The night was dark and frigid.
The sky was clear, not obscured by any cloud of smoke or rain. However, the moon was new; there was nothing but darkness.
Inside, the air was humid. Fire crackled in the brazier, but the people sat near it were too tense to feel relieved by its warmth.
A wolf howled in the mountains, and the door slid open.
Another joined their group.
He bowed to them.
"Two more have been found," he mumbled, solemnly, "Children."
The man sat in the middle of the group, with silver hair and beard and wrinkled skin, nodded once. The messenger excused himself.
The silence was pregnant as each occupant mulled over the new information, the same suggestion weighing on each of their minds. The fire flared momentarily.
Finally, the elder spoke.
"We cannot let the demon cat's omen claim any more of our town," he stated, his voice deep and heavy. He inhaled through his nose, punctuating the quiet anticipation of the others present.
A small lacquer box.
A bell, red sash.
I suppose this means we were both wrong?
Your fingers tremble as you tie it around your neck, and in the corner of your eye you watch the red bleed blue.
They had been introduced at a party.
Kurogane had no idea why he was at the same party as a glorified dancer, let alone being implicitly introduced to one. Fai, on the other hand, was delighted with his new toy – head guard to the Daimyo or not – and would never forget the first words the man had said to him.
"What's wrong with you?"
Fai had grinned widely and turned to the woman at the head of the table, calling to her in a playful tone,
"I haven't even said anything and he's accusing me, Yuuko-san!"
Kurogane growled in the back of his throat, irritated.
"Perhaps Kurogane-sama is merely commenting on the fact that your hair is the colour of those Mimoza tree flowers." A geiko interjected from where she was refilling the sake cups. Kurogane glared at her and the giggle died in her throat.
"It looks like dead grass." The man said rudely, and Fai tittered in amusement.
Kurogane was sat across from him, his red eyes glaring now at his own sake cup, his arms folded into his simple dark brown haori sleeves. Judging by the man's hairline and the slight creases around his eyes, Fai suspected him to be in his late twenties. He was still young, but with every trace of naiveté gone.
A young man, whose name Fai could not remember, was sat behind and to the side of Kurogane. The boy was Kurogane's student and he was just observing the party, and wasn't really supposed to be noticed. He looked rather uncomfortable, and it occurred to Fai that Yuuko – and her amount of power over the people in the room – was unnerving him.
The Japanese, Fai had been quick to learn, were very unused to women being in any position of power. The general standing of a woman was to obey her father, her husband when she married and her sons when she gave birth. Any independent woman in Japan was as strange as a foreigner, and it was definitely not helped by the fact that nobody could even pinpoint just how Yuuko had come to be as influential as she was. The whole fief suspected her of various shady dealings, but nobody would – or could – point the finger at her.
Unofficially, she was probably the richest person in the province.
The last person in attendance who Fai knew was Tomoyo, and he chatted happily with her where she sat between Kurogane and Fai – opposite to where Yuuko took the head of the table.
Fai had never met kindness in anyone like he had in Tomoyo. The small woman had love and wisdom like someone thrice her age, and in the time he had known her, she had always been glad to help him. Even Kurogane softened around her, like wax in a warm hand.
There was some sort of unspoken history between Tomoyo and Kurogane that Fai was finding extremely hard to unravel. Were they friends? Lovers?
They spoke to each other in familiar, polite terms. It was nothing different to how they would address other people.
Fai became increasingly frustrated. He was meant to be good at perceiving these sorts of things, yet one action could say one thing and be followed by an utterance that spoke the entire opposite.
Maybe it was this that made Kurogane so intriguing to him, made him want to see more of the hot-headed warrior. Certainly, Kurogane reacted in ways that Fai would expect to things like teasing and shameless drinking games (blushing, yelling, and breaking the cutlery) yet there was always something else there, some other meaning in his harsh words.
Around Kurogane, Fai always felt as if he were the one being analysed.
You dip your brush into a vein of ink. It congeals quickly in the bristles, thick and gunky.
Your arm quivers momentarily as you lift the brush to your mask, but as the lines paint dryly onto your skin you feel a calm strength return to you.
The motion of the brush possesses you.
Finished, you replace the brush in its set.
The red ink dries brown. You stand, your costume rustling, bell tinkling.
You bend down, kiss her brow.
She is already cold.
Fai felt he knew what was in the letter before the messenger even handed it to him, the rolled parchment tied shut with a thin leather cord. Fai and the messenger bowed to each other, and suddenly, the blonde felt himself gripped with a sense of apprehension.
If the letter was what he expected, then all was well (fantastic, in fact). However, if it didn't…
Fai swallowed and nodded to dismiss the messenger. He reached towards the innocent-looking scroll with quivering fingers, his heart hammering in his chest.
He untied the leather cord and unfurled the parchment. His Japanese literacy left much to be desired, but even he could recognise the characters the ink formed.
"Maneki Neko" he breathed, the foreign syllables smooth on his tongue, an expression of dumbstruck awe on his face. The beckoning cat.
The lead role.
A wide grin blossomed on his face, and he whooped loudly in celebration.
Fai, invigorated, hurtled toward the timid Watanuki and enveloped him in a tight hug, laughing and almost swinging the young man around. Disgruntled, Watanuki straightened his glasses as Fai released him, and the blonde could hear the boy cursing him quietly as he carried on cartwheeling down the hallway.
Fai's foot caught on something and he was quickly sent sprawling, but even that did not dampen his mood and he lay laughing in ecstasy, covering his face in his hands.
"Fai," Yuuko's velvety voice came, followed by a curl of smoke, "Is there a reason you are dirtying yourself on my floor?"
Fai scrambled up – only to bow deeply again before his landlady – and relayed the recent events to her. She smiled a little, as if she was in on a joke that he was not, and took another drag from her pipe. She exhaled.
"Well, of course you would get the lead role. I might even go so far as to say it was… inevitable," a twinkle appeared in her eye. Dryly, Fai suspected that some monetary winnings would be coming her way fairly soon.
"Watanukii~~!" Yuuko called suddenly, the servant's cursing almost audible across the house, "Summon the rickshaw; Fai's going out to celebrate!"
Fai groaned lowly, swallowing a thick lump of what he hoped was just mucus.
He supposed this was his punishment for allowing Yuuko to take him out... did the woman actually have any kind of restraint when it came to alcohol and partying?
Fai very much doubted it.
The sound of the neighbour's dog barking filtered through the paper screen window, and the thick haze Fai's consciousness was shrouded in suddenly dissipated. He should have been up half an hour ago.
Fai rolled out of his futon with the kind of strangled noise that was made only by those who are apocalyptically late, changed hurriedly and dashed out the door, barely remembering to put his shoes on.
Luckily for him, his teacher for the morning was a very patient man and did not throw Fai from the theatre for his tardiness. Soon, Fai was sat before a looking glass with a various array of bottles, tubs and brushes laid out before him.
Fai did not see his reflection very often, usually because he avoided searching for it. His pang of guilt at seeing himself was soon washed away by the words of his teacher. Under the man's instruction, Fai covered his face in foundation oil and then white paste (which was amusingly only a shade darker than his natural skin tone). It felt uncomfortable over his eyebrows, and Fai longed to wash.
The irritation soon passed, and Fai was then handed a painting.
"These lines are to be painted in red, for it is strength," the teacher said, referring to the drawing of what Fai realised was an artist's interpretation of the humanoid maneki neko, "These lines," he continued, "will be in gold, for luck and for money."
Fai did as he was told, and every line he painted felt like another anchor that would dock him to his character.
Finally finished, Fai sat back, slightly pleased with what he saw.
Red lines flowed down his face, mimicking the stripes of a cat. His eyebrows and the edges of some lines were in gold.
Seeing himself in such a way made him feel... spectral, magical.
Fai stood and slowly, gracefully, executed a simple dance kata, ending in the trademark pose of the beckoning cat.
"Very good," his teacher commented, amused by the younger man's excitement, "next time, use less blue in the red."
Fai flushed a little under the white mask. He had added the blue so that the red would contrast less with his eyes, but he understood his teacher's viewpoint. Colour was important in kabuki costume. Red was the colour of strength and prosperity; the colour of the hero. Blue, however, was the opposite and, in all honesty, was the colour Fai thought suited him most.
Fai glanced back at his reflection and jumped out of his skin.
The teacher laughed and clapped Fai on the shoulder.
"I told you not to use so much blue!" he chortled, "they are like oil and water; they separate!"
Fai poked at the once-red lines on his face. They were now almost totally blue in the centre, the red pushed outwards so that it rimmed the edges of the stripes. To his eye, it was an interesting effect.
The hairs on the back of his neck were still standing on end long into the evening.
Your lips tang with copper as you lick them, your cold eyes staring down at your prey.
The young man, brown hair matted red, green eyes unfocused and dull, his ragged breath hitching, stomach quivering around your claws. The girl beneath him, her own green eyes blank with death.
A wide grin stretches across your rosy lips as he chokes, dying atop the girl he had tried so desperately to protect.
Your hand twists and he croaks with pain, muscles spasming reflexively.
You hear a sound and your ears twitch.
You are gone before they arrive, but you hear the young man's last murmur.
Fai looked down at his feet, instantly spying what he hadn't seen in his mad rush to get out of the house.
A small package, perfectly wrapped and with his name scrawled atop it were all it took for all of Fai's previous urgency to vanish. He stepped down into the entryway and seated himself on the step, picked up the package and turned it over in his hands.
It really was wrapped perfectly... He previously didn't expect the stoic bodyguard to be so meticulous, but he supposed that Kurogane would have the attitude of "if it's worth doing, do it properly."
The package was definitely from Kurogane, and Fai knew it from the less-than-elegant way the three characters that made up his name were written.
A note was under the first fold that Fai opened.
'Here's your goddamn trinket, you bastard. I swear you're more of a woman than that witch you board with.'
The bodyguard and Fai had been turning up to the same parties for a while before Kurogane seemed to start to consider Fai as some sort of friend, reluctant as he was to let it happen.
Fai had received his role a month previously, and since then had worked from the second his eyes opened in the morning to the second they closed at night, and sometimes even longer than that.
The conversation that had undoubtedly lead to Kurogane's gift had happened on a warm, balmy afternoon. Fai had been running an errand and had stopped for a quick catnap in the shade of a tree before being woken by a forceful nudge to the shoulder.
"So this is what you're doing when you're avoiding my messages." A voice grumbled from above.
Fai squinted up at Kurogane, who was framed by a halo of light. The taller man looked almost saintly like that – an idea that very much amused Fai who, in his state of drowsiness, thought it would be a good idea to voice his thoughts.
Kurogane had flushed a brilliant shade of red in pure anger and as a result Fai was nearly beaten to death with a scabbard.
When the guard had calmed down, Fai remembered the other man's initial question.
"Well, Kuro-tan-" ("It's Kurogane!") "-being the handsome young stud of a man that I am, I have so many friends, it's hard to keep track sometimes." Fai teased, "and when Kuro-puu-" ("KUROGANE, DAMMIT!") "-didn't congratulate me on my recent achievements, I just assumed he didn't feel worthy of my presence anymore."
Kurogane flushed in anger again, this time because of Fai's arrogance – feigned as it was. He turned and stormed off, cursing the blonde loudly.
"Gemstones make good presents, Kuro-wan!" Fai had called after him, the words barely discernable beneath his laughter.
Or at least... he had thought they had been barely discernable... though now, as he gazed upon a palm-sized jade beckoning cat, Fai supposed that Kurogane had heard him after all...
Smiling, Fai placed the object on the shelf in his room, adding the note to a gradually thickening collection of notes from the gruff bodyguard.
Fai was grinning until he saw the height of the sun in the sky, at which point he hurtled out of the house and to the theatre as if the hounds of hell themselves were chasing him there.
You bow as they cheer for you, your body thriving on the adrenaline of the hunt.
One is missing.
You grin wickedly, winding your way down busy corridors, possessed.
Your bell jingles over the ruckus.
You enter the room that is yours, making sure to block the doorway.
The sounds of the humans are replaced by mewling, yowling.
Blood drips from your claws.
Curious, Fai sat before the looking glass again.
Last minute preparations were being made all around him for the show, for his debut. His body was thrumming with anticipation, nerves not having caught up with him yet.
Almost by itself, his hand started to apply his mask of make-up. As with every time he did it, his skin tingled at the sensation of the paste being layered on. The foundation soon dried and Fai followed with the coloured lines – they were by far his favourite part of the costume.
He was feeling slightly lightheaded, and putting on the heavy, elaborate kimono required for his role was not something he was looking forward to.
Fai replaced the brushes on the stand, closing the lids of the inks and pastes and powders.
Just as he was standing to leave and dress, his eyes flickered upward.
He gasped at his reflection, jerking away from the looking glass as if slapped.
Fai stared at himself in disbelief.
Surely he had used the red inks...?
He looked down at his hands. Red and gold lingered along the edge of his index finger, where nerves had made him clumsy.
Fai swallowed thickly, grabbing a damp washcloth and vigorously scrubbing the makeup from his face. He wanted to figure out what had caused his colouring to turn blue, but there was no time!
He quickly reapplied his make-up, rushing off to get dressed. No sooner than tying the bell around his neck did his first cue arrive.
Fai took a deep, shuddering breath, and stepped out onto the stage.
"Y-you bastard..." the last one croaks.
You have him chained to the wall, a collar tight around his neck, constricting his throat. He can still breathe, though his eyes are dizzy and dilated.
You smirk and stretch your hands, the joints cracking sinisterly.
He is not afraid, and this excites you.
You saunter toward him, your heavy kimono dragging behind you.
The bell tinkles once more, and you almost laugh at the contrast.
"You killed her... you killed Tomoyo..." he growls from his position, sat on the floor, "and you killed the kids..."
"I had no choice," you purr softly, kneeling smoothly, leaning toward him as he recoils from you, "they would have told on me~"
"DAMMIT, THIS ISN'T FUNNY!" Kurogane roars, "This isn't a GAME, you IDIOT! YOU'RE KILLING PEOPLE!"
The smirk vanishes from your face and you wrap your hand around his throat. He stiffens, and you can see that the fight hasn't completely left him yet.
Your ear twitches.
They are catching up to you.
You huff in exasperation.
"I'm afraid our time is going to be, ah.. cut short," you mutter to Kurogane, both hands closing around his throat, crushing it with your abnormal strength.
He struggles, fighting you.
You laugh out loud.
Then the pain comes.
Fai gasped breathlessly.
His eyes flicked down.
The hilt of a dagger, Kurogane's hand wrapped around it.
So much blood.
Fai's vision swam, thick fluid rushing up his oesophagus. Trails of red slide out from the edges of his lips.
"K-kuro-sss-sama?" he chatters in confusion, unable to focus on the man before him.
"Hopefully," he growled lowly, anger not directed at Fai, "that demon will die with you."
Fai's vision bled to black.