Note: This is the companion story to "The Scent of Roses." Set just after Chapter 24 ("Fleeting Moments") of my story THE SWORD OF THE SOUL, this little interlude was something I had thought about adding once upon a time, then promptly forgot about it. Then recently, a random train of thought sparked the idea again, and voila! Another story that is just... well... deliciously easy to visualize.

A Touch of Moonlight

Nasami was sprinting through the trees, for once ignoring the habitual pain in her knees, flitting between moonbeams and shadows as she ran. She hardly even understood why she was running, nor did she care; all she knew was that for the first time in years, she felt absolutely alive.

It had been years since she had done that kata, been years since she had first learned it from Kuroshin, and as satisfying as it had been to master it, doing it again tonight after all this time, the exhilaration raced through her veins like the finest wine. All at once, she felt like she could fly, and she reached up and yanked the combs from her foxtail, allowing her hair to stream out behind her.

Finally, she came to an exhausted halt near the side of the river, standing in the middle of a meadow of flowers. The moonlight fell on her fully, and she whirled around in circles, her arms flung wide, her head back as she laughed up at the moon and the stars above, then she let herself fall on her back with a thump.

For a while, she lay there, her breath slowly coming back under control, her laughter dying down until it was a low chuckle in her chest. Hugging herself, she closed her eyes and drew in a deep breath, inhaling the scent of the flowers around her. All of her senses seemed vibrantly clear, and she revelled in the feeling. For that brief moment, time seemed to turn backwards, and she was once again the young woman she had been, laughing and dancing on the fine edge between life and death, before time and sorrow and war had shaped her into what she had become.

Even if the bandits came tomorrow, she didn't care. She would carry the memory of this feeling with her forever, and even if she died, she would have known perfection... and life.

After a short while, she sensed that she was no longer alone, and she held her breath, her body going still. When she opened her eyes, Kambei was standing over her, looking down at her. She couldn't see his expression, silhouetted as he was against the moon, his face cast in shadow, but she got the feeling that he was vaguely amused at finding her like this.

She held out one hand to him, and to her surprise, he took it and pulled her to her feet.

"You seem... different," he murmured, not letting go of her hand, his eyes moving over her face.

"How so?"

"Like starfire is burning within your eyes."

She blushed, then shrugged, still smiling. "Maybe, but I'm still me."

"Really? I wonder..." His voice trailed off as he tilted his head to look at her.

"You wonder... what?"

He leaned closer to her to catch some of her hair between his fingers, lifted it toward his face, and breathed deeply. "Like wildflowers and sandalwood."

Nasami's blush deepened as he lightly brushed his lips over the tress of hair he held.

"No, not your scent," Kambei went on as though nothing were unusual, letting go of her hair and lifting his hand to gently touch her cheek. With teasing slowness, he traced the arch of her cheekbone, down the curve of her jaw, down her neck, until his fingers rested just above her suddenly slamming heart.

"And not your skin..."

"Kambei..." she whispered, wondering exactly what was wrong with her voice. She certainly didn't intend his name to come out as breathless as it did. And if she had thought her senses were heightened before, they were incredibly so now. The heat of his body was intense, and the heat of his fingertips on her skin was almost scorching.

"Your voice is a little different," he said, the faintest hint of amusement in his own voice. "I wonder why."

Rather than answer and have her voice give her away completely, Nasami kept silent, swallowing hard as she tried to remember how to breathe. She wondered if Kambei could feel the pounding of her heart beneath his hand, and desperately hoped not.

Without removing his hand, he looked her over with a twinkle in his eyes and a sensual seductive grin she never knew he possessed. "Is something wrong?"

"No," she snapped, or at least tried to. The words still came out with that soft, breathy quality that she couldn't control.

"You know, in moonlight... you look quite bewitching. Have I ever told you that before?"

She shook her head, unable to look away. "I think that you're the one bewitched by the moonlight," she said hoarsely, finally managing to muster the effort to turn around and face away from him.

Kambei was simply too attractive by half in moonlight - it brought out the depths of his grey eyes and those high cheekbones of his she loved. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, letting the light touch of the wind cool her burning cheeks, then she bowed her head and wrapped her arms around herself, holding herself tightly as her body shivered.

She nearly leapt out of her own skin when she felt Kambei move her long hair to one side so that it fell over her shoulder and down her chest to her waist. Then her knees almost gave out when she felt the gentle touch of lips against the nape of her neck and he wrapped his arms around her, holding her in place.

"What... are you..." The soft exploration of his mouth against her skin was almost maddening as he drew her closer to him. "Kambei... please..."

The heat and strength of him against the length of her was intoxicating.

"Hmmm?" he asked her, his breath warm across her ear, and she gasped aloud as he pressed even closer to her.

"Please... don't..."

"Don't what?" He loosened his hold on her slightly, his voice quiet but only just barely under control. For a long moment, they both just stood there, breath coming fast, hearts racing. Nasami didn't move, her every sense tingling with the nearness of him. She felt breathless, light-headed...

... alive.

Then she lifted her arms and reached above and behind her to pull his head down, drawing his mouth down to hers as she tilted her head back.

"Don't... stop..."