labyrinthmess: (anxious kiku)
[personal profile] labyrinthmess
Title: There and Back Again
Rating/Genre: PG-13. Romance / Fantasy-Supernatural-AU
Character(s)/Pairing(s): Greece/fem!Japan, Chiharu = fem!Osaka. Also includes Pochi and a fat cat.
Warnings: None, unless you’re allergic to cats and gender-bends.
Summary: In which Kiku treads on the path of hidden memories.


Act 4

e·the·re·al / adjective / not of this world; spiritual

this deep forest
is haunted!
Tengu's mushrooms sprout


The next morning, she found herself in the shade of the ginkgo tree once more, standing beside the abandoned torii. Pochi was close by, his nose buried between the long grass as he sniffed about. Kiku could hear the buzz of cicadas echoing from the forest and of songbirds chirruping high up in the leafy branches above her.

It had taken a good part of her morning, but she finished her chores as quickly she could. She’d even managed to surreptitiously prepare extra portions of salmon onigiri for lunch (she wasn’t sure if Herakles liked the taste of salmon, but she felt compelled to bring him something different this time).

If Madam Sakaguchi and the other girls in the okiya had noticed Kiku’s added enthusiasm in completing her chores, they did not mention it. Instead, they’d only smiled knowingly to each other; the young maiko had always possessed a desire for exploring out on her own, even as a child.

Kiku had a slightly harder time slipping away from Chiharu however. She knew that Chiharu would have wanted her to share everything – about Herakles and the talking cat, about what she’d seen in the forest. She doubted that Chiharu would even believe her in the first place, though.

She heard a soft wuff and she started, the sound of Pochi’s bark breaking her out of her reverie. The little dog tilted his head sideways, regarding her curiously.

Kiku smiled, reaching out to brush her palm gently against Pochi’s cream-white fur. “Let’s stop by Chiharu’s favourite shop and buy her some mitarashi dango when we head home later, okay?”

“Mitarashi dango?!” came a voice from somewhere above her. “Take me with you too… meeoowrahh!

The branches above her shook; there was a rustling of leaves and the sound of claws scrabbling hastily against wood. Kiku saw a blur of white, orange and black fur and flailing paws flash past her, before landing right beside her foot with a heavy thud.

“Oh!” she said, finally recognising the rotund mess of fur as Herakles’ cat. Crouching over the fallen creature, she lifted the cat up and cradled it gently within her arms. “Are you all right?”

“No, of course not,” Nagi mewled indignantly. “The bird I was stalking got away. Its pretty little head was this close to my jaws, but then I heard you say I’ll give you lots of mitarashi dango and I paused, distracted! And the bird flew away and just like that, my meal was gone.

The cat twitched her bobtail, wearing such a look of disappointment that Kiku, though very much amused, was also beginning to feel sorry for her. Nagi brightened considerably within seconds, however; there was a rather sly twinkle in her eyes now. Fixing Kiku with a hopeful gaze, she purred – a soft, throaty hum reverberating through her roundish frame – and rubbed her head against Kiku’s hand. “I’ll forgive you though, if you pay me back my losses with mitarashi dango.”

“Nagi, you know very well that it was your own fault the bird got away.”

Kiku lifted her gaze to the leafy canopy above her and saw Herakles seated languidly in the crook of a branch. He yawned sleepily, blinking sunlight out of his eyes before hopping out of the tree to stand beside her. Pochi barked, wagging his tail excitedly as he pawed at Herakles’ knees.

“Mitarashi dango, I need some mitarashi dangoooo,” Nagi mewled again, giving Herakles a pleading look in hopes of evoking some pity. “I might starve if I don’t. Mitarashi dango-oh-ooohh.”

Herakles only shook his head at her, a teasing half-smirk pulling at the corners of his lips. “Your teeth are bad enough as it is. Plus, you’ve been getting heavier lately; my shoulders are starting to hurt.”

Ignoring Nagi’s scandalized hiss – “Are you trying to insinuate that I’m fat?!” –  Herakles glanced over at Kiku, giving her a friendly smile. “Hello. I didn’t think you’d actually come back to see us.”

“Hello,” Kiku said as she set Nagi on the ground. “I thought you might not have enough to eat, staying out in the forest on your own like this.” Reaching into her furoshiki for the onigiri she’d prepared, she offered one to Herakles and another to Nagi – who happily finished her share in three ravenous gulps.

“You’re too kind, even to strangers,” Herakles said, but he accepted the onigiri graciously.

“It just wouldn’t sit well with me, if I didn’t see if you were doing all right– ah, I apologise..” Kiku paused and bowed, blushing slightly now. She hadn’t meant to be so honest with her words. “I didn’t mean to impose myself upon the two of you. I’m sorry.”

“Hmm? There’s no need to apologise. You’re not intruding at all.” Herakles let Nagi licked the last bits of rice from his palm. “Besides, I was the one who offered you an invitation.”

“Well, I suppose you did…”

“So, would you like to?”

“Ah, would I like to what?”

Herakles chuckled softly at her confused expression. “Would you like to see more of our home, the forest?”

The forest. Kiku felt a slight tingle run through her, a tiny current of apprehension and exhilaration dancing together within her. The last time she had stumble too far into the forest, she had almost run into the jaws of deadly beast.

It was only a fox-spirit though, she thought. And this time, Herakles and Nagi are here.

And still, she dreamt of the boy and his magic carp every night; of the mermaid basking under moonlight and of the rabbit-children coming out to play with the dancing tea kettles and paper lanterns…

She felt the brush of Pochi’s tail against her ankles and she let out a tiny sigh. Blushing slightly, she bowed once more and smiled.

“I would be honoured to.”


Several moments later, Kiku found herself seated precariously upon Nagi’s broad shoulders, clinging tightly onto the white-and-orange fur so that she would not slip off. Pochi followed them closely, running as fast as he could after the huge nekomata.

Herakles sat behind her – Kiku could feel the light brush of his sleeves against her arms each time the nekomata bounded across logs and fallen branches. At any other time, she might have said something about that; she’d never preferred being in such close proximity with another person, even if it was her mother or Chiharu.

But she was too filled with wonderment and awe at all that she saw as they travelled through the forest, past groves of bamboo. The bamboo loomed above them, tall and ancient. She could feel how old the forest was within her bones; it felt as if time had come to a stand-still in a past long gone – frozen in a memory of when the world was still in its youth.

And peeking out curiously from the forest were creatures – yōkai – that she thought only existed in between pages of her books and in her father’s stories. There, crouching by a clump of ferns, she recognised the kitsune who had chased her in the form of a beast the first time she set foot in the forest; it twitched its ears nervously, before offering her what looked to be a sheepish grin. Not far off, a tanuki stood upright on its back legs, pushing its straw hat back from its face while clutching a bottle of sake close to its chest. In between the foliage and underneath moss-covered rocks, glimmering, brightly-coloured shapes flitted by.

All around them, Kiku could hear voices – hushed whispers that tinkled in the wind.

They’re back. Herakles and Nagi have returned.

Herakles, you’ve been away for long. Where did you go?

Did you bring back a toy, Herakles? It looks like a doll! Can we play with it?

The trees around them began to thin as they approached a quiet dale filled with tall grass and blooming wildflowers. Nagi slowed her pace, coming to a stop beside a group of shrubs dotted with tiny, white flowers. Yawning lazily, she sat down on the grass, allowing Kiku and Herakles to clamber down from her back.

“You have many friends here,” Kiku said, casting her gaze about in wonderment. “They must really like you.”

“I’ve known them since I was a young boy.” Herakles said as he settled himself down on the grass, leaning back against Nagi’s form.
The nekomata twitched her tails at the touch, but she didn’t seem to mind. After a moment’s hesitation, Kiku moved to sit beside them. Pochi flopped against her lap, still wagging his tail.

“Have you always lived in the forest?” Kiku asked as she carefully brushed her fingers through the dog’s fur, removing the stray twigs and burrs he’d picked up while running through the forest.

“No, I come from another land, far to the West. The sun is always bright and hot, and the sea… it’s an unending blue. Darker than the sky, but not any less beautiful. Most days, it is clear and shines, like liquid jewel. And the sound of its waves hitting the shoreline… it’s calming, like a lullaby.” He paused, a faraway look in his eyes now, as if he were recalling a fond memory, a receding dream. “I miss falling asleep in the sand, listening to its whispers.”

Kiku had never seen the sea. She’d heard stories from her father and saw pictures of it in various paintings and books of course, but she’d never thought much about them, except as something similar to a very large lake. She wondered if she would love the sea as much as Herakles did, if she could see its brilliance with her own eyes.

“Why did you leave your home?” she asked again. Herakles did not reply her immediately, staring silently at the sky, watching as clouds passed above them.

“I didn’t want to leave, but she’d grown weary of the land. Of all the wars and petty fights. And she’d always wanted to see the world. So we left together, just the two of us.”  He turned his gaze down, before stretching his right hand out before him. There was a thread… no, a single strand of chestnut-brown hair entwined around his little finger. A girl’s or a woman’s hair. A lover, perhaps.

Kiku had noticed it when they were travelling through the forest, seated on Nagi’s back. She felt her cheeks warm at the thought, feeling the tiniest stab of envy within her.

“It’s just me now though.” Herakles said softly, before he let out sobering chuckle.

“Ah… do you mean she’s–”

“My mother was sick for a long time. I think that was partially the reason why she’d wanted to leave our home; she wanted to explore the world one last time before she left it for good.” Herakles paused again, holding up the  finger entwined with his mother’s hair, so that Kiku could see it better. “She made me promise to never forget her. To never forget our home and our people.”

Oh. His mother.

Kiku felt a little foolish now, silently chiding herself for her initial jealousy.

“I’m sorry to hear about your mother,” she said. “It must be hard, left to live alone like this.”

“It’s even harder to be left baby-sitting a brat like him.” The nekomata growled abruptly, twitching her long whiskers. “I should have eaten you when I had the chance to.”

Herakles’ lips quirked at the cat’s words. “I don’t think I would taste very good. You’d probably end up with a bad stomachache if you did.” Glancing back at Kiku, he shook his head and said, “I still have Nagi, and some of the yōkai in the forest are still friendly and kind to me. So it’s not all that bad.”

“Even so…” Kiku trailed off, frowning as if she’d thought of something. “You said your mother had grown weary of the wars?”

Herakles nodded. “She was tired of the constant fights between our people and between the gods themselves. I never knew what they were fighting about, but I remember how she was always sad and disheartened by it . Things gradually got out of hand and soon, the land was in shambles and she grew weaker…. One day, she finally decided she had enough, and so we left, sailing away in our boat, with white and blue sails.”

“Ehhh, did you really sail across the sea, just the two of you in small sailboat?” Kiku said, unable to hide the smile that played upon her lips as she tried to imagine such a feat. She’d seen pictures of sailboats in books too and a handful of real ones along the river. But they had all looked too small to be used for sailing all around the world. “I’d think if you would need a big air-ship, like the ones Sky Commodore Perry steered into Nippon.”

Herakles only grinned back at her. “Air-ships aren’t the only ones that can travel far. And Mother had always loved the sea; it was almost like a second home to her. When we sailed across all oceans, I was never afraid, not with her at the helm. She was skilled at many things – sailing, archery… And back in her youth, she even raced chariots over the skies, beating the all of the gods in a bet once.”

“Are you sure you aren’t just making this all up?” Kiku chuckled softly into her sleeve, even as she continued to listen with slight-awe.

“I’m not,” Herakles said, furrowing his brows as he tried to look affronted, only to fail. He laughed, and Kiku thought it was a wonderful sound indeed.

They continued to exchange stories for several hours. Herakles told her all about the land of Hellas, of tall white pillars in marbled halls, where the minstrels played their lyres and flutes to the High King; of fierce warriors dressed in bronze metal breastplates, wreaths of ivy and gold in their hair. In turn, Kiku shared her own tales of the olden courts, where ladies in long, colourful silk robes raised their voices in tune with the shamisen; of samurai caught in a deadly battle-dance, in fields razed and streaked with crimson.

It was already an hour past noon when Herakles and Nagi finally escorted Kiku out of the forest and back to the abandoned torii standing in the shade of the gingko tree.

“I’m really happy that you came to see us,” Herakles said, his eyes bright. “Thank you.”

“The pleasure is all mine. I’m glad to be able to see your home.” Kiku said, bowing politely to Herakles, and again to Nagi.
“Good-bye for now.”

She was about to walk through the arch and back up the path when she felt Herakles’s soft touch upon her shoulder.

“Wait,” he said. “Will you… visit us again? You don’t have to, but it would be nice to hear more of your stories again…”

Kiku blinked, before she blushed slightly, averting her gaze to the ground. “Well,” she began tentatively. “I guess I can find some time to visit again. And… and I don’t mind listening to your stories too.”

Herakles’ smile grew wider. He plucked a strand of his hair and gently reaching for Kiku’s right hand, he carefully tied the chestnut-brown hair to her little finger.

“If you wish to visit us again, this is where I’ll be waiting – at this torii, under the gingko tree. Every day in the morning.”

Kiku nodded, watching as Herakles finished tying the last knot around her finger. Then, much to Herakles’ surprise, she reached for her own hair as well, plucking free a single black strand. And she tied it to his little finger as well, just above where his mother’s hair was entwined.

“I’ll come visit you and Nagi again. Maybe not every day, but whenever I have the time to. I promise.”

“You’ll bring lots of onigiri again when you visit, right?” Nagi cut in, calling out from somewhere up in the tree. “And you’ll bring my mitarashi dango too, right?”

Kiku smiled. “Yes, I'll bring a big packet just for you, Cat-sensei.”

And with that, she bade them farewell and jogged back up the path towards home, with Pochi yipping excitedly alongside her.

next act

previous act


This scene took a lot longer than I expected. I have no excuses really, except that I've been procrastinating as well as been really busy with real-life and work (you see, life as a working adult can sometimes be like sitting on a box of nails - it's a pain in the arse ! ) I hope the slightly longer act makes up for it? ^^;

Also Samiy,  I apologize for the lack of  Kiku's life as a maiko (for now, at least), but I wanted to establish her tentative with friendship with Herakles and Nagi first. But I will definitely try to highlight Kiku's maiko duties in the next acts :')

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May 2016

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