Disclaimer: Aoki and Karen belong to CLAMP and believe me, I wouldn't want it any other way. ^_^

Author's Note: I've loved Aoki/Karen for a long time and have just gotten enough courage to venture to write something about them. It's just a short little vignette but hopefully I will be able to expand as my confidence grows. I hope you enjoy.

Brighter Still

By Goldberry

Bright were the streetlamps that night.

It was a nice evening as well, the air heavy with the scent of flowers and summer. He breathed in the smells of the earth, a small smile crossing his face as he wondered how many more times he would be able to do this. Life was not a guarantee, especially his. As one of the Seals, he fought for the very right to stand there as he was and admire the planet's beauty, for the right of people to be happy. Which often led to another thought. If humans no longer existed, would the earth still be beautiful? If there was no one left to admire it, would it still shine?

You're being very introspective again, Aoki-san.

Yes, he was. He laughed a little and rubbed the back of his neck self-consciously. He really should be more cheerful. Things had been quiet recently. No one hurt and no kekkai damaged or worse, destroyed. Work had been less hectic, allowing him some time with the others in which he realized that most of them seemed to regard him as some sort of father figure. It had been surprising at first. They were so much stronger than he had been at that age. Sorata, Arashi, even Yuzuriha, all of them looked to the horizon with bravery he would have not thought possible considering their fate. At least he had lived a great part of his life when he could not promise them the same. He had gotten married, had a child. It wasn't really fair they should be denied that.

We all have a part to play, Aoki-san.

Kamui.

Of all of them, he would suffer the most. Was it fate? Was it inevitable? He hoped not. Of all the hopes he still clung to, the most fervent was that everyone had a choice. To accept or not. To live or not. To love or not.

Bright were the stars that night.

He had a fate as well. Something obscure and just out of reach of mortal eyes. All his life he had lived with the knowledge of his special powers on the inside, on the outside he was a typical man who worked long hours but always found time for his family. He had never been special, never been unique. On the subway he was just one of countless faces, another body on an already crowded street. His life was the sum total of everything normal. A perfect life, some might call it. Unchallenged.

Until her.

Ah! Aoki-san, you're blushing!

It was true. Until he had met her he had never had to question himself. He thought something over and made a decision and stuck with it. But with her it was different. She was there, right there, and there was no getting around her. No pushing back the deadline. Always shining and always dark, and needing him so quietly that he was drawn to her like a magnet. She never showed it, always the courageous one, fiery as element. But on the inside he knew she bore the scars of too little love and care. Too many lonely battles.

To little normalness.

Yes, he would cry if she died. She was wonderful, a little tarnished but so cheerful about it. She was unlike anyone he had ever met and he found himself wanting to hold on to her, wanting to grasp the flames even if they burned.

Could he?

He didn't know.

Was it a cruel twist of fate that she was brought to him now, almost too late in life?

Or maybe he had been brought to her.

It was a comforting thought.

He had a destiny and though he might have once imagined that he would never do anything extraordinary, perhaps his role in life was to be with her, to try and protect her. To love her with a pure sincerity that transcended physical intimacy. It was intangible, but it was there. And wasn't that all that mattered?

Bright were his wishes that night.

But brighter still were the moonlit strands of Karen's crimson hair as she hurried towards him, smiling.

Good evening, Aoki-san. Have you been waiting long?

All my life.

THE END.