Title: Solstice
Characters/Pairings: KuroFai, mentions of other characters
Rating: T
Summary: It's the Amaterasu celebration, the Winter Solstice, in Nihon, Fai's first ever experience of the festival. It's new, some things will always be so, but thankfully Kurogane is always ever the same.
A/N: Another instalment in my Nihon series on my LJ - pretty much my hope for what happens post-series, after Syaoran's 'affairs' are concluded. (*tries not to be too spoilery?*) Set on the winter solstice of their first year in Nihon.

One of the many children who ran around the palace was clinging to Fai again, hanging off the end of the mage's formal (women's) kimono with adoring eyes, shamelessly begging for the treats everyone knew the blond was hiding – the war cry had gone up amongst the palace's younger generation when Fai had been spotted entering the kitchens the previous day. Shirasagi's children weren't stupid; Fai only went to the kitchens for one thing, and one thing alone – sweets. Confectioneries and desserts, majestic creations of sugar and wonder that he seemed to spin up out of nothing, things that no-one else in the palace had made before he'd came, or could make quite like him. Kurogane labelled the whole lot as 'sugary crap'; the children of the palace classified it as 'ambrosia', and all but worshipped the ground Fai walked on.

Kurogane, ever-unsympathetic to the plight of Fai's would-be worshippers, plucked up the little girl who was attached to his lover, walking a few steps away and depositing said child further along the corridor with an inaudible, but oh-so-very-tangible 'shoo'. (It was the look. The girl took one glance at his set face and then fled, scampering away to plot how to get more of Fai's creations at a later – and less Kurogane-inhabited – date.)

"Kuro-pyuu~," Fai only laughed as the ninja stomped huffily back to his side, reaching up to tap the taller man on the nose with one cool fingertip, "if the wind changes your face'll be stuck like that forever, you know." Kurogane snorted in reply and Fai laughed again, winding long arms around the other male's neck. "It will – you'll see~! And when they write ballads in your name it'll be of the Big Bad Scowly Kuro-pon – defender of the palace, confidant of the princess, saviour of sorcerers and thwarter of childish plots country-wide to get a-hold of some sweets."

Kurogane scowled some more at that, and looked down at the blond happily hanging off of his person. "I've still got a sword, you realise."

"Yes," Fai had the grace to nod sagely and for once Kurogane took that as the idiot finally learning that one day – one day – Kurogane would follow through with his threats of bodily harm to the mage's person, "and daddy's quite good with it too. But let's keep it away for now, hm, Kuro-pon?" Wait – "There are probably still children about and Kuro-tan really doesn't need another lecture from Tomoyo-chan about scarring the next generation of little would-be ninjas now, does he?"

Kurogane ground his teeth together. "Mage -"

Fai was too far into his spiel to be stopped – nothing short of decapitation could end the flow (and even then Kurogane had once had a nightmare about Fai continuing to talk even with his head tucked under his arm and he really didn't want to go back there and think about that again, oh no, because – even for Fai – that was weird and strange and just downright creepy). "They could end up traumatised, Kuro-tan – traumatised. And then we'd have to send out flowers and apologies and maybe little gift-baskets -"


"And you'd have to personally deliver them, you realise? And Kuro-myu would grumble so -"

Kurogane leaned down and kissed him firmly, covering Fai's next half-formed word with his own mouth and letting the other's rambling nonsense trail off into a pleased moan, Fai's arms pulling just that little bit more firmly around his neck, one hand threading itself into dark hair to keep Kurogane in place. The mischievous smile he could feel curving against his lips informed Kurogane that, once again, Fai had gotten exactly what he'd wanted, but the ninja's ire was effectively distracted by the lingering taste of mint in his lover's mouth, sweet and cool and hanging everywhere about Fai, as testified when he finally broke the kiss, resting his head (it was not nuzzling. Ninjas did not nuzzle) in the crook of the mage's neck. Fai smelled faintly of mint, the scent curling in his hair and breathing against his skin.

Fai himself seemed mildly amused by the action (it was not nuzzling), turning his head slightly so he spoke against the curve of his lover's ear. "Kuro-chan, you're crushing my kimono." Kurogane made a low noise – protest, denial or complaint, it was impossible to tell -, and refused to budge. "Tomoyo-chan put a lot of time and effort into making it and -"

"Why do you smell of mint?" Kurogane raised his head slightly, meeting Fai's mismatched eyes with his own scarlet.

Fai beamed at him – a worrying occurrence -, shifting around a bit so he could rummage in his obi even with his lover still wrapped around him. Kurogane watched him, mildly perplexed, as he finally brought out a tiny little drawstring bag, opening the thing and displaying the contents inside.

Kurogane straightened, blinking into the bag, taking in the small mound of little white balls therein. "…You made marbles?"

Fai sighed with the air of one who has been long-suffering, plucking out one of the balls and holding it up to the ninja's mouth. "Open up."

"Hell no -" Fai popped the ball into Kurogane's mouth regardless, the ninja coughing as it hit the back of his throat and hastily shutting up, not wanting to choke.

"It's good?" The blond only laughed when Kurogane growled at him; taking the dark look the ninja was shooting him as a 'yes'. If it had been bad Kurogane would've already have spat it out. "I made some for the children at the feast tonight – Kuro-tan!" Fai was suddenly aghast; breaking off from what he'd been saying when the sound of crunching filled the air, Kurogane obliterating the treat he'd been given with his teeth.

Cool sweetness washed through the ninja's mouth, the sweet sharper when broken, and he swallowed the shards, looking up at Fai's accusing gaze. "What?"

Fai pouted, and lightly smacked him on the arm. "Kuro-wan wasted it!!"

Kurogane grumbled, not getting what the blond was fussing about. "I ate it, didn't I?"

"But you're supposed to savour it," Fai protested, gesticulating wildly, "roll it around your mouth to get the full benefits of the flavour and – mmph!"

Another kiss – harder than the one before –, Fai yanked forwards and up onto the point of his feet to meet Kurogane partway, the ninja showing the mage exactly how 'to get the full benefits of the flavour', taking it from Fai's more than willing mouth.

"Kuro-chan," Fai finally breathed out later, still breathless, leaning against Kurogane rather heavily with his fingers curled in the front of the other's kimono, "has learned some very bad habits just recently. Bad doggy."

"Hmph," Kurogane snorted against his temple, a warm puff of air, and tilted the blond's head back up to seal their mouths together again.

Fai – notably – didn't complain.

Kurogane went to Fai's rooms as the evening swept in, giving a cursory rap to the door with his knuckles and stepping inside. The mage had changed again, still formal, still in female garb (Shirasagi's residents were used to him), but now in a kimono a few hues off of pearl, tinged with lavender and sewn with the pattern of curling clouds.

He was kneeling on the floor before the small shrine Kurogane had helped install, but he glanced up and smiled when he saw the ninja enter, extending one hand to the man in a gesture to come closer.

"I was talking to Fai," the blond explained, leaning against Kurogane when the other kneeled down at his side. "Solstices are special times; magic is strongest on those days, and sometimes, just sometimes, you can almost feel the people who are gone beside you, see them out of the corner of your eye."

Kurogane made a soft 'hm', shifting a little so Fai was more comfortable against him, focusing on the small, scented candle the blond had lit in the shrine, the flame glowing steadily in the growing dark. "Did your brother have anything interesting to say?"

"He's happy," Fai returned, eyes sliding shut and enjoying the peace. "He feels happy from where he's watching me, just out of sight."

"He's happy you're happy," Kurogane said firmly, as if daring his lover to disagree with him.

Fai smiled, titling his head up towards the other. "I'm happy," he confirmed simply, hearing the unspoken question.

"Good," said Kurogane a little gruffly, perhaps a little smugly, because Fai chuckled softly at his tone and the ninja's lips twitched with the beginnings of an answering smile. "Good."

And that was that.

The empress looked undeniably beautiful that night, wrapped as she was in layers and robes of crimson and yellow and gold. On the Winter Solstice the people of Nihon celebrated the sun goddess Amaterasu coming out of her cave and filling the world with light once more, Kendappa-ou the representation of the goddess on earth, lauded and loved. There were cheers sent up when she stepped into the Hall where the night's festivities were to be held, the music already playing, the woman smiling and talking with the people beside her as the Court trickled in, taking their respective seats.

Kurogane found himself, as was pretty usual, seated between Tomoyo and Fai (his lover on his left, the princess on his right), leaning back in his chair so the two on either side could talk around him, Fai rambling something about how pretty the Hall looked that night, how lovely Tomoyo looked in her robes. Kurogane himself was scanning the Hall around them, looking for any potential threats – technically, he was never off-duty, but even if he had been he still would've searched, protecting his most important people.

Fai made a pleased sound when the Armorican ambassador Hououji was ushered into the seat next to him, greeting the elder man enthusiastically, glad to have someone else who was new to the Nihon Solstice celebrations beside him. They were soon chattering away in a queer mixture of Armorican and Nihongo, Fai attempting to pick up the ambassador's native language – apparently it shared threads of speech that were quite similar to the Celesian and Valerian tongues (though Kurogane himself hadn't seen the link, despite all the poking in the world from an exasperated Fai).

The blond's distraction left Kurogane to talk to the Tsukoyomi, Tomoyo speaking over the noise of the crowded Hall and wondering aloud at all the children hiding behind nearby pillars with their sights set on Fai. Kurogane turned around to glare at all the little would-be ninjas of the Court and sent them scattering, sweet plans foiled yet again. (Kurogane was waiting for the day one of the little brats summoned up the courage to attack him with a toy sword or something.)

"It's good to know you get along so well with Fai-san's friends," Tomoyo said serenely, smiling as though she hadn't just seen Kurogane terrify a small crowd of plotting prepubescents.

"Kuro-sama has such a way with children," Fai chimed in brightly from the ninja's other side, Hououji choking on his drink at the comment and spluttering into his handkerchief.

Tomoyo nodded. "He'd make a wonderful father."

"What do you think, Hououji-san?" Fai brought his companion on his other side into the discussion, cheerfully oblivious to the fact that the look on the ambassador's face plainly stated that he was wondering whether the small group were still talking about the same Kurogane he thought they were.

"I – well -" Hououji scrabbled for his skills at diplomacy, "there are many different approaches to parenting, I suppose."

"You yourself have two daughters back at home, don't you?" Tomoyo was politely curious.

"That's right," Hououji was relieved – this was safer ground, "Kuu and Fuu. Fuu, my youngest, is just shy of her fifteenth birthday; I sent her a hankyuu bow as a gift, as she's terribly fond of archery."

That gained both Fai's and Kurogane's attention, the two querying about the crafter and the length, Tomoyo smiling again and turning to talk with the person on her other side. They occupied themselves like that until the servants started bringing out the food, trays piled high with delicate dishes sweetened and spiced, the sake good and burning in the fine tiny cups. The musicians played in the background, the Hall murmuring happily as they sampled their food, plucking it to their mouths with chopsticks, refined.

Fai coaxed Kurogane to feed him a bite of some of the food on the ninja's plate, unused to some of the dishes that were being brought out and curious as to what they tasted like. He liked most of what he tried, hmming over the mixture of flavours thoughtfully as he rolled morsels around on his tongue, ignoring Kurogane's half-hearted grumblings about the idiot mage being able to feed himself, dammit. A few things he didn't like, gagging at the dishes that were too salty and refusing anything and everything that included raw fish in its composition. As for the desserts –

Half of what was brought out seemed to be of Fai's concoction, recipes handed to the kitchen staff to play with as they would. Everything else was more traditional, sweet cakes and tempura sweetened with azuki bean paste, Fai laughing when Kurogane pointed out the fact the beans left marks on his skin and kissing the ninja swiftly with his red-stained mouth. Tomoyo clapped and the musicians played on, jugglers and tumblers coming out as the servants cleared the empty plates away, keeping the alcohol flowing. Children pushed their way under the tables and crawled between longer legs to get as close to the displays as they could, hands and cheeks stuffed full with leftover sweets as they chattered brightly, only leaving their coveted vantage spots in cases of dire emergency (they needed the toilet or, even worse, they ran out of treats).

After the jugglers and acrobats left the dancers came out, the bamboo flutes and taiko drums sounding as a woman began to sing, two men dressed as one gorgeous golden lion twisting about the floor, the shishimai. One of the younger children, a little girl, grew scared by the swooping motions of the costume, scuttling away from the front lines and running to hide behind Kurogane's chair, much to the ninja's apparent disgruntlement and the amusement of everyone else. (It didn't escape either Tomoyo or Fai, however, that Kurogane slipped the girl some of the cakes he hadn't eaten a little while later when he thought no-one was looking.) She shyly peeked her head around the chair again halfway through the dance, intrigued by the fact that, although the lion was 'biting' people, everyone being bitten seemed to be perfectly fine. (Some were delighted, raising their cups high and toasting the lion's good health.) Tomoyo smiled at her encouragingly and beckoned her closer, and the child spent most of the rest of the night happily ensconced on the princess' lap.

After the dancers came the manzai, two men Fai vaguely recognised from about the palace performing a comedy routine. One was called a boke, Kurogane reliably informed him, the air-headed 'idiot' of the two, who always misheard and got everything wrong. The other, smacking the mistreated boke with a pleated fan, was the tsukkomi, forever impatient and butting in to correct his companion. (Fai privately thought he had a good manzai going on in his regular life, only Kurogane was just a little slow with his weapon of choice to catch Fai for what the ninja called 'stupid remarks'.)

"I bring a message from the gods!!" The tsukkomi was in full officious swing, pompous and puffed-up and playing the part to perfection.

"The guards?" The boke queried rather blithely, tilting in such a way that spoke of the heavily drunk. If it weren't for the quickness of his speech and wit Fai would've sworn the man was drunk. "Who cares about them? They're probably all drunk right now, anyway."

"Not the guards – the gods, you idiot!!"

"…Well they're probably drunk too!"

The crowds laughed and clapped and jeered accordingly, the performers revelling in their roles and playing up to the audience. Even when their routine was done both of them stayed, proposing a game of riddles to the Hall and looking pleased when a cheer went up. The boke started them off, strutting about the floor as he boomed out his puzzle.

"I am a merry creature,
In pleasant time of year,
As in but certain seasons,
I sing that you can hear:
And yet I'm made a by-word,
A very perfect mock;
Compared to foolish persons,
And silliest of all folk. What am I?"

There was a lull in conversation and a round of whispers about the Hall, a few stray voices calling out suggestions and getting them wrong, the tsukkomi wandering over to smack them with a fan to general laughter.

Eventually, it was the empress who cried out, her smile wry as she'd figured it out. "A cuckoo bird!"

"Correct~!" The boke clapped and the Hall joined in, others groaning after being caught so far off the mark. "And now, if Your Imperial Majesty would grace us with a new riddle?"

Kendappa-ou tapped a finger against her chin for a moment in thought, before rising gracefully in her seat and speaking out. "There's not a kingdom on the earth
But I have travelled over and over,
And though I know not whence my birth,
Yet when I come, you know my roar.
I through the town do take my flight,
And through the fields and meadows green,
And whether it be day or night,
I neither am nor can be seen. What am I?"

"Love!" Called out one person, to be met with the empress shaking her head as she took her seat again and a smack of the tsukkomi's fan.

"A dragon," someone else suggested, which earned him a smack of the fan and cries that dragons weren't invisible.

"The wind!" Another woman called from the other end of the Hall, another cheer sounding when the empress nodded with a smile. The answerer rose to her own feet, a riddle already clearly in her mind. "In Spring I look gay,
Decked in comely array,
In Summer more clothing I wear;
When colder it grows,
I fling off my clothes,
And in winter quite naked appear. What am I?"

"A tree," Fai announced suddenly, after a few minutes of consideration, drawing all eyes to himself. A few more groans went up when the riddler nodded, other guessers thwarted that someone else had got it so quickly, but more general applause.

"Tell us a riddle then," Tomoyo urged the blond, others picking up the cry.

"…Very well," Fai agreed pleasantly and stood, "but I'm afraid it doesn't rhyme." There were smatterings of laughter, dying down as the crowd listened to the mage's voice. "There are four brothers in this world that were all born together. The first runs and never wearies. The second eats and is never full. The third drinks and is always thirsty. The fourth sings a song that is never good. Who are they?"

There was general puzzlement, Fai hovering with a smile on his lips as people guessed and guessed and got it wrong, earning themselves smacks. Tomoyo laughed softly to herself and the girl she held giggled behind one small hand, until finally someone got it, sounding rather smug.

"The four brothers are the elements!" It was a young man, one of Kurogane's recruits if Fai remembered correctly. "Water, fire, earth and air."

Fai smiled and nodded and there was more applause, the blond taking his seat again and having some more of his drink as a new riddle was put forward. He looked content in the atmosphere, leaning back in his chair with a peaceful expression on his face. His cheeks were a little pink from his drink but he still seemed in his right mind (or as right as Fai's mind could possibly be), prior experience having taught Kurogane that the blonde could, contrarily in regards to his slender frame and giggly attitude, when he felt like it, hold his drink remarkably well, and between the two of them they'd managed to severely deplete Shirasagi's alcohol stores on more than one occasion.

It was quite late into the night when the blond took Kurogane's hand, threading his fingers with cooler metal ones and tugging Kurogane up with him, pulling him out of the hall past the chattering crowds, sleepy-eyed children protesting to their parents that they were perfectly all right to stay up just a few more hours until sunrise and no, they didn't need a short nap before then.

Outside, where the sound from the Hall was a soothing background murmur and the winter chill was on their cheeks, Kurogane looked to Fai for explanation and the blond smiled, stepping closer to the ninja's body for heat. "I felt like some fresh air."

Kurogane looked down at him, one eyebrow raised. "And you brought me with you?"

"Mmhm," Fai's breath left his mouth as mist, smoke that curled around Kurogane's head, the blond pressing into him, cool against warmth in what was actually quite a pleasant contrast. The moon overhead was a waning crescent, white light spilling down and gilding everything in silver. "Kuro-wan needs his regular walks else he'll get lazy and fat."

"'Fat'?!" Kurogane spluttered, more than a little indignant, but Fai only laughed and slid his cold fingers under the folds of the ninja's kimono to warm them, spreading his palms against the other's chest and listening to him breathe in sharply through his teeth. "You're freezing," Kurogane half-protested, even as his arms wrapped themselves around Fai's slender waist, drawing the mage closer as Fai's hands slipped lower, lower – and were plucked out by one tan hand. "We're in public."

Fai smiled again, a few shades short of a smirk, his eyes heated and showing he was quite willing to try his luck. "Kuro-sama," he moved in again, pressing himself up against his lover's frame and stretching to put his mouth near the ninja's ear, "there's no-one around." It was true – everyone was at the celebrations inside.

"No," Kurogane said shortly, even as his willpower began to quickly unravel, Fai nuzzling into his throat, leaving wet kisses against his neck that the night breeze quickly chilled. He attempted a distraction. "Aren't you -" a hiss, Fai having nipped at soft skin. Though he wasn't technically a vampire anymore the blond's teeth were still sharp. "Aren't you enjoying the party?"

"Very much so," Fai replied, nudging his companion backwards to the porch that ran alongside a nearby door, pushing Kurogane down into sitting on it and curling up against the other's side. "We celebrated the Solstice differently in Celes and Valeria – nothing like this."

"Oh?" A gentle prompt, mildly curious.

"In Valeria…" Fai spoke slowly, thoughtfully dredging up the ancient memories from within him, "in Valeria there was a hunt, and all the men were sent out on Solstice Night to fetch in a prize, to display with the dawn. The greater the catch the more blessed that man, and his family, would be in the coming days of light, and the one who had the greatest catch would be crowned 'Dawn-Bringer' and dance with the woman who had…won a game in the Hall whilst the hunters were away. The women and children always told stories and played games on Solstice Night but I…I forget the details; I was never really involved."

Kurogane dropped his hand to the other's hip, feeling the ridge through the mage's cloud-soft kimono. "And Celes?"

"Ashura-ou filled the great fireplace in the Main Hall with blessed logs, and it was stoked and stoked, higher and hotter as the night grew darker, and there was dancing and feasting and music." Fai smiled, his eyes still reflecting the fires of his past, glittering in nostalgia. And then he laughed, a memory sweeping quite sweetly into focus. "There was a lot of kissing too."

Kurogane shrugged, and inwardly sat upon the mild irrational urge to query just why, exactly, talking about kissing made Fai smile like that. "There always is at parties."

"But ah," Fai said brightly, wagging one finger in the lover's face, "this was a game! For favour and fertility in the coming sunshine; everyone grew flowers in the weeks leading up to the Winter Solstice – they were white, with heavy petals and a strong scent; it was the tradition to burn them at the end of the night with the logs, and their smoke always had such a peculiar smell…"

Kurogane grabbed hold of the finger in front of his face, looking very pointedly over the top of the digit at his smiling companion. "Get on with it."

Fai curled the rest of his hand around the one gripping his finger, a strange attempt at holding hands. "Everyone had their own unique type of ribbon; we tied them in bows around the flowers, one ribbon for each bloom. On Solstice Night when the music played kisses were traded for flowers – if you accepted a kiss from someone, you surrendered a flower. At the end -"

"At the end," Kurogane interrupted, seeing where the story was going, "whoever had the most flowers that weren't their own won." Fai chuckled, but nodded. Kurogane eyed him. "…How many years did you win?"

Fai smiled again, his grin particularly cat-like, and crawled his way onto Kurogane's lap, straddling him, chest-to-chest, mouth close to Kurogane's own. "Mommy doesn't kiss and tell."

"'Mommy'," Kurogane retorted, feeling his lips brush the other's, voice dropping to a slightly lower pitch, "is still a horrible liar. Or is it someone else that runs off and gives Tomoyo regular updates about our daily activities?"

"The walls have ears," Fai replied rather impishly, and was still smiling when Kurogane kissed him, humming into something that was slow and languid, completely uncaring of its surroundings. His arms rose up, wrapping themselves rather possessively around the other man's shoulders, hips rocking down and forward in a familiar pattern.

Kurogane growled at the motion, feeling himself gently pushed back until his back was against the porch's floor, Fai pushing himself up onto his hands, palms either side of the ninja's head. His smile was damnable, confident, smug, his gaze still blazing, his golden hair dangling and hanging hopelessly in his eyes. He had the look of someone who was getting exactly what they wanted and knew it.

Kurogane looked up at him and – with the air of one who was losing and was well-accustomed to the feeling – Stuck to His Principles. "I am not having sex with you on the porch."

Fai couldn't care less about the porch. "There are plenty of rooms, Kuro-sama." He leaned down again, licking a long line up the ninja's quite abused neck and grinding down into the then quite obvious bulge his lover was sporting beneath his kimono at the same time. "If," he said pointedly, tone taking on its usual teasing quality when the other groaned, "you think you can make it to one of them."

Kurogane 'made it to one of them' in record time, Fai beaming and waving cheerily at a startled servant they passed (at remarkable speed) on the way as he was being dragged along by the other wrist. The woman blinked and tried to do the brief customary obeisance, but Kurogane had already pulled Fai out of sight into the nearest bedchambers, the door sliding shut so hard the frame rattled.

Having heard tales of the duo's (in)famous exploits, she quickly made herself scarce.

Fai woke muzzily to a grey world, eyes flickering and head pillowed on something soft and moving – Kurogane's chest, he quickly surmised, pushing himself up slightly to look down at the peacefully sleeping man, relishing the sight. Joined at the hip as they were sometimes it was still rare to catch Kurogane so totally off-guard, spread-out and relaxed in slumber, bare body tangled around Fai's own. The ninja nearly always woke first out of the two of them, already up, dressed and training by the time Fai sleepily stumbled out of their shared bed (the blond didn't know why he bothered keeping his own futon and room, really. Kurogane was entirely more comfortable).

The mage drew one slow fingertip down Kurogane's exposed abdomen, lips quirking in amusement as the muscles twitched, Kurogane himself letting out a sleepy mumble and shifting slightly. Low warmth bloomed through Fai as the ninja continued blissfully sleeping on, so tellingly at ease in Fai's presence. Save Tomoyo and himself, anyone else who dared to enter the room - never mind touched Kurogane – would've had the ninja's sword at their neck, however deeply the man appeared to be sleeping. Even unconscious Kurogane was by nature distrustful and yet, beside Fai, he kept trustingly sleeping on, instinctively leaning into the warmth the blond emitted in the chilled room.

As for the room –

Fai frowned at it, not recognising his surroundings. Where-? Ah. The night before flashed through his head, drawing a wry smile in memory of Kurogane's delightful impatience fuelled by his own playfulness, some unfortunate soul (or not so unfortunate, depending on where they'd ended up instead) clearly having been done out of their room for the night – but then, everyone had been planning on staying up until dawn at the celebrations anyway, so –

The dawn!

Fai took note of the grey light with widened eyes, slipping out from under the futon's cosy sheets and quilt to pull on his cream under-kimono of the night before, belting it only very loosely before padding barefoot over to the room's exterior doors, his hair still loose and tousled about his face. Sliding back the lock he opened them as quietly as he could, trying not to wake Kurogane, letting the morning mist creep in around his ankles as he looked to the distant horizon, seeing the line of gold just beginning to show there. He was on time.

Fai watched the sunrise contentedly, leaning against the doorframe next time with his arms folded across his chest. Slowly, oh so slowly, the gold at the horizon's edge grew and spread, lengthening and stretching yellow fingers out over the frost-laced, mist-cloaked land, branches of pure light that widened and grew as the sun's arc finally began to push up past the world's rim. The morning birds who'd stayed the winter began to sing, calling out to one another, one, then two, then four, than eight, until there was a trill from every tree in the Imperial garden, the clouds decorated in swirls of yellow and pink. The longest night was over, and the morning's light was here.

"I've got the better view."

Fai actually jumped at the voice speaking so suddenly from behind him, whipping around to see Kurogane awake, having propped himself up onto his elbows, regarding Fai.

"You -" Fai faltered for a moment, searching for his unused voice, "Kuro-chan, you can't see the garden from that angle." It was true – Fai had opened the outside door only a little way, not wanting the breeze to roll in and disturb the ninja.

Kurogane smirked, a lazy self-satisfied curving of his mouth, an echo of the active night before. "I didn't mention the garden." He was looking very deliberately at Fai, and Fai alone.

The blond actually coloured lightly at that – such comments from the ninja were few and far between, and endlessly precious -, Kurogane's self-satisfaction only growing with the result. Fai cleared his throat, putting on a slight pout. "…Kuro-chama was supposed to be asleep."

Kurogane waved a vague hand in the direction of the open door, from whence the morning birdsong poured in, sweet and loud and clear. "You think I could sleep through that racket?"

"A fair point," his companion conceded, leaving the door and padding back to the futon, glad to drop his clothes and retake the warm spot at Kurogane's side, snuggling in. "…Whose room is this, anyway?"

"It's…" Kurogane looked around them, taking in the scenery and frowning. A few seconds later: "I don't know."

Fai laughed. "Kuro-chan was so eager last night he pulled me into the room of a stranger?"

Kurogane turned his head away, his cheeks darkening with the faintest tinge of red. "They shouldn't have left their door unlocked." Fai kept laughing. "This is your fault, anyway."

"Ohh~?" Fai was still grinning as he hooked one arm around the ninja's neck, leaning back into the pillows and pulling Kurogane down over him. "And how, pray tell, is Kuro-sama going to blame this all on me? I wasn't the one who picked our destination last night."

"No," Kurogane grumbled back, "you were the one draped all over me yanking my clothes off in such a hurry we had to go into the room of a stranger."

"A good ninja must be able to operate effectively even in moments of great distraction," Fai told him primly, lips still threatening an amused twitch.

"And what does that make me?" His lover challenged, leaning down lower beneath the covers, pressing into the blond.

"A bad ninja," Fai told him a little breathlessly, arching his back when the other pressed down harder, his interest more than stirred into awakening alongside – quite obvious – other things. "A very bad ninja. But don't worry, Kuro-pon, I'm sure I could give you some lessons to make it all better again."

Kurogane smirked again, quite intending to take the blond up on those 'lessons' –

The door to the room opened, and one of the lesser nobles strolled in, clearly drunk, halfway across the floor before he noted the two men entangled in his bed, one slowly turning blood-red, exceedingly pissed, borderline homicidal eyes upon him. The dire threat took about ten seconds to sink into the alcohol-fuddled nobleman's mind, time in which all three of them either stared or glared at one another, and then, when it sunk in, another six for the nobleman to flee in his inebriated fashion, vanishing with a girly 'eek' and slamming the door (his door) shut again on the way out.

Kurogane glowered at the spot where he'd left. Fai flopped back into the pillows again, and dissolved into laughter. The morning light slid in through the open door across them, golden and warm, taking the world onto its lighter days.


- The Amaterasu celebration/Requiem of the Dead was the celebration held on the Winter Solstice in seventh century Japan and after it for quite a while, celebrating the re-emergence of the sun-goddess Amaterasu from the cave she hid herself away in (because she lost her temper with someone, I believe). The other gods tricked her out by having a loud party outside her cave, and when she looked out in curiosity she caught sight of herself in the mirror they'd placed there and got so distracted they sealed up her cave when she left it so she couldn't get back in, bringing light back to the world.

- The thing Fai is kneeling before would probably be called a butsudan – the best way I can think to describe them is to think of a small, highly-decorative cupboard, a scared place to revere the Buddha and the deceased. I was going to call the shrine a 'butsudan' – but then I got to thinking. This is an AU-version of Japan – I wasn't quite sure if that version of Japan would have had a Buddha and, if they did, whether he would've been called by that name. And so – Fai simply has a shrine. (Aka, when Shacha is unsure, she leaves things terribly vague.)

- The shishimai is the Japanese lion dance. Towards the end of the dance the lion 'bites' the heads of some of the watchers, to bring good luck.

- …I don't actually own any of the riddles in this chapter, alas. The first three are old English riddles, and I think Fai's was traditionally eastern.

- Armorica was, in ancient times, a part of Gaul, what is now the Brittany part of France, extending inland some way and down the Atlantic coast. Later on the term became almost exclusively used for the Brittany area, and that's where I'm envisioning the Hououji family coming from. (And if you don't know who Fuu and Kuu are – for shame. Your homework's to go and read Magic Knight Rayearth. Yes, go on – shoo. X3 )