If a sword were to fall in love, the observer might wonder: Should not the sword most desire to cut the object in its sight?

. .

The Yuki-onna was a creature transformed by sorrow: skin frosted to perfect white, grief frozen in silvery tracks down her cheeks. She had not been beautiful, before; had been brown and small-nosed and common, like Kayo. This was what grief and stifled rage had made of her.

Her truth: her mistress, most beloved one, had sought to escape marriage to a cruel and tyrannical man. She was her mistress's servant in more than words. She would have done anything to make her lady happy. They would run away together; find a new life somewhere far away.

She waited for her lady at their secret place, and waited, and waited, unwilling to accept that her mistress's courage had failed. The hours piled into white snow around her feet, and she died there, waiting in the cold.

Her regret: a hatred, cold and calculating, for the men that ruled their world. If it was man that stood in her way, then the solution was simple - lure man in, one by one, and suck the warmth of life from his bones.

Kayo could almost envy her, her metamorphosis, her beauty, her power - almost. But she envied in truth the way the woman had captured the Medicine Seller's singular attention. That intensity transformed into the golden other, a fire that melted away all illusion, released the young woman's spirit from her prison of ice.

He would never look at Kayo that way. She knew she should be thankful for this; but it was not so.

. .

With their limbs tangled, his painted lips on her neck, still it was not the same. His hands were cool on her heated skin, his pale eyes merely curious, watchful. He gasped softly when she touched him this way or that, but it wasn't the same. That intensity wasn't there.

"I want to see you," she said, and of course he didn't understand. She didn't even understand.

"But Kayo-san," he murmured. (Even now, he wouldn't drop the honorific, or even tell her his own name.) "I'm right here."

She supposed what she meant was, "I want to see him," but obviously, she couldn't say that.

. .

For one whose entire purpose is to cut souls free from their tethers, what does it even mean to want to hold on to something? Two minds which are one, at cross-purposes; is that not the fate of every human on earth?

It is not that their hearts are different. They are the same heart, split into two; both know the pathos of human suffering. Both know far too well that to possess is not the same thing as to love.

But only one knows the meaning of restraint.

. .

A young man courted her for a short while. He was nice enough; he wasn't unhandsome; he had a little money, was heir to a small but popular restaurant. He was precisely the kind of man she had hoped to fall in love with.

He suggested they marry. She gently but firmly refused him.

What was it she was hoping for? She was getting older. Perhaps this had been her last chance.

Such a stupid, stupid thing to have done.

. .

The thing which he cuts is obsession given form; but what if the human shell were cut instead? Would obsession fly free of all restraints? Or would both perish into the void?

. .

When they met again, a man's desire for a woman who had left him was nearly the end of them both.

The creature imprinted upon Kayo the woman of his memory - any woman would have done for his purposes. He would hold on to her as he couldn't hold on to his lost one, his precious possession.

In a way, Kayo understood; there had been moments when she wished there were some way to hold on to him.

The Medicine Seller's charms held, kept her out of the creature's reach, but his own body did not fare so well. Kayo saw him crushed against the ground, heard the sounds of bones popping, thought: Surely, he'll die. We'll both die.

But he did not.

. .

She had acted before she'd even known what she was doing; had launched herself at him, at that golden other, before he could slip away into the unknown. And now they were here, face to face, her wrist trapped in his terrible grip and his eyes burning down at her.

She could not stop trembling.

He tilted his head like a bird, curious. "You're afraid," he said. "Of me."

"Yes," she answered honestly.

"Then why?"

His fingers were hot on her wrist, so hot. "I just wanted... I wanted to see you," she said helplessly. "I wanted you to look at me."

A long moment passed before he would answer. "I can see you," he said carefully. "I have always seen you."

Though she sensed the meaning beneath the words, it still wasn't the meaning she was looking for. "No," she said, shaking her head. "I wanted you to look at me like you look at them."

His eyes widened, and his grip tightened around her wrist to the point of pain. She winced, but he took no notice.

"Why?" he said, his voice very low. "Why would you say such a thing?"

It was difficult to tell, his eyes were so strange, he was so strange, but she thought he might be angry. Her heart hammered so hard she thought it might fly to pieces in her chest. And yet... And yet it made some small part of her happy that she could make him angry.

"You say that you see me," she explained, "but you don't. You only see them. No matter how you feel about anything else, you only want them. I - I know I can't change that. But I can't help wanting to."

He stared at her for a long moment; then pulled her closer, close enough that she could feel the touch of his breath on her face.

"I..." he said. "Want you."

Her breath caught in her throat. She couldn't find words to say; couldn't find breath to speak them, even if she could.

"Enough," came the same voice from behind her, stripped raw and haggard.

She spun around with a start, her wrist jerking out of the golden man's hand. There stood the Medicine Seller, the ever-present markings gone from his face; it was instead painted with a sheet of red blood. He stumbled forward, and, with a little squeak of dismay, Kayo caught him, sinking to the ground under his weight.

She looked back at the golden man; but he was gone.

"You," said the Medicine Seller, his lungs rattling oddly, "say dangerous things, Kayo-san." The markings had returned, Kayo saw, though the blood nearly obscured them. She didn't know what it meant, exactly, but she felt relieved.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I just -"

"You must not," he said sharply.

She jerked as if slapped; her eyes stung, vision blurring.

"You mustn't, Kayo-san," he repeated more gently. "You mustn't say those things again."

"I understand. I won't." She sniffed. He felt strangely small and fragile in her arms, now that she had been so close to his other; how could such a slight man endure this kind of injury? "Will you be all right?"

"Yes," he said, though his voice was growing fainter.

"Will I... Will I still see you again, after this?"

"Do you wish to see me again?" he asked.

"Of course I do!"

"Then it is likely that you will."

Kayo's brow knitted in confusion. "What - what do you mean?" she asked.

But he did not answer. Alarmed, she checked for his breath; but he was only unconscious.

She puffed a little sigh and dried her eyes on her sleeve, and then she held his battered body close for the little while that she could.

. .

Mind and desire: a false dichotomy. Desire blows mind as wisps of incense smoke in a draft, scattered this way and that, true scent dissipated into memory. Mononoke are no different; they are, in fact, the ghost of scent blown away long ago.