Warnings: Male/male relationship. Post-series with spoilers for xXxHolic, end of Kei and all of Rou.

Author's Notes: Pay attention to the very first line; though this is not actually a death-fic, this is definitely not my usual fluff or hopeful angst. I was told something a short while ago that upset me and this was my attempt to work through it. I just sat down and vomited it all out, so it probably rambles and stutters and does all manner of unsightly things. It doesn't even end properly; just blips off at a tense moment and leaves you to wonder, a la CLAMP.


Kurogane was dying.

It always came back to this thought - thought, just a thought; a morbid fancy, a groundless fear, please Great Guardian not fact, not yet - no matter what time of day it was or what he was trying to focus on. Every thought-trail led back to this one like the line of ants he'd discovered this morning, irresistibly drawn to the drop of honey spilled from last night's hasty hardly-a-meal.

He'd just stared at the thin line undulating across the flagstones of the kitchen for a moment, his worn down mind hardly realizing what the scrawled blackness was that he was looking at. He'd been empty and mindless and numb and then suddenly he'd thought, the insects will eat him when he's dead, and had been filled with outrage and disgust and fury. He'd had to run from the kitchen lest he crush the ants - and the floor and counters and ovens and walls and he would destroy the world once he got started and that would definitely offend the gods, so he couldn't let himself step on even one little ant - and had fled back to the sickroom with Souma's startled shout chasing him down the hallway.

He'd been ordered to the kitchens by Tomoyo-chan the night before, too, and the morning before that; a regular command since she'd first noticed he'd stopped eating. He had choked down a single round of bread messily cross-hatched with honey and chased it with a cup of tepid water because he'd been too impatient to brew tea. Souma - his bright-eyed heavy-eyed keen-eyed escort, his companion in pain, his fellow-sufferer though they never spoke of it - had quietly reminded him that there was always hot water ready for use but he'd shaken his head violently and she'd said nothing more, only watched him choke down his bread and water like he was being forced to it at swordpoint.

Kurogane was dying, hadn't tasted a morsel since falling into his fever-dream eight days ago, and it felt like betrayal to eat a proper meal. The pure honey was wormwood and bile on his tongue but still he'd savored it, and the water too. Those were two substances that had passed Kurogane's chapped, slack lips and so he allowed himself those things and felt almost hungry for the connection though not for the food. Anything, anything to tie them together, to keep them bound, one to the other, to anchor the sick man to this plane.

Tea would have been a luxury and indulgence and he couldn't stomach those. Besides, hot water was necessary for steeping medicinal teas and compounding mustard plasters and though the castle kitchens boasted cauldrons and hearths enough to bathe half the castle at once, he felt like taking even a small cupful away to make himself tea would have endangered Kurogane's chances. Tomoyo had gently chided him for superstition silly enough to rival an old woman's and tried to convince him that refreshing himself with a soak in the hot springs or a long ride or his favorite foods would do no one - not even Kurogane - any harm, but to no avail.

He had been born into a world where legend and myth ruled even the king, grown up in a land of magic and mystery, spent years crossing worlds and dimensions via a chubby little bunny and now lived in a country steeped in signs and spirits and luck. If he believed a little bit too much in the unseen and unknowable, who could blame him? And so the mage obsessively strengthened and guarded every connection that could possibly tie his lover to him; he hungered after honey and water and bitter herbs, allowed himself sleep because the sick man did nothing else, and spent less than one hour all told of each day not in direct contact with Kurogane.

Kurogane was dying, and he needed to be with him. After fleeing from the ants in the kitchens he came to a breathless halt before their rooms and clenched his eyes shut while taking in a deep, calming breath that proved utterly ineffective. The door slid open quietly and he stood there frozen for a moment as he always did, so afraid each time he left to go to the kitchens or the toilet or the baths that Kurogane had gone from dying to dead in the few minutes he'd been away. Unlike everyone else who was bound in prayer or worry for the respected warrior, he had not been able to come down from that initial piercing grief and fear into that dull waiting that characterized someone willing to trust in fate or the gods, or able to embrace hope and resignation as friends.

Seventeen days since Kurogane had first admitted to feeling under the weather, eleven since the great warrior had taken to bed with a fever, eight since those red eyes has last been open, and the mage still suffered under the same sharp terror that had built up like a great tidal wave to wash all else away. He stood clutching the doorframe until he confirmed the continued, labored rise and fall of his lover's chest and noticed the physician waiting to catch his eye and beckon him back inside with a polite nod. It was only after confirming whether or not his world had ended while he was away that he could step quietly back into the sickroom, Souma shadowing him as she always did.

Sometimes Tomoyo-chan would be seated by whichever physician was currently in attendance, having insisted on sharing the vigil even before the physicians had declared Kurogane not infectious. And when Souma was off resting and Tomoyo-chan keeping a different sort of vigil in the temple, others would drift in and out. Kusanagi, Kudou, sometimes other friends and well-wishers but he was never without the Tsukuyomi or one of the ninja. It would have been natural to think that they were only there because they were worried about Kurogane, but he felt their eyes on him more than on his lover and knew that they were watching him, too. He understood, and didn't care.

Kurogane was dying, and he couldn't spare any thought or emotion for anything else. All his depth of heart was taken up with fear and a hope that was merely despair that refused to look at itself in the glass, and all his power of mind was focused on prayer. And for now, those prayers were either formal or fervent. He had no accusations to throw in the teeth of the gods, no fist to raise, no screamed questions that he didn't even want any answers to, at least not yet. There would be time enough later to pull heaven down with his bare hands, if...if...

For now, he sent up carefully recited but passionately felt formal pleas alongside rambling begging that was hardly intelligible. As the endless string of physicians with their poultices and plasters, tisanes and teas, so he with his whispered chants and silent supplications. And as with the medicines, so with his prayers; faithfully applied, all hope pinned on them, and that hope scanty. He knelt by the sick, sleeping man, took that hot dry hand in his own and prayed because there was nothing else he could do.

Kurogane was dying, and he didn't even have anyone to blame. Not even himself. The fever was not from some painfully poignant wound gained while protecting him from a blow he didn't adequately defend against. It was not from something maddeningly stupid indulgence of some random whim of his like a midnight dip that exposed them to the dangers of chilled bodies or romps in the woods from which they'd picked up splinters and - the insects will eat him when he's dead - bug bites. Kurogane had simply gotten sick. He could not even dredge up the old fear of his existence being a wellspring of evil to those he loved; the curses laid upon him were triggered and gone, twins were lucky here in Nihon, and if he had indeed dragged a curse of death with him all the way from his birthworld...well, he could have expected grander things from it than the fall of a single man.

Oh but that one man...

He'd even called on the boy-witch in his desperation and promised everything away before explaining his wish, but Watanuki had shaken his head. It had been a wish the shopkeeper would not or could not grant, and had refused even to tell the price. And when those mismatched eyes had fixed on his tearful ones he'd been terrified to see the deep and honest sorrow in them and had slapped a hand out to shatter the water-mirror in which he'd cast the portal before Watanuki could finish his apology. He hadn't wanted to know exactly what the boy had been apologizing for.

For not granting the wish. For the fact that Kurogane had fallen ill. For knowing in advance that the man would die and not being able to do aught to prevent it.

Kurogane was dying, and there was nothing that anyone, anywhere could do about it.

Kurogane was dying, and all he could do was wait and hope and fear.

Kurogane was dying.

"Don't leave me behind," Fai whispered, fierce and feverish and frantic, letting selfishness and willfulness pour into his voice as he gripped that wasted hand harder and waited for the reprimand and reassurance that always followed these childishly demanding moments of his, but Kurogane didn't reply.