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“He’ll hate you,” says (pleads, warns, begs) Syaoran, and you know it’s true. Blood sticks his hair to his face and crusts one brown eye shut- Kurogane was not the only one to be injured the battle just gone.

You speak, because it would be rude not to, but the words that slip from your mouth are clumsy, broken things and for the life of you you can’t even remember what you just said. The dark-haired man who lies before you (hero, saviour, lover) is broken too, skin split, metal cracked like bones and breath wheezing in his lungs. He coughs, blood spatters his lips and chin in thick, dark strings and Ginryuu lies unsheathed by one twitching hand whose fingers curl in on themselves like the claws of some great bird.

You don’t want to remember him like this.

Depending on what you say next, you might not have to.

Mokona is crying and Watanuki watches you with eyes too old (like the ones you see in the mirror every morning, like the ones that shadow your face and fill with tears in the space between one choking sob and the next) to see what you will choose. You wonder if he already knows.

“There has to be… there has to be some other way!” Syaoran’s shout echoes in the close air of the shop’s yard, so sunny this time; the air thick and reeking with humid heat. But his voice is still that of a boy, and the roar of your heartbeat drowns out anything but your answer. Watanuki closes his eyes and the last thing you see (blurred and warped as salt stains your cheeks and steals your pride and you don't care, you don't care at all and in a moment you won't even remember the pain that twists in your chest) is red, and you pray it was just blood-


Kurogane is surprisingly calm when Syaoran tells him what happened. He expected violence, but the older man sits still and quiet and merely watches Fai through the frosted windows as he stomps about in the snow that hugs their tiny cottage in heavy drifts. This world is ice-locked, and in the week they’ve spent here he’s not once seen the white heaped across the yard melt even a little. Mokona’s ears droop and the small creature climbs onto Kurogane’s lap, looking lost in the folds of blankets that wrap his tall frame, barely hiding the swathes of bandages that criss-cross tanned skin.

His metal arm gleams, bright and shiny and new, in the glare from the snow outside as it spills in through the blinds. There was no chance to cover it with skin this time, and thick cords and cables shift as he tugs the blanket up and over his bare shoulder, eyes still fixed on the window-

-on the man with golden hair that floats in gossamer wisps about his face, cheeks flushed and pink from the chill, eyes as blue as the frozen sky-

-and he doesn’t even turn his head as Fai disappears from sight under the eaves of the house, and the sound of footsteps rings up the stairs, and he is still looking through the glass when the mage opens the door to this bedroom.

“Syaoran-kun, this has got to be the coldest world I’ve ever been to! I’ve never seen so much snow, not since Ceres- oh. I’m so sorry, you must be the owner of this lovely cottage.”

Kurogane turns, slowly, and if the bright smile (honest and brilliant, gleaming like a mirror and Syaoran wonders what the warrior sees in that curve of pink lips and white teeth) Fai gives him cuts him to the quick he gives no sign.

“My name is Fai, Fai D. Fluorite, and I must say I’m terribly grateful you’ve leant us your home. It’s not often I get to stay somewhere so welcoming, mister landlord.” The bow he drops into is low and graceful, his woolen coat flaring about his slender body, blue eyes glowing with happiness and nothing like recognition.

“It’s Kurogane. And I’m thinking of selling it. Too many memories.”

“Ku-ro-ga-ne,” says Fai carefully, sounding out the syllables, and his soft voice curls about the sounds like a cat, sleek and purring in the heat before a fire. “Good to know you, Kurogane-san. Good to know you.” The blonde shakes the metal hand proffered, and does not flinch at the chill.

Only Syaoran sees the despair that flickers in red, and only quickly- shutters fall down over eyes like rubies, and Kurogane nods briskly back, the mage’s hand strong in his grip. “Same to you.”


The next world you find is not nearly so calm and cold; the sky is scorched white with firestorms and the forests are choked with ash. You aren’t there very long, but long enough to see that the dark-haired man who has joined your small group is a skilled warrior- more than skilled, more than merely skilled. His blade finds its home in foes unnumbered, and you feel something like fear as red eyes flicker with the light that glows from the burning trees that bracket your small group, and you can’t say which flames burn hotter.

But Syaoran trusts him. The boy leaves himself unguarded, in spite of the obvious ease in which Kurogane has dispatched the men that chased you to the riverbank, perhaps because of it; he flicks the blood from his blade (Ginryuu, he told you, the name means silver dragon and in that flash of steel it’s easy for you to see the fangs of the beast) with a practiced snap of his wrist and sheathes the sword in one, smoothly-practiced movement. You wonder how many men he has killed, and how many of those lives taken he regrets, but you daren’t ask. You don’t know him well enough for that.

You want to know, and that scares you a little, scares you a lot, because this man (with hellish eyes and a voice that rumbles low and deep and shakes you to your bones and a body carved with the price paid to violence to earn such terrible, beautiful swordplay) is more fascinating than any stranger has a right to be. Yours is a tight-knit group, even tighter now with your princess gone and waiting in Clow, and the thought that this man might so very easily weave himself into that fabric bothers you even more. You don’t want this curiosity, pricking at your thoughts with kitten-claws and leaving you light-headed and distracted; you don’t need the urge to tease that oh-so-serious face which flickers on your silvered tongue and threatens to turn your oh-so-polite speech into the playful banter you never truly owned as a child…

But want and need have always worn you cruelly, and you have no expectation that your wish to hold yourself aloof will be granted. In your long and sometimes terrible life, you cannot recall a single occasion when any wish of yours ever was.

“Fai-Fai is thoughtful. Mokona wonders whether Fai even knows he’s stopped smiling.”

The small, sweet voice jerks you out of your thoughts; you have been staring at the campfire (and not at the man who sits in the play of shadows just beyond, dozing against a tree as firelight ripples over him like the glare cast from water) for an hour or so- insomuch as you can tell the passage of time in this world. Syaoran looks up, and there is something like sorrow in his eyes, and you are grateful they are his own. You don’t know how you could ever hide anything from your own gaze.

Mokona touches your knee, softly, softly, as though you were some animal it dares not startle. You make a soft noise in return, and then it is all too easy to smile and whisper comforting words that your thoughts merely wandered, that you are merely tired, and your hand curls gently in sleek white fur. You cast your gaze down, along with your thoughts, and red eyes half-slitted burn your skin even as you turn your face away.

Sleep finds you not much later, and your dreams (red, red, drowning in red, on your lips, on your tongue, painting your breath with the gasp and groan of blood and sex) are nothing you remember.