Masquerade

Part I. Arrival

The first thing Fai noticed about the new world was the wind that tore at his face like a savage beast. He huddled into his fur coat; his companions all instinctively tried to do the same but their thin cloaks flapped uselessly around their bodies. Fai glanced around quickly and saw that they were on a poorly paved road, with a cluster of buildings only a small distance away.

"We better find some shelter quickly." Kurogane narrowed his eyes against the wind as if he could frighten it into obedience. "It seems like there's a storm on the way."

The rest of the group all nodded their agreement and they quickly set off walking in the direction of the town. Syaoran edged a bit closer to Sakura and offered her his cloak quietly.

"I couldn't possibly," Sakura responded. Although Fai was behind her and couldn't see her face, he was quite certain she was smiling at him gently. "You look frozen, Syaoran-kun."

"I-it's nothing," he stammered. "If you're cold, it's really nothing at all …"

Sakura's answer was lost as Fai heard something behind them and turned to see a large – car, was it? – just as the driver hit the horn and the car let out an threatening blast of sound. Kurogane growled rudely at the man behind the wheel, but he moved to the side of the road to let him pass.

They all staggered into the first building they came across, which appeared to be the library. Fai headed immediately towards the information desk, trying to work a smile onto his frozen face.

"Is there anywhere we can stay for a few days?" He asked after dinging the small bell.

The librarian considered him for a moment. She looked to be forty-some years old, with glasses that seemed to pinch her face. "There's an inn just a few meters down the road. May I ask where you came from …?"

"We're travelers," Fai explained brightly. When the woman continued to stare at him suspiciously, Fai looked over his shoulder at the other three members of the group (Mokona was huddled out of sight in Syaoran's arms) and gave a slight shrug. "We came from really far away. We're not here to cause any trouble."

"We just wanted to do some research," Syaoran put in, reusing the excuse from the Country of Jade. "On myths and legends of this area. Could you help us?"

The lady seemed to relax a bit. "You've come to the right place then. I've never heard of a place with as bloody a history as the Kleine, just up the mountain. I swear that resort has had more murder done in its halls than any other in the entire country."

"Is it a rough crowd?" Fai asked mildly.

The librarian shook her head. "It used to be a really classy place, a couple of decades back. Now it still caters to the rich and famous, but it's a lot more private. There are no more balls, or charity lunches, or any other events held there anymore."

"Could we go up and see it?" Syaoran asked, his gaze straying to Sakura for a moment. She smiled at him and he flushed slightly before smiling back. "It would really help with our research."

"I don't know if you would be able to," the librarian frowned. "They're closing up for the season tomorrow; they probably don't want any new visitors."

"We're looking for a place to stay tonight anyway," Fai said cheerfully. "I'm sure they wouldn't mind some more business."

The lady looked thoughtful for a moment. "If you do go up the mountain, maybe you could talk to the manager about getting jobs as the winter caretakers. He was still looking for someone yesterday; he came into the library to post up a notice. If you're willing to stay for that long, I'm sure you would be able to find plenty of interesting things in the Kleine."

"An entire winter?" Syaoran asked, an uncomfortable look on his face. They hadn't stayed for long in any world they had visited so far, and if they took up jobs they would be honor bound to see them through.

"More like half a year, really," the librarian confessed. "Winters are much longer and harsher here. It's only October now, and I don't think the resort reopens until April."

"How much do you know about it?" Kurogane questioned gruffly.

"Not much; I only moved here myself a couple of months ago."

The group all shared a glance amongst them and it was Fai who chirped up with their decision. "I guess we'll go up and take a look then."


Fai's first thought as he got his first glimpse of the resort through the trees was that it had a malevolent air, as if it was waiting for the next tasty snack it would get. The wind that was still tearing savagely through the air didn't affect the grand building at all; rather, it seemed to leave a small circle as if respectfully leaving the place alone.

Fai squashed down his uneasy feelings as the truck crawled to a stop in front of the Kleine and everyone hopped out. They were all wearing new clothes, purchased in town before they had found someone willing to drive them up here.

"You'll be able to make use of the ballroom and dining room and everything, I expect," the man who had given them a ride said in awe. He too was a newcomer to town and hadn't minded leaving his dimly lit bookshop for an hour to drive up and back down. "I hear they used to have these big events, with fancy ball gowns and all that …"

"How wonderful," Sakura replied, her usually perky smile on her face, though it looked a bit strained. Fai wondered if the building looming over them was affecting her as well.

They all thanked the man and Syaoran led the way into the resort. When he pushed open the heavy front doors, a warm light spilled out onto the bare ground, and Fai immediately felt more at ease. He stepped into the lobby and took in the twin staircases leading up to the second floor, the roaring and cackling fireplace, the soft velvet couches, and the swarm of people dressed in furs and clutching snake-skin bags.

"I'm looking forward to a nice winter on the beach," a young lady said giggling to her friend. She looked up at the sound of an aging man calling her name, and raised her voice to answer. "I'm coming, sweetheart!" Lowering her voice again, she whispered, "He thankfully still has no idea about William; I just keep on telling him I've got a date with my girlfriends …" With a last wink, she hurried off to who Fai assumed to be her husband.

"There are so many people here," Sakura said softly, jolting Fai out of his thoughts. He glanced over at her and saw that her face seemed oddly subdued and the forced smile was gone. She was huddled in her jacket, even though the interior of the Kleine was quite warm.

"We'll go to the front desk and ask for the manager," Syaoran decided, shooting Sakura a worried look. "It's not doing us any good to be standing by the door with all the cold air coming in and out."

They all followed his lead to the front desk. As Syaoran waited patiently in line behind three others, Sakura at his side, Fai was aware of a presence lurking at his side.

"What's the matter, Kuro-pon?" Fai turned to offer the ninja a smile, although it seemed to take more effort than before to twitch his lips upward.

The other man watched him for a few moments, red eyes burning into him, before speaking. "You're quiet."

"Uwah, is Kuro-daddy worried about Fai-mommy?" Fai exclaimed, leaning forward to poke Kurogane in the chest. "Not to worry, Fai-mommy is perfectly healthy and ready to satisfy all of Kuro-daddy's needs!"

As he had hoped, the ninja flushed a dark red and swatted at Fai, roaring, "Don't say random things like that!" Fai ducked, laughing, as Kurogane chased him all over the lobby. He found comfort in the old pattern, the old habit of being pursued but knowing that he wouldn't be caught.

When at last Fai was perched on the handrail on the second floor, with Kurogane glaring at him from the bottom of the staircase, they had attracted a large audience. The front desk clerk had given them an uninterested glance and gone back to speaking to the old lady in front of him, who was too busy gaping at the spectacle to pay him any attention.

"Kuro-rin," Fai stage-whispered, cupping his hands around his mouth theatrically, "I think we're being watched."

"Your damn fault," Kurogane muttered angrily in response, although he uncurled his fists and crossed his arms instead. "Come down from there."

Fai grinned – he hoped Kurogane would say that – and slid down the banister with a loud "Wheee!" Kurogane grabbed his arm with a discontent huff and dragged him away from the crowd. Just to aggravate the ninja further, Fai blew a few kisses into the crowd.

"Quit being such an idiot," Kurogane hissed once they were out of view in a hallway leading away from the lobby. "If we want to stay here and look for the princess's feather, we have to get hired first!"

"Kuro-tan was the one chasing me," Fai pouted, making a show of rubbing his arm where Kurogane had held onto him. "You hurt me too!"

Kurogane grunted something that might have been an apology and fixed Fai with another long look. He fidgeted under the scrutiny and resisted the urge to look away, knowing it would only raise more question. Instead, he plastered another small smile on his face.

Kurogane growled. "If you want to keep you secrets and your past to yourself, fine. I don't care. But if there's something wrong, something here that can hurt the princess or the kid, then you need to tell me."

Fai looked away, to the flickering light above the other's spiked hair. "There's nothing wrong, Kuro-puu."

Kurogane turned around and stalked away.

"There's nothing wrong," Fai repeated. "There's nothing wrong with this place …"


For the first time in a long while, Fai dreamed of the tower. His fingers were slipping again as he tried to climb up the wall. With a last desperate effort, he scrambled up another few centimeters before slipping down with a muffled thud.

"Sorry," he whispered dully to the body he had landed on. He licked his cracked lips and rubbed the blood off his fingers onto his grimy robe. "I have to get up somehow …"

A distant scream floated down to him. He was on his feet again in a flash, clawing desperately at the wall. "Fai! FAI!"

"Yuui!"

"FAI!"

"Yuui … why did this happen?"

"FAI!" Fai's grip on the wall slipped and he fell down again. To his horror, the body beneath started moving, and a single blue eye slowly opened.

"Yuui … why did you have to kill me?"


Fai woke up slowly, his heart still pounding in horror. His left hand shot to his right wrist, where a moment ago a cold decomposing hand had clamped onto it. When there was nothing there, he relaxed slightly and turned over to face the ceiling.

He closed his eyes, feeling the burden of all his secrets pressing down on him, and opened them again a few moments later, afraid of drifting off again. A flicker of movement caught his attention and he became aware that the shadows in his room were moving – but even as he came to this conclusion, the ceiling was still.

"Nightmares," Fai muttered, forcing himself to turn onto his side. "Shadows don't move."

A muffled footstep sounded outside his door.

"It's nothing," he whispered, then repeated out loud. "It's nothing. We're perfectly safe in this place."

Another thump, further off.

"Nothing," he said again, turning back onto his stomach. "Nothing, nothing."

He closed his eyes firmly.

Around him, the shadows buzzed and watched.


"Fai-san … you look terrible," Syaoran said with surprise the next morning. He promptly flushed and continued, "I-I mean, you l-look really tired, that's all."

Fai managed a worn smile and flopped down at the table in the grand dining room. Theirs was the only table that didn't have chairs placed neatly on top and white cloths draped over them. "I didn't sleep very well, that's all."

"Me neither," Sakura added, rather unexpectedly. Syaoran looked at her with concern. "I had a nightmare … the shadows were trying to capture me …" She shuddered and stared down at the tabletop. "It was horrible."

"W-would you like me to s-stay with you tonight until you fall asleep?" Syaoran offered, blushing. "I don't want you to feel scared …"

"I won't feel scared if Syaoran-kun's around!" Sakura declared, shooting him a brilliant, but shy smile. "Thank you for the offer, Syaoran-kun. I-if you wouldn't mind …"

"N-no trouble at all," the boy stuttered. Fai smiled gently at the two of them just as Kurogane stormed into the room.

"Kuro-pon sure is grumpy this morning!" Fai chirped, waving his hand with a flourish to the remaining chair beside him. "Did he have a scary nightmare too?"

"I don't get nightmares," Kurogane growled, but he didn't quite meet Fai's eyes as he sat down. "What are we waiting for?"

"Sorata-san, the manager, is coming to meet us about the job," Syaoran explained. "The cook is making breakfast for us now. He'll give us a quick tour of the resort, if we're interested."

"I think we should stay," Fai offered, resting his chin on his hands. "This seems like the best bet for Sakura-chan's feather."

The other two males both spoke or grunted their agreement. Sakura thanked them timidly. "I hate to be a bother …"

"No bother at all, Sakura-chan!" Fai reassured her cheerfully. "We'll be like a happy family, on a winter vacation!"

"Alone in a resort, with nothing to do for months …" Kurogane grumbled. "I bet we'll be buried in snow, too."

"That's right!" A young man, who Fai assumed to be the manager, strutted in. "You'll have no way out except for by snowmobile, and that can take up to an hour in extreme weather conditions! There will be no contact with anyone else, except by radio, but that tends to give up during the stormy season. You will be responsible for the care of this old place and if you mess up, I will return and pound you all to bits! Alright?"

He said this all with an extremely bright grin. Stunned, the group nodded.

"Excellent!" Sorata clasped his hands together. "I have to run; my honey is waiting for me just outside. Watanuki-san should be in soon with your food, alright? You can direct all other questions to him! Okay, good luck, have a merry Christmas, a happy New Year, a romantic Valentine's Day, and a good time in general!"

With a final parting cheery wave, Sorata rushed out. Everyone stared after him, their trance only broken when a skinny male, looking like he was barely out of his teens, walked in pushing a cart.

"Sorata-san got to you, huh?" The cook smiled and wheeled the food to right by Syaoran and Sakura. "Don't worry; he's usually a little bit more normal." Seeing their disbelieving looks, he chuckled and set about placing plates on their table. "This is the last meal that you won't be making yourselves, so I suggest you enjoy. I'm Watanuki Kimihiro, by the way."

"Thank you! This looks delicious," Sakura clapped her hands together in delight. "How wonderful! So much food, all for us?"

Watanuki laughed. "Eat up. If you don't finish it all, you can save it for later." A slight frown crossed his face. "Make sure you hide it though. The oaf has a bad habit of digging out my cooking and helping himself to it."

Before anyone had a chance to ask who he was referring to, the front desk clerk from the previous day walked in. "I smell food."

"It's not for you," Watanuki snapped, slapping at the hand that was creeping forward. "Let them eat in peace!"

The newcomer looked at them and his gaze settled on Syaoran. "You're the boy from yesterday."

"Y-yes," Syaoran stammered, looking embarrassed at being singled out. "We're planning to stay as the winter caretakers."

"Good luck," the tall man said before snatching a sausage and biting down.

"You idiot!" Watanuki screeched, flailing his arms around. Fai was a little bit startled at how the cook's good-natured personality seemed to disappear around this person. With a final huff, Watanuki turned to face them again. "This useless lump is Doumeki."

"Nice to meet you," Sakura said politely, a small smile gracing her lips at Watanuki's antics. "Will you be giving us a tour too?"

"Yepp. We're going to spend the winter together in my house," Doumeki told them, draping an arm casually around Watanuki's waist. The cook flushed but didn't try to pry him off.

Fai giggled as he reached out for a piece of bread, toasted to perfection. "I see …"

"You make it sound dirty," Watanuki muttered. He placed the last plate in front of the four travelers and stepped back. "I'll leave you four here to eat, and I'll come back in half hour to give you a tour. Does that sound okay?"

Everyone nodded their agreement and the duo left the room.

From faintly down the hall, they heard Watanuki screech, "Not right here in the hall! Get your hand off my ass!"

Syaoran choked on his eggs.


"And that's it," Watanuki finished with a last gaze around the lobby, as if there might be something else he had forgotten. "It's simple enough, really. Just make sure the pipes don't freeze and nothing else funny happens, and your job is done." He tossed to keys to Kurogane. "Those are the master set of keys, but it's probably best if you don't go into any of the rooms."

"We don't need to air them out or anything?" Syaoran asked, his brow furrowed. Fai had had a hard time keeping a straight face at the boy's intense concentration during their tour.

Watanuki shook his head. He said, hesitantly, "As you might know, the Kleine has a bloody history. There are some things best left undisturbed."

Fai gave a slight shiver.

"Ready?" Doumeki reappeared from loading their car.

"I'll come when I'm ready," Watanuki retorted, but he didn't resist being directed to the door. With a final glance over his shoulder at the group, he gave them a small wave. "You have our phone number, so give me a call if something happens, and remember: they can't hurt you."

The door closed behind him.

"What did he mean by that?" Sakura asked timidly. "What can't hurt us?"

"The bastard," Kurogane growled, shooting an angry look at the imposing doors. "Saying random things like that. He probably means there are rats or something around here, this place is old enough."

"Do you think the feather's here in the building somewhere?" Syaoran asked worriedly, looking around. "It's a really big place."

"We'll just have to search," Fai said cheerfully, ushering them away from the door to the couches in front of the fireplace. "We have all winter though, and it seems nice enough here. Let's enjoy ourselves!" He looked around. "Where's Mokona?"

"She was still sleeping in my room when I left," Sakura said quietly. In alarm, she half-stood from her seat beside Syaoran on the loveseat. "Do you think it's okay for me to have left her?"

"I'm sure it's no problem," Fai said decidedly. "We'll just rouse her later. But for now, let's have some fun!"


A/N - The vast majority of this was written today (What? Me? Procrastinate? Nooooo.) This is based on Stephen King's novel The Shining, which is the only horror book I have ever read, except it's much less creepy because I got creeped out just writing it. (I'm easily frightened XD)

Huge thanks to my beta for reading and correcting this super last minute! I'm in the middle of writing the second part, but I just really wanted to post this on Halloween XD.

Written for the Halloween Contest on kuroxfai_pop (deadline is in 10 days. Must finish. D: )