Warnings/Author's Notes: Written in response to a CLAMPkink prompt requesting that Fai wield Ginryuu in battle due to necessity. Some violence and injuries, but nothing graphic. Series spoilers. Gen, but perhaps KuroFai if you squint hard enough.
Kurogane was a peerless warrior, trained in not just sword fighting but many shadow arts; strategy and tactics, subterfuge and stealth. He knew how to deal all manner of death, be it honorable or otherwise. He had almost inhuman strength and endurance, preternaturally keen senses and a natural taste as well as talent for battle.
He also had sense, and knew when to run.
At least, he would have run if he'd been able. But a badly broken leg - and not just broken but shattered, his very pulse stabbing at him and sending nauseating waves of agony rippling through his entire body - had reduced him to a shuffling, staggering limp. As soon as they were all together again, he was going to take that marshmallowy little bun and break her over his knee. Somehow. But first he had to find his scattered companions, and to accomplish that he had to survive.
Getting caught out - dropped down, in point of fact - in the middle of an eerie grasslands peppered with twisted trees and jagged boulders that seemed to sprout out from the ground with no rhyme or reason had been bad luck enough. He'd cursed the dimensional dumpling when he'd caught sight of his companions tumbling through the twilight, recognizing their auras more than their actual forms; the mage almost a mile away and soon disappearing into a thin ridge of trees and the kid a barely visible dot headed straight for a lake. He hadn't had time to try to catch sight of the bun responsible for this ill-fated drop, however, for he'd found himself about to land upon a nasty cluster of rocks and had to twist his body 'round as best he could to avoid a potentially fatal blow to the head or torso.
He'd crawled out of the rocky patch and into the grass, too stunned yet for pain but knowing with a sick certainty that one leg and one forearm were surely broken. By the time the ninja'd caught sight of the pack of - wolf-lizards?! - predators stalking him, shock had worn off and he'd nearly answered their dissonant cries with a howl of his own of agony and frustration and rage. The survival instincts battling their way through the wildfire consuming his nervous system had demanded that he not waste any time or breath on anything other than getting to his companions, however. Gritting his teeth and repurposing his dragon-headed sword as a cane, Kurogane had made a beeline toward the trees where he'd hoped to find Fai.
And hopefully find him whole and battle-ready, not skewered upon some branch.
As if the whole world was steeped in ill luck, the ninja did not even manage this much. Kurogane limped along and the slinking, scaly beasts loped closer and closer, wary of his strange scent but not so craven as to break off and run away when he shouted at them. His leg was useless and Ginryuu made for an awkward and unwieldy crutch. That he had his weapon to hand and could not even use it to its full potential because of his injuries ate at him almost as much as the pain, and sometimes he hardly knew what to curse at. Lack of speed finally forced the man to veer off and make for a great shadowy cluster of boulders while praying that he could find a defensible niche or nook and slaughter his stalkers one by one, or at least convince them that he was more trouble than he was worth and drive them away.
An outcropping to shelter under gave him some measure of hope, but when he put his back to the concavity underneath he found himself too open on either side for much optimism. Even that small measure began to dwindle a bit as his lantern-eyed pursuers drew near and ranged out in a half-circle before him, snarling and hissing gutturally and snapping fang-filled jaws at him. Some few scrambled up onto the rocks and though they could not get at him from above, hearing their growls echoing off the rocks over his head was unnerving. The remainder drew closer as a pack and he threw a clod of dirt with a low curse, trying to goad at least one to attack, but to no avail. If they all rushed at him as one he would be done for and he suddenly felt a great upwelling of defiance at this ignominious, pointless end. He was not dying like this.
Thankfully, there was one nearby who was in agreement with him.
As if the accursed luck plaguing this world had suddenly grown bored with the ninja and had decided to toy with the beasts surrounding him instead, a blinding white light crashed into the ground between Kurogane and the wolf-things like a lightning bolt fallen from the dark and cloudless sky. Dirt and grass exploded up with a great noise, almost drowning out the startled yelps of the beasts who were flattening themselves fearfully upon the ground or falling backwards over themselves in trying to escape.
The ninja threw up his uninjured arm to shield his eyes, but he almost immediately dropped it again to look around with hope succeeding his rage. His skin crawled with the feel of electricity in the air, but he grinned because he recognized it as magic, not lightning, and familiar magic at that. Smaller bolts were falling fast, some of them just simple spears of jagged light but others flying in on crackling wings and shrieking like birds of prey before exploding on the ground or against the scaly hide of Kurogane's would-be killers.
"Took you long enough!" Pain put an edge to his voice when he couldn't find any anger worth so naming to turn on his companion, friend and now once more his savior, and Kurogane sounded almost as snarly as the wolf-lizards prancing around in a momentary panic.
Fai appeared suddenly from the other side of a boulder, ragged and rumpled, leaf litter and twigs tangled in his hair and snagged in the rips in his clothing, blood seeping from numerous little cuts and a grin on his face despite all this. Though boasting endurance enough to give the ninja some competition the wizard was short of breath and sweating, and this combined with his appearance was proof enough that he'd launched himself into a dead run as soon as he'd hit ground and hadn't stopped sprinting until he'd met up with the injured warrior.
The grin fell off of the blond's face as soon as he'd gotten a good look at Kurogane, and he pursed his lips as if to whistle but all that he managed was a quick, breathless huff.
"You," Fai said with an almost admiring shake of his head, "are a mess." And with a quick, tight smile he whirled about with his arms outstretched, power crackling off of his fingertips as he prepared to fight in earnest.
With the wizard now facing fully away, Kurogane could not catch a glimpse of the other man's face, but he thought he saw a sudden hesitation in the set of those slender shoulders. After a flock of fire-birds and a veritable storm of icicles had been summoned down upon the snarling pack of scaly creatures, the ninja understood why the mage had faltered. The beasts were flinching and squinting their glowing eyes at the bright light and laying their ears back at the noise, but were taking no apparent harm. Worse, they seemed to be realizing that they were immune to the newcomer's attacks at the same pace as the wizard himself, and growing bold again.
If spellwork would not do the trick, steel would have to step in. Normally this was the ninja's cue to wade into the fray if he wasn't already hip-deep in it, but owing to his wounds his only contribution to this fight would be to give his weapon up for another's use. Kurogane brought his uninjured arm around to yank his sword away from his belt, sheath and all. The cords gave way easily but the ninja's injured body betrayed him and he began to fall. He'd been standing off-balance, trying to keep all his weight off of his broken leg and unable to use his opposite arm for much either. In actuality he hadn't been standing so much as he'd been wedging himself into a jagged cranny in the rocks.
Fai, who'd whipped his head around at Kurogane's shout, abandoned his largely ineffective attacks and cast a great circular barrier with a quick flick of his wrist before lunging for his companion.
Red eyes widened as the largest of the pack gathered itself and then sprang after the retreating mage, leaping through the shimmering shield with barely a shudder as if it had been a mere sheet of water. The creature's great maw was gaping wide and wicked talons extended from its claw-like feet. As Kurogane had begun to topple he'd braced himself for the physical pain of shattered shards of bone digging mercilessly into mangled tissue, but when suddenly faced with the greater pain of possibly seeing Fai torn apart, the ninja instinctively reached for the mage, shouting a warning even as he continued his downward scrape against the stone.
They were still too far apart for his grabbing attempt to succeed, but at the sound of his voice Fai dug viciously into the ground with one boot to alter his trajectory slightly, ducking the wolf-thing and making contact with the ninja after one more powerful lunge. Contrary to first impressions, those outstretched hands did not clasp at Kurogane's form to draw them together in a protective embrace. Instead the wizard grasped Ginryuu's hilt with both hands and then reversed course with a violent wrench of his body.
The sword came singing out of its sheath with a metallic slither, the blade shining in the grey light like a slender new moon. It rose up into the air as if to take its rightful place in the sky and then Fai brought it down in a great overhand blow, cleaving the pursuing beast nearly in two as it scrabbled for its footing in the dirt. Instead of checking the sword's momentum and pivoting back to face the remaining enemy, the blond let the blade swing up again to complete the circle it had begun, twirling to follow its arc. A quick push against the ground and Fai was darting forward with the sword now slicing down diagonally through the air in front of him, looking almost as if he were being pulled along by the sword instead of being the one to determine its course.
All this happened so quickly that Kurogane hit the ground at the same time as the steaming blood of the pack leader. The beast's mangled, twitching body hit a moment later, and in not all that much worse a state than its once prey. Inured to pain and trained even in how to fall Kurogane might be, but still a jarring thud against hard ground with multiple fractures was not something he could simply shrug off. The dark-haired man almost blacked out from the wave of pain that surged over him and for a moment he just lay there with his eyes screwed shut, trying not to move, hardly daring to breathe, desperately clinging to consciousness.
He needs you, he needs you so don't you dare crap out now. You can't help him by fighting but you can help him fight by not distracting him. Don't black out, don't make him wonder if you're all right, don't make him worry that you've died. Open your eyes. Get up. Bitch at him so he knows you're okay. Open your eyes. Open your eyes.
When he finally obeyed his own commands and then sucked in a breath through gritted teeth, he wondered for a moment if he actually had blacked out for a while. There were five more bodies on the ground already and the speckled grey rocks were now painted liberally with slick blood.
Hardly less recognizable than his immediate surroundings was Fai.
Kurogane had seen the mage fight with a sword several times before, of course. It was not the man's weapon of choice - who could ever forget Infinity? - but sometimes it happened that it was the only one available or acceptable, and the blond had acquitted himself well on every occasion. They'd all been double-edged things, however, straight and thick and much shorter than the single-edged, slightly curved swords the ninja preferred. Fai had never fought with a sword like Kurogane's before...had never fought with Kurogane's sword before, and the ninja found himself caught by surprise - captivated - by the sight.
In the ninja's hand, Ginryuu was a deadly weapon. It sat solidly in his palm, perfectly balanced, elegant and ready. The special attacks handed down from generation to generation in the Kurogane family line set the sword to flickering through the air, conjuring up cyclones and scythes of air pressure before coming to rest again at his side.
In the mage's hand, Ginryuu came alive. When fighting, Fai often moved even when he wasn't attacking; darting away, feinting, gaining better position. He didn't stop moving for even one second now, and the dragon-headed sword danced with him, every step.
The wolf-things were gathered in a loose circle and at first glance seemed to have surrounded their opponent, but a second glance gave the impression that the mage had called them closer for his own convenience, that he might not have to range so far from his original position to slaughter them all. Fai leaped over one creature and Ginryuu followed after him, twisting to slash at the throat of the incautious beast as it looked up at the mage. As they landed on the outer edge of the circle, the silvery blade swung 'round and led the man back into the fray, flicking out almost contemptuously to crack at outstretched limbs on the way.
The sword was not just a bladed weapon now; it was a sharp edge and a flat staff, a crushing blunt edge and even a biting, tearing, sharp-toothed dragon. Ginryuu darted out again and again, cutting into flesh, snapping bones and crippling joints with its long body. Even the hilt was bloodied after being sent raking across vulnerable points like those glaring green eyes and tender throats. The silver serpent wove in and out of the rapidly dwindling pack, moving so quickly that it was as if its victims were standing still, and by its side the mage was not idle.
Fai's long legs danced him out of harm's way time and time again, but also lashed out to do damage when they could. When the sword was busy, a booted foot often lashed out to catch a different wolf-thing on the jaw or side of the head, stunning it and sometimes knocking it completely out. Once Fai even kicked Ginryuu, putting his foot to the dull side of the sword to send the cutting edge flying into a snarling face. Another time it was Fai's palm against the blade, bracing it against the impact of a beast leaping onto him.
They fought together, the mage and the dragon, killing when they could and crippling when they could not. The two worked quickly, reducing the deadly pack into a mass of dead bodies and hobbling individuals. Those beasts yet living were all the more aggressive for being crazed with pain, but with at least one limb rendered useless, lack of agility and speed doomed them all.
A lucky bite or swipe might have turned the tables but Fai was no novice, to be hastened into clumsiness and error. He ran and dodged and leapt and just kept moving but did not tire himself out with any unnecessary efforts. His movements were quick but he did not rush. He put himself in harm's way time and again but always left himself an escape route or two. Fai knew better than to risk their lives on an uncertain chance.
Not a novice indeed, and no fool either, and beyond this also no longer the same man who'd once left the wish-granter's shop wanting never to go home. Fai didn't blame himself anymore merely for existing, did not hold his life cheap, did not view death as an escape. He struggled and hoped and fought.
The mage had a very short list of priorities just now, or really just one main priority; win. To do that meant all the other things; survive and protect and carry on with their self-appointed tasks. In order to gain that end Fai did not let compassion get in the way of causing the creatures around him - who were really only doing what came naturally to them - pain and suffering. He was not cruel, however, and as Kurogane struggled awkwardly to his feet - foot - again, he watched as Fai began dispatching the last handful of struggling beasts one by one, quick and clean. The fight had been quick but the mage had quickly determined the beasts' weak points, and a shallow thrust under a foreleg or quick swipe just under the jaw soon reduced the remnants of the pack to corpses.
Fai turned in a circle, casting his eye one last time over every body to make sure he'd done his work thoroughly, and then finally, finally stood still for a moment, his back once again to his companion. It was just long enough for one deep breath and a steadying sigh, but the sight of the mage standing there seared itself into Kurogane's mind as if he'd stared for hours, committing each little detail to memory.
The man was a wreck, all tattered and torn, his hair no less disheveled than his clothing and blood covering him in splatters and streaks. Every inch of him seemed wrinkled, dusty, stained or scratched up and yet he was still elegant somehow. Not polished but still perfect.
Fai had been born and raised a prince, and Kurogane had many memories of the mage in all manner of fancy clothing, singing and dancing and conversing with ease as the occasion demanded, belonging no matter how high or select the company. There was a nobility about the blond that could not be covered by any amount of fluff and frill, folly or falsehood. It seeped through whether he would or no and now it seemed to shine in him as if it was a visible light starting to flare through all the raw and roughened spots. The dragon-headed sword glimmered silver and dripped red and somehow belonged as perfectly to the blond in that moment as it ever had to its true master. Princeling, wizard, jester, trickster...he stood there in the shadow-light, tall and strong, hair and clothing rippling slowly in the breeze and looking every inch a king. Savage and wild, bold and beautiful.
If he'd turned around just then and demanded homage Kurogane would have fallen to one knee, injuries be damned, and paid it.
Fai turned around, but broke the enchantment instead of completing it. The ninja blinked and almost startled at how the mage's face betrayed his unformed expectations; instead of a proud expression exulting in victory Fai was wearing weariness and worry tucked into every little twist and wrinkle of his face. He rushed over, hasty now as he had not been while fighting for his life, only to come skidding to a halt and then hovering anxiously.
"Where are you hurt?" Fai asked, blue eyes roaming all over the taller man's battered form and one bloodied hand suspended uncertainly between them, not knowing where he could touch without aggravating the ninja's injuries. The other hand was at the mage's side, clutching Ginryuu by the hilt, the blade reversed and sweeping toward the ground. "Is it just from the fall or did they bite you? Do you feel funny at all; dizzy or feverish or anything? I came as quickly as I could, but I had to climb out of this absolutely ridiculous tree first. Can you walk? We should find better shelter than this pile of rocks."
"Right arm, left leg," Kurogane answered shortly, gritting his teeth against the pain that was once again claiming the majority of his attention. "Broke them when I fell. I can manage if you lend me your shoulder but clean the blood off first." This last was accompanied by a quick nod at the sword, and Fai huffed and then did as he was bid.
"Silly me," the mage said teasingly as he carefully ran the blade through a handful of his own cloak. "Of course tidying up comes first. It wouldn't do to meet up with another pack of magic-resistant slithery-snarlies with a dirty sword."
Kurogane ignored the chatter - nowhere near as effective in distracting him as watching the mage fight - and concentrated on staying upright and scanning their surroundings. Fai soon declared the weapon "all prettied up again" and picked up the scabbard that the ninja had left on the ground, giving it a quick scrub as well on his already-ruined cloak before sheathing the dragon-headed sword. The weapon was presented to its rightful wielder with a flourish, but Kurogane shook his head.
"Keep it." He kept his eyes on the horizon but didn't miss the way Fai went utterly still and just stared at him for a long, drawn-out moment. "For now," the ninja added, lest there be any mistake about ultimate ownership. "You're going to have to do most of the fighting anyway until I get these bones set, and I suppose you handled it decently."
Decently. Ginryuu would always and forever belong to - belong with - Kurogane but Fai had proven himself to be a completely different sort of right and perfect for the sword.
He'd begun this journey burdened with secrets and curses, his goals all hinging on betraying each of his companions, one by one. But along the way he'd changed, and instead of bending to the machinations of Fei-Wang Reed he'd taken up the advice the Lord of Suwa had once given his son; use your strength to protect those whom you love. The mage had even been instrumental in returning the last son of that household to his parents' teachings, saving his life and enabling him to go home. He was more than worthy to hold Ginryuu in his hands.
If the mage understood the significance of being allowed to carry the weapon temporarily, it only showed in that breathless silence and a quick flash of emotion in those big blue eyes, there and gone in the blink between Kurogane finally meeting the other man's gaze and Fai ducking his head to find a good spot on his belt to tie the sword to. When that blond head lifted again the mage was wearing a simple, childishly happy smile, and he deepened the infantile impression by throwing up his hands and giving a little twirl.
"Yay, my own little dragon," he trilled. "I shall pet him and hug him and call him Gin-tan!"
"You- never mind. I'm taking it back," Kurogane snarled immediately, bristling and growling and wondering why he'd ever thought Fai worth anything - everything - other than the strength necessary to deck him.
"You'll have to catch me first," Fai laughed, but skipped close and snuggled in under Kurogane's uninjured arm as if voluntarily giving himself up. He braceleted the ninja's left wrist with his own hand and snuck his free arm around the taller man's waist before straightening up slowly, carefully pulling the injured man away from the rocks.
"And you," continued the mage, "are in no shape to play our usual games of keep-away."
"I do not play games with you," growled Kurogane, wincing as he began hobbling, leaning heavily on his companion because he knew he could.
"Which is exactly why I'm so happy to have Gin-tan to play with."
"I am going to kill you someday."