Once upon a time, a man went searching for his love in a winter wasteland.
By Ariss Tenoh
He didn't think he'd find him here, in this place of all places.
Upon reflection, he admitted it was fitting for that person to be here.
In Hokkaido, a No-Man's land. A land of contradictions, of ever-falling snow and steaming hot springs, of few human life and an abundance of an animal one.
He moved deeper into Kushiro Mire, a vast marsh surrounded by hills and shaped like the palm of a great hand. He smiled. The irony was delicious. A nature-formed kekkai, did he think he could hide here in safety?
His steps were slow but sure as he walked through heavy white snow, trusting his instincts to find that person for him.
The river appeared in the distance, enveloped in a thick fog hovering just above the water's surface. Dark shapes dotted the riverbanks, some moving here and there.
A shrill cry pierced the air, one that would doubtless be heard for miles.
Cranes His mind supplied.
And there he was. Standing some distance from the cranes which were roosting in the water, hunched against the cold. A ghost-like figure amid the fog, capable of disappearing without a trace, in a coat as white as the cranes he came to watch.
He stepped ever closer, watched the thin shoulders straighten and the body still, until he reached and laid his gloved hands on his shoulders.
"You're poorly dressed for this weather." His voice was tempered with softness as if he was trying not to frighten some wild animal.
"Here. Let me."
He turned the young man around and was rewarded with a glimpse at those beautiful green eyes. Memory was such a poor substitute for reality.
He took the thin white coat off and gently slipped a long black coat made of thick wool on Subaru; Subaru did not comment on the fact that the coat fit him so well. He held those hands for a moment, just looking at them. He smiled and tugged a pair of wool gloves on those cold, purple tipped hands. A grey scarf appeared from somewhere and he wrapped it and tucked it around the fragile neck, letting his fingers linger just so and enjoying the body shivering against them.
Another shrill cry resonated in the air like a badly tuned wind instrument. Subaru jerked at the sound of it, blinking again and again, awareness returning.
"Seishirou-san.... why are you doing this?" He asked without expecting an answer, quiet despair in his voice.
"Why after all this time? Why are you doing this now?"
"Why are you doing this... to me." The repeated question slowly dwindled into unspeakable sorrow.
"It's time." Seishirou didn't think he could explain it.
"It's time?" Incredulousness and anger heated the cold air between them. "After nearly nine years, it's time!?"
Seishirou knew he couldn't say anything to alleviate a pain he caused and is causing. So he did what he thought was best. He drew the young man to him and held him tight in his arms.
Subaru stiffened, attempted to remain aloof and disconnected, before simply melting into Seishirou's embrace.
"I hate you." The tone was somewhere between an adult's long suffering grievance and a child's sulk.
A black gloved hand held his chin and tipped it upwards. Subaru gazed into Seishirou's mismatched eyes and felt the familiar stab of pain and guilt.
"I know." A statement eloquent in its simplicity. Seishirou leaned down and kissed him.
It was strangely fitting that his first kiss should be in the dead of winter, in the middle of Hokkaido's wilderness, Subaru thought with a vague sense of wonder and homecoming.
"That's not fair," he protested, a little breathless once Seishirou released him.
Around them, little noises of activity grew louder. It was no longer dawn, the sun was rising and so were the cranes.
Subaru turned his eyes to the cranes, to their black and white plumage with that little bit of vivid red on their heads like a crown of blood. They looked striking and colourful. They had no business belonging in such a desolate landscape, yet they belonged here against all odds by right of beauty and by simply existing here even when the humans came.
They reminded him of Seishirou in a way, and it was not only the shared colouring.
One crane broke off from the rest. It bowed its head and flapped its broad wings, kicking snow before it, dancing for its mate.
Soon its mate joined it and they joined together in a united call, declaring their bond to the world at large.
"Did you know Subaru-kun that the Ainu emulate the Tancho's dance in a ritual to charm evil spirits?"
Out of the corner of his eye, Seishirou caught the furtive movement of a squirrel darting between the mounds of snow.
"I can see why." Subaru was looking at the pair of cranes, a look close to contentment on his face.
After moments of silence, Subaru whispered, "I love you, you know." Seemingly an afterthought.
On a thin branch near the two humans, a small bird perched and puffed its feathers against the cold.
Seishirou did know, but he said nothing. Though the tense of the verb did not escape his notice.
"Let's go back to the inn. You're going to get hypothermia standing in this weather." He put one arm around Subaru's shoulders and steered him away.
"How long is it going to last this time, Seishirou-san?" Hard-edged cynicism and bitterness sharpened the words to the point that they wounded even the Sakurazukamori.
Seishirou stopped and looked at the river which ran along their right.
Subaru turned too to see what the man was looking at, he realized Seishirou was looking at the cranes and understood.
It was common knowledge that cranes mated for life.
His eyes quickly sought Seishirou's.
Seishirou merely smiled and continued to half hold him and half steer him back to safety and warmth.
"I wasn't expecting to find you here in Hokkaido. Did you have an assignment here?"
So easy to slip into old habits. Subaru found himself smiling wryly and replied, "No, I always wanted to come see the cranes."
Snow crunched beneath their feet.
"And it was peaceful here. So I stayed."
For four months, Seishirou had trouble believing anyone from Tokyo could endure the harsh solitude and primitive surroundings of Hokkaido. But then Subaru had never liked Tokyo, not truly. And his statement sounded a little too much like a confession for Seishirou's liking. It was time to change the subject to something less melancholy. "It is beautiful here and certainly presents many opportunities for privacy."
He could feel Subaru's blush even if he didn't see it. Some things didn't change and Seishirou was grateful for that.
"Though I hope you won't mind if we spend next Christmas in front of a fireplace somewhere in Tokyo," he continued.
Subaru stumbled and broke their pace.
Seishirou pivoted on one heel to look back at him.
The Sumeragi made such a pretty picture. Slightly parted lips, flushed cheeks, disbelief, wariness and hope warring in his dark green eyes. His posture a painted picture of shattered dreams and lost innocence, but there was layer of hidden strength beneath it all.
He savoured the image, knowing he had a hand in creating it, and sent it to a corner of his mind to enjoy later. He had a Subaru to soothe.
He walked slowly to Subaru, who looked ready to flee at the slightest noise, and held Subaru's hand.
"Merry Christmas, Subaru-kun."
Subaru blinked at the apparent non sequitur. Then he smiled, and it looked more poetic than the sun reflecting off white snow.
They walked together in contented silence. As they neared the small town, Subaru said, "You're a bastard, you know that right?" He didn't bother to look at Seishirou's face.
Seishirou squeezed his hand. "I know."
Green eyes met amber and white ones, they shared another warm smile full of future promises and half-formed dreams.
Holding hands, they stepped into the inn together.
~ End ~
Tancho means 'red peak' and is the name the Japanese call the red-crowned crane. Known as Grus Japonensis. You can see this crane on the tails of Japan's Airlines if you're at an airport^_^ The red-crowned crane is a symbol of happiness, luck, longevity, and fidelity. Yes, they do mate for life.
Hokkaido is Japan's northernmost island. It's winter all year long there. The Japanese consider Hokkaido as something of a last frontier, what Texas or Alaska is to a New Yorker. Think the Hebrides to the British^^
The Ainu are the native people of Japan and a minority if I understand correctly.