The Artist and the Musician
By: Koorino Megumi

This fic was written for my friend Phoenix of Eternity, in honor of her birthday! It is a response to a pairing challenge from Fi, though it turned out to be an experiment in character interaction instead of an actual pairing. I hope it's enjoyed! And special thanks to link no miko and Kilerkki for their wonderful beta (and inspiration) help!

This fic has spoilers up through Chapter 214, but it only relates to Tayuya and Haku. The setting is loosely based on Soul Society from Bleach, but the references are vague and require no knowledge of that series to read.

That said, onto the fic!

A musician could not help but appreciate art.

There weren't many things that caught Tayuya's eye. She had always been a focused person--focused on her training, on her missions, and on the lord that she performed them for. But one who had grown up with music, who knew it inside out--how to weave it, how to love it, how to twist it--knew what it meant to be an artist and to appreciate those that could be.

She eyed the boy from across the street as he worked. She wasn't sure why he was making the mask, especially in this place where such things from her home no longer seemed to matter. But in a way, that was what first mattered to her--that he was obviously from her home. Or at least nearby, as the hunter-nin mask bore the unmistakable marks of Kirigakure.

She was sure she hadn't done anything to draw attention to herself, but the boy suddenly looked up from his work, and for an instant their eyes met. She narrowed hers, making a slight "hmph" noise under her breath before striding across the crowded street to stand over him. "A hunter-nin at that age?" Her tone was far more skeptical than curious.

The boy looked up at her. His face was pretty--very feminine, and framed by long hair. She noted that he was prettier than she'd ever be--not that she cared, but she let it make her mad anyway. But he gave her a serene smile and commented with cheerful ambivalence, "Maybe."

She snorted. He went back to his careful painting of the front of the mask. She crossed her arms over her chest and stood for a moment, gazing to the side as if she were just choosing to stand there and it had nothing to do with him.

Silence stretched between them as the town bustled in the background. But finally, without looking up from his work, the boy commented, "You can ask, if you'd like."

Tayuya turned back to him, her eyes narrowed at his strange comment. "Yeah? And what would I ask street trash like you?" She ignored the fact that they were essentially equal in this place. She'd never concede that she was on the level of some kid.

But the boy took no offense. Instead, he looked up, smiling at her again, the expression kind and inviting. "Anything you'd like."

She scoffed. This kid was getting annoying. "Shut up." Silence again. The boy went back to his work. The sound of commotion drifted to them from somewhere down the street. He just kept painting. Tayuya got impatient.

"...why would you make a useless mask like that, anyway? You that bored, kid?" Another snort. This kid was obviously an idiot.

"This mask?" The boy kept his eyes on the piece, holding it gently in his hands. "It's not useless." His voice grew soft then, tender. "It's to find someone."

Tayuya raised an eyebrow, but she didn't bother asking. For one, she didn't want to sound like she had any real interest in this street trash artist. And for another, there was no need to ask--not when they were both in this place, where anyone could be anywhere. Everyone here came with someone they wanted to find. The fact that the boy was still searching only meant that he was a new arrival.

Silence stretched between them again as the boy put the finishing touches on the mask. Tayuya watched him work until he finally stopped painting, cradling the piece in his hand. He examined it for a moment before the smile came back to his features, his expression satisfied. Then he looked back up at her, slight amusement seeming to enter the curl of his lips. "You still haven't asked."

Tayuya glared at his audacity. "Damn you, brat!" They both ignored the futility of a comment like that made to someone who was already dead.

Silence stretched again. He kept a steady gaze on her, as if waiting. Finally, she scowled, pulling a small wooden object from her pocket. "Know anything about flutes, kid--or can you only do useless masks?" She tossed it to him more forcefully than she needed to.

The boy caught it easily, examining the thin wooden tube. It would have been a flute if not for the lack of holes. "You don't know where to place them?" he asked.

Tayuya shrugged evasively. "The notes are everything. Or do they not have flutes where hicks like you live?" She sneered.

"I understand," the boy replied, as if she had said nothing beyond her first words. He turned the wooden tube over in his hands thoughtfully, and after a moment, he commented, "I can help you fix it."

She raised an eyebrow at his quick offer. "Yeah, sure. What do you want for it, brat?"

He looked up at her, smiling that serene smile of his. "I want to hear it."

She blinked, caught off-guard by that. Then she eyed him for a moment as he continued to smile before she finally hmphed and sat down in front of him. She took the mask from his lap and turned it over in her hands, being as casual about the move as she could. The white and red mask was perfectly smooth, perfectly carved--a beautiful piece of art. "And then you're expecting me to find whatever trash you're looking for so you don't have to do it." Her tone was as accusatory as she could make it.

But the boy shook his head, still smiling serenely. "No," he said simply, "Then I'll want to hear it again."

Tayuya eyed him for a moment, still holding his mask in her hands. Then she scoffed at him and brought it up to her face, peering at him through it. The boy laughed faintly and pulled out a knife, setting to work on the flute.

A musician could not help but appreciate art, and an artist could not help but appreciate music.