Kurogane can’t quite figure out what happened with his life. Not too long ago he’d been the deadliest ninja in all of Nihon, dispatching off assassins which threatened the princess’ life, keeping the castle safe in her name. And now, he’s been reduced to this. Chasing some blond, two-faced ninny who dresses like a clown and smiles like a lunatic around like an angry wife at a festival show. It is clearly beneath his dignity, he decides every time the anger slowly fades and his head clears. It’s never going to happen again. He vows that it won’t to himself and to his princess.
It’s beyond worrying that this is the second vow to his princess that he doesn’t keep – and continuously doesn’t keep, at that – considering that not keeping the first one was what landed him here in the first place.
But somehow, that idiot mage just gets to him, like nothing ever should get to a warrior of his caliber. He brings him off balance, makes him forget all about dignity and inner peace and whatever vows he’s made, and before long the chase is once more on.
For some reason, he remembers apprehending a traitor to Nihon, a man who had once been a comrade of his. Kurogane remembers him saying, before he killed him, that the things he’d been taught, all his training, his loyalty to the princess… that he’d thought all these things would help him withstand torture. Tears had appeared in his eyes as he’d whispered, “I was wrong,” and Kurogane had cut him down in disgust.
Now, no amount of physical pain could ever make him betray Tomoyo. This is not something he thinks, this is something he knows, and he has always assumed that was what people like that traitor did wrong. They go around thinking things that they aren’t sure of, and when they’re faced down with the truth, it breaks them.
But for something to make him forget, even for a red-hot moment of anger, a promise made to princess Tomoyo –albeit an unspoken, private vow that she knows nothing about – is enough for him to equate it with torture. Because he’d never imagined, ever, there being someone who could make him lose his focus and presence of mind. Being faced with this truth, he won’t break, but it is nonetheless something he needs to carefully consider.
However, the conclusion he comes to isn’t particularly comforting.
Because he has to admit to himself, when all is said and done, that it isn’t Fai’s teasing, or his inability to take anything serious, or the way he’ll team up with the stupid meat bun, or even those damn nicknames, that really drives him up a wall. No, the part that annoys him the most is the falseness of that very same infuriating silliness; the way his cheerful demeanor sometimes sounds desperate, as if he’s hiding something horrible and broken beneath; the way his eyes sometimes become soft with sorrow for a moment, or hard with some terrible kind of determination, before he quickly glosses it over.
And while it is true that he hates liars, hates people who can’t face up to themselves, and it makes sense of him to be repulsed by Fai, that doesn’t explain why he keeps picking at it like a wound, why he keeps hounding Fai even when unprovoked. No, he knows the reason behind those things, and in the end they have nothing to do with… well, with Fai, as such. It has to do with him, and his own desperate longing to see what he hides beneath the smiles, to understand the reason behind the mage’s pretense, to find whatever it is that’s broken in him and…
…and put it right.
He doesn’t mind the carefree nonsense. He doesn’t mind being mercilessly bullied Fai and the meat bun together. Doesn’t mind getting poked and prodded and casually flirted with. He doesn’t even mind being called Kuro-rin-pon-pyon-muu-tan-chii-min-pii-wanwan-chan. What he minds is that he can’t figure out what’s for real, and what’s not. What’s just a charade, and what’s proof of Fai’s affection, such as it is.
Because what he knows – what he’s certain of like he’s been certain of very little else in his life – is that Fai cares about him just as much as he cares about Fai. If he’d just stop pretending for a second, and admit it to himself.
* * *
It is maddening.
He’s spent most of his far too long life learning how to smile convincingly even when he feels like his heart is splitting down the middle. He’s spent years making sure there will be no way of looking through his charade, preparing himself for the huge, horrible deception that lay ahead of him. And one look from that surly, unapproachable ninja is apparently still all it takes to slice right through his defenses. He’d been told to watch out for this one, but he’s quite sure this was not what the dark voice that still haunts his dreams had meant.
And the worst part of it is realizing, in the midst of the confusion and frustration that Kurogane stirs up inside him, that he really doesn’t mind. That it feels nice to be seen at last, as he’d thought he would never be seen again. It’s completely counter-intuitive and perverse, but there it is. Even as he plays along and tries to laugh the ninja off, he knows he’s now leaving cracks on purpose for Kurogane to find, leaving himself open so the other man can step in, and for a moment or two he’ll allow himself to not be alone.
The uncomplicated joy he derives from teasing the other man is quite irresistible, and he finds himself making excuses to himself to push it a little further each time, even though this means getting dangerously close. It just feels so nice to be a part of something like this, as if this particular place in the universe has been waiting just for him. Watching the children grow with pride, taking care of them when they needed it, flirting lazily with Kurogane when it was early in the morning and his brain hadn’t been kicked back into action by near-fatal doses of caffeine, sometimes being caught unawares by a completely genuine smile tugging at his lips… It is all part of a different kind of life; the kind he’d never expected to live, and yet it feels so right, as if he’d always been secretly longing for it anyway.
This aside, there’s also the physical aspect of things, unfortunately. He knows this is the other reason he keeps pushing and prodding and teasing, because if Kurogane gets angry enough he tries to get physical, and then Fai can pretend that it’s not his fault if he enjoys it more than he should. After all, it’s not him touching Kurogane, is it? He can’t help if the ninja is an absolute brute who thinks pushing him against a wall is a good way of dealing with his issues. Right?
It’s hard for him to ignore that he’s goading Kurogane on purpose, when every time the ninja snaps and grabs his shoulder, or his chin, or pushes him… he’s acutely aware of just how much more he wants. And just how far he’s prepared to go to get it. And it’s terrifying and wonderful all at once, to have lost his head so completely that he’s actually considering it. Terrifying and wonderful and frustrating, because the further he pushes things, the more intense his longing gets, until every accidental brush of shoulders makes his skin burn and his breath falter, and every time they stand back-to-back in battle he can barely focus on not dying.
It’s torture. Wonderful, breathtaking, relentless torture, and he’s starting to suspect that he wouldn’t give it up for the world.
* * *
And at the end of their adventure – or is it really the beginning? – Fai finally finds the strength to give in, the courage to surrender. The fierce sun of Clow country beats upon their naked bodies, the heady desert breeze sneaking through the open window to gently nudge him. And he falls, doesn’t mind falling, laughing and free into Kurogane’s waiting arms.
“My turn to torture you, you bastard,” says a rough voice in his ear, as strong fingers tangle in his hair, tugging him backwards so that he can take in the predatory smile on Kurogane’s lips. He matches it perfectly, snarl for snarl, grin for grin, hunger for hunger.
“Oh no, Kuro-rin,” he mumbles, his voice laid bare and vulnerable, and therefore more powerful than ever. He hears the other man’s breath catch, harsh and hot and needy despite how hard he tries not to show it. “No,” he continues, pausing only to take his lover’s sharp grin into his mouth, taste the sun and the blood in it, intoxicating him, “no, I fear it’s quite the other way around.”
And they torture each other to madness, to freedom, this day and every day that is to come.