Note: This is for mandamirra10, a gal who, in a very short time, has become a rather big fan of mine. (I love having fans...) In response to her request for a Kyuzo/OC story (and not using a character of mine from before), I rose to the challenge and created an entirely original character. Tetsuko just sprang fully-fledged onto the page. This whole thing might seem fairly stream-of-consciousness, but I like it.

Enjoy!

Update: The related song for this story, "Awake" from AQUARIAN AGE, is available for your listening pleasure over on the SamuraikoProductions dot com website.


FIRE DANCE

It was Kyuzo's first time visiting Otosan Uchi, and as well-travelled and worldly as he thought himself, even he was impressed by the towering walls, the gleaming cobblestones, and the sheer elegance and beauty of the Capital. Even as bustling as the city was, there was still such a sense of order here. In the distance, he could see the enormous temple to Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess, and beside it, the palace of the Emperor himself.

Without realizing it, he instinctively sat up straighter and prouder beside his lord, a daimyo of average ranking but with political connections that made him a useful ally.

When his lord completed his discussions with another daimyo, tea was ordered, and conversation turned to more pleasant matters. The other daimyo studied Kyuzo with interest, noting the younger man's admiration of his surroundings, and his calm demeanor.

"Your first time here, Kyuzo-san?"

"Yes, my lord," he said softly, his eyes still alert to his surroundings.

"Beautiful, is it not?"

"Indeed, my lord, it-"

He got no farther when a faint sound caught his attention. For a moment, he paused, listening, then he turned his attention back to the daimyo. "Yes, my lord, it is."

Kyuzo's daimyo had noticed the pause in his speech and looked at him in concern, but Kyuzo shook his head, and the daimyo relaxed. Whatever he'd heard, it was no cause for alarm.

A few minutes later, Hyogo arrived, and bowed to the two daimyo, then nodded to Kyuzo, who stood and took his leave. As he walked away, though, he did not head straight back to the rooms assigned to himself and to Hyogo. Instead, he walked on silent feet toward where he had the sound earlier.

Sitting beside one of the ornamental ponds was a young woman, barely out of her teens, her face in her hands, sobbing to herself.

"Oh, Lady Sun, forgive me... I only wished to do your beauty honor..."

Her clothing was elegant, her long black hair done in the traditional maiden's foxtail, and he gathered by the brilliant scarlets and golds of her kimono, as well as the mon on her shoulder, that she was a member of the Phoenix Clan.

He wondered what she looked like, but she didn't hear his approach over the sound of her weeping, so he lightly scuffed his feet against the gravel of the path as he approached.

Abruptly she looked up, startled, and saw Kyuzo standing nearby.

"Oh... I apologize if I disturbed you," she said, her voice soft, and she hastily dabbed at her eyes with a linen square that she drew from the sleeve of her kimono, then she bowed to him.

"Are you all right?" Kyuzo looked closer at her. A pretty enough face, full mouth, and nice dark eyes, although a bit red from crying. She was petite, shorter than he was by at least a head, and with delicate hands and features.

"I..." She sniffed back her tears and looked away. "Actually, no. I am not. Tonight, my troupe is supposed to perform for the Emperor, and today they announced which of us would be performing. I... I was not one of the ones chosen." Fresh tears spilled down her face, and she clenched her hands into fists at her sides. "But I practiced so hard... I prayed every day for weeks for the chance... and I really thought that I..."

She shook her head. "Anyway, I shouldn't be burdening you with my troubles. I apologize."

He'd originally intended to simply accept her apology and leave. Instead, he found himself asking, "What is your name?"

"Tetsuko. And you are?"

"Kyuzo."

"Then my thanks to you, Kyuzo-san, for your kindness. I will not disturb you further." She bowed once again, and made to leave.

"Wait."

She turned around. "Yes?"

"What were you going to perform?"

"Excuse me?" She looked at him, puzzled.

"You said you had practiced. What was it?"

"Oh..." She blushed. "Amaterasu's Dance."

"You're a dancer?"

"Me? Oh, no." She giggled, her face abruptly transformed by her amusement. "Oh, no, no, it's not a traditional dance, Kyuzo-san. I'm sorry." She hid her mouth with her sleeve as she laughed, and Kyuzo managed a faint smile of his own.

"So what is Amaterasu's Dance?" he asked, looking at her with interest.

"It's a ritual," she explained, "where the performer communes with the fire kami."

Suddenly Kyuzo's eyes went to the small pouch that hung from her obi. Of course... they were spell scrolls.

The girl was a shugenja, one of the sorcerer-priests for which the Phoenix were famous.

"Show me."

"What? You mean, now?"

"Yes. Unless you are not supposed to."

"No, nothing like that," she stammered, "but wouldn't you rather see it done by the troupe? After all, it's so much more impressive when it's done with several people." She shuddered. "And I would hate to think of what the Son of Heaven would say if anyone ever learned it was performed for someone other than him first."

He moved slightly closer to her, and noticed with interest that although her eyes widened, she didn't back away.

"No one else has to know," he said softly.

"But we'll know," she whispered, never taking her eyes from his, and Kyuzo found himself taking another step closer to her.

"Yes, we will."

Her shoulders straightened, and her gaze met his directly. Then she nodded.

Kyuzo blinked, then stepped back and knelt down beside the koi pond to watch her.


With infinite grace, she drew a fan from the sleeve of her kimono, and with a single sharp gesture, snapped it open.

And Kyuzo nearly recoiled as the fan burst into flame...

... but was not consumed by the fire.

Nor did she seem to react to the fire in any way.

Although he struggled to contain his reaction, Tetsuko saw it, and smiled a little.

Moving with careful precision, she drew a second fan from her sleeve, and snapped that one open as well. Like the first, this one also burst into flame.

Holding up the two fans together so that they formed a circle, she carefully held both in her right hand, and then made a slow arc over her head, mimicking the path of the sun across the dome of the sky. As the 'sun' passed along the arc, her left hand made a small gesture, and little wisps of flame flickered into being and then disappeared again, leaving wispy trails of smoke like clouds for the sun to pass through. As the two fans completed their descent, she swept them around once more as quick as a lightning strike, then tossed them into the air. Once in the air, they hung there like a glowing ball in the sky, and streams of fire began to emanate from the ball, like the brilliant rays of the sun.

Kyuzo watched in open fascination as she held up her hand to her lips, as though blowing a kiss, and as her breath caressed her hand, flames appeared to wreathe her hand in fire. Then she gestured toward the ground, as though dashing a bottle to the floor, and although he saw nothing hit the ground, there was a cloud of smoke and fire seemed to leap up from the ground. Tetsuko's other hand shot out to grab the column of fire, and swung it around her like a bo staff. As the staff passed through the air, it left an arc of flame that hung suspended in the garden like a living streamer.

Tetsuko's face was radiant as she moved through the ritual, her lips never ceasing their faint murmuring to the fire kami, imploring, pleading, invoking, and they responded to her every move as though she had always known them. Kyuzo could not have looked away if his life had depended on it.

Suddenly she whirled around, and her hand flashed outward toward him as though cracking a whip. A rope of flame shot from her hand, halting barely an inch from Kyuzo's face. As calm as he usually was, he was totally unprepared for that, and he fell back with a startled gasp. Then she swept both hands upward, the rope in one hand, the staff in the other, until both struck the globe that still hung in midair. And as all three connected, they flared with one last blaze of light, and then faded away to nothing.

Like the last leaves of autumn, the two fans drifted to the ground in lilting, gentle movements, coming to rest at last at Kyuzo's feet.

For a moment, Tetsuko stood with her head thrown back, her eyes wide, then her eyes closed and her head fell forward with a long, drawn-out sigh. Slowly she sank to her knees, and reached for her fans.

Kyuzo got there first, picking them up and studying them.

Her eyes widened. "Kyuzo-san, what are you-?"

He turned them over in his hands, studying them. Although beautifully made, and exquisitely marked, there was nothing special about them. And yet, in Tetsuko's hands, these had been as deadly and beautiful as the swords he normally wore against his back.

He handed them back to her with a bow.

"Amazing," he said softly.

"Thank you, Kyuzo-san." Her cheeks turned faintly pink, and she bowed as she accepted the compliment with her fans. "I only wish I could have performed it for the Emperor."

Then she lifted her eyes to his once again.

"I have to get back, before I'm missed. I'm sure by now that the others are wondering where I've gone."

"I will escort you." Giving her no room for argument, he walked Tetsuko back to the wing where the Phoenix contigent were staying, escorting her all the way back to her door. As the girl slid the door opened, his eyes moved over the other faces in the room before coming back to rest on Tetsuko's.

"Tell me, Tetsuko-dono. If they asked you to perform for the Emperor, would you?"

"Of course," she said with longing. "But they have already chosen. Perhaps next year, Kyuzo-san." She looked at him shyly. "Maybe then you will see me perform Amaterasu's Dance for the Son of Heaven."

"How badly do you wish it?"

"To perform for the Son of Heaven... or to see you?" she asked, smiling.

"Either one."

"With all my heart," she admitted. "To both."

He bowed abruptly, turned on his heel and left.


Later that night, amidst all the pomp and splendour of the Winter Court, Tetsuko led Amaterasu's Dance before the Emperor, and when she was finished, the Son of Heaven was smiling.

As was Kyuzo.

Across the room, his eyes met Hyogo's, and the dark-haired bodyguard gave Kyuzo a sardonic smile.

It had been a relatively simple matter to encourage an 'illness' among the Phoenix, and with one member short, Tetsuko was the obvious replacement.

Amaterasu wasn't the only one who could answer a prayer.