ETA: NO WAIT TOO LAZY TO INCORPORATE IT INTO THE LARGER FIC. It (almost) works well on its own, so why not go for it. XD Excuse the all-atmosphere-no-atmospheric-pressure thing going on. I'm working on it.
Russia/China; Korea, Japan
Remember the edge of the sea. Water is light blue bubbles, popping around your feet like sweet carbonation. The flash of white on the rim of the waves, the rush when the shore-break steals your toys from the sand. Him, bending down in the blink of white water, black and red graceful figure so untouched amid all the crashing. Exalted. Returning the doll to you, brave as much as you are not. The smack sandy waves against your shins.
Hands under your arms. Up, look up, and suddenly you have grown tall, and you are face-to-face with him. He smiles, asks, how high do you want to fly? You point. The only way is up.
The waves hush against his legs, and he lifts you high, impossibly high. The sun is white and the color of the sky breathless. The bubbles pop far beneath your feet, and then you plop back down among them.
Yun Soo chases crabs straight into the sea and comes out splashing and shouting. You follow: quietly, and then smilingly, and then laughingly. And he waits for you both on the shore.
Out here, even out in the great divide of sea, they are open infinitely.
One day the shores are flooded with white sails,
and Yao grabs Yun Soo and Kiku, and presses his hands to their mouths to keep them from breathing in the death.
Remember the day Ivan comes to him and looks at him in a different way.
“No staring, my hair is messy,” Yao snaps, and instead Ivan watches the way his hands flutter like indecisive pigeons up and down: what to tidy up first, the hair all twisted out of a meticulous ponytail, or the tattered changshan?
Do they matter, now?
Ivan radiates a new, unfamiliar warmth. “You’re so unhappy to see me!” he says, tones doused with honey; Yao scoffs.
“So many important things to do."
By which you mean, “And have done to you,” Ivan remarks, ever-mild with an arsenic edge.
Yao hums; by now he has trained the blood down from his cheeks. He has forgotten embarrassment, and how to confess. He discards fright when he is confronted with this monster wearing a new uniform. Understated and plain, but brimming with a purpose.
Red star. Glory.
-- Yao folds his arms to hide a tattered sleeve.
“I don’t have an awful lot,” Ivan begins, and Yao arms himself with three dozen excuses as to why he cannot take him up on any offers, “but I have a place for us to go and be safe.”
“Place?” he echoes, tarnished with laughter. “Aha! A place, I am so proud of you. You are a force to be reckoned with now!”
Ivan has the grace to look baffled.
Yao pulls his hair free of that tie. What he lacks in defense he makes up for in tenacity. “As far as it concerns me, you are homeless. The Decadent West will not even let you set up your woeful little camp in their backyard.”
Ivan’s face darkens.
As do Yao’s prospects.
He smiles and grabs Yao‘s arm and drags him bodily away.
“I want you to like me,” he is thinking aloud.
Ivan glances down at his drab uniform and toys with a sleeve. “I think it’s time you realize,” he says, gingerly as breaking glass, “that you have nowhere else to go.”
Yao has not slept well in weeks and has not stopped his leaving of places he once knew: towns, scenery, trusting nothing but the hours that have passed with such fierce vacancy. With Ivan, a worrisome enemy, an intimidating entity, it’s as though he has reached a wall and found relief in the futility, the abrupt end of his battle. (Maybe Ivan knows this; the unrequited light in his eyes waits on him.)
The daytime is too bright. He cannot retreat into shadow-steeped corner and say his myriad expressions parading across his face are one big joke of the light.
Ivan’s face remains unchanged. He knows what Yao will say.
“If you can give me a change of clothing.”
Ivan doesn’t sleep. His hands fly across pure pages, scrawling his will to last a
lifetime, his manifesto. Ivan is one of those tasteless idealists, so hopeful they turn stupid, thinks Yao.
4 in the morning, and Yao won’t sleep unless Ivan doesn't look at him. But Ivan turns and gives him a strange smile. “You look like me now,” he says faintly.
Yao is sure he could drown in this barbarous coat; it weighs down his shoulders as though to suppress his dissent. He could bend under the weight of this stocky uniform, and exist as nothing but toneless grey. As though he were hopeless and small. It smells of earth, the way it must when this is all one possesses.
Ivan is waiting for him to speak.
He just dawdles for another few minutes, his eyes on the windows and the screen of snow beyond them. There's nothing here to point him home.
Remember: in order to save themselves from the winter, they burn themselves.
They make a fire right there on the doorstep and ready their possessions. The newborn blaze erupts; Yao scrunches up his face and forces a recollection of fireworks, and the recklessness a festival inspires. The bliss of flames. The valor, passion, life.
They crouch there, close enough that you would think they had nothing else in this world.
The fire scorches the frozen dirt and begins wavering. Ivan needs not explain himself, nor give a command; he bows his head to ward off a cursed chill, and holds out a hand to Yao.
Yao’s torn clothing, bygone glamour: dropped into Ivan’s hand, and into the fire.
His slippers in lieu of rude boots, tossed into the fire.
Ties for his hair, eaten into a powdery ash.
Unfinished poetry and stagnating old books, smoldering.
Rings, a bracelet he keeps to remember his old self: they tarnish in seconds, flicker as if melting to a pool of sunlight. They disappear when Ivan finally smiles amiably, a different sort of warm.
“I want you to see that I am your only friend,” he tells him, “and that you shall never depend on anyone else but me. No one else will give you shelter, will they?”
Remember pride. Yao jumps to his feet, an act of defiance or fear; the wind bites into him and he holds himself. His eyes darting over the austere scenery like birds long disappeared. He opens his mouth, but Ivan understands, and Ivan is ruthless.
“I see,” he says kindly, “you can’t run one step.”
Yao instead runs seven steps, into the house. Three walls, three dead ends. It’s all so alarmingly cozy, this reprieve from the storm, the radiating heat of a healthy fire, horrible black bread on the table and Ivan’s impossible towers of bound manuscripts. Yao shoves his tangled hair out of his eyes, pushes back his thick sleeves so he can see his hands. Pure and unadorned, they look as impressionable as a child’s.
Ivan in the doorway, a force of an earthquake. “Are you afraid of me?” he asks softly.
No. He has his desolation and his futility lined up to hold him still.
His hand shoving against Ivan’s face, sticky and red and smearing as thickly as blood, that Ivan wants to call it stigmata -- the way he’s looking at Yao, like he’s something beautiful.
“We want nothing between us,” he breathes in Yao’s ear, with such adulation (puppy, a big black bear unaware of its own strength), “you were always meant to be mine.”
“No,” Yao rasps, voice a sharp sting in his own throat, a rebellion within.
Ivan’s hands make Yao’s knees buckle. His head cracks sickeningly sharp against the edge of the desk and sinks him down to the floor like an abandoned ship.
“I’ve been waiting,” hums Ivan as he leans close, as though already inside and worming, grasping for what he can take.
Heartbeat in Yao's ear. The sound of birds shifting and raising the spring out of the snow with their chatter. Today’s weather forecast.
Spring comes as a lion in fast-motion.
His hair slips across the manifesto, the pages so wet they are thriving, such vivacity in the red that they almost rise to life. He forgets his limbs, his arching fingers and their yearning to claw. His spine, vertebra by vertebra, pressed to the floor.
He is in shards until Ivan pulls him together, ungainly shove of bodies, two so abandoned that it’s a wonder they knew it was each other they needed to find.
“I see stars,” Yao whispers.
He never has wanted to keep unnoticed until today. Stagnant morning, his head hanging and steps heavy, he slides in around the screen door.
He shoves his hair out of his eyes and his hand comes back red. He hisses in hapless exasperation, can’t help it, it’s so distasteful, and then feels Kiku’s eyes on him.
The next room, the shameless paper screen, his silhouette seated so primly at the table. His head inclines toward him, and Kiku is thinking. And then, searing. It reaches through to him, the understanding. Yes. If you are Kiku, it is only possible to be disgusted with Yao, in this moment.
Yao huffs and straightens his shoulders.
-- Hair in his eyes again. His hair ties all burned, and bridges left smoldering in their wake. And his life buried under snow.
The sheer reality of his change has steeped into everywhere. The ink underneath his nails. In the bathtub, when his hair washes out red, pours out red relentlessly. The imprints of Ivan’s ideals tattooed into his palms like henna. The stains could take centuries to fade, he realizes.
It obliterates absolutely every bit of him.
He finds his somber coat and slips into it before he leaves; methodically, silently.
Kiku watches him, katana in hand. It’s for this reason that, as soon as Yao turns the corner, he runs like Hell.
There should have been tears.
Throughout all of it, a hint of regret. Kiku will crush a yellowing picture of Yao standing straight and brave-eyed with his children. He will not find any priceless jewels, no memories of who he once was. He will be enraged that Yao could do such a thing, though he’ll protest it means nothing to him.
Later, Yao will feel some belated elation, smug gratification that he began the upheaval Kiku had always wished for. A lucky circumstance intertwined their intentions before they scrambled off the opposing ends.
No regrets. In time you may understand, Yao believes, how hallowed the feeling of making a decision for no one but yourself. How holy to finally be loved for it.
Remember that of course Ivan is waiting with an armful of sunflowers. He smiles like summer. “You had to come back,” he smiles with the mild satisfaction of a child who has begun understanding how the world turns.
Yao frowns, then scowls, then has the gall to push him toward his unassuming little house. “In, in!” he urges.
Ivan glances backward, curious.
Yao shakes his head. The corners of his lips turn sharply down. “There’s no one else who wants,” he says.
Ivan smiles and tugs him inside to rebuild his ruins.