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Title: Eurydice
Fandom: Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle
Rating: T
Pairings/Warnings: KuroFai. Post-Tokyo, with some spoilers for Fai's past.
Summary: Every year, a festival is held to celebrate the passing of the Night of Change, when the sea goes dark and voices call from the land on the other side. And when Fai is called, Kurogane has no choice but to follow.
Notes: Man, I haven't written anything in an age. This started out as kind of an attempt at writing a holiday fic that wasn't quite like the usual kind.



--can you hear us—

--come this way--

--turn around--

--come this way--

--not this path--

--quickly--

--can you hear—

--have you forgotten?--


Fai rolled over and buried his head in his pillow, as if that could smother the feeling that had been persistently buzzing in the back of his head since they’d arrived in this place two days ago. Voices half-heard swam like phantoms somewhere in the distance.

His single eye flashed yellow, and they were gone.

Slowly, Fai sat up and stretched. Outside his window the sky was overcast and dark, but that was nothing new. He stood and made his way to the window, leaning out.

The house they were renting sat at the edge of a high cliff overlooking some sort of harbor. Steps of polished wood led down the side of the cliff, but from where he stood Fai could neither see nor hear the sea, yet somehow he was certain that there was sea below. But all he could see was some sort of dull gray mist that floated up like slow moving flames from somewhere far off, a mist that hung in the air like a choking smoke.

That was where it was coming from. Fai wasn’t certain because things were different now, but still, it had to be there.

Fai saw things differently since Tokyo and it wasn’t simply just the eye. There were things he was born knowing, just because of that strong magic, senses Ashura had helped him hone. In every world there was magic, no matter how faint, how unseen, and Fai had known it all. Even if the people living there hadn’t known, Fai had. He’d felt it the moment they landed. How strong, how weak, where it lived, he’d always sensed it. The blue eye still did.

But underneath that eye, underneath his skin, the blood of a vampire sensed other things. Kurogane wasn’t home because if he had been than Fai would felt the ninja’s heart beating, the pulse pounding in his veins. Fai’s own pulse rang far too loudly in his ears. The animal instincts simmered and pulsated underneath the blue and the magic in him and smothered him, and so nothing felt like it had before.

The strange fog hovered in the distance and Fai turned away from the window.

Kurogane was gone, so that made it safe to leave the room. The feelings in the air had been draining Fai since they’d landed here and so he’d spent the past two days mostly holed up in his room.

He hadn’t eaten for some time and the pain in his head neatly smothered the pains that had begun stabbing at his stomach, so that was all right.

Fai opened the door and stepped out into the hall. The house they had rented was small, all on a single floor, with three bedrooms down a short hallway and a fourth just beyond the mouth of the hallway where it opened up to reveal a bare living room furnished sparingly with a tattered couch and a couple forlorn chairs. An open doorway led to the kitchen, which was only just big enough to allow a table and the barest of cooking implements.

Kurogane’s room was at the end of the hall, and Syaoran – it was still strange to call him Syaoran, wrong somehow, as if the name was not properly his -- had the next room. The doors to both rooms were open, as Fai had suspected they would be. He supposed they had probably taken Mokona and gone out looking for clues again. There was a feather in this world and though feathers seemed the last thing anyone cared to deal with, it had to be found before they could move on again.

Fai’s room was next to Syaoran’s, with Sakura’s room last of all. Sakura’s door was open as well but the room was empty. Nonetheless, Fai knew she was still in the house– it wasn’t only Kurogane’s blood he could feel, though that one was always keenest.

“Fai-san?” Sakura’s voiced floated towards him from the open door that led to the kitchen and Fai went to meet her to keep her from having to stand. He found her sitting at the kitchen table just finishing what appeared to be lunch, and Fai wondered how long he had slept.

“Sakura-chan.” Fai smiled warmly at her and almost felt it. “Good morning. Or afternoon, I suppose.”

“Are you all right?” Sakura asked. “You slept so long again today. Are you sure you’re all right? You’re not hiding anything?”

“I’m not,” Fai said. A flash of pain spiked in his head -- can you hear us? -- and he shook it off. “It’s just something in the atmosphere here, that’s all. Please don’t worry about it, Sakura-chan. I’ll be fine soon.”

The lies felt bitter in his mouth like blood in his mouth and still he said them, even though no one was fooled anymore, and Sakura’s eyes were still troubled. Fai decided to change the subject.

“Did they leave already?”

“Kurogane-san wanted to try asking at the marketplace again,” Sakura told him. He could tell from her face that he hadn’t distracted her at all, but that she was letting it go for his sake. “There was something the townspeople were saying about tomorrow’s festival that sounded like it could be a clue.” She lowered her eyes a bit, fiddling nervously with the napkin in her lap.

“I’d almost forgotten about that,” Fai murmured. When they’d first arrived they’d noticed the festive air of the town almost immediately. Chains of small glowing lights had been hung all around the houses in town and there were shining banners lining every street. The town square where they had landed had been filled with vendors selling a variety of jewelry set with glowing stones, apparently meant to be bought as gifts.

The house the group had rented was plain and unadorned, and Fai knew that Sakura felt the emptiness as keenly as he did. If they had landed here before Tokyo, the house would have been lit as brightly as any other. He would’ve helped Sakura and Mokona hang the lights and cheerfully forced Kurogane onto a ladder to get the roof, and Syaoran would’ve looked at the bracelets in the market and looked at Sakura and blushed fiercely. There would have been celebration if they had landed here in the before and, though no one said anything, they all knew it.

--do you have a wish? --

Something prodded insistently at the edge of his consciousness and Fai found himself gazing back towards the door, wondering about the mist outside. If he took the steps down the cliff, he might be close enough to see the sea even through the mist.

“Fai-san? Are you really all right?” Sakura’s voice called him back. Fai turned back to her and smiled again.

“I’m fine. I was just thinking it’s an awfully downcast day for the eve of a festival.”

“I think it’s supposed to be like this,” Sakura said. There was a sudden far away look in her eyes and Fai wondered if she could feel it too.

They stood in silence for a moment. Sakura glanced at her plate and bit her lip but didn’t ask Fai if he wanted anything to eat, and he was grateful to her for it.

“There’s something strange in the air here,” Sakura said at last. “I’ve been feeling sleepy all morning. But Kurogane-san said he didn’t feel anything.” She said nothing of Syaoran, and Fai didn’t ask.

“He wouldn’t,” Fai murmured. Sakura looked at him curiously, and Fai shook his head and smiled at her. “If you feel tired, I can help you to your room and then I’ll take care of the dishes in here.”

“You don’t have to do that,” Sakura protested. “You’ve been staying inside since we got here, Fai-san. If you’re feeling better, you don’t need to stay here with me.”

“I shouldn’t leave you alone,” Fai said.

“I’ll be all right,” Sakura said. “You should go look at the houses. They’re very pretty...and it’s strange, because since we’ve been here sometimes I feel a little dizzy, but looking at the lights made me feel better. Maybe they’ll help you, too.”

“I did want to see where the stairs lead,” Fai admitted.

“You’re not going far. Don’t worry, Fai-san, nothing will hurt me here.” There was an unidentifiable sadness in her eyes.

“Let me help you to your room first, then.” Fai offered Sakura his arm and she took it gratefully. As he led her to her room, Fai noticed the far away look in her eyes again and his head began to hurt, but he said nothing.

As soon as he was certain that Sakura was all right, Fai left the house. A cold wind bit into him the moment he opened the door but he didn’t bother going back in for his coat. The ground was covered in a soft coating of snow though someone, likely Kurogane, had shoveled some of it in order to make a path. The old wooden fence that surrounded the house was also partially obscured by the snow and the gate hung loosely on its hinges, no doubt having been blown open by the strong wind. Fai ignored the cold and the snow and the memories that came with it and kept his eyes on the strange mist, trying to see beyond it. He walked to the edge of the cliff and looked down.

In the distance all he could see was gray mist. From his vantage point it looked less like mist and more like some strange mix of fog and stone-colored flames, waving up and rippling in the air, moving with the wind. It stretched as far as he could see, and there seemed to be no end to it, nothing beyond and nothing below—

--and even still he was certain that something was there just beyond where his eyes could reach, something lost, something calling--

--can you hear us—

“Yes.” Fai didn’t even know he’d spoken until he heard his own voice in his ears. His feet moved forward down the steps almost without him realizing as he tried to get closer to the fog.

--come this way—

--this way—

--to this shore—

--don’t—

--all that’s lost--

--this way—

--Yuui—


He heard the name clearly, and Fai’s mind went blank.

--Yuui, follow—

--don’t listen—

--listen—

--this shore—

--listen—

--the far shore—

--listenlisten--


--listen—

“Careful there!” A hand grabbed his shoulder, shaking him roughly, and Fai found himself pulled back to reality. He had reached the bottom of the steps and was standing on a wide wooden fishing dock, standing just inches away from the wooden railing that was the only thing between him and the endless fog. He noticed that the railing was also strung with lights.

In front of him there was no sea, as he had still half-expected, only more of the fog waving and swaying inches from where he stood. The wind here was colder than it had been above and the fog all but obscured the sky. It felt like standing in the birth of a forbidding snowstorm, though the dock was the one place untouched by the snow that had fallen above.

“Never been this close to it, eh?”

Fai glanced over at the man who stood next to him, the one who had shaken him. The man was red-haired and broad-shouldered and his arms were covered in all manner of silver bracelets and cuffs, each piece set with a glowing stone. His fingers, too, were covered in rings and he even had on several silver necklaces partially obscured by his tattered blue coat. In his free hand he held an odd-shaped fishing rod with only a thin silvery strand of spider-silk as its line. At his side was a bucket filled to the brim with tiny jars made of frosted glass. Some of the jars were shining softly in the dim light.

“Best be careful,” the man continued. “You’ll have come all this way and go nowhere if you step too soon.”

Fai looked at him uncomprehendingly. It was still hard to focus with the voices calling far off, like waves lapping at his feet.

“You came in on the ships, did y’not?” the fisherman asked.

“Ships? No. We came from…far away, and not by ship.” Fai smiled ruefully for a moment, then gazed back out at the waving fog. “Though I’m surprised ships can sail through that.”

“Y’really are from far away, if’n you think that,” the fisherman said with some surprise. “No ship can sail the Daysea nor can any man can cross it, save for one night a year.”

“Daysea?” Fai repeated. “So it is a sea.”

“Far away indeed,” the fisherman said slowly. “How far away are you from, stranger who has never heard of the Morgra Vaan, the great Daysea of Fervingwald country? And on the very eve of the Night of Change, to boot.”

“Very far,” Fai said with a secretive smile that hurt to make. “Very far and very cold and you wouldn’t recognize its name if I told you.”

Very far and very cold, and in the depths voices called his true name. Fai looked away from the sea.

The fisherman was about to speak again when he seemed to sense some movement on his line. As Fai watched, the man deftly reeled the line back in. The hook was L-shaped and studded with red jewels and it held not a fish, but something small and glowing.

“A good-sized star,” the man rumbled, reaching into his bucket for an empty jar. “The best ones can only be caught now, when the sea is in its last days of Twilight.”

“Twilight?” Fai said curiously.

“The Daysea turns throughout the year,” the fisherman said, carefully depositing the glowing thing into a jar. “Starts at Dawn, moves throughout the year, changin’ and growin’. Experienced men, those of who live here and make a living here, we can find all the different gifts of the sea in each stage. But Twilight is the only time the sea gives up its stars and those call men from all over, greedy for the wealth a man can gain from sellin’ them. Dangerous work, of course.”

“Is that why the ships come in?”

“Partly.” The fisherman nodded. “Partly. The rest come from far and wide for the Night of Change. This is the last day of Twilight. Tonight it will be Nightsea, and the one time a year when a body can cross to the country on the other side.”

“So there’s another country, beyond the sea,” Fai said.

“So they say.”

“Have you ever been there?”

“Many people have been there,” the fisherman said gravely. “Come back, that’s another story. No one’s ever come back.”

--Yuui—

--the far shore—

--have you forgotten--


“Then how do you know it’s there?”

“No one knows.” The fisherman shrugged. “But the voices, they must come from somewhere, or so they say.”

Fai turned to the man in shock.

“Then you hear them, too!”

“I hear murmurin’, nothin’ more.” The fisherman shook his head. “The fishermen who just come for the stars, the foolish ones, they don’t wear protection like this.” He nodded towards the silver jewelry on his arms. “They come out here when the fishing's the best but the voices are strongest and get pulled in too early, just like you would’ve if’n I hadn’t pulled you back.”

“If everyone hears the voices, then don’t many people get pulled in?”

“What d’you think the festival’s for, stranger?” the fisherman replied. “Most dangerous night of the year, so we celebrate its passing. The only thing that can resist the sea is that what came from it. Y’can see it, if you look close. The stones that glow on the jewelry they sell and those strings of lights that are wrapped around the railing here and adornin’ nearly every house. That’s where the stars I sell go, that’s where the profit comes. There’s ancient magic in the Daysea, and it lives on in the stars.”

“Then the lights keep the voices quiet?” Fai asked, surprised.

He saw things differently now, with just one eye. There had been magic in the air since they’d landed here, choking him, calling him, but he hadn’t felt a thing from the lights or the jewelry.

“Not the stars alone,” the fisherman said. “There’s no magic in that. Y’would know that, I think.” He eyed Fai shrewdly. “Everyone hears the voices, but y’did not come down here to fish, nor to look at the sea. They called you from far far away, didn’t they?”

Fai didn’t reply, and did not look at him.

“Ancient magic,” the fisherman continued after a moment. “These stars have more power than a charmed jewel could hope for. The key, y’see, is the feelings within them. They say the feeling of the person who strings the lights or gives the bracelet, that’s what counts. That’s why no one hangs lights on their own or buys their own silver. The feelings y’have, the need to protect the person whose house gets ringed by lights, the person who y’give the gift to, that’s what counts. The stronger you feel, the more you want someone beside yourself to be safe…that’s where the power’s from.” He nodded towards the railing. “The guardsmen, they put these lights up every year, t’stop the foolish men who try to capture the strongest stars but who don’t know the ways of the Daysea, who have never heard the voices…every year some fool gets pulled in. There’s little feelin’ in these lights. They’ll quiet the voices for some, just a bit, but for the man who’s called, and called strongly…they may as well be nothin’, as you’ve seen.”

“Then why string them?”

“Fool’s hope.” The fisherman shrugged. “The fool who’ll brave the Daysea at the last of Twilight without knowin’ what awaits him, he deserves his fate as far as I’m concerned.”

“I see.” Fai stared back out at the sea, watching the fog shimmer but not really seeing. There was magic there, he knew it. But it was hovering beyond his reach, in the dark nothing on the left side of his face, lost to him. The vampire inside was stirring – how long since he’d eaten? He’d forgotten again – and pushed the magic away even farther, like the tide pulling away from the beach. It was lost to him again and he could barely hear the words the calling voices spoke, could hear nothing but his own name called from somewhere beyond his reaching.

“You should not stay down here.” The fisherman’s voice called him back again. He was watching Fai with shrewd eyes, and after a moment he removed one of the bracelets from his wrist and held it out. “There was an old man who knew the ways of the sea as well as I, who once fished beside me. But a man of strength can only stay on these shores for so long and his was fading, so he decided to seek that far shore. I might follow, one day. But he gave me this, and I’d suggest you take it.”

“Isn’t it important to you?” Even as he said it, Fai reached over to take the bracelet.

“That protection fades soon, and I’ve always more. The stars only shine a year, y’see. These are from last year’s haul. Tomorrow they’ll be nothin’ more than dead glass with no power at all. I’ve not much feeling for you, stranger, but I think y’need all the protection a body can give when night falls, so I’ll give it to you. Wear it all night and lock your doors tight, if you’ve no one to string you lights.”

With that, the fisherman finally turned back to his work, casting his line out once more into the hidden depths of the Daysea.

Fai did not bother expressing gratitude for the gift but he put the bracelet on anyway and began to make his way back up the stairs. The voices had indeed settled down to a furious whispering and he had to dig his fingers into his wrist to keep from removing the protective jewelry.

Fai sensed Kurogane’s presence before he had even reached the house. The ninja was standing in the open gateway, looking out at the sea. When he saw Fai he turned to look at the magician and Fai held that gaze steadily. The bracelet felt heavy on Fai’s wrist.

“Where were you?” The irritation in Kurogane’s voice was evident, and Fai knew that he was not the only one aware of the length of time between feedings.

“Only looking at the sea,” Fai said. “I wasn’t aware I needed your permission for that, Kurogane.”

--Yuui—

--Yuui—

--what’s lost on this shore--


The voices were growing louder again. With an effort Fai managed to keep his gaze steady as he swept past Kurogane and into the house, not bothering to look back and see if the ninja was following him.

Kurogane’s hand attached roughly to his arm and Fai shrugged it off without speaking.

“We got dinner from one of the locals. You should eat too.” Kurogane’s voice behind him was thick with warning.

“When I want to,” Fai said quietly, and kept walking.

--

Fai awoke to the sound of voices calling his name. The room was cold and dark and the bracelet on his wrist burned painfully.

--Yuui—

--Yuui—

--hurry hurry—

--this way—


Fai stood on shaking legs and went to the window. His stomach churned and he pushed the feeling away, the hunger and the vampire. He needed the blue eye now, or he wouldn’t be able to see the way he needed to. He had joined the others for dinner only long enough to relate what he’d been told and then he’d gone to bed before Kurogane could say anything.

Fai leaned out the window, but now he could see nothing at all, not the mist or even the ground below. It was as if the house was floating in a sea of absolute nothing.

His stomach churned and his eye flashed gold. There were people out there. He couldn’t see, but he knew something was out there. The voices had gone quiet in his ears and everything felt hollow and unreal.

The eye went blue again and at last he could see properly. Fai stared hard into the darkness and thought he could almost make out shapes now, could almost see something far off in that darkness and again the voices called.

As quietly as he could, Fai turned and left the room. The hallway was lit dimly by the light of two small candles and Fai could see that both Kurogane’s and Syaoran’s doors were closed, and even still he could almost smell Kurogane’s blood.

The bracelet burned his wrist and Fai placed a hand over it, running his fingers over the silver.

The voices whispered and slowly, he removed the bracelet. Fai stared at it for a long moment, watching the small star jewel as it shimmered softly in the dim light.

There was no point in keeping it. He might as well just throw it back in his room, or drop it on the floor. He had no need for it.

And even so, Fai found himself standing in front of Kurogane’s door, slipping the bracelet onto the doorknob.

Quietly, Fai turned and walked back down the hallway towards the door. The small living room was filled with shadows and he felt chilled to the bone in a way he hadn’t felt in a very long time. Fai reached for the doorknob.

“You shouldn’t go out there.”

Fai turned at the sound of Syaoran’s voice, smiling bitterly. He hadn’t even been paying attention before but now he could easily make out the boy sitting in front of Sakura’s door, sword in hand.

“You should be asleep,” Fai said lightly.

“So should you. It’s dangerous out there.” The boy’s gaze was steady and achingly familiar.

“Sakura-chan didn’t ask you to protect her. Would she be happy to know you’re risking yourself like this? I know you hear them too.” Fai knew it was cruel, but he had to say it. He was being called, and he had no time for this.

“She doesn’t need to know.” Syaoran lowered his eyes and even in the dark Fai could see his hands were white on the hilt of his sword. The boy looked back up at him. “She doesn’t know you’re awake either. Shouldn’t you be thinking about her too?”

Fai felt a pang of guilt at that and his eyes were drawn back towards the darkness of the hall, where he could still see the soft glow from the bracelet that hung on the doorknob.

“I’m only going to look. I’ll be back in the morning.”

“You don’t know that. If she wakes up and you’re not here--”

“That’s not something you should worry about, is it?” Fai said sharply. “This doesn’t concern you…no matter whose eyes you’ve been looking out of.”

It was cruel and unkind, and Fai knew he would never have said it before Tokyo. But that was just as well. He had always been an ugly thing and there was no need to hide it, not now, not when even the wind and the dark knew his name.

Even still, the words hurt to say and Fai wanted to apologize for them, but his mouth wouldn’t work. He turned away instead, and reached for the door again.

“Don’t go out there,” Syaoran said again.

“You can’t stop me,” Fai replied. “You can’t fight me by yourself while guarding that door, and the only way to get that ninja’s attention in time would be to yell. But if you yell you’ll wake Sakura-chan, and then she’ll be in more danger than any of us. So just stay here.” Fai pulled open the door. “And protect her.”

With that he stepped out into the cold, letting the door shut behind him.

Somehow, he could see still see the path Kurogane had shoveled through the snow and his own footprints from earlier were still starkly visible. Everything else was dark, even the sky above, as if the house stood bright like a beacon in a sea of emptiness. It was quieter outside than it had been within, and after a moment Fai saw why.

The fence was strung with lights, all glowing bright and colorful against the nothingness that hung just outside. In the snow Fai could see uneven footprints and suddenly he remembered hearing Sakura’s voice behind him as he’d escaped to his room, asking Kurogane if she could go take a look at the marketplace before dark.

“Sakura-chan…”

It was almost enough. Fai glanced back at the house, and then again at the lights, the small stars inside burning strongly with the power of a single wish.

--Yuui—

The wind whispered his name, and Fai knew there was no choice but to go. He reached out and opened the gate.

“Sakura-chan,” Fai whispered. “I’m sorry.”

Fai closed his eye and stepped out into the darkness.

--

“That damn idiot,” Kurogane muttered as he sat up and reached for his sword. Syaoran was standing in the doorway watching him, though occasionally the boy would glance back down the hall towards Sakura’s room. “How long ago did he leave?”

“Only a few minutes ago,” Syaoran replied. His eyes were downcast. “I’m sorry, Kurogane-san. I was awake, but still…the princess…”

“Don’t be stupid,” Kurogane said. “If this is anyone’s fault it’s that moron’s. I’m going to go drag him back here.”

“You should be careful, too,” Syaoran said. “You don’t have any magic powers, so whatever’s happening outside doesn’t affect you as much, but it’s still strong. I think the only reason we’re still all right is because of the lights that the princess and Mokona put up earlier.”

“You just worry about the princess,” Kurogane said, making his way to the door of his room. Syaoran went ahead of him, hurrying back to his post beside Sakura’s door.

As Kurogane moved to shut the door his hand closed around something small and silver. He pulled it off the doorknob and stared at it, recognizing the silver bracelet Fai had been wearing earlier. The bracelet that, if what the blond had been told was true, had been the only other thing that could’ve protected him once he left the safety of the house and Sakura’s lights.

“I’m going to kill him,” Kurogane said quietly. The bracelet was heavy in his hands and in his mind he could almost see Fai’s face with that blank look that was becoming far too common now. With another quiet curse Kurogane slipped the bracelet onto his wrist. It looked as though it should have been too small to fit him, but somehow it still managed to fit perfectly.

“I’m sorry,” Syaoran said again as Kurogane pulled on his cloak and prepared to leave. “If I’d tried harder to stop him…”

“That idiot’s too stubborn to be stopped so easily,” Kurogane snorted. “When I find him, I’m going to beat some sense into his stupid thick skull.”

Syaoran opened his mouth to say something else but was cut off abruptly by a cry from the next room.

“Sakura!”

“Princess!” Syaoran and Kurogane both made a run for Sakura’s room. Syaoran pulled the door open and skidded to a halt. Sakura was standing in the middle of her room, her feet bare, eyes open but completely blank, a strange light glowing around her. Mokona was sitting on the floor, looking frantic.

“Syaoran! Kurogane!” The white creature hopped over to them. “Something’s wrong with Sakura!”

“They’re calling me.” Sakura’s voice was soft and sounded very far away. “I can hear them—they’re calling--”

“Princess!” Syaoran opened his arms wide, blocking the door. “Wake up!”

Sakura turned her face towards him, but there was no spark of recognition in her eyes.

“I heard them—they’re calling--”

“Sakura!” Mokona called pitifully. “What’s wrong! Sakura!”

“Dammit,” Kurogane swore. “Kid, can you handle it?”

“Don’t worry about me,” Syaoran said steadily. “I will never let anything happen to the princess. Go find Fai-san.”

“They’ve called him,” Sakura said distantly. “By the other name…we can hear them…calling, like waves…” She began to walk forward slowly on bare feet, but Syaoran held his ground. Behind him, Kurogane cursed again.

“Sorry about this, kid,” he muttered and left.

Outside, it had grown even colder and the snow had begun to fall once more. Beyond the fence Kurogane could barely see anything, only some sort of heavy dark mist that obscured everything. The gate still hung open loosely, and Sakura’s lights were the only bright spot for as far as he could see.

Kurogane walked to the open gate and stared at it darkly.

“You damn idiot,” he said again. From where he stood he could almost sense the presence of other people walking past, hidden from view, lost in the forbidding darkness.

The ninja walked through the gate and away from the safety of the house and the lights. Fai was wandering out there somewhere, and Kurogane had no choice but to follow.

--

--the waves—

--Yuui, Yuui—

--please don’t—

--follow, swiftly, follow—


The sound of the voices made his head pound and he felt blind and sick, but still Fai walked. He was dimly aware that this was somehow all wrong, that he shouldn’t have been able to just walk like this – he didn’t know where he was at all now but he was certain that he had at first been traveling in the direction of the cliff, but there had been no sudden fall, no stumbling on the precipice. He had lost his shoes somewhere back in the darkness and when he looked down there was nothing, as though he was walking on air, but he could still feel ground beneath his feet, hard and cold and rocky. He was vaguely aware that his feet were bleeding and his hands scratched from where he'd caught himself each time he tripped and fallen on the hard unseen ground.

Even so, Fai walked on.

--almost there—

--the waves—

--the shore is waiting—

--that fine far shore--

--Yuui, don’t—


That last voice was bothering him. Something in the back of his mind insisted it was familiar, but whenever Fai tried to place it the thoughts only slipped away like water sliding through his fingers. It was like sleepwalking, like moving in a strange dream where all you wanted to do was wake up but you can’t open your eyes no matter how hard you try.

--do you have a wish?—

--have you forgotten it?—


“I think I have,” Fai murmured wearily. “I know I’ve lost something. I—I can’t remember right now, but I know I’ve lost it.”

--then this way—

--you haven’t lost it at all yet, so please—

--this is land of lost wishes—

--the crossing is painful so bear it—

--but walk on—

--no—

--keep walking—


Fai couldn’t recall how long he had been walking. It was as though he had always been walking in this dream and he wondered if years had passed already without him knowing anything, just walking, and he could barely remember anything but the walking and the voices. Even the name they called was beginning to be lost in the sea of haze that was slowly enveloping his mind.

But the voices called still and Fai walked on.

At last he felt water lapping at his feet and though he could still see nothing, he knew he was nearly there.

--past the waters—

--Lethe—

--past these waters, to the far shore—

--all that’s lost—

--do you have a wish?—

--have you forgotten?—

--painful things—

--have you forgotten?--

--Yuui--


The water was up to his ankles now. It was cold and in the back of his mind he could dimly recall feeling something far colder, so Fai kept walking. It would get shallow again soon anyway, and then he’d be on the shore and dry.

Another feeling tugged at the back of his mind, and Fai found himself changing course just slightly westward. Something without a voice was there, something he knew he should recognize but didn’t.

Something pure and shining hung in the air in front of him and Fai stared at it, feeling a little dizzy from the sudden light. He reached for it without even realizing it, drawn to the light and the warmth that radiated from it.

The voices went quiet and Fai sank down onto his knees in the water, holding the shining feather in his hands.

--

For what seemed like the hundredth time Kurogane cursed as he stumbled over something he couldn't see. Normally moving in the dark was nothing for him, but in this place it seemed like all his senses were being interfered with. He'd already even fallen once, tripping over an invisible rock and losing his sword in the process. Souhi had sunk into the darkness and he'd had to feel around for some time before he found it, cutting his hand on some sharp rock or branch as he rummaged blindly on the ground. He'd reluctantly sheathed the sword after that.

The cut on his palm stung and the bracelet around his wrist burned slightly as he continued to walk. Though he couldn't tell anything of his surroundings he could still sense the presence of others all around him, walking forward with single-minded purpose.

There was no sign of Fai and the only light Kurogane could see came from the bracelet on his wrist and from Sakura's lights, which he could still see shining stubbornly in the darkness behind him, moving further and further away every time he bothered to look back.

"I'm going to kill that idiot when I find him," Kurogane vowed darkly. The bracelet burned sharply for a moment and he touched a hand to it. He didn't even know why he was wearing it. That idiot had said that the stupid thing was supposed to be some sort of protective charm, for all the good it had done the stupid magician. Still, so far whatever had affected Sakura and Fai had yet to affect Kurogane.

--hurry--

Kurogane paused, and the stone set in the bracelet flared with a brilliant light. He was suddenly very aware of something nearby, something trying to get his attention.

--this way--

Kurogane tightened his grip on his sword and gazed warily into the gloom. He was almost certain that he could see something there, something small and fading--

--blue eyes, and he was almost certain--

--please, he's in danger!--

"Who are you?" Kurogane asked suspiciously.

--please, help him--

--that light won't hold him for long, so please, if you want to save him--


Kurogane stared hard into the darkness, but he could no longer see anything. The bracelet around his wrist burned and the voice wavered in the air, almost disappearing.

--he'll be lost soon, you must hurry--

Kurogane couldn't see anything, but the dimming voice was hushed and urgent and he knew he had no choice.

"Where is he?"

--this way, this way--

The voice was still faint, but the relief in it was clear. It seemed to be moving away from him.

--follow, quickly--

The voice kept calling and Kurogane followed after it, while the bracelet at his wrist burned like fire.

Kurogane continued to stumble through the darkness, following the voice as it faded in and out around him. He could almost hear other noises beyond it, other voices, but any time he tried to strain for those sounds the bracelet sent sharp pains up his arm and he found himself concentrating only on the one voice that continued to call to him softly, 'please' and 'this way.'

He stopped for only a moment when he felt the water seeping into his boots, heavy and cold like melted snow. Somewhere far ahead of him he could see something dark and looming like the back of a great beast, something that might have been shore or might have been an illusion.

Kurogane looked back and far off he could still see tiny dots of light, small like stars in the distance, Sakura's lights still shining.

--please--

The voice called and Kurogane followed. The water grew ever colder around him and a wind began to blow, as if this place had ceased to welcome him, and the fire from the bracelet was suddenly a welcome warmth rather than a stabbing pain.

Kurogane followed the voice and then he finally saw a light ahead of him, pure and white and familiar. As he got closer he was finally able to see a figure in the water, sitting stiff and entranced by the feather clutched in its hands.

--

Fai stared at the light in his hands, feeling dizzy and sick, unable to move. The voices tugged at him, called at him, pleading and cajoling and singing sweetly, but he couldn't move. There was something he knew he should remember about the feather, but it was all fuzzy on the edge of his mind and refused to come into focus. Something about the light made him feel warm even as he lay half in the shallow cold water, and somewhere deep within he knew that if he moved he would have to leave the feather behind once he reached the shore and then he would be cold again. His head hurt and some familiar feeling pounded in his blood. The voices wavered for a moment and his eye flashed gold, and he pushed it all away until he could see right again.

Someone was shaking him. Fai was only dimly aware of the sensation, his entire being still consumed by the warm light at his fingertips and the cold water at his feet. Some part of him prodded at the edges of his mind, telling him to turn and look, but he felt heavy and sluggish. If he looked away, the light might go out.

He heard a voice, a real voice, yelling at him. It had none of the music of the other voices, none of the silky sweetness. It didn't even know his name. But the thing on the edge of his mind, the thing that made his eye flash gold and the other voices quiet, insisted that this voice was important. This voice should be listened to.

The feather shone and the other voices sang the forgotten name and Fai's head pounded. Keeping up with his own thoughts was like trying to keep his head above freezing water, when everything felt heavy and even breathing seemed an exhausting chore.

A hand grabbed for the feather and Fai hissed angrily, pulling it close. The light was his. He couldn't let go of it, or he would drown in the water.

The hand reached for him again and there was suddenly a new scent on the wind, something familiar and raw, and some instinct deep within stirred slowly to life.

Fai's eye flashed yellow, and the world came pouring down over him.

--

Kurogane cursed quietly to himself as he ran to where Fai sat unresponsive in the shallow water. The magician's pale face had taken on an almost sickly sheen in the light of Sakura's feather, and his single eye gazed off into nothingness.

"Wake up!" Kurogane snapped, grasping Fai's shoulder and shaking hard. Fai didn't acknowledge him, and his body was as limp as a rag doll. Kurogane saw the magician's hands clench just slightly around the feather.

What the hell is wrong with him? Kurogane wondered, a sense of dread beginning to creep over him. The voice that had led him to Fai had gone quiet, and there was no sign of anyone nearby.

“Dammit, listen to me!” He shook Fai again, and again there was no response. The magician seemed unaware of anything but the feather in his hands and finally, with no idea what else to do, Kurogane reached for it.

That got a reaction and Fai immediately pulled the feather close to his chest, all but collapsing around it. Kurogane took hold of Fai’s shoulder as he reached forward again, intending to pry the damn thing out of Fai’s hands if that was what it took to snap the magician out of whatever stupor he was in. As his hand flashed past Fai’s face, he saw the magician’s eye suddenly go yellow and all at once Kurogane recalled the fresh cut on his hand.

Fai suddenly pitched forward, the feather falling from limp hands as the magician knelt in the water, his head down. Kurogane grabbed the feather and tucked it securely into his cloak almost as an afterthought as he squatted down beside Fai, who was trembling fiercely.

“What are you--” Fai’s voice was strained and thin.

“I should ask you that, idiot,” Kurogane snapped, cutting him off. “What the hell is going on here?”

“I didn’t ask for you to follow me,” Fai said. He managed to raise his head to meet Kurogane’s gaze, and the ninja saw the single eye waver between yellow and blue. Fai pulled away from him, a hand going to his head.

“Hey--” Kurogane reached for him again, and Fai moved away, his gaze suddenly terrifyingly blank.

“They’re calling me,” he said, and his voice was dull and tuneless. “I have to go, they’re calling--”

--don’t let him—


Even without the strange voice to tell him, Kurogane had no intention of letting Fai go a step further. He roughly grabbed the magician’s wrist, pulling him backwards. Fai stumbled and fell back onto his knees in the water. He was shaking again, and his face was turned towards the dark silhouette in the distance.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Kurogane muttered as Fai tried to pull away, straining towards the dark shape beyond the water.

--you must get him away from here—

--hold him and don’t let him look back until you’ve left the water—


The voice sounded very close now, but there was no sign of anyone nearby. The world was only Kurogane and Fai, with the island in front and Sakura’s lights behind.

--please—

--if you let him go now, he’ll be lost—


“Like hell I’m going to do that,” Kurogane muttered as he dragged Fai to his feet. The magician spared barely a glance for him, already trying to pull away.

--you must get out of the water—

--he won’t be able to resist if you let go, not here—

--before it’s too late—


Kurogane’s hand tightened around Fai’s wrist and he pulled the magician close, placing his free hand over Fai’s eye. The blond gave a strangled gasp and went limp against him.

“Don’t—don’t let go,” Fai choked out, the strain in his voice obvious. “Until—as long as I can see it, they’re too loud. Kurogane, don’t—not until we’re out of sight of it.”

“I don’t need you to tell me what to do,” Kurogane snorted as he turned away from the dark island shape, dragging Fai along with him. Darkness stretched in front of him, and far in the distance, Sakura’s lights.

--thank you—

The voice came from behind him, wavering like a farewell.

--you mustn’t let go until you’re at the safe place—

“I know that,” Kurogane muttered. Fai didn’t seem to have heard either voice and remained leaning limply against the ninja’s chest.

The wind went silent then and there was no sound but the quiet crashing of the waves. Even so, Kurogane had the impression that there was still something out there, something strong and unseen. Fai had managed to find his feet and was allowing Kurogane to half-march him forward, Kurogane’s hand still over his eye. The magician’s breathing was harsh and uneven, and somehow Kurogane knew that, though he heard nothing, Fai was still listening to something.

The water seemed colder and heavier and Fai stumbled again, almost falling. Kurogane grabbed his arm as he fell and pulled him close, forcing Fai’s head into his shoulder when the magician tried to look back.

“Idiot,” Kurogane muttered darkly.

“I can’t--” Fai’s voice was barely above a whisper. “It’s too heavy, I can’t--”

“Shut up!” Kurogane snapped. “We’re getting the hell out of here whether you like it or not. Now get up.”

Fai shook his head, swallowing hard.

“They’re too loud.” He pressed a hand against his head. “It’s all I can hear.”

Kurogane swore quietly. Making certain that Fai’s head was still lowered, he wrapped an arm around the magician’s waist as best he could. With some effort Kurogane dragged himself to his feet, carrying Fai in one arm, his free hand still keeping Fai’s face pressed against his shoulder.

Kurogane had carried Fai before with no difficulty. The magician had always seemed far too light, like air, and carrying him had been no different than carrying Sakura. But something in the surrounding darkness and the cold water at his feet made Fai’s weight seem heavy in his arms, dragging him down into the water and slowing his walk to a weary trudge. Kurogane grit his teeth against the heaviness and strode forward, his eyes locked on the small points of light ahead of him. Fai’s breath was uncomfortably and unnaturally cold against his shoulder, but Kurogane refused to take his hand off Fai’s head. Somehow he knew that if he dared let go, Fai would raise his head and look back beyond him at the looming black shadow in the distance behind and then even all Kurogane’s strength would not be able to keep the magician from going to it.

The trek through the water had seemed inconsequential when he’d passed through the first time, but the way back seemed to stretch on forever. The water seemed to be growing ever colder and Kurogane had to keep himself from shivering. His legs felt like blocks of ice and his hands were growing numb. The only warmth he could feel came from the silver bracelet on his wrist. It wasn’t like walking through water at all, more like moving through a mud so thick it made moving impossible. The darkness surrounding them seemed ominous and cold, and he could feel Fai shudder against him.

Kurogane could feel himself beginning to tire, but he refused to stop walking. It couldn’t be that much farther. Once they were out of the water, the going would be easier. He only had to get out of the water.

He was dimly aware of the cold around his legs beginning to drain, and all of a sudden warmer air came rushing around him. Kurogane stumbled onto dry land, still holding tightly onto Fai. The ninja risked a look back the way they had come. Behind them there was nothing but the same darkness that covered everything. There was no sign of the island or the waves.

Fai gave a shuddering breath that seemed to shake his whole body as he raised his head.

“I can walk by myself now,” the magician said, his voice heavy with exhaustion but still firm.

“I’m not letting you go,” Kurogane told him darkly.

“I’m not asking you to,” Fai said. “But you can at least put me down. We have a long way to go, and even you don’t have the strength to carry me bodily all the way back.”

Kurogane would have liked to argue with that, but he knew that Fai was right. That last few feet had taken all of his strength to cover and though he was feeling stronger now that his feet were on dry land, Fai was still an unusually heavy weight in his arms.

Fai seemed to take the silence as an agreement. He slid out of Kurogane’s arms, swaying as he hit the ground but nonetheless managing to keep his feet. Kurogane allowed him to stand, but kept a tight grip on one of the mage’s thin wrists. Fai gave him a baleful glare.

“I told you, I’m not letting you go,” Kurogane stated.

“I didn’t ask for you to come here,” Fai said.

“You already said that,” Kurogane pointed out. “And you’re a bigger idiot than I thought if you think I’m going to let go of you after I’ve dragged you this far. Now shut up and come on.”

Without waiting for a reply, Kurogane began to walk again, never letting go of Fai’s wrist, and the magician could do nothing but stumble after him.

--

He could still hear them.

Fai bit his lip and tried to focus on Kurogane in front of him. The ninja’s black clothes seemed to all but melt into the darkness surrounding them and for a moment Fai couldn’t help but wonder if it really was Kurogane in front of him or if it was just something he’d imagined, a phantom that had risen out of the water and shadow in front of him, something that was dragging him deeper into unknown country.

The bracelet on Kurogane’s wrist shone brightly and the voices quieted for just a moment into a distant hum. Fai stopped for a moment, compelled to listen, and heard Kurogane curse again as the ninja dragged him forward.

That was real. The bracelet Fai knew, and he knew that this had to be Kurogane, could be no one else but Kurogane.

“Keep walking.” Kurogane’s voice was harsh as he tugged on Fai’s wrist again; the magician hadn’t even realized that he’d stopped to listen again.

“I don’t need you to drag me,” Fai said coldly. They were calling him again. He had to stop, had to hear them.

They were calling his true name and something in him hungered to hear it, that name long forgotten, the name that he’d erased as penance for the unforgivable sin.

“I don’t know what the hell you were even doing out here,” Kurogane said, unmovable.

“That’s easy for to say, Kurogane,” Fai said with a wry smile. “You can’t hear them, can you? The voices--”

“Because of this, right?” Kurogane raised his wrist, staring at the shining bracelet that hung there. It hurt Fai’s eyes to look at and he lowered his head.

“I didn’t leave it for you,” he said, as if saying it would make it true. “I just…”

“I don’t care why you left it,” Kurogane snorted. “This was all that kept you inside, right? Only an idiot would leave that.”

“But I am an idiot,” Fai said, no trace of humor in his voice. “Right?”

“That’s right,” Kurogane stated. “And when we get back, I’m going to pound some sense into your stupid head, just like I told the kid I would.”

“So Syaoran-kun did tell you.” Memory stung, and Fai pushed it away. Just another thing that he had broken and wouldn’t get back, and so it was just as well. “Is Sakura-chan all right?”

“She will be once I drag you back,” Kurogane replied. He had turned away again, just a dark phantom form once more leading the way. “You should’ve thought about her before you came out here.”

Fai didn’t reply right away, the voices ringing in his ears closing his mouth and echoing in his head. Everything looked dark to his eyes, even the bracelet and Sakura’s lights in the distance, and though he knew he was outside he felt closed-in from all sides.

“I can’t see right,” he said at length. “Like this. I can’t--” Fai bit his lip again, his head pounding. He didn’t want to talk to Kurogane, not now, not like this, when his head swam and he wasn’t even sure what he was saying. He felt unmoored and lost, and the only thing that held him in place was Kurogane’s hand.

“Many people have been there. Come back, that’s another story.”

The fisherman’s words echoed in his mind. That was why it was so hard, like this. He wasn’t supposed to go back. He’d known that when he left the safety of the house.

“I wasn’t meant to go back,” Fai said in low tones. “No one’s supposed to come back, not on this night.”

--Yuui, hurry—

--all that’s lost--


“Stop being stupid.” Kurogane’s sharp voice cut through all the others ringing in Fai’s head.

--all that’s been forgotten—

--Yuui—

--Yuui--


“Let go of me,” Fai replied darkly. “I have to, they’re--”

“Don’t make me say it again," Kurogane growled, still looking forward. "Now shut up and keep walking."

"You didn't have to follow me," Fai snapped, trying to pull away. "This is a dangerous place. You risk your life being out here. You shouldn't have gone outside."

"Neither should you." Kurogane turned his head just slightly to glare at him but didn't stop walking. "Did you even think about that, idiot?"

"It was my choice," Fai said coldly. "My life."

"I paid for that life," Kurogane said with maddening calmness. "And I'll be damned if I let you toss yourself away like this."

--Yuui--

--all that’s lost--

--do you have a wish?--


"I didn't want you here." Fai's head hurt and he could barely hear his own voice. "You weren't supposed to follow me."

"What the hell was I supposed to do, then?" Kurogane asked irritably. "I'm not leaving a moron like you alone. Now walk."

"I can't." He couldn't see at all now. The blue eye was clouded and the missing eye just a hollow empty hole, and he couldn't see. He was all voices and strain and breath, and the only thing that held him down was Kurogane's hand on his arm.

--Yuui--

--Yuui--

--this far shore--

--listen--

--listen--

--only listen, and come--

--Yuui--


Someone shook him hard, then, and silver flashed in front of his eye, cutting through the dark and the whispers. Kurogane stood in front of him, unmovable as before, the bracelet shining on his wrist and his grip still steady on Fai's arm. The voices had subsided again like a tide pulling back from the shore, leaving nothing but a yawning, gutted emptiness.

Emptiness, and Kurogane.

"Don't let go," Fai said, his strained voice barely a whisper.

"Shut up," Kurogane said again, but his words lacked bite. "Now come on."

The ninja's hand tightened on his wrist. Fai lowered his head and allowed himself to be led forward through the darkness towards the far-off lights.

--

It seemed as if they had been walking for miles and still Sakura's lights appeared to have grown only vaguely closer. Kurogane had long ago lost track of how much time had passed but he thought that the darkness appeared to be lightening just a bit, turning from opaque blackness to a thicker translucent mist. He could nearly see the ground now, rocky and cracked beneath his feet.

All throughout the night he'd had the sense of people surrounding them, unseen in the dark, but now he could feel only himself and Fai, alone in the mist.

Fai touched his cloak, thin fingers clenching spasmodically around the fabric.

"We have to get back before the sun rises." The magician's voice was raw and hoarse, as it had been ever since Kurogane found him in the water. "Once the Night of Change ends, the crossing will close for another year. We won't be able to go any farther once the sun rises."

Kurogane grunted in reply and picked up his pace. It was hard to go fast while holding onto Fai, who was staggering behind him with a hanging head, single eye fixed on the ground.

They hadn't gone far when Kurogane felt the ground shift under him. He stumbled for only a moment before getting his feet under him and pulling Fai forward when the magician would have fallen.

"What the hell was that?" The ground suddenly seemed rockier than before, and Kurogane could see holes and slopes appearing all about in front of them, only just visible beyond the mist.

" 'Come back, that's another story.'" Fai's voice was thin and feverish, and there was a sickly smile on his face. " 'No one's ever come back.' The passage won't allow that."

"We'll see about that," Kurogane said darkly, tightening his grip on Fai's wrist. "Come on."

They began to walk again, going as fast as Kurogane dared to move along the unpredictable ground and as fast as Fai was able with his clearly flagging strength.

The mist was growing a lighter gray, and Kurogane could see Sakura's lights getting closer. It couldn’t be far now.

The ground shifted again, too quickly for Kurogane to prepare, sharp rocks and deep cracks growing up from underneath his feet. Kurogane nearly fell but gathered his feet under him at the last moment and the ground shook again, sloping sharply underneath him and then surging upwards and he was thrown heavily to the ground.

He laid there for a moment, slightly dazed, the ground cold and hard beneath him. A strangled gasp from nearby brought him back to his senses, and abruptly Kurogane realized that he had let go of Fai.

“Damn!” Kurogane raised his head, looking about wildly for the magician. Fai’s form had been as clear as day while Kurogane’s hand held him, but now he had melted into the mist just as the same as the unseen passers-by from earlier.

He heard footfalls, moving away, and Kurogane scrambled to his feet, moving towards the sound. Squinting his eyes to see through the mist, he finally caught sight of Fai, who was half-running, half-limping back towards the darkness behind. The magician’s single eye was glassy and blind.

“You idiot, don’t--” Kurogane grabbed for Fai’s wrist and the magician pulled away with a strength Kurogane hadn’t thought he had.

“I have to go back,” Fai said, his voice breathy and remote. “I have to – I can’t hear them, I have to go back--”

He tried to run forward and Kurogane lunged, grabbing the magician and pinning him to the ground. Fai’s hands scratched wildly at the ground as he struggled to rise.

“Snap out of it!” Kurogane ordered, but Fai didn’t even seem to hear him. The blond was trying desperately to pull himself out from under Kurogane, shaking with effort as he pawed uselessly at the ground with bleeding hands.

Kurogane stared at Fai’s wild eye and bloody hands, and suddenly a thought occurred to him. Still keeping Fai held down as best he could, he raised the hand he had cut earlier that night – it seemed like ages ago now, like a year had passed while they’d been walking here in the dark, and he was nearly surprised that the cut hadn’t healed already, that it hadn’t disappeared with the days – and bit the thin scratch, just deep enough to get the blood to drip again. Kurogane pushed Fai’s head down with his free hand and held the bleeding palm just inches from Fai’s face.

Fai’s eye flashed gold, as Kurogane had intended, and the magician grew limp beneath him.

“Y-you can let me up now.” Fai’s voice shook with weariness and effort. “I can’t – it’s a little better now. I won’t run.”

Kurogane eyed him suspiciously but allowed Fai to rise anyway. Before he moved, however, Kurogane was certain to grab tightly to Fai’s wrist again with his uninjured hand.

“Can you make it?” Kurogane asked. Fai’s skin was tinged with blue, and the golden eye that Kurogane remembered as always being sharp and cold was dull and tired.

“Just…” Fai gave a shuddering breath that shook his whole body. “Just walk and don’t let go, and don’t let the blood stop flowing. As long--” He swallowed hard, forcing the words out. “As long as I can smell it, I can push the rest away, I can—I can see different, and I can push them away. If it stops, I’ll hear them again, and I won’t be able to stay here.”

Kurogane nodded and began to walk again, mindful always of the shifting ground beneath his feet.

Sakura’s lights grew ever closer, and the mist was growing lighter.

Kurogane walked on and it was like moving through a dream. Fai was a dead weight behind him, staggering on unsteady feet, with no strength to do anything but let Kurogane drag him forward. Every so often Kurogane would hear Fai draw a sharp breath behind him and he’d bite at the cut on his hand again, letting Fai smell the fresh blood in the air. Each time Fai seemed to be roused just a bit from his stupor and Kurogane could see just a hint of life in that eye again.

Kurogane’s own strength was beginning to flag and his legs had begun to ache fiercely. His hand was cramping around Fai’s wrist, but he had no intention of letting go.

The world around them was silent and even the cold weather seemed to have drained away. There was no wind and even the surrounding air felt stale. The shifting ground had at last grown still beneath their feet but it had been covered again by a fine white mist, and if Kurogane held still too long in an attempt to give them both a brief rest he would feel himself sinking beneath it.

They walked, two figures in a sea of white and gray, one moving with singular purpose and the other limping along behind like a ghost.

At last the lights were close enough that Kurogane could see the silhouette of the fence and the house beyond. He glanced back at Fai, who was wavering on his feet, eye half-closed. Even as Kurogane turned to look at him, Fai collapsed weakly to his knees, spent.

“Get up,” Kurogane snapped. “We’re almost there.”

Fai didn’t answer. He didn’t even seem to have the energy to raise his head to look at Kurogane.

“I can’t.” When he finally spoke there was nothing but a thin, reedy whisper.

“If you say that one more time, I’m going to put my sword through your ribs,” Kurogane stated. “I can’t carry you. Now get up.”

“Go,” Fai whispered. “Leave me here.”

“Idiot.” Kurogane snorted. “I didn’t come all this way after you to let you give up here. Now get the hell up or I’ll drag you.”

With an effort, Fai raised his head, staring up into Kurogane’s burning eyes. The magician seemed to be fighting with something in his head for a moment, and then at last managed a shadow of a smile.

“Help me up,” Fai choked out. Kurogane smiled slightly and tightened his hold around Fai’s wrist as he helped the magician back onto his shaking legs. Fai leaned heavily against Kurogane’s back, breathing hard.

“It’s not far,” Kurogane said as they made their way forward, painfully slow. He felt Fai’s breath against his back, a barely spoken sound of agreement.

The last few feet to the gate were by far the hardest. Kurogane could feel Fai struggling for every step, and his own body felt too heavy and too sore, the bracelet around his wrist heavy like a millstone. He kept his eyes fixed on Sakura’s lights, keenly aware of Fai’s unresisting weight at his back, and forced himself forward.

The gate still hung open, just as Kurogane had left it. Kurogane pressed his free hand against the fence to steady himself as he dragged Fai across the threshold into the snow-covered yard, safely ringed by Sakura’s lights.

There was a sudden rush of air and sound and cold, and Kurogane couldn’t help but fall to his knees for a moment, breathing hard. Fai fell down limply beside him, shaking.

They were surrounded by safety and light now, but Kurogane kept his grip tight on Fai’s wrist.

They lay like that for several moments, Kurogane crouched down in the snow with Fai resting his head against his back, breathing heavily. After a time Kurogane felt his strength seeping sluggishly back into his veins and he stood, dragging Fai up with him. The safety of the lights that seemed to have helped at least partially to restore Kurogane’s strength had failed to help Fai. The magician was still shaking and pale, and the golden eye was hollow and sunken.

“Come on,” Kurogane said quietly, wrapping one of Fai’s arms over his shoulder, half-carrying him forward. Fai gave a barely perceptible nod and allowed Kurogane to lead him back inside the house.

“Kurogane-san!” The moment he opened the door Syaoran was there, his face lined with relief and obvious weariness. As the boy moved back to allow Kurogane to come inside, the ninja noted that the door to Sakura’s room was closed. “I was worried you weren’t going to make it.” Syaoran glanced at the limp form of Fai leaning against Kurogane. “Is Fai-san…?”

“He’ll be fine,” Kurogane said, lowering Fai’s unresisting form onto the tattered couch. “How’s the princess?”

“Mokona and I were able to bring her back to her senses a little,” Syaoran said. “Mokona stayed with her to make sure she didn’t wake up again, but I stayed awake just in case…”

“Go to bed,” Kurogane told him, moving to sit down beside Fai.

“Will you be all right?” Syaoran asked.

“I’ll take care of him,” Kurogane said. “Get some sleep, kid.”

“Right….” Syaoran’s pensive gaze traveled back towards Sakura’s door.

“I almost forgot,” Kurogane said suddenly, reaching into his cloak and pulling out the feather. "Here. Give that to her too. It should help keep her asleep."

Syaoran nodded, gratefully taking the feather. He quietly opened the door to Sakura's room and went inside. Kurogane could hear soft voices, Syaoran's and Mokona's, and then there was a momentary flash of light. He heard the voices again, and then at last Syaoran reappeared, closing the door hesitantly behind him.

“Now go to bed,” Kurogane said severely. “She won’t wake up again tonight. Whatever was out there’s gone now.”

Syaoran nodded, moving back down the hall towards his room.

"I'm glad you were able to make it back all right," he said as he quietly shut the door behind him.

Kurogane nodded in reply and waited until the door had closed before turning back to where Fai sat. The blond was staring at nothing, his face blank.

“I don’t care what stupid excuses you have,” Kurogane said, pulling out his sword. “I don’t care what you want to do, or what you don’t want me to do, or whatever the hell is going on in your head. You are eating something if I have to stuff it down your stupid, idiotic, moronic throat.”

With that, he ran the blade of his sword along his arm, just deep enough so that the blood could flow freely.

The scent of the blood seemed to cause Fai to perk up just a bit and the blond turned his head to look at Kurogane, his face unreadable. Kurogane held out his arm.

Fai leaned forward, and drank.

--

When Fai woke, he felt stiff and tired. He smelled blood and life and for a moment he felt confused, staring blankly at his surroundings before the memory returned at last.

Kurogane and the house, and lights. Blood. He could still taste it on his tongue, sweet on the roof of his mouth.

He was lying in the makeshift living room still, crouched uncomfortably beside the couch, his head resting in Kurogane’s lap. The ninja had fallen asleep there, sitting up, his arm still lowered near Fai’s mouth though the blood had dried.

Fai stood and immediately wished he hadn’t. He swayed on his feet, feeling ill, but managed to stay upright. He could feel his strength coming back, slowly, warmth sliding through his bones.

His eye was still yellow, and he went to the window nearest the door to look outside. There was the beginnings of light outside, the barest hint of pulsing life, and he could taste Kurogane’s blood in his mouth.

The blue eye again, and he saw nothing but mist and Sakura’s lights, and something whispered his name in the wind, faint and pleading. Fai pressed a hand against the door.

Kurogane’s heartbeat pulsed in his veins and he turned away from the window, walking back to the couch. Kurogane slept, his face lined with fatigue, his arm colored by the thin red scar and the silver bracelet, its light almost faded.

He couldn’t see right, not anymore. Fai could feel a world wavering beyond his reach, lost in darkness and blindness. But Kurogane was here, Kurogane’s blood and Kurogane’s breath, and Fai could feel the ghost of a hand on his wrist.

Fai lay back down on the opposite end of the couch and allowed himself to slip back into sleep.

--

The first thing Kurogane noticed when he opened his eyes was brightness, a light shining so much that he had to blink his eyes several times to dispel the spots. Light was pouring in from every window, brighter than any morning he had ever seen.

The second thing he noticed was that Fai was no longer lying beside him, and Kurogane immediately jumped to his feet. He spared a quick glance down the hall, noting the open door to Fai’s room, then cursed and ran for the front door.

Outside, the sky was even brighter. The air was filled with mist once again, but the dull gray fog that had been hovering over the entire town had turned into a clear shining mist, tinted white and yellow and orange, striking like a sunrise. The air felt lighter and clearer but still slightly cool, and the snow on the ground was a bright and pure white.

The gate was open and Fai stood in the threshold, head turned upward. His pale skin and light hair seemed even lighter with the bright mist illuminating his form.

“Hey. Idiot.” Kurogane walked up beside him. “I thought you’d done something I was going to have to hit you for.”

Fai turned to look at him, and there was a strange look in his eyes, partly cold and partly not. Fai glanced back away from the house and Kurogane could see small circular lights shining in the distance beyond the cliff, colored red and blue and white, falling like snow. At last, Fai smiled.

“Good morning to you, too,” Fai said. He raised a hand, as if he could pluck the lights from the sky.

“It’s too bright,” Kurogane grumbled, and Fai laughed quietly.

“It’s a newborn light,” he said. “The festival really starts today, right? Because yesterday was the last day of Twilight, and we walked through Night. So this must be Dawn, right?”

“Oh!” They both turned at the sound of a voice from behind them. Sakura’s tired face peered out from the doorway. “It’s so pretty!”

“It’s so bright!” Mokona hopped past her into the snow, towards where Fai and Kurogane stood. “No more gray!”

“There’s a nicer view over here, Sakura-chan,” Fai said, smiling at her. “Come look.”

Sakura carefully limped forward to join them, Fai taking her hand as she got close and helping her the last few steps. Her eyes traveled to the now-dark stringed lights that still hung around the gate and she looked furtively back up at Fai. He smiled at her again, softly, and her face brightened.

“It’s like a sunrise,” Mokona said, jumping onto her shoulder.

Kurogane glanced back towards the doorway and noticed Syaoran standing there, staring at Sakura with a hesitant look on his face.

“You come look too, kid,” Kurogane ordered. Sakura turned back to look at him, then quickly looked away. Mokona, however, waved happily.

“Come look, Syaoran!” it chirped.

Syaoran ducked his head nervously, but came forward to stand on Kurogane’s other side. He made a soft sound of wonder.

“It really is nice,” he murmured. “It’s not quite warm, but it feels…safe, somehow.”

“It does,” Fai spoke up unexpectedly. “It’s completely different from before, isn’t it?”

“I guess,” Kurogane snorted. Fai turned to look at him, a serious look on his face.

“This doesn’t change things,” he said in low tones, so that Mokona and the children wouldn’t hear. “I haven’t accepted this, Kurogane. It’s just…this one time.” He immediately turned to look back at the light. Kurogane nodded in reply anyway.

Even so, he felt Fai’s hand brush against his lightly as they stood in silence and watched the bright snow fall.

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