Disclaimer: I do not own these characters.

Title: Orange and Gold
Teaser: Stupid dragon.
Characters: Citrine Shield, Toriovico, Grateful Peace
Rating: T
Length: 1,465 words
Notes: I'm still trying to focus on original writing, but I miss writing fanfic, so this is me trying to get back in the swing of things. It's more of a short story than a drabble, but eh, who's counting? It takes place sometime between the end of The Dragon of Despair and Citrine's appearance in Wolf's Blood, so no spoilers unless you haven't read DoD yet. In which case, what are do you think you're doing reading fanfic? Go out and buy a copy of the book!

The woods were orange and gold in the autumn light. Sunshine faded gently past the trees to turn her hair the color of fire, shimmering as she shifted and turned in the clearing. Her feet shuffled through the carpet of leaves on the ground as she danced a slow, sad dance.

It was Toriovico who had taught Citrine to love dancing, to escape from the world in the power of movement and music. She'd been caught in a bit of a slump, to be honest, when Firekeeper and Edlin and the rest of her friends had returned home. True, Doc had stayed behind, and yes, she had Grateful Peace now, and, admittedly, she had no desire to return to Hawk Haven.

But still.

After a full week of moping – not homesick, certainly not, but definitely friendsick – she had found herself unceremoniously summoned to a meeting with the Healed One. Grateful Peace had helped her to throw hasty paint onto her face, and she'd glared at him the entire time, certain that he knew what was going on and was simply refusing to tell her.

Which, actually, had been very close to the truth.

Grateful Peace had insisted on escorting her, despite her many protests that by now she knew where the throne room was and, at nine years old, she didn't need him to hold her hand, thankyouverymuch.

So she was surprised when she found herself standing, not in the throne room, but in Toriovico's private dance studio.

The Healed One stood in the center, waiting for her with his hands behind his back, his face impassive. His lithe dancer's build was not dressed in traditional New Kelvinese robes and curly toed slippers, but in a simple tunic and pants, his feet bare.

Citrine glanced at Grateful Peace, wondering whether she should be alarmed. He had smiled at her, that gentle smile that she was growing to know and to love, and squeezed her shoulder.

"Have fun," he said, and then slipped out the door.

"Citrine," Torio had said, drawing her attention back to him. "I had the honor of witnessing one of your training sessions earlier this year, when you were practicing to be an autumn leaf in the Harvest Dance."

Citrine blushed, glad that he hadn't mentioned that she'd soon become so distracted with worrying about what her mother was doing that she'd been demoted to a dumpy apple handing out treats to the crowd.

Torio must have seen the blush, and he gave her a gentle smile. "Citrine," he said gently, "you're a lovely dancer."

And that was how it started, private lessons from the most important man in the country, soon intermixed with a dance class of children her own age. It took her mind off her old friends, eased the ache inside her caused by their absence and her mother's betrayal, helped her to truly flourish in this new land she called home.

And now Citrine danced through the forest of orange and gold that matched her own coloring so perfectly. Her heart was heavy today, on this her tenth birthday.

It had been a good one, as birthdays went. Previous birthdays had been spent on the Shield Estate, fawned over by numerous family members, lavished in citrine-themed gifts, and unceremoniously dismissed by her mother at the end of the day. They were usually spent surrounded by people, but somehow that had never quite eased the ache of loneliness deep inside her. Instead, she had ignored it, focusing on the presents and the food, and pretended to herself that all was well.

There were not so many gifts this time, nor quite so many people, but the ones who had shown were true friends. She rather thought it was one of her better birthdays, actually – a special dancing lesson with Toriovico, followed by a nice ride with Grateful Peace and dinner with the two of them and Doc.

And not nearly so much loneliness.

Firekeeper and her Hawk Haven friends hadn't been able to come, of course, but Citrine found that she didn't mind so much. She hadn't expected them to, really. They were probably off saving the world from a rampaging manticore or something, after all.

The important part was that she knew they loved her. Formal congratulations from Sapphire aside, she'd also gotten letters from Elise, Derian, and Edlin. Elise sent her love, not only to Citrine but also, she found out later to her delight, in a private letter that had arrived at the same time addressed to Doc.

Derian's letter had launched into detail about Firekeeper's latest exploits (something about chickens and a baron's formal ball). An attempt at, "keeping you entertained on your special day," he'd called it.

As for Edlin. Well. Edlin was Edlin.

Citrine had always gotten along well with her cousin, at least if one overlooked her unfortunate behavior around the Harvest Dance when she had been firmly under her mother's control. She smiled and shook her head as she remembered his letter. Ancestors bless him, had he really said that to an earl's daughter?

"Good to see you smiling now," said a soft voice from the shadows beneath the trees. "You've been looking down all day."

Citrine jumped, startled, and spun around. The former Dragon's Eye smiled back at her, his one hand tucked into his robes.

She put her fists on her hips. "How do you do that?" she asked, stomping her foot lightly in a mock pout. "I didn't even know you were there!"

"Long practice," Peace answered. "And you're getting quite good at it, yourself."

She gave him a wry grin. "I can never manage to sneak up on you."

He grinned back, eyes laughing, and replied, "Practice more."

"I was thinking about Edlin's letter," she said now, addressing his earlier statement. "I showed it to you, didn't I? He sends his love."

"Oh yes, I read it," he answered. "Only Edlin could manage to get himself into such a situation, and only Edlin could manage to escape unscathed. It's good to see you smiling," he repeated. "Birthdays are happy times."

The little girl's smile froze on her face, then faded away, and she whispered, "Not for you."

That was the crux of the matter, right there, the ever present knowledge that had lurked in the back of her mind and kept this birthday from being perfect. Her eyes took in Peace's frail form and the lines that were already etched into his face. How could he keep going, knowing that each year he aged twice as fast as he should, that his lifetime was now half as long as it should be? How did he stay so strong?

Stupid dragon.

"Nonsense," Peace was saying now. "I shall age regardless of whether or not we celebrate it. We might as well have a party. It will remind us of the good things in life. Birthday things."

Citrine tried to smile for him. "Like cake?" she asked.

"Most definitely cake," he agreed. "And a whole feast to accompany it. And gifts, don't forget those."

"Presents!" she agreed. "And fancy clothes!"

"And bright decorations are a must."

"And colorful face paint!" Waving a hand at her own, knowing better than to touch. Then, shyly, "And spending time with your special people."

"Which is, of course, the best part of the day." Peace smiled and extended his hand. "And perhaps sharing a dance? One not quite so sad this time, I think."

Citrine swept up to him, taking his hand in her maimed one and leading him onto the natural dance floor provided by the clearing. Poor, wonderful man! This man who had become her true father, so much better than her biological one, cursed to so cruel a fate! How would she manage without him, without the one who had put her back together after her mother had broken her apart?

"Citrine," Peace said, squeezing her hand. "My dear, I am an old man, compared to you and your boundless youth." He squeezed her hand again, and his bright eyes caught and held hers from beneath his spectacles. "But I am not yet an old man."

She blinked, studying the man who led her about the clearing. His feet were nimble beneath him, his grip on her hand strong, and suddenly she smiled, a real, true smile, finally understanding.

He twirled her around, and Citrine, laughing, resumed their familiar banter, glad to have her new father in her life. She would treasure him for as long as she could, she realized, and when he was gone she would do him proud and stay as strong as he was teaching her to be.

After all, if he wasn't afraid of some nameless day in the future, if he could accept his fate – well, why couldn't she?