Chasing Butterflies

In their own ways, Fai and Sakura are both chasing butterflies. Outo arc, Sakura-centric

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Their cafe has a garden in the back, filled with a profusion of riotous spring flowers. Sometimes Sakura wonders if they just grow there naturally, or if some previous tenant planted them with all the love and care she relishes upon them now.

Every morning, in that hushed few minutes before the cafe has opened but after she and Fai have put everything in the oven, she will step out into the dew-laden grass and water each of the plants, whether or not they grow properly in the garden terrace, whether or not they are flowers or weeds. Sometimes Fai-san joins her and they stand and watch the rosy tinge of dawn fade from the lightening spring sky.

Today is one of those days, and they've been standing in silence for the past five minutes. The butterflies are just beginning to wake up, flitting to flowers and trying to catch the few rays of the sun that reach over the roof of the house - opening and closing their wings, flashing the brightly colored surfaces.

The metal watering can dangling from her fingers, Sakura watches with a smile on her face, remembering the butterfly-catching excursion of a few days before. Fai, next to her, leans his elbow on the railing of the dilapidated walkway, puts his hand in his chin, and sighs. "If we're going to be here any longer, I'll have to have Kuro-sama fix up the back yard," he muses with a smile.

"How long will we be here, Fai-san?" Sakura asks, glancing at his elegant profile. He's already wearing the formal outfit he uses when working behind the counter; it frames his slender body well.

The mage sighs, blowing a strand of wavy blonde hair out of his eyes. "Depends on how long it takes us to find your feather, Sakura-chan," he replies after a while, directing his dazzling smile to her.

Sakura frowns slightly. "I don't want to be any trouble-" she begins.

Fai stands upright and flaps a hand. "Oh no, no, it's not like we have anything else to do, right? And besides, it's nice here." He gives the garden another benign look. "I always loved spring."

"Why?" Sakura asks, breathing in the scents of dozens of flowers - honeysuckle and primrose and lilac and celandine.

Giving a lazy shrug, Fai places both hands on the rail and leans on them. "Flowers," he replies laconically. "Things grow. The sky... Butterflies." He shrugs again. "Where I, ah, grew up, spring was always very short."

Vaguely, Sakura remembers him saying something about his country being wintry and cold. "I always loved spring too," she tells him, even though every spring she can remember has howling windstorms that threaten every orchard. She frowns slightly, looking for cheerful, more sun-filled memories from the few she has regained. "The apple blossoms would look so pretty."

"Ah!" Fai turns and leans his back on the railing, gazing at the open door contemplatively. "I was thinking about that last night. We should start making apple dishes, too. Apple crisps, apple crumble, apple pie..." He ticks each off on a finger. "What do you think, Sakura-chan?"

She nods enthusiastically. "I always- oh, Fai-san!" Breathlessly, Sakura points behind the mage, where a white butterfly is fluttering towards his head. "Don't move!"

Fai abruptly stills, holding his breath. "What is it, Sakura-chan?" he whispers, tense.

"No, it's just..." she replies, biting her lip. "Just a butterfly."

"Oh." He relaxes slightly and the butterfly comes to rest on his head, opening and closing its wings once before flitting towards his outstretched hand. Sakura giggles at his expression, caught somewhere between confused and awed.

"It likes you, Fai-san," she says happily, leaning close and watching as the butterfly alights on his hand, its stilled wings trembling delicately.

The mage smiles distractedly. "It likes you better," he replies as the insect flaps to Sakura's head. She squeaks as she feels it land and grip her hair with its prickly legs. "Too bad Syaoran-kun isn't here. You look very cute like that."

Sakura blushes. "Thank you, Fai-san." She sees him watching as she lifts a hand to her head, trying to coax the butterfly onto her fingers. Its tiny feet tickle her skin and she can feel every step.

"Put your hand down now, Sakura-chan," Fai tells her, and she does.

The butterfly is sitting on her fingers, clinging to them for balance as she slowly brings her hand down to eye level. From a closer point of view, the butterfly isn't white - it's a shimmering, pearlescent silver, each wing-scale contributing a slightly different hue. "Beautiful..." she breathes, and the butterfly's wings waver slightly with her exhale.

When Fai doesn't reply, she looks up to see him facing away from her, looking in the direction of the rice paper back door. No one's there, and all that's visible inside are the silhouettes of a few tables. "Fai-san?"

"Hmm?" He turns back and looks at her, although Sakura senses his thoughts are still very far away. "I'm sorry, Sakura-chan. I got distracted."

"Would you like the butterfly back?" She extends her hand towards him, keeping it very level.

Fai begins to reach out, then, suddenly, the butterfly opens its wings once, twice, and takes off. Sakura follows it with her eyes as its erratic flight takes it to a bright yellow flower, and then a smaller pink one, and then over the wall and out of the garden entirely.

"Ah." Fai's expression looks slightly pained. "It flew away."

Sakura catches the note of sadness in his voice, and it confuses him. "What's wrong?"

He leans back on the railing again and resumes staring out into the garden. "Nothing. It's -" He pauses, then gives a short laugh. "Love reminds me a lot of a butterfly."

"Why?" Sakura asks, the rising sun at her back finally peeking over the rooftop and highlighting her halo of pale brown hair.

Fai shrugs, rests his chin on his hand, his eyes half-lidded and more distant than they've ever been with her before. "It seems like - it just..." He smiles, and there's nothing happy in it at all. "It just always... flies away."

"But why-"

She's cut off by Fai's hand coming to rest gently on her head as he straightens. "We should get back to the kitchen, Sakura-chan," he tells her. "The puppy pair is probably getting ready now, and I'm sure they're very hungry!"

"Fai-san-"

His hand is on her shoulder now, and gently steering her in through the door. "Come on, Sakura-chan. I can tell today's going to be a very busy day!"

Even though she's worried, and confused, and feeling that if there's any time Fai needs to talk to someone, it's now, she doesn't protest as she is handed a stack of napkins to distribute amongst the tables. The hurt she glimpsed in Fai's eyes is far away and hidden now, as he smiles and begins making the batter for their breakfast.

He doesn't want to tell her, to tell anyone, and she can't help but respect his wishes.

But still -

As Syaoran comes into the kitchen followed by Kurogane, and Fai changes the sign on their window from 'closed' to 'open', she can't help but think - Fai is a lot like a butterfly, too.

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End. Reviews, con crit, etc. appreciated muchly.