Author's notes: I wrote this for Winter Solstice last year: on the day of the solstice, finished before midnight. With every year that passes, it strikes me again what a beautiful sentiment it is that lies at the heart of that holiday.

Happy Solstice, everyone, when it comes.

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It had come at last, and the darkness in the chamber echoed the darkness of the night as it had for ages, and would for ages hence.

There was nothing strange to mark the room from any other; the simple wooden furniture was bare, the stone of the floor uncovered. In the corner of one shelf, several books leaned against each other as though to seek support against the steady wear that time had inflicted.

All was still, and dark, and peaceful- the sort of night that seemed to invite those brave enough to share it. And indeed, in the center of the room a boy sat, intent upon accepting the offer.

Cross-legged on the floor he waited, motionless, listening to the steady whisper of his own breathing- now loud, now soft, back and forth in a pattern that unfolded toward eternity. His thoughts were far from the little room- far from the lightless place and its close, heavy walls. There were other things beyond the darkness, and so he considered not the present but the year past: its triumphs and failures, loves and anguishes, hopes and despairs.

So much had ended, and so very much was only just beginnig.

"Welcome to the dawn," he murmured softly, in a recitation as old as the tradition itself. "And a chance to start anew."

Reaching gently, the boy cupped slender hands before him, drawing to life a spark that flickered between his palms where it had been conjured. A moment passed, two, and then the spark was growing, maturing into the warm shine of flame, a tiny beacon in the blackness of the night.

Bending down over the spot of warmth, the boy followed its brilliant dance with eyes that the light's presence revealed to be impossibly blue. The slow, tentative smile that spread across his face would have been breathtaking, had anyone been present to witness the event- but no one intruded upon the silence of the moment, and the door remained closed, and the smile stayed a private wonder.

Quietly, the boy leaned forward to light a single, white candle.

"Welcome to tomorrow," he continued, eyes fixed on the yellow glow of flame. "For today has ended."

There had been a time, long ago, when he hadn't yet taken the words to heart- when he'd watched, perplexed, as he heard them spoken. And though years had passed, buried too deeply under events that had come and gone, memories flooded to surface when he spoke the words.

A book, hand-bound, filled with writing scrawled in a language he could no longer read. Soft white robes that had nearly touched a wooden floor. The patience in his mother's eyes, and her low, mild voice.

The boy had asked her once, why they celebrated on the darkest day of winter, and the answer he'd received was enough to warm him still, when hope threatened to fade.

Her reply was with him now, as he prepared for the boundless possibilities that the future held.

"Welcome to all that yet will be..." the boy whispered, rising reverently to gaze down at the tapered candle still burning in its holder on the floor. "...whether dark or light." A formal step brought him away from the flame's glow, closer to the world beyond with all its complicated chaos.

He lingered there a moment, caught on the threshold, reluctant to end the moment of peace.

"It's the longest night of the year," Sai whispered softly to himself, just to hear the answer that his mother had spoken so many years before. "Things can only get brighter from here."

With a steadying breath and one final glance, the boy slipped from the room. Alone in the darkness, the candle burnt itself out.



~owari~