moonlight, to be righteous and angry, but the morning had burned holes in his shield. What can I do now? Am I any use to anyone as I am? What will I do when this energy runs out? Should I have left? Should I have forced him to come? All Fai had wanted to be was useful, but the only person who had wanted him he cast aside. Am I just supposed to wait for death?
Not much sleep at all. It didn't help that Sakura and Syaoran were going through a mini-crisis of their own, on top of their regular, every day problems (didyousensethefeatheri'msorryican'trememberyoubutitisn'treallyyouandi…). To his credit, he had lasted a whole week.
To his own chagrin, he had only lasted about a week. Fai's smiles felt brittle, like a plastic wrapper crinkled too many times or an old vase worn down by time. He retreated to his room (dragged himself, more like) and looked out into the fog from his window. On this world, they were squatters, although the space they had found was relatively well-kept, considering no one was due to set foot in it for another month or so. His eye no longer hurt, and to keep himself on his toes, he made himself look at Syaoran without flinching (or feeling) all the time. It kept his mind off… other things. (He was weakening. He would die and there was no one to save him this time.)
Fai took a deep breath, and released it onto the glass. Let the thirsty be sated, he wrote in the curving characters of Ceres. Oh, how he wished.
But he didn't deserve it. He didn't deserve most of the things he had.
He had done nothing to deserve Kurogane's dubious 'gift,' absolutely nothing. Why did everyone feel the need to sacrifice themselves for him? He was nothing special, less than average even. Sure, he had buried himself in spell books until his eyes burned, and practiced his faces in a piece of obsidian until his muscles ached, and obsessively watched the "cute" girls unitl he had learned all of their mannerisms and… But it wasn't enough, you see, and that was just it. No spell he had learned could bring the real Fai back; and he had charmed Ashura until the man had developed an unhealthy affection for him, but even the most powerful wizard he knew could offer him no solution. There was no way he could pay back such a debt.
Fai wasn't a violent person. He looked out the window for a lingering moment and then swiped his palm across his message, letting the natural oils in his hand destroy it. He wanted to hurt himself so much right now. But wasn't that what he was doing?
It isn't enough.
"Kurogane, you seem unsettled." Tomoyo cooed at him as she completed a flower arrangement for the temple. The ninja shifted uncomfortably next to her in his traditional robes, and gripped his knees in lieu of his swords.
"Yeah, I guess." She continued to look at the vase appraisingly, and he continued reluctantly. "Why haven't you taken this damn curse off me yet? I can't protect you properly like this."
"I want you to grow, Kurogane," she responded, lifting a branch with royal elegance. "Killing is not the only solution."
"It should be, for any fool who wishes you harm." Tomoyo glanced at him sidelong.
"What makes me so special that all of humankind should fear me?" But Kurogane had ceased to hear her before her question had finished.
What makes me so special? Why do you keep doing things like this for me?
You don't even know me!
"Kurogane? Kurogane? Your face will get stuck that way, you know." A small, cool hand lay on top of his fist. "And you're bleeding all over your hakama," she added gently.
The ninja released his fists immediately. "Yeah." He reached into his top for a handkerchief, but pulled out a narrow, black cloth.
"Wasn't that Fai-san's?"
Kurogane stared at it, dumbfounded. "…It was. It was his, the idiot. He shouldn't have given it to me."
Tomoyo peered into Kurogane's eyes. "I think Fai-san wanted you to have it so you would remember him."
"But he has nothing of mine!"
She smiled at the man, aware that despite all of the ways he had grown, Kurogane could still be naïve. "I don't think he needs anything to remind him. Do you?" His grip tightened on the eye patch.
"He's so stupid! I can't read minds. I thought he…"
Tomoyo's hands now encircled his fist which held the cloth. "You thought?" He swallowed.
"I thought he hated me. I wasn't going to force him to stay."
The princess's brows furrowed but her voice rang with understanding. "You couldn't," she clarified, hugging him. "Oh, Kurogane."
Kurogane only held the cloth tighter.
Today, he wanted to die. Just like yesterday. And the day before that. As he and Sakura and Syaoran ran up the stairs of the tower in pursuit of yet another feather, he thought, with passing apathy: I should be dead. He considered, briefly, letting himself twirl down the length of the tower, like a sakura. His exhaustion quickly disrupted that idea. He was so tired and every step he went up seemed to ask more and more of him physically.
By some miracle he made it with the rest of the group to the apex. Sakura and Syaoran refused to leave him behind, and he didn't have the energy to think of spiteful words to make them go away. When they reached the top, he felt dizzy and weak, even though such a climb barely winded Sakura and Syaoran. It shouldn't have affected him at all. But when they reached the top, he had to lean against the threshold, dizzy and weak, unable to do more than watch the cold air crystallize his breath. "We've come for Sakura-hime's feather. Please return it!"
"Mwahahaha. You're just a bunch of kids! I won't hand over such a powerful weapon to you." Fai's hands trembled. The stone slabs beneath him changed color. Was that an effect of the feather? Or…?
Fai slid to the floor as his knees buckled, but he took no notice if anyone turned to check on him. He could still hear Syaoran pleading and the unidentified man cackling, but it was muffled by the sound of his heartbeat. Lub-dub. He leaned his head back and looked into the endless gray of the murky sky. He was so thirsty. What he wouldn't give for just a drop. (Sweet, sweet redemption that he didn't deserve.) Fai felt hot, and his hair clung to his neck in sticky clumps. He raised one pale hand to his eye. He could almost see through it. I should be dead, he thought again. And now, he was dying.
Fai-san! Fai-san! Can you hear me! Was that Sakura? Over the heavy lub – lub of his heart, he couldn't tell. But then, who else could it be?
Mwahahaha! Fools! -- You leave me no choice! ching I'll fight for it if necessary -- Fai-san, please, look at me Fai!
He closed his eyes. Idiot! Kurogane had said. You'll die!
Fai hadn't slept in a long time. Vampires didn't need to sleep. But when he left Kurogane, and consequently his food source, behind, he had forced himself to sleep to conserve energy. Sleep had almost always eluded him.
When he was a child, the whispers of the palace would keep him awake. Although, then, he had Fai by his side, and he always got to sleep eventually,
When he was a grown up, the fear of Ashura-ou would keep him awake. Although, then, he had Chi by his side or in his mind, and she always sang him to sleep.
When he was a vampire, the hunger and the anger would keep him awake. Although, then, he had Kurogane, whose blood and whose words made everything else melt away.
Now, he had no Fai and no Chi and no Kurogane, because he has given them all away. And that is why as his head rang with Kurogane's angry words, he had no one to hold his hand or sing him to sleep. In the end, he couldn't even tell Sakura was there, desperately trying to cry him better. In the end, he simply closed his eyes and died.
Do you really want to leave? Really, truly?
End of Part One.
Notes: There was one part I had in the original edit where Fai had tracked someone down and tried to drink, but failed. It just didn't really fit anywhere in here. Shrug.