I also owe the idea behind this fanfic to an episode of Xena and the story of the stone in the water which would NOT leave me alone.
by Fushigi Kismet
Arashi found him sitting quietly at the edge of the pond with a handful of stones, his eyes distant and reflective. She rarely saw him in such a state of mind and took a moment to study him before realizing that he must have sensed her as soon as she drew near.
He looked up as she walked towards him and a smile seemed to light the depths of his eyes but did not alter the composed expression on his face. No movement other than that of his eyes following her came from him, nor did he seem inclined to any other.
Gathering her skirts beneath her, she sat down next to him on the grassy bank.
She had been searching for him all that morning. She didn't quite know why, and now, having found him, didn't know how to proceed, so instead, she cast about for something to say.
"What are you doing?"
"Really, and is this how you spend your time?" There was a hint of what might have been anger beneath the evenness of her voice, and she marveled at the heretofore undiscovered streak of irrationality within herself.
He raised an eyebrow, looking at her appraisingly. "Sometimes. It beats worrying incessantly about the coming Day, or about things I cannot change and can do nothing to prevent. Of course, I only indulge in these activities when I'm not thinking of you, so it isn't often."
That the blush rising to her cheeks wasn't something she could stop was something she knew from experience, so she remained silent for a moment more.
"There are some things I would change if I possessed the ability to do so."
There was no need for a response. They both knew to what she had been referring. It hung between them as it always did, heavy and immovable, like a wall suspended in space through which they could only reach each other through the miniscule chinks and cracks running through it.
He hacked away at it to widen an opening, as he always attempted to do, sometimes meeting with success and other times failure. "Don't worry. Be happy."
"How can you be so flippant?" Again, that note of anger. Or perhaps this time it was pain?
"It's all we can do, isn't it? Being happy. Happiness is very fleeting, and that makes it precious. It's the same with living. To be alive and to be happy, shouldn't they be the same?"
"They're not the same. Not when there's pain and sadness in being alive." She stopped short of an angry tirade, her heart pained. But what was that compared to not living? When she was speaking to someone who had cheerfully accepted his fate and was living with the inevitable outcome every day? Her words seemed ill chosen and brutal, some accusation a child would throw out to someone who could neither deny or accept without destroying some prized or cherished thing in return.
'Would it destroy me in his eyes?' was the thought that came to her with agonizing clarity.
"Mmm." His eyes flickered from her to the sunlight sparkling on the water. Reaching back with his hand he skipped a flat stone lightly across the pond, nearly halfway across. His tone was mild, and she wondered if she had hurt him more than he would allow even himself to see. "I'm not ignoring those things, mind you. But sometimes I think that if I just skip lightly enough they won't touch me for long. I've just got to keep skipping for as long as I can."
Her fingers tore up a patch of grass and began shredding them systematically. She was floundering in a contradiction of her own words and feelings, which overlapped and pulled away from one another at the same time. She was spouting nonsense, was shielding herself with lies. But whatever she did she could not allow herself to look into his eyes, could not allow herself to see - "That's because you won't allow yourself to sink. The rest of us can't just-" her voice faltered as his face was suddenly inches from her own, his eyes peering into her own.
He broke into a smile, eyes closing happily. "'Nee-chan, you really *are* cute."
She looked away from him, her heart beating like a mad thing. Why was it . . . why was it that she could lie to herself and to him and to the whole damned world but when she looked into his eyes she couldn't deny the simple truth they held? "I'm being serious."
"I'm being serious, too," he replied, pulling away and redirecting his gaze to the far tree-lined side of the pond. "What do you suppose is over there?"
"I haven't the faintest idea," she said faintly, attempting to sound as disinterested as possible.
He didn't seem to be affected in the least. "We should go and see, sometime. Just you and me. Take a picnic maybe. Go rowing, too. I'm sure Nokoru-san wouldn't mind lending a boat to me."
Yes, yes, talk about nothing. Don't think about it. Don't /think/. "The water doesn't look deep enough for a boat."
"We could go swimming," he continued blithely on, ignoring the objection. He scratched the side of his face, blushing a little. "I'd love to see you in a bathing suit, 'Nee-chan."
She glanced sideways at him, but he was no longer smiling, his eyes still faraway. "It would be nice, don't you think? Someday." Her hand was covering his and the words were suddenly tumbling out of their own volition. "Don't."
Don't think. Please, don't dwell on it.
"I would settle for a real smile, you know. Just one would be enough. You realize I've never heard you laugh?"
She pulled away, the hand that had touched his grown suddenly cold, and he made no move to stop her.
There it was, all around them now. The inevitability of it all. The conclusion of a promise.
I never asked you to choose me.
"'Nee-chan," he said suddenly, "skip a stone."
"Across the water. Skip a stone."
"I don't - I won't -"
Then his hand was thrusting a stone between her fingers and his eyes were looking gently at her. "Just let go. And throw."
What was he thinking of? Skipping stones!
She flung it hard without looking, and he shook his head and laughed. "Not so hard."
He looked at her for an instant before handing her another one.
Aiming carefully this time, she sent it out with a practiced flick . . . and stared in shock as her stone sank beneath the surface. "It requires a deft touch and the proper movement of the wrist and arm to skip the stone lightly enough."
His hand reached out and clasped her wrist between his fingers. "Shall I show you?"
He felt her tremble beneath his touch and he wondered for an instant if he was presuming too much, but her whispered, "Please," pushed aside his doubts.
"All right," he said, placing a stone between her fingers with his other hand and drawing her wrist back with his hand. Her back bumped against his chest as he did so and he felt them both tense for an instant, before all the tension suddenly melted away with her glimmer of a smile.
You're a fool and I'm a fool, but I don't care.
"You draw your hand back like this-"
"Was this a ploy?"
"Was this" - if he didn't know better he could've sworn that was amusement in her eyes - "one of your ill-thought schemes to bring us into a rather compromising position?"
"Not originally. Maybe now, seeing as you've mentioned the possibility, 'Nee-chan. Going to hit me?" he whispered teasingly, close to her ear.
She affected disdain but he could see the slight flush of her cheeks. "Later, perhaps."
"Letting me off easy today?"
"Don't push your luck." Pushing his forehead away with her forefinger she moved easily away and to one side, smoothing her skirts once more. Her hair fell forward to hide her face and he couldn't tell if that had been intentional - to hide her blush.
He still held the stone that she had dropped as she moved, and he absently threw it lightly into the air and caught it several times before stopping and examining it more closely. He was studying it very intently as he intoned, "Who will be the one to cast the first stone?"
The seriousness of his tone made her look at him as he continued to speak. "To trouble the surface for a time before sinking beneath the water?"
His eyes rose to meet hers. "It was not I who was first the stone and you the water."
There was an instant where they both heard the lapping of the water and felt the caress of the wind.
"Did I trouble you so?" her voice asked, breaking the silence.
"Then. Now. Yes."
"Funny," she murmured, "I thought it was the other way around."
"Do I trouble you?"
"Is the sky," she paused, her eyes lingering on his face before glancing away to gaze at that very sky overhead, ". . . is the sky blue?" Just this once I can be honest. Just this once . . .
"But unlike that sky you're an ever-present worry. Was that your intent when you cast yourself into me?"
"I wanted to break through your calmness if only for a moment. And though you seem unchanged, am I not still there, lying somewhere beneath the surface?"
"Yes," she murmured softly in reply, pressing a hand to the place beneath which her heart beat, "you're here."
"So," he said, "I will rest there, untroubled, forever."
"Thank you." She forced her face to remain composed. Tears would only cause him more pain.
Taking the flat stone from his hand, she sent it across the water with a flick of her wrist. Sorata sat up as it skipped almost the entire length of the pond before sinking. "How did you . . . ?"
Arashi gave him a cryptic smile as she stood, dusting off her skirts. "Would you expect any less from the champion stone-skipper four years running at Ise Shrine?"
He watched her slender form as she moved away, and when she was out of sight, he leaned back against the grass, stared up at the blue sky, and laughed.