Disclaimer:
Jade Empire, all it's characters and other related indica belong to BioWare (last I checked, anyway). I make no profit and intend no infringement. Just passing time, here, folks. Don't sue, kthx.

Author's Notes:
I love this game, and I'm easily distracted at the moment. Possibly because I seek out distractions. Life's funny that way. :3

Oh yeah - femslash warning. (SAHPRAAIS!) Enjoy.

Radiance


No one knew for sure exactly who she was. They didn't know who her parents had been, or how she'd come to lose whatever home she'd had before she arrived in Two Rivers. Even the ever-wise Master Li seemed only to know very little - and what he did know, he wasn't keen on sharing. All anyone knew for sure was that one day, he'd arrived with the infant girl on his arm, and over time had carved out a place for himself as the master of Two Rivers School, once the former master had passed from this world into the next. The girl in his care had no name other than the ones he'd given her. Jen, for the tenderness she displayed towards life in all its forms even as a small child, and Zi - once she grew a little older - both for the first vestiges of what would undoubtedly be a remarkable beauty in adulthood, and for the easy grace in her movements as she blossomed into an unmatched martial artist under Master Li's expert tutelage.

Regardless of the blank slate that made up her past, Jen Zi seemed well suited for the quiet life on the outskirts of the Empire. As she grew from an infant into a toddler, she displayed the first signs of an unusually calm personality. She rarely cried, even when hurt, and generally wasn't a terribly emotional child. Even when she was overjoyed by something - such as mastering a new move after long hours of training, she never squealed with excitement, or even issued a triumphant grin like so many of her peers and elders at the school. Instead, the only outward display of her happiness would be a slight quirk of her lips - not quite a smile - that lent a gentle, pleased sparkle to her dark eyes.

She was a quiet child - even a shy one - and that to a point where Master Li worried for her future. The girl acted far, far too old for her years, and Master Li privately theorized that it probably had much to do with the fact that she was really only ever comfortable around her teachers. Jen Zi was without peer among her year-mates due to her martial skills, too young for her seniors to have much in common with, and too out of place among the village children for her to find anything but passing acquaintances there.

It would be a lonely existence, her guardian soon realized, and while that was no real trouble for a young child who could still find simple joys within her own imagination, it would end up alienating her even further from her surroundings as she grew up, and would - eventually - only weaken her, as she would be left without anyone to trust and rely on. And with that in mind, he did his utmost to include Jen Zi as much as he could when another young girl came to be placed in his care; hoping that by awarding his eldest charge the role of the little girl's older sister of sorts, that the two of them would forge a friendship that would suit their purposes later in life. His intentions seemed to take, and while Jen Zi and Dawn Star grew older and closer, Master Li worked on expanding the Two Rivers School. Not much, to be sure, but enough that he could take in a few more students – paying ones – so he better could raise his two young charges.

The friendship she forged first with Dawn Star, then with Jing Woo, and later on with many more students, slowly but surely cracked the shell Jin Zi had either built herself or been born with. As she started treading the first uncertain steps on her way from childhood to womanhood, she had grown far more outgoing and approachable. She was still a gentle spirit; full of warmth and exhibiting far more wisdom than could be explained by her age and training. Still quiet by nature; seeing much and saying little unless engaged in conversation. Still graceful, and still unrivaled as she claimed the title of senior student long before actually being the oldest. Her training and nature combined their powers to grant her a slender frame, curved with both the softness of a woman and the elongated muscles that lent her a surprising strength while not detracting from her femininity at all. Not unlike Dawn Star, though she remained more of a thinker due to her gift.

xXxXx

"Well?" Dawn Star peered at her friend as the two of them walked through the tall grasses that covered the narrow path to the small beach outside the village walls. "What's with the secrecy?" A faint smile. "That isn't like you."

Jen Zi felt a tickle on her arm and peered at the grasshopper that had landed on her wrist and was now chirping contentedly into the warm air of the early summer day.

"No secrecy," she answered quietly, keeping her eyes on the tiny insect as she carefully maneuvered it first onto her finger, and then onto a branch of an overhanging tree. "But you've been upset lately," she continued, and saw the minute reaction in her friend's face out of the corner of her eye. "I thought perhaps you'd like to talk about it. Alone."

"…I see." Dawn Star dropped her gaze and fingered the soft, light fabric of her cheongsam – a gift from the other students for her 16th birthday just a few short days ago. "You noticed, then."

Jen Zi ignored the slight stab she felt at those words, knowing it to be irrational on her part. "I notice everything about you," she said, and took care to keep her voice light as she turned and continued towards the beach, folding her hands lightly behind her back and giving the younger girl a slight quirk of a smile over one shoulder. "Or haven't you figured that out yet?"

A few seconds of silence, and then a set of footsteps matched her own while a hand tucked itself into the crook of her elbow. Not to restrain, but simply to offer apology and seek comfort at the same time.

"I know," came Dawn Star's voice a few moments later. "I'm sorry. That's what best friends are for, after all, isn't it?"

"Mm." She looked around as the passageway widened into the open meadow that bordered the beach, and was relieved to see that Old Ming had apparently abandoned his sweeping for now; leaving the small, open area abandoned in the reddening light of early evening. "What else?"

The chirping of the birds overhead filled the somewhat awkward silence between them, and Jen Zi settled herself in the sweet-smelling grass and extended her bare legs; leaning on her hands and tilting her head back as she closed her eyes against the sunlight that warmed her face. Dawn Star – she could tell by the soft rustling – sat down next to her. The other girl smelled like the herbs she kept nestled amongst her clothes – eucalyptus and sage – along with the faintest hint of the fresh water they'd bathed in after the day's training. They'd both graduated from wooden training weapons to actual metal very recently, and felt the extra danger of their sparring sessions keenly, which only made the training more arduous. Jen Zi enjoyed it, though, and thought that her friend felt the same way, if only because the concentration kept her from thinking about whatever it was that had her so distressed these days.

Now, if she would only stop that nervous fidgeting and start talking, Jen Zi considered, as she cracked one eye open and studied her companion. Dawn Star was seated halfway on one hip with her legs bent to the side, and was leaning on one hand while the other was idly plucking at stems of grass.

A swift movement – almost too fast for the eye to catch – and a well-aimed poke at the inside of an elbow, and Dawn Star's supporting arm gave out. She yelped in surprise, and in short order landed fully on her side with her head pillowed neatly in Jen Zi's silk-clad lap.

The older girl smirked in response to the frown her actions had earned her. "Hi there," she drawled. "Thanks for dropping by."

Dawn Star didn't roll her eyes, but gave quite a good impression of having done just that all the same. "You're incorrigible," she decided, but chuckled and turned onto her back. "I was taking too long, huh?"

Jen Zi held up one hand and measured out a very tiny distance with two of her fingers. "Just a bit," she confirmed, and had to make the conscious choice to drop the hand back onto the sun-warmed soil rather than to her companion's long, dark hair. "I was starting to get bored."

"Heaven forbid."

"Intensely."

The silence settled around them again, and Jen Zi kept her eyes on the horizon and the steadily sinking sun, deliberately not meeting the intelligent gaze she could feel resting on her face. Doing that would be taking the chance on revealing… too much. Far too much. And pointlessly so, since Dawn Star's affections most certainly lay elsewhere. She hoped for her friend's sake that Jing Woo would snap out of his cluelessness soon, before the time it was taking him stretched so long that she'd lose her resolve.

"I've started… seeing things recently."

"Huh?" Dawn Star's voice snapped her rather abruptly out of her own musings, and she peered down at her friend with a slight tilt of her head. "How so?"

"Spirits." Dawn Star worried at her lower lip with her teeth, and watched her own hands clench each other intently. "Ghosts." Her voice dropped in volume to a near-whisper, and her throat worked as she swallowed. "Whatever you prefer to call them."

"Oh." Jen Zi processed that, and frowned thoughtfully. "Are you alright?"

"You…" The dark eyes snapped up to meet her own, and Dawn Star spent a few moments just staring at her with an air of delighted shock before she started laughing softly. "That would be your first concern, wouldn't it?"

"Well, of course." She frowned again, now slightly offended. "What else?"

"Nevermind." Dawn Star smiled up at her. "I can't believe I was so worried about telling you." Another soft laugh, and a shake of her head that made her hair tickle the exposed skin on Jen Zi's thighs. "Silly of me."

She forced down her body's response to the gentle, unintentional caress and produced a crooked smile instead. "You are silly," she agreed. "You're my best friend. How could your well-being not be my first concern?"

That earned her another smile; warm, wide, open and almost irresistibly inviting. She watched her companion's eyes soften with gratitude, and just barely managed to catch herself before she started leaning closer. It would take so little effort to close the distance and… urgh. Jen Zi managed to return the smile genuinely, and then closed her eyes again under the pretense of enjoying the last rays of the dying sun; scarcely believing how much effort it was taking to restrain herself.

Dawn Star saw her as a sister, as a friend. That was all she could see her as, and that was no more her fault than Jen Zi's own, decidedly un-sisterly affection was hers. Any bumbling attempt at wooing on her part was doomed to failure and awkwardness.

So no. Better that she keep it to herself.

Another rustle as she felt the slight weight leave her lap, and the air moved in odd patterns against her arm as Dawn Star – she supposed - knelt next to her. Jen Zi breathed very carefully – very normally – and kept her eyes closed. That had been entirely too close for her liking, and she hoped dearly that her friend would buy her pretending to enjoy the sun for a few more moments, until she had finished regaining her composure. She had the distinct, unpleasant feeling that if she met those dark eyes right now, she'd spill her guts like a dam breaking open.

A hand covered her own, and she felt it give a gentle, reassuring squeeze as what she identified as a forehead rested against her own temple.

Then again, maybe Dawn Star already knew, like Jen Zi herself so often did with her. If the girl could see ghosts, after all… how hard could it be to figure out the impractical emotions of your best friend?

"Thank you." A whisper, and a warm breath against her cheek that sent pleasant chills down her spine, even as the unspoken apology in the tone sent a fierce pang of disappointment through her. Then a hand cupped her other cheek, and gently turned her face until their foreheads were touching.

"Look at me." A pause, as Jen Zi warred with herself and resisted the request. "Please?" A beat. "For me?"

For her? Jen Zi felt her eyes open of the own volition, and cursed internally. Anything for her, and she knew without a doubt that everything she felt was showing in her eyes. Every ache, every hopeless wish, every sad reality and every desire was there for Dawn Star to see – as plain as the nose on her face as the sun sank below the horizon and twilight descended around them.

Then soft lips were pressed gently against her own, and her vision blurred as her heart skipped four beats in a row in pure shock. It wasn't a yes, and Jen Zi knew that, as she closed her eyes and felt slightly calloused fingers caress her cheek. But it was acceptance, and gratitude, and apology rolled into one. It wasn't a goodbye. It was a gift. One moment of perfection, until she could find the next one. And she cherished it.

"Thank you," Dawn Star repeated in a soft whisper as she ended the kiss. "For your friendship, and your affection." Another soft kiss; this one to her forehead. "And for understanding why I can only return one of those."

"Sure," Jen Zi responded, and cringed as her voice cracked nervously. "Anytime."

A soft, still girlish giggle, and then her hand was clasped again as Dawn Star pulled her to her feet. "Come on. Let's go home."