The kiji had come up almost literally out of nowhere, ambushing them on their walk to the bar. The magician had actually spotted them first and called a warning, which annoyed Kurogane no end.
Fai had fallen in behind him as more kiji appeared; but Kurogane didn't know the man well enough and didn't trust him, weaponless as he was, to cover his back. So he'd moved away to open up his lines of sight and free his swing. He didn't even feel the presence of the monster who had appeared behind him, or even hear him in all the noise; the massive blow took him completely by surprise, knocking him off his feet and slamming him into the wall.
His ears were ringing from the blow and his vision was strangely tunneled; the shapes of the dark monsters seemed to be flowing and shifting as they loomed over him; he tried to raise his sword to meet them, but his shoulder flared in agony and his arm was numb.
Against the darkness, a bright figure leapt into his vision; the mage was standing over him, pose protective and his hands bristling with the tiny glinting points of bar darts. Kurogane would have laughed in scorn at such useless weapons, if he could have gotten his wind back to breathe.
Fai's arm flung in a wide arc, and the tiny points of metal scattered -- and then, to Kurogane's surprise, blossomed into missiles of blue fire. They tore into the pulsating dark faces of the monsters, leaving burning trails in their wake, and the monsters howled and thrashed in agony before melting away, leaving only twitching, smoking corpses behind.
Then Fai was leaning over him, eyes bright and laughter hovering on his lips, and Kurogane wasn't even sure that he wanted to be saved if it was going to mean he had to listen to gloating.
"What the hell," he wheezed as the air slowly came back, getting the jump on the conversation before the mage could, "was that?"
"What was what?" Fai blinked innocently. "Oh, dear, you're hurt. How bad is it?"
"I thought you said you weren't gonna do magic." Kurogane said, impatiently waving aside his badly faked concern.
The question made Fai stiffen up and draw away, which Kurogane counted as a win. "I didn't. I don't know what you're talking about," he said blithely.
"I'm not blind, wizard! I saw that blue light!" Kurogane shifted away from the wall, his breath drawing sharply in pain but trying valiantly to suppress it.
"Kuro-doggy hit his head on the wall pretty hard. Who knows what sorts of funny things he saw?" Fai tsked. "He didn't even see those monsters sneaking up on him, after all."
"They didn't have an aura!" Kurogane roared, glaring daggers at his companion. "Not any kind of living or unliving presence at all! They're not natural."
"I would think that was obvious. Normal things don't shift shapes around like that." He extended a hand towards Kurogane's elbow. "Can you stand up?"
"Of course I can!" Kurogane spurned the offer of help, still stung by the slight on his fighting prowess, still humiliated by this whole situation. He braced his good hand against the wall and pushed himself to his feet, grunting triumphantly as he steadied and glaring at his unwanted helper.
His grand pose lasted until he tried to take a step forward, at which point his ankle gave out and he sprawled forward onto his face. Fortunately Fai caught him before his face met the pavement, steadying him with surprising ease. Kurogane glared at him, shrugging away the unwanted support. "I didn't ask for your help!"
Fai blinked at him, then snapped his fingers in realization. "Oh yes! That's right, you didn't!" he said. He sat back on his heels, and pointed at Kurogane. "You didn't thank me for saving you from those monsters, either. Ungrateful Kuro-pup! So you'd better ask right now, or I might not do it."
"What?!" Kurogane roared. "I just said, I don't want your help!"
"Well, I don't see how you're going to get home without me," Fai said teasingly. "Unless you plan to hop the whole way, or crawl. Or unless you have a pogo stick, or maybe one of those funny bicycles where you can put up one leg and -- "
"I didn't ask for anybody's help!" Kurogane fumed, the anger boiling up and out from this whole trip, from the stinging unfairness of his exile, the lurking resentment of the Time-Space Witch's unwillingness to help him get home, the mounting frustration of every world they came to that wasn't his home. "I didn't even want to be here in the first place, and I don't want to get involved with any of this! Not with the princess and her feathers, not with the kid and his mission, and especially not with you and whatever you've got dragging behind you!"
There was a long pause, long enough for Kurogane to begin to regret his angry words. Fai had just saved his life, after all; lashing out at him was poor enough repayment for that on any battlefield. "Look --" he started.
"Is it all for you, then?" Fai interrupted him.
Fai crouched down again, his arms folded on top of his knees, head tilted to the side as he regarded Kurogane with unusual seriousness. "Everything you're fighting for," he said. "Whether you meant to come on this trip or not, you're here now; we're all in the same boat together. Everyone else is trying hard, even the princess is doing everything she can to help out. You're the only one who isn't willing to lend a hand, who insists he doesn't care about anybody else. So that makes me have to wonder what it is that you want all that strength for, if it isn't to help out other people. Is it just all for you, then?"
Kurogane stared at him for a moment, stricken speechless. "I --" he started, and then broke off.
Before he could muster his thoughts together to reply, another voice interrupted them. "Yoo-hoo!" a female voice called from further down the street. "Is everything all right?"
Fai rose to his feet, and a cheerful expression snapped back onto his face so thoroughly Kurogane was left wondering if he'd imagined the serious expression from a moment ago. "We're fine now!" he chirped. "Just some problems with some oni on our way to a bar."
"A bar?" The woman came forward through the shadows, resolving into a tall, pretty woman with light curls and a dark complexion. Her voice was tinged with a steady drawl that reminded Kurogane of the southern regions of his country. "Well, you're in luck, because the finest bar in Outo is just down the street -- Clover!"
"Ah! That's just perfect!" Fai exclaimed, clapping his hands. "Well, we'd better get inside where it's safe, then --" He looked down at Kurogane, catching himself.
"Well, this is what we were trying to get to, after all..." Kurogane grumbled, then rubbed his hand over his face with a gusty sigh. He looked back up and met Fai's eyes. "At least help me get into the damn bar.... Please."
"Yay!" Fai cheered, his expression lighting up. A smile beaming from his face, he leaned down and gave Kurogane a hand, pulling the ninja back to his feet with surprising ease. He slipped into position under Kurogane's shoulder, supporting his injured side with surprising strength. "This is the best I can do. Sorry I'm not big enough to carry you over my shoulder like a knight and a princess--"
"Who'd want that?" Kurogane exploded, cringing at the mental vision that presented.
"And after we get back home to the shop Big Kitty will mix up some nice healing salve for your ankle ~!"
"Do what you like," he grumbled.
They walked forward into the light, with Kurogane leaning on Fai's shoulder the whole way.