Disclaimer: Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles is the intellectual property of CLAMP.
Author's Note: This is the second Tsubasa fic I've written where that Wolf's Rain soundtrack of mine came in handy. I listened to that almost exclusively while writing this. I have this thing where if I get stuck on one fic, I don't stop writing, I start something new. I started this one when I got stuck on my major Tsubasa fic (which I am working on again now) and when I got stuck on this one briefly, I started Countless Worlds. I'm always working on something, but some things don't get finished since I have so much. But I digress, The Tale of Black Wolf and White Deer, please enjoy.
The Tale of Black Wolf and White Deer
It was during the third hot summer that the four moons shone red with blood and the White Rivers tribe was given the test of sacrifice.
"Chief, I beg you, allow me to take him to the Black Mountain tribe!"
It was sadly that the chief shook his head. "This is not our way." The chief of the White Rivers tribe understood grief, understood that it was clouding his warrior's heart.
"He is my only son! White Deer does not have the magic to heal him! Do not make our children suffer his failure!"
At this the chief grew angry and his reply was swift and dark as a storm. "White Deer is doing his best. White Deer cannot save us from this test of the Great Spirit. We will endure it. We will not take this sickness to other tribes as cowards do to beg for help."
The dispute was closed.
In the medicine tent, a young white skinned man with blonde hair and blue tribal paint cried into his hands over the still body of the infant below him.
* * *
The tent of the great chief of the White Rivers clan was saturated with the heavy scent of incense, an aide for thought and reflection. His headdress sat on the furs before him, long black hair spilling down his back and shoulders. When the flap of his tent was pulled aside, allowing some of the light from the fires to seep inside, he opened his eyes to find his tribe's shaman awaiting entry and nodded in consent.
White Deer stepped carefully inside and knelt on the furs opposite him, his crown of blonde hair obscuring all else as he bowed his head. "I understand that this is a test." he said, speaking softly at length. "But I feel it is a test for me…and I am failing."
The chief sighed deeply, resonating the feelings of despair in his tribe and in the shaman before him. "No man is without flaw, White Deer. In the span of a man's life, there are things which he must learn to overcome but there are also things which are not meant to be overcome, which he must learn to live at peace with. You can no more blame others for the things which they cannot change than they can blame you."
The shaman nodded, still, it was clear that no mere words could be of comfort to him.
"Chief Quiet Thunder…"
The chief smiled softly at his shaman's formality and in turn, used the man's given name to cut him off.
"Fai. I have decided to go on a vision quest."
"I am not blind to the suffering of my people." the chief continued. "Their spirits are drained of life, the funeral dancers are weary, our children are joining the great spirit before they have grown enough to go with glory. This is something which I can do."
"It has been decided. The matter is closed."
And so it was. The very next morning preparations were made, and Chief Quiet Thunder left his tribe on foot for the great waterfall a day's ride down river where he would stay until the great spirit had sent him a vision to give to his people.
The moon had been at one quarter its size and it became full before he returned.
* * *
When Chief Quiet Thunder had been spotted approaching the village, every native gathered quickly to welcome him with hope raw and pounding in each of their chests for a vision that might lead them to salvation.
Fai pushed his way through the crowd to the front as the chief raised his hands and his people fell silent.
"I have had a vision." Chief Quiet Thunder spoke and no one dared interrupt him. "I have had a vision that White Deer will save our tribe!"
Immediately the crowd roared with cheers and shouts of joy. Some, who caught sight of Fai among them turned their praise toward him and the shaman did not know what to do. A great feast of celebration was proposed and while the villagers went about preparing for it, Ashura came to stand next to Fai, watching solemnly at the proceedings underway. He did not seem to share their exhilaration.
"I have dreamt of a great black wolf." he said to Fai and somehow, the shaman felt a pit of dread well in his stomach. "A man with the spirit of the wolf in him will come to us. In my dream, the black wolf consumes the white deer and balance is returned to the land, and our curse is lifted. This man must consume you, White Deer, to save our people."
It was heavy news, and Fai felt it weigh upon him and pull him under deep, still waters. "He has already come, then."
Ashura turned to him with wide eyes.
Fai began to walk, his feet pulling him onward, and Ashura followed. "While you were away, a man from the Black Mountain tribe came onto our land. He was following a stag and lost himself in the hunt, but some of our own hunters came upon him in the forest and he was exposed to the sickness. They brought him to me but he was very hostile and I could not allow him to leave, so I ordered him to be restrained until your return."
They came to a stop before a small tent, guarded by two warriors who bowed and took their leave when Ashura waved them away. The chief knelt and pulled back the flap. Inside, the Black Mountain warrior was bound with his hands behind his back to the tent's thick support pole. His hair was cut short and spiked and when he looked up at the sudden light, Ashura caught a glimpse of crimson in his eyes. He returned the tent flap, ignoring the angered shouts coming from within.
"He is the one from my vision." the chief affirmed. "Set him free and send him to my tent. Do not tell him of the vision I have shared with you."
Fai waited until the chief had left before he gathered himself and entered the tent. When the man had first been brought before him, Fai had not gotten the opportunity to dwell on him. He was like a wild animal with no desire to hear explanations or reason, so he had put him away and had not dealt with him personally since. Now, he was looking on the man who would save his tribe. His eyes alone, intense with burning rage, threatened to consume him in righteous fire and now that he knew his people would soon be spared, he welcomed it.
"What are you?" His voice was deep, like the growl of a wolf. "Some kind of spirit? A bird?" He was wary, but not frightened.
"I am White Deer." Fai said, pulling the small dagger he carried free of its sheath. "I am shaman to this tribe." Then, after a moment's hesitation, he asked "Why speak to me now, when you've only shouted before?"
"I thought you were a spirit." The man admitted, grudgingly.
"I was the one who ordered you restrained." Fai reminded him and this time the man did bare his teeth.
"I thought it then too, but I was more concerned with the warriors holding me down."
Fai nodded. "Our chief has returned and will speak with you now." And he reached around the pole to cut the man's ropes, his body pressing against the warrior's momentarily.
The other pulled away slightly as he blushed.
Fai led the warrior to the chief's tent, pulled back the flap for him, and closed it behind him.
* * *
Within the tent, the Black Mountain warrior scowled at the chief as he took his seat across from the man, his back straight and proud.
"I am the greatest warrior in all the Black Mountain tribe." he declared with confidence. "Keeping me here is an act of war against my tribe."
Ashura held up a silencing hand and the warrior quieted, if only momentarily.
"Our tribe is suffering a great illness and though you yourself have not become sick, from the moment that you met my tribesmen in the forest, you have breathed the breath of those who have breathed the breath of death. If you return to your people now then they will breath that same breath from you."
Ashura could tell from his widened eyes that the warrior could comprehend the situation with clarity.
"Later, White Deer will send a message by magic to your tribe explaining everything to them."
"What will I do? When can I return?!" the warrior demanded.
"I have seen you in a vision." Ashura continued. "You will remain among my tribe until the sickness has passed."
The conversation was over. The warrior stood and left the tent with heavy footsteps.
Fai was waiting outside. "Come with me." he said and the man followed him wordlessly to an unoccupied area on the edge of the village tents. "Speak as you would to your tribesmen. I will cast a spell and it will become a bird that will fly to your lands and show your tribesmen an image of you." Fai explained, already casting the spell.
The man nodded and stood straight and tall, looking ahead with a level chin. "This message comes by way of the shaman of the White River tribe to the west. I have stumbled upon their land and cannot leave due to an illness plaguing their people. I have not become ill and will return as soon as is possible." The man nodded and Fai nodded back, finishing the spell with a few gesturing waves of his hand. Blue magic rose to the air in tendrils, forming a bird above their heads that flew away to the east.
"You did not say your name." Fai said, after the bird had gone and the man frowned down at him.
"They know me."
Fai smiled and chuckled under his breath. "I meant that I would like to know your name."
"I am Black Wolf."
"This I know." Fai returned with a private smile. "I heard it the first time you shouted it at me. But I was referring to your given name."
"It is Kurogane."
Fai nodded. "And I am Fai."
* * *
"What manner of man are you?" Kurogane asked. He and Fai sat side by side on a log before the large bonfire watching the dancers while they ate. "I have never seen a man with hair the color of sun or flowers."
"Kuro-puppy hasn't traveled much." Fai responded casually.
The man beside him bristled visibly, throwing his cleaned bone to the ground so hard that it bounced in a failed attempt to return to him. "I am the great warrior Black Wolf of the Black Mountain tribe, also called He Who Runs in Shadow, also called Kurogane! How dare you disrespect me by twisting my honored name?!"
Fai, however, seemed unconcerned. "Well, with so many names, a few more can hardly make a difference."
Before Kurogane had the chance to retaliate, a small girl ran up to Fai, bouncing in front of him excitedly. "White Deer! White Deer! Dance for us! Oh, please!!!"
Fai beamed down at the girl with a dazzling smile. "How could I ever refuse?"
Fai followed the cheering girl away toward the fire and a hush fell over the crowd as he raised his arms to the starry sky and threw his head back, letting his hair grace his shoulder blades. The dance began with the crashing beat of a drum and soon the entire tribe added their voices to the dance, an entrancing combination of sweeping motion and calculated footfalls.
And though Kurogane's voice never joined in with the others, his eyes never left the shaman as he turned round and round, never losing balance, his exotic blonde hair flying out around his face and crashing against his neck with every turn.
* * *
"Tell me how one such as you came to live among natural people." Kurogane said the next day while Fai was showing him the land surrounding their village.
Fai laughed. "Kuro-puppy sure doesn't have any tact when it comes to conversation. That could possibly be an insult, you know."
Kurogane frowned deeply. "I have told you! My name is Kurogane! If that is too hard for your small mind to remember than refer to me as Black Wolf!"
"Ah, yes," Fai replied, waving it off nonchalantly "you see, far from here there is an entire land full of people with small minds. I was their Great Chief!"
Kurogane was not impressed and that only caused Fai's smile to widen.
"But eventually I got bored and decided to share my nature with the rest of the world." Fai finished, looking away with the goofy grin stuck in place.
"Idiot." the warrior mumbled, then he added "If a shaman is judged on unnatural qualities your village is surely at an advantage."
"Oh?" Fai seemed to have taken interest. "Tell me about your village's shaman."
But before the man could speak a cry rose up in the forest and both turned to find a boy racing toward them.
"White Deer! Dragonfly has fallen ill!"
Fai's eyes widened. "I'm on the way!" And with no more said, he raced away and Kurogane knew why he had been named after the deer, for he disappeared from sight so fast that to anyone who hadn't been watching, he would only have seemed a mirage.
Fai weaved around the trees and jumped their roots, his stomach churning with dread. Dragonfly was a young man, a fisher in their village. He had only recently seen his twentieth year. It meant that the sickness was growing stronger. Previously, only the young, weak, or elderly had been stricken. What could he possibly do?
How could he possibly fulfill Ashura's fateful vision?
Kurogane lingered outside of the healer's tent, which was separate from the place where Fai slept and which no one was allowed to enter once Fai had begun healing rituals.
Inside, Fai dutifully waved the medicine incense over the body of his patient, stricken with a terrible fever. He had fed him herbs and lit the incense and now all he could do was pray, reciting the ancient chants of the White Rivers tribe over and over again.
In many ways, Fai was a good shaman. He practiced magic and read the signs of the earth and sky with ease. He was able to predict the seasons and storms and the passing of the old far in advance so they had the time to prepare for the journey. He delivered infants and sometimes predicted their gender to a high degree of accuracy. He even foretold small disasters so that they might be avoided.
But while most shamans possessed some ability to heal the sick with their magic, Fai did not. He had largely made up for this with great knowledge of healing herbs and plants and medicines but his magic was utterly useless in healing.
Fai had never seen the great sickness coming. And he could not cure it once it had.
Fai remained in the healing tent at the fisherman's side throughout the night and far into the morning. When finally he emerged, he held up weary hands to the waiting crowd and announced that Dragonfly would recover. Cheers rose up around him and congratulations reached his ears; statements like: "Already White Dear heals the sickness." and "Our chief's vision begins to take root." He did not tell them that Dragonfly survived only because they were swift in bringing him and because he was young and strong.
Fai slipped around the crowd and started when a hand reached out, staying his arm. Fai looked up to find Kurogane. The man said nothing and before Fai could even begin to decode what he might want, he twisted his arm free and made his way swiftly to the chief's tent, disappearing inside.
Ashura did not seem surprised at his sudden entry, on the contrary, he was used to it.
Fai fell to his knees before the chief. It was clear he was exhausted and desperate.
"You must explain your vision better, Ashura. I must know; did you see the wolf eating the flesh of the deer or did you merely see the wolf killing the deer?"
The man raised a delicate eyebrow in response and Fai was not satisfied.
"How can I make this man kill me who does not hate me? How can I make him hate me quickly? The sickness grows stronger! I cannot do this anymore!"
Ashura moved around his tent to sit next to Fai and took the shaman's head into his lap, as he had done so many years ago to the child he had taken from the sea.
"You are mistaken, White Deer." he said, his voice calming the pounding of Fai's heart. "The wolf does not hate the deer it pursues. It is merely creating a balance in the world. Do not search for hatred in the man's eyes for hatred is not balance. These things I have witnessed will come to pass in their own time, no matter what you do. Do you understand?"
"Yes, chief Ashura." Fai mumbled and rose from Ashura's side. "I understand."
Fai left the chief's tent for his own. He did not see Black Wolf along the way.
* * *
Kurogane hunted for the White Rivers tribe the following morning. Fai had not left his tent after speaking with the chief the previous day and when Kurogane returned from the hunt, he went to Fai's tent to speak with the shaman but was intercepted before he could pull back the tent flap.
One of the tribe's strong warriors looked down on him sternly. "The tent of our shaman is sacred land and none are allowed inside." he said.
"White Deer is not there." another passing warrior added. "He is at the lake, bathing."
Kurogane nodded, releasing his hold on the tent flap and turned, heading for the small nearby lake.
Silent by nature, Kurogane approached the lake hidden among the scattered early evening shadows of the forest. He spotted the shaman from several paces away, the man's fair skin and light-colored hair showing like a spot of light shining through the trees overhead.
Kurogane paused beneath the branches of a large tree to watch. He was nude - the shaman…White Deer…Fai. He stood calf deep in the lake and the water around him stood still as a reflection mirror. His back was to Kurogane. The blue markings on his skin were fading, telling the warrior that many of them were of paint and not a part of him. The two bands that circled his upper arms, however, were a solid, pale blue. They were tattoos. On his left shoulder was a burn mark in the shape of a rune that Kurogane had never seen. It had been scarred over, possibly in an attempt to change its shape, leaving only the broken impression of what it might have once been beneath the fair scar tissue.
As Kurogane watched, the shaman began to drift forward, one step before the other, a smooth and easy glide as he slowly began to vanish before Kurogane's eyes into the depths of the lake. He did not stop. The lake consumed him until no trace of him was left but the ripple of his passing on the surface of the water.
Kurogane stepped forward, his eyes trained solely on the water's surface. With each passing moment, the heart in his chest thumped audibly to him. Soon he reached the lakeside and still, the shaman had not surfaced. He waited. The silence of the forest became loud. The sounds of birdsong, the hum of insects, the scurrying of small animals, and the faint breeze rustling leaves overhead became amplified in Kurogane's ears to the point that the sudden splash made by the shaman's resurface nearly startled him.
Fai broke the surface of the lake sending a spray of water into the air, mouth open to take in air to his deprived lungs, hair slick and shinning in the sun's dappled yellow-white light.
And then he was there. And Kurogane was there watching him where he clearly did not belong. When Fai's cloudless sky eyes met his own eyes, red as life blood, he gasped and thrashed in the water, trying desperately to cover himself. His hand first flew to his shoulder, wrapping over it, but his back was no longer in Kurogane's view, so the hands grasped his shoulders instead, crossing over his chest.
All the while, Kurogane had not moved, could not remember blinking, even, and did not turn away now.
"Don't you have any decency!?" Fai shrieked, but there was more of shock in his voice than distaste. "I'm not some kind of strange creature for you to stare at!"
Kurogane stepped forward. His soft soled shoes sunk into the water of the lake without resistance. He couldn't have imagined what kind of resistance he may have been met with, but with the surprising ease of that first step he was able to make each of the following footfalls with no more thought to them.
When Fai saw that he was approaching him, steady and solid; how the water did not part for him but was instead pushed aside by his figure, he panicked a little. He was a shaman and it was a sacred title and none had dared…
"I…" But it was all he could say before the warrior met him and Fai was captured in the steady gaze of his eyes.
"What is this mark?" Kurogane reached for the shaman's shoulder but Fai's hand beat him; swift and sure he lashed out, twisting his body out of the warrior's reach and striking his face in one fluid movement. The loud smack reverberated around them and the sound made the shaman falter. Fai's eyes grew large as he realized what he had done and he gasped, an angry red mark making itself known on the tanned skin of Kurogane's face.
The strike had not moved him and he did not move now, standing before White Deer like an immovable force, like the mountain.
"I'm sorry." Fai rasped. "I didn't…"
Kurogane made a sound in his throat. It was neither an angry sound or an offended one. It seemed to say to Fai 'be quiet' with neither forgiveness nor malice.
And so he did. And he lowered his arms, for he could see now that he was exposed to the warrior before him to a level which no amount of cover could defend him. Black Wolf seemed to be looking inside him somehow; judging him and weighing him and Fai could not stand it. He would have done anything just to stop those eyes. Even remember.
"It's…from a past life."
The warrior nodded, accepted, and granted Fai a change of topic.
"Will you be eating at the evening meal tonight?"
Fai nodded and in his search to find a place to look other than the warrior's face, he noticed that the man had waded into the lake fully dressed. Unbidden, a smile tugged at the corner of his mouth.
"Will you be dinning wet, then?"
Immediately, a frown set upon the warrior's lips and for some reason, that made Fai feel just a little bit better.
"You deserve to be wet." Fai declared, emboldened by his lightened mood. He reached a hand down and splashed a handful of water across the taller man. "For ogling me like some perverted old man."
At this, Kurogane seemed to explode. "I was not ogling you!" His cheeks were red with embarrassment. "I do not watch men bathe!"
"Only women, then?" Fai countered smoothly.
"I'M NOT SOME COMMON PERVERT YOU IDIOT!" Kurogane roared, fists clenched and trembling at his sides. "And you are a strange creature! You're the most infuriating shaman in all the tribes of the entire world!" He turned to slosh his way back to shore but then thought better of it and turned back, splashing a great wave of water back at Fai before continuing on his way in a huff.
Fai could not help but laugh.
* * *
"I never said I wanted to eat my meal with you!" Kurogane groused, moving down the communal log around one of the cooking fires.
"But you asked if I was eating tonight." Fai reminded him, following him down the log.
"It's not the same thing!" Kurogane moved again.
"But I'm the only person you know here." Fai retaliated, scooting toward him again. "It would be bad to leave you alone." he added sagely. "Lonely puppies howl all night."
"I am not a puppy!" Kurogane fumed. "It's Black Wolf. Get it right!" He made to move again but saw an old woman had taken the next spot and snarled suddenly.
Fai chuckled to himself as he took another bite of the meat Kurogane had brought in for their meal.
* * *
Shamans were mysterious creatures. Kurogane knew this from experience. It was said that those who became shamans had lived many lives and that a powerful shaman could even remember those lives. Shamans were said to be one with the universe and with the world around them; that a shaman could understand all living things. A shaman had both the male and the female inside and was therefore complete, as other living things could never be.
Kurogane had already seen White Deer work his magic; a simple and flawless thing he could never hope to accomplish.
In the White Rivers tribe, White Deer was an honored shaman, a sacred person. Why, then, was it so hard for Black Wolf to think of him that way? Kurogane watched as Fai chased the small children around the fire. They laughed and squealed with delight as he reached out for them. He had reapplied some of the paint marks; small markings adorning his hands and the corners of his eyes. His mood was so inconsistent. Mere hours before, he had seen fear and shame on Fai's white face where now only happiness shone, as though he had never known the former at all. Was it a part of his power to forget such emotions, had he merely let them go, or was he hiding them inside, holding them. Kurogane was unable to tell.
"Yay! Everyone tackle Kuro-woof!" Fai cheered and the children all changed course, racing his way.
Kurogane scowled and the little group came to a sudden halt before him, the last child in line tripping into the one before him.
Fai sighed exaggeratingly. "You're scaring them, Kuro-pup." he said, lifting one of the little girls and handing her over to him.
Kurogane held the child out before him, unsure of what to do with it and the girl looked back at Fai fearfully over her small shoulder.
"It's a child, Kuro-hunt." Fai clarified. "Don't you have them in your village?"
"Of course we have children!" Kurogane snapped back and the little girl whimpered slightly. Kurogane sighed and sat her down before him on the ground. "But I have a job and watching the children isn't it."
Fai knelt down on the ground before Kurogane, next to the child and smiled brightly at her. "He won't bite." Fai assured her and, in turn, she looked up to Kurogane, searching for confirmation.
Kurogane rolled his eyes and opened his arms to her. The little girl smiled happily and climbed onto his lap, looking back at the others proudly.
"Don't you have potions to mix or something?" Kurogane grumbled.
Fai shook his head, smiling, then he shifted around and leaned himself against Kurogane's leg, opening his own arms for the rest of the children who rushed into the embrace, finding room on and around him.
"Tell us a story of your tribe, Kuro-wolf." the shaman said and Kurogane scowled at the mangled reedit of his name.
"Isn't it getting late?" The sun had gone down already and some had already gone to their tents for the night.
Almost immediately the protests rose up against the idea.
"Please, great Black Mountain warrior!"
"Black Wolf." Kurogane supplied, unsurprised that they were having trouble learning his name amongst all of their shaman's new suggestions.
"Black Wolf!" they cried. "Please Black Wolf! We want to hear a story from your tribe! From the Black Mountain tribe!"
"I'm not good at storytelling." Kurogane protested halfheartedly but he had resigned himself to the task already. "Alright." Kurogane ran a hand through his hair backwards, the only nervous habit the warrior possessed.
"A long time ago, there was a great warrior. He fought against another man from his tribe and killed the man in battle but it was a dishonorable killing because their dispute was a misunderstanding, so the great warrior was exiled to live high up in the mountains alone until the end of his days. Many years passed and one day, while out hunting, the man witnessed a spirit in the forest. It was a cat spirit and it was sleeping on the branch of a tree. The man was a human and humans get lonely so he shared his hunt with the spirit and he did this every day until the spirit came to him for food. The man spent his days with the spirit, who took the form of a human and the man was content.
Then one day, a messenger came from the village at the foot of the mountain. The tribe the man had come from was at war with another tribe and the man was asked to return. He told the messenger he would go. But the cat spirit was not happy. The cat spirit killed the messenger and told the man to stay."
"Did he stay?" the little girl in Kurogane's lap asked in a quite voice.
"No." Kurogane answered. "He went back to the village. He fought in the war and died with honor."
"Why?" Fai asked, his own voice no louder than the girl's. "It was the same village that sent him to exile. Why did he want to return to them?"
Kurogane frowned. "Because it isn't enough to be content."
"Did the cat spirit love the man?" one of the other children asked to which Kurogane answered offhandedly.
"Bed time." Fai declared and slowly the children began to file away until he was left alone with the warrior from the Black Mountain tribe, standing before the dying cooking fire and gazing into the red embers.
"I wonder…" the shaman mused "is honor so important? Isn't a life of contentment a happy life?"
"It is important." Kurogane affirmed. "But it was not for honor that the man left his mountain and the cat spirit. A man's spirit cannot be fed on contentment alone; not on quiet days spent sharing meals with friends and loved ones, not on rivers full of fish. A man's spirit needs to feel the fire of passion, the glory of victory, the pain of loss. Without these things, he has not truly lived."
White Deer thought long on those words. They followed him into his tent at night and stayed there with him until the morning.
* * *
Summer became fall and still the sickness spread but winter offered the White Rivers tribe a reprieve. As soon as the first snow fell on the land, the number of people who became sick lessened a great amount. In exchange, the winter was terribly harsh. Snow fell thick and heavy and breath frosted on the air. The small lake in the forest froze solid; the trees crystallized. Ashura rationed the food stores and the women worked long hours sewing clothing of thick bear-fur. Extra fires were lit in the village for warmth.
The months had seen White Deer and Black Wolf grow closer. The warrior from the Black Mountain tribe had been given his own small tent which he erected close to White Deer's and every morning he woke the shaman for morning meal by shouting at him through the skin of his tent. Black Wolf spent all of the summer and fall joining the White River's hunting parties but in the winter, he led them. Around the campfires, he shared stories of his tribe and when the sun fell below the horizon, he shared his blanket with White Deer on the log before bed.
White Deer saw the warrior becoming a part of his community and a part of himself. He tried not to think of Ashura's prophecy, for it tormented him and whenever the warrior saw he had cried he became angry because Fai could not tell him the reason. Still, he drew ever nearer to the Black Mountain tribesman. He learned to apply the hunting paint of his tribe to his face and traced the lines carefully in dark red paint, his pale fingers slipping across tanned skin in the privacy of the warrior's tent as he blessed him before the hunt.
When he looked at Kurogane, he began to feel things he had not ever felt before and sometimes these unfamiliar feelings frightened him, but most often they went unnoticed because they were so easily natural. White Deer did not realize that thoughts of the warrior filled his mind or that his smile was beginning to soften with true happiness where before it had only been a thing for him to hide behind.
"I know you did this." Kurogane growled, holding up his long winter cloak for Fai to see. On one side of the flap that hung over his shoulder and tied below the neck was a wolf puppy stitched in thick black thread, on the other side was a white deer stitched in white thread. When the cloak tied together, the two animals met and touched noses.
Fai grinned widely. "You like?"
Kurogane's eyes darkened and narrowed. "I did not know you had done this and other warriors laughed at me!"
Fai laughed too.
"Kuro-pup is so cute when he's embarrassed." he cooed, patting the great warrior on the cheek.
Kurogane growled ferally at the shaman whose grin only brightened as he turned and ran from the taller man, crying out gleefully. Kurogane gave chase and villagers parted from their path without paying them any mind. Their mock fights had become a common occurrence in the village and something that old women and young men snickered about under breath at mealtime.
"Black Wolf cannot catch White Deer." one would say, smiling to which another would reply "No, he only does not catch White Deer because he doesn't know what he would do once he caught him." And they would laugh together. Or they would shout at the two "Those games are for the spring!"
White Deer would pay them no mind but, whenever he heard their snickers, Black Wolf would shout "Mind your own business!"
The two were eating the evening meal when a teen boy approached. He seemed reluctant to interrupt.
"Forgive me White Deer, for interrupting your meal. My grandmother…"
Fai gave his meat to Black Wolf and stood solemnly. There was no sense of rush between them. The woman would die. She was very old and it was Fai's job as tribe shaman to make her passing as painless as possible.
"Please gather the family." he said to the boy.
"It's done." he answered quietly, dipping his head in a silent apology to Kurogane as he left the cooking fire with White Deer.
Kurogane watched them go and turned back to finish his meal. He waited long after the fire's flames had died and others had gone to their tents. The smoke continued to rise from the old woman's tent until the sun came over the horizon and it faded with the waning night. Then the tent flap was pushed aside and Fai exited. He did not stretch, did not breath deep of the morning air; he looked drained and weary.
Kurogane stood, taking a blanket with him and draped it across the shaman's shoulders. Fai said nothing, just clutched the blanket to him and accepted the warmth of the man beside him, leaning into the offered embrace.
"It was the sickness again." Fai said, his quiet voice filling the silent dawn. "I am able to save so few. I feel as though I lose a piece of myself with each person who dies of it…" Fai slumped against him and Kurogane stooped to catch his limp body as it slipped toward the ground.
Kurogane lifted the shaman into his arms and realized that didn't know what to do with him. He should sleep in comfort after all he had done but Kurogane was not allowed to enter into his tent and it was inappropriate to lay the shaman into his own tent. He weighed the consequences of each option. If he went into Fai's tent it would have to be burned and the ground resanctified and Fai would lose everything inside, if he lay Fai in his tent he would be accused of inappropriateness but if he did not lay inside also, he might avoid being punished.
Kurogane scowled down at the blonde in his arms. "Such a hassle."
* * *
It was the pleasant smell that truly woke Fai, thick and musky, as though he were waking with his nose pressed to the Black Mountain warrior's chest. It was a calming smell and when he realized that it was a smell he should not be smelling upon waking, Fai shot up from the furs he found himself bundled in. The tent was not his own.
Fai hurried out of the tent to find the sun high in the sky. Outside people stopped in their tracks to watch him. Fai was too embarrassed to explain himself so he only hurried past them, going in search of the warrior whose tent he had slept in. He found Ashura first, though, sitting outside of his tent in the small warmth the sun provided at its zenith.
"Black Wolf has been on the hunt since dawn." Ashura said, halting Fai's search. "Rumor has it that he was unable to sleep in his tent." Ashura eyed him with heavy amusement.
"Oh! That…that isn't what it…I mean I…" Fai stuttered, trying to find some response but Ashura graciously held up a hand to stop him.
"He is a good man, Black Wolf." Ashura mused aloud. "He would surely provide for our entire tribe were it necessary. But after so much hunting, and so little sleep, I wonder if he won't be in need of a restorative…"
Fai smiled. "Of course. Thank you, Chief Ashura."
Fai mixed the potion in his tent and waited for Kurogane to return to the village but as the sun began to make its way further and further toward the horizon line, and the warrior still had not come, he began to fear the worst. He turned to other warriors returning from the hunt to ask if they had seen or been with him.
"That guy?" one of them replied. "He went chasing off after an elk. Out toward Blue Ridge. We couldn't keep up."
Fai felt the heart in his chest plummet toward his stomach. "Blue Ridge?!" Fai grasped the man's arm desperately. "How could you let him go out there when he doesn't know the land?"
"Who could stop him?" the man answered, a little taken aback at the shaman's unwarranted concern.
Fai let the man go and raced out of the village, running as fast as he could toward Blue Ridge. The land atop that particular ridge, overlooking the rushing, white river was unstable and often people unfamiliar with the area had fallen victim to its collapse, meeting their end in the rapids below. The danger was even worse during the winter, when heavy snows sometimes sent small bits of land into the river without any warning.
He was very near the ridge when he picked up the tracks in the snow; the elk's and Kurogane's. Where the animal veered, Kurogane had followed, always close behind, like the wolf. Fai trampled them all as he ran.
As the shaman broke through the line of trees, racing full out toward the land's edge, he realized that the tracks ahead did not change course. They disappeared into trampled snow that stretched on to the land's end. It was obvious that someone or something had not been able to stop.
And Fai too, might not have been able to stop, running as fast as he was and surprised by the new cliff's edge. He might have followed in the path of the last poor soul who'd fallen to their possible death, if not for the body slamming into him and sending him crashing into the snow.
Fai gasped and coughed, struggling beneath the weight on his side and looked up to find Black Wolf rising to kneel over him.
So grateful was he, that the shaman shot forward, wrapping his arms around the warrior's neck and held on tight.
"I thought you'd been lost."
"I lost the hunt." Kurogane righted him, wrapping one arm around the shaman's waist to steady him and Fai heaved a sigh of breath he'd been holding.
"Are you recovered?" the warrior asked, his voice holding a gentleness in it that Fai had never heard before.
Fai pulled back, sitting in the snow before the Black Mountain warrior and smiled, a small sincere smile. "I am. I thank you for lending your tent to me. I've mixed a restorative for you, since you've been out hunting all day."
"You've eaten then." the warrior prompted and Fai wondered if he knew that he hadn't, but why would that bother him?
"No." The shaman shook his head. "I haven't yet."
The warrior closed his eyes, baring his teeth. "What is it that you think I'm out hunting for!?" he demanded and Fai, rather taken aback, leaned away, confused. "You collapse from exhaustion and do nothing to prevent it from happening again! I don't need your potions or your thanks. I hunt so that you might eat and regain strength. So that you might cure your tribe's sickness as your chief prophesized. So that I might go home."
Fai's eyes widened and just as quickly his gaze fell away from the warrior. He nodded, understanding, finally. There was nothing to be said. White Deer rose to his feet and turned his back, making his way back to the village.
Kurogane wished only to return home. Fai did not know why that should surprise him, or bother him. But it did. The cold stung his face like sharp needles where wet paths striped his cheeks as he ran back to the village of the White Rivers clan.
* * *
For seven days and nights, Fai busied himself with his duties and kept close company with his fellow tribesmen, avoiding the Black Mountain warrior at all costs. Kurogane didn't seem to know what had upset him. For a while, he tried to talk with him but when it became apparent that Fai wanted nothing to do with him, he drifted away, keeping to himself instead.
Fai, in turn, found himself watching the man when he wasn't looking, wishing that he hadn't branded the cloak that Kurogane continued to wear, wishing that the warrior had not wanted his health only for himself. The more he tried not to think of the warrior, the more he thought of him. Thoughts of him kept the shaman up at night wondering what might have happened had he not struck the warrior when they'd met in the lake or if he had only eaten already on the day that he'd gone in search of Kurogane on Blue Ridge…if he didn't know the warrior thought only of home.
He was being selfish, Fai knew. He should not have wished to keep the warrior from his home and his tribe - his family, for some reason Fai could not even understand.
The winter was drawing to a close. The sickness, though appearing stronger, took fewer lives than it once had. Fai was sure that Ashura's vision would come to pass soon.
An urgent voice outside his tent startled Fai from his thoughts. The person outside began hitting the side of his tent with an open palm.
"White Deer! Black Wolf has collapsed! The warriors are bringing him now!"
Fai's heart stopped. Not Kurogane. The shaman stumbled from his tent in time to see the group of warriors dragging the Black Mountain warrior's limp form between them. They took Kurogane to his tent and Fai turned back for his medicines collecting them quickly. The warriors cleared out of Kurogane's tent with haste when they saw him coming and then he was alone with the warrior.
Fai dropped to his knees, spilling his armload on the furs below him and leaned over the warrior, feeling of him and finding a terrible fever.
At the touch of his hands, Kurogane's eyes opened and he lifted an arm, shoving Fai's hand away. "I don't need your help." he grunted. "I'll be fine."
Fai's eyes welled. "You have the sickness." he said, choking on the words as he spoke them.
Kurogane's eyes narrowed in a look of confusion and he raised his shaking hand to wipe the tears spilling from Fai's eyes with his thumb.
"I…I'll make sure you get home." Fai promised, pulling away to set up the incense and lining his medicines properly.
Fai untied the warrior's cloak, separating the wolf and the deer, but Kurogane caught his wrist before he could go any further. Fai waited for the warrior to speak, but it seemed to be becoming difficult for him.
"What did I do that day…to upset you? You've been…avoiding me."
Fai squeezed his eyes shut and took a deep breath.
"I have feelings for you." he whispered, maybe only truly realizing it then, but Fai was never sure that the warrior heard him because when he opened his eyes again, Black Wolf had closed his own and lost consciousness.
* * *
Kurogane's fever got worse and Fai brought in snow to wet the cloth he used to pat him down. He burned the incense and chanted the healing chants and prayed. And prayed. He fed Kurogane the liquid medicine and smeared the paste medicine on his bare chest. And cried.
The black wolf must consume the white deer, Ashura had said, and on the third day, Fai leaned down and pressed his lips against the warrior's.
Was he fighting against the Great Spirit to keep this man alive? No other had been at the height of the fever for so long. If he were to catch the illness from Black Wolf in this way, then Ashura's vision would come to pass. He would be the last one to die of the sickness. But he couldn't deny that it felt good to kiss Kurogane…and he wished that they might have done so together.
On the fourth day, Kurogane awoke to find the shaman with hair the color of the sun lying against his shoulder in a deep sleep. The incense had burned out and the sun was warming his tent with a faint glow. Worried for a moment that the shaman might have gotten sick himself, Kurogane brought his arm up and combed his fingers through the light hair splayed across his shoulder.
Fai stirred and opened his eyes, bleary blue meeting red. As soon as he realized he'd woken, the shaman pulled back, a look of great relief on his face.
When Kurogane said nothing, Fai became nervous. "I'll go and…tell the others."
The warrior reached out, staying his arm and Fai waited while Kurogane struggled into a sitting position. When he was successfully upright, he reached out again and Fai allowed him to trace his thumb over the pattern of fading paint beneath his eyes. At that moment, Fai didn't care that the warrior wished only to return home, that he did not feel the things that Fai felt. He cherished that touch and brought his hand up to hold the warrior's hand to his cheek.
"I will bring us food." Fai whispered at length, taking his hand away, and reluctantly, Kurogane let him go.
* * *
The winter melted quickly into spring, the sickness taking only one more life in that time and leaving Fai to wonder if it were merely running its course…or if he had already been consumed, for the Black Mountain warrior consumed his thoughts and his desires. The day that Kurogane would return to his own tribe loomed over him. He could still see balance in dying by the warrior's hand but in finding this feeling only to lose it, Fai saw nothing and cursed himself for the feeling, for his inability to understand the Great Spirit's plan, and for his own selfishness in the matter.
All the while, he kept the man's company, took delight in teasing him, longed for his touch, and for Kurogane's sake, kept his heart to himself because he had promised that he would let him go.
The first blooms of spring gave Fai respite, for it was his duty to prepare for the spring wedding event and he was kept too busy to feel sorry for himself. In the spring, the White Rivers tribe held a festival wedding. Participating men would gather to offer gifts to the participating brides and at the end of the proceeding, each bride would chose her favorite among those who'd presented her gifts to wed.
Proper consummation tents had to be erected, blessed and decorated. Each bride had to be cleansed and her bridal dress made with decorative stones that only Fai could gather. Erotic foods were made specifically for the festivities. The day before the event, Fai found himself too busy to even look for the Black Mountain warrior amongst the crowd.
Kurogane had seen him though. He watched Fai run back and forth, preparing everything for the next day. So intently was he watching White Deer, that he did not notice Chief Quiet Thunder come to stand beside him until he spoke.
"I feel that White Deer has done much to cleanse us of our illness." he said and Kurogane looked over, taking the statement in stride. "Since you have become sick already and lived and since White Deer has nearly banished the sickness, I feel it is safe now for you to return to your home." The chief puffed a little on the long pipe between his fingers. "Tomorrow I will ask that White Deer participate in the marriage ceremony."
This said, Ashura turned and made his way slowly away in the direction of his own tent.
Kurogane set out immediately.
* * *
In the tradition of many tribes, a shaman, whether man or woman, had the choice of selecting a mate for themselves from the tribe's strongest warriors. It was considered a high honor to be wed to a shaman. A warrior who mated with a shaman was granted strength, prosperity, and glory in battle. It was said that the shaman channeled these things unto him alone and for the shaman, they would then have the strongest, most able provider whose strength, prosperity, and glory in turn became their own.
When the warriors of the White Rivers tribe had learned that White Deer had been asked to stand among the brides for the spring wedding ceremony, many more slated their participation. They were men that Fai knew, men he had laughed with and eaten with and danced with, men he had healed and blessed and any one of them would bring him honor but when Fai had asked where Black Wolf had gone, and had been told that he had been given clearance to return to his home tribe, Fai had lost all enthusiasm for the event.
He stood among the four other spring brides at the start of the ceremony at dawn, withdrawn and duty bound. He had been old enough to wed for many many summers and winters and saw no reason to hold out any longer. Though he searched the opening crowd of men for the dark skin and crimson eyes of the Black Mountain warrior, he knew that Kurogane was gone.
After the beginning ceremony the men dispersed to collect their offerings while the brides waited on the raised platform for their return. The men would have until the sun set to return at which time, the brides would be asked to make their choices.
Fai was offered many things; baskets full of fish, dyed clothing, bleached furs, and many more gifts meant to show proof of worthiness. One great warrior killed a bear for him and brought the head for Fai, telling him that were he chosen, for all of Fai's life he would provide only the best of meats and furs, strong animals to keep Fai strong and healthy. Fai smiled down as best he was able with the severed head of a bear dangling in front of him and tried not to throw up. He never had been much of one for the hunt.
Midday came and went and the brides were provided with special foods that Fai had added his own magic to to make later activities more pleasurable for them. Fai didn't want to think about later activities.
The other brides all were happy and excited, as a bride should be. Fai promised himself that he would forget Kurogane before he chose his mate at sunset. As shaman of the White Rivers tribe, it was his duty to do so, but when the sky exploded with color at the close of the day and men rushed forward with their final gifts, a pit of despair opened up in Fai's stomach and he looked down at his lap and wished he had been consumed in death instead of this heart-wrenching feeling.
Suddenly, his line of vision was obstructed by tiny white paws and a pitiful whine startled the shaman. Fai looked up to find a small wolf cub dangling in front of his face, hind paws and tail curled up to its stomach. Raising his eyes further, Fai found the Black Mountain warrior holding the cub by the scruff of its neck, a stern look on his face.
Before Fai could manage to speak, his jaw hanging open uselessly, the warrior spoke up.
"I figured someone like you would appreciate something alive rather than something dead. You already know if you want fish and furs and…bear's heads…" he said, wrinkling his nose at the offering placed carefully at the edge of the platform "from me all you have to do is ask."
Fai accepted the cub carefully, cradling it to his chest where it seemed to settle down and sought out the warmth of his neck to snuggle into. He didn't know what to say and before he had the chance, Kurogane had turned to join the other waiting warriors but he stopped himself short and, without turning back, said "I have…feelings for you too."
Fai's heart faltered as he watched the warrior walk into the waiting crowd and then it soared. When he rose with the brides for the closing ceremony, Fai was happier than he'd ever been. As shaman, it was his honor to chose first and it took him not the span of one breath after Ashura had announced this to call out Kurogane's name.
"I take for my husband and mate, the warrior Black Wolf … Kurogane…"
Each of the chosen warriors joined with their brides on the platform and Chief Quiet Thunder tied them together by the wrist then he stood before them.
"From this moment onward each of these beings is a part of the other." he announced and the crowd below cheered for them as each couple turned and kissed.
For Fai, it was the first time he had ever been kissed by the one he loved. He was still overwhelmed that Kurogane had even come, let alone that he had heard his confession, that he returned his feelings, or that the warrior was willing to share the rest of his life with him.
Kurogane leaned downward and Fai was only too glad to meet his lips. Kurogane's kiss was firm and solid and left no room for question or doubt.
Afterward, the festivities began and there was dancing and food that Fai was only too glad to eat and laughter and the warmth of arms he had dreamt of.
"I was surprised you knew my name." Kurogane said, giving the shaman a cocky smile as they sat together by the great bonfire while the other couples danced, a plate of light foods between them.
"I was surprised you came." Fai returned, offering the warrior a piece of the food.
Kurogane opened his mouth, taking the bit of food and the tips of Fai's fingers past his lips then released them and pulled the shaman forward with a hand at the base of his neck, kissing him soundly.
Fai melted happily, gripping the warrior's cloak where deer met wolf.
"I thought long on it, after hearing your confession." the warrior admitted. "And I've been to my village. They send their blessings and promise to come in two days time to speak with Chief Quiet Thunder."
Fai nodded and lay his head against the warrior's chest.
Kurogane wrapped a hand around the hand resting against his cloak and rose, pulling Fai with him. "Shall we retire for the night?"
The blue of Fai's eyes shone in the firelight and he nodded.
* * *
Heated incense burned in the ceremonial tent, the softest of furs lying on the ground where Kurogane lowered Fai, admiring the way his yellow-light hair splayed out around his head like the rays of the sun.
He pulled the cloak over his head without untying it; without parting the deer from the wolf, and tossed it to the side.
Fai reached up to him, grabbing the tail of his shirt and pulling the material up over the warrior's head. He was not a shaman tonight, not bound by duty, not sacred; he was simply a man, able to feel the fire of passion that Kurogane had once spoke of, and he was loved. Fai let his hand traverse the taught expanse of dark skin, rising and falling with each intake of breath above him.
Kurogane leaned down, kissing his mouth again and his hands sought out the ties that fastened his lover's ceremonial dress. Fai helped him find them and soon the warrior had pulled the complicated clothing away. Kurogane's large hand slid around his throat, gently caressing the pale soft skin with his thumb in a way that sent pleasant shivers down Fai's spine. As the hand slid across one shoulder, Kurogane curled his fingers around, finding the scar tissue he knew was there and this time, Fai let him, biting his bottom lip to ground himself.
Pleased, Kurogane lowered himself again, lapping at the hollow of his lover's throat and Fai gasped, his eyes flying open as he tipped his head back, giving the warrior better access.
"Don't close your eyes." Kurogane growled, a pleasant rumble against Fai's throat as the warrior kissed him there and Fai buried his fingers deep into his mate's spiked black hair.
Kurogane smoothed a hand down the length of the body below him, finally caressing the velvet skin that made Fai gasp and arch his back. He followed the hand down and Fai cried out, the sounds of the festivities outside lost to his ears.
That night, the black wolf consumed the white deer, and balance returned to the land. The test of sacrifice had passed and the sickness returned no more to the White Rivers tribe.
Black Wolf came to live there with them and the tribes of the White River and Black Mountain became strong allies and the four moons shone down on the land with the silver white light of harmony.
Post whatevers: As always, if you liked, please review. Ja!