Author's note: kink meme: Japan/anyone, Japan as a yuki-onna. I completely lost this and had to rewrite it...I'm still a bit sad, though I think parts benefitted with it. Still, 1800 words and I was almost finished. ;_;
Everything surrounding him is white, save for the pale blue strip of sky. He is snow-blinded, rime gathers in his brows and frost in his lashes. His leg is twisted beneath him, useless. It's too painful to drag himself down, or even move.
The sun turns everything brilliant until there is just a white haze beyond.
Not by fire, but by ice, he thinks. He tries to think of the rest of the poem, but his mind is too hazy.
He doesn't remember much, only barely the path he has taken here, and his footprints slowly being devoured by the winds.
He's been to the springs of Hokkaido, to far off shrines and the lights of Tokyo. Today is his last day of the trip, and perhaps, his life. By the time the sun goes down it will be too cold and only a matter of time before his heart beats backwards, stops.
He wonders if this is what Asphodel feels like. A monochrome, numbed, non-feeling. A pale, wispy single string left to life. He has never done anything so vile as the be banished to Tartarus. It was Dante who exiled the deepest pits of hell to ice, not the Greeks.
In the corner of his eye he notices a splotch of black coming closer. He turns his head, and winces with the effort.
Someone is there, a specter, he thinks. His guide has surely long abandoned him, or returned to find help.
The kimono is white and gauzy, icicles hang from the sleeves. The walks upon the snow with no sound, as if he is floating. His skin is pale, as pale as the snow around him, even ethereally so. His hair is dark, in the way of the Japanese, and in a bowl cut with sharp, flat bangs. The kimono is tied loose enough that he can see his collarbone, his neck.
A fever dream, a snow mirage.
I am dying he thinks.
The specter bends and brushes the sleeve across him. His gaze is unlike anything Herakles has felt. The gaze reflects the esoteric knowledge of centuries, of fallen civilizations and the new lands that came in their stead.
"You're beautiful," the specter murmurs. "So warm..."
Herakles wants to reply you're beautiful too. but his throat is swollen and dry; he can't get a word out. His gaze is hypnotic, enthralling. Herakles can't look away from his dark almond-shaped eyes with all their mystery. There even seems a hint of sadness in their depths. He thinks he would do anything for him, anything he asks. When the specter looks away, the feeling lessens, but the mark of it is still there, like a brand cold under his skin.
The specter bends and for a minute seems to consider kissing him. He tries to part his chapped, frost-covered lips. That simple act is painful.
Instead the specter touches the side of his neck. The feel of the specter's fingers on him fills him with the heat of wanting, and then steals the warmth, like touching metal. It is colder than the snow around him, unimaginably chilling.
"No, much too beautiful," the specter murmurs. "I'll let you survive, but you must never tell anyone about me."
When he wakes it is not the cold, ascetic white of the mountain, but the sterile whiteness of a hospital. His leg is set. He is mostly unharmed by frostbite, save for a mark on his neck which mystifies the doctors.
It resembles the brush of fingers.
Years pass. Herakles returns home, of course. He always walks with a limp, but that doesn't affect him much, except when the weather turns cold and he feels like all the heat has been sucked out of his body again.
He keeps his word to the specter. Even if it is only a dream.
He sees the specter in passing, between chronicles and myths turned to metal car skeletons, cities to gossamer plains. Always only in his dreaming state, at his most lucid. Lovers come and lovers pass. He doesn't keep them for long. They come together in the dark and he thinks of cold fingers, cold lips and pale skin.
They ask what happened to your neck?
He answers only that he had an accident while traveling, the same reason he limps.
He is unsatisfied with them, for they are entirely mortal and filled with mortal fallacies. They snort when they laugh, they chew with their mouths open, they ask too much of him. Though in truth, he thinks, these are excuses. They are mortal, not ethereal in pale, inhuman beauty, and they do not touch him in a way that chills him and excites him, stealing all the heat as soon as it is created. They are not a fever dream felt on the edge of death.
Sometimes he thinks he sees ghostly pale white in the distance, in the corner of his eyes, but when he looks, it's just mist.
He is haunted in his dreams, in his waking hours he longs to be haunted, his leg and mark aching with the coming of an approaching storm.
Herakles naps in a shady corner outside, several cats snuggled beside him. On a waking moment, he notices the traveler. Asian travelers are commonplace here. He notices this one only because of how much clothing he wears. Long sleeves, and a big floppy hat. It's entirely too hot, and Herakles can only think that he is on the verge of heatstroke.
He closes his eyes again. He opens them some time later to a touch, groggy and disoriented from just waking. The Asian traveler clears his throat.
"Kali...méra," he says in a clumsy attempt at Herakles' native tongue.
"Good afternoon," Herakles says.
"Oh...you speak English...good."
"Do you need directions?" Herakles says.
"I need a guide. Will you be mine?"
Herakles notices that his skin is very pale, and his expression reserved and hinting at sadness. He feels that old foolish heartbeat rising in him.
"Of course, let me simply attend to a few things."
He's taken jobs like this before, of course. His limp is just enough to limit his work so that he takes occasional odd jobs. Herakles doesn't need much to live on, but he takes care of cats. They aren't exactly his, but he feeds them nonetheless, and he doesn't want them getting hungry.
He has a neighbor who has taken care of this before, a few words to her and she will do it – perhaps with a dinar pressed into her hand, for she certainly doesn't do it for free.
When those loose ends are filled, he returns to find the traveler still waiting for him.
"I didn't ask your name," he says.
"What order is that?" Herakles asks.
"I remember when I was traveling there that the surname was important, but I've forgotten whether it was listed first or second."
"Surname first, personal name second," he says.
"I also remember certain things...what should I call you?"
He seems to think on this a moment. He expects 'Honda', but instead the traveler replies "Kiku."
"What do you wish to see?" Herakles asks.
"What does...a typical tourist see?" Kiku asks haltingly.
"The Acropolis, the ruins at Delphi, Athens..."
"Yes, those. If you will take me there, I will be very thankful," Kiku says. He says it in a stilted manner, as if he's been isolated away and has forgotten how to interact with humans.
He ducks his head, looking down.
"You shouldn't wear something so thick...you're going to get heat exhaustion."
He touches Kiku's arm. It's drenched and wet with sweat, and yet no unpleasant order permeates from him. In fact, it does not feel sticky, only wet and cool, like cold water .
"I burn easily," Kiku explains.
He leaves it at that and readies his things.
It takes three days, three hot, tension drenched days before the first kiss. It's against ancient pillars that have seen the fall and rise of civilizations. Kiku's skin is cool to the touch, and he can't stop touching him. It's like an addict, a disease as they come together, bones grinding desperate. At night they sleep entwined together, and Kiku's skin is as cold as marble. In the night his breath makes no white gasps; it isn't warm enough.
He straddles Herakles and touches his face, nuzzles tight against him. Frost laces up his skin, mist echos in his breath.
He's beautiful like bare trees and cold winds, like frost on windows. He's beautiful in a stark way that makes Herakles feel like he could be devoured, and if it is, if he is to be swallowed up and left to ice, then so be it.
At least he will have died happy.
"Do you have anything to return to?" Herakles asks on the sixteenth day of their trip.
"No...I have nothing," Kiku replies.
So he stays in Herakles arms. The trip becomes irregular. Herakles has only the cats, and he left enough to take care of them. He is not without resources, and something in his mind knew he might not come back.
In the hotel room he's ordered, Kiku strips down from his armor of clothes. Between the sheets they lay together, sleepy, sated and still awake.
"Tell me about your world," Kiku says.
And he tells about minuscule things, ordinary things. Kiku is fascinated. He's so naive in ways, so reserved. He's innocent and jaded, a compound of paradoxes woven together.
The overpowering sadness seems to ease when he's near Herakles. He feels drawn to Kiku, as if his wanderlust has been sated. As if all the other lovers are just faint memories before this, final one.
It's crazy, he's known him only a short span of time. But isn't it just as crazy to find a facsimile of the boy of his fever dreams? An ethereal boy with so many mysteries that they are the very fiber of them, that unraveling them means unraveling Kiku himself.
He's enthralled in the deepest sense. As if there was a line between them, pulling them together.
When Kiku looks him in the eyes, he feels like he can never refuse him, never leave him. He kisses the back of his palms and tastes rime.
They're two nobodies traveling across Greece, and the countries beyond. Kiku is fascinated by the buildings, he takes endless pictures, much to Herakles' amusement.
They see lot of the world when they can pull themselves from the motel rooms, when they can untangle from each other long enough to step into the dark. Herakles turns them nocturnal, for the weather is cooler then, and he does not have to armor himself against the sun. They walk by streetlights, starlight, down the Reine and the Thames. They visit the Louvre barely before closing, when the morning workers are yawning and checking their watches and the night watchmen are coming to duty. They see the Eiffel tower lit up, sparkling proud, rising above the horizon.
Time becomes meaningless to them. A year, an hour, what is the difference, really? Neither has marked it, so much that it seems every watch stopped the day that they met. Kiku always seems to have just enough money to cover their trips. They rarely spend to excess are they are so drunk on each other.
How long is this time? This blissful, captured moment? Two seasons of the year, and no longer.
Kiku becomes brittle in heat, as if he might break. His cheeks flush until there is actual color in them, and he grows disoriented. Sweat floods off of him, Herakles is reminded of melting ice, of the perspiration that comes from cold drinks on glasses. Again, it is not sticky, nor does it contain any odor.
It's as if Kiku is fading away right in front of his eyes.
He broaches the question one day when they're hiding out in the air. Kiku sallow and skeletal lying on the bed. Herakles can't help himself anymore.
"Have we met before?" Herakles asks.
Kiku stiffens. "I told you never to tell anyone..."
"Tell anyone what?" Herakles lies.
He is not without wiles. He was raised on Odysseus and the tales of ancient Greek gods. He stares back at Kiku, pointed, acknowledging the lie and the not-question between them. The dark expression on Kiku's face fades like storm clouds dissipating.
"No...you have not met Kiku before," he says. He says it pointedly, accenting the Kiku. Herakles knows that it is a razor-thin line that he treads there. He does not ask for more.
"We could move somewhere colder," Herakles says.
"No...my power would grown too strong then and I would kill you," Kiku says. "This keeps me in check."
They skirt around the knowledge of what he is. They do not speak aloud the words. It's always there. He climbs on the covers and kisses Kiku's neck, and doesn't ask anything more than simply another moment, another day, more time.
That's all, just that is what he desires.
One day when the heat is unbearable, when summer has taken in its reign, Kiku looks so pale as to be translucent.
"Kiku?" Herakles says, his voice growing desperate.
Like Kiku once found him, on the edge of death, he now finds Kiku on the verge of fading away. He remembers what Kiku once told him, long ago when they were tangled together. "Snow never dies. It merely transforms. It's the same sky, the same water. It always returns."
He brushes Kiku's cheek, his other arm tight around him. His hand goes through to nothingness. Kiku turns into mist, in his arms and rises up until there is nothing left. Moisture stays against his arms where he'd held him, like the remains of a kiss, and drying tears.
He turns over and sleeps a long time, but when he awakes, Kiku is not there.
It is not a dream, no matter how much he wishes it to be.
He travels the world. He seeks out every cold place, every dark cave and cold mountain where frost and snow reside. He sleeps with other people who he barely remembers the names of because he is human with human needs and human fallacies. Their touches in the dark are too hot, he feels sweaty and barely sated at the end.
Kiku understands, he thinks.
He notices the cracks of the world he has always missed: the flitting of gossamer wings, the cat-like slivers of golden eyes of races that most call myths. He meets others like Kiku Snow-women with the same sort of beauty, yet instead of sadness, there's the fierceness of a howling winter wind in their eyes. They keep their distance from him. He touches the mark and wonders if he has been branded by Kiku, marked with ownership. He feels the cold brand of his fingers under his skin, on his heart. Already he is haunted to never love anyone else.
Penelope waited twenty years for Odysseus' return, weaving her loom with only her wiles to keep her. Orpheus traveled the ends of the earth, and he, he will keep looking. When he closes his eyes he can see it now: Kiku, pale and wearing a crown of flurries, his ever present sadness lifting, the weight gone.
The season will turn back now, it is only a matter of time.
Like Hades from the depths, he waits for the season he loves to return, he seeks it out. When most of the world is holding its breath, waiting for spring again, he waits for winter and the soft fall of snow.