There’s a moment of stillness whenever Kurogane sees Fai cast a spell. A sense of suspension, hair standing on end, like the crackle of energy before a lightning bolt strikes. Sometimes, he catches a glance of Fai’s expression when it happens. That languid look of Fai’s carefree fluidity gets stripped away, and his eyes light up with singular focus. It makes sense that his magic comes from his eyes. Kurogane can see the power in them, how cutting his gaze can be when it’s not glossed over, hiding behind half lids.
Kurogane remembers that gaze cutting through him in Celes as Fai charged him head on. Few things strike fear in him, but in that moment he felt that Fai’s gaze alone had the power to kill him.
It’s a different feeling, when Fai’s steel focus in battle is at Kurogane’s back. Kurogane feels indestructible in those moments. To have that power, that suspension before the lightning strike, ducking and weaving with perfect familiarity and ease through his blind spots. Sometimes, he thinks Fai has ruined him as a warrior, that he could never fight with anyone else at his side with that same confidence.
Afterwards, he thinks of home. Of one day returning to Princess Tomoyo, his back bare and vulnerable. Tomoyo had sent him on this journey to learn true strength, and the many ways it manifests. He knows now it isn’t about his ability to kill, about the sword at his side. But he also knows what it’s like to have a phantom limb, the itch of what’s meant to be there never coming back. Kurogane can no longer fathom fighting alone.
There are other mages in Japan. (Feudal era Japan, as Yuuko would specify, differentiating her own strange world full of tall buildings. Not that it matters. It's his Japan.) Before his journey, it wasn’t uncommon for Kurogane to fight alongside the mages. It was different then. He saw them as nuisances who got in his way and only trusted his father’s blade in his palm. He didn’t need to strike lightning, he only needed his own body, his instincts to guide him to kill. He wonders if this was part of his aversion to Fai in the beginning. That, and his smile. Far too wide, yet never reaching his eyes, projecting outward from nowhere inward.
Now when Fai smiles, he can’t look away. He craves seeing the warmth in them, as Fai pulls a blanket over Syaoran. The teasing glint and uncontrolled laughter when Fai pokes fun at something so dumb and simple that Kurogane has done. The way Fai’s face relaxes in pure joy and comfort, it catches Kurogane off guard. His hair stands on end, lightning struck.
Kurogane would never let anything take that smile away. The unabashed freedom of it, weighed down by nothing and no one. When he feels the weight at his back, when Fai isn’t there, he knows that burden is his alone to carry.
Still, the question lingers. What will become of Fai, when this journey is over? It’s not Kurogane’s business. Kurogane deliberately cut the string that had pulled their lives along, against their will, when he buried his sword into Fei Wong Reed’s chest. They are free, and Fai can finally live whatever life he wants. Kurogane will protect that freedom at any cost. His own feelings are inconsequential.
So, he steels himself when he feels the question bubbling in his chest.
Fai is lounging on a couch, thumb sweeping the edge of a mug of tea. His other arm is propped up, holding his chin over the back of the couch, craning his neck to look out the window behind him. Snow is falling gently outside of the cabin they’ve taken shelter in. Syaoran and Mokona are sound asleep in another room. Exhaustion always seems to hit Syaoran first, leaving Fai and Kurogane up late, keeping watch, until the wariness of a warrior gives up its fight.
Kurogane has just fed the fireplace with another log, when he hears Fai let out a breath. He recognizes the sound immediately, the kind of breath Fai exhales when he remembers something fondly. Kurogane’s eyes snap to him, and he catches the gentle curve in the corner of Fai’s mouth, the glow of the fireplace dancing in his eyes, his gaze lost in a memory.
Kurogane stands and silently moves to sit in the chair across from Fai, hoping he hasn't noticed his staring. Fai’s gaze remains transfixed outside, and his lips part.
“Do you remember when Sakura saw snow, for the first time?” Fai asks, softly. His gaze moves easily to Kurogane’s, as if he expected to meet it there. Kurogane’s voice catches in his throat, so he stays silent, leaving space for Fai to continue.
Fai tilts his head, “She had the biggest eyes. I think that was the first time I saw her just… in the moment. She looked so lost before that. It was nice to finally see her aware of herself.” He brings the mug to his lips, shoulders relaxing at the warmth when he sips. “You were right, you know. I was really fooling myself,” he continues, “To think I wasn’t growing attached back then.” He sighs, his eyes turning downward, a somber edge to them. “I miss her.”
It makes sense that Fai is thinking of a moment from their journey. Kurogane knows better than to mistake Fai’s look of fondness at the falling snow as nostalgia for Celes. Fai’s feelings toward it are complicated, but Kurogane has heard him say repeatedly that he’s glad he can never return. That it’s fitting there’s nothing left of it.
Kurogane thinks back to the moment Fai mentioned. He remembers Syaoran commenting on how rare it was to see snow in the desert he came from, and Sakura’s look of pure wonder. There’s that ache. That phantom limb. But it’s different this time.
“We’ll get her back,” Kurogane says, firmly. “The princess and the other kid. We’ll get them back.”
Fai’s gaze meets him again, and he smiles. The kind that turns his gold eye to warm honey, as his blue eye pierces through Kurogane, unwavering as it looks straight through him. The kind of smile that bubbles words in Kurogane’s chest, dancing on his tongue, threatening to spill out. It makes him uncomfortable, how it undoes him.
“So confident,” Fai says, sipping his tea again. He leans his head back.
“Is it horrible of me… if a part of me wishes we could keep traveling, after we find them,” Fai lets out a wry chuckle. “I know it’s been dangerous, but it’s also been so nice. I’d love for us all to be together, again.”
Kurogane frowns, “That’s pretty horrible of you, yeah.” He understands how Fai feels, but he can’t help but tease him. Dragging those kids into another mess, after everything, is a bit horrible.
Fai jolts up, planting his hand on his chest in a fake gasp, “So mean, Kuro-papa! Is it so horrible of me to miss our children? No sympathy for me at all?” His tone lightens, into that teasing cadence. He’s putting on a show, but it’s not the same as before. Kurogane can tell when Fai is hiding, and when he’s having fun.
It’s still just as aggravating, however.
“No. Never,” Kurogane can feel his own lips betray him, curling into a smirk. He controls himself, flattening his mouth into a hard line.
“Wherever they go, after this journey is over, we have to respect their choice,” he concludes. He averts Fai’s gaze, when he says it.
That doesn’t go unnoticed.
“Well, we can still ask, you know,” Fai sets his mug on a nearby end table. “What do you think is going to happen? Hooray, we found you! Now, let’s never speak to each other ever again!” Fai plants his hands on either side of himself on the couch, leaning forward over his knees. Kurogane recognizes that too, the pose Fai shifts into when he’s ready to pull Kurogane into another argument. Like he’s interrogating him, like it’s a game to wind him up until he snaps.
So, so aggravating.
“That isn’t what I meant. We can find a way to communicate, but it wouldn’t be fair to pressure them to leave again. They deserve to be safe, after everything they’ve been through,” Kurogane is still averting Fai’s gaze. He can feel heat rising in his chest. Here he is, fighting away his own selfishness. Then there’s Fai, wearing it on his sleeve.
“How do you know what will make them happy?” Fai presses on. “It’s worth asking, you never know unless you try. What’s so wrong with asking?”
“Because it isn’t about what I want!” The words leave Kurogane’s mouth before he can catch them. He stares at the carpet beneath him, unable to bring himself to look at Fai. Instead, he hears Fai rise from the couch and step across the living room. He sees Fai’s feet stop in front of him, feels him lean forward, placing a hand on each armrest, encasing Kurogane.
It always ends like this, with Fai having Kurogane pinned. Seeing right through him. Fai is an expert at hiding, he had done it his entire life. There is never any hiding from him.
“We’re not talking about the kids, are we?” Kurogane hears Fai’s voice above his head. He still can’t look at Fai. He stares through the gaps between Fai’s arms, calculating a way to duck past him, brush him off and pretend this conversation never happened.
“Kuro-rin, look at me,” despite the nickname, Fai’s voice is firm, devoid of teasing. He’s not going to let Kurogane past him.
Damn him. Damn him.
It’s quick, when Kurogane feels Fai’s hand on his chin. Too quick for him to register, to pull away. It’s too late, because those eyes find him again, boring down on him, trapping him. The glow of the fireplace catches on Fai’s hair, casting his face in shadow as he leans over Kurogane. Fai looks at him like he knows what this does to him. He knows Kurogane can’t look away once he’s caught under that earnest stare.
Fai had become open, inviting, and it scares the hell out of him. Kurogane wanted so badly for so long for Fai to drop his act, but he never expected how powerless it would render him to see Fai like this. Kurogane never realized how much of himself he kept hidden, until Fai laid it all bare.
“Is there something you’ve been meaning to ask me?” Fai states, more than asks. Kurogane hates how even Fai’s voice is, how certain. He knew, of course he fucking knew.
“I…” Kurogane hears himself, and he’s done for. He can never bring himself to lie to Fai, could never get away with it if he tried. He needs to keep his mouth shut, but Fai’s hand is on his chin, and his thumb is tracing his jaw, watching and waiting so patiently, and it’s ripping Kurogane open.
So, he controls his words as best he can.
“I know that… there isn’t a place for you to go to, when this is all done,” Kurogane begins. He should stop right there. Fai’s hand slides up, cupping his cheek. Kurogane can feel the residual heat from the tea cup radiating against him. He wonders if Fai can feel the heat rising in his cheeks, and he’s terrified of what that means. But the hand stays there, solid, not going anywhere.
“When we were in Japan—Princess Tomoyo—she found you to be very impressive,” Kurogane continues. He feels himself regaining control, steadying his tone. There doesn’t have to be any expectations in what he says. He doesn’t have to reveal a thing. It doesn’t have to be about him. It’s like Fai said, there’s no harm in asking.
“There are other mages in Tomoyo’s court. When I told her what you were capable of, at even half of your power, she said you outclassed them all,” Kurogane’s eyes steel over when he speaks. This is an offer, nothing more. “I know for certain she’d offer a position for you. It’s a good living. You’d be good at it. It might be worth thinking about.”
Kurogane sees it instantaneously, Fai’s brows lowering, his mouth turning to a frown. It’s dangerous for Kurogane, when Fai’s smile reaches his eyes. It’s even more dangerous when he glares. Fai’s hand drops from his cheek, the sudden loss of warmth stinging.
“So that’s it, then?” Fai says. His voice is short, cutting.
“What?” Kurogane matches the sharpness of Fai’s tone.
Fai lifts his weight away from the armrests, releasing Kurogane, but Kurogane doesn’t move. He watches Fai as he turns away from him, heaving an aggravated sigh as he runs a hand through his hair. This isn’t dramatics, Kurogane can tell that Fai is pissed .
“What did I do?” Kurogane asks again, incredulous. “It’s just a job offer, what the hell are you so mad about?”
Fai barks a laugh, then mimics, his voice low, “It’s just a job offer.” Kurogane can see Fai’s shoulders shake in a dark, voiceless chuckle.
Fai turns around, and for a second, Kurogane thinks he sees tears prickling at the edge of his lashes. When Fai speaks, he sounds out of breath, seething with anger.
“After everything we’ve been through, you finally ask me to go home with you, and you,” Fai lowers his hand from his hair, laughing bitterly into his caged fingers. “You ask me like it’s some business proposition.”
Kurogane grits his teeth. “What is the problem?” he says, rising to his feet. “What else is there to say?” Kurogane thinks this will even things, to not give Fai the opportunity to corner him, again. That he can match his gaze, like this.
Fai meets his eyes again, and Kurogane is wrong. It’s far more devastating to see his glare head on.
“What else? What else? ” Fai laughs through his words. “How about, ‘I want you to stay with me.’ Would that be so hard?”
“But it’s not about what I want!” Kurogane recognizes his own words, echoed from earlier. Fai was right. He wasn’t talking about the kids. Damn him for being right about everything.
“Of course it is!” Fai bites back.
And, there it is. This isn’t what Kurogane wants. He doesn’t want Fai to stay with him because he doesn’t want to be alone, because Kurogane is the only one who has offered. Fai has never had a choice in where his life took him. Whether he was cast out, controlled, or tossed around by fate, he was never anywhere because he simply wanted to be, not for the most of it. Fai has found his freedom in the company of Kurogane, Sakura, Syaoran, and Mokona. That doesn’t mean he has to be bound to them, because he has no one else.
But there Fai is, looking directly at him, pissed as all hell. Kurogane straightens himself, determined. Fai wants the truth from him. Well, here it is.
“It’s your life, mage, not mine,” Kurogane states, simply. The grit to his words has gone. “I can’t decide this for you. If you want to come to Japan, then come. Don’t come because of me.”
Fai shakes his head, both hands rising to his face, wiping away tears. “You’re still not getting it ,” he says, his voice a whisper. Fai’s tone has lowered, but he’s still incredibly tense.
Kurogane remains silent, giving them both space to calm down. This isn’t the time to be saying regretful things, out of the heat of the moment. He waits for Fai’s tears to subside, and for him to catch his breath.
When Fai looks up at him, he’s unguarded, the edge to his tone worn away to the sadness that instigated it.
“Why would I go, when you won’t even say you want me there?”
It’s a familiar swell that rises in Kurogane. That incredulous feeling, whenever he hears Fai say stupid shit like this. Where the fuck did that even come from? How could he possibly think that? Kurogane retorts on instinct, refusing to give the thought any credence.
“Of course I want you.”
Kurogane’s words are already hanging in the air, before he has a chance to think. Before he has a chance to realize, that’s not the answer to the question Fai asked.
It’s the words that were buried in Kurogane’s chest. What Fai saw in him, has pried out of him. Not with pestering, not with tricks. With his honesty. That honesty that drives Kurogane insane, that he treasures so much, that he can never ever let go of, now that it’s finally here before him.
Fai is oddly quiet. His hands have fallen from his face, sitting still at his sides, his lips slightly parted, eyes unwavering. It takes Kurogane a moment to realize Fai is silent because he is waiting for him. Fai is being patient with him, because he understands this isn’t easy for Kurogane to say. Fai wants him to take his time, and his gaze is so earnest, so knowing, it’s too much. Fai knows him too well.
Fai should know that Kurogane is stubborn, and won’t give up his stance, no matter how much Fai has worn him down.
“But it’s not about me,” Kurogane repeats. “It’s your choice, where to call home. That choice belongs to no one else.”
The smile Fai gives him is so gentle, so tender, Kurogane can’t stand it. He can’t bear looking away, not when the tension in Fai’s shoulders has melted away, and he’s stepping towards Kurogane, and Fai’s hands are on Kurogane’s face again. Fai huffs, easing the breath into his smile. His eyes are so warm, blue and gold, staring with what Kurogane can no longer deny is simple, utter affection.
Kurogane expects himself to tense up, when Fai’s hands smooth across his temple, card through his short black hair, and settle on the back of his neck. But he doesn’t. The warmth from Fai’s palms affects him immediately, and he lets out a held breath.
It surprises Kurogane, however, when he feels his own breath ghost against Fai’s, and realizes how close they are. It surprises him even more, to acknowledge how easy this feels. How simple. It doesn’t make sense that this is the first time Fai has ever kissed his cheek. He can feel it in his chest, each time Fai’s lips caress his face. His forehead, his temple, his jaw. It isn’t a familiar feeling, but it’s as if it should be familiar, that he should’ve had this sensation already burned into his memory. Fai’s hands continue to soothe him, one rubbing slow circles at his back, the other settling on his chest.
Kurogane doesn’t know how much time has passed, with Fai caressing him like he has all the time in the world. How long Kurogane has been standing there like an idiot, not knowing what to do. Not knowing what this is. But Fai is still looking at him so knowingly, so patiently.
The hand at Kurogane’s chest rests over his heart.
“This is my home,” Fai says, and his voice is the softest Kurogane has ever heard it.
Kurogane is stunned silent, gears slowly clicking into place in his mind. He finds his arms circling Fai’s waist, like it’s the natural thing to do.
Fai’s other hand travels back up from his back, over his shoulder, sliding down his arm. The mechanical one. Fai’s fingers press into the synthetic skin, tracing along the metal grooves beneath. Kurogane can't feel the warm friction of skin against the imitation, but the pressure of the touch grounds him all the same, stopping him from feeling outside his own body. For someone so used to being driven by instinct, it’s so easy for Kurogane to get lost in his own head. To treat his body like a machine, programmed to do what it needs to do. The way Fai holds him makes it impossible to feel that way.
Fai revels in how Kurogane relaxes under his touch, and continues.
“You, Sakura, Syaoran, Mokona. Being with you is my home,” Fai says, resting his forehead against Kurogane’s. Kurogane can feel Fai’s breath against his lips, and it’s still so simple, so easy to exist there. Kurogane finds his eyes transfixed on the way Fai’s lips move when he speaks.
“You made me realize what a home was supposed to feel like. To have family, to have love,” Fai says, and he’s kissing Kurogane’s cheeks again. Kurogane finds his forehead falling into the space between Fai’s head and shoulder. Fai’s arms move up and around Kurogane’s shoulders.
A simple turn of his head, and Fai’s lips are against Kurogane’s ear, “That’s why I stayed, when everything inside of me was screaming to run. I couldn’t, because you were the home I wanted to run to.”
Fai pulls back just a bit, tracing his lips across Kurogane’s cheekbone along the way. He settles in front of him, making sure their gazes are locked, again.
“You saved me. You all saved me. You have to know that.”
The gears in Kurogane’s head complete their turning, clicking into place. Into what Kurogane should have known all along.
That Fai will always be at his side, because Fai wants to be there. And these days, when it comes to Kurogane, Fai always gets what he wants.
“I’m staying with you, because you’re my home,” Fai states, and Kurogane, finally, accepts that truth.
Fai laughs, light, relieved. He nuzzles his face closer, the glint returning to his eye.
“I just wanted to hear you say it, how you felt about me,” Fai teases. It isn’t a challenge, he says it without expectation, already settling to simply embrace Kurogane, and leave it at that.
But Kurogane can’t have that, can’t have Fai work him up for nothing. Fai deserves to have everything he wants, and if he wants Kurogane, then Kurogane will be his.
Kurogane pulls back, squaring his gaze in Fai’s eyes. He sees it, then. The way Fai looks at him. Like it overwhelms him, too, to see Kurogane let his guard down, to see him raw and open.
“I want you to stay,” Kurogane says, simply. He watches Fai’s reaction carefully, committing to memory the way he melts in his arms, the flash of his teeth as he smiles wide, relieved, utterly happy. That satisfied glint, getting exactly what he wants.
Of course, if Kurogane gives Fai an inch… now he wants a mile.
“Say it again,” Fai whispers, his breath ghosting over Kurogane’s lips. Teasing him.
Kurogane has a thought, and smirks.
He tightens his arms around Fai’s waist, and pulls him closer, earning an unexpected yelp from Fai. Kurogane tilts his head closer, lips barely touching Fai’s.
“I want you,” Kurogane repeats, his voice low. He can feel the shiver down Fai’s spine, and his chest swells in satisfaction.
“Again,” Fai says, and Kurogane doesn’t miss the way his breath hitches.
“Shut up,” Kurogane breathes out, and he kisses Fai. He feels Fai’s satisfied hum reverberate against his lips, Fai’s breath quickening, Fai’s arms tugging his head closer. Kurogane pulls back to breathe, but Fai doesn’t let him. Fai kisses him back like it’s his mission to leave him breathless. He catches Kurogane’s lips when they are parted, tugging him closer still, sliding their tongues together. Kurogane should be annoyed at how quickly Fai tips the scales against him, again, but he finds himself addicted to the sensation. Fai kisses him like he’s claiming him, and Kurogane can’t get enough of it.
Fai kisses along Kurogane’s jaw, to the shell of his ear. “You’re never,” Fai punctuates each word with a kiss, trailing down his neck, “Ever. Ever. Getting rid of me.”
Something about Fai’s voice, the possessiveness of it, does something to Kurogane. His mind goes blank, silenced to a comforting static.
Fai smiles into the crook of Kurogane’s neck. “Even if you wanted to. You can’t,” he laughs, his breath tickling Kurogane’s skin.
Then, Fai moves to Kurogane’s lips again, and whispers before closing the distance between them, “You’re mine.”
Kurogane recognizes that comforting static, that feeling of utter completeness, the sensation of Fai’s power at his side. The stillness before lightning booms around him, ringing in his ears.
Kurogane could never want anything more.
Fai always sleeps on his stomach. Kurogane often sleeps on his back. They know this about each other. So, they don’t have to say a word about it when they find themselves huddled on the same twin bed, Fai laying directly on top of Kurogane. There is a second twin bed, standing empty beside them, unnecessary.
Fai sighs like a contented cat, his head tucked beneath Kurogane’s chin, tracing his finger along his chest.
“Hmm, it’s about time you said it,” Fai starts.
Kurogane knocks his head against the pillow behind him with a grunt. Would Fai just shut the fuck up about this already.
“Said what?” Kurogane asks. He should really just ignore Fai, and go to sleep. But he can never just fucking ignore Fai.
Especially not when Fai shifts up in the bed that they are sharing, so their heads are next to each other, and he can see his blue and gold eyes gazing at him in the dark.
“That you love me,” Fai says it so quiet and giddy, like it’s some dumb secret at a sleepover.
Kurogane should just let this moment be, accept it for the beautiful thing that it is.
But, the gut reaction kicks in. Kurogane cannot, ever, stop himself from pointing out when Fai is wrong.
“Technically, I didn’t say that,” Kurogane states.
Fai gives him a sly smile.
“Are you sure about that? I recall you saying some wonderful things,” Fai is kissing his jaw and neck again. Kurogane’s eyes slip close, and he might just let Fai win this one, just because of how good that feels.
Except… hold on.
Kurogane’s eyes snap open, and he jolts up. He turns, looking over Fai.
“Actually,” Kurogane realizes, “I did say it.”
Fai looks up at him, amused, “Hmm? When?”
“I cut my fucking arm off for you. What the hell did you think that meant?”
Fai bursts out laughing. Kurogane hits him with a pillow.