Apr. 1st, 2011 06:03 pm
caffeine_buzz: (Default)
[personal profile] caffeine_buzz
Title: Bound
Fandom: Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle
Rating: T
Pairings/Warnings: KuroFai.
Summary: The only thing Kurogane could think of that was more mortifying than being captured and chained was being rescued by Fai.
Notes: Fic for the April Fools Day challenge! Original prompt: “Fai, chains and Kurogane enjoying the silence." Also I hate this title so bad but couldn’t think of anything else :(

The sky was gray and heavy, and Kurogane walked.

He wasn’t sure how long he had been walking or where he was walking to, but he walked. With every step came the light jangle of metal as the chains that were wrapped around his body clanked softly against each other.

He could dimly remember landing here, with the idiot and the white thing and the kids. The sky had not been quite so gray, then, but the landscape just as strange – the roads lined with rough black sigils that might have been words lined up all along the ground like a strange sort of road. At the first step forward that Kurogane had taken the words had stuck to his boots and wormed up his leg and a strange sound had rung in his ears, deep and guttural and low like the chiming of a church bell. That was when the black figures had appeared, riding things that might have been horses or might have been demons and suddenly there had been a haze of whips and horses and chains.

Kurogane dimly remembered hearing Fai yell something at him as they were separated in the sudden crowd but he hadn’t been able to make out the words. It had probably been something stupid.

Somehow he’d been caught and ended up where he was now. There was a collar around his neck made of dull dark gray metal with a long link chain attached. The chain traveled down his body, wrapped around his chest and arms and legs, separating into smaller chains as it went. Two of these chains ended at his shackled wrists, which were heavy and hard to hold up but, strangely, not forced together. The rest of the chain snaked out to attach him to the line.

The line, of course, was what was all around him. Figures moved in the mist in front of him and behind him, all chained and walking forward with the same drudging pace. Their bodies were uniform and colorless, all blacks and whites and grays, and their features almost seemed to have been washed away by the atmosphere around them. They all wore similar clothes, rags of gray and black, and if Kurogane tried to look at their faces it only made his head hurt and his eyes blur as if he was trying to stare into the heart of nothing. Their faces made him think of something written in sand that had been wiped away by a tide.

Lining the far right side of the road were more of the masked men. They were all muscular and naked to the waist, their faces obscured completely by the black masks which lacked even a single hole where eyes or a mouth could be seen. Some were on black horses and others on foot, and all held whips and chains in their hands. They made no movements at all as the line of chained figures limped past. The left side of the road on which Kurogane walked was blocked by a fence of twisted black metal which kept the chained walkers penned between the fence and the masked men.

Kurogane reached down and put a hand on Souhi’s hilt, but the movement itself seemed to sap all his energy. He knew their was something strange going on here and thought that it might make him angry if he could just remember what it was. Looking down at his hands he thought that perhaps his skin looked a little grayer than he remembered. The hilt of his sword seemed to have become nothing but a dark gray stain and somewhere deep inside he knew that there was something unnatural about this.

The low sound rang in his head again and Kurogane shook his head irritably. They were following the road made of words and with every step he took another line of inky black letters detached itself from the road and slithered its way up his body, disappearing into his black cloak. With each word a sound shuddered through his entire being, sometimes quick and sharp like a sword, other times the sharp keen of a wounded beast. But no matter where he stepped the bell-like sound continued, an ever-present deep hum of sound that made his head hurt and refused to give him a moment’s silence. Kurogane gritted his teeth and stumbled over another step.

His feet slid between two words and for a moment he felt as if he could think again. Kurogane took a deep breath and slowed his pace, trying to recall where he was and what he was supposed to be doing.

Another sound broke through his reverie, this one different than before. He opened one eye and glanced to his right. Somewhere on the farther side of the line the masked figures had converged over one spot and the crack of their whips hung in the air.

Some fool who got out of line, Kurogane thought irritably even as his mind screamed against the thought. Kurogane closed his eyes again and for just a moment everything was gray and silent behind his eyelids.

The crack of the whips at last went silent and Kurogane relaxed even as another word slid its way up his chest, this one marked with only the softest and briefest of chimes. Except for the deep bell hum and the ever-present clanking of the chains, everything was silent at last.

“…sama! Yoo hoo, Kuro-sama!”

The voice worked its way through the mist hanging in Kurogane’s mind. Something had broken his perfect silence. Something familiar.

“Kuro-sama! Are you awake? Kuro-sama!”

Something annoying.

“Shut up!” Kurogane’s eyes snapped open and he whirled to yell at the figure stumbling up behind him.

“Well, I needed a way to get your attention since your eyes were closed!” The figure ran up next to him and Kurogane found himself staring at it, his brain stirring restlessly out of the dark fog it had been mired in as he tried to recognize what he was looking at.

White skin that he was sure shouldn’t be so white, pale hair that was paler than he remembered and a stupid, stupid smile and—

--bright blue eyes—

Kurogane stumbled and Fai leaned down to catch him, the mage’s own chains clanging against Kurogane’s.

“What are you doing here?” Kurogane demanded, shaking his head irritably as if to clear it.

“The same thing Kuro-rin is doing,” Fai said lightly. “I was just walking.”

“ ‘Just walking?’” Kurogane snorted in disbelief. Now that his senses were returning to him properly he took a moment to look Fai over. The mage had lost his ridiculous fluffy coat somewhere and his white clothes were torn in various places, as if they’d been cut. Fai’s whole body was touched with white and gray save for his eyes which were still the same blue as always, the only color Kurogane could recall seeing since they’d landed in this cursed world. The blue of his right eye in particular was only enhanced by the deep black bruise that was forming around it. Fai caught Kurogane’s gaze and shrugged weakly.

“I got out of line,” he said innocently, glancing back towards the masked men. Kurogane suddenly remembered the crack of whips he had heard earlier, and one hand reached towards the hilt of his sword.

Fai’s hand closed around his and pushed it away from the sword hilt. There was a secretive smile on the mage’s face.

“Not just yet,” Fai said, waving a finger at Kurogane and making a ‘tsk’ noise. “We’re not where we need to be yet. Don’t be so impatient, Kuro-tan.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Kurogane asked. His eyes narrowed. “You bastard…you know what’s going on here, don’t you?”

“I may have an idea,” Fai said with a weak laugh. “Don’t worry, Kuro-rin. I’ve been sent to rescue you!”

Kurogane opened his mouth to reply, but was cut off by a sharp tug from the chains around his wrist. He had stopped walking to yell at Fai, but the line was still continuing forward and they were falling too far behind. Kurogane made an irritated noise in his throat and reluctantly started to walk again.

“Be careful where you step,” Fai said, coming up beside him. “Or the words will trap you again.”

“Dammit, would you just tell me what is going on here?” Kurogane snapped, stopping to look at Fai again.

“Don’t stop,” Fai said sharply and to Kurogane’s surprise the ninja found himself obeying. “Our friends in the masks won’t act unless we get out of line or fall too far behind. As long as we’re walking, we can do anything else and they won’t move.”

“So we don’t need to lower our voices,” Kurogane said, looking over towards the masked figures.

“They can’t hear us,” Fai said. “Not human speech, anyway.”

“So they don’t have to listen to your useless babble,” Kurogane snorted.

“That’s so mean, Kuro-sama,” Fai said in wounded tones. “After I came to rescue you.”

“You. Rescue me.” Kurogane snorted again.

“It wasn’t easy to get myself captured again, you know,” Fai added brightly.

“What do you mean, ‘again?’” Kurogane asked. A thought struck him and he was irritated at not having thought of it sooner. “Did you see where the kids ended up?”

“Sakura-chan and Syaoran-kun are safe,” Fai assured him. The magician was looking back and forth from the fence to the area far in the distance ahead of them. “When we got separated from Kuro-rin, the rest of us ended up chained like this too, walking the other way. We were lucky enough to be in the right place when we were rescued by a group which fights against the dangerous magic in this place and they took us away to their base in the safe part of this country. I left Sakura-chan and Syaoran-kun back there and went to help save poor, trapped Kuro-rin.” He touched his black eye gingerly with one finger. “I thought getting re-captured would be a bit easier. I swear, Kuro-sama, you’re such a handful.” He gave a heavy sigh. Kurogane decided not to even grace that comment with a reply.

They continued to walk, Kurogane trying his best to step between the words rather than on them. Fai stepped lightly between the lines without any hint of difficulty; Kurogane thought darkly that it was only the presence of the chains that kept the damn mage from skipping. All around them the sky cycled through shades of gray and black and the faceless figures kept walking. Buildings finally began to come into view – or Kurogane supposed they were buildings; the large square structures were tilted on their sides like diamonds, rotating slowly on their tips and through their glass walls he could see more masked figures sitting at slate-gray tables and watching the chained procession. The iron gate on their other side was rising slowly off the ground, as if it sat on an invisible slope.

One of the gray walkers beside them suddenly stepped on a word that screamed as it crawled up his leg. Kurogane winced slightly at the sharp sound and then someone in front of him tugged hard on the chain and he found himself stumbling forward, Fai falling against his back. Kurogane pushed the mage away and his foot landed hard on one of the thick black lines.

A low booming sound rung in his ears and made his head ache. Kurogane’s eyes blurred as he stepped again, this time landing on a word that was as short and angry as a curse and it wound its way up his leg, crossing over his chest and disappearing into the collar around his neck. It felt like it was sliding down his throat, bitter like ash or rust, and his hands and legs suddenly felt heavier and everything was too, too loud, pulsing through his head, pushing out all thoughts of anything but the sound and the word.

What had he been thinking before? The words cut through his ears like a wound and Kurogane found himself walking ever forward again, on and on and not knowing where, only that he must walk.

Someone grabbed him and shook him hard and he heard chains rattling in his ears. Kurogane looked up and met Fai’s eyes again, blue still the only color in the world and he nearly fell backwards as the words in his throat and head burst out into the air and disappeared.

“Careful, careful!” Fai caught the ninja as best he could, using his own feet to slide Kurogane’s away from the road of words. Their chains caught together and Kurogane half-fell, catching himself just in time and angling his feet into the nothing space between the lines.

Fai was not quite so quick, already off balance and clearly more concerned with where Kurogane stood than his own position. The mage stumbled forwards and landed on all fours, hands and feet slamming hard against a long twisted trail of black letters.

Kurogane shook his head to clear it and glanced up, an irritated reproach on his lips. The words died in his throat as he caught sight of Fai, still on his hands and knees with black swarming all over him, letters bold and striking against his white clothes, slicing through his pale hair and branding themselves into his chalk-white flesh. Fai’s eyes were closed tight and he was muttering something under his breath in a fierce whisper.

“H-hey!” Kurogane put a hand on Fai’s back, trying to shake him out of it, and almost immediately pulled his hand away as one of the words tried to grab onto his fingers. Kurogane shook off the surprise and reached for Fai again, but Fai moved first, grabbing onto one of Kurogane’s outstretched hands. Their chains jangled hard against each other as Fai leaned in close to Kurogane, his face uncharacteristically grim.

Fai’s eyes opened slightly as the words wound across his face and Kurogane saw the bright blue color waver for just a moment, going alarmingly gray and then pure black, and then all of a sudden Fai let out a hissing breath from between his teeth and the black swarming over him fell away like drops of rain, sliding into the ground and dissolving into the other letters on the road. Fai sat perfectly still for a long moment until the last bit of black had fallen away and then he opened his eyes fully – blue eyes now, the same ones Kurogane recognized far better than he’d ever expected to – and Fai gave Kurogane the usual smile: bright, cheery and utterly fake.

“What the hell was that?” Kurogane hissed as he dragged Fai to his feet, now extra mindful of the words on the ground.

“I told you,” Fai said calmly, his bruised eye somehow even starker against the white and blue of his face, “be careful where you step.”

“You’re not getting out this that--” Kurogane started and Fai cut him off with a look.

“Keep walking,” the mage said sharply, pulling away from Kurogane and hurrying to catch up with the rest of the walkers. Kurogane noted that Fai’s steps were much more deliberate than before. “We’re almost there.”

“Almost where?” Kurogane muttered as he followed after.

“Ah! There it is!” Fai waved Kurogane over, seemingly unaffected by the chains around his wrists. As Kurogane moved to join him the ninja noted that the iron gate had risen high enough that there was just enough room for a person to duck under it. Fai was standing right below its highest point, staring off into the distance.

A wide lake made of tar-black water stood beyond the gate. The middle of the lake and beyond were half-obscured by a hanging black cloud of fog, but Kurogane could just see the shore on the opposite side: a flat dark plain with spindly trees like ink blots dotted along its edges. Kurogane eyed the water, distinctly unimpressed.

“There’s nothing here,” he said darkly, glaring at Fai. Fai blinked innocently at him.

“Of course there is,” Fai said. “We want to be over there.” He pointed to the far shore on the other side of the lake. Kurogane followed Fai’s gaze and at last saw what the mage was pointing at – half-hidden in the shade of the trees was a black carriage drawn by two white horses. A man-shaped figure held the reins and the coach door was open. Kurogane thought he could see a small white figure bouncing back and forth along the top of the carriage.

“Mokona had to be nearby, so I could explain the plan to Kuro-sama,” Fai said by way of explanation. “See? I told you I was coming to rescue you.”

That does not look like a rescue,” Kurogane stated. “How the hell do you expect us to get over there?”

“Swim, of course!” Fai spoke very slowly, as if talking to a child or a small animal.

“Swim? That?” Kurogane shook his head. He should’ve known better than to expect the idiot to come up with any sort of decent plan.

“What’s wrong with swimming?” A surprised look came over Fai’s features and he patted Kurogane’s shoulder reassuringly. “Oh, I see. It’s all right, Kuro-sama, I understand. You don’t have to be embarrassed about it.”

“About what?” Kurogane knew he shouldn’t even ask. He wondered if the masked men would care if he pulled out his sword as long as he was only using it to kill Fai.

“It’s all right, really!” Fai continued. “Many people can’t swim! Don’t you worry, Kuro-rin, it’ll be all right. You can hold on to me and I’ll carry you across to safety.”

“I can swim fine,” Kurogane snapped.

“You don’t have to put on a brave face for me, Kuro-tan,” Fai said in soothing tones, patting Kurogane’s shoulder again.

“Get your hands off of me,” Kurogane said very slowly. “Right. Now.”

Fai did as instructed but continued to smile patronizingly.

“I can swim,” Kurogane repeated. “But that does not look like any water I’ve ever seen. And how the hell are we supposed to swim with these?” He held up his shackled wrists.

“I can take care of that,” Fai assured him. “Our benefactors – the one who rescued me and Syaoran-kun and Sakura-chan – showed me how to take the collars off. Now, hold still.”

“What are you--” Kurogane started to ask but was cut off as Fai leaned forward and suddenly buried his head alongside Kurogane’s neck. One of Fai’s hands went to the collar and then Kurogane had the distinct sensation of a tongue traveling down the nape of his neck.

“Wha--” Kurogane tried to say something but Fai’s other hand slid up and placed a finger against his lips. Kurogane found himself moving his head to one side to allow Fai better access to his neck and tried his best to tell himself that he was simply trying to get the collar off quicker. It certainly didn’t feel good or anything like that.

He wondered if the masked men were watching them do this and wasn’t sure who he hated more: himself for thinking it or Fai more for putting him in this position without any warning whatsoever.

Fai made a soft purring sound that made a shiver travel up Kurogane’s spine and suddenly the collar, the shackles and all the chains fell away and landed in a heap at Kurogane’s feet. Fai pulled back quickly and stood staring at Kurogane with a smile of perfect angelic innocence.

“What the hell was that about?!” Kurogane growled through clenched teeth. His face felt hot and he wondered if the air had somehow gone strange. He definitely wasn’t blushing, that was certain. Because if he was then Fai was going to have to die and that might hinder the escape plan.

“I was just helping to get Kuro-sama’s chains off,” Fai said sweetly. “It’s something that has to be done very carefully. There’s strong magic in these chains, you know.”

Kurogane eyed him dubiously. A sudden thought occurred to him.

“Those people who rescued you got the collars off that way?” Kurogane felt his hand reach towards his sword again and refused to think about why.

“Of course not!” Fai looked scandalized. “Really, Kuro-rin, do you think I’d let a stranger do something like to Sakura-chan and Syaoran-kun?” He gave Kurogane his most innocent look. “But this way was the best for me, since Kuro-sama’s such a difficult person!”

“You bastard…” Kurogane glared fiercely at him. “I’m not doing that to you.”

“You can’t,” Fai said, an unexpected seriousness in his voice. The magician held out the length of chain that attached his own bonds to the rest of the line. “Now, if Kuro-tan wouldn’t mind using his sword and cutting me free, we can make our escape.”

“You can’t swim with those on,” Kurogane stated. “Let me take the damn collar off you.”

“I said, you can’t.” Fai shook his head. “I told you, Kuro-rin, it has to be done carefully. You can’t do it. This is the only chain you can cut safely.” He nodded to the chain in his hand.

“Carefully…” Kurogane raised his head to look Fai in the eye. “Because it’s magic, right? You can do it because of the magic, but I can’t.”

“I didn’t say that,” Fai said cheerfully, but he wouldn’t meet Kurogane’s gaze.

“I thought you wouldn’t use magic,” Kurogane continued, undeterred.

“It’s not magic,” Fai said breezily, his smile tight and fake. “Really, Kuro-sama, you always think too much. It’s just because I’ve studied things like this in the past, that’s all.”

“You can’t break a spell with just studying,” Kurogane said. He gestured with his sword at the chain in Fai’s hand. “How do you know that’s the only safe chain?”

“Study,” Fai said again, smile unwavering.

The chain in Fai’s hand jerked sharply and Fai nearly stumbled. They were falling behind the line again. Fai took a few quick steps to catch up but kept tight hold of the chain.

“Ah! It looks like we can’t argue anymore,” Fai said, smile still steady and false on his face. Kurogane glanced over to where the masked figures still stood, watching as the line of gray figures passed. They didn’t seem to have noticed that he had escaped his chains -- or if they had they didn’t consider it a problem as long as he was still with the line. Soon they would have no choice but to keep following the chained walkers and then they would be too far from the water.

“This conversation isn’t over,” Kurogane stated even as he brought his sword down on the chain in Fai’s hand. It clattered to the ground and was swallowed up by the words on the road.

“Of course,” Fai replied with a smile that said it was. He turned to the water. “Do you need to hold onto me, Kuro-rinta?”

“I can swim!” Kurogane snapped. He eyed Fai’s remaining chains clinically. “Can you?

“I’ll manage.” Fai’s smile was bright and unconcerned, and Kurogane didn’t believe it in the least.

“What about them?” Kurogane looked back at the masked figures. “Can you out-swim them with all that still on you?”

“They don’t swim,” Fai said. “The other people in this country, the ones who rescued us, they’ve made contracts with the water. The magic of this side doesn’t affect it and our masked friends there can’t go any place where their words aren’t written.”

“So we’re safe once we’re in the water?” Kurogane turned back to the lake. He couldn’t see anything in the ink black water and the surface was perfectly smooth, like dark glass.

“Mostly,” Fai replied.

“What’s that supposed to m--” The words had barely left Kurogane’s mouth when Fai reached out and unceremoniously pushed him into the lake.

It was just as dark under water as it had been above and Kurogane couldn’t see anything, not even fish, even though he was barely beneath the surface. Despite the unnatural darkness, however, the water did feel like normal water and Kurogane was able to swim to the surface without much difficulty.

“You bastard, I’ll kill you!” Kurogane growled to Fai, who was dogpaddling happily beside him.

“Well, if you sat there much longer we were going to miss our chance,” Fai said innocently. Kurogane noted that the magician was already slightly out of breath and seemed to be having some difficulty keeping himself afloat.

Before Kurogane could say anything else something sharp cut through the surface of the water next to him. Even as he turned to look at it another flew by. He grabbed it as it sank beneath the surface.

An arrow, with a sharp metal point that matched the spikes on the iron gate.

Kurogane looked back towards the shore they had left and saw one of the spikes of the iron gate suddenly expand upwards into a shadow that turned into a masked man holding a bow. Another spike was doing the same and masked men were dropping like rain onto the ground, their weapons trained on the two escapees.

“Swim!” Fai grabbed his arm and tugged him forward insistently.

“Mostly,” Kurogane muttered darkly under his breath as another arrow flew by, narrowly missing him.

“They can’t reach us once we get to the other side,” Fai told him. The magician was swimming steadily forward but there was a worrying sluggishness to his movements.

There was nothing else to do but swim. As they neared the center of the lake Kurogane felt the water growing thicker like a deep mud and he had to strain to move forward. What he had thought was fog was more like a type of smoke which made his eyes water and his ears ring as he swam through it.

“Kuro-sama!” He heard Fai yell from somewhere behind him – behind, when he was certain the mage had been ahead of him before – and the sound of his name was the only warning he had before a hail of arrows rained down on him. Kurogane took a quick breath and dived under the water, but even so he felt a sudden pain as one arrow grazed his shoulder.

The under water was a maze of darkness and what felt like some kind of sea plant with thin sticky leaves like thick rope that slid around him, making it feel as through he were swimming through a spider’s web. As he passed through them he thought he could feel something inside him lightening, as though the plants were leeching out all the words that had attached themselves to him on the road.

As the last tendril slid off of him Kurogane swam back up to the surface. His shoulder throbbed where he had been grazed and even in the dim light he could see the blood oozing from the wound. The blood was a bright red and Kurogane realized that his skin had regained its usual color, rather than the dull white-gray it had been before. The red of his cloak had also returned, as had the color in Souhi’s hilt. In front of him he could at last see the opposite shore, where the coachman waited.

Kurogane slowly swam the last few feet, taking care not to strain his arm as he climbed out of the water on the cool ground.

“Kurogane!” He looked up to see Mokona bouncing hurriedly towards him. “You’re hurt!” It looked worriedly at his shoulder and then hopped to the water’s edge. “Fai! Where’s Fai?”

The words struck through him like a thunderbolt and without even a backwards glance Kurogane turned around and dove back underwater, swimming back towards the black smoke.

Approaching from this side it seemed as though the smoke was thinner and it had gone from black to a sickly reddish-yellow, like a dying fire. Another arrow flew past him and Kurogane ignored it, looking around desperately for any sign of Fai.

He heard the sound of something breaking through the water and turned just in time to see Fai surface. The mage’s face was chalk-white and he was clearly struggling to keep his head above water. Fai bobbed helplessly in one place and looked around wildly, his eyes unfocused and disoriented.

“Oi! Idiot!” Kurogane called to him and Fai glanced his way, the slightest of smiles crossing his face before the chain pulled him back under the water. Kurogane cursed and dived down after him.

Like the smoke, the water was murky but still clearer than it had been before. The plants waved to and fro with the current and their leaves barely touched Kurogane as he swam past, as if they no longer had any reason to be concerned with him. Kurogane paid them no attention as he looked about wildly for Fai. The magician seemed to have disappeared into the darkness.

The need for air forced him upwards and Kurogane took only the quickest of breaths before diving back down again, nearly choking on a mouthful of smoke as he did so. The color of the water had lightened again into a dull gray-blue and at last he caught sight of Fai, tangled up in chains and plant leaves, trying desperately to pull himself free of the tendrils wrapped around his legs. The mage’s eyes were half closed and his movements seemed far too slow and heavy.

The breath he had taken before had been cut off by the smoke and already his lungs burned, but Kurogane swam forward nonetheless. Something told him that if he lost sight of Fai now he might never find the magician again. As he moved Kurogane struggled to pull out his sword.

Fai looked up slightly as Kurogane came close and Kurogane could see a line of black ink pouring down off the chains on Fai’s body, dripping down like rain into the leaves of the sea plants. With one quick stroke Kurogane cut the tendrils of plant that held Fai down and grabbed the mage by the arm, dragging him upwards. Fai’s chains felt heavier than Kurogane remembered his own being.

Together they broke the surface of the water and Fai gave a shuddering gasp, leaning against Kurogane’s shoulder.

“I told you, idiot,” Kurogane growled at him as they slowly made their way to the shore. Fai gave him a shaky smile but didn’t seem to have the breath for a reply.

“Fai! Kurogane!” Mokona was still waiting for them on the shore. It bounced about worriedly as Kurogane wearily dragged himself and then Fai out of the water. His shoulder ached and he could see that it had begun bleeding again. Fai lay crouched in a heap next to him, still trying to catch his breath, but Kurogane was somewhat relieved to see that some of the color that had been leeched away had returned to the magician’s skin and hair.

“We’re all right,” Fai assured Mokona, his voice tired and breathy. “That was a bit scary for a moment, wasn’t it?”

“Is Fai hurt?” Mokona looked up curiously at Fai’s bruised face.

“It’s fine, it’s fine,” Fai said, and Kurogane noted that the usual cheer in his voice was not quite present. As Fai stood Kurogane could see that the magician kept his shackled hands at his sides, as if he hadn’t the ability to hold the chains up any longer. “We should get back to Sakura-chan and Syaoran-kun now. They’ll be worried.”

“Mmm.” Mokona nodded and led them over to the coach. The door was open, and as Kurogane climbed in he caught a quick glimpse of the coachman. In place of the face was another mask, but this one was vibrant green and red accented by garish purple feathers and the eyes that could be seen behind it were too large and sparkled gold, like the eyes of a jungle beast. Mokona hopped onto the coachman’s shoulder as Fai entered the coach. The magician struggled with his chains for a moment in the doorway and Kurogane reached over and grabbed a handful of chain length, using it to drag Fai inside. Fai half-fell forward onto the seat beside Kurogane and the door closed behind him.

After a moment they were moving and Kurogane curiously ran a hand over the walls of the carriage; the whole thing seemed to be lined in light brown parchment that exuded a strange soft light. There were crude circles drawn in red all over the walls, even along the door and the bench where they sat.

Something felt strange inside the carriage and suddenly Kurogane realized what it was -- the inside of the carriage was completely silent, save for his own breathing and Fai’s quiet gasps. Even the deep humming that he’d heard constantly outside had gone perfectly quiet. The persistent ache that had been hanging in Kurogane’s head at last began to ebb and the ringing in his ears faded.

“This was made keep the words out,” Fai explained. The weariness had not faded from Fai’s voice and he was still half stretched out on the seat, holding himself up slightly with his arms. After a moment he managed to sit up, trying to move his hands where they couldn’t be seen, but the chains seemed to be too heavy and instead he simply sat hunched over, hands dangling down towards the ground, chains clinking together slightly.

Kurogane looked down at the chains and in the light inside the carriage he was finally able to see the bloody marks on Fai’s skin just below where the shackles held him and the cuts on Fai’s clothes were suddenly too raw and too red. Fai followed his gaze and gave him another smile full of false reassurance.

“We’ll be safe here now,” Fai said quietly. He was swaying slightly where he sat. “They can’t cross the river. The wards will--”

“Shut up,” Kurogane said, cutting him off. “It finally got quiet, I don’t need to hear your stupid chatter.” Fai looked up at him in surprise and then smiled again, warmly this time, and leaned his head against Kurogane’s shoulder.

“I’m tired,” the magician said at length, his voice only a whisper.

“Then sleep, idiot,” Kurogane replied, the words not nearly as sharp as he’d intended them to be. Fai laughed softly against his shoulder and closed his eyes. Soon his breathing grew soft and even and Kurogane let out a breath he hadn’t even realized he’d been holding.

Kurogane leaned his own head back and closed his eyes, and at last let himself enjoy the silence.

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