Note: Cheers to morgankit for inspiring a story with her own tale "The Theory of Happiness"! At the same time, this story was also partially inspired by the SAMURAI 7 video "Firefly" as done by Winter Ashby.

Other than that, this whole thing just came out in one go. Don't ask me where it came from... I don't know, either.


THE DRAGON AND THE CRANE

It was a beautiful night, clear and cool and just the faintest hint of cleansing rain on the way. Kyuzo walked through the forest that bordered Kanna, for once not on sentry, but just to savor the scent of pine and the feeling of the wind in his hair. As he reached the cliff that led down into the ravine, he threw his head back and looked up at the stars, brilliant against the deep blue-black of the night.

Normally not one to allow himself the luxury of feelings, even he was hard-pressed not to enjoy the sensation of being vibrantly alive.

A movement to one side, however, drew his gaze and he glanced over to see Nasami sitting with her back to a tree, one leg drawn up to her chest, the other stretched out before her. Like him, she was staring up at the moon and the stars, their brightness reflected in her eyes.

However, though her eyes were on the stars, her hands were slowly moving of their own accord, and as he peered closer, he saw the pale flash of rice paper in her hands.

Suddenly she paused and looked over at him, and smiled shyly. As he approached, she held up her hands, and he was surprised to see a lovely origami crane cradled in her palms. For a moment, he looked at her questioningly, and she nodded to him, so he carefully lifted the crane from her hands and held it up to study it. Although exquisitely done, it was not shaped like a traditional origami crane piece, however; Nasami had managed to recreate her family mon in paper, with the crane's wings outstretched and arched while its feet held a katana.

A faint smile touched his mouth as he handed the crane back to her, and he took a seat beside her and held out his hand for a piece of paper. She arched one eyebrow at him, but selected a sheet of paper and handed it to him. Then she leaned back against the tree to watch him.

Kyuzo frowned slightly in concentration as he worked, folding the paper with the same infinite care he took when performing kata. Then without looking up, he held out his hand for another piece of paper, and she silently gave him another one, and then later a third. After several minutes, however, he held out his hand once again, but when she placed another sheet of paper in it, he shook his head.

Nasami was startled, but she saw his eyes rest on the crane that she had created and somehow she sensed that he wanted it, so without a word, she handed it over. He thanked her with a nod, and went back to work.

He was dimly aware of the growing astonishment on her face as he worked, but he ignored her until he was done.

At last, he turned to face her again, and held up his own creation on one palm.

A long, writhing dragon, fire coming from its mouth.

The samuraiko was stunned - the piece rivalled some of the finest origami creations that the Artisans of her Clan had ever formed. So lifelike was it that she was half-expecting the flames to consume the little origami figure. Its sinuous coils were twisted around on itself, and cradled within the curve of its body was the crane that she had made.

Staring in wonder, Nasami rose up onto her knees and leaned forward, and gently brushed her fingertips over the dragon that encircled the crane. Even the faint motion of her breath made the paper flames from the dragon's mouth seem to move, and her eyes were wide with delight as she lifted her gaze to meet his.

But when she would have spoken, however, he stopped her by placing his fingers against her lips and shaking his head.

Confused, she dropped her eyes again to the origami dragon, her fingers lightly touching the crane she had made in the dragon's coils. Kyuzo removed his fingers from her lips and took her hand in his, carefully spreading her fingers. For a moment, his thumb caressed along the long scar that ran the width of her palm, and then he placed the dragon and the crane in her open hand and closed her fingers around the origami figures.

For a long moment, however, he did not remove his hands from hers, nor his gaze from hers. Together they knelt there in the moonlight, their hands cradling the piece they had created together, until at last, a faint blush rose on Nasami's cheeks and she looked away.

"Thank you," she whispered, the first words either of them had spoken the entire time.

"You're welcome." His voice was even softer than usual, but still he did not let her go.

Her eyes rested once more on the dragon and crane she held, with Kyuzo's fingers lightly encircling her own hands.

"So the dragon protects the crane..." she murmured.

"But can never truly hold it."

Her eyes flashed up to his, startled, but he lowered his gaze to look at their hands.

"Cranes should fly free."

"Dragons fly, too," she whispered, her voice barely louder than the wind in the trees.

He shook his head sadly.

She leaned slightly closer to him until their bodies almost touched, the only thing separating them their joined hands, and Kyuzo's eyes came up once more to rest on her face. Then he nearly recoiled at the look in her eyes - longing, sorrow, compassion, pleading.

Her gaze never swayed from his, and against his will, Kyuzo closed his eyes and gritted his teeth.

"Why?" he heard her ask.

"I am..." His hands tightened on hers, but did not open his eyes. "... afraid."

"You... you're not afraid of hurting me..." Nasami breathed, realization dawning. "You're afraid of me... hurting you."

He did not answer, but he knew in his heart that she was right.

Then a jolt raced through his entire body as he felt her gently brush her lips against his forehead.

"I hope... I hope I live to see you fly again," she whispered to him.

Kyuzo opened his eyes, and for a moment, neither said a word aloud while their hearts and eyes spoke for them. Then her mouth curved into a beautiful smile, and she sat back, cradling the origami figures in her small hands. He rose unsteadily to his feet and looked down at her, then clenching his hands at his sides, he turned and left her there.

But he could still feel the slight tingling of her kiss, and a faint smile came to his lips as he walked away.