warnings for cliche, au, and overabuse of the same metaphors. basically gen, but you can read it as otherwise if you'd prefer.

x x x

rhapsody in

x x x

She didn't know how long she had been awake. Awake. That was the only word she could think of, the only word there was. She hadn't been thinking, she hadn't been moving, but she was awake. All of her life until now had been spent with eyes closed.

Now that they were open, all she saw was blood. Names summoned faces, faces summoned memories, snapshots of their deaths. Only a few days ago she had cried that she didn't wish for anyone else to die, no matter what. Now she could laugh at that young, foolish girl, because they were all dead and she had been unable to stop them, no matter how much she wished for strength.

It was hard to remember to breathe. She didn't know where she was. She didn't know anything. But she was awake, awake, aware and alive.

The ocean had come to Tokyo, and it glinted beautifully in dim light, electric search beams shining golden patches over the wrecked bay.

She could remember distantly the glassy eyes Kamui once had, the way his mind had folded in on itself and slept. She could do that—she felt as though she was already mostly there—but her mind was where her memories were. All she wanted was to forget.

In her hand was her sword, held so loosely it threatened to slip out and clatter onto the ruined pavement. She had tried earlier, before she woke up, to coax the sword back into its usual form. She had pleaded and begged and hugged the blade to her. She had cut her hands. Inuki hadn't transformed.

It was raining, pouring, soaking the tatters of her school uniform and turning her lips blue. She didn't notice the rain until she heard the familiar, comforting patter of rain on the cloth of an umbrella; pattering—like in the spring, in the mud, laughing in boots—and her eyes cleared then. There was someone standing in front of her, holding his umbrella over her. He had been there all along.

She recognized him as a Dragon of Earth. She closed her eyes, then, and waited patiently to die.

x x x

He didn't know why he had helped her. For the same reason he had found and used an umbrella; water master afraid of the wet. He knew her better then she knew him, but the girl in the rain wasn't a Seal at all, just a girl with dead eyes staring at the sea.

He didn't know why he had gone to her, except that he wouldn't have if she had noticed him. Morbid curiosity had drawn him closer, wondering at how long it would take before she saw him—but even a hand in front of her face hadn't caused her to blink. She was dead, as dead as the rest, a living body with an empty mind, and to his surprise all he had felt was pity. Soaking wet with wide, empty eyes, dark hair framing a face that hadn't yet lost all its childish roundness—a sword dangling so limply, point touching the cement, that it seemed more an extension of her than a weapon.

A kid. He was surprised by this revelation, by the feeling behind it. He'd seen her fight before and felt nothing by her tears. This deadness was too adult, too familiar. And the guilt he felt was aimed at himself; self-centered to the end. His companions were dead, too, after all.

When he held the umbrella over her, her eyes cleared for just a moment. He saw her and she saw him: the water choked the air and land, and he was the one trapped in it. She closed her eyes and crumpled to the ground, head smashing against the pavement—she had fallen limply, the ground swept away. He was sick; he picked her up. They'd go together. They'd go.

The discarded umbrella began to collect rain.

x x x

She ate what was given to her. She lay down on the bed when told. She'd shuffle to the bathroom when asked. She dragged the sword behind her like a doll, the point scraping along the floors behind her.

He was no Onmyouji, no Seer. He bought milk at the market. That was the best he could do for her.

He could leave. He doubted the child would protest or even react if he packed and was gone. It was a tired thought, often repeated, never considered. He checked bodies until he had counted all twelve. He was the thirteenth, she fourteenth.

The rain kept up for a week. He took up cooking in his spare time.

x x x

Light was shimmering liquid on the ceiling. She watched it for minutes before realizing that she was watching; realizing she was thinking, that her lungs took in air and her heart beat in her chest. Liquid light on the ceiling. Moving patterns in white and blue. A door left open a crack, spilling water over the ages. Was she then drowning?

She was lying on a bed. Her eyes were open. Water poured on the ceiling. Water—the cliffs of Tokyo, the pools of blood, the pearl of bone, the ocean and the sound of rain on umbrellas. She was awake.

Her hand clutched the hilt of the sword so tightly that she could no loose it. She imagined it melded to the metal, the sword a part of her limb, the way Arashi's had been, before—

She rolled over and found that easy, so she sat and blinked as the blood rushed from her head, her vision blurring and blackening before clearing, letting in the milky blue, the soft water. Water to die in, water to live.

She stood and padded barefoot to the door.

He was doing dishes, and soap bubbles filled the apartment—but they were not soap, but they were too many, but they were water. Drops of clear water, strings of water, garlands and baubles and strings that shone in the light like strange candles. Not enough to drown in, they popped when touched, drops of water raining onto the carpet.

It is months before she realizes he had been showing off for her.

"It's so pretty," said she, the words rough and chalky in her mouth.

"Nuisance," he replied. "I neglect it too long and it becomes a swarm to pester me the moment I turn on the tap." His sleeves are rolled to the elbow and hands red from work: he lays aside a glass and pauses before turning. "You've woken up."

Water wreaths her hair, gently warm. A chain hesitates at her neck, and drops slide down her face as she shakes her head. "I'm dreaming."

The sword clatters to the floor.

x x x

He saves her life. Tricks with water, shapes and trickles that follow stories, spoken gently, nothing in them, stories for the sake of speaking, for the sake of words. He leaves off at crucial moments, piquing her curiosity, forcing her to ask him, to divert him, to speak.

She's never been able to be without people. Had he reached out to her, she would never have had to speak. Had he gone to her side and cared for her, she would have slept forever. But in her selfishness, she'd never been able to exist without attention.

In his selfishness, he would forget to care for her—but it was harder to forget someone standing before him, eyes reflecting water.

Inuki was never a dog again, and the water could no longer pile and form waves. But she still had a sword; he still could manipulate what was already there. And she thought she might be able to make a kekkai again, too.

With time.

x x x

"Do you miss them?" she asked as they walked, her arms heavy with flowers. She couldn't decide on one so she bought several of each, flowers and ribbons and plastic pinwheels, too. They prick and tumble in her arms and she holds them tighter, Inuki in a makeshift scabbard at her waist.

He walked slower but had a longer pace. This was their first outing, on the first day of winter that promised spring, a slight fresh smell to the cold air, a hint of water in the snow. "No," he said, the frank truth.

"I miss them," she said, "lots."

"We weren't a—team, not like you were," he said. "They were alright. But they weren't my friends."

"Everyday, we'd have breakfast together, and walk to school together, and do chores and eat dinner. Kamui was good at science. Sorata was going to marry Arashi. Arashi—" she was crying, crying and dripping into her bouquets, but she shook her head when he offered a hand, her voice never shaking. "Arashi was bad at English, so she'd study really hard. Mr. Aoki had a daughter who I was going to meet someday. Ms. Karen was—" she sniffed loudly, wetly, not a pretty crier. "And Subaru was going to get better someday, too."

He didn't know how to comfort her and so pretended not to hear her hiccups and sniffles, staring straight ahead. He knew his dead, but did not think of them like that or in any other way. Dead is gone, gone is forever. He was alive, the battle was over, and it was simpler to concentrate on tonight's dinner than useless memories.

"And—Kusanagi—" she faltered and hiccupped and he paused at the name they had in common.

"He was kind," he said, an empty platitude that sends her into fresh sobs. She dropped several flowers and pinwheels, and he was the one to bend and scoop them up.

x x x

In the grove, she pointed out the tree that belonged to one girl and the cross that belonged to Nataku. Red eyed and smiling as she cried, she choose bushes and trees for everyone else, picking an evergreen for Kamui, nice shrubs for Aoki and Karen, a flowering bush for Subaru and a pair of close-growing young trees, thin and branchless, for the other two. She adorned each plant with her flowers, her ribbons, and arranged the pinwheels so that they'd catch the wind.

It made him distinctly uncomfortable, a feeling of invaded privacy mixed with embarrassment, pity, and awkwardness as witness to the scraggly offerings. In the girl's arms the offerings had looked impressive, but scattered they were significantly less so. She knew no prayers and neither did he, so she blew each grave a kiss, a hand on her sword's hilt, and turned to him with red eyes.

"Of course it's not much yet," she said. "But I'll come back. I'm sure Sorata would like sunflowers, and there's daisies for Kamui and orchids for Ms. Karen and hibiscus for Arashi in the meantime. There's only so much you can do in winter."

A breeze turned the wheels of the colorful plastic pinwheels gently, and he pictured a garden.

x x x

She was melting.

x x x

"Are you going to stay with me forever?" he asked over lunch, knowing the answer. But he was used to her company, used to a company that didn't require meaningless romantic platitudes and didn't complain. But she was smiling more, and she was still a child, a grown up child that was still half his age. It would be wrong for her to stay, and he wasn't so desperate for company that he needed it.

"I want to see my grandmother again," she said. "And I need to pass my high school entrance exams," she added, with slight disbelief in her voice that such a normal thing could still exist.

The windows of his apartment were open, letting in the cool air and the growing sounds of humanity; construction sounds, helicopters and jackhammers and the crash of falling rubble. All the world was assisting Tokyo in its rebuilding after the 1999 Earthquake Disaster. The name Kamui will remain unknown.

He had dug a CD player out of a closet and set it up near the window: American jazz swinging and mingling with the rebuilding outside. Everything getting back to the way it had been. Rhapsody in Blue.

"I'll take you to the train station," he said, putting his fork down. She still carried her sword, but he spoke his next words all the same: "It's not safe for a young girl to walk alone."

The water in his glass trembled and rippled, as if in an earthquake.

x x x

The train station was busy, construction equipment and workers unloading, haggard survivors clutching suitcases making late escapes. There was no point in telling them that the earthquakes were over for good, so instead he felt a fond sort of impatience with them and their hollow, paranoid eyes.

She had just a duffel bag, mostly empty but for her sword, hidden out of prudence. She had called her overjoyed grandmother the night before, crying again, and had wanted to leave for Mitsumine as quickly as she could. She hesitated at the gate, holding the bag tightly in both hands. They stared at one another.

"Farewell," he said, jovially as he could manage.

"I'll see you soon," she replied, solemn.

x x x

That spring, tulips and daffodils found their way into the graveyard, planted late but always well watered.

x x x

o w a r i