Author's Note: For abarero at giripan_xmas on livejournal. She wanted something based on a bit of kitsune lore, but with Greece and Japan. I'm not going to list the whole prompt here, because it will spoil the story.
By Everything is Magic
The first thing Heracles registered upon waking up wasn't the waves lapping at the shore, nor the bright sun, which had baked his skin, turning it red and hot and painful to the touch. It wasn't the saltwater and sand that wormed into uncomfortable places and caused his body to feel itchy and sticky. It wasn't even how dry his throat felt, to the point that if he'd tried to speak, he knew it would come out barely a rasp.
It was the inquisitive and vulpine face of a fox, red and white underneath, with long whiskers and its head cocked to the side.
He rubbed his eyes and turned his body, wincing in pain as he did so. The fox was sitting down on its hind legs; its front paws mere inches from Heracles's face.
Its bushy tale twitched, as if pointing toward something. Indeed, when Heracles looked that direction, he spotted a small cup of tea and a sliced fish, set out on a large, flat leaf.
He'd seen enough fish to last a lifetime, but, his stomach reminded him, he was hungry. The strangeness of the situation only half struck him, so famished and parched was he. Weakly, he pushed himself up into a seated position, and ravenously began to eat and drink what had been placed before him.
Heracles glanced to the fox, offering a murmured, "Thank you." The fox did something that looked a lot like a nod… and scampered off.
Heracles had nothing but the battered clothing on his back. He'd run from Byzantium on a whim, wanting to explore what of the world he could, to learn and discover wisdom and see what was out there. And his journey had taken him all the way across the Road to the East. When he'd come to the edge, when all there was… was ocean, vast and blue, he'd made the decision to go further.
The young man, for he was barely out of his teens, had hopped a Chinese trading vessel and gone further east.
But the ship did not arrive at its destination. In the night it was attacked, by a group of pirates, and Heracles drifted far off course, clinging onto a piece of the battered ship and hoping, praying that he'd run into dry land. He collapsed immediately upon reaching the shore, and he had no idea how long he'd been unconscious. Nor did he have any idea if anyone else had survived. If they had, they'd probably be far, far from where he was, wherever the ocean's currents had decided to take them.
And now here he was in a strange land, the only things of which he knew about were vague snatches of conversation he'd heard and understand aboard the ship. And that was minimal, considering that he only knew a few words in Chinese.
For days now, he'd been hiding in the forest, keeping to the shade so his intense sunburn could heal. The land was beautiful; green and mountainous and vast. He took it in and appreciated it, for as much as he was in a position that left him rather helpless, this was the kind of beauty and wonder he'd been seeking when he set out from Byzantium.
He knew nothing about this 'land where the sun rose,' except that it was beautiful.
And that someone appeared to be watching over him. He caught fleeting glimpses of the fox he encountered on the beach, and whenever he did, he'd find food, drink, even warm changes of clothing, left out for him.
In the forest he did not suffer, because the fox always made sure he was taken care of.
Heracles tried to speak to the fox, to thank him, the few times that it showed itself fully. One evening, the wind was cold and Heracles was chilled to the bone. The fox came and sat for a long while by the small fire that he had built, and Heracles realized that it must be cold as well.
He offered it a place to sleep by the fire that night, patting a space next to him.
And then the fox did the oddest thing. It covered its face with its paw, seemingly embarrassed, bowed its head, and ran off into the forest.
After a few weeks in the forest, Heracles felt well enough to venture out. He traversed back to the beach, and discovered, as he walked further along it, that he was not far from a small rural fishing village. There were boats with nets that went out every day, and men, young and old, that utilized the rich ocean to make a living for their family.
One thing he noticed almost immediately was that the clothing he was wearing was much nicer than that of the villagers. Theirs was worn down and tattered with use, and it was clear that many of them had not replaced it in some time. His was clean and crisp, with richer colors and more detailed patterns. His fox friend clearly had access to some interesting resources.
Being away from the ocean for a few weeks, he didn't feel the same disdain for it as he had when he washed up on shore. He… supposed that if he were to be stuck here, fishing wouldn't be an awful way to make a living.
He couldn't rely on the presence of an uncannily intelligent fox forever.
But still the fox came, and one day, it twitched its tail and beckoned Heracles to follow it. It led the young man to the edge of the forest, not in the village, but near enough to walk to it. There stood a house, larger than most of those in the village, with clay walls and a thatched roof. It was too big for one man, Heracles thought.
Nevertheless, it was clear that no one lived there, and that the fox wanted him to take it as his own. It was lightly furnished; with a futon and some other necessary items, and behind it, there was a small fishing boat and three well made nets. The fox nosed them and then made direct eye contact with Heracles, as if telling him, these are yours.
Who was he to argue? He was wary at first, for fear that some day a person might come back and claim the home, but after several months, his concern ebbed. He took the fishing boat out on the sea and caught enough food to keep himself sustained. But he still had no way to make a living. He couldn't speak the language of the people in the village, and so selling his best catches to the wealthy men who came to the village to purchase them proved impossible.
And… he was lonely. Every night he curled up in his futon, alone, wondering if he'd ever be able to catch a ship back to China, wondering if he'd ever have the chance to actually speak to someone again.
The fox still came, bring him items that he needed, as well as luxuries like spices and new clothing and even furnishings. Sometimes it would come inside and rest, watching Heracles… in a way that to him, looked intent.
One evening, almost a year after Heracles had arrived in Japan; his fox friend came by with a different kind of gift.
It was a kitten, and the fox held her gently by her ruff in its mouth. An unusual sight, but Heracles thought it far less strange than many other things the fox had done.
Heracles bonded with the kitten almost instantaneously, for he had always loved cats. It became the biggest bright spot in his life, and every night, he and the feline would curl up in the futon together and sleep.
His fox must have noticed, because soon one kitten became two, and three, and four, and then five. Within half a year, he'd been gifted with five pet cats, all delivered carefully by the ruff of their necks.
But still, he felt a pang whenever he passed by the villagers, who always gave him odd and even suspicious looks, as they talked to their own friends, wives, daughters, and sons. Despite his newfound happiness, he… still wished for someone to share things with, to speak to as a companion and a friend.
He never expected one to show up, literally right on his doorstep.
It was a stormy night, the kind of evening where Heracles made sure that all the cats were inside, and gathered them around a small fire to keep warm. He'd just finished dinner (fish, of course), and he was about to curl up and take an evening nap, when he heard a knock on the door.
He creased his brow in confusion and stood up, for he had… never had a visitor in all his time in the house.
Warily, he opened the door.
"Kalispera," the man across the doorframe fumbled out, tripping over the pronunciation and bowing slightly.
Heracles's olive-green eyes grew wide. This man had just greeted him in his own language, the words of which he had not heard, save speaking to himself, since he left mainland China.
He surveyed the man, a lump forming in his throat as he did so. He was short and small-framed, but did not look weak. His black hair was cut short, falling around his ears, and his eyes were dark and large. His clothing, although soaking wet, was fancier than any he'd seen during his stay in the land where the sun rose, outside those worn by visiting men and women of power.
His cheeks were flushed red, and he was glancing to and fro, as if embarrassed.
"Kalispara," Heracles finally replied. "It's cold and you're soaked to the bone. Please… come inside."
The man stiffened. "Apologize. Don't mean… intruding," he spoke in broken Greek, as if he were struggling with a limited knowledge of the language.
Heracles smiled softly, touching a hand to his wet shoulder. "It's no trouble at all. There's room at the fire for one more."
At his touch, the man's face grew redder, until even the tips of his ears were scarlet. His mouth dropped open, and he struggled to speak again, "Thank you. K-Kiku…my name, Honda Kiku."
He escorted Kiku inside, and the two young men passed the first of many nights in front of the fire together.
Kiku was easy to like. He was quiet and shy, and he worried unnecessarily about silly things, but he was also kind and considerate, and… a good companion.
He refused to reveal to Heracles how he had learned Greek, becoming flustered whenever it was brought up. Heracles decided to respect that, for he didn't exactly think it important to know every little detail about the Japanese man.
He did help him perfect his knowledge of the language though, and Kiku proved a fast and attentive learner with a genuine interest in the subject.
In exchange, Kiku taught him Japanese, with a patience and consideration that Heracles greatly appreciated.
Learning Japanese meant that he could make a living for himself, that he could sell his fish and barter and buy and… live, on more than the fish he caught himself and the good will offerings of a fox.
And it was over many firelit nights, when the two would practice kanji, cat tails and noses brushing against them from time to time, and Kiku's hand guiding Heracles's through the brushstrokes, that Heracles's fondness for the man began to grow into something more.
Not that many knew how to read and write, Kiku informed him, as he taught him the intricate symbols that made up the written form of the language. Sometimes, as he leaned beside Heracles and held his hand, fingers brushing together, he seemed to realize exactly how intimate their positioning was, and would leap back, flustered.
And then, in the warm golden light, when Kiku was apologizing profusely and asking for forgiveness because he'd clearly encroached upon Heracles's personal space and that was terribly rude…
Heracles had to resist the urge to kiss him.
After over a year of evenings spent together with Kiku (he still knew nothing about him, not his home, not his family, nothing), he finally gave in, quieting the smaller man's apologies by pressing their lips together in a languid but tender kiss.
When they pulled apart, Kiku had never been redder. He bowed his head and stood up, murmuring "so sorry" and making for the door.
Heracles grabbed his wrist. "Why are you apologizing?"
"It was inappropriate of me to…"
"Kiku," Heracles cut in, his words drawn out, slow and relaxed, like they always were, "I'm the one who kissed you."
"Well yes but…"
The taller man tipped his chin up, staring into his dark eyes intently. "If you… like, I can do it again."
"I… think I'd like that Heracles-san."
Their second kiss was even better than the first.
It took another full year for Heracles to convince Kiku to lie with him. And the morning after they first did it, as the sun rose, illuminating Kiku's sleeping, nude form in his arms, his cheeks dusted a pleasant pink even in sleep, Heracles realized that he wanted to spend his life with him.
It had been over three years now since he'd arrived in Japan, and it… felt like home now. He planted a kiss on Kiku's head and smiled, whispering "love you," in his ear and dozing back into sleep.
Kiku moved in the next week. He brought no possessions, save a few changes of clothes, with him. Heracles, having long since given up on finding out about his past, didn't ask.
He also didn't ask where Kiku went during the day while he fished, although he knew he left home, arriving back in time to make dinner (he was an excellent cook) every night for Heracles.
He trusted Kiku after all, and the Japanese man was always there when it mattered.
Including when he dozed off in his fishing boat. Heracles had a bad habit of falling asleep in his boat, and at least once or twice a month, Kiku would have to row out in a smaller craft and find and wake him up.
And so Heracles and Kiku passed the years together, five of them, in happiness and contentment, spending every night in each other's arms, learning new things about Japan and Byzantium respectively, telling stories, cuddling their ever growing menagerie of cats, pressing kisses to each other's lips and bodies, and making love.
It was not the journey that Heracles had expected to make, back when he'd headed out across the Road to the East, seeking knowledge, so many years ago. He'd never imagined settling down into a domestic life, but with Kiku, it fit.
Heracles sighed, scratching under the feral kitten's chin. He'd found the small kitten in the village that day, fear in its wide eyes and its fur mussed and crusted to its body. It was injured, a bloody chunk missing from its ear and a large wound on its back. Heracles suspected that it had been in a fight with a dog. He'd immediately felt pity for it and made the decision to take it home.
Cats had always loved Heracles, but this cat had left his hands covered in scratches and bite marks. "The poor thing," Heracles mumbled, dodging another nibble. "Kiku and I will take care of you…"
The kitten mewed, and Heracles knew it wasn't his imagination. It was calming down already.
"It's Kiku's turn to name one, so he'll be taking care of you little…" He held the cat up and in front of him, "little boy."
Heracles smelled Kiku's cooking before he even saw the house, and he smiled, closing his eyes and taking in the smell. He still had fish almost every night, but Kiku tried different things, and with his skills, Heracles never got tired of eating it.
When he slid his eyes opened, the house was in sight, and Kiku was out front sweeping up fallen autumn leaves.
He waved, jogging toward his partner. "Konbanwa, Kiku."
"Kalispara, Heracles-san," Kiku returned the greeting, a small smile on his face. "Who is this?"
Heracles crossed the distance between them and pressed a quick kiss to Kiku's cheek. "Poor thing. I found him in the village. It's your turn to-"
The kitten hissed wildly, leaping from Heracles's arms and onto Kiku.
The smaller man dropped his broom in shock as the cat sunk his teeth into his shoulder, an expression of shock on his face.
The cat held firm, his fur standing on end, and Kiku tripped on the fallen broom, falling rough and painful to the ground before Heracles could manage to catch him.
Frantically, Heracles leaned down. Kiku's head had smacked the hard ground, and he appeared to have fallen unconscious.
A small pool of blood was spreading out behind his head. His heart hammered in his ears, and he dropped to his knees, pulling him up into his lap and ignoring the way the blood stained his clothing. "Kiku!" he yelled, his voice raw. Heracles clutched his limp form to his chest, fighting tears as he did so.
But there was something else that also caught Heracles's eye.
Atop Kiku's head, where nothing had been before, was a pair of white, vulpine ears.
And protruding from his back was a tail, bushy and huge. It twitched, despite Kiku's unconscious state, and Heracles thought… that twitch to be oddly familiar.
The cat had let go, but it was hissing in fear, back arched.
He found himself unable to speak, a thick lump forming in his throat and choking his words. He picked up the unconscious man, or fox, or… whatever he was, and carried him inside, bandaging his head and hoping for the best.
It was hours before Kiku awoke, and in that time, Heracles did not leave his side. He stared, almost unblinking, at the man who had become his lover, his friend, his confidante, over the years.
He knew he had secrets, things that he refused to tell the man he'd come to live with. But… Heracles did not expect Kiku's secrets to be something so fantastical.
A fox? Had there… always been a fox of sorts watching over him, since he arrived in Japan? The beautiful red fox that helped him during the beginning of his time in Japan, and then… Kiku.
Come to think of it, after Kiku had shown up on his doorstep, he'd never seen his fox friend again.
Kiku's eyes cracked open, and Heracles resisted the urge to lean down and kiss him in relief.
Instead, he placed a gentle hand beside his head, his fingers brushing against the soft fur of his fox ears as he did so.
They twitched in response, and as they did so, Kiku's eyes grew wide, fearful, terrified even.
He pushed himself up, hissing in pain as he did so.
"I never meant you to find out. I'm terribly sorry. Please forgive me!" he rushed out, giving a haphazard bow as he did so. Heracles hopped to his feet and reached out to touch him, but before he could do so, Kiku muttered, "kitsune-bi," and vanished in a flash of blue flame.
The last expression Heracles was able to make out on his face was one of sorrow and regret.
Even his cats could not appease Heracles. He fell into melancholy after Kiku's departure, and searched everywhere in the mountainous area near his home for his missing lover.
But he couldn't even find a fox. It was as if Kiku had told them all to hide as well, lest one of them lead Heracles to his whereabouts.
He continued to fish, continued to make a living, for his knowledge of the language and culture had been more than adequate for years now.
It wasn't right though. For the first time since he and Kiku had first lain together, he found himself longing for the mainland, even for Byzantium.
His anchor was gone.
But still, Heracles waited, hoping that Kiku would show up again in his presence.
After a year, he began to lose hope. He packed up his belongings and, with a heavy heart, made the decision to head to a port and try to catch a vessel back to China.
A journey of this stature on foot would not be easy, he knew, but he'd rather have been anywhere but living in that house, so filled with memories of his life with Kiku. It made him heartsick.
Heracles would leave his home to his beloved cats, including the little feral kitten who had revealed Kiku's secret in the first place.
The Japanese landscape was still beautiful; green and unfathomable and… perfect. Heracles would be foolish to deny that. Nevertheless, it did not fill him with the kind of rapt enchantment that it had before. Now he looked at it and saw a vast loneliness; gorgeous, but poignant.
He was a few hours outside the village, his pack slung over his back and the dusty, seldom traveled road under his feet, when he spotted it.
A red fox, the first one he'd seen in so very long.
It stood in the middle of the road, its tail twitching and an intent expression on its narrow features. Heracles stepped forward, daring not to get his hopes up, but knowing that he had to at least try. He was likely imagining how much it looked like that fox.
"Do you know Kiku?" he asked, feeling like a fool for even inquiring.
The fox froze up entirely.
"Please. I'm sure it's a longshot, but… geh, I… miss him," he explained, turning pink. "He left before I could say anything to him."
The fox sat down on his haunches, and Heracles could have sworn that his face held an expression of shame.
Heracles stepped closer. "He didn't have to leave," he drawled out. "Kiku is… whatever he is, whatever he was hiding from me… I never cared. I still don't."
He slid his eyes closed and exhaled, past feeling foolish. "I just want him home."
The fox's eyes grew wide, and within moments, there was a flash of blue light, just like the one that Kiku had vanished in.
"K-Kiku?" Heracles rasped. Indeed, the young man stood in front of him, a shy expression on his face. His ears and tail were visible, and he was holding said tail in one hand, stroking it absently.
"I—I just wanted to say goodbye to you," he spoke. "I'm sorry. I didn't know. It was wrong of me to leave like that. I should have explained things to you. I was… frightened."
Heracles crossed the distance between them and wrapped him up in an embrace. "You were always there, weren't you? From the beginning… since that day on the beach?"
Kiku nodded. "I-It's… shameful of me to have hidden from you for so long. I wanted to help you and… I-I—in the time before I appeared to you as a human," he gulped, "I tried to pick up your language because I'd…" he said the next part as almost a whisper, "I'd fallen in love with you. I'm terribly sorry."
"I should have been honest with you from the beginning!" Kiku exclaimed, in a rare bit of shouting. He pulled out of Heracles's embrace. "I had to leave you. I've been lying to you since you first washed up on that beach. It's not fa-"
Heracles silenced him with a kiss. Kiku fought it for a moment before giving in; melting against the large man's warm, gentle lips.
Once they pulled apart, Heracles nuzzled his nose into the top of Kiku's head, taking in the scent and the presence of one so long missed. He flicked one of Kiku's ears with a finger. "Kitsune?"
"Y-yes… I am," Kiku replied, flushing scarlet.
"You know what that means, right?" Heracles asked, giving him a light smile.
Kiku's expression was one of bewilderment. "I'm sorry. I don't understand."
Heracles chuckled. "If I recall from my lessons, ki-tsune means… always comes."
His cheeks grew darker, and Heracles swore that he was blushing all the way to his fox ears. "I—I suppose that's true. You remember what I taught you well."
"Mmm." Heracles nodded. He took Kiku's hand, rubbing his fingers over his knuckles. "And you always did." He leaned forward once more and pressed a kiss to his forehead. "Please come home, Kiku."
The barest hint of tears formed at the corner of Kiku's eyes, and he gave Heracles a watery smile. "I would be… honored to."
"Besides, the cats miss you," he reasoned.
"Well… the cats are cute." He clasped his hands around Heracles's. "Let's go home then."
Heracles turned back toward the village, and Kiku walked alongside him.
"Just one more thing," Heracles said. "…I'd appreciate if you would not ever apologize for falling in love with me again."
And then Kiku laughed, and Heracles knew that he was home again.
1- Kalispara and Konbonwa- Good evening in Greek and Japanese respectively.
3-The 'Road to the East' refers to The Silk Road
4-This story takes place during the Heian Period in Japan, which corresponds to the Byzantine Empire in Greece (and beyond). That's why Greece says he's from Byzantium.
5-There is a ton of kitsune lore. This story is loosely based on the following kitsune lore-
One of the oldest surviving kitsune tales provides a widely known folk etymology of the word kitsune.Unlike most tales of kitsune who become human and marry human males, this one does not end tragically:
Ono, an inhabitant of Mino (says an ancient Japanese legend of A.D. 545), spent the seasons longing for his ideal of female beauty. He met her one evening on a vast moor and married her. Simultaneously with the birth of their son, Ono's dog was delivered of a pup which as it grew up became more and more hostile to the lady of the moors. She begged her husband to kill it, but he refused. At last one day the dog attacked her so furiously that she lost courage, resumed vulpine shape, leaped over a fence and fled.
"You may be a fox," Ono called after her, "but you are the mother of my son and I love you. Come back when you please; you will always be welcome."
So every evening she stole back and slept in his arms.
Because the fox returns to her husband each night as a woman but leaves each morning as a fox, she is called Kitsune. In classical Japanese, kitsu-ne means come and sleep, and ki-tsune means always comes.