If Only
By: simply anonymous

It was only mid-autumn, yet the harsh wintry wind had already come bearing warnings of winter's unforgiving demeanor. Trees were at a loss as they surrendered their prized leaves and gleaming vigor to rot in the eternal slumber of winter's spell. The gnarled, graying limbs twisted with contempt as they tried in vain to grasp the waning daylight from the last sun of autumn they would be awake for until spring.

But of course, this was only in vain.

Hours of daylight grew shorter with each passing day. The fleeting sunlight retreated as night shed its coldness upon the world. Soon enough, the world appeared to be veiled under a single shadow.

Although there were no stars to guide the lost souls home, no moon to protect the sleeping from the shadows that haunted the corners of their minds, one ice maiden stood unfazed by the suffocating darkness in the doorway of a temple.

Breathing in the mysterious essence of the night air, she proceeded toward a spot on the far side of her residence. She walked slowly, as if to admire the world around her in a different light—or darkness.

The wintry breeze blew restlessly as the fresh autumn leaves paraded closely behind. Semi-barren trees swayed rhythmically to the musical harmonies of the night birds' calling and the wind's gentle murmuring. But through all of this, the melody came out in melancholy notes that sounded like nature's mournful grieving for the passing of summer, and the coming of winter.

Yukina seated herself on the leaf-strewn floor, and leaned against the wooden wall.

'Tomorrow,' She thought as she stared at the decaying, brown leaves all over the temple grounds. 'Tomorrow I will sweep the outside of the temple.'

Feeling content with her plan, she let her mind wander as she idly picked through a nearby pile of dead leaves. Picking one up, her attention turned toward the leaf she had unconsciously selected.

Holding it loosely by the stem, she twirled it between her fingers. Examining it with utmost care, she noted that the heart-shaped leaf was still green. It was a dull, sickly green-turning-brown type of green, but nevertheless, it was green. The small leaf felt cool and flimsy as her fingers traced over the vein-like skeleton that held the paper-thin object together. But before any more observations could be made, a strong gust of wind came and tore it greedily from her hand.

She made no effort to reclaim it.

Sadly watching the item of fragility flutter out of view, she sighed and briefly gazed over the sea of black treetops before her as it shifted with uncertainty.

Still leaning against the wall, Yukina slowly stood up. She looked up at the cloudy sky with visible signs of dissatisfaction etched in her eyes.

'I know I should be content with my life, being able to have such kind friends, being able to live within the protection of these temple walls, being cared for, but…'

The Koorime had never asked for these things that heaven had so kindly bestowed upon her. She never asked to be welcomed into arms of companionship. She never asked to be given a place she could permanently call home in Ningenkai. No, none of these things she had expected to have. She believed, and she still believed today, that all of this was merely a stroke of luck out of a million unlucky things that could have happened, but did not. As she contemplated the paths she could have chosen instead of what she had, a deluge of an infinite number of 'what ifs' and 'could bes' descended upon her.

Shaking her mind free from the tangle of disorder, she asked the world with a soft, pleading voice, "Where are you?"

"Where is who?"

Yukina fell out of her thoughtful state and abruptly turned to meet the gaze of two pink eyes of equal intensity.

"Master Genkai." Yukina smiled at the calm, pink-haired woman with deep reverence. "I did not know you were still awake. It's rather late. Shouldn't you be asleep?"

"I should be asking you the same question." The old martial artist countered gently. As an afterthought she added, "And I was asleep. I woke up not too long ago and felt your presence outside."

At this, the ice maiden blushed with embarrassment and diminutive surprise. The expression on her face instantly brought to mind a five year-old child caught in the act of stealing a cookie from the cookie jar by his mother in the middle of the night. As Genkai mused over this, she smiled—or would have, if she did not suddenly remember the reason of her appearance tonight.

"You still haven't answered my question yet." She said impassively, already knowing the answer to her inquiry.

Yukina cast a glance at the cloudy sky before speaking. "I was thinking of my brother; where he could be right now…" She paused and turned to the petit woman in front of her, "Master Genkai?"

"Yes?"

"Where do you think he is?"

Genkai cast an eye over the landscape and closed her eyes as if in deep thought. 'It is so pitifully obvious...'

A shrill call sounded in the distance. The merged silhouettes of a flock of birds rose into the sky, disrupting the swaying of the trees, and flew over the temple.

'…Yet it is not my place to tell.'

Contemplating over the cause of the incident, Genkai answered, "Truth be told, I have no idea where he could be. I only know that he is somewhere, be it alive or otherwise."

Yukina nodded solemnly in agreement. As a final statement to their conversation, she dejectedly said, "If only he didn't seem so far away…" Turning her back to the world and the old mentor, she then whispered in a defeated tone of voice, "It feels as if I'll never find him."

Out of the corner of her sharp eye, Genkai saw a fleeting figure in the trees. She frowned grimly. 'If only you knew how right you were…'

Unaware of the silent couple in the shadow of the temple, life gently lead the living forward while the wind followed diligently behind, collecting memories and thoughts long forgotten like the leaves on the ground. The depressing sonata of life and death played in cadence to time's perpetually swinging pendulum. The wind, now rolling over the desolate plains of the past, whispered into the ears of hollow valleys.

"If only…"

If you have not decided that this was not worth your time and left, then thank-you. Comments, criticism, flames, etc. are welcome.