|if it is born in flames
Author: Measured PM
AU. "Stories never finish," Karpusi said. "They only end for the night...for that telling." Greece/Japan and the 1922 razing of Smyrna.Rated: Fiction M - English - Drama/Hurt/Comfort - Greece & Japan - Words: 11,355 - Reviews: 10 - Favs: 36 - Published: 08-24-10 - Status: Complete - id: 6269182
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Title: if it is born in flames
Author's note: kink meme. A complicated (yet awesome) prompt involving a historical story of the Great Fire of Smyrna.
Ok, so. Wow, this is the most research I've ever done on...well, anything, really.
There's actually some debate on who actually caused the great fire of Smyrna. There's conflicting history, conflicting views despite a lot of personal eyewitnesses...I studied both sides as best as I could, but in this case, Herakles believes it is the Turks from the horrors he's seen, his own prejudices, etc. The story follows his account, thus it follows the assumption that the Turks were to blame.
Levantines were...actually, wiki sums it up easier than I can: wiki/Levantines
Uchida-san is referring to the Japanese consulate at the time, who happened to be pro-Turkish to the point of being a Turkophile.
The names are different in the beginning, but there's a plot point to this. Just keep on and you'll see. There's also some elements changed in age/birth dates for plot reasons.
According to , the Japanese ship came (and left? It doesn't specify) on the 8th, before the fire actually started. The original newspapers excerpted from refer to it being there during the fire...I assumed the latter for plot-related reasons.
Another artistic license: CPR wsn't invented until between 1956-60 and this is set in 1922, but this was from a bonus of the request and was too cute and plot related to cut. SO we're going to pretend that in Japan there was some form of CPR which was prior to the Western reveal of it?
And triggering information, just in case: rape is mentioned as part of discussion of war atrocities.
Everything was quiet the day the ship landed. They had been relatively isolated, as such was the way of sailing. What news they had heard had been of Japan, not Anatolia. He'd had contact with a British ship and taken tea with their captain. He told the news of the Grecian retreat, and how the Turks had retaken the city with little-to-no resistance.
A little bloodshed was always unavoidable in these sorts of situations, but he believed everything would even itself out in the end.
He was invited to spend some time with a Levantine family, but he politely declined. He was still waiting for word from Uchida-san, who happened to be a personal friend of the family. He would certainly be happy with the turn of events, given he was very fond of the Turks, even to the point of being a Turkophile.
There were still stragglers of the Greecian army leaving, dejected and bedraggled by their long campaign.
The city was quiet and pensive as night fell.
Honda had been preparing to meet with Uchida-san, and to deliver his personal quarter of the goods brought when a Yamato burst in.
"The city is on fire!"
Honda left his quarters and came on deck. The sky was lost in waves of smoke. The men informed him that it had been earlier that they noticed the smoke, yet thought it not a fire of great rapport – didn't the peoples of Anatolia cook with open fires? Surely between the Jews, the Egyptians, the Armenians, the Greeks and the Turks that inhabited this diverse city, one of them must have some festival, some reason to bring out bonfires and cook their delicacies.
But Honda knew it was nothing so gentle and controlled. The screams told otherwise. Some had jumped in to avoid the flames licking at their heels, their lungs already stained black. Others wandered through the maze of ashes and smoke, burning houses taking with them the memories and dreams of their former occupants – and in the case of some, the lives as well.
The harbor was filled with ships. French, Italian, English, even American. And yet as the time passed, he saw them refuse the desperate refugees. Sailors stepped on clawing hands, threw hot water on them, pushed them back into the water. Neutrality – it was such a loaded word.
The English and American ships took a staunch stance of neutrality, while the French could be convinced to bring their own aboard, and perhaps, did not look too hard if the French was good enough to pass. The Italians took on those who could row far enough to reach their boats, whoever made it that far past the dirty waters and yet it wasn't enough.
He was reminded of Troy, of the ruins of once beautiful things. Now it was charred and broken, ruined and destroyed, all that beauty cast aside. He made trips to the Western countries, from the Mediterranean to England, France, and other countries for many years now, and had always been captivated by the strange beauty of the lands. The waters of the Mediterranean were a clear, pristine color he'd never seen in his native land. He remembered the shores of Greece, the cities rising up white and imposing, with the memories of thousands of years past in their stones. Here in Anatolia, the waters were as dull and murky as tarnished silver. The air was viscous. It hurt to breathe. He couldn't imagine how much worse it must have been for anyone stuck in the city itself.
Honda wasn't impulsive by nature, but this tragedy had shaken something inside him, even if the rest of the horrific details were unknown, it was more the callousness of the other ships, the other people.
"Bring the cargo to the deck," he said. His voice was steady as he did so. He did not look away from the flames, or the refugees gathering at the wharves, jumping in to escape the fires, only to find no sanctuary.
Lace, silks, china and spices. It was worth thousands, but wasn't human life that much more irreplaceable? That much more worthwhile? History said otherwise. Life was so carelessly taken in such horrific manners. Others might be bound by their neutrality, forced into inaction, but he wasn't.
One by one their precious cargo was brought up. There was an unsaid question in the eyes of his crew.
"Throw it into the harbor, everything but Uchida-san's quarter," he said. "We need all the room we can get."
"Honda-san?" Naoto, his second-in-command queried. Naoto was a middle-aged man, younger than Honda himself, but the years had been harsher on him. He was greying at the temples, with a wide, crooked nose which had been broken once in an accident.
"You heard me," Honda said. His voice held a cold calm, an unbendable strength to it. They did not question him again. He watched, grave as they complied. The cargo crashed into the water. He thought of the silks floating, ruined, like the dresses of drowned women amongst the dross and wreckage of conquering, the bodies already bloated from the heat. It was not all their cargo, but it was still a heavy loss, but he did not think of that. But soon the events turned, so fast they seemed to blend together. The people began to pour onto the ship. Rescued from the waters, from the edge of the harbor. Other ships closed their doors, but he wouldn't, whatever the consequences.
They clung to each other, crying and shaking from cold. Under the soot he couldn't tell if they were Greek, Armenian, Egyptian, Jewish or Turkish, but it did not matter. A refugee was a refugee, and that was all that mattered.
Honda surveyed this, and gave orders as was needed. His crew was as efficient as a machine as they brought the waterlogged, half-dead refugees aboard.
"We're getting full, Honda-san," Naoto said quietly.
"Just a few more," Honda said. "It is the least we can do, since the Allied forces have seen it fit to do nothing."
They saved one from the water, and it was only Honda's downward turned gaze that noticed this one. He had stayed back to allow several others aboard first, but had slipped into unconsciousness by the time they reached him. He was laid out on the deck, limp, cold and wet.
"He isn't breathing," Naoto said. "I think, Honda-san that this one..."
The man looked like a statue of a Greek god, like Adonis. His curly hair was plastered to his face, and his coat and pants waterlogged and soot-covered, and yet it did not hide how strong he was. It seemed a shame for something – someone so beautiful to die. Honda bent before him and with the help of Naoto – for the wet clothes made him very heavy, pushed him to his side, and compressed his chest. He listened for something, any sound to hint that he was still alive. His mind was clouded with panic for the first time since he had come across the burning. He remembered an old tale his grandmother had told him about fishermen giving life from their lips, shared breaths. It had been instituted by a monk, apparently, and kept alive among the fisherman and those who had almost drowned. Pushing aside the thought that the first attempt to get the water from his lungs resembled the embrace of a lover, Honda lowered his mouth until it touched with the other man's. How had it gone again? Pinch the nose shut. Open his mouth. Share breath. He listed off each one mechanically, in a detached, frozen manner. His mouth tasted of salt. Honda strived to push air into his lungs, his mind racing and wondering if he had done it in the wrong order.
He did it again, and again, pressing on his chest, willing him to breathe.
"Honda-san, I don't think..."
Then he was gasping, coughing up water, and Honda felt a surge of relief. He was alive.
The man's eyes were green, and looked straight up at him. Dazed. Confused. His lips parted in a groan, and he stirred. His head lolled to the side and he moaned. For a moment Honda thought he might empty his stomach, but whatever came across him passed.
"You're safe now," Honda said in his own native tongue. It was the natural impulse to him, for of course the man couldn't understand him. His hands were still balanced on the man's chest. Lingering. Now that the man was alive, his mind noted the firm feel of that chest. He pulled them away, and shook his hands as if to free himself from grimy water and salt. In truth, it was to try and dislodge the tingling feeling.
It'd been too long since he last had a man. At home waited his duties: a suitable girl met via o-miai, a family to build, his place in society to secure. The noose of the life he was expected to live was tightening. It was surely this childish desire to live rebelliously that made him want to cling on to any man, if only to reaffirm the feeling of being held in strong arms.
The man got up, but wobbled as he did so, and Honda reached to balance him as he did. He allowed the passenger to lean on him, even as he was larger than him, and quite a bit heavier. He moved like a drunken man, stumbling along as Honda guided him to be where the other passengers had been grouped. It was a cargo ship, not a luxury liner. The hold had been freed of other cargo, but as it was, there weren't nearly enough beds to go around. They were packed close together, children crying, some women crying in what Honda assumed was relief – or simply a venting of feelings, their sadness their loss.
He helped the man down to a seating position near the stairs to the deck.
Dirty seawater had drenched his white jacket, probably ruining it for good. He thought no matter how many times it was washed, there'd always be the smell of smoke and death, salt and murky water as his last gift from Smyrna.
There were still more refugees, and yet there was no more room to be had. As of now, they were overloaded, any more would require them to throw off food supplies, which were not quite as expendable as their cargo had been.
Honda left feeling profoundly tired. He and his crew had done all they could and more to help the victims of Smyrna. He only hoped the other Allied ships would do the same as it grew worse, as the fugitives from the burning city grew more desperate. He did not have faith in this; the burning of Smyrna had shaken his faith in his fellow man, and he had a feeling as he left behind the burning city, that it would only become more horrific as the days went on.
For a short while, it was pandemonium. People being ushered below deck, the thick smoke in the distance, and the screams still lingering in their mind. Honda thought those sounds would never quite fade. It was Piraeus they were headed to, a place where they would be at least for the moment, safer.
Unlike the other ships with higher orders, his was merely a cargo ship, and did not have to wait for messages from Constantinople, or face recrimination from their superiors for breaking neutrality.
The crew and himself did everything they could to make that trip go as smoothly as possible. Passengers on luxury cruises didn't have the attention, the care that they gave. What little they had, they shared. The people, despite everything that had happened to them, were grateful.
The below deck reeked of stale smoke and the murky harbor waters. The smoke clung to them, until they exuded it from every pore. They smelled like death, and the death of the city as it had imploded in on itself, flames rising higher.
They mingled, grateful and touchy in the way of westerners that tended to so disturb the crewmen, and himself. Ishida and Yamato were younger, more gregarious and outgoing, so that they could laugh with these war-torn people even through it all. Honda, however had never gotten used to this habit. He avoided touch, and casual affection seemed like an invasion.
But as they navigated through the islands towards Piraeus, the questions lingered on in his mind. Why? How?
It was not something he could simply let rest. It was a job he could have gotten another to do, should have gotten another to do, but he wished to hear it directly, and not diluted from each telling from person to person, details changed and forgotten with time.
He found the man in a corner, curled up like a cat. Honda almost left him then, left this foolishness to an underling, but he woke from his daze. Honda was not entirely fluent in Greek, and what he did know centered around the price of silks, of lace and china and spices. He tried in English, which he was reasonably fluent in.
"Do you speak English?" He said. It was heavily accented. His family had always been adverse to him learning as a child.
"Yes. Thank you for saving me..."
"I am glad you are safe," Honda said.
"My name...is Stavros Karpusi..." The man said.
He too had an issue with English, it seemed. Each word was accented and paused, as if he had to think each one over.
"I am the captain here."
He felt reluctant to give Karpusi his name, as if hearing his name pronounced on Karpusi's lips would change everything. He shook this anxiety off. These thoughts were foolish.
"But, your name..." Karpusi prompted.
"Honda," he said.
"Honda..." He seemed to linger over the name, as if he were tasting the way it sounded on his tongue. "Honda."
His accent made the name sound strange on his tongue. No, not strange. Exotic.
"Please, tell me what happened, Karpusi-san," Honda said. "At least, if it is not too painful for you."
Karpusi unraveled the tale to him. He had woken up to smoke, and burning, from where he had been napping in a courtyard in the Greek community. Others, perhaps had looked up from their washing, their selling and simply living to find the city in flames.
The Greek soldiers already had pulled out, battered and tired, with no hint of the first joyous cheers at the start, the thoughts of reclaiming Constantinople, and what was lost to them. The richer had fled, while the poorer groups had awaited their fates.
He told of stories he had heard, atrocities he had seen: the story of how the bishop Chrysostomos had been pulled into the streets by a mob, his eyes gouged out, his beard torn off, his nose and ears sliced off and stabbed again and again; a church burned with five-hundred refugees in it that he had heard from one of the women and then the twisting stories of the horrors that befell the Armenians that he had overheard, or things he had witnessed himself.
This was the way of war, the way of the conquered.
They were pushed to the waters, herded towards their deaths just as the Armenians of the past had been herded into the deserts and lonely roads to be slaughtered. He stepped over trampled, charred bodies, their faces warped in pain and fear. These images would never leave him, and they were now too stuck in Honda's mind, even if he had never witnessed them.
Who had caused the fire? The Turks? Karpusi certainly thought so. His gentle expression turned hateful as he talked about the Turks. He often lapsed into Greek, and with the way he spat out the words, they must have been vile curses. His hands balled into fists. He was made almost unrecognizable by this blind hate.
He said the word Turk itself as if it was the most blasphemous, vulgar word ever created. Through this all, Honda kept quiet and simply listened to the at times rambling monologue of what had happened. When it finally came to a close, Honda shifted.
"I am sorry for your loss...and to have to ask it of you to retell and recall those events," Honda said.
"No...this must be remembered. And I'm glad you worked so hard to save me. One of the women told me that you saved me personally..."
Honda flushed despite himself. He felt embarrassed then, his attempts to get Karpusi to breathe resembled a kiss.
"It is nothing," Honda said. "I am...glad to be able to help where I could in this disaster."
"It isn't nothing to me. I owe you my life now." Karpusi. smiled then. His whole face, usually languid, and drawn in a perpetual sleepy, half-lidded daze lit up when he smiled.
If there was a precise moment when it happened, in truth, it would be the first moment their lips met to salt and the waters of Smyrna, or perhaps, the first moment Honda decided he would not let Karpusi die, no matter what the costs. But this was the second, the denial breaking moment that made him unable to simply brush this off as nerves, as lust, or a result of fear.
After that moment, something inside him gave in. He would fight this part of him, but everything past this was inevitable.
The trip to Piraeus had gone smoothly as of yet. Honda, however, was not quite so calm. For the past few nights, he'd had dreams of Karpusi. They would start out innocently enough, but would eventually turn to the salty taste of Karpusi's lips that first time, and those wet clothes removed to reveal his body.
The dreams had left him on edge, but more than that, the merest contact with Karpusi left him aware of the distance between their bodies and with a distinct desire to close that distance. His hands tightened at the door. He knew Karpusi would be looking his way. He could feel his gaze at his back, hot, enticing, quietly willing him to return the gaze. They were like this, stealing glances from across the room: Karpusi's half-lidded, dreamy and unsubtle; Honda's guilty, forbidden and peripheral where each glimpse was treasured. There was a soft, downy hair at the back of his hands, freckles across his arms, little white scars which held secrets in each one.
They were drawn together as if some outside force, gravity, or Eros' arrow had caught them.
He closed the door behind him and drank in the solitude. He sipped his tea with a shaky hand. He was reminded of his father's dark mutterings of the westernization of their country. His mother had been all too quick to agree that westernization was eating their culture away, and that they should stick to their native ways, lest they die out to this new seduction. He had voiced agreement to them, but his own thoughts had been more clouded.
It was odd that these two things met together: Karpusi and the thought of the sudden westernization of Japan that had begun ever since the Meiji era. His father remembered the isolationism, even treasured the time when they were closed so tight against other influences.
And to think, he'd one day man a ship. A part of him had always rebelled silently against the isolationist ways he had been raised with. It was a quiet revolution, one given politely, with lies for masks.
And yet, he had always craved other shores, other places...other men.
He couldn't stop watching him. The way he moved captivated Honda. Everything about him had an electric, magnetic draw to him. It was embarrassing how he couldn't wait to see hints of him, or how he found himself looking for ways to meet him and talk to him.
It was like a schoolboy's crush, and he was hardly a schoolboy any longer. He was too old for such fits of passion.
He thought with relief and apprehension that their destination would soon be reached, and this would soon pass. He did not see over the releasing of the refugees, for he had a report to begin to write.
Greece was already nearly bankrupt with its wars, and yet these were its people, or at least some of them were. Honda personally saw to the release of the refugees. He thought it odd that he had not seen Karpusi, nor said his goodbyes, but there were crowds he could easily get lost in. Besides, at one point, he had been called away, and Karpusi could have been in the number at that time.
Honda strained to see over the crowd, yet he couldn't see Karpusi there. He felt unsure, a mixture of relief that he could go back to his life without the weight of his attraction towards Karpusi constantly twisting inside him, and yet, there was a dull ache in his chest.
He wondered if Karpusi had missed him then, and regretted the chance they had never gotten to say goodbye. As much as he tried to press it aside, the thought remained, coming up at odd moments when he was in the middle of giving commands that he the memory of the way Karpusi could nap nearly anywhere, like a cat, and the way he would sit down so deep in thought, looking like The Thinker , only cast in flesh and not stone.
And he would pause, lips parted and have to remind himself where he was, what he was doing. And he would shake his head and murmur an apology before continuing.
He wondered how much his life would be like this. It hadn't even been a day and he was already grieving for the loss of something he never had.
It was almost twelve hours after leaving Piraeus that a groggy stowaway came out of the lower decks. When Honda looked at him, it was like looking at a ghost. He dropped the pen to the floor he had been using. It rattled and rolled to Karpusi's feet. He picked it up and held it for a while as he looked about him.
Karpusi rubbed at his head. "It's empty around here..."
"Everyone else has been delivered to Piraeus," Honda said softly. "We can't turn back at this rate. Too much time would be lost. When we arrive at the next port, we'll secure you a safe passage home."
Karpusi shook his head. "No... I don't have a family any longer..."
He trailed off. Honda saw a trace of regret in his expression. He must have seen so much blood already. Compassion stirred in him.
"When we reach Japan, I will send you wherever you want – America, or Australia, other parts of Europe...wherever you want. I will pay for your tickets myself, so please do not worry," Honda said gravely.
Karpusi nodded slowly.
"All right. Thank you."
He couldn't tell if it was relief of apprehension he felt. Maybe parts of both, intertwined together.
"Would...would you like to have tea with me until then? It must have been a long time since you last ate. You must be famished," Honda said.
Karpusi followed Honda into his quarters.
He lifted his teacup to his mouth and tried to focus on his memories of tea ceremony. What he wanted was order, and that was what Karpusi was taking away from him. His mother had always had an obsession with keeping order, and the keeping of traditions.
He was an only child. In an odd reversal of fortunes, his mother mourned the lack of a daughter, and passed on the traditions to him. How to tie the female obi; ikebana; the art of obedience.
(Sometimes he wondered if this was why he craved the companionship of men. And yet, something within him seemed to differ. It seemed as if it had been something that had dawned from his earliest hour, even to the youngest memories came hints and histories of the beginnings of infatuations, of love's first beginnings.)
"Karpusi-san, if you please, can you tell me a story..."
"If it is not too much to ask, I wish to know more about your culture."
An excuse, though not entirely a lie. He wanted to know about culture, yes, but it was culture through Karpusi's eyes, told in his voice which fascinated him.
"No, it's not too much to ask," Karpusi said. "Where should I begin?"
"The beginning, of course."
To ask someone like Karpusi to start from the beginning was a dangerous thing. So he began in his sleepy monotone, a story of how the world started.
This story didn't start with iin the beginning./I It started with night. Night black wings of a bird. This bird laid on a golden egg for an endless space of time. Karpusi gave extra detail to Nyx, mother of Hypnos, his favorite god. He told of her night-black wings, so dark and deep the outline was lost in the negative space of dreamless sleep.
He told of how one day, a crack appeared in the egg. It began to stir with life. From it hatched love, this was the first creation. The golden broken shell fell below, rose above. From that egg was born Gaea and Uranous: Earth and Sky. He stopped the flow of the story to expand on what Nyx must've felt at that moment. When he continued and the gentle prompting of Honda, it was to tell of the merging.
Those three combined. Love brought together Gaea and Uranous. The sky and earth were completely connected in coitus. Everything was dark between their bodies. Their sweat was like dew, damp over the body of the earth. He was so frank in this part that Honda even felt a faint blush rise to his cheeks. If Karpusi noticed, he didn't mention it.
And Karpusi told of their children: Rhea, Helios, and Kronos, as others but it was Kronos who would be their undoing.
It was their children who pushed them apart, and set them where they are today. Hung among the stars, cast across the lands. Uranous' crown, his life and even manhood was taken from him, only to start a cycle as the Titans were overthrown by the gods.
History was a series of overthrowing and being overthrown. Many ages of humans went by: Gold, silver, bronze, iron.
But then, there were always variations. Every story had multiple tellings, each grew to become its own being when told by another person. This was only one way it was told. Karpusi noted this, going into details of translations and different accounts that Honda didn't quite get, but he politely agreed with.
Honda had listened intently, never interrupting. Karpusi was an eloquent storyteller. He loved the calming sound of his voice. He felt as if he could be lulled to sleep.
"I wonder what she thought about," Karpusi said.
"Nyx. The bird of night," Karpusi said.
"But there was nothing, so what could she have thought about?"
"I think she must have thought about a lot of things..." Karpusi said. "About what things would be if they existed. Maybe she even thought them into being...had the Oneiroi tell people through their dreams when they existed."
He had a far away look. When he spoke again, it wasn't of creation myths, but of flames.
"In Smyrna...Ashes were falling...it made me think of Pompeii. People were encased where they slept, turned to living statues in a moment's time.
Honda didn't know what comfort he could offer. Condolences seemed hollow in the face of such a tragedy. So he touched Karpusi's arm in a gesture of comfort, a very bold move for him, though Karpusi surely didn't know the significance.
He looked down at where Honda's hand touched as if he were studying the bones in his hand.
"Tell me your story?" Karpusi asked.
"My story?" Honda said.
"The story of your gods," Karpusi said.
"It is a bit different than yours..."
And so he began the tale he had read in schoolbooks, and heard from his own elders. He told of the unity, of how life was not separate. Heaven and earth were mixed together. Fire and water, air and ether. It was one seed. His was more terse, a less fanciful telling than Karpusi's, but still a telling.
He told of the dark oceans, and how from them arose a reed. It grew, little by little through the swirling chaos, reaching towards the skies. When it reached the heavens, it turned into a slender god who rose up on thin limbs and felt the aloneness weighing down upon him. This god, in turn created more gods: Ame-no-Minaka-Nushi-no-Mikoto and Takami-Musubi-no-Mikoto, Kammi-Musubi-no-Mikoto and finally, Izanagi and Izanami.
One story said it was a giant carp that made a tidal wave that created the islands. Another said that Izanagi and Izanami stirred the ocean with a jeweled spear. They created the first island, made from the mud at the bottom of the sea as a potter would. They built a pillar, and strode across the sandy beaches, building as they went on. From the mire they created creatures, molded lovingly, and greenery to feed them.
This was how the world began, but it was nowhere near the rest of the story. There was still the story of how rain came to be, of thunder, of the disintegration of Izanagi and Izanami. But those were continuations of the first thread, the first story of how life came to be. His teacup was empty. The story done.
"That isn't all, but that finishes the first part of the beginning," Honda said.
"Stories never finish," Karpusi said. "They only end for the night...for that telling."
Honda didn't allow himself to seek out Karpusi too often. If they came across each other by chance, then that was acceptable. He still took meals, and yet he rationed the time he spent with Karpusi, lest someone suspect.
Karpusi was out looking at the sky. The sea breeze teased his hair. He leaned over the deck, his olive skin across the railing.
Honda had been going to fetch Naoto to discuss something with him, but he paused.
"Please be careful to not fall over, Karpusi-san," Honda said.
"I won't. I'm used to boats," he said. "I have good balance..."
"I see," Honda said.
"You must miss your wife and children," Karpusi said conversationally. He turned around so that he was leaning on the side of the ship, and looking at Honda in a searching manner.
"I am afraid I have none," Honda said. "Only my parents, who are getting on in years."
"I see," Karpusi said. "I'm sorry."
But he didn't sound particularly sorry, even a worn social ritual as it was. He sounded almost...relieved? Honda refused to let himself dwell on the minute details.
"No, no...it is something I intend to rectify when I return home," Honda said. "It is...time I get started on such things before I am too old. My mother has been wanting me to get married for years, but I was too busy with work."
He had kept himself busy. Driven himself. Hadn't that been it deep down, a way to keep himself from the inevitable?
Karpusi gave him a sideways glance. "You don't look that old."
"Looks are deceiving, Karpusi-san."
"You can't be older than twenty-eight," Karpusi said. One eye was closed, as if he were looking through a scope at some precious stone.
"I assure you, I'm quite a bit older than that. But that is unimportant. As it is...please come inside, it is time to eat."
Karpusi followed him in.
He sat cross-legged as he ate. He sat down in close proximity. Honda, who was used to barriers and distance felt slightly taken aback. It was a mere difference in culture.
Honda had a feeling that they could tell the entirety of each other's history and still have more to discuss. Talking about this was a good distraction, and distancing method.
This was how they began: hands almost touching, a hesitant threaded thought after the beginning of the world each from two different cultures and lands, each chronicling an unknowable event.
"What story do you want to hear next?" Karpusi said.
"You. Yours," Honda said. He said it shyly. He would usually not be so blunt , verging on rude, but something within him yearned to know more about Karpusi. He couldn't help himself.
"I was a philosophy student... I wasn't raised in Smyrna, but I came here to be with family members before the war started...they didn't survive."
"I'm sorry to bring it up," Honda said.
"No...I don't want to forget them. Even if it hurts."
"What about you?" Karpusi asked.
"There is not much to tell about me. I was raised in a respectable household from a good family. We did not originate in shipping; this was my own doing. As you already know, I am an only child. I'm afraid my story isn't particularly interesting."
"No," Karpusi murmured. "You're wrong. I find you very interesting..."
Honda blushed. Just like some schoolgirl. He did not know how to respond. He cleared his throat.
"You know...I was born the day our countries became friends. I've always thought that was significant somehow. I think I finally understand..."
Karpusi's gaze focused on him in a way that made Honda feel naked. Not in the physical sense, but in the sense that every hidden fear, dream or aspiration could be pulled to light by Karpusi.
He cleared his throat. "I have some duties to attend to, you must excuse me..."
He left. It was terribly rude to flee like that, walk out on the way he felt giddy just to hear his voice, the softening of the resolve, of everything inside him.
He found Naoto and asked for details he already knew and sifted through papers that were already sifted.
When he finally returned to his room, it was empty. The giddy feeling had fallen, and now his chest felt weighed down, as if it were filled with stones. He hoped Karpusi would forgive this rudeness.
He didn't see him again until the last grips of dusk had receded from the horizon, and the sky had turned dark with velvety night. He hadn't seen Karpusi at dinner, which worried him in both
for Karpusi's health and whether he had taken the abrupt leave poorly.
He was leaning against the rails again, his gaze upwards. Honda came close, wishing to touch him to politely get his attention and not startle him, risking sending him overboard – wishing simply to touch him.
"I didn't see you at dinner," Honda said.
"I was sleeping," Karpusi said.
"I will have the cook make something for you," Honda said.
If Karpusi had been one of his underlings, Honda would have reprimanded him, but he wasn't, and Honda was too filled with relief that Karpusi didn't feel snubbed to give even a gentle reprimand.
"Thank you," Karpusi said. He was distracted, looking up to the stars above. Honda looked too, wondering what had so fascinated him.
He pointed up to each and every one, and named them. Each was steeped in Greek mythology: Pegasus, Orion, Cassiopeia, Pisces. He would guide Honda's vision with his outstretched hand in the dim light, and tell the story of each.
"You know a lot about the stars, Karpusi-san."
"I was studying the past. Mythology, philosophy...things like that."
Karpusi fell quiet. In the dark Honda couldn't see his face, and he was turned away from the lantern on the deck.
"Is something the matter?"
"A memory..." Karpusi said.
Honda waited, but Karpusi did not immediately respond.
Karpusi brushed the back of his hand over Honda's lips. Knuckles, fingers, skin.
"I didn't tell you the whole truth...I was part of the army..."
He looked out to the sea. Waves splish-sploshed against the hull. Reassuring thoughts came to mind: It is understandable, you must have been through much. He didn't say any of them.
Karpusi continued on, in his languid voice.
"We marched and burned the cities and towns as we went. Men I'd known for most of my life, friends I'd played with as a child I saw them kill and rape and then burn everything beyond them. I never raped anyone, though..."
Karpusi gripped the railing, hard. Honda didn't know what to say to this. Perhaps Karpusi only wanted someone to listen, wherein his words would be extraneous, unwarranted. As it was, there was little he say that would be consoling in the face of the horrors Karpusi had seen.
"I detest the Turks...But it all seemed so distant when I was studying. The rape of the Sabines, the wars...it was nothing like seeing someone I grew up with raping a Turkish girl, and then go back to the same old jokester I'd always known by dinner. I couldn't do anything...I froze up and just watched as he raped her. His face was so monstrous, and she kept crying and crying...she killed herself afterwards...Ares is a cruel god to follow. I stayed only so I could see Smyrna that first time. I would have deserted much earlier, otherwise... All that beauty is gone now, though..."
Karpusi turned, and moved so quickly, Honda barely processed what was happening. A blink, and Karpusi was touching him. His hands gripped Honda's cheeks and he pulled him close until their lips met. It was a desperate kiss, as if in that moment, Karpusi needed touch, and comfort the way drowning men need air. It was sensual, like nothing Honda had ever felt before. His mind was swimming, and all the desire looping inside him, warm and light. When he came up for air, Karpusi just stayed there, only a breath away, his hands cradling Honda's face.
For a span of time neither said anything, and there was just the sound of the waves on the hull, the rocking, and their breathing.
"I guess I should apologize, but I can't...I've wanted to do that for a while," Karupusi said.
Honda was still trying to catch his breath. Karpusi's hands were rough against his cheeks. He slowly brought his hands to cover Karpusi's, and nuzzled into the touch.
"You know...It wasn't a mistake; I didn't oversleep," he said. "I was a stowaway...I did this because I wanted to."
"You've been through so much, Karpusi-san. I'm very sorry for this," Honda began. It sounded so insignificant compared to what Karpusi had been through.
"No...I wanted to be where you were. You've been watching me...and I felt it, a connection between us. I owe you my life, remember?"
Honda's breath caught. He wasn't in love with Karpusi, he reminded himself. He was in passion. Karpusi was handsome, and Honda had been starving for the feel of a man. Love didn't blossom instantaneously. This was pure out and out, foolish lust. A schoolboy's infatuation.
That was all.
And yet, one last fling, one last time in the strong arms of a man, relishing in giving up the power and becoming the passive partner.
"I barely know you," he whispered.
And yet every part of him craved Karpusi. He didn't just crave to bed Karpusi, he craved to be iknown/I by him in the deepest sense. Whenever Karpusi looked at him, it felt like layer after layer of lies was being stripped away.
"You were willing to put everything on the line...for us...for me. I don't need to know more than that," Karpusi said. He brought his hand to his mouth and kissed the knuckles, the back of his hand, his palm and wrist. Unlike the desperation of the first kiss, these were gentle, like a fallen leaf brushing against his skin. The usual feeling of drawing back from touch was still there, and yet it was drowned out by how good the touches felt, by how much he wanted them.
"You should...It's too open here, someone might see. You should come to somewhere more secluded," Honda said with far more calmness than he actually felt. "...like my quarters."
They returned to his quarters where they had told the beginning of the world from two lands, where they had begun between the stories that meshed together. Two cultures, two people, two.
He closed and locked the door behind him. Karpusi leaned down and their mouths met again in a searing heat. This time it was closer, with Karpusi's body pressed directly against his own. He slipped his hands under Karpusi's shirt, feeling the strength of him, his fingers passing over scars rough beneath his skin and sinew and muscle. He was firm and hard and lean, and everything that Honda had been starving for.
Karpusi pulled back from the kiss and wove his fingers thorough Honda's hair. "It's so dark..." Karpusi murmured. "Like ink...or night..."
Honda had never though his hair noteworthy before. A bowl cut of dark, straight black hair. It wasn't even that soft, more sleek and thick than fine.
Truth be told, there wasn't much Honda considered noteworthy about himself in that respect. He was a hard worker, he was dedicated and loyal. He did not consider himself handsome, nor hideous. Looks faded, they were a finite treasure.
But Karpusi found him appealing, he knew. His thin, unnoteworthy body had somehow captured Karpusi's eye.
He closed his eyes and let Karpusi guide him. Karpusi never assumed. Even his touches were another way of gently asking for Honda's approval. Honda accepted him, accepted the touch he had so often avoided, and whatever fate he was damning them to by taking this chance.
Karpusi was talkative after sex. It would take some time to get there, however. He would nap almost immediately, barely remembering to roll off. But when he woke, he was full of more stories to tell. Often their foreplay was littered with these stories, which Karpusi would tell to him in-between slow, unhurried kisses.
Karpusi whispered about Greek gods: Zeus in all his lasciviousness, his thousands of affairs and children; Hera, his jealous and violent wife, the goddess of families and wives, the home, and every other Olympian in loving detail. He told of the wisdom of Plato, of the world of illusion, the Republic, the last days of Socrates. He told of winged horses, of tragic, torrid love affairs in the same sleepy, undramatized monotone. He'd trace over Honda's chest as he did. The warmth of his breath cascading over his skin. His kisses left faint moisture, and bruises in their wake. Little purple love marks left just under his uniform, where no one else could see.
If Honda had hoped that the stories would allow for closeness without actual intimacy, he was sorely mistaken. Each new myth was told so lovingly that it felt like an endearment from Karpusi's lips.
And then he'd speak of fire. The kind of fire that devoured his house, his beloved books and all the life he had known before this. The fire of mythical birds who burnt themselves and rose from the ashes.
Feathers of flames. A song to the sun god, a bird claimed by many nations. The name it was most known by, however, was Greek.
He spoke of rape: Turkish men dragging women off after Smyrna was taken, the march of the Greek army, and the burned places left behind them, the gods taking their lovers in the forms of swans or bulls, and showers of gold. He told these stories simultaneously, twisted together, often lapsing into each other, until the Turks seemed indiscernible from the monsters the heros killed. The Greek Army was another face, Janus with his two faces. Karpusi too, seemed unable to tell them apart. To him, the Turks all were Gorgons and with secret snake heads hidden under turbans and masks, and yet the Greek Army which he had been a part of also had a secret, silvered tongue.
He began to speak of Smyrna. He talked of it as one would a lover. His face lit up as he spoke of its beauties. It had once been a proud city in ancient times, and had been destroyed, only to be rebuilt again. He spoke of the scent of oleander trees, of the taste of almonds and fruit – there was always fruit to be had of many kinds, so much that everyone subsisted on fruit, even the poorest. He recalled the ripe figs and dates, the wisteria growing, by where he lived where he often slept in the shade. He had only lived there a short time, and yet it felt more at home than the busy streets of Athens or Piraeus ever had.
A land which had many, many, many generations ago, been a city of amazons and Greek heroes.
It was a colorful place, with so many cultures and dress intermixed. He could wander for days simply watching life go by. The Egyptians, the Jews, the Levantines, the Armenians, the Greeks the Turks, all their differences woven together in colorful threads.
When in season, rose petals were gathered, and the scent was rich in the air. Rose syrup was in the pasties of the rich, the cultured, the Levantine.
Smyrna had been the jewel of Anatolia, and now it was ashes and rubble. He grieved for the city, and what had become of it like one would a lover.
Here they were, in some dark corner where someone could come in at any moment. Like teenagers. The lack of decorum, of propriety, the sheer dirtiness and forbiddenness of it only made it sweeter. Above, Honda could only wonder what fate would befall him when he returned, having exchanged the precious cargo worth thousands for the lives of Greeks and Armenians.
Here, it was nothing but the act itself, nothing but the stories Karpusi wove for him. It was comfort to be stripped down so bare, where the lies he had built for himself and called a life were not there to haunt him.
They kept their polite distance in the day. Occasional talks should they come across each other. Shared meals in the way of a polite host to a guest. The way Karpusi said his name in itself was like a confession.
He began to learn the language.
It started with small exchanges. It started playfully, as Karpusi whispered Iglóssa/I as he licked
"What does that mean?" Honda asked.
Karpusi stuck out his tongue.
"No, no. Simply shita. Aishita is 'day'."
Karpusi came close and simply watched him with such an affectionate look. Honda felt his stomach lurch at the constant thought, the possibility that this could end – that they would go their separate ways.
And yet time, with all its betrayals, only brought them closer to the end.
The Mediterranean and its clear, pristine waters was long gone. They had sailed past ancient cities, and now neared closer and closer to his homeland.
Everything was uncertain now. Honda was so tense he felt as if he would snap in two. It was only around Karpusi that he could relax.
"You've been unhappy lately..." Karpusi said. He brushed his hand over Honda's forehead. He gave him that look , the gentle, tender glance that Honda felt himself confessing to, opening up to despite his reserve.
"It's merely affairs of my post that is bothering me. Please don't worry on my account."
"Is it because of the cargo?" Karpusi asked.
"That and many other things," Honda said.
"...Is it me?" Karpusi said.
Honda tried to find the right lie of decorum to fit, and yet Karpusi's gaze was so deep that he couldn't. He sighed.
"Partly," he admitted.
"We'll run away..." Karpusi said. "To somewhere they'll never find us."
He held Honda's face in his hands. A gentle caress. His hands were coarse against his cheeks. Hands that spoke of memories of bloodshed, of Greek Fire and guns.
Karpusi called it 'fire from heaven.'
"Remember the phoenix...? We'll rise from the ashes."
"What are you saying, Karpusi?"
"I'm saying we can be together," he said.
He could leave his life behind. He could be happy. He could let the lies fall away, cut ropes to the wood floor.
It was crazy.
"This is absurd," Honda protested. "We can't just... leave."
He'd felt more alive in this short time with Karpusi than he could ever remember. And yet, to give everything up for love was a foolish notion only the young would follow. He was hardly young. What if Karpusi tired of him? What would he have then? There was no solidity in this plan. No promise of a socially accepted family to return to, of the honor that had bound his every movement since birth. He would be broken from the rigid codes, free to the wind, where anything could happen.
It was terrifying and thrilling all at once.
"I...I have a family," Honda said. "I have a job, I have duties–"
"I love you," Karpusi said.
"People do foolish things for love," Honda said, his voice veering towards desperation. "I can't just throw all this away–"
"And what will you do then?"
What would he do when he explained to his superiors that he had thrown away their precious cargo? When he couldn't go through with marrying some nice girl to fulfill his filial duty? Just the thought made him sick to his stomach with anxiety.
"I don't know. I...will deal. It is my lot."
"It doesn't have to be," Karpusi said. "There's a Greek myth. It says that people used to have four arms, four legs, two heads. But the gods broke them apart. Now people spend their lives looking for that other part of themselves."
Karpusi was a dreamer. That's why he felt. Someone who was stuck in the past.
And yet, Honda craved dreams. He craved an escape. He lusted after foolishness and disorder. Hadn't it always been like this? Even as his family craved isolation, he was looking for the myths of other lands to sustain him.
"There's something like that where I come from. A story about red string," Honda said softly. "But leaving things up to fate...it's foolishness, pure foolishness."
Karpusi embraced him from behind. He kissed his back.
His body betrayed his logic, his cynicism. Was this the inevitability of the fate he denied? He thought about the life he'd live when he reached his homeland. The marriage he would come into with clipped sentences. The poor woman he'd treat politely, yet have no feelings for. The children he'd look on with distance, and a sense of disconnection. As if he should feel fulfillment, and pride, yet only felt a sense of emptiness.
He wanted dreams. And yet...
"We can't just live on myths, Karpusi-san."
"The world doesn't have to be so harsh. You don't just have to submit; there's a choice."
A choice. He felt Karpusi's lips against him. The scent, the feel and heat of him was clouding his judgment.
"I will... I will go with you, Karpusi-san... If you will have me."
"Of course I'll have you," Karpusi said. "I've been waiting for you all this time, I just didn't realize it until I met you."
Karpusi was prone to saying such broad, romantic things. Honda felt his face heat, cynicism curling in his veins. And yet, he knew Karpusi believed this, that they had been meant to come across each other that day, that their lives were inexorably linked.
When Karpusi put it with such passion, Honda couldn't help but believe it too.
Honda wasted little time in putting the plan to action. They would not be able to take much more than the clothes on their backs, but he could at the very least sneak away some money to sustain them a little while. Not as much as he would have liked, however. He felt tense as he gave orders, and played the part of the good son, the good captain. It felt as if he had shed his skin, and now wore the husk of what he once was over himself, as a mask.
Finally the day came. Karpusi was not the only accomplice to this, as he needed someone he trusted, someone within the men who would take his duties when he was gone. Naoto was who he chose to be his partner in this charade. He had not become his second-in-command for nothing.
When the night had grown dark, and most of the men had gone to sleep, except for the bare bones night watch, he brought forth the plan into action. Karpusi sat on the bed. He had convinced Honda to let him stay, not out of curiosity, but concern.
He had chosen Naoto as his second-in-command not only for his dutiful, hardworking nature, or his discreetness. Naoto shared the same proclivities as himself. Unlike Honda, Naoto had done the acceptable thing and married, had children and kept his excursions discreet. They never spoke of this, but there was a mutual knowledge, an understanding between them.
Honda brought out his sword and unsheathed it. Honda held the sword up. If he focused, he could see a blurry reflection in the blade. It was ceremonial, something he had never used and kept only on his father's insistence, to infuse in him the memories of all the ancestors past, and perhaps, remind him of what land he paid his loyalty to, lest he become too westernized.
"You will explain to my family?" Honda said. "And the company? They will understand that I have...paid my dues?"
"Yes," Naoto said. "I will tell them."
Karpusi rose, surprisingly fast, given his usual languid nature. He wrested the blade from him with such ease, as if he were taking a stick from a young child. He drew it across his arm, a deep gash. Scarlet blood flowed free from the wound, dripping down to the floor.
"I didn't want you hurting yourself..." Karpusi said.
Honda could only stare at the wounds, at Karpusi there, holding the bloody sword. He had hated violence, Honda knew. Karpusi had told him the living nightmare that had been the war for him. And yet, he took this calmly. He had read the situation without a word of explanation given to him. Or perhaps he had studied it in his university, somewhere between the myths of his ancestors.
"Where should I put the blood?" Karpusi asked. Honda pointed to his stomach, and Karpusi rubbed his wounded arm across, impervious to the pain.
"There needs to be some across the neck as well," Naoto said.
Before Honda could stop him, he cut his other arm. He spread the blood around Honda's neck, and Honda felt it, warm and sticky against him. His cheeks were spattered with drops of blood. Karpusi's blood, given so he wouldn't be hurt. There was only the faintest change in his expression to hint at the pain, made even worse by the friction against his clothing.
Karpusi stared at his bloodied hands and arms, his face becoming distant. It must have brought back some memory of the fire, or his time in the war.
Honda cupped his cheeks like Karpusi had first done to him, but more hesitantly. He was aware of Naoto's presence, and yet he ignored it. Their foreheads brushed together as they stayed for that moment, bloodied and
"We should get you cleaned up," he murmured. "I don't want you fainting from bloodloss."
A gash this deep would leave scars, but Karpusi already had many scars.
"I've had worse wounds," Karpusi said. But he complied as Honda ripped his shirt and made a makeshift tourniquet.
Honda turned to Naoto, feeling even a little abashed by this display. "Thank you for everything. I apologize for my cowardice."
Was it wistfulness, even regret he saw in Naoto's eyes? He couldn't quite tell.
"I will take care of your family and your ship," Naoto said.
"Thank you," Honda said again.
"Live for me," Naoto said, so quietly Honda almost didn't hear him. But he did catch it, above the waves, and the sounds of the ship.
"I will," Honda said.
Phase two had begun.
The waves stirred at night. There was no moon. Honda had recently reported a lifeboat as 'lost'. There was two, and Naoto promised to get another one as soon as possible, so Honda did not allow himself much guilt. He'd tied it off a small buoy.
They sunk beneath the waves like a pair of lovers drowning together. Two lover's suicide between them, their hands clasped as they went under.
He worried that the bandages would get infected, even if he didn't have time to worry.
They climbed up to the lifeboat, paddling away as quietly as they could towards shore. They could have gotten lost in that night, alone with only the inky blackness and each other. They could have died for real, for that was a possibility traveling something as mercurial as the sea.
But oh, they were free. No chains, no lies. Just each other.
Karpusi's hand would seek out his whenever the panic rose, instinctively finding and comforting him.
And despite it all, through the long, sleepless night, they found shore.
In the first parts of the plan, Honda had managed to get a few of his personal things, which could be sold, and a small remainder of money. Just enough to not be noticed. With this, they'd buy a new life. It was off the coast of Jakarta, where they would soon stop for supplies, that they snuck out and into the city.
Naoto would soon be informing the men about what had happened. He would have surely told them that Honda had requested to be buried at sea. The blood, the torn clothes would be proof enough. The method of death would be too gruesome for all of the men, and by then a lot of the blood would have been cleaned.
If they wondered what had happened to the stowaway, they would keep quiet. The official story was that he had been released at Jakarta shortly before the captain's demise.
As it was, all they could do was bide their time. With their captain dead, the sailors would be in mourning, and not come into port except for the very needed supplies. Honda felt quite certain of this. Still, they'd kept a low profile. The ship he had boarded passes to left in three days.
They could not spend it sightseeing, lest they be spotted. As of yet, they had a room in an inn, and this is where they spent most of their time. Karpusi seemed perfectly fine with spending all day in bed. He often fell asleep on their too-small bed with his arm draped over Honda. It was too hot for such close contact, but Karpusi seemed impervious to the heat.
Honda sat on the edge of the bed, and held up Karpusi's arms up so he could inspect them. Karpusi's arms were wrapped in thick bandages where he had slashed himself, and stained red and brown with dried blood. Honda unraveled the bandages and wrapped them up tightly again with the salve he had managed to smuggle in.
He was not sure of its effectiveness, but it was a chance he had to take. Karpusi had already lost enough, and was lucky enough to have gone through the war without losing his limbs. He didn't want to have him go this far only to lose them to gangrene.
There was a fresh fruit he had ordered, alongside their rationed food from the inn.
"Are you hungry, or has the heat gotten to you?" Honda asked.
"I can take the heat," Karpusi said. "I was raised in it...hot summers..."
"Yes, I remember," Honda said.
He trailed off, looking to the wall, lost in memory. What those memories were, Honda could only imagine. Steep and craggy cliffs that framed coves with beautiful beaches, the salt taste of the sea, and perhaps the people he had loved before Honda.
Honda fetched the fruit and brought it to him.
Karpusi looked up, sleepy, yet playful. "Feed it to me?"
Honda put a sliver of fruit to his lips, and Karpusi licked his fingertips as he ate. Then he leaned up, for apparently his arms didn't hurt so much that he couldn't use them after all, and kissed him.
The kiss was sweet, tasting of sweetness of the fruit itself, and the added sweetness of Karpusi's lips. He licked the droplets that oozed down Karpusi's neck, all the way to his collarbone.
When they had finished the ration, he climbed up, careful of Karpusi's arms, which were still very tender, and laid himself down on top of him, his head against Karpusi's chest.
"I've always wanted to see Australia," Karpusi said. "Where do you want to go?"
Home. But he didn't have that any longer. This would have to be his home. Karpusi would have to be his home.
"I'm not sure. I will have to think about it," Honda said.
"What about other islands? Could we go to Hokkaido, or other cities?" Karpusi said, as if innately sensing the growing homesickness. "I've always wanted to see Japan, the rest of the Orient..."
He felt it would never be the same. Hadn't he betrayed his family for love? He was a fraud, a bad son, a failure. And yet, one last sight of his land, a goodbye, and to introduce Karpusi to it... That did not seem such a betrayal.
"Perhaps a visit...I do not know if we could manage to stay," Honda said.
"Would you want to return to Greece?"
"There's a lot of islands...we could visit them without ever seeing the mainlands, if you wanted to go there," he said. "We'll have to pick new names..."
"Yes, I suppose so," Honda sighed.
Karpusi moved closer. He stroked Honda's cheeks with his war-scarred hands. His gaze was deep, and so adoring. No one had ever looked at Honda in that intense way Karpusi did.
"Name me," he said.
"What's your favorite myth? That is my choice."
"But I want you to choose," he pressed on. Their hands were pressed against each other. Karpusi's was much larger than his.
"I enjoyed the pillars of Hercules when you told me then," Honda said.
"Herakles it is," he said. "Herakles Karpusi."
"It's fitting," Honda said. He smiled, faint as he tried on the new name as if it were a loose fitting robe made of silk.
"Can I name you?" He looked on, waiting for Honda's response.
"It would only be fair, considering," Honda said.
"But I want you to want me to name you," Herakles said.
"Yes. I want you to name me," Honda said simply. He closed his hand so that it entwined with Herakles'.
"You said the Chrysanthemum was the national flower of Japan, right...? Weren't they also a symbol of male love?"
"Yes..." Honda's cheeks were a little hot. Herakles could be very frank sometimes.
"What is the word in Japanese for Chrysanthemum?" Herakles asked.
"Kiku," Honda replied.
He pointed to Honda, and proclaimed with a sleepy smile Kiku.
So it was, his death and rebirth. Cloaked in flames he became something, someone new. Did he have regrets? Yes, but Kiku was prone to regretting every minor fault and wrongdoing. He couldn't go a day without beating himself up for something insignificant.
But despite the ache in his chest, a part of him was happy. He was free.
As they drifted off to sleep in a cheap inn in Jakarta, they held each other tight. Their hands stayed entwined. In his sleepy daze, Kiku thought he could almost see traces of knotted red thread tangled between their fingers.
Kiku traced the white scars on Herakles' arms. Blood flowing down Herakles' arms like scarlet thread, like the cleaving of two connected bodies, yearning to be together again.
The first smoke rising, the first sight of him with dazed green eyes looking up that so changed everything. The taste of salt, of first touches, first kisses official and unofficial.
The horrors of past and present, myth and moment all woven together.
The weight of his choice.
Herakles watched him, questioning.
"What is it?"
"I am remembering," Kiku said.