author's note: ahh, so much for that regular update schedule. things are a little hectic for me, but i will update as i can. i'm really glad to see that people are enjoying these stories. :) i appreciate all the reviews!

(theme 10; ten)

Ten candles, lit with ten tiny flicker-flames, all burning bright on a white-and-blue iced cake; it was his birthday, and his parents clapped and sang for him, and when he blew out the candles his mother leaned down and gave him a kiss on his cheek.

In the shadows of the room Izumi and Meroko stood as silent, unseen ghosts; Meroko wrung her hands, wrinkling the black silk-satin of her gloves.

"Do we really have to do this?"

The lingering smell of burnt wax and candle-smoke filled the room, and Izumi said nothing.