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I saw there were no oceans left (for scavengers like me)

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We met over a small earthquake
Now, my knees shake whenever
you come around and I've noticed
your hand has a slight tremor.


I Have Always Confused Desire With Apocalypse, by Daphne Gottlieb

 

*


"You know you could build anything here; why this?"


As far as greetings went; there was a profound lack of casualness in Arthur's question. Small talk was well and good on certain occasions. This however was no meeting so routine as to allow for casual conversation. Beyond that, of all the questions Arthur posed; exclusively to himself, only this one defied explanation again and again. For himself he'd built an aged ivory tower residing on the beach he'd awaken in to live about his life.


Atop those same shores though, stood a mass of boulders and resting above them a perfect reconstruction of the castle Arthur built for a partners (perhaps even a friend's) failed extraction attempt on the very man now coming to stand beside him.


"Ask me later," Saito said, dusting off the thick layer of sand coating his slacks until they were marginally more presentable.


His words might have sounded more authoritative had he been drenched in sea water, the crisp white fabric of his shirt wrinkled and clinging. Feeling assured Arthur allowed himself a moment of blatant appraisal. After all, no man walked alone into a tsunami twice to reach a person only to leave them on account of a little ogling.


Saito stood with his hands clasped behind his back. Close enough for Arthur to imagine feeling heat resurfacing though his body to combat the oceans chill. Far enough away for the sensation to stay in imagination's realm. Respectful distance. He barely repressed a shiver, bit down an invitation to move closer.


"I didn't expect you to try again; or so soon."


That earned him a raised brow. "I would like to believe I've not become quite so predictable Arthur."


"Oh, you haven't. There's an abundance about you I still don't understand."


"That is a mutual feeling," Saito said. Arthur didn't try quelling his small smile, pleased when Saito mirrored it.


At the beginning only guards were sent out to recapture him; an army of Saito's whose faces Arthur never bothered attempting to memorize. Too insubstantial. And for eighteen hundred twenty-seven days he'd look on as the rising waves dragged them into the sea; threw their bodies to the rock embankment to smash against the stones. Sands of Arthur's shores so often painted in stark red.


The tower Arthur built seaside was daunting in sized yet inside and out spoke of gradual dilapidation. Along with Saito's castle they remained solid, immovable. Withstanding five years of near constant battering from the tsunami's waves. Never sustaining any structural damage.


Such an exception defied all laws of reason, of dreaming


Everything. But they weren't sitting idly in a normal setting. This was another place, where Arthur could die and reawaken. Years of age reversed but still in an apparently infinite land. Elsewhere and laws held little more weight than a handful of dust blown up into the wind.


He'd soon learned the length and height of waves merely echoed the curling of his hands into fists; the constricting sensation in his chest every time Arthur peered through the tower window only to be denied the sight of Saito venturing out himself. To be hunted still; rather than searched for. Eighteen hundred twenty-seven days, five years of his bitterness and will foiling every single strategy Saito utilized. A challenge and a reminder.


I'll not be ensnared. I will take all your men; your ships, your nets and twist, tear them until they're nothing more than idle scraps of string swept up into the tide.


Until only one option remained.


Seek me out in your boat and I may let you cast your rope ashore.


At last on day twenty-eight the castles doors opened to reveal a lone figure stepping outside. Arthur allowed him seven steps in the sand before the waves took him.


He could delude himself, insist a petty vindictiveness was the sole motivation to deliberately task Saito with braving such an ordeal again. Five years shouldn't feel too long for indulging self-deception but coupled with the ten he'd lived before his death and rebirth the numbers all combined to equal weariness. Stuck in an infinite land indefinitely; time would do nothing except accumulate. Already Arthur was weary of masks, placing layers and hidden edges into every word or action. Little else mattered beyond this game he and Saito had locked themselves in. Bare, brutal honesty the only cards left worth dealing by.


Arthur wanted, needed to know for sure if he'd been judged worthy of pursuit. Not for capture, but for company.


Day twenty-nine he saw Saito approaching the beach alone once more. Something tight and near suffocating finally began to loosen its emotional hold on Arthur. He let the storm calm and ventured outside. Wavelengths shrunk, shortened until the tide washing upon the shore only reached Arthur's ankles from where he seated himself on the shore.


"Should I be expecting a new means of death?" Saito said without heat, breaking the silence between them. The corner of his mouth quirked; just enough, telling Arthur there was no ill will for what he'd endured. More an impressed sort of amusement. It roused more pride than Arthur liked to admit knowing he could surprise a man of Saito's stature and experience.


"No, a bullet would be...insulting," Arthur didn't conceal his grin, his underlying tone serious. "Sisyphus wasn't allowed a choice in pushing his boulder or letting it stay at the bottom of the hill. And I know you'd watch on your balcony every time the soldiers came."


"So twice is sufficient enough to demonstrate sincerity?"


"Yeah, I believe it is."


Saito sat beside him then, legs crossed. Their attention fixed outward on the ocean until he turned and caught Arthur's eyes.


"Are you familiar with Japanese faith as well as classical mythology?"


"I know a limited amount, " Arthur admitted. "Basic overviews. Why?"


"In Shinto religion there is a kami named Ame-no-Koyane. An aide to the first Emperor he's also in charge of divine affairs. Kami's live in a separate existence; hidden from the natural world."


Arthur looked away, torn between the urge to frown or flush at the implications. Frowning was winning out. "So you came back because you're seeking an exceptional adviser?"


That drew a grimace from Saito, who raised a pacifying hand when Arthur moved to further voice his disappointment.


"Not so literally. Men are rarely alone when they lead, govern. Other hands fill fundamental roles. But who can be trusted? Confided in?"


"Well we didn't exactly begin on the right note."


Saito nodded. "Relationships evolve. I want someone beside me, behind the scenes and at the forefront. To speak with, converse without pleasantness or ethics of rank. An equal, a companion. I have been here for some time. Have tried living with wrath, in solitude. All that lies before me there is a path to dying alone. Which is unacceptable."


"So you've changed directions?" Arthur felt himself tense with; trepidation? Excitement?


"Yes."


"I'm not at all divine Saito. You're most likely in for a lot of disappointment."


Given how long he'd spent waiting, Arthur wondered why hesitation now flared inside him. This was what he'd wanted. Regardless Saito appeared undaunted, treating him with a soft patience.


"Doubtful. They're not simply spirits but examples of what humans should strive for; awe-inspiring in nature and extraordinary .You are in harmony with them. "


"Are you so sure? I'm the reason we're here," Arthur said; voice hoarse, anxiety prickling up his neck with the realization he couldn't pin point exactly why or how. Only felt a lingering sting of deep failure. If he concentrated hard enough vague memories of a dark stairway surfaced; perhaps the shock of a sharp pain erupting in his back before the images turned cloudy and intangible would briefly surface.


He thought it might be critical to reach out; grasp them firmly. Yet he felt nothing could be more important than this meeting , this conversation, the culmination of five years wanting something he didn't dare name. And so he let them slip away once more.


"I do not remember everything before," Saito glanced at Arthur; his gaze calculating. Because he wasn't sure he should confess that, Arthur caught on in seconds. It was important. He didn't know what reaction it would garner.


A tremor pulsed through Arthur's fingers. He rubbed at the nape of his neck. "Neither do I."


"But I recall a number of...hidden variables working in conflict."


Saito caught Arthur's hand when he moved it down to his chest; sandy fingers delivering the gentlest of pressure as they squeezed his palm. Comforting.


"The last thing I need is an excuse."


"I never said I was excusing you. Only," And it almost looked like a struggle for Saito to maintain eye contact then. "When one has already accepted being at fault, how long is it necessary to shackle yourself to that failure?"


Arthur knew his glare could cut down to marrow. "I think ten years is good."


"As do I," Saito's gaze never wavered.


A clear apology was in his eyes though. When his mouth opened Arthur quickly cut him off; not unkindly. "You don't need to say it."


"And neither do you."


Arthur grew quiet again, fingers carding through the sand. When he'd washed ashore this novel but already occupied place he'd felt a sense of recoil. Saito's castle had been his own architectural monument, his design. So it was not lost on Arthur that after he'd been restrained by armed guards Saito chose to confide him to a small but comfortably furnished room in the top floor of the palace rather than the more apt interrogation cells lurking in the lowest level, enclosed by nothing but rocks outside.


Pain though, pain was of the mind as much as the body. A gilded cage promised equal potential to wound when one's freedom consisted of only the company of their own thoughts and the slow deterioration of a single room to witness.


Nonetheless, a design that was his alone.


Arthur spent a decade inside his room until the rasps of self-flagellation, of "you brought this on yourself and him as well" echoed from a corner in his mind so remote the words were inarticulate; only recognizable the emotions he could recall. In his mouth a bittersweet and acidic taste lingered. Almost like reparation, like penance.


In short order Arthur unlocked the sole window his room, climbed out onto its sill and threw himself down onto the rocks below. Layers of dust and cobwebs clung to his skin in spite of the rapid windfall.


He still remembered being uncertain if Saito was sitting out on the balcony he fell past that morning until there was a vivid flash of red and the sound of shattered glass pierced his ears briefly before his skull cracked on impact with the first sharp mass of stone.


Then he woke up.


Looking at Saito, years he'd lived before dying physically scrubbed away just as with Arthur. They were young again. Still Arthur continued to feel as if he was dealing with a centuries old blade. Honed by days of battles fought; terrain ventured over but no less deadly. More so in fact; deceptively advanced appearance masking a lethal point, a mind just as sharp as the final day of its crafting.


As if having keyed into Arthur's line of thinking, Saito inclined his head towards him.


" If we were to try, to move forwards; perhaps we'd be more compatible than either of us wished to believe. We're quite different in a number of ways. Yet not so much as well."


"You mean like yin and yang?" Arthur paused; well aware he'd diverged into a separate culture.


A dry chuckle, coarse as the sand beneath his palms was Saito's initial response. Any negative implications it might have held overshadowed by the expression of fondness.


"Not entirely," He said ," I'm speaking of a balanced complementary force Arthur. Two parts seemingly contrary by nature and so fated to opposition ; but in truth you need only agree to shift and adjust for the tensions to balance one another. The tension will always exist in varying degrees, but that's part of the dynamic. When brought and balanced together they're greater than separate parts, which remain interconnected."


Arthur drew in a deep breath. "To be cyclical then."

 

"Or halves of a whole," Saito said.

 

 

*


Arthur's eyes, sharp by nature it would seem, turned searing, assessing him critically. With a hunger Saito was familiar with however rarely felt compelled to indulge.


Rarely.


His fingers curled from where they rested atop Arthur's hand. He wondered if those slender hands could carve him out like marble, delve so far inside they reached the genesis point where all that remained was incomplete foundation. Map, memorize every inch of his body, his mind before reshaping his flesh back to its original figure. The naked intensity in Arthur's gaze spoke of a desire, to do exactly that. Unwilling to look away; Saito knew he wouldn't mind doing the same in return.
And in this infinite land time was an endless renewable resource.


Arthur leaned in close until their shoulders nearly touched. Completely direct with more than his face and words for the first time. Saito never mistook him for a man lacking in self-confidence; that hadn't motivated his previous behavior.

There was value in a keen sense of caution.


"So why rebuild the castle?"


Incomparable value. Saito had been expecting this topics reemergence, though not so well timed. Sensing his answer would either make or break his offer.


"You did enough research on me to know I wasn't born a wealthy man despite my family name," Impossible information to bury; although each day Saito felt the memories losing form, detail.


The unaccepted reality of destitution. Of his parents suffocating on the knowledge that their families former empire, their high standing laid in ruins for decades now and relentlessly driving him to either rise at all costs to restore. Or else fall back into the gutter and strangle with the rest of them. Words spoken, images deeply ingrained, they receded like the sunset.


"Many buildings were constructed since then; offices, safe houses and homes. But no one ever built me a castle. Never before have I been elevated to a throne."

 

*

 

Needing some kind of action to combat his own stunned silence Arthur leaned back onto his elbows. Saito's hand moved, drifting down further to settle on the exposed portion of his lower abdomen. Stroking languid, meaningless patterns on Arthur's skin. A bold gesture but not unwelcome, not after nearly two decades of maneuvering around the only substantial connection they knew could be formed.


Elsewhere. This was elsewhere. Time would do nothing except accumulate.


Water pulsed between Arthur's toes, impossibly warm given the nights chill permeating the air. He didn't know if dusk should even have taken place yet. Or if their minds were working in sync; accelerating minutes; hours towards this encounter's unmistakable conclusion.

 

interconnected. cyclical.

 

 

balanced.

 

halves of a whole.

 

Arthur brought his hand to join Saito's, interlacing their fingers. "I've heard that traditionally, great leaders might be considered kami too. Such as an Emperor?"


An allegory was the closest Arthur could come to "yes, I'll go back with you. yes, I want to try." Not quite prepared to speak it yet; so he'd more cards left to play after all. An allegory no less sincere than the sentiment lurking behind them. The sense of advancing to a new game altogether.


Yet Arthur stopped short of reaching out further. A fleeting dread crossed him that this was another, significant sort of turning point. One he shouldn't accept so readily.


It fell behind Saito's bolstered initiative. Anticipation swelled beneath Arthur's skin, burning and burning, when he laid down beside him. Cupped Arthur's cheek with his other palm and he hadn't realized he was smiling until a dry thumb brushed over one dimple.


"Yes," Saito said, fierce. Reverent.

 

Arthur cast his doubts out into the placid ocean; weaved his fingers through Saito's hair to press their mouths together.