Notes: This was written for the 2016 KuroFai Olympics! I've had such a fun time doing this and it's been an amazing opportunity. Thank you to all participants and mods, you've been so helpful and motivating.
A big shoutout to winblossom for being such an amazing coach, as well as lunarshores my ever suffering beta. Thank you so much!

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The glittering gems behind his patron's head distracted Fai for a moment, and he slipped his hand to his side, fingers brushing over the box in his pocket. It was still safe, of course it was, and he breathed a silent sigh of relief. His patron wasn't the most understanding of people, and if Fai had come empty handed…

There was a good reason Fai worked in the trade he did, and he didn't want to have to usurp his life again by using too much magic to escape. His life was quiet now, calm. He didn't think he could deal with using magic properly, not when it had been such a disaster last time.

"You have it," a brusque voice demanded, and Fai dipped his head, bending his knee and whisking the box out of his pocket, just like he did every time he came here.

"Of course, sir," he said politely, and his patron tilted their chin. An attendant, a blank faced man, stepped forward, taking the box from Fai's outstretched fingers. He opened it slowly, offered it to the patron, and he nodded, taking the gem from the box.

Like the others, it was big enough to sit comfortably in the palm of one's hand. All were circular, light and colour dancing inside a glass-like substance, but Fai had long ago stopped seeing the beauty in them.

"Good," the patron murmured, patting the gem and smiling widely. His teeth were plated in gold, his suit was the finest the city could buy, and his show of wealth was why Fai was here in the first place.

There were a handful of magic users who were able to use a simple spell, a spell that made them very valuable, in the right community. It was shady work, what Fai did, but it paid well, and it kept him safe. Any magic he used was a pittance compared to what he could use, and living a double life was hardly a difficult thing for Fai. He'd been watching his back since Ashura had been defeated, scared his past would catch up with him, that the kingdom he'd practically destroyed single handedly would bare its fangs and finally sink its teeth into him. Here, in Nihon, he was safe, unknown as the greatest magician Celes had to offer, and that was what mattered.

"Heart-stealer," the patron addressed him sharply, and Fai looked up, ready for his next task.

In short, Fai was a thief. A good one at that, the best if he did say so himself. He had stumbled into the role, quite literally, when meeting the patron's men late one night. He'd apparently picked a bad place to sleep rough, and when Fai had dodged their attacks easily, they'd taken him back to their patron. Well, Fai had let them, was more the point.

If there was one word Fai would assign himself, it was opportunistic. He'd taken five minutes (the walk from the entrance of the patron's home to the man himself) to assess the boss he was being taken to, and in those five minutes had come to a few conclusions. This guy was big, could keep Fai unnoticed and paid, and it was something to do.

An hour later, Fai had a roof over his head, the ear of one of the most influential men in the city, and a job. Not bad for an evening's work, if he did say so himself.

"You have a new job," the patron said smoothly, stroking the chair – throne really – he sat in. There was one particularly large crystal that sat under his fingers, and Fai remembered taking that from a kind girl with fair hair and bright blue eyes. She'd been too willing to trust Fai, too willing to give up her love for someone like him, and Fai had taken the energy she'd spent on him three weeks after meeting her, the longest he'd ever dared spend with someone.

"You're to go to Nihon," the patron said, and Fai felt something disturbing stirring within him. Nihon was easily days travel away; this wouldn't be a short mission. "You're to steal the heart of the princess. I want the most beautiful crystal you've ever made me."

Fai nodded, bowing low to hide his unease. Infiltrating the palace of Nihon was going to be an awful job, and that wouldn't even get him near the princess. If he wanted this job, and he did want it, then he'd have to infiltrate the princess' inner circle.

"A crystal from the love of a princess," the patron said, a dazed look on his face, "I want it."

And, just like every other request he was given, Fai would deliver.

.

The thing about Nihon was that it was an independent nation, separate from the rest of the world. It was practically its own world, and had a history steeped in mystery, and Fai could use that.

It was how, two weeks later, he found himself escorted onto the palace grounds. He was shown to a small antechamber, the servant talking animatedly about the rich history they had to offer for him. Fai had gone with his storyteller cover, though he'd had to stray to a more factual story this time. He was investigating lesser known cultures, he'd written in his letter to the chief historian of Nihon, and somehow, magically, he'd gotten here.

Okay, so Fai may have worked a small fortune spell into his letter, but it had gotten him here, hadn't it?

Unpacking took all of ten seconds, and Fai resolved that he'd have to go shopping very soon. The servant promised to bring him some clothes tomorrow, and provide an escort to the nearest shopping district, and that was that. Fai had infiltrated Nihon and landed a small set of rooms in an annexe on the palace grounds.

Not bad, if he did say so himself.

Picking up a file of papers from where he'd thrown them on the bed, Fai flicked through the sheets, settling on the newspaper clipping he'd managed to find on the princess. She was beautiful, someone Fai could grow to care for it he put the right effort in, he was sure. He'd always had a weak spot for young women, perhaps because he'd spent so much time around them, stealing their hearts.

Princess Tomoyo was a benevolent ruler, the papers declared. She was a pacifist, protecting her people above all else, and Fai thought she was admirable from what he could glean from the papers. If he was ever going to be the sort to fall in love with a woman, he couldn't think of a more noble one than Tomoyo. Pretending would be easy, Fai thought.

Still, he had to actually meet her first, and that required careful planning. He needed to target the right people, get to know her inner circle and staff. He could work his way up, feigning that he wanted to interview her for his book, and then he could work his charm. Fai thought it was simple, just like all the others – the hardest bit was the initial infiltration.

He poured over the papers for hours, making notes in a book he'd hidden under his pillow. He had three pages full of doodles, one page of ideas (if you could call them that) and had just coloured in the entire fifth page, inspiration gone.

This wasn't his usual case, Fai conceded. Usually he'd be able to bump into his love interest. A princess needed a lot more care, Fai reasoned, and he flopped down on his bed with a sigh. Perhaps he'd just go to bed and look at this with a fresh head in the morning.

True to their word, the servant from yesterday provided Fai with everything he needed, including a guide.

His escort turned out to be a tall, dark man, who gave Fai one look before grunting. It was, apparently, a suggestion to leave, and Fai pasted on a smile. He was used to dealing with powerful men, and this man was clearly one, even if his slight slouch misled an untrained eye into thinking he was nothing but an ordinary man.

His escort didn't want to be here and made that clear, letting Fai know that he was only here because he owed someone or something and he had to. He had better things to do, he told Fai, but here they were. Might as well make the most of it, he said, and he gave a wide grin as he informed Fai that someone rich was covering the food expenses on this outing. Someone definitely liked this guy, Fai thought.

Looking at his guard and guide, Fai tried to puzzle him out. He wasn't noble born, at least not in the sense of politics and stuffiness. Perhaps he did have blue blood in his veins, but he surely hadn't been raised in court. He had none of the delicacy needed for negotiating matters than court children had drilled into them, he could tell that within only a few seconds of meeting him, though Fai knew court children better than most.

So no. He wasn't that kind of man. A warrior most definitely; and Fai could feel some magic on him. Was he a mage? It seemed unlikely, but Fai had met others before who kept their powers hidden. Fai himself was hiding his own strength, had bound its full power, so it wasn't as if this man couldn't be magical. It was just an odd coincidence, and Fai didn't believe in coincidences. Magic users, powerful ones like Fai suspected this man to be, were fairly rare, and to have met one here in his first full day, well. It was interesting.

Fai hummed to himself, drawing a sharp glance from his escort. Dark eyes narrowed as Fai continued to hum, the man clearly annoyed, and Fai smiled.

"So," he began brightly, "we're going shopping?

The man grunted, setting off down the corridor and shouldering open the door. He was a brute, Fai thought, eyes trailing over the thick, muscular shoulders. Definitely a warrior, but perhaps a mage too. Warrior mages were rarer still, but not impossible. Still, they drifted to chaos zones, and Nihon was peaceful right now.

"This way," the man said, voice low. It was as if he wanted nothing to do with Fai, and if Fai were another person, he'd perhaps feel insulted. As it was, the less a person knew him the better, as far as Fai was concerned.

"Do I get a name to match the face?" Fai asked, linking his arms behind his head as they walked down the stairs. "Or to match those muscles," Fai added cheekily, testing the waters to see how far he could push this one. It was a habit of Fai's. Well, it would be if he spent enough time with people he liked and was not on a job, he was sure.

"Kurogane," the man grunted, and Fai hummed again.

"Kuro-puu," Fai commented, and had to hide the extent of his smile as Kurogane rounded on him, incredulous look on his face.

"Excuse me?" he said, words spitting from him. "It's Kurogane," he finished, and Fai nodded slowly.

"Of course, Kuro-wan," he said, this time not bothering the wide smile that spread over his face. Kurogane's expression was thunderous, and Fai was having a wonderful time. Names certainly did have power, though perhaps not in the way the old spell books spoke of.

"Kurogane," he said again, and Fai nodded, brushing him off as they stepped outside.

"I'm here to examine the history," Fai began, his prepared spiel coming to his lips. Kurogane seemed unimpressed, so Fai carried on. Surely he wanted to know why Fai was here, and what better way to tell him than straight outright.

"The history here is so rich and vibrant, completely different to where I've lived," he offered, and Kurogane didn't even take the bait. He didn't talk about the history, didn't ask where Fai had lived, didn't even look at him.

Fai's steps faltered just slightly. Did Kurogane already know about him? Did Kurogane know why he was here? Did Kurogane have a plan for dealing with Fai?

"What shops?" he asked, and Fai was deep in conspiracy theories and danger plans that, while the words registered, he didn't realise Kurogane had come to a standstill until he walked into him.

Which was… an experience. Fai was used to muscular men, used to powerful men, used to attractive men and yet… Kurogane was all three and none at the same time. He was something Fai couldn't have predicted, someone who had no cares about Fai whatsoever. Fai took a steadying step back and offered a smile.

"Sorry," he said, and patted Kurogane's arm, the space he has just pushed against. "I need clothes and food," Fai offered, and Kurogane nodded, leading the way forward like an obstinate bull.

Watching him walk off for a few paces, Fai set off after Kurogane, deep in thought. It wasn't as if he'd never been attracted to men like Kurogane before, it was just that none of them had been anywhere near Kurogane's level. Even from under an hour's company and a few touches Fai could tell that Kurogane was destined for something, as well as the sort of man you wanted with you in a crisis.

There was also the matter of his magic, a feeling that left Fai slightly on edge. It was something deadly, something Fai needed to watch out for, yet Kurogane acted as if he didn't even know it was there.

He was intriguing, and Fai watched him enter a shop, pause, and then nod his head at Fai.

Shopping with Kurogane was an experience. His bulky frame helped Fai's sweet tongue in haggling, and they left the shopping district with considerably heavier wallets than they'd thought they'd have. Fai suggested lunch, handed Kurogane his bags with a wink, and then he was off scouring the restaurants and cafes nearby. Kurogane was stalwart, hardly even blinking, and Fai laughed.

"They're just bags of clothes," Fai offered, and Kurogane snapped out of whatever he'd been thinking.

"No one needs this amount of clothes," he grumbled, but made no move to hand the bags back to Fai. In fact, Fai noticed, he gripped the handles tightly, arms stiff as he walked to join Fai.

"It's a respectable amount of clothing," Fai said, bumping his arm against Kurogane's as he steered them to a quaint little café. "Just because you wear the same outfit…" he trailed off.

"The same three outfits," Kurogane corrected, voice strained, and Fai didn't bother to reply. His point had been made, and Kurogane acknowledged that too.

"So do you just wander the palace looking good, or do you have an actual job?" Fai asked later, over desserts. Kurogane, busy with his mochi, just shrugged.

"That's exactly what I do, yes," he said sarcastically, and Fai smiled, leaning forwards, waiting for Kurogane to finish his sentence.

"I am the master swordsman," he said finally, and Fai could hear the pride in his voice, and not for a shabby reason. Being a master swordsman was such an honour that Fai knew it. Kurogane certainly had the build for it, though Fai had never known a master swordsman with magical ability.

Strange, but there were stranger things.

"Not bad, not bad," Fai commented wistfully. He had no idea what it was like to find life's true calling, and doubted he ever would. Kurogane was lucky; he had everything here.

"We can't all be travelling historians," Kurogane commented lowly, throwing money on the table and standing. Something clenched in Fai's stomach at Kurogane's tone, and he mirrored the money move, standing too.

"I'll show you the main square. An idiot like you will love it," Kurogane said, and while he'd meant it in jest, there was something in his words that sounded a little sharp, a little too knowing.

Fai would have to keep his eye on this one.

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Syaoran sent a servant to collect Fai first thing. The sun was barely breaking the horizon, and the servant woke him meekly, perhaps expecting shouting. Fai simply smiled and readied himself for the day. He was going to meet his cover story today, and he had to make a good impression. He was here for a reason, Fai reminded himself, and it had nothing to do with broad shoulders and dark eyes.

"Hello," Fai said as he stuck his head around the library office door. He'd been directed over by a quiet man, and a youthful face peered back from behind a desk. Did he have the right office?

"Fai, right?" the kid, who had to be Syaoran, said, gesturing for Fai to come in and take a seat. "Welcome," he said, polite as anything, and Fai was struggling to match this kid's age with his attitude.

"You look a little young to be this country's historian," Fai offered, and Syaoran beamed for a moment, stifling his happiness down a little.

"I come from Clow country," he said, as if that explained everything. Which, thinking about it, it really did.

Clow country was a land full of archaeologists and historians, rich in both in fact. It was said the greatest minds in archaeology came from there, and, while Fai had only visited it briefly, he'd agree with that statement.

"It's a beautiful country," Fai commented, and Syaoran nodded brightly.

"I hope to return one day," he said, looking away for a moment, "but not yet. I have too many things to do, like help you with your research." Syaoran smiled, and Fai could feel himself falling for his charm. He liked Syaoran and could use a friend, so Fai resolved to allow himself this bond. Perhaps, after he'd stolen Tomoyo's heart, they'd meet again, maybe even in Clow, and they'd laugh about their old friendship.

Fai rolled his eyes at himself. He'd really become pathetic if he was inventing imaginary future friendships after moments with someone.

"Yes," Fai said, pulling a notebook from his pocket. He was ready to learn, and he said as much to Syaoran.

"Alright," he said with a laugh. "We'll start with the formation of the monarchy, it's a bit convoluted – incest, treachery, treason, the usual, you know? – but I think I've been able to work out a reasonable timeline…"

And while it was work that Fai was using as a cover, it was remarkably interesting. So much so that he hardly noticed when the servants came around with food, or noticed the light outside dimming. He was mid-debate with Syaoran on the nuances of translations and using spells versus actual human translators when Kurogane showed up, eyes darting around as if he was afraid he'd break something. Though, with his strength and broad shoulders, that wouldn't be completely unbelievable.

Fai really had to stop thinking about Kurogane's shoulders.

"Ah!" Syaoran said, glancing at the clock on his desk. "We've been here all day!"

There was a pause, and then Syaoran made another noise of exclamation, this time standing up from his chair.

"I missed our training session!" he said, and instantly straightened, bowing in Kurogane's direction. "I'm sorry sensei, I let myself become distracted and-"

"Hey, kid," Kurogane said, voice remarkably soft. Fai watched in fascination as he smiled gently, leaning against the doorframe. He looked kinder in this office, and Fai wondered how appropriate it would be to ask Kurogane out on a date.

Not at all, Fai reminded himself, considering it wasn't Kurogane's heart he was here to steal.

"Don't worry about it. I came up earlier, and you two were busy. We can reschedule for tomorrow." Kurogane was being nice, and despite having known him for only a short time, Fai knew there had to be a catch. Plus, the alarmed look on Syaoran's face said it all. "You're to do a double training session and take the weekly inventory."

Kurogane's grin was wide, and Syaoran sighed, nodding.

"Of course sensei," he said brightly, and Fai had the feeling that Kurogane's punishment was hardly the worst he could dish out.

"I'm not here for you though," he said, his tone slipping into one Fai was more familiar with. A bit standoffish, a bit curious; that was the Kurogane he'd come to know. "I'm here for your new historian."

Fai mimicked a swoon. "And who says romance is dead, Kuro-tan," he said, simpering, ignoring the alarmed look Syaoran shot him. "Why do you require my holy presence?"

"Dinner," Kurogane said, and his blank look turned to one of annoyance, as if he'd let that slip too soon. "You're paying," he amended, and Fai turned to Syaoran, raising his eyebrows.

"It looks like I've been summoned away by his highness," Fai said merrily, and Syaoran nodded slowly, still a little alarmed looking. "Same time tomorrow? I promise not to take up much of your time – believe it or not, I can work independently," he added, and Syaoran nodded, breaking out of his alarm.

"Sure, just let yourself in. Everything we have is at your disposal," Syaoran commented, and Fai thanked him.

"Alright then, Kuro-pon," Fai said, offering his arm to Kurogane. It was ignored, but he kept it held out as they walked. "Where am I taking you?"

Kurogane shoved his arm, pressing it back to Fai's side, and began their journey to dinner.

The restaurant was a bawdy one, styled as an old tavern with women wearing tight dresses they popped out of and men completely shirtless. Fai had no idea why, or why Kurogane would pick somewhere like this. As he stared into his eighth pair of nipples of the evening (a waiter placing their drinks down), he wondered if he'd travelled into another world.

"What is…" Fai began, not sure how to finish his sentence.

Kurogane just shrugged. "It's got cheap booze," was all he offered, as if that was the simplest explanation ever. It really was, Fai thought when he looked around. Everyone was given privacy and distance, and the alcohol kept flowing, no matter the curious uniforms the staff wore.

Dinner was, surprisingly, decent, and Fai wondered if dinner with Kurogane was going to become a thing.

"If this continues, I might have to join Syaoran's training sessions just to keep in shape," Fai half-joked. He would need to do some sort of training, though the sword had never been a weapon he'd particularly clicked with.

"Sure," Kurogane said pleasantly, downing another pint of whatever beer he was drinking and signalling for another. "You wouldn't last five minutes," he said, teasingly, and Fai shook his head, tapping his glass gently.

"I always scored well in-" he paused. What could Fai say? He couldn't give away his past in Celes, nor could he mention his connections to an underground criminal syndicate.

"In the what?" Kurogane said, and his foot brushed Fai's under the table. Neither of them made to move, keeping their feet touching, and Fai felt something flutter inside of him.

"In the something, now if you don't mind," Fai said, "tell me about the palace."

Kurogane obliged, and Fai wondered if he was slightly intoxicated. He deserved to be, the amount of beer he'd put away, but Fai also couldn't see Kurogane losing his control in such a way. Perhaps he was just a big drinker, even if he was a little merrier than the night before.

"And I report directly to Princess Tomoyo, and that's the hierarchy stuff of my section," Kurogane finished off, and Fai hummed, knowing this could be his chance.

Taking a deep breath, Fai leant in, smiling softly.

"You're well acquainted with the princess then?" he said, and Kurogane narrowed his eyes. Definitely not intoxicated, Fai thought.

"Yeah," he replied, and Fai nodded. That was good, he could get to Tomoyo through making friends with Kurogane, even if it felt a little odd. Kurogane was his ticket in, even if Fai couldn't quite understand how they had ended up friends, and definitely couldn't picture what they'd look like together. He would have loved to know how they met, that was for sure.

"Look," Kurogane said flatly, and Fai sat back, focused on him. His tone was different to what it had been before, as if he's simply been humouring Fai all this time, and warning bells began to ring in Fai's head. That couldn't be true, could it? Had Fai been reading Kurogane terribly wrong this entire time?

"Whatever you want from the princess," he said, giving Fai a pointed look that sent discomfort crawling across Fai's skin, "leave it. She's not your plaything."

Fai tilted his head to the side, tapping the side of his glass, watching as Kurogane closed himself off entirely.

"I simply wish to learn more of her history," Fai lied, magic fizzing under his skin in a panic. He'd misread Kurogane entirely, it seemed, and there were very few people who Fai couldn't get a grasp on after meeting them. He'd thought one thing, and now that Kurogane was showing his true colours, showing he'd merely been waiting and testing Fai, Fai knew he had to think quickly to regain his position of potential-friendship with Kurogane.

"Sure," Kurogane said bitterly. "We get a lot of men like you. They never stay long."

"Unlike you," Fai ventured, wishing he could send a tendril of magic out to probe what he could feel radiating from Kurogane. This man had magic, had an interest in the princess and cared for nothing except himself and his close friends at court, keeping away from everyone else. Why was he here? Fai thought he knew now.

"Unlike me," Kurogane said, grinning. It wasn't a kind smile, but a threat, and Fai knew he was being warned.

How many others had Kurogane seen off in a restaurant like this? How many heart stealers had he come against and dismissed with a feral flash of teeth? How many had been foolish to ignore his warnings?

"I don't think I'll be leaving until I get what I want," Fai said simply, the closest he'd dare to a proper challenge. He needed Kurogane on his side, whether he stuck around just watching Fai for threat or if he genuinely came to like Fai. It didn't matter, but he had connections, ones that would get Fai what he needed.

Kurogane's reply was to slam his glass down and stand, shouldering his way out and leaving Fai with the bill. That was fine, Fai thought, pressing notes down onto the table and following his companion carefully. He knew what Kurogane was now, and understood.

Kurogane had to be a heart stealer, one after Tomoyo's heart.

.

The days passed easily, and Fai began to fall into a routine. He'd study with Syaoran until Kurogane came to pick one of them up. Sometimes it was both, but those days Syaoran would increasingly make excuses, winking ridiculously when he thought only one of them was looking. It had taken him a little while to notice that Fai was clearly into Kurogane, but since he'd noticed, he'd made sure that Fai was well aware he was aware of the attraction.

And, okay, maybe Fai had offhandedly made a comment comparing some of the old gods to Kurogane. And maybe if Fai had commented casually that the gods had nothing on Kurogane's muscles then Syaoran might have picked up on that, but who was Fai to say where he got his ideas from.

"Does he think we're that stupid?" Fai said cheerfully, and Kurogane just shrugged, nodding to the door.

"Are you coming?" he asked, and Fai nodded, noticing that Kurogane was dressed rather nicely. His armour was polished impeccably (even more so than usual), and the fabric underneath looked expensive and very pretty. What had he been up to?

"You're looking good today," Fai commented after a moment. He couldn't help but keep looking, and he wondered what Kurogane thought of his, for lack of a better term, blatant leering.

"Tomoyo forced me into it," Kurogane muttered, and if Fai didn't know him any better, he'd have said Kurogane was blushing with that statement. "We had a meeting."

This was Fai's chance.

"Tomoyo? As in the princess Tomoyo?" This was it, his opportunity to meet the princess and get as far away from Nihon as he could, away from Kurogane's amazing muscles and quiet, sullen charm. Kurogane had mentioned Tomoyo before, as a threat to Fai, but never since. Perhaps he could pretend the last conversation had never happened.

"Yeah," Kurogane said, and from his tone, Fai could see he'd shut down. Perhaps this was a dead end after all. It was something to note, and Fai was sure that Kurogane knew he was here to steal Tomoyo's heart. Why else was he so defensive whenever she was mentioned?

"So where is dinner tonight?" Fai asked, knowing a change of subject was in order. Kurogane instantly relaxed.

"My house," he said simply, and Fai looked at him curiously. "I have some books you can look through too. The kid doesn't think much of them, but they're decent enough."

They walked to a row of neat cottages on the palace grounds, but Kurogane kept on walking, right until the one at the very end. It looked a little run down, but it was homely enough, and Fai could feel its character and charm oozing from every slightly tilted roof tile.

"It's not much," Kurogane said, as if he needed to warn Fai. Fai didn't care, but it was sweet that Kurogane thought he did. He opened the door for them, and Fai looked around in interest, marvelling at how neat and tidy it was.

"It's lovely," Fai said, and he honestly meant it. It wasn't much, that was true, but it was a proper home. It was lived in, felt like Kurogane, and Fai wondered if he'd ever be able to have something like this.

"Yeah, well," Kurogane mumbled, moving to the kitchen. He got them both a drink, and then he pointed to the small shelf of books he had.

"Do you mind?" Fai asked, already moving to the shelf; it was partially why he was here, after all, and Kurogane shook his head.

"It might not be useful," he warned, stretching out in one of the armchairs that sat against the wall, letting his head loll back.

It wouldn't be useful, not really. It would have been, if Fai had actually been writing a history book, but instead he was here to snoop. And to enjoy his time with Kurogane. Who he was definitely not liking a lot. He still had Tomoyo's heart to go for, obviously, and he was just good friends with Kurogane. That was all.

The shelf was sparse, the main bulk of books being related to swords and the art of fighting. Fai picked one out, and turned to Kurogane.

"Kuro-tan sure loves his swords," he said with a smirk, and Kurogane raised an eyebrow.

"Yeah?" He commented, as if Fai was missing the blindingly obvious, so Fai put the book back and nodded.

"Do you have a favourite sword?" he asked, and Kurogane stood up, unbuckling his belt. For a moment, Fai had a terrible thought that Kurogane had thought he was making dick jokes this entire time, and that he was about to experience the other kind of sword (not that he'd mind, it was all just a bit sudden). Instead, to Fai's relief and somewhat disappointment, Kurogane presented an actual sword, the one he kept at his side the entire time.

Fai should have known that was his favourite sword.

"The ginryū," Kurogane said, holding it just out of Fai's reach. Not that he'd touch it, he knew from various conversations over the years that swordsmen tended to be a little protective over their blades.

"It's beautiful," Fai commented, eyes trailing over the master craftsmanship. His theory that Kurogane was a heart stealer was becoming more and more farfetched as he got to know Kurogane and Fai could feel holes poking in his theory. Tiny holes, holes that he could easily ignore, because nothing else made sense.

"She was passed down to me," Kurogane said softly, and that patched some of the holes up. Still, there was something in the way Kurogane spoke that made Fai want to reach out. He didn't, instead curling his hands into fists by his side.

Fai didn't do comfort, not when it comforted himself too. He could soothe upset ladies and men, because that was his job. To comfort Kurogane now, when he cared (he couldn't deny that much) for him would be a step too far. Fai was here for Tomoyo's heart, and Kurogane was a competitor. He had to remind himself that.

"They must have loved you very much," Fai said, slipping his words and promises to himself. It was true though, he could feel the love and sorrow radiating from the sword. It was a sword with a lot of history, history that was extremely personal to Kurogane.

"I only work for Tomoyo," Kurogane said, re-strapping the sword to himself. "Everything else comes second."

Fai looked away, turning back to the books. Of course everything came second, he could understand that. Everything to Fai came second to running. There was no way that Celes would snap at his heels, not when Fai was the only living being left from that terrible place, but he still feared that somehow Ashura had cheated death, and it ghosts haunted him with their what-ifs.

A small part of him would always hope for it, just to see Ashura and the tiny, frail figure of his brother again. It would never happen, not after Fai had sealed them both. They were dead, but old habits died hard.

"May I borrow this?" Fai asked, shaking thoughts of a cold, marble floor, blood dripping across it as he struggled to keep upright. He'd sacrificed the magic in his left eye that day, bound it to Celes and a tomb for all eternity, and it would forever haunt him.

"Take what you like," Kurogane said, and he seemed to be searching Fai's face for something. Instantly, Fai shut down, smiling widely. Kurogane frowned and turned away.

And didn't that just leave something cold and unwelcome in the pit of Fai's stomach.

.

It had been two months and three days since Fai had arrived, and he was about as close to meeting the princess as he'd been the day he got the assignment. He couldn't say he was that bothered, not when he kept making excuses to himself about asking Kurogane and everyone else, and it wasn't as if his patron was on his back. In fact, Fai hadn't heard from the gang at all, and he wondered if they'd simply forgotten about him.

"So what you're saying is," Syaoran said slowly, eyes raking over the book before him, then up at Fai, his book on magic is basically tricks on the level of pulling rabbits out of hats?"

Fai nodded, face grave.

"I'm afraid so," he said, as serious as he'd ever been, and Syaoran pushed the book away, practically pouting.

"Have you written a book on magic?" he asked, and Fai shook his head.

"My magic isn't the sort that can be written," he said, and he knew Syaoran was curious as to whether magic was the reason for his mismatched eyes, or whether that was something else. He didn't ask, though, for Syaoran was respectful, and Fai appreciated that.

He stood from the table, letting Syaoran know he was going to head back to his rooms for a while, compile some notes, and Syaoran just nodded, already with his nose buried in another book. He was preparing another expedition somewhere, and Fai was happy to mill about the palace grounds for the day.

He moved from garden to garden for a while, enjoying the nature and speaking to various people. Not once did he think of using them to get to Tomoyo, not even when one of her personal attendants asked for his help with something. Fai had made a name for himself at removing particularly difficult stains, and a quick, whispered spell took the stain out of the princess' favourite dress. He let the servant go with a wink, and continued on his garden exploration.

"You're doing well," a familiar voice said, and Fai instinctively ducked behind the nearest bush. Someone, a palace guard by the looks of it, shot him a worried glance, but Fai just rolled his eyes, peering through the bush to the other side of the garden.

It wasn't Kurogane's usual training grounds, but here he was with a gaggle of children, watching them with a stern eye as they held training swords.

Fai swallowed thickly as Kurogane bent down explaining something or another to one of the kids. He ruffled their hair in the same way he did Syaoran's, and Fai knew something in that moment.

He was screwed no matter what he did.

There was an atmosphere in the library, and even Syaoran seemed uncomfortable that evening. Fai did his best to diffuse the atmosphere, but every word he spoke, in particular every word to Kurogane, only seemed to make the tension thicker.

"I'm going to go," Syaoran said suddenly, darting between the two of them, and Fai was sure there was a slight flush on his cheeks. "Night!" he said, practically bolting out of the door.

Raising an eyebrow, Fai looked at Kurogane, wondering if Syaoran has always been this perceptive. And okay, it wasn't like Fai was meaning to flirt with Kurogane, or bait him as Kurogane would insist, it just happened. They were the same, Kurogane was someone Fai could let his guard down around. He understood Fai, knew what it was like in their line of work, and Fai, despite all his misgivings, trusted Kurogane.

Still. The energy Kurogane would get from Tomoyo's crystal would be immense, and Fai had to have it, for the client. He was sure he could piece together a spell that would use a connection without Fai, but none of the books in this library we helpful in any way. The only book that could be was wrapped and bound in a bag underneath Fai's bed, and there was no way he was getting out such a magically rich text with Kurogane in the city. He'd feel it in an instant.

"I'm done," Kurogane announced, slamming the book (full of the art of swordsmanship from what Fai could gather) he was reading on the table and propping his feet up to join it. "I want to get food."

Fai nodded, closing his own book gently. There was no point hanging around here really, and he asked if they could stop by his rooms. He wasn't dressed for going out, and while Kurogane just rolled his eyes at that, Fai thought it was important. There was always a part to play, no matter where he was.

"I mean it doesn't matter too much," Fai said as they entered his rooms. "Spending time with you or Syaoran, it doesn't matter."

"But he's the history guy," Kurogane persisted, and Fai shrugged, heading to sit on the bed. His feet ached, and he longed for a massage. He wondered how well that would go down with Kurogane.

"Hey, Kuro-pon," Fai began, and Kurogane's eyes darted down to his feet. He let out a rough laugh.

"Not a chance in the world," he said, and Fai flashed him a quick grin, bending to untie his laces. "The kid knows more than me about the history here. I don't get why you'd want to spend more time with me, and less with him."

It's deeper than that, Fai felt, but he didn't have a proper answer. What he did have was a small truth, and he offered it honestly to Kurogane, peeling back a part of himself as he did so, exposing himself blatantly. It wouldn't be so bad, not with Kurogane.

"We're the same, Kuro-tan," Fai said dismissively, waving a hand as he peeled off his socks, throwing them in the general direction of the wardrobe. He'd get to it later, probably. "Cut from the same cloth and all, don't think I don't know. I like being around you because we're the same."

He said it with humour, but the look on Kurogane's face was anything but. Fai paused, barefooted in the middle of the room, taken aback by the look on Kurogane's face. It was something he couldn't describe, and then Kurogane was right before him, almost encroaching on his space. What had Fai done?

"We are not the same," Kurogane leant closer, and Fai remained unflinching. He was easily the most terrifying man Fai knew, but Kurogane wasn't going to hurt him, no matter what.

"You have no honour," Kurogane said, words little more than a low hiss. He was angry, Fai registered, and he frowned.

"Of course not," he commented, and Kurogane clenched his jaw. His fist mirrored the move, as if he longed to punch Fai right in the face. "Neither of us do, it's what we are," Fai persisted. No one had ever heard of a heart stealer with honour; there simply could never be such a thing.

"Don't," Kurogane said, and his voice was warped with betrayal, "you dare lump me in with you."

Fai didn't understand. He had been fighting this entire time to understand Kurogane, and every time he thought he finally had a handle on him, Kurogane shattered everything. He bit the inside of his cheek, magic tingling against his fingertips, and Fai shook his head.

"But-" he began, and Kurogane rolled his eyes, shoving past.

"Forget it," he snarled, wrenching the door open. It would likely have come off of the hinges if he hadn't pulled his strength at the last moment, and Fai watched as he held the door open, just standing there.

"I know what you are," Kurogane said. "I've always know what you are, why you were here, and I still…" he trailed off, leaving without another word, footsteps echoing down the stairs and through the house long after Kurogane had left.

With his departure came the emptiness, and Fai moved to the door slowly. His legs didn't feel like his own; it was as if someone had taken him from his body and put him in someone else. The door shut with a soft click, but it felt as if Fai was hearing it through water, muffled and distant. His breath hitched in his throat and his hand curled at his chest, magic sparking against the fabric as he clenched his shirt.

Something terrible had happened, Fai knew, something horrendous and irreparable. After so many years, after so many men and women and friends and lovers, someone had done the impossible.

Kurogane had stolen Fai's heart.

.

Fai didn't sleep that night. Nor the next. He caught a brief nap the night after that, but he woke to a nightmare of deep, swirling light and something pressing against his chest. When he woke, he found it just to be his own hand, but the damage had been done, and he was awake.

Deciding there was no point to lying in bed, Fai decided he would go and watch the sun rise. Syaoran had pointed out a few small gardens, and there was one in particular that had taken his fancy. Fai made his way towards it in the dark, considering for just a moment whether to conjure a light or not. He decided against it – there was enough light filtering from the town and castle, and Fai's eyesight was good enough for the job.

The garden was, as he'd expect it to be, empty. There was a single bench by the central pond, and Fai sat down heavily, sighing. He watched the surface water for a moment, eyes tracing the koi carp swimming lazily around, and Fai figured he'd been the one to disturb them. He watched the moonlight glint off of their scales for some time, mind drifting.

It was clear he liked Kurogane. That much Fai would have admitted before anyway – Kurogane was attractive, sharp-tongued, and clever. He was a brute, but he was so much more than that, and Fai liked him a lot. He should have known that this would happen, that Kurogane wasn't here for the princess' heart, but his own.

Fai's eyes closed, and he let out a heavy breath, wishing he could unknot the feeling in his chest. Was this how all people felt when they had their heart energy stolen? Had Fai been doing this to all those people all along? He'd thought his magic work was harmless, had written the spell himself to ensure that only energy spent on him was consumed, sucked from the time vortex rather than taken from a physical human. His magic wasn't supposed to hurt anyone else, and Fai felt his breath becoming shorter, almost too much-

"I always wondered what fish do a night," a pleasant voice said, and Fai's eyes snapped open. He made to rise, recognising the woman sat beside him instantly, but she just shook her head, still smiling.

"I was never allowed to come down here and look when I was younger, my sister was very firm on that, but now I'm older…" she trailed off, leaning forwards as the fish began to settle, hiding in the lilypads and deep in the pond.

"Kurogane hates fish," the princess said, her eyes turning from the fish to look at Fai. "He hates a lot of things, though I'm sure you already know that, Fai."

Fai looked away. This was his first meeting with her, but she seemed to know so much more about him than he did her.

"Kurogane is my friend, one of my closest," Tomoyo said gently, and Fai felt the panic in him soothe a little at Kurogane's name. Was that the power he had over Fai now?

"He never mentioned," Fai settled for instead, almost wincing as his voice came out a little dour. He didn't want Tomoyo to know his true feelings, not when he was meeting her for the first time. He had to make a good impression, had to steal her heart, had to report back, had to keep running from-

"He's stubborn," Tomoyo said fondly, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. "You might not have heard about me, but I assure you he's told me all about you," she said with a smile, as if they were friends. Fai wasn't sure how to take that, but he offered her a small smile in return, something pathetic and hopeful.

"Kurogane is one of my oldest friends," she said, and Fai nodded. There was nothing else he could do. He had no charms or pretty words for the princess. There was no way he'd be able to steal her heart, not when his own was incapacitated by Kurogane.

"Whatever he's done and whatever you've done, it doesn't matter, does it?" Her voice was soft, and Fai wondered if she'd had her heart stolen before.

"Have you…" Fai begun, but he looked away again, unable to complete his sentence.

"A heart is not something someone can steal," she said, and Fai looked at her. So Kurogane had been talking about everything then? "Kurogane's never mentioned you're a heart-stealer. If he thought I was in genuine danger then he would have, but he's Kurogane, and you're Fai," she said, as if that explained everything. It didn't, at least not to Fai, and he let out a soft laugh.

"I am a seer," Tomoyo said, and that explained everything in one neat swoop. Fai could believe it too, with everything he'd read up on the princess and what little information Kurogane had let slip. She paused, reaching for Fai's hand, and he felt her magic dance over them.

It was the same magic he'd felt from Kurogane.

"You-" he started, and then something finally clicked . Fai's eyes widened, and he stared at Tomoyo, speechless.

"I placed a curse upon Kurogane when he was younger," she said. The sky had begun to lighten, and she turned her head towards the slowly rising sun. She was unadorned, in simple sleeping clothes and a coat, and Fai felt as if he had landed in some strange, alternate world.

"I was hoping, when faced with powerful magic users, the feel of it would be enough to put them off, so Kurogane wouldn't need to force the curse to act," Tomoyo explained, and Fai felt as if his entire world was spiralling, condensing, unravelling, making perfect sense once more.

"He doesn't have magic," Fai said slowly, the worlds twisting in his stomach. They rose up, curling around his heart, and Fai felt lighter with his new understanding. "He doesn't have magic," Fai repeated, standing from the chair and whirling round. He was going to miss the sunrise, but that didn't matter.

"Princess," Fai said, his words and charm returned (as if by magic), and he bowed low. He meant the words he was about to speak, and Tomoyo waited patiently, smile on her face. "I came to this land with impure intentions-"

"If you're to steal Kurogane's heart, there's no need to be so flowery," Tomoyo said, standing. "You came here for the wrong reasons, a lot of people have. The important thing is that you stay for the right ones." She moved past Fai, and he watched her go, silently.

"If you need any help, just ask Syaoran, and he'll pass on a message to me," she said, and Fai had the feeling she'd been rooting for him and Kurogane all along. She waved, and then she was gone, moving through the gardens like a ghost.

And then Fai was alone, aside from a pond full of carp and the dawn of a new day. He wasn't going to mess this up, not this time. There was something worth staying for, no magic, no illusions, no tricks. Fai could have something he'd wanted for so long, and all he had to do was confront the last of his fears.

No problem.

.

Naturally, Fai avoided Kurogane from the moment of his realisation. It had even gotten to a point where Syaoran (poor, dear Syaoran who had had to put up with Fai almost every waking moment since Realisation Day) was reaching the end of his politeness, and he'd clearly come so close to telling Fai to piss off a number of times. He managed to catch it at the last moment, amazingly, so Fai had just carried on, until the moment he'd be fully flung out of the library.

"Don't you have…" Syaoran trailed off, closing the book he'd been flicking through. "You know. Have somewhere to be?"

Fai shrugged good naturedly.

"Nope," he said merrily, and Syaoran frowned.

"But you do," he said firmly, and Fai's faked good mood diminished a little. He shook his head, but Syaoran wasn't willing to give up. He had more stubbornness than anyone realised, and Fai was almost horrified that it was being used against him now.

"I'm fine here, researching," he said lightly, and Syaoran sighed again, not even bothering to hide the fact this one was completely faked.

"Not good enough," he retorted, looking for one startling moment the spitting image of Kurogane. "I've put up with your fake book writing for a while now, but I think it's time we called it quits and just accepted that you're not here to pen a bestseller. And I think it's time you accepted you're head over heels for Kurogane-san, and go and sort things out. The two of you are driving the rest of us mad with your moping; I bet even Sakura can feel it in Clow," Syaoran finished sternly, and Fai was silent for a moment, letting his words settle.

"You think I can salvage it," Fai said, and oh how naïve Syaoran was, to believe Fai could fix things he'd messed up. Fai wished he had that faith in himself still, and maybe he would have gone after Kurogane.

"Of course you can," Syaoran said gently, eyes distant, as if he was speaking from experience. He'd spoken of Clow's princess Sakura enough for Fai to know they loved one another, but long distances were hard to overcome. It couldn't be easy, but Syaoran had made it clear that he and Sakura would never give up on each other.

Had Fai given up on Kurogane before they'd even tried?

"He'll be in the armoury store room," Syaoran said, and Fai wondered if his magic was up to a transportation spell, or maybe even just a transformation one – something, anything, that would get him there quicker. Syaoran had pressed the bravery into him, and Fai couldn't let him down. He had to be brave, just this once.

He left without another word, practically tripping down stairs and barely dodging people as he ran through the palace building. The armoury was situated in a little cluster of barracks to the east of the palace, and Fai sprinted across the neat training lawn, out of breath by the time he got to the armoury. He knew it would be locked, Kurogane deep in inventory or cleaning or something, but Fai could feel him and Tomoyo's magic behind the doors. Fai took a deep breath and walked.

"I thought you were like me," Fai said as he entered the room, unlocking spell on his fingertips. It was rude, but simple rudeness was the furthest thing they had to worry about between them. Kurogane was standing about five paces away, staring out of the window. As Fai closed the door, he seemed to resign himself to something, and Fai watched as he shut himself off, becoming stern and cold.

"I thought you were a heart stealer, that we shared something, even if I had to beat you to the princess' heart," Fai explained, the words rushing from him in one gush. This was a disaster of an explanation already, but why not match the running theme of Fai's life?

"I met the princess in the garden," Fai explained, desperation pulsing from him. He needed Kurogane to understand, to know what he had and hadn't done. He was going to fail this task, but Fai didn't care. It had never been about Tomoyo, in the end.

"Did you get what you want then," Kurogane said flatly, staring at Fai with fury in his eyes. "Did you drain her heart and pluck it from her chest?" His hand didn't move to his side, but Kurogane didn't need a sword to kill someone. His hands were strong, and he was quick.

Except, even at the prospect of his friend having her heart literally ripped from her (and okay, Fai really needed to explain what it was he did exactly, because the imagery there was terrible), Fai didn't think Kurogane had it in himself to kill him. Or even hurt him. He was angry, possibly beyond explanation, but there was nothing to suggest Kurogane was going to act on the anger. That wasn't the person he was.

"I didn't get what I wanted," Fai said, and he watched Kurogane clench his jaw. "I was tasked to steal the princess' heart, I'll admit that, and really we need to talk about what you think I do, because I've never physically stolen a heart, it's done by magic and-" Fai cut himself off as Kurogane took a step forward, some of the anger diminished now.

"I haven't gotten what I wanted," Fai tried again, and Kurogane took another step closer. The tension seemed to have left him, and Fai wanted to reach out. He didn't, not yet anyway. "I wanted, want, something else."

Kurogane was still silent, but he was before Fai now, as if he'd anticipated this from the very start. Perhaps he had, Fai thought, or perhaps he was just a lot braver than Fai could ever hope to be.

"I want you," Fai said softly, and he saw the swell of emotion as it rose through them both, Kurogane practically brightening with the words. "It was never about Tomoyo and always about you," Fai risked, and Kurogane was there, pressing Fai back against the door, one arm above them and the other curled around Fai's waist.

"Don't say things you don't mean," Kurogane said, and Fai knew it was his way of admitting that his heart could break too, that Fai shouldn't do this if it was just going to be a passing fancy.

"I want you," Fai repeated, his fingers curling into the hair just behind Kurogane's ear. "If you'll have me."

Gently, Kurogane lowered his lips to Fai's, pressing so lightly that Fai wasn't sure he'd call it a proper kiss. Fai was about to complain when Kurogane was back, this time with a kiss so fierce it had Fai pressed flush against the wall, hands clenched over Kurogane's shoulders.

"I'll have you," Kurogane said, kissing Fai's ear. "You had my attention from the first time I saw you," he admitted, and Fai laughed, pulling him down.

"I have always adored your shoulders," Fai confessed, shooting Kurogane a wicked look, unwilling to move. He pressed his fingertips into the muscle of Kurogane's shoulders, closing his eyes with a hum.

"I'm sure you'll get to know them well," Kurogane said dryly, and Fai laughed, relief flowing through him.

He'd made it, just in time, and he had an idea already of how to pay Syaoran back for his insistence Fai get his act together. Kurogane was here, was willing to work with Fai on this relationship, and was a really, really good kisser. With a gorgeous back.

"Kuro-wan," Fai said, and Kurogane quirked a brow, coming up from where he'd been peppering small kisses to Fai's jaw. "Do you think you could get me in to see the princess? I want to talk about a new trade agreement," he added quickly, just in case Kurogane was worried he was up to his old tricks.

"Trade?" Kurogane muttered, moving off of the wall. He stayed within Fai's space, however, and Fai took every opportunity he could to touch Kurogane as they moved to sit down on the floor, discussing Fai's brilliant idea.

It was hardly the most romantic confession, but they were hardly a conventional couple. Dirty floors and small armouries worked for them, and Fai felt as if something had slipped back into place within him.

And, for once, not even the fear Ashura might return ebbed at Fai's happiness. He had someone who loved him, someone who cared, and Ashura could never take that away, no one could.

He was going to give this happiness thing a go, Fai decided, and he took Kurogane's hand as they discussed plans, squeezing gently.

.

"Your payment was received in full," a voice said, filtered through electric currents and harsher than it usually was. Tomoyo didn't mind though, she knew Yūko's intentions were neutral, despite the tone over their connection.

"They deserved this," Tomoyo said, glancing out to the private garden she could view from her room. Just that day they'd been celebrating the arrival of their newest trade partner, the Princess Sakura of Clow country. Of course, that was just the official business, and the afternoon had been spent gently under the cherry tree with Sakura, Syaoran, Kurogane and Fai, enjoying the warm weather.

"Not that I accept refunds, but was it worth it?" Yūko said curiously, and Tomoyo smiled softly. She remembered the way they had looked at each other, Kurogane and Fai, and if she hadn't been sure of her choice before, she had been that afternoon.

"Exchanging a power that means nothing for a love that is true?" Yūko didn't reply with words, just a small smile and a nod. The connection fizzled out after that, but Tomoyo remained sitting.

She wouldn't miss her foresight. Her dreams were more of a plague, and she'd given the power as payment for something greater. She'd orchestrated Fai's mission, Yuko requiring late payment from whatever gang boss Fai had been working under, and while Tomoyo had never thought that Kurogane and Fai would be a match, she had wanted to help Fai.

The vision that had decided her course of action had been one of the two of them, side by side. She had no context, hadn't even known Fai at that point, but Tomoyo was never one to give up. They needed Fai, and when it came to her people, there was nothing Tomoyo wouldn't do.

The cherry tree rustled in the wind, and Tomoyo couldn't help but peek at the guests fast asleep on a huge blanket. They'd tired themselves out, and seeing them now, Sakura, Syaoran, Kurogane and Fai, they looked like a family.

They'd need it, Tomoyo thought, if her last visions held even a grain of truth. But that was something that would come later; for now she could let them be, and they could be happy.

Some sacrifices were worth it, and Tomoyo would do it again, just to see her oldest friend this happy.

.

Magic pulled at Fai and he closed his eyes, ignoring the tempting pull. He didn't want to lose himself here, not when this was something he needed to watch, and the spell sprang to existence easily, purple signals inking around them in a circle as a blue pattern spiralled underneath his and Kurogane's feet.

Kurogane's eyes were alive in amazement, tracking the swirl of magic as it began to spin together, weaving the spell. It floated between them in an orb, two tendrils breaking off and connecting to their chests. Tingling warmth spread across Fai's skin and he laughed, taking Kurogane's hand and threading their fingers.

This spell had been a long time coming, and they were the first to test it. If it worked, Fai could turn his former job into something beautiful; representing the love and affection of two people for them. If it worked, that was.

"Ready?" Fai asked, and Kurogane grinned. The last words of the spell passed Fai's lips, and his entire body hummed with magic. It was almost enough to make him want to close his eyes, but he persisted through the energy, wanting to see their orb with his eyes as it was formed.

It took shape inside the sphere between them, growing from a tiny cluster into something the size of Kurogane's palm. It was big, but that was no surprise. Fai had designed the spell to give them something they could hold, something Fai could look at proudly, and that seemed to be working perfectly.

The magic died down, and any hope of his spell working faded as Fai looked at the orb, sitting neatly now in Kurogane's hand.

"It failed," he said, unable to keep the disappointment from his voice. Fai bit the inside of his cheek, glancing up at Kurogane. His dark eyes were wide, reflecting the orb, and Fai was captivated by the sight, completely taken by the admiration and love that was naked in Kurogane's expression.

"No you didn't," he said softly, and Fai decided to humour him, knowing full well he had failed.

The orb that was supposed to be made with their love was a pitch black. Fai had never seen a slightly deep coloured orb before, let alone one this dark. It was a failure, and Fai hated to think what emotion his spell had picked up on to get such a deep colour.

"Look at it idiot," Kurogane said, grabbing Fai's shirt and hauling him close, the orb practically making him go cross-eyed. "Look at what we made."

He seemed so proud of it, but Fai couldn't understand why. It was a failure of an orb, black and nothing more. Fai looked at it, opening his mouth to reply, and stopped, speechless.

It was dark in colour, that was true, but everything else Fai had observed was terribly wrong. While yes it was black, there were swirls of every colour imaginable mixed in with the black. In a way it reminded Fai of an oil slick, but somehow softer. He fancied he could see galaxies inside their orb, and Fai watched in fascination as the colours moved softly, the darkness pulsing as Kurogane took Fai's hand.

"They've never been dark," Fai said uselessly, and he already knew why. What was light compared to something this thick and entwined? What use was something trifling and light when their love wrapped itself around them so perfectly, when what they shared with each other was so wholesome and so deep?

"Idiot," Kurogane muttered softly, and Fai let his fingers close over the orb, brushing Kurogane's hand as he moved, kissing Kurogane softly.

"This is us, and everything we've felt," Fai said when they broke apart, Kurogane resting his forehead on Fai's.

"It's beautiful," Kurogane said gently, moving down for another kiss, and Fai had never heard a more accurate description.

This was the real thing, Fai thought. This was the real love, the kind that he thought he'd been playing with and yet had no idea. Being with Kurogane was full of surprises and, as they broke apart, Fai realised that this was the one he was going to spend the rest of his life with.

As if there had ever been a doubt about that.

Fai brushed his nose against Kurogane's cheek, and he let out a small murmur of laughter. Kurogane looked at him questioningly, and Fai shook his head.

He wasn't going to be the one to tell Kurogane, it would only inflate his ego. Still, Fai would admit to anyone else that the best thief he knew was Kurogane. It wasn't every day a famed heart stealer was the one having his heart stolen, but Kurogane had done it, so smoothly and simply.

And Fai had never been happier to have something of his stolen.