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An original story
By Brian Randall

He sighed, his eyes closed as he relaxed against the large rock near the center of the spring. The hot water rippled slightly, sending reverberations he could feel against his skin. Soft waves of pressure in sharp contrast to the smoothness of the stone behind.

Opening his eyes, the veil of steam against the cold mountain air parted, revealing a face to him. A familiar face to him -- a woman with fair features, and short hair carefully bound into a knob tied off with a strip of faded pink cloth.

He smiled softly, as the woman crept closer, moving slowly though the water, and carefully bearing a wooden platform in both hands. She tripped, dropping it to the water as she struggled to regain her footing with the least possible amount of upset to the platform, as it drifted away from her.

Groaning slightly, but not lessening his smile, he reached forward and stopped it, then reached another hand to her. She flushed, staring down at herself, and the slight swell of her breasts against the towel she wore wrapped around her. He nodded, dismissing the incident, and she slipped to be near him, her back to the same stone.

Sighing again contentedly, he moved the wooden platform to rest before the pair of them, settling against the stone again, and humming. She took a small, carefully crafted clay pitcher, and poured from it, hot green tea into a pair of small black-lacquered wooden drinking bowls, waiting until he had taken his to fill hers.

Again waiting, she watched with breath held barely in check, until he sipped at his drink and nodded approval. Smiling, she sipped her own, uttering only a small contented murmur before lowering it, and waiting to refill his drink.

He grimaced suddenly, and opened his mouth to comment on something, but she hushed him, smiling softly, and pressing a finger to his lips. He stared at the cup in bemusement for a moment, sipping from it again as the woman drew back.

Nodding, he set his drink back with the pitcher, and stared upwards at the sky, stars twinkling through the steam down to earth. He glanced over, surprised, as the woman settled into the crook of his arm, leaning against him, and smiling.

He opened his mouth to speak, but again she silenced him, shaking her head and closing her eyes. He nodded again, relaxing, as a stray breeze swept snow off of a nearby tree, and with it, a flurry of sakura petals. The blossoms and the snow danced on the stray eddies of steam and wind, playing out a scene for the pair, and warming their hearts.

There was no need for words, no need for anything but togetherness, and knowledge that the two were of one heart. Then, too, there was no knowledge of what the new day would bring, but a certainty that it could be braved if the two always remained of one heart.

The sun's rays fell to the earth, stark trees now bare of sakura blossoms. Near the spring, lay a low building, and within it, the man lay, the woman on his arm still, both filled with the wonderment that was each other.

He shook his head, rising from the futon, and slipping on a robe. A sealed letter lay on a table, and he motioned her to his side, as he studied it.

The seal and the red tassel told him of its importance, more than any words ever could. The woman pulled her own robe on, fear shining bright in her eyes as she knelt opposite him at the table, waiting for him to open the letter.

He nodded, trying to appear gruff, and biting back words that he looked to wish to say.

She stared at her hands, carefully folded before her, not looking up. Sighing, he opened the letter, reading it to himself, and hanging his head at the first line. He did not need to read it more.

He folded it back, and slid it across the table. She accepted the letter, not reading it, and knowing by the man's demeanor what it said. She looked up, and met his eyes, hers bright now not with fear, but unshed tears, and nodded to him, then bowing her acceptance.

He opened his mouth again, to speak, but no words came, and he gestured helplessly, unsure again before letting his gruff demeanor hide the worry. Standing he bowed, then spun, gathering his possessions, and sending one last longing glance towards the woman.

She straightened, and turned to tend a vase, wiping carefully at tears as she arranged the short branches within.

He returned, some months later, wearing colors both brighter, and more faded, looking worn, sighing as he looked over the building and saw the faint wisps of steam rising from behind it, the scene now filled with greenery as the spring had begun.

He stepped forward unsteadily, worry evident on his features as another man waited silently behind him, holding the reigns of a pair of horses.

Opening the door gingerly, he looked around, relief spreading across his face, and a joyful smile coming to his lips as he stepped forward. The small room was immaculately cleaned; everything neat ordered. He nodded his approval before stepping through the back door, to the springs.

There was a girl bathing, her back turned. He raised his hand, and drew in a breath, but it caught, as she turned to face him.

A face similar, but subtly different, and much younger than the one he knew. His jaw fell open, slack with dismay as his hand dropped to his side, and the girl's eyes widened.

She knelt before him, bowing, and handed him a letter, worn at the folds, and bearing the signs of repeated re-readings, but kept well enough to show that care was taken when it was handled. His face grim and set, eyes moist -- but not crying -- he nodded, accepting the letter in both hands. They trembled weakly, as he stared at the letter with disappointment, the red tassel now faded, and the seal smudged…

Rising to his feet, he bowed apologetically, and turned away, leaving the building. He turned towards it near the man holding the horses, drinking it in with his eyes, and taking a deep, unsteady breath. His eyes caught on a small copse of trees some distance from the hot spring, which the girl also looked towards, their eyes shining with mutual sadness. The attendant nodded knowingly, handing the man the reigns of one horse, and stepping back.

Not turning to look again, the man mounted his horse, and rode towards the rising sun, followed shortly by the attendant.

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Last revision: January 7, 2006

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