One Thousand Paper Cranes
by aki midori

Warnings: Shounen ai.
Genre: I'm starving for drama.
Rating: PG for Shounen ai.

Special Thank you's:
Sapphi-chan, for the encouragement and helpful advices.
The Diggler, for always boosting up my morale.
Cheeky jie jie, for always being there to encourage me.
The reviewers of Stupid, Stupid Slump!, for sympathizing with me and for your helpful suggestions and warm encouragements.

Special Dedication:
For Archangel Barton, whose fic has given me the strongest kick. Though it didn't exactly pull me out my slump, per se, it was still a burning inspiration.

dIsCLaiMer: Said characters below aren't mine. I'm beginning to hate writing disclaimers. Song was from Westlife.



+++++++++++++++++++
One Thousand Paper Cranes


Funny, how one dream could be folded into one thousand paper cranes.

Funny, how one person could change in a matter of a few words.

Funny, how one life could be saved, in retribution for one life taken.

Funny, how one tear could be shed for someone whom you thought you did not care about.

Funny, how one love could save all one moment-

and yet... vanish.

Like the dream. Like the person. Like the life.

But never like the tear- for it will be falling again and again.

For all time.

For you.


------------------------

35 Paper Cranes

You were a star. A basketball god, as far as everybody was concerned.

It was a day like all others, wherein nothing new was happening. Nothing unusual, nothing extraordinary. It was after our practice game, I recall, and I followed you for lack of better activities. Not knowing that you have an audience, you sat down under the shade of that undefinable tree. The flowers, as usual, were perky and colorful and utterly distasteful, as far as I'm concerned. Suddenly, you pulled out these papers, and started to fold them into this some kind of bullshit bird. You're such a weirdo, but I couldn't take my eyes off you. I don't know why. Sheer boredom, I guess.

Your spiky hair seemed to shine under the rays of the afternoon sun. Your blue eyes seem to sparkle, and your smile seem to brighten up the whole place. You look like a moron, indeed, yet, you find such joy in a simple task. You were so moronic, yet, I found myself walking towards you, plopping down the grass beside you, and asking you what the hell you're doing that for.

"I'm making paper cranes."

Like, duh. I gave you a blank look and asked what those paper cranes are for. Again, I might add.

"I'm making one thousand paper cranes!" you declared with a sunny smile. "You see, it was said that when you make one thousand paper cranes, the gods will grant you a wish. I want to see if that's true, so I'm making one thousand."

I have nothing to say to that, but still, you continued to smile at me as if you're very happy about something. "Have you heard about the story of Sadako and her paper cranes?"

Hell, no. I don't have time to fool with stories. I'm on the road to basketball glory, you know. "No."

Another smile...

"It's like this. Sasaki Sadako was barely two years old when the atomic bomb hit Hiroshima, way back 1945-"

Sheesh, I didn't have time for history.

"-.. Nothing really happened to her, since her family lived on the outskirts of the city, and she grew up to be a lively girl. You know what she liked most? She liked to run, and won many races, to boot. Ten years after the bombing, though, she became sick with Leukaemia. Other children her age got sick, too, so they called it the A-bomb sickness. When she was in the hospital, she decided to try the myth... ask the gods to grant her a longer life... and started to make paper cranes..."

You trailed off and continued to fold the crane.

"She never made it."

Oh.

"She has as many as six hundred and forty-four, though. She kept on making them, even though she got weaker day after day. She never lost hope. She held on, Rukawa-kun, until the very last moment. I think that's very special."

"She died anyway," I found myself saying. I think I snorted as well, back then, but you just gave me the same warm smile. It was as if you knew something that I don't. "How many paper cranes have you done so far?" I can't help but ask.

"Thirty-five."

Well, bravo. Good luck, weirdo. I hope you finish them, I said back then. You gave me another smile- it made me warm, by the way- but I stood up and walked away from you. I have better things to do that to chat around with a full-time eccentric.

------------------------

101 Paper Cranes

"Listen, Sendoh. I swear I'd leave you here if you don't get your sorry ass away from those stupid paper cranes. We'll be late for the practice game, dammit!"

"Oh, brighten up, Rukawa! Here, I'm done with my hundredth. Wait for me, will you?"

I remembered I sighed in defeat and plopped down beside you as you painstakingly folded the paper. Your kitchen table, I remember, was full of them.

"We're gonna be late," I reiterated. "Stop fooling around with those stupid paper cranes, or I swear I'll burn all ninety-nine of them!"

"A-a-a!" you said with a wag of your pointer finger. "You haven't been listening, Rukawa-kun! I told you, I got a hundred already. Oh... A hundred and one, actually. I'm done with this one."

I rolled my eyes, then, because I couldn't understand why those cranes are so important to you. "Well, whoopdeedoo. A hundred and one paper cranes. Bravo. Clap, clap, clap. Now let's go."

"Sarcasm isn't always good for your social life, Rukawa."

"Sarcasm is what I've got, so bear with it."

You laughed. I grunted.

Your mother peeked from the living room and smiled when she saw us.

I didn't know how it happened.

Suddenly, we were friends. One smile from you was all it took.

One smile changed my life forever. I didn't know how it happened, but suddenly, it seemed natural for me to sprawl half-naked in your living room, watching the latest NBA game with you; or for you tp spend the night at my empty house. It seemed natural to spend every day with you, playing basketball, watching movies, hanging out, whatever.

Just being with you.

I didn't know what it was back then, but I supposed it was that thing called...

Friendship.

So anyway, I was spending the day with you that time, as usual, and I remember I was trying to pull you away from your cranes because we're going to be late for the game.

An angry Akagi isn't something you'd want to fool around with, you know.

With painstaking care, you placed the paper cranes- one by one, much to my dismay- on a special box, and only after that did you turn to me with that ever-ready smile and said,

"Done. Let's go."

Your smile... It has always been pleasant to look at. It always makes me warm.

You wrapped an arm around my shoulder and together, like that, we walked towards the Shohoku gym.

We were friends.

------------------------

304 Paper Cranes

"What the hell are those paper cranes for, anyway?" I can't help but ask one night. I think you were in your three hundred and fourth paper crane, and it looked like you weren't going to stop at that.

You simply muttered something which sounds like having a wish or something and then you continued to fold relentlessly.

"Well? What's your wish?"

"Something special."

That's all I'm ever gonna get from you, and for some reason, I remember it made me mad. Like I wanted to know everything about you, leaving nothing out.

"Aren't you going to tell me?"

You looked at me with those beautiful eyes, and shook your head slowly. "It's a secret."

"Some bestfriend."

"Sarcasm meter, Rukawa. Watch it!"

You're always so happy. I wonder why.

I've always wondered how you could look so serene and happy and contented in doing simple tasks... washing the dishes, dribbling the ball, watching tv, eating ice cream, folding paper cranes. I wanted to ask you what is it you've got that made you so happy.

What is it that I'm lacking... which made me so sullen and devoid of life.

I wanted to ask, but then, I have the feeling that it was something I have to find out for myself.

I remember... that night, I was thinking about how being with you makes me feel different.

Like I how- I couldn't believe myself for being sappy- happy I am when I'm spending time with you. Those simple things we do together has suddenly become special to me.

And I felt like I never wanted to let go.

I want to live... the way you do.

"You like living, don't you, you moron?"

"Why do you always have to inject insults in such a serious conversation?" you asked with a shake of your head. "But to answer your question, yeah, I like to live. I love life. Life is beautiful, in case you're not aware."

"I'm not aware," I remember myself whispering.

The smile was replaced with a frown. "You missed out on so much, Rukawa."

"I guess I did."

There was silence for the longest of moments, but suddenly, you broke it when you slapped your hand against my table and looked at me with the most determined expression I ever so on your face.

"We'll change that. I promise."

And for some reason, I found myself believing you.

-------------------------

350 Paper Cranes

"Ice cream?"

"Yes, ice cream."

"Ice cream."

"Oh brother. You know those cold stuff with flavors? The ones you can buy on an ice cream shop? Those cold, frozen-"

"I know what an ice cream is, Sendoh."

"Well then, let's get some!"

"What about your birds?"

"Let's leave them for a while. You're more important."

When you said that, I felt... happy, in the least. And I found myself being led by you in an ice cream parlor.

We spent the day the way we spent any other day. You kept on talking and talking about anything under the sun... how your last dental visit went, and how your lady schoolmate tripped on her feet just so she could talk to you, and how your pet dog died when you were five- you bawled like a baloney, you said- and how you think your paper cranes are magical because they seem like they're shining in your special velvet-cushioned box.

You talked and talked, while I listened and listened. My ears could have been bleeding, but quite honestly, I didn't care. I remember I decided that I like the sound of your voice, especially when you chatter happily about whatever bullshit.

Back then, I let you talk, but I didn't give a damn.

But now, I found myself caring, even laughing...

And when I laughed at some lame joke you made- I laughed at how lame it was, not because it was funny-, your expression suddenly changed.

You were serious all of a sudden, and you have been looking at me as if I'm the most precious thing you had.

You said I changed.

And maybe I did.

I changed because of you... and your smile.

-------------------------

375 Paper Cranes

Spring.

We were sitting under a sakura tree, just watching the people as they go by, and I asked you how many paper crane you've made.

"It's been weeks, koi. Only three hundred and seventy-five paper cranes?" I teased with a small smile.

I think you smirked and pulled me into your embrace and whispered, "I have been rather busy spending time with you."

"What about your special wish? Don't you want the gods to grant it to you?"

You laughed a little, then and hugged me tighter. "You know, Kaede, it's kind of funny, because every time I made a wish, it gets true even before I'm done with my thousand paper cranes."

"Would you mind telling me what your wishes were?"

"Back then, I wanted to ask the gods if they could possibly let me be your friend..."

All these times, your wish has something to do with me. I felt special, then, as I listened to your words. I felt wanted, needed, and very much cared for.

"And then you came to me one day and asked me what those cranes are for. After that, everything started. Afterwards, I was feeling pretty much contented. We were friends, Kaede, and that is special in itself. But then suddenly, I started to get to know you better, and suddenly, you became so very important to me, that I wanted to spend every moment with you. My feelings grew stronger, and I wanted to share them with you, so I made a new wish."

Your breath against my neck was warm, and your arms around me made me feel secure. "What did you wish for, then?"

"I wished the gods would let me love you, and have you loving me in return. Guess what happened next?"

You smiled at me then. And I can't help but smile back.

Others may describe it as a grand feeling. To some, it may have been called bliss.

But to me...

in that lush, green park... amidst the laughter of these delightful chilren... amidst the splashing colors of the blooming flowers... amidst the busy hustle of our town...

your hand in mine... my eyes reflected in yours...

it was heaven.

Indeed, life is beautiful.

---------------------------

400 Paper Cranes

Cancer.

Leukaemia.

Terminal.

I couldn't really hear what your mom was saying, but I caught those three words.

"Since when?"

"We found out two years ago. It had been too late, so..."

I remember, I was thinking something along the lines of, 'So he's gonna die, huh?'

Just like that?

Yeah, I guess... Just like that.

And there I was, thinking about how beautiful this fucking life is, and then my boyfriend suddenly doubles up in pain, and hours after, I had to listen about cancer and blood cells and whatever bullshit.

Painful. It was painful.

Just as I was starting to live, I found out that the person who gave my life back to me was dying.

It was grand, huh? Some kind of game the gods were playing.

I guess we were the main act.

Some stand-up comedy show that they stirred up so they could laugh their asses off while we play their stupid game called life.

And it was supposed to be beautiful, Akira said so.

My chest hurt that time. There was a huge lump on my throat. My eyes felt watery. I guessed that's what's going to happen when you wanted to cry. I didn't cry, however, because your mom was crying and apologizing and bullshit, so I have to be strong for her. She was crying for you, for your life, for your pain. She was crying for me, as well, I could tell.

First time she saw me, I could barely smile. Lately, she'd been laughing with me, baking cookies with me, calling me son and listening to me as I call her mother... and she knew it was because of her son. And now... for a man to lose all that?

I guess she knew how unfair it was to me, because suddenly, my head was cradled in her chest, and her arms were around me.

Her blouse was wet where my head was lying, but back then, I didn't know that I was crying. All I knew was that it hurt- very much so- and I felt like my chest was tightening up and I couldn't breathe. My face was wet, but I didn't know why. My throat hurts, but I thought it was because of that lump. I was hearing pathetic whimpers, tiny calls of 'Mom', and 'why' and 'Akira', but back then, I didn't know it was me. I did know that my arms were tight around the woman I called my mother, holding on to her as if she could change everything.

As if she could tell me that it was all a joke.

My gaze landed on the table, where four hundred paper cranes were scattered.

You had been telling me earlier that he had a new wish, and that maybe it would come true again before it reaches a thousand. I had been smiling, joking about how the gods were spoiling you, but then suddenly, he fell.

And the nightmare started.

And for hours, the paper cranes were ignored.

You told me once, not so long ago, that when you make a thousand paper cranes, the gods would grant your wish.

Back then, as your mom cradled me and soothed my back, I had been thinking as to whether or not I'd continue what you started, or if I should start doing a thousand of my own.

Because I wanted to see if the gods would hear my plea.

I wanted to see if they'd stop playing... and just let me keep you.

---------------------------------

532 Paper Cranes

"Akira, let me help you?"

"Nope. Sorry, love. No can do," you said in a strained cheerful manner. Trying to be happy... trying to make it seem as if everything's okay...

It breaks my heart.

I had to act as if everything's normal. For your sake. For your mom's sake. For my sake.

I remember I rolled my eyes and slapped you at the back of your head.

"Aho. Why not?"

"I have to make all these thousand /alone/, koi. Otherwise, the gods won't grant me my wish."

"Stubborn idiot."

You reached over and pinched my cheek. "You're so cute when you pout."

"Do' aho."

There had been a long moment of silence, then... but you broke it, as always. "Mom said you started to make your own paper cranes. How many paper cranes have you finished?"

I bit my lip. "Not much. A hundred or so."

"Wow! That fast? I'm so proud of you!"

Then he continued to work on his five hundred and thirty-first.

"What, you're not gonna ask me what my wish is?"

When you looked up to me, your smile was sad. "I have a feeling I know. Might be the same as mine."

So hard, you know... to see you looking like that. As if all your hopes were slowly slipping away. So hard to see you trying hard to be brave for everyone, when all the while, I'm sure as hell you're scared. You were always like that... you always took care of us, made us smile, made us /live/.

You didn't have to smile, but you did, even if you were sad.

At that moment, I fell in love with you all over again.

At that moment, I wanted to be the strong one, for a change. I wanted to be the one who'll give you your life. I wanted to help you cling to your hope, however frail it was.

"Oi, 'aho. Stop looking sad. We'll make it. The gods will hear us," I promised.

"But-"

"I won't hear it. It's not like you to lose hope. Remember Sadako, Akira? Remember the child from the story?"

You stared at me with eyes full of awe for a while, and then awe turned to a look of love... and gratitude.

"Thanks, Kaede."

And he folded the five hundred and thirty-second paper crane.

I worked on my three-hundredth.

I was that desperate.

-----------------------------

644 Paper Cranes

"Kaede?"

"Hmmm?"

"You cold?"

"Aho. You're practically all over me, why would I feel cold?"

You're still protecting me. Still taking care of me.

It hurt, really.

Your room was dark, and the windows were all shut. The moon was full, it was peeking from beneath the branches outside your tree. The night was calm.

On the radio, a ballad softly drifted through the room.

"Kaede?" Your voice... it's becoming weak.

"Hmm?"

"Dance with me?"

You pulled me up, then, and I noted that your grip was weak. You wrapped your arms around my waist and rested your forehead against mine as the first chords of the song played.

"I know that song."

"What is it?"

"It was sung by an Irish band. Westlife, I think."

"You listen to boy bands?" I asked incredously.

"Oi! I knew that by accident!"

"Aho..." And I remember I chuckled softly. I stopped, however, when the words of the song started to become clear. Your gaze was soft, as always, but I felt as if you wanted to tell me something then.

If I died tonight, I'd go with no regrets
If it's in your arms, I know that I was blessed
and if your eyes are the last thing that I'd see,
then I know the beauty that heaven holds for me.


Just when I thought that my heart could feel no more pain, I felt it...

Because I realized that after all those times, I still don't know how to let you go.

But if I make it through, if I lived to see the day
If I'm with you, I know just what to say
The truth be told, oh, you take my breath away
Every minute, every hour, every day

Coz every moment we shared together
is even better than the moment before
if every day was as good as today was
then I can't wait if tomorrow comes.


"I think it's called Moments, Kaede."

I couldn't speak back then, because I felt something wet drop on my cheeks. A tear fell from your eye.

And then I thought, 'How much more painful could all these get?'

All I could do then, was to wipe the succeeding tears, and let you hold me...

as if tomorrow wouldn't come anymore.

"Kaede..."

"Yes, Akira?"

"Her paper cranes were six hundred and forty-four when she died." You were scared, I could feel it back then. It may have been for me, but I remained strong, and stopped my own tears from falling.

"You'll finish that thousand, Akira. By god, you will. I'll make sure you do."

"Kaede?"

"Thank you."

It was all I could do.

---------------------------

705 Paper Cranes

It was time to let go.

I know it.

The gods won't stop playing. The gods won't grant you your wish this time.

I was holding you tight, in your bed, as we watch the minutes tick by. Nothing was said, just us laying side-by-side, listening to each other's heartbeat.

It was a precious moment.

I silent moment, but you broke it, anyway, like you always do. Your voice, once so cheerful and full of life, was then strained. I could practically feel your pain, but you were a strong man. You tried so hard to hide it from me.

"Was it worth it? Loving me and letting me go in the end?"

It was a simple question, yet, it held a thousand meanings. Was it worth it, you wanted to know... opening up my heart only to get hurt in the end? Was it worth getting out of my bleak, monotonous existence to enjoy the life he presented to me? You wanted to know if it was worth breaking free of my barriers and share my life with someone whose own life was going to end soon.

"It was worth it, Akira. Every damn minute of it."

"Oi. Kaede."

"Yeah?"

"Thank you for making my life longer."

"Well, thank you for giving me back mine," I replied, a little bit hoarsely.

You smiled, for you knew that somewhere along the way, I understood what it was that you have that made you happy and contented...

and what it was that I lacked which made me a sullen man.

You have a heart- so giving and open and selfless and accepting and strong. And for that, you perceived life in a way that I never could, until you came along-

Beautiful.

"Oi. Kaede?"

"You really won't allow us the luxury of silence, would you?"

"Tee-hee... sorry." For a moment, I saw not the pale face of a dying, but strong and beautiful man, but the face of Sendoh Akira when he's giving out an excuse for another mumbo-jumbo he made. I missed that.

"S'okay. What is it, anyway?"

You got all serious then. "You know what hurts the most?"

"What?"

"They didn't even let me reach nine hundred."

The tears threatened to fall, but I fought hard to keep them at bay. "That's okay. It was fun, anyway, making those damn birds. Let me tell you a secret, though."

"What?"

"I reached nine hundred and forty-seven."

"Well, that's fast. You must have wanted that wish so badly."

I kissed you then, and held you close. I couldn't say anything.

"Ne, Kaede..."

"Yeah?"

"You think the myth is true? About the paper cranes?"

"Well, you got your first two wishes... So maybe... just maybe, if you believe, then it would come true. I think it's about hope, then."

"Yeah. I think so too. Anyway, I think I'm gonna get my last wish."

"Oh?"

"You know what I wished for, anyway?"

"What?"

"Won't tell you. Ask mom."

"Akira!"

You laughed, a little bit painfully.

That was your last laugh.

-------------------------------

706 Paper Cranes

"Well... whaddaya know... my last paper crane."

"Akira. Stop talking, for the love of Kami. Rest. Close you eyes and sleep."

You couldn't even say a straight sentence anymore.

"I... don't want... to."

"Why the hell not?"

"Because... if I did... then, I... wouldn't... be.. able... to open it anymore."

You're breaking my heart, love.

"Does it hurt, Akira?"

"Yes, it does."

"I'd bear the pain, if I could, but-"

"Hush... I wouldn't... want you.. to go.. through this..."

"Akira..."

"It has... been... a very beautiful... life, Kaede. Thank you."

I couldn't talk anymore. My eyes were so blurry, yet I couldn't let the tears fall.

You breathing got ragged. You winced in pain.

It was time to let you go.

"Akira... let go."

It killed me to say those words, but for the sake of the man who has done so much for me, it was all I could do.

You smiled at me one last time, like the same smile you gave me, not so long ago under that undefinable tree.

You reached for my face.

Touched me one last time.

And closed your eyes.

In your other hand, the last paper crane lay quietly.

I saw it... I saw you... gone... forever asleep.

It hurt.

So I cried.

-------------------------------

1000 Paper Cranes

"Do you know what his last wish was, Kaede?"

I looked at the woman I now call my mother and shook my head. "No, but he told me that it would come true, like all others, even without the thousand paper cranes."

"That is quite true, you know."

"What is it, mom? What did Akira wish for?"

Mother took both my hands and kissed it. "For you to be together, for all time. And you see, my son... it could happen. For he lives here..." She placed my hands on my heart and smiled through her tears.

I digested her words for a moment, and watched the paper cranes as they burn. The fire would send it to the gods, Akira had said. Beyond the flames, I saw the world in its sublime state.

Green hills, clouds rolling, blue sky shining, birds flying, flowers blooming...

Truly, it was beautiful.

Like the man who onced touched my heart.

And I found myself looking into the eyes of Akira's mother, and smiling in return.

But the pain was still. The wound was still open, raw and unhealed.

It was funny, how one dream could be folded into one thousand paper cranes.

Funny, how one person could change in a matter of a few words.

Funny, how one life could be saved, in retribution for one life taken.

Funny, how one tear could be shed for someone whom you thought you did not care about.

Funny, how one love could save all one moment-

and yet... vanish.

Like the dream. Like the person. Like the life.

But never like the tear- for it will be falling again and again.

For all time.

For you.

But for your sake,

I will live.

********
o.wa.ri
********

05 January 2004
2242 H

Postnotes: This one's supposedly an original short story, but the inspiration to do it a SenRu kicked in. As you all know, I'm suffering from the Writer's Block, so I grabbed the opportunity to write this while the flame's still burning. Anyway, the story about Sadako was true, and I got that info from this site: Check it out.

The Japanese myth about the One Thousand Paper Cranes vary. One myth was exactly what I used in this story... that when you fold one thousand paper cranes, the gods would grant your wish. Another myth states that when you fold one thousand paper cranes, you will have a longer and healthier life because it was believed that these beautiful white birds live for a thousand years.

I myself started folding paper cranes, as a habit, I guess a few months ago. I do it when I'm bored out of my mind during class, and sometimes to spite spiteful professors. Hwehehehehe. Right now, my tally sheet says I've got sixty-two. Actually, if you put your mind to it, a thousand paper cranes is an easy feat. Well... that's it then.

Reviews and comments are welcome, as always.