Hello! Thanks to all the new followers, favoriters, readers, and reviewers! Phew, so many of you to thank! xD I love you guys…so much…maybe too much…
By the by, up through this chapter, there's been something written for every day that Fai and Kurogane have been in Yama. However, this pattern will not continue forever, and most stories will have a 3-4 day gap between them… cause I can only come up with so many stories, people. xD
Chapter 4: Acceptance
Fai was standing a few yards away from Kurogane, looking out at the distant setting sun with a calm, contemplative look on his face. Kurogane didn't think that Fai knew he was there, that he was watching him, so he took the rare opportunity for some reflection of his own.
He'd made the mage wait outside while he had a private discussion with Hiroto, concerning the demonstration he was apparently supposed to give Yasha tomorrow. Hiroto had been the one that had asked that Fai not come in with them. Kurogane still hadn't made it entirely clear how much Fai could (or could not) understand of their language, so he still didn't fully trust the silent, blonde man who seemed so much more foreign than Kurogane. Hiroto was very protective with anything that had to do with his king, and would not involve people he considered unnecessary.
But they had finished their conversation a few minutes ago, and Kurogane had walked outside to find Fai in his current quiet, pensive mood. This was so different from the Fai that he had always seen before they came to Yama that he had cause to pause.
This was a silent Fai. Not that he was literally silent, for he often spoke to Kurogane when they were alone. But this was a Fai whose main form of defense was gone, who was more vulnerable than he'd ever seen before. This man still smiled and laughed and spoke cheerfully, about what, Kurogane could only guess. But there was a definite, profound sadness in his eyes. Especially when he didn't know he was being watched. He was completely alone in this world. It made Kurogane's chest ache, and he wished there was something he could do for him.
After a few minutes, Fai noticed him standing near the entrance of the building and turned to face him. His mouth formed a small smile and he slowly walked toward him. "Kuro-tan," he said quietly as he came up next to him, tugging on his sleeve.
Kurogane felt his usual responses to those childish nicknames rising up and almost spilling out of his mouth before he remembered that it would be pointless. And he really couldn't yell at a guy who he'd just seen looking so… pitiful.
"Let's go, idiot. It's time for dinner," Kurogane said, leading the way. Fai quickly matched his pace, still clutching the cloth of his sleeve tightly. Kurogane hoped he wouldn't let go.
"Are you ready, Kurogane-san?"
"You'll do well, I am certain of it. Good luck." Hiroto nodded to him once before taking his place at Yasha's side, the king's ever-faithful guard. They were both sitting in that quiet, graceful way of theirs, just waiting for Kurogane to begin. But he couldn't, because there was still one person who had yet to take his place.
Kurogane turned to look at Fai, who was still hovering by his side. He said quietly, "Go on. Go with Hiroto-san and Yasha-ou." Fai's eyes flickered over to the two figures in question as he heard their names, and knew what was expected of him. He heaved an overdramatic sigh before giving Kurogane a brilliant smile, his own way of wishing him luck. Kurogane nodded in acknowledgement and kept his eyes of Fai's back the entire time he walked to sit beside the other two, at a slight distance from them.
Once Fai had settled himself, Kurogane heard Yasha speak for the first since the night of their arrival. "Begin when you are ready, Kurogane-san," he said. His voice was quiet, but his mere presence had the power to completely silence those around him, making volume unnecessary.
Kurogane closed his eyes as he heard those words. He took a deep, calming breath and let it out slowly before opening his eyes and starting his first kata.
He was finally exhibiting his abilities for Yasha, a couple days after Hiroto had first mentioned it, and a week after he and Fai had arrived in Yama. He didn't know what was going to come of this, but Hiroto had seemed pretty excited about it for the last few days. He kept telling Kurogane that he needed to do his best, and that it was important he do well. Yasha himself hadn't shown any emotion when he'd greeted them with a silent nod upon entering, but Kurogane had more or less expected that.
He'd been asked to demonstrate all the kata he knew, both with a weapon and without, and then he was going to spar with a few of the strongest soldiers in the army, selected for the fight by Yasha himself. This was clearly some kind of test, but, to what end?
They were in a small, private garden that he hadn't seen before today, and was probably reserved for the king's own use. It was only the four of them; Yasha, Hiroto, Kurogane, and Fai, who'd been allowed in only after Kurogane had pleaded his case. It wasn't something he normally would have done, but when Fai had understood that he wasn't supposed to go with them, his eyes had widened and he'd looked at Kurogane. There had been a hint of desperation on his face. Kurogane couldn't leave him alone looking like that, so he'd relented and requested permission for Fai to join their small group. It had delayed them some time, too, because Hiroto had to go and ask Yasha directly before allowing it.
Kurogane wondered if something had happened in the past that caused Hiroto to be so protective of Yasha. Maybe he…no, hold on, what am I thinking!?
He blinked and tried to refocus on his form, deepening the stance that he knew had been lacking. He didn't usually have to think about anything as he did his forms, and keeping the mind clear was actually an important part of kata. But today, with all these thoughts and observations floating though his head, diverting his attention, he wasn't moving with the sureness and confidence that he knew he could. Dammit, just relax, Kurogane.
Going through every form he knew took about three quarters of an hour by the time all was said and done. Despite the sweat that had built on his brow, he managed to control his breathing and was not feeling at all tired. And he'd been able to suppress his racing mind enough to get through all his kata with an acceptable amount of mistakes. Kurogane tended to neither sugarcoat a situation, nor belittle his own efforts; he simply took this performance at face value. He hadn't been great, but not terrible, either.
But he was not overly concerned with this portion of the test or exhibition, whichever it was. In his opinion, kata were not the way to truly measure someone's proficiency in a martial art. That could only be done through battle, real or simulated it didn't matter to him, because he never went easy on his opponents. He had been excitedly looking forward to the sparring portion of this test since he'd first heard about it. It would be a chance to test his skills in a relatively safe environment where he didn't have to look out for Fai or the kids, or even the creampuff. He could just focus on himself and his opponent. Simple, and the way he preferred it.
But he had to wait for his partner. Hiroto was rising in order to fetch the three soldiers, who were waiting just outside, that were going to square off against him. However, he paused as he passed Fai. Kurogane strained to hear what he said and watched his lips closely, since it wouldn't make any difference to Fai.
"Go help Kurogane-san get prepared to fight," he seemed to be saying. Fai had a smile frozen on his face, and he looked at Kurogane, but his eyes had the dull look of incomprehension in them. Hiroto was trying to do him a favor and have Fai act as his assistant, but it was going to be in vain if Kurogane didn't intervene.
The next time the blonde looked at him, 'help me' written all over his face, Kurogane subtly motioned with his hand. Fai quickly came back to his side, mild confusion still etched on his furrowed brow. Kurogane pressed Souhi into his hands. He wasn't allowed to have his weapon with him during the fight. "Now go back and sit down. With Yasha-ou." He pointed back in the direction that he'd come from.
It really was incredible how much they were able to communicate using just names, the only words common to their different languages, and a few gestures. Kurogane could actually see Fai's eyes light up as he understood what Kurogane wanted. He immediately went back and took his seat again, though he kept Souhi cradled in his arms rather than putting it down.
Hiroto came back into the garden with three of the broader, more muscular men Kurogane had yet to see in this world where they all tended to be extremely tall and slim. Hiroto brought the first of them up to Kurogane, without any weapon. Later, they would fight another round using wooden swords.
They stood a few feet apart, Hiroto between them, sizing each other up. Kurogane was confident that he would be able to defeat him; he had a decided height and reach advantage, even if his muscle mass might be slightly less than his opponent's.
Now Hiroto addressed both of them. "The fight will continue until I have decided it's over. Any dishonorable strikes will result in an immediate loss. Now, get ready."
Kurogane's knees bent as his stance widened, lowering his center of gravity and raising his fists. The other man did the same, a grim smile adorning his face. They were both going to enjoy this.
Kurogane winced as he glanced down at his arm and saw, once again, the angry red welt marring his smooth, brown skin. It was impossible to escape unscathed from a fight with three such well-trained, strong soldiers.
As he examined the mark, Fai's pale hand entered his field of vision, gingerly, curiously, touching the wound too. Kurogane hissed instinctively at the contact, but then pressed Fai's hand down with his own, not letting him remove it. His fingers were cool, and felt soothing against the hot stripe of raised skin. "Well, at least I won, right?" Kurogane muttered. A few bruises were well worth the enjoyment he'd gotten out of the fights and the feeling of victory when Hiroto had stopped them after he had clearly gained dominance.
He and Fai were sitting at one of the low tables in a dining hall of sorts, reserved for the higher-ranking soldiers that were allowed to live within Yama-jou. It had been a few hours since his grueling series of matches. He and Fai had been here most of the time since then, eating, drinking, and resting.
Fai said something quietly and tugged his hand out from under Kurogane's, leaving the welt on his arm stinging once again. Kurogane put pressure back on it, suppressing the pain a bit.
There was a quiet rattling sound as one of the fusuma slid open. Kurogane turned and saw Hiroto's mild face peering into the room curiously. He didn't usually eat here with the others, so he must be here for some other reason. When his eyes lit upon Kurogane's, he smiled. "Ah! Kurogane-san! I was hoping I'd find you here."
He crossed the room and sat down at the table, across from the pair of them. His eyes were shining excitedly. "I've been speaking with Yasha-ou, and we've decided-" He suddenly cut short when he seemed to realize for the first time that Fai was lounging beside Kurogane. He visibly hesitated, considering if what he had to say was appropriate for the mage to hear. Kurogane decided it was time that he make himself clear on that point.
"Whatever you can say in front of me, you can say in front of him," he growled. "I trust him."
"Of course," Hiroto said with a small, relieved smile. That would make his life less complicated. "Well, Kurogane-san, Yasha-ou has found you to be an extremely talented fighter, and even though you are not of the Yasha Clan, he wishes to extend his invitations to you."
"To the battle. To the Castle of the Moon."
Kurogane's spine tingled at the words, as though they themselves held power, even though he didn't know what they were referring to. He cocked an eyebrow and Hiroto continued explaining. "Today, you passed a test to prove your worth as a warrior. So in two days' time, after you have healed and rested, he wishes for you to be among our ranks when we go to battle. Please accept, Kurogane-san. Please come fight with us."
Kurogane still didn't understand exactly what was being asked of him. He didn't know what the Castle of the Moon was. But he was going to find out.
He nodded. "I would be honored."
Fai was spending his day the same way he'd spent the last few; waiting near the training grounds while Kurogane spent all day practicing. Practicing for what, exactly, Fai still didn't know, but after yesterday's private demonstration for Yasha, and his extremely serious talk with Hiroto afterwards, Fai was convinced that they were trying to get Kurogane involved with these mysterious night-battles of theirs. He wasn't sure how he felt about it. He was confident in Kurogane's abilities, but it would be impossible to say he wasn't worried, especially because he had so little knowledge about where, how, and why these fights were taking place.
But for today the ninja was safe, and spent his time battling imaginary enemies, or sparring with the other men, using wooden staffs in place of swords. He didn't want to leave Kurogane's side, but he also had nothing to do down on the field, so Fai could only watch the men at their training or take a nap on the grass, the time slowly ticking by.
He spent these lonely hours on the side of a small hill a little above the training grounds. The tents and buildings where he assumed some of the soldiers lived were directly across the plain from him. Even further beyond the living quarters he could occasionally glimpse the silver flash of a meandering river, looping around the entire compound, which was up a much larger rise on his right. Behind him was the field he and Kurogane had first arrived in. To his left the flat plains continued for some way, but eventually gave way to forest, a very dark, intimidating wall of trees. Distant purple mountains and ridges, far away on the horizon, were visible on clear days.
It was a beautiful, impressive landscape, but Fai hardly noticed it most of the time. He spent all morning, every morning, waiting impatiently for the time when Kurogane would break for lunch. He could hardly focus on anything else but keeping an eye on the sun's progress through the sky and watching Kurogane, for he'd come to recognize his routine somewhat. There were clear signs when he was getting ready to stop; he wouldn't spar in the last hour or so before eating, but take things slower, probably allowing himself to cool down a bit. When he noticed this happening, Fai would begin to feel a gentle excitement stirring in his chest.
He so looked forward to these short breaks because they were the most interesting part of his day, and the only time he got to spend alone with Kurogane. It was easier to relax, especially since they couldn't understand each other. He didn't have to watch what he said here, he could be as elusive or as open as he wanted. And it was nice to be able to loosen up a little on this world where he had to constantly be on guard against everything else.
Fai watched as Kurogane sheathed his sword, signaling that it was officially time for lunch. Fai immediately fell flat on his back on the hillside, closed his eyes, and waited. He liked to pretend he was napping when Kurogane approached him. He liked Kurogane to work a little at having to get him up.
"Oi!" Kurogane called a moment later, climbing the hill and approaching Fai. He kept his eyes closed and slowed his breathing as much as possible. He felt Kurogane's shadow block out the sun that had been hitting his face as he stood next to him.
Kurogane said something to him and poked his shoulder with his foot, but Fai didn't make any sign that he was awake. With a sigh, Kurogane fell heavily to the ground beside him and waited in silence for a moment. Fai continued feigning sleep.
After a bit, Kurogane shook his shoulder again. "Fai," he said gently. A jolt shot through Fai's stomach, as it did every time he heard his name from Kurogane's lips, a new phenomenon, unique to this world. Being unused to it, it made him uncomfortable. It just felt a little too…personal. He preferred it when Kurogane was yelling at him, calling him an idiot, and he was laughing and teasing back. So even though he'd usually hold out a little longer, and make Kurogane really work at waking him up, trying to frustrate him a little, today he didn't. He began stretching and yawning, sitting up and smiling.
"Hello, Kuro-chi," he said.
Kurogane grunted and grabbed a waterskin, drinking deeply, not even pausing to stop a few drops from running down his chin. It was a hot day, but he rarely took a water break while in the middle of one of his workouts.
"Well, I hope you're hungry, lunch looks really good today," Fai said amiably as he handed one of the two wrapped packages to Kurogane. He always talked when they were alone. It made things less awkward, and it was one of the few opportunities he had to exercise his voice. He never spoke in front of anyone else.
Kurogane took his lunch and didn't seem to even hear Fai's voice, but just began eating. He ate silently and steadily, barely even looking at his food as he lifted it to his mouth.
Fai frowned faintly. This was not as fun as it should have been. Kurogane wasn't paying him any attention at all. This was the only time they had together for him to look forward to, and he was being completely ignored! He would go mad on this world if the only one he had left didn't think he was worth the time to look at. He'd have to get his attention, somehow.
He glanced down at his own lunch, which he hadn't touched yet, and got an idea. He picked up his chopsticks. Kurogane had been so insistent on teaching him how to use them; surely he'd like to see him eating with them properly.
"Kuro-rin! Look! I've been practicing!" Kurogane glanced over when he heard his name, and Fai proudly lifted a bite of rice to his mouth, waving the chopsticks around as he chewed and swallowed.
Kurogane looked at him with an, 'oh, is that all?' kind of look before nodding and going back to his own food.
Fai pouted a little. "You're so mean, Kuro-pi! I thought you'd be excited!" He made his best sulking face and waited for Kurogane to notice it. After a minute or so with no response, he gave up and finished his lunch too. He wasn't entirely sure what all of it was, but he would eat it if it tasted good.
Kurogane finished before he did and lay back on the grass, his arms behind his head, his eyes closed. Fai wasn't sure if he actually fell asleep when he did this, or if he was just resting. Either way, it was boring, and today Fai wasn't going to just sit here and watch him napping. He'd get him to react, one way or another.
He picked about two dozen of the small flowers that were growing all over the hillside, ones with white petals and yellow centers. Then, using a fingernail to poke slits in the stems and sliding the next flower's stem through it, he formed a circle of the pretty little blossoms. He hesitated, but then settled it on his own head and began picking more flowers and to make a second crown, humming as he did so. When this one was finished, he turned to Kurogane. "There! Now we can match! You'll be the king, and I'll be the queen." He plopped the circlet down on Kurogane's head.
Because he was lying down, the crown of flowers didn't sit properly on his head, but lay across his forehead, mostly. Fai laughed, he looked so ridiculous and unlike his usual self. His eyes finally opened as the circlet settled on his head, and he looked at Fai before lifting it a few inches above his face, so that he could see it. He looked at it blankly for a few seconds before he seemed to realize what it was. Then he threw it at Fai with a few angry words, before settling back down, eyes closed again.
Fai sighed and fell back onto the grass, too, about ready to give up. It seemed like Kurogane wasn't in the mood today. He'd been so serious since yesterday, completely ignoring Fai and all his antics. He would do anything for Kurogane to just get mad and yell and chase him like he always did.
While he pondered this, his left hand wandered along the ground and he picked a piece of long grass that had gone to seed, about an inch of soft, hair-like protrusions along the end of it. He began playing with it, twirling it between his fingers and twisting the stem. But looking at the grass he got one last idea to try and get Kurogane to notice him.
He rolled over onto his side, facing the ninja, who was either truly asleep now, or nearly. He took his little piece of grass and, fuzzy side first, he touched the end of Kurogane's nose. He brushed the grass away with his hand without even opening his eyes. Determined, Fai tried again, poking at his nose and face with increasing force until, quite by accident, the soft, ticklish end of the grass went inside one of Kurogane's nostrils.
Kurogane had officially reached his breaking point, it seemed. His eyes flew open, but Fai was on his feet and running before he could see anything else. He was in trouble, but he couldn't stop laughing as Kurogane chased him up and down the hill, shouting, both of them slipping occasionally on the grass. Fai was laughing so hard that eventually when he fell he couldn't stand up. Kurogane managed to catch him then, yelling and grabbing his wrist, pulling the grass out of his hand. Even then, between giggles, Fai couldn't help but think that he'd succeeded in getting his attention, at least.
One time my cousin stuck a pine needle up my nose. It really hurt. xD
fusuma – traditional Japanese sliding doors, made of a wooden frame covered in a layer of paper or cloth
I know Hiroto is just an OC, and he hasn't done anything exciting yet, but… I really hope the readers will be able to appreciate him (even if you don't like him), because the story will have SO much more meaning later on if you do. So just don't… ignore him simply cause he's an OC, okay? Please? xD