Author Notes: My "diarrhea of the word processor" never ceases to amaze - and frustrate - me. Chapter five was supposed to contain this section, as well as three other plot points. It seems like each plot point is going to take one chapter by itself. *rolls eyes*

SoShi Love x3: Very true about the baby's unnatural lack of spit-up. XD I usually skim over many bodily functions or ignore them entirely. The baby will spit up eventually, but as a deliberate plot device. *hee*

gothpandaotaku: Fai does indeed have a secret or two, but he's not nearly as angsty and mysterious as in TRC. His brother is alive and well, and while they weren't perfectly happy as children they've grown up fairly steady and stable. So you're sort of right~

Thank you everyone for the reviews! *heart*

[edit] OMG my apologies; I had a lot of difficulty getting the copy-paste function to work and I ended up with the text pasted in twice! Thank you misere for pointing this out to me.


Contrary to Fai's prediction, a rather awkward silence descended after the decidedly un-relaxing game of Truth or Dare. While Fai remained in the kitchen to finish cleaning up, Kurogane grumped off to a far corner of the cabin, eventually settling into a window seat to watch the storm lash at the windows. And perhaps sulk a bit at life's perverseness.

Despite being double-paned and well insulated, cold of course seeped through the glass to chill the pleasantly warm air within, and while it wasn't enough to make Kurogane shiver he took the precaution of dragging a fluffy blanket off of an easy chair in passing. The infant reclined cozily in his lap, leaning back against his stomach, and he tucked the fluffy fabric in all around her to insulate her against the cold. She took little interest in her surroundings, seemingly content to just sit and attempt to suck on her thumb. Her chubby hands occasionally made it near her mouth, but a bit of drooling and gnawing was about all she managed since she kept her fingers tightly fisted.

Kurogane, on his part, spent some time just staring out the window. He had an innate appreciation for nature's beauties, even the wild and dangerous ones, and found almost as much to occupy his eyes in the snowstorm as some people did in a television program. Tanned hands cradled the baby and sometimes gave her a pat or let her latch on to a finger and gum it with fierce concentration. While his eyes and hands somewhat absently occupied themselves, his mind wandered away, sneaking off somewhere behind him. Where Fai was.

The baby was teasing smiles and fondness from him, and that was only to be expected. But Fai seemed to have just as natural a knack for riling him up and ruffling his feathers and raising his hackles and just making him react. So much for ignoring the man and getting through the next few days as calmly and quietly as he could. Kurogane had done exactly the opposite; drawn near and reached out, tangled his thoughts up in the blond and gotten greedy for more and more.

He wanted to gaze at those clear, bright eyes; indulge in the sight for as long as he wanted without any concern about having his motivations questioned, as if those blue orbs were no more piercing and keen as the window he was staring through. He wondered whether that cornsilk fluff atop the man's head was as soft as it looked, and wanted to catch its scent again. He remembered thinking - half panic, half eager anticipation - that Fai was going to kiss him and almost regretted giving that little speech that precluded the possibility of it ever happening.

Not almost regretted, in point of fact. Regretted. All-out. But even so he couldn't rightly see any other path he could have chosen. He hadn't just wanted a kiss; he'd wanted a beginning. Not just a few days of excitement to liven up his routine, but the start of something right and bright and warm to chase away the shadows and fill the emptiness that he'd gotten so good at ignoring. In an unexpected moment of self-examination he found that he was content with his life but not satisfied. Happy enough, but not as happy as he knew he could be. He mourned the family he'd had and was missing the family he could have found.

It had been his parents' lifelong dream to build a cozy nest for themselves up in these wilds so that they could raise a family in the fresh air and open space. After their tragic death, Kurogane had held on to their dream and his home as if they were the last remnants of the loved ones he'd lost. As if letting them fade away from the landscape would mean that their existence would be erased from everything, even his heart and memories.

His routine was almost a ritual; live in the house, run the shop, submerge himself in the snowbound landscape. Anchor the memory of the lost to the present through himself. Somewhere along the way, preserving the little home and shop his parents had built had become his life. There was only that one postcard in his bedroom as proof that he'd ever thought of a different place for himself, like a stray leaf blown in through a window left carelessly open and reluctantly allowed to stay in a corner. Mostly out of sight, never really out of mind, constantly ignored so that it needn't be picked up and thrown away.

After losing the precious few he'd loved most of all, Kurogane had shunned the idea of finding a special someone for himself and raising a family of his own. He was fulfilling his parents' dream but not continuing it on through another generation. Though he hadn't really thought it through nor admitted it to himself, taking someone new into his heart had seemed too dangerous, as if one beloved face might crowd out another and moving on seem too much like moving away. But here he was, away from his home with two strangers putting down roots in his heart, and he suddenly, piercingly, painfully wanted this.

He'd refused to admit he was lonely, refused to admit he was built for home and family instead of solitude, and it was shocking to be slapped in the face with such a revelation after so many years of denial. What was even worse was that he wasn't just finally admitting a longing for more in his life; he wanted these two strangers specifically. He found himself wanting to steal them away from the world and keep them for his own, like a dragon with golden treasure, and it was bitter to know even as he wished it that it could never happen. The blond and the baby already belonged to other people, other lives.

They weren't for him.

What was also undeniable, however, was that the blond and baby were here, snowed in with him in this cabin and part of his life for a short period of time. Maybe he couldn't keep them, but he had them for now, and he supposed ruefully that it wouldn't kill him to make the most of this little upset in his routine. The baby, especially, needed him. He could not ignore her out of a selfish desire to shield his heart from too much pain in bidding her farewell after the storm had blown over. Fai, on the other hand-

-sat down on the tiny fragment of window-seat that wasn't already occupied, practically sitting on one of the shopkeeper's feet. One lean leg trailed down to the floor to keep the blond balanced, and the other was pulled up to provide a resting place for a pointed chin. Ruddy eyes were blinked rapidly a few times as Kurogane had to reconcile his thoughts of keeping the other man at a safe distance with the fact that Fai had just encamped within his personal space without so much as an "excuse me" or "may I".

Again.

"Did you want more coffee or anything else from the kitchen?" Fai asked, smooth as you please with a little smile lingering about his lips, as if nothing was wrong, as if nothing was awkward about their situation. Two comfortable friends, happy just to be together, babysitting someone's daughter. No mysteries and might-have-beens dangling in the air between them.

"No," Kurogane replied succinctly, because first of all he really didn't want any more coffee just then, and secondly, he would have rather been run down and munched on by a pack of wolves than blurt out some of the things that he could think of to ask for.

Go away.

Come here.

I wish I'd never met you.

I wish you were mine.

"She's out," Fai commented then, peering at the baby with his smile widening. A quick glance down confirmed that the infant had indeed conked out, one little fist still wrapped tight around a thick finger but otherwise slumped limply against him. "Does this negate the cereal and sleep-through-the-night plan?"

Kurogane cast his gaze around until he caught sight of a clock ticking sedately away on a shelf and took a moment to squint at it, trying to make out exactly which faint line was the minute hand.

"No," he finally replied. "It's still early enough. She'll wake up eventually and then I'll try her on some cereal. Even if she sleeps a while it's not like it matters if I stay up late."

"Mm, true. And if she ends up waking up every two or three hours anyway?"

"Then I'm going to come find you the second time she wakes up so that I can get some sleep," Kurogane said decisively. Fai met this proposal of taking turns more than good-naturedly, even looking rather pleased at the idea of being shaken out of much-needed sleep to tend to a fussing infant.

"Where is your room anyway?" Kurogane asked with a glance over to the stairs, not wanting to go blundering around unfamiliar rooms in the dark. He'd already stubbed one toe; he had no desire to bark his shins on a side table or bust his nose on a door frame.

The dork would tease him forever for days.

"Upstairs," Fai answered vaguely, and when the other man rolled his eyes at this bit of obviousness, gave an apologetic little laugh. "It doesn't matter. If you need me I'll be downstairs or messing around on the landing. We turned most of the second story into sort of a studio slash playroom, so watch where you step if you come upstairs to find me. The lights are always on but it's pretty cluttered."

Kurogane ruminated over this a moment and then finally curiosity - which he mentally categorized as perplexity due to the blond failing to make any sense - overcame him.

"So...what, you're a vampire? You only sleep when the sun's blazing?" He managed to startle a bright laugh from the hotelier with this query, and had to wait a bit for his answer as the baby snuffled and startled. Fai slapped a hand over his mouth and gave a muffled apology while Kurogane shifted the baby, cradling her more snugly with one arm and bouncing her gently to soothe her back down. She was limp and drooling again in just a few seconds, but it took the blond a bit longer to satisfy himself that she was snoozing peacefully.

"Can I choose dare instead of truth?" Fai finally asked, whisper-soft, glancing up through the fringe of his bangs with a playful grin.

"I dare you to tell me why I shouldn't expect to find you sleeping in bed like a normal person in the middle of the night," Kurogane countered.

"Cheater," came the accusation, accompanied by a pout that would have been adorable on a three year old, but only served to make the hotelier look (kissable) ridiculous.

"We're not even really playing," the shopkeeper shot back with an exasperated sigh, conveniently bypassing the fact that he'd gone along with the truth and dare options at first. "I was just asking a question."

"Well let's pick it up again-"

"Because that went so well," Kurogane interrupted sarcastically, but got flatly ignored.

"-and I get to go first, since you went last," finished Fai, with a triumphant sort of smile. It was very canary-digesting cat, and made the taller man feel that the blond was up to something. Or after something. Again, damn it all. In any case, Fai seemed about to do or say something that would make Kurogane's blood pressure spike once more.

"Tell me more about your parents," Fai said rather abruptly, and it was such an unexpected request that Kurogane just blinked at him for a moment.

"That's not a question," he grumbled, perplexed, "and you didn't even lead off with 'truth or dare'."

Fai flapped his hand dismissively.

"We always stick with truth anyway. We'll save some time and just trade information."

"That isn't Truth or Dare; that's just talking."

"So talk to me," Fai encouraged him, in a tone that heavily implied a silent "silly bear" at the end. The blond head nodded at the baby. "It's not like you have anything else pressing to attend to until her cat nap is over." Kurogane narrowed his eyes at the equilibrium destroying, nosy, noisy personal space invader before him and tried to figure out how he'd gotten into this predicament, and what his options were. The mental exercise was becoming something of a habit, and once again the presence of the infant was getting in the way of his more violent ideas.

While he wished that his host would see fit to give him some space, he decided that flatly demanding to be left alone probably wouldn't get him the kind of peace and quiet that he wanted. Imagination provided unpleasant visions of awkward silences and stilted conversations, with the rebuffed blond either ramping up into frustratingly false cheerfulness to sugar-coat the tension or sullen coldness to punish his ungrateful guest.

He remembered thinking he might as well make the most of his current situation, and wondered if Fai had had the same thought.

Still, he couldn't really see why the blond would want to know more about him when the frail tie that they were weaving between them would be snapped in a week or so. Maybe even just a few days. But then again, this was the man who'd chatted up a cab driver on the way up here and wanted to send his love to two yappy little dogs that he would never lay eyes on. The hotelier liked fussing over people. Perhaps this eagerness after knowing more about others was just another thing that made him who he was.

"Fine," Kurogane eventually sighed. "What do you want to know? And don't say 'everything'."

Thin lips pursed into a thoughtful pout for a couple of seconds, Fai having apparently been on the verge of answering with exactly that one word.

"Well, start at the beginning. Tell me how they met."

His parents' romance was a story he knew by heart, having heard it almost all his life. He could still hear his father's voice in his mind, always leading off with the exact same words.

"It was raining," Kurogane said, eyes flicking over to the window briefly as if he expected to see the young couple standing outside. "My mother got caught out without an umbrella, and my father lent her his."

Blue eyes were intent on him, and after a few seconds ticked by, pale eyebrows quirked expectantly over them.

"What?" the dark-haired man asked defensively, responding to the unspoken question. "You asked me how they met. That's it."

"What am I going to do with you?" said Fai mock-mournfully, shaking his head and sighing. "Okay fine, tell me all about how they met, fell in love, got married and ended up having such a grumpy cub."

Kurogane almost protested not getting a turn but then remembered that they weren't playing games anymore. It wasn't as if he had any burning questions to ask anyway. He gave in with a sigh and began the tale after taking a moment to organize the memories, like setting up cue cards for a speech.

He'd never had occasion to tell it before but all the details were carved deep into his mind, told and retold to him by his father countless times. At first it had been a favorite bedtime tale for a young boy to whom his parents' romance was as great and grand an adventure as a story about a knight rescuing a princess. Later his father would launch into the story at every fair opportunity just to tease his son as he grew into all the confusion and awkwardnesses of youth. The man had laughed and joked and the boy had pretended to disgusted with the old tale, but listened with a strange sort of secret pride that his parents should still be so grossly in love after all these years. And later still, it had been a tale told only on special occasions, when the father would look forward to the day when his son might leave home on his own adventures, find his own regal beauty to rescue and romance, and discover a new hearth and home to claim for his own.

But then the man had died, and the son had curled up in the cold ashes of his old life and not stirred from them.

An old tale, not told in years, but still perfectly intact in his memories. Once he got started it was easy enough to continue. Kurogane's eyes rested on some random patch of wall while his vision turned inward to watch the movie his imagination had compiled over the years with the aid of photographs and his father's narratives.

Kurogane recited and remembered, and as the words spilled from his mouth found that it felt good to speak of them, now. Remembering didn't always have to come with regret, sharp and cruel. Just as with his nightmare, the warmth and presence of other people near him (close enough to grab if he wanted, close enough to hold and protect, and he wanted) made all the difference.

Being able to cradle the little princess he'd picked up along the way in this very strange day had soothed the old pain of empty arms. Her demanding cries had smothered the memory of imagined wails. And now, instead of only having to regret his parents' loss in speaking of them, he felt a strange satisfaction in letting this practically-a-stranger get to know them. Sharing the knowledge of those good and giving people seemed to strengthen the memory of them, even though Fai naturally had no love for people he'd never known, and therefore could feel no real pain in understanding that they were gone. He could appreciate who they'd been, though. He could remember them without mourning them, and that seemed a good and right thing, somehow.

Good and right, just like the parents Kurogane remembered.

His father, gentle and kind, but also brave and brawny. Very few had ever attempted to taunt or take advantage of his sweet nature because of how unafraid he had been to wade into a fight, but no one had ever decried him for a bully either because he'd never fought without good cause. Injustice had particularly stung the young man and most of the fights - verbal or otherwise - he'd involved himself in could have been categorized as rescue missions. None of the actual neighborhood bullies had been safe from being at least interrupted and pestered to rethink their amusements if he happened upon them, even if they had been picking on something so ignominious and ignorable as a spider.

In defending the weak, Kurogane's father had not been acting the hero; rather it had been a natural result of his caring nature. He hadn't been officious or overbearing; he'd simply been unable to resist any opportunity to aid and assist. Those around him had naturally benefited, and it had proven a boon to the man himself; it had gained him the love of his life.

Kurogane's mother had been small and weak and prone to coughs and colds from birth, but her condition had been mild enough in her early years that she'd still managed to grow up pretty and pink-cheeked, and with a taste for freedom and fresh air. By the time her parents began to truly worry for their daughter's health, it was too late; she'd wriggled free from their anxious arms and refused to give up her daily walks regardless of the weather, roaming all about in quest of a pretty flower or berry-laden twig to put in a vase, or "making her calls", as she put it.

She'd picked up the old-fashioned notion while reading Regency era romances. It had appealed to her kindly nature and strong sense of duty, and soon everyone to whom she'd felt that she owed any attention had been able to count on regularly having her stop by their home or haunt to say hello and pass a bit of time in friendly chat. For some of her social contacts, cans of cat food had been substituted for the chatter.

An unexpected shower had caught her unawares on one such round of calls, and fate had sent her a knight with an easy grin and a black umbrella. She'd been damp and not a little frizzy, with her arms full of little tins of Fancy Feast, but had enchanted her rescuer immediately despite all this. The rain hadn't been able to damp the sparkle in her eyes and her smile had blinded the young man to the cat food. Once she'd expressed unwillingness to stay under shelter while the rain made the neighborhood's feral cats even more uncomfortable, her new friend had accompanied her for the rest of the afternoon, holding the umbrella directly over her with cheerful unconcern for his own increasingly soggy state.

Happily optimistic about similar weather conditions for the remainder of the week, the young man had offered - and been ecstatic in having his offer accepted - his umbrella-holding services and company again. He'd bought a bigger umbrella and made her laugh at the way he would constantly circle around her, trying to serve as a windbreak. Her human friends had enjoyed his hearty laugh, and the feral cats had soon been ensconced in handmade cat-houses built from wood scraps and lined with carpet remnants. Even after the rain had dried up, their acquaintance had not, and it had not been long before the two young people had gone from chance acquaintances to friends, developed from friends to best friends, and then made a short hop to love.

She'd been impressed by his integrity, and he by her zest for life that not even repeated bouts of bronchitis and pneumonia could tamp down. She'd made him sweaters, and he'd bought her scarves and mittens. She'd let him fuss over her but only up to a certain point, and he'd admired her independence even while arguing that she didn't take care of herself well enough. She'd respected and loved him. He had worshipped her.

He'd proposed with a ridiculously intricate cat-sized two-story log cabin with a diamond ring hung up on the front door like a knocker, and a promise to build her a similar - albeit much larger - one if she didn't mind a rather long wait while he saved up for the building materials. As soon as she'd stopped giggling over the gift, she'd said yes.

The dream of a human-sized log cabin had taken a long time to realize, but finally one day - after graduation, months of planning, years of hard work and a small but sweet wedding - a beaming young man had swept his pale, pretty wife off her feet and carried her up the few front steps and across the porch to their new nest. She'd been giggling but then stopped suddenly as they'd approached the threshold, reaching out one hand to grab at the plastic teething ring hanging on the door. Her husband had only added this whimsical little touch to represent what he hoped for, just as he'd hung her engagement ring on the cat-cabin, but she'd held it up and stared at him in surprise.

"How did you know?" she'd asked her husband wonderingly. "I only just found out myself yesterday morning."

"He told me he stumbled in the doorway and almost dropped her," Kurogane snorted, and then had to pause as Fai dissolved into laughter, poorly muffled into the back of one slender hand. It felt like a good stopping point anyway, and Kurogane took a breath and cleared his throat a few times. He was a little hoarse, not being accustomed to talking so much, and began to regret not getting a second cup of coffee.

"Oh," Fai cooed once he'd recovered his lung function, looking like he'd just read the most treacly Hallmark card in all of Colorado and thoroughly enjoyed it. "Oh, that is adorable. They're adorable. Tell me more."

"No," Kurogane replied, but it wasn't a growl or snap. Instead it came out easily, mellow and comfortable, and he followed it up with an explanation of sorts. "My voice is going to give out, and besides, you asked for their romance, not their marriage."

"Their romance ended after they got married?" the blond asked, one dubiously quirked eyebrow disappearing into his bangs.

"Well, no," the shopkeeper admitted. "They were still acting like lovestruck teenagers when I was a teenager, in fact."

"Well then," Fai said triumphantly, "that means you haven't finished telling the story." Kurogane gave in with a short sigh but did not immediately resume the tale.

"Later. I need something to drink."

His host was immediately on his feet, pattering off to the kitchen and only pausing before rounding a corner to get his guest's order. Kurogane decided with a snort of amusement that Fai might be built like a stork but acted like a hen.

"More coffee? Or tea? I have Earl Grey, Lady Grey, English Breakfast...oh, if you want green tea I have both gunpowder and gyokurou...or maybe something cold? I have milk, grapefruit juice, white grape juice, sparkling water, I think there might be beer, too, India pale ale and something wheaty..."

Kurogane abruptly cut in when his patience gave out before the beverage options did.

"Just water," he called out, with a touch of exasperation. "Non-sparkly." There was enough sparkly happening on his toe already, thanks. The baby stirred a bit as he raised his voice, and he shifted in the window seat so that he could bounce her back to sleep again. Moving suddenly made him realize that he felt a little gross from his nightmare, and he wondered about the possibility of handing the infant off to the other man for a while so that he could go shower.

Fai poked his head out from the kitchen, but instead of a glass of water, he held up the bottle of whiskey the shopkeeper had brought from his store and wiggled it.

"There's also this," the blond suggested. Kurogane eyed the alcohol for a moment but then shook his head.

"You're not being annoying enough right now for me to need it," he admitted. "Water's fine." This teased a laugh out of Fai, as well as some light-hearted speculation about what antics might have to be pulled in order for the bottle to get cracked open, and finally a tumbler of ice water.

They traded the infant and the drink, Fai cozying himself into the window seat again after setting the water down on a nearby table and Kurogane carefully shifting his limp little bundle into the other man's waiting arms. A good stretch and a gulp of water later, the shopkeeper drifted back to the window and decided to revive an earlier question while finishing his drink.

"So," he said casually as he sat down again in the opposite corner. "Tell me how you became a vampire." He got a look of pure confusion at first, all knitted up eyebrows and wide eyes, but then the blond recalled the conversation which had kicked off their latest exchange - one-sided, still - of information.

"Insomniac, actually," he said quietly, voice shaking a bit with barely suppressed laughter. "Not chronic though. I sleep fine when I'm at home."

Fai hesitated, nibbling in a bit of his lower lip before expanding on his explanation. "Well, not at home necessarily. I sleep fine when I'm with my brother, is what it really is. We're twins and have always been very close. It's not like I can psychically tell when he's near or not, but when we're apart like this I don't really sleep, just cat nap here and there."

The hotelier's gaze was steady as he stared across the few feet that separated them. His expression was almost challenging, or perhaps aggressively on the defensive, just waiting for Kurogane to pick up this new information and poke at the whole idea of the man having come up here for the sheer pleasure of suffering sleeplessness in this grand, empty cabin and missing the brother he admittedly could not rest well without. Kurogane did in fact recall the thought he'd had during their game of Truth or Dare, that the blond might be punishing himself by coming up here to endure loneliness and painful memories. Fai tended to blame himself for things, and guilty people sometimes craved, sought out or even caused self-inflicted punishment if no one else stepped forward to deal out justice or retribution.

That growing need to know (to learn, to share in and to have) more of this enigmatic and enchanting stranger did not extend into a decision to actually pry at that moment. Kurogane accepted what he was told, digested it in a thoughtful silence and then dropped his head to look at the infant contentedly drooling away in Fai's lap.

"You're lucky, Princess," he commented. "Neither of us sleeps much apparently, so you'll get all the attention you want."

"Lucky?" Fai objected, a doubtful smile twisting his lips. "She was left in a cab in the middle of winter."

"And found before she froze to death," Kurogane pointed out.

"By a complete stranger who almost dropped her," the blond added, briefly raising one hand with a regretful wrinkle of his nose.

"And another stranger who caught her before she hit the floor."

"But who are both, as mentioned, strangers."

"And humane enough to provide shelter, food and care."

"Through a terrible snowstorm."

"In a stupid-plushy cabin and will you stop arguing with me?"

"She has a peculiar kind of luck then," the blond concluded with a soft smile and careful caress of one dimpled little hand. "Unfortunate things happen to her, but her good luck keeps them from turning out badly. Think she was cursed and blessed at birth simultaneously, like Aurora? I guess your nickname of Princess is more fitting than we knew."

Kurogane shrugged and downed some more of his water. The conversation was taking a fanciful turn and he didn't feel like following it too far down the road. Fairy godmothers and evil witches might be lurking around a corner in that fair head, and then he'd just get annoyed all over again and the window seat was too comfortable (the baby too cute and comforting, the blond too close and cozy) to court such disturbances.

"If she ever tumbles into a little shack in the snow, it'll probably turn out to be full of cushions and kittens, with a kindly old grandmother baking cookies in the corner," Fai mused, curling one finger under the infant's free hand and stroking her tiny fingers.

And that was enough of that. Kurogane tossed back the last gulp and then stood up, drawing a curious query from his companion.

"Where are you going?"

"Shower," he replied succinctly.

"Do you want me to try feeding her the cereal if she wakes up soon?" Fai asked, and the taller man nodded after a brief pause to ponder the suggestion over. And to be faintly impressed at the blond having asked a sensible question instead of whining about being left alone.

"Yeah. Just mix one tablespoon from that rice cereal box in with the formula and bottle feed her like usual. Give it a few tries and if she just won't take it, you can just give her plain formula."

The hotelier's face wrinkled a bit into a perplexed frown, and Kurogane wondered if the man had been envisioning pouring flakes into a bowl, adding formula, and then digging in with a spoon.

"...or wait for me to get out of the shower," he added, and was rewarded with a rather relieved smile and nod.

"I'll read the box and do some Googling on my phone," Fai decided. "If I scare myself I'll just wait for you."

Kurogane gave one last nod and then turned away, walking off to leave his glass in the sink and then try to scrub his brains back into place in the shower. Once he was out of sight of the blond, the ease of manner he'd unthinkingly slipped into dissipated and left him feeling a bit disoriented. He wasn't certain if he felt off balance because of the fact that talking to Fai of his parents had been so unexpectedly soothing, or despite it. Or even if it was because he was so unused to having such a wealth of comforting companionship, or the very fact that he was finding it comforting.

Whatever it was, he hoped that hot water would not just sluice off the last remnants of his latest nightmare, but also help him figure out whether letting Fai get closer to him was smart or stupid. What had seemed so cut and dry earlier today was getting fuzzier by the hour.