Author's Notes:

You'll probably think I'm crazy for writing a story with this pairing, but I wanted to see if I could do it successfully.

Even though this is technically a crack pairing, this is by no means a crack fic. I'm going to write a serious, multi-chapter fic about an intimate relationship between Syaoran and Kurogane. So I apologize if you dislike this pairing, but I'm going to go ahead with it.

Warnings: eventual yaoi, intense violence, language, and pretty much everything a story could be rated M for. Also, spoilers for basically the whole series, without further notice.

As with my other Tsubasa series, I will refer to C!Syaoran as the Other.


Chapter One

"Sakura-chan and I are going grocery shopping," Fai called.

Syaoran pressed his ear against the bedroom wall, called to attention by the declaration. Since Tokyo, Fai seldom spoke above a murmur.

Through the wall, Syaoran heard the apartment door creak open, heard Sakura's metal leg brace collide with the cement floor. Fresh guilt twisted in his abdomen like a knife. Even seven years after turning back time, he was still suffering with the consequences of his desperate wish.

"We'll be back soon," Sakura said, taking the final steps out of the apartment.

"Later," Kurogane called from the living room, just before the door closed. After that, there was silence.

Almost. Until Syaoran's stomach groaned, at least. He wrapped an arm around his abdomen to stifle the sound, his throat constricting with shame. Denying his hunger wasn't healthy—it was selfish to wear down his body when he had a chess tournament coming up, and more selfish to hole up in his room just to avoid the chill that crept into the air every time the others noticed him. Even so, he couldn't bring himself to face them, not even to fill the gnawing absence in his stomach.

Fai and Sakura were probably upstairs and in the lobby by now. Only Kurogane remained. Of his traveling companions, the ninja was the least cold to him. Perhaps if he moved quickly, dug through the fridge and brought something back to fill the chasm of his stomach, Kurogane wouldn't grow too irritated with his presence.

That's what I'll do, he thought, creeping down from the thin mattress and unlocking his door. He winced at the sound of gears sliding together, knowing they announced his entrance just as loudly as a greeting would have.

His door came open with a groan, and he stepped into the living room, head down. In his peripheral vision, he saw Kurogane glance up at him, then back to the book in his hands.

Syaoran hurried past the couch, nose twitching at the bitter smell of cigarette smoke and other, more sinister concoctions. He reached the refrigerator and pulled the door open.

"Been a while since I've seen you," Kurogane remarked from the sofa.

Syaoran's flinched. "Yeah . . ." He waited for the ninja to say something else. When the room remained silent, he turned back to the treasures offered by the refrigerator. He pulled a bag of cold cuts from the drawer, along with lettuce and other miscellaneous foods. When he was satisfied with the limited offerings of the cheese drawer, he closed the door and pulled half a loaf of bread from the top of the refrigerator.

I'll make something to eat now, and something that will keep until tomorrow, he thought, already devising ways to avoid his traveling companions. He plucked two slices of bread from the bag and started stacking disks of bologna and salami on top. Every two layers, he added a layer of lettuce and mayonnaise. By the time he dropped the top slice of bread onto the sandwich, it was three inches thick.

For a moment, he considered retreating to his room and eating now, just to alleviate the hunger. But that meant he'd have to come out here again next time he needed food. Better if I just make something for tomorrow, as long as I'm here.

He hurried to make something that would keep for the night. That meant searching the barren cupboards for the weeks-ignored jar of peanut butter.

"You planning a camping trip or what?"

He glanced back, pushing aside a box of instant potatoes. "Huh?"

Kurogane inclined his head toward the stack of sandwich supplies. "It looks like you're packing to run away or something."

"Oh." Run away? he thought, sliding the peanut butter out of the cupboard. No, I couldn't do that. I'd have to stay in Mokona's translation range, and if we suddenly had to go to the next world, I could end up separated from the others with no way to find them.

"Are you?"

Am I what? He blinked, searching for a butter knife to spread the peanut butter across the bread. "Going camping, or running away?" he asked hesitantly.

Kurogane let out an exasperated sigh and returned his attention to his book—shutting him out like everyone else. Suddenly, it wasn't hunger, but nausea, churning away in Syaoran's stomach. He understood why Fai turned away. He even understood why Sakura did.

But Kurogane was his one tenuous connection to this group, the one person who might speak for him if the others ever decided they were better off without him. To see him turn away made Syaoran's throat close up with something akin to panic. "I'm not going anywhere," he choked out, struggling to breathe.

Kurogane turned back to him, his expression somewhere between displeasure and resignation. Syaoran looked up, meeting someone's eyes for the first time in weeks. "I'm not going anywhere," he repeated, a little more controlled. "But I don't want to be a burden to anyone, so . . ." His eyes flashed to the floor, breaking the thin connection he'd allowed himself.

"So what? You're just going to sit around in your room all day while your health goes to shit?"

His fingers tightened convulsively around the butter knife. He turned back to the counter, hurrying to finish his preparations. Once he'd finished making the last sandwich, he packed up the remaining cold cuts and bread and put everything in its place.

"Is this the first time you've eaten all day?" Kurogane demanded.

Yes. "Um . . . I'm not sure."

Kurogane took that as an affirmative. "Fine, then. How long has it been? You plan on starving yourself or something?"

"No!" he said quickly, jamming each sandwich into a small plastic bag. Infinity seemed fairly well-developed despite its barbaric tournaments, which meant it had little luxuries like sandwich bags. Even so, Syaoran hated this world, hated the barren, cracked walls of their subterranean apartment. "No, I . . . I ate last night." Yesterday afternoon, at least. His stomach snarled.

The hostility level dropped off a bit. Kurogane stood, his red eyes never wavering from Syaoran's face. Syaoran tried to look up and found that he couldn't. He hurried to his room, only to have the ninja's hand clamp down on his shoulders. "You need to take better care of yourself. If you don't start, I'll stand outside your door and make you eat."

"I'm sorry," he mumbled, taking another step toward his room. Kurogane's grip tightened, until it was almost painful. Kurogane turned him so they were face-to-face.

"Look at me," the ninja commanded.

Syaoran struggled to raise his eyes, feeling his stomach contract with anxiety. The last thing he'd wanted to do was upset the one person who deigned to speak to him, and now he was trapped, unable to say anything, unable to even follow a simple command. His shoulders curled in under the weight of his shame.

"Look at me."

I can't, he thought, feeling the mayonnaise slip past the boundaries of the sandwich and smear against the inside of the plastic bag. He waited, immobile, for another command, hoping that somehow the order would jar him out of the sickening uncertainty he felt now. But Kurogane's hand dropped to his side, freeing Syaoran. Abandoning him.

"Wait," he whispered, just as the ninja was about to turn away from him again.

"What?"

"I . . . I'm sorry if . . . if I upset you." He forced the muscles in his neck to unlock, forced himself to look up and meet the ninja's eyes despite the frenetic flips of his stomach. He caught a glimpse of red before his chin dipped down again. "I'll take better care of myself, so please . . . don't concern yourself with my health."

Kurogane's eyebrows slanted down. "It's none of your business what I concern myself with."

He bit his tongue, wondering what he could say to rectify the misunderstanding. "I didn't mean it like that."

The ninja's expression softened slightly, but he said nothing. The silence pressed on Syaoran's eardrums like liquid lead being pumped into his ear canals. He's not saying anything, he thought, his breath coming faster. It's like he didn't even hear me. Like I'm a ghost.

Images of Sakura's eyes, hardened by the events of Tokyo, flashed through his mind, crippling his lungs and leaving him breathless. If everyone had only resented him, he could've tolerated it. Even if they'd been outwardly hostile, he could've endured it. But not this. Not this pressing silence, not the apathy, not the lack of reaction.

Not this.

Kurogane stood stoic, unmoved by the turmoil raging in the air around them. Even though the ninja was looking right at him, his gaze was hollow, unseeing. Any connection between them was slipping away.

I'm lost, Syaoran thought miserably. I'm lost to them. I'm nothing but a doll wearing the Other's face.

Something shuddered and gave way inside him, like a decrepit building finally crumpling under its own weight. He had to prove that he wasn't the same as his clone, had to prove, both to himself and the others, that he existed as something more than a blueprint for his copy. He had to provoke some sort of reaction.

He had to do something the Other would never do.

It was impulsive, more reckless than anything he'd ever attempted, and stupider than anything he'd done yet. But it was the only thing he could think of, as he saw the infinitesimal movement of Kurogane's shoulders shifting away from him, that would be sure to elicit a response. Clumsily, he rocked forward on his tiptoes and brought his lips to the ninja's.

Kurogane reeled back, eyes flying wide open. Their mouths separated, just as clumsily as they'd come together. Syaoran saw a flash of movement, felt something connect with his sternum. In a blur of movement, he shot backwards, shoulder slamming into the wall. The air rushed out of his lungs, the sandwiches falling forgotten on the cement floor. Pain twisted through his chest, half from the impact, half from his own guilt.

It was the first time in weeks he'd gotten anything more than a glance or handful of words from anyone, and it had to be this.

Kurogane towered over him as he slumped onto the ground. Where there had been nothing but a blank wall before, now there was a roiling cloud of fury pressing down on him, ripping the air from his lungs. The expression of rage on the ninja's face was so absolute and overpowering that Syaoran could only stare, frozen.

Kurogane took half a step forward, and Syaoran's survival instinct kicked in. The haze of hostility pervaded the air around him. The blood retreated from his head, allowing smears of black to form in his vision.

He bolted.

He almost didn't make it back to his room. A heavy hand coiled around his upper arm, dragging him back. Syaoran flailed, his elbow slamming into the wall in his frantic flight. The wild movements freed his arm from the ninja's grasp, and his legs propelled him toward his bedroom door. His hip smashed into the doorframe as he ripped the door open, hard enough to leave a bruise.

But he made it. He slipped in through the tiny gap he made for himself and slammed the door, locking it with shaking hands. He slumped to the floor, leaning against the thin wooden frame to keep from collapsing.

Kurogane's fist smashed into the other side of the door with a splintering sound.