The world Noriko had accustomed herself to had strange holidays that made no sense to a modern, Tokyo-fuddled mind. Festivals for spring, summer, for winter... they were similar in some ways, but generally based on concepts completely unique to the culture. Especially the fall Harvest festivals rampant the continent over; they were quite kin to the American "Thanksgiving," but still celebrated differently. The thought of "staying home with family" was absurd. Every man, woman and child was out and about in town, hurriedly preparing for a massive celebration; the food, the drink, the fellowship with friends and comrades, the overwhelmingly joyous atmosphere that was nothing short of contagious...

Noriko was basking in it, soaking it up like life-saving nourishment.

"Enjoying the festival preparations?" Izark asked, coming to stand beside her, subtly shifting her out of the flow of traffic. She nodded dazedly, eyes still following the roiling crowd that moved this way and that in an organized confusion.

"It's very exciting. Everyone is so energetic. Full of joy, full of life. Very different from celebrations in my country," she responded, by now accustomed to the enunciation of their words, leaning just a little closer to her lover to make sure he heard her. "Everyone here celebrates together. It's much more fun."

He gave his familiar, quiet smile, eyes softening on her as he leaned in to whisper in her hear, "The festivals never held charm for me until I met you."

He could say the damndest things with a straight face, as usual; Noriko was blushing to beat the band when he pulled back, a smirk on his lips and a knowing twinkle in his eye. He was intending to go back to his preparations just like that. He really was, because there was still a mountain of work left to be done and he'd only put it off long enough to check on her, but Noriko wasn't having it. She wasn't going to let him tease her like that (truthfulness aside) and then just go about his business. Just no.

Izark didn't see it coming when Noriko stubbornly latched on to his belt and used all her strength to haul him into the alley, pressing him against the wall by his shoulders. She had a mutinous set to her jaw as she looked up at him, eyes set with determination; she was so frazzled that she could only speak to him in her mind, voice downright mulish.

'You are not just going to tease and leave.'

"Noriko, I have to help with the festival." It was a reasonable reason, as reasons went. She knew he was right, too, because there were plenty of building projects only halfway finished that he had volunteered to work on. The sound of hammers ringing in the distance was like the bell at the end of recess; time was up, whether she wanted it to be or not. He planted a quick kiss on her cheek and ran a hand through her hair, pushing past with an apologetic glance over his shoulder. "I'll come back to the inn in time to bathe and change."

'Izark, I told you no didn't I?'

Even if she said that through their link, she didn't follow him. She allowed him to get caught back up in the flow of the crowd without moving to him, her eyes locked with his until he disappeared from sight completely. Izark understood what she meant; she felt cheated when he got her flustered and then walked away calmly. He felt bad about amusing himself at her expense, but he wasn't lying to her. She knew he wasn't, but his ill habit of escaping afterward always turned all her feelings of affection into aggravation.

Their last two years together had given them a comfortable relationship. He felt at ease enough to tease her, which was more of a miracle than she really understood even now. Being able to be completely honest and open with her was also something new, because his entire life before her was spent on staying away, keeping away, building a permanent, impregnable wall between himself and others to hide all the horrible secrets. It was most bewildering to have Noriko come through his defenses and clean all the skeletons out of his closet, as if she'd just said "Hi, housekeeping!" and he'd let her in. One day, maybe she would be able to appreciate her own specialness, but if her usual attitude was any indication, it wouldn't be soon.

At the town square, Kizak was calling out orders and reading off the blueprints; the construction was going much faster than he expected, but they were still not quite done. Where the Flower Festival had a large platform for the ladies to dive off of, the Harvest Festival was much lower and wider; they would have dances and competitions on this one, and later break the beams apart and distribute the wood to those who needed it for the coming winter. Ninya was hurrying hither and thither to distribute drinks to the men working on the last stretch of flooring. The second Kizak got his attention again however, the man was frantically motioning for him to move an impossibly large load of beams over to the stage. With one glance, the young Sky Demon determined that, unfortunately, he would have to make two trips out of it; even if he could handle the weight, the sheer multitude of planks would be too awkward to maneuver all at once. He would be better off being patient and taking it a little at a time.

With a brief stretch, he reached down and began to stand the beams up against his shoulder, filling his arms as much as he could. It was then, as he lifted an armful of timbers to move them, that a whisper appeared in the back of his mind.

'Izark.' Softly.

'Izark...' Sweetly...

'Izark...' In a low, inviting voice, he could hear Noriko calling his name. It cause him to completely stop and focus on her voice, the sound that represented her and only her, and all his awareness was suddenly occupied with the way she called his name. She was so frustrated with him just five minutes ago, but...?

'Izark, I love you.' It sent a shiver down his spine, but with that tone, he couldn't figure out how to answer.

'I love you so much I can't stand it.' Oh, there was a hint of desperation there...

'If you love me, won't you touch me?'

Somewhere in the back of his mind, his conscience muttered an "Oh snap," because it could see her trap closing. It wasn't intentional; she was being honest with him, the same way he was always, always honest with her, to the point where they were both out of control over their reactions. She could confuse him so easily, could bring him the greatest of joys and sorrows just by calling his name in the very same voice she was using right now. He'd flipped the switch that kept them from doing an honest day's work many a time, and it was calling him to her side.

'Touch me... you know how you do,' she murmured, the sound so longing and lonely that it made his heart wrench. 'Last time, it felt so good... your hands were so hot, and the calluses were ticklish... but they make me feel so loved and cherished. The more you touch me, the more precious I feel.

'I love the way your hair strokes me skin,' she continued, and indeed he could see the satisfying vision of his black locks pooled gently on her bare chest as he leaned in for kiss her. 'I love how you wrap your hands around my nape- supporting and controlling at the same time...'

He liked to touch her there because he could feel her temperature rise; it was so easy to tilt her jaw for a kiss, or to allow him to lavish her neck with possessive marks. Not three nights ago, he had left just such reddening little bruises smattered all across her skin, and she had thanked her lucky stars that the weather was cold enough that covering up wouldn't look out of place.

But she liked it. She encouraged it.

'Do it again...'

The breathless voice snapped his self-control, but even after dropping the planks and immediately running back toward her, he found her casually chatting with the Mayor over the garlands to be placed on the tables. She glanced up at him as if in pleasant surprise, her eyes the only thing clearly spelling out her thoughts.

'Gotcha. Serves you right.'

Oh, she'd gotten him good. Noriko was doing her level best not to completely crack up, because she could see it on his face that Izark knew he'd been had. She continued weaving festive garlands out of pumpkin vines and straw, occasionally adding in a flower or two to dress them up before placing them around massive candles to be distributed across the buffet tables. He had eventually gone back to working on the dance stage, his attitude written all over his posture that he wasn't sure how to take having the wool pulled over his eyes.

She felt kinda bad about it, when she stopped laughing. She hadn't told a single lie, just like he never did... but maybe taking the game up a notch like that hadn't been wise. Noriko quickly resolved that she'd had her fun, and would have to make it up to him. It wasn't her thing to work him up and leave him hanging... she didn't appreciate it when he did it, so she certainly wouldn't do it to him. With her thoughts following that train, she easily finished the last five or six garlands before standing and dusting off her skirts. It was the last task the Mayor had given her, and when she reported being finished, the middle-aged woman sent her off to get ready for the evening's festivities.

The inn was alive with people getting ready for the festival. The bathhouse was stocked like a can of sardines, men and women going in sweaty and coming out perfumed and primped and ready to enjoy the evening. Now that the preparations were done, the festivities would continue for three or four days; still, the first night was the best. Couples would be made and broken, there were many anniversaries that would be celebrated, and above all, the opening dance was something not to be missed. Ninya had already secretly confided how Kizak had, however awkwardly, asked her for their first dance at this very festival, and he'd been so shy about it he'd waited until no one was around under the overhang of an old willow.

Actually, hadn't his embarrassment made it more romantic? When she asked that, Ninya laughed and said, "You think so too?"

Thinking back on that conversation, Noriko chuckled to herself. Izark seemed like the type to do something similar, back when they were first starting out. Now he was very open with his feelings, even to the point of causing them to do the silly things they did... like taunting each other. She took a moment to appreciate the childishness of their fights before shaking her head, resolving to do something about them later as she headed up the stairs, passing the noisy second floor and heading up to the equally noisy third floor. Their room was the furthest from the staircase down the left hall, and she appreciated it very much as she closed the door behind her and found that the sounds of people were significantly lessened. No one had to pass by here; there were no stairs, and no rooms beyond them. She thanked the innkeeper silently for giving them such a prime location.

It was a suite, according to their standards; while there wasn't any such thing as indoor plumbing, the room did sport a partition and a large metal bathtub. It looked like either Izark or one of the maids had brought in the water already, and it was piping hot and beckoning to her with lazy steam fingers. The room was empty... no maids, no Izark, so she pulled off her work clothes, tossed them in the pile of things to be washed, and slipped it.

'Ahh, heaven is a hot bath. Yup.' It felt absolutely divine to just sliiiiide down into the water, all the way down to bottom, and just lay there; holding her breath aside, she felt so relaxed to just let the heat surround her from all sides, easing out the pain in her muscles and joints that came with hard labor. She was getting more accustomed to it, true; she'd been here three years, so there was no way she wouldn't get used to it, but the relief that came with a hot bath was the same as always.

Or it was the same as always, until she felt something disturb the water between her knees.

It sent her up spluttering, and there was a sudden shout, crash and tidal wave to follow that left her desperately wiping at her eyes, trying to figure out just what in the hell was going on.

When she finally got her eyes open, she couldn't decide between doubling over in laughter, screaming at the top of her lungs, or just going on a mad rampage. On the other end of the tub, Izark sat staring at her with an equally dumbfounded expression. Obviously he hadn't noticed that she was in the bottom of the tub; the water wasn't clear with all the minerals stirred up and floating about, so that wasn't as much of a surprise. Still, the longer they sat there, the funnier the situation became.

What else was there to do but laugh?

With a palm to his brow, Izark tried so hard to hold in the laughs that his shoulders were shaking. Noriko didn't bother, and just let it outright, head falling back against the tub's edge with a hard bang as she cut loose, no reservations. It took a long few minutes for them to calm down. Izark looked at her, obviously having one of his "What am I going to do with you?" moments, and Noriko stared back with a complicated mix of love, laughter and embarrassment.

"Izark, in my world, there's a country with a holiday around this time of year called 'Thanksgiving.' I've been thinking a lot about it today," she finally said, voice still shaking with humor. By the way he focused on her, she knew she had his interest, so she continued. "It was supposed to be a holiday for giving thanks, and for thinking about what you're grateful for. Not a lot of people remember to be grateful for things these days, you know?"

She shuffled around in the tub until she was leaning against his chest, settling her head in the crook of his neck. She could hear the festivities really starting up outside. The hall was quiet, but the band was playing music loud enough to carry even to the outskirts of town. She laced her fingers through his, and murmured quietly, "I'm thankful for you.

"I'm glad that you were the Sky Demon and I was the Awakening. I'm glad we found each other. I'm glad you decided to stay with me. I can't say how thankful I am that you love me, and that we found the World of Light. I think I've been feeling three years' worth of thankfulness today, just thinking about you," she whispered. Her eyes closed as she breathed him in; the smell of sweat, of man, of animals, of woods and minerals filled her lungs together with the lingering humidity. It was so, so comfortable, and it felt so good for his free hand to wrap around her waist tightly.

Izark didn't say anything, but in that moment she thought he might even be thankful for their childish spats.

AN: So I posted this a while back on dA for a contest! But I forgot to post it here. =v=; Sorry! I've been using dA for pretty much everything, including fanfiction since they implemented the writer! I'll try and remember to post things here more often. ;w;