When I'm falling I'm at peace
I dance with myself, I drunk myself down
Found people to love, left people to drown
I'm not scared to jump, I'm not scared to fall
If there was nowhere to land I wouldn't be scared at all
- Florence & the Machine
Fai was maybe twelve years old, physically, when he fell in love for the first time.
Her name was Nataya and she was fourteen, with straight dark hair and proud strong eyebrows. Her eyes were the same blue as his own and she carried herself with an aloof dignity that he tried, in his own small confused way, to emulate. Her father was a prominent nobleman and Ashura deemed her a suitable playmate for him, and if he had hoped she would teach him how to be one of the ruling elite he was wrong.
Instead she taught him about Ruval castle, dragging him along after her as she explored from top to bottom, and they unearthed hidden passageways and hiding places and sanctuaries. Together they discovered which of the serving staff they could beg treats from and which they couldn't, what wings were safe to play loud games in and what weren't and where to go when adults were mad at them. She was smart and funny and she didn't seem to care that he never smiled or laughed or said one word more than he had to, and Fai followed at her heels like a puppy dog and didn't understand why his heart thudded strangely when she glanced at him and smiled her wicked smile. One evening at the high table they laced their fingers together between their chairs, and Fai felt so happy the corners of his mouth crooked despite himself.
Fai told her about his magical studies, his lessons in etiquette and language and music, his literacy and attempts to learn other languages, and he stayed carefully away from the country of his birth. He told her how happy he was to be here and how grateful, and if his voice wavered she never noticed.
Ashura sent her away that winter, back with her parents to the estate out in the countryside, and he never said why. Looking back, Fai knew.
He fell again four years after that.
His name was Akita and he was an apprentice acrobat, one of a whole troupe that travelled from town to town, come to Ruval to ply his trade before the King in hopes of receiving a royal boon. He had short shaggy brown hair and bright dark eyes that darted across the great hall as he worked through his routine, and when they landed on Fai, sitting proudly next to the King, his breath caught in his throat.
Akita taught him about movement and balance and the basics of acrobatics, penned up in Ruval while the winter winds blew. He taught Fai showmanship, how to smile and use flourishes and misdirection to distract a mark in order to sneak around them, and he taught him other things in the fire lit warmth of Fai's personal chambers, the lanterns turned down low and the fire banked high as he introduced Fai to the fine art of kissing, the use of lips and tongue and teeth for something more primal than words.
Fai told him of his trips to the wider countryside and his continued and advancing studied in magic, of his ability to play three instruments and hold a note with whistle and voice beside. He spoke of his training in riding and falconry, and avoided all mention of the tall tower and the deep snowy pit and sticky wetness soaking into his rags, and if Akita noticed the deliberate vagueness he gave no sign.
He left with his group when the winter winds cleared, and Fai knew then that they would never see each other again. Later, he knew why.
He was a man grown when he fell the third time.
Her name was Rahne and she was an apprentice wizard not unlike himself, sent by her noble patron from the southlands to apply for D rank status. She was slender and sharp-edged, with wavy dark hair that tumbled unbound down her back and pretty green eyes that carried a warmth her tongue attempted to conceal, and when she introduced herself to him by grabbing his hand and shaking it the look in her eyes made his mouth go dry.
She taught him about fine control and the softer side of magic, how to use it to grow flowers and change the world in a hundred ways that didn't involve violence. She taught him how to use his voice to sing or hum his spells, and how to weave complex enchantments with a single whistle. And in the dark of night between the silk sheets of his wide prince's bed she took him into her and she taught him how to please a lover, and how to accept pleasure in return.
Fai told her of the myriad spells he had studied and learned, the way his magic was different to all he had encountered in this world, and various tricks and shortcuts he had discovered while studying. He told her what he knew of the D rank test, and there in the dark he dared ask her not to apply, for its dangers were not exaggerated. He almost told her of his twin, sleeping alone forever under the castle with his animated construct to watch over him, but he bit it back at the last minute, and though she noticed she chose not to comment on it.
She died undertaking the test, and Fai knew then that he could not do this again.
He was fifty eight years old when he didn't fall in love the fourth time.
His name was Kurogane, and he was loud and rude and unmannered, a vicious brutal killer with a murderer's grin and no remorse in his cold red eyes. He was tall and muscled and moved like a warrior, every step full of grace and power, and Fai knew this man would be his end one way or another, and so his heart remained steady and placid, and his tongue remained firmly under his control.
Kurogane didn't try to teach him anything, but Fai learned nonetheless. He learned how sharp and observant the man was, how brave and strong and loyal, and he learned of tragedy and loss and moving on, and the futility of hiding in your past. He learned the difference between living and existing, and how exposed he was in Kurogane's gaze.
He told Kurogane nothing, nothing at all, and he lied and misdirected and did everything he could, everything he had been taught, to push him away, but ultimately he failed, and in the end, after all his secrets were dragged out and laid bare, after the man had forced him to do the unthinkable... he learned how to fall for real.
There was no darkness here, no hidden sense of shameful secrecy. After it was over, after they escaped from Ruval Castle for the last time, he came to Kurogane in the clothes of his countryside. The man was very weak still, he had heard, from the blood loss; he was asleep when Fai entered and so he knelt quietly next to the futon and took Kurogane's sole remaining human hand, so cold between his. He pressed a kiss to the back of Kurogane's knuckles and knelt there, the moonlight shining through the thin walls, and alone in the dark he began to talk.
He told Kurogane of Nataya who had had his first smile, her pretty dark hair and the way her missing milk teeth added character to her childish smile. He told him of Akita who had had his first kiss, and the tattoo along his bicep, the way he cupped the candle flame with his palm and blew them out with sharp hoarse huffs of his breath. He told Kurogane of Rahne who had had him first, and the way she leeched his warmth in the night, and how she woke him every morning sticking her cold feet between his calves.
And he told Kurogane of the one gift he still had to give, the one thing he had not given to any of them, and just before he could say what it was the man opened one red eye a slit and said, "Do you ever stop talking? I told you, I don't care about your past. I meant it."
He quietened at that, and then said, softly, "Kuro-sama is very forgiving."
"Idiot," Kurogane said, sitting up, and he reached over and seized Fai's wrist. "I don't care who had your first fucking smile," and Fai had to grin at this because the exasperation in Kurogane's voice wasn't as harsh as it could have been, "Or your first kiss," and his mouth was on Fai's then, and Fai enough now to shut his eyes and lean into it.
Kurogane undressed him there on the floor as best he could with only one hand, but Fai helped. And when his skin was bared and he hesitated, it was Kurogane who took charge, shoving him roughly down on the mats and throwing one leg over his hips, naked but for the bandages, and bent down to kiss him forcefully, all teeth and sloppiness and better by far than any of Fai's others. "I don't care about anything but now," Kurogane growled, and Fai tipped his head back and let himself go into that now.
And it was sweet and all so new, Kurogane tight and so hot around him, Kurogane's heavy palm roaming over his body, exploring. They couldn't seem to get enough of each other's mouths and his own hands were hard at work discovering new parts of Kurogane, finding the comparative softness of his skin, and he fell all over again. It was he who came first, his spine arching as best it could given his position on the flooring; Kurogane bent down and swallowed his cry with a kiss, his hips cycling rhythmically as he worked Fai through his orgasm, Fai's toes curling despite himself on the floor, and though Fai was gone, his mind blanking with heat and lust and pleasure, he didn't miss Kurogane's growled, "I don't care who had you first."
Afterward they lay together catching their breath, Fai resting partially on top of Kurogane and pressed against his good side. He ghosted his fingers through the sweat coating his abs, feeling the hard muscle under his palm, and whispered into Kurogane's skin, "You're the first to have my heart, Kuro-sama."
For a moment he thought Kurogane hadn't heard; and then his arm came up, his palm landing upside Fai's head harder than it needed to and a few seconds later the ninja's thick fingers dug in, scritching at his scalp. He hadn't thought Kurogane had been listening to his outburst, and therefore he was taken by surprise when Kurogane said, gruffly, "I guess I'll be the first to not go away, too."
He dozed off that night in the shelter of Kurogane's arm, the scent of their joining rich on the air, and he did so he knew Kurogane had taught him something after all. Tomorrow they would wake up and go about the business of taking on the wizard who had put those curses on him, but Fai knew that today... today he could have this, heat and comfort and familiarity, because what Kurogane had taught him had nothing on the practical tricks of those who came before him. Kurogane had taught him the most valuable thing of all.
He had taught Fai how to live.