Since the day he got here, snow would occasionally float down from the overcast sky, coating the sugar white ground with its presence. Today, though, the sun shined brightly for once; the rays no longer hiding coyly behind billowy clouds. Ivan sighed, his warm breath a stark contrast to the cold air around him. It seems even in the long ago past, he couldn't escape from General Winter's grasp.
The stick he used to doodle against the snow swayed in the wind as he jabbed it harshly into the ground. He leaned back against the haystack and watched the villagers pass him by, each hurrying to finish their task under the scarce winter daylight. Idly flicking a finger against the stick, Ivan sighed again.
He was bored. Mind numbingly bored.
Early in the morning, Yao's leader had summoned him to an important meeting. With Yao holding onto his hand, it seemed like Ivan was to attend too. However, just as they left Yao's yurt, his leader put a light hand on Ivan's chest and requested he stay away from the meeting. It was enough that Ivan ruined the one before, but he would not tolerate an outsider interrupting their gathering a second time. Yao became indignant on Ivan's behalf, but just as the boy was about to start his rampage, Ivan told him he would just explore the village as he waited for him. He didn't mind.
It seemed like such a good idea at the time; it effectively pacified Yao's temperament and he could finally have time to himself. Just that Ivan didn't know the meeting would last from sunrise until mid-afternoon. He took in a deep breath, all of it coming out as a puff of hot air. Ivan hated to admit it, but he was starting to miss the tiny firecracker asking him questions nonstop and cuddling up next to him shamelessly. Ah, no, he better stop that train of thought. It would only depress him. He didn't need to be reminded he was Yao's father and not lover.
"Yiwan Dai Ren?" a familiar voice timidly broke through his reverie.
Ivan looked up to find Yunxin smiling warmly at him.
"Are you waiting for Shangdi?" The young girl asked curiously, hoping to strike up a conversation with the strange looking man.
"You mean Yao? Yes, I'm waiting for him."
As an awkward silence settled between them, Ivan expected Yunxin to quietly excuse herself before leaving, but the girl stayed where she was, blatantly staring at him.
"Was there something else you wanted?" Ivan said, a hint of a menace slipping into his voice.
Instead of taking the hint, Yunxin took it as an invitation to continue their conversation.
"Actually there is," She sat down promptly beside him, speaking cheerfully, "Ever since you've got here, the whole entire village has been buzzing with curiosity, but because you were always with Shangdi, no one dared to approach you. I've been dying to know where you're from since we met."
Ivan was about to speak, however he was distracted by the sudden weight on his knee. Looking down, he found a little boy about 4 years old draping himself over him. Mouth open wide and drooling, the child gazed up at Ivan with awe. "How come you look so funny? My mommy said not to stare at you in the eye or I'd be curse. Is it true I'd be eaten up by demons if I talk to you?"
The baffled nation stumbled for an answer, "Um, well I-"
"Kai! What did I tell you about wandering off before finishing your chores!" A plump woman came charging from the other side of the village with a fierce look on her face. She yanked her son off Ivan, making sure to not make eye contact with the lavender eyes. Ivan was completely confused by the way she pressed her palms together while bowing down to him profusely as she apologized.
"What is she doing?" Ivan quietly asked Yunxin.
Yunxin cupped Ivan's ear with her hand, whispering in a low voice, "Some of the villagers think you're a demon here to take our souls, but don't mind that. Personally me and some other villagers think you're a deity like Shangdi. She's praying to you right now."
"Praying?" Ivan shouted. He was starting to panic. Yao needed to get back here fast. This was getting a little bit too weird for him.
"Yiwan Dai Ren," someone cried out, now not just bowing, but actually kowtowing to him, "My tooth has been aching for a week now. Please take away the pain! I offer you my goat as sacrifice. I beg of you, grant me this one wish and I'll continually offer the youngest, most tender goat as compensation."
"H-hold on here!" The Russian took a step back and to his horror found that his back was pressed against tree. Half of the village was surrounding him now. It seemed after Yunxin paved the way for them, the women and children gathered around to inspect the strange foreigner with light colored hair and eyes. Some thought he would bestow upon them great fortunes if they prayed and offered sacrifices while others just wanted a good glimpse at the odd creature.
And that was how Yao found him, surrounded by women and children of all shapes and sizes.
When the meeting adjourned- a reluctant agreement on invading the nearby clan- Yao immediately raced out of the large yurt, excited to get back to the other man's side. He didn't know why, but ever since last night when Ivan agreed to be his, he felt elated and giddy; his little heart beating faster than a fish could swim through water. Just seeing him, being next to him, Yao couldn't stop from smiling like a fool. He didn't want to be separated from him for even a moment. From dawn until dusk, he wanted to be beside his Ivan, doing anything or nothing at all.
Running through the village, no longer caring about appearance, Yao was about to call out Ivan's name when he caught sight of the larger nation. He stopped dead in his tracks. The women and children crowded around Ivan, laughing and teasing, tugging and touching him intimately. A bitter taste rose in Yao's mouth as he observed the scene before him.
He was their deity and yet it was towards Ivan they acted affectionate. But that wasn't made Yao feel betrayed. Ivan said he would be his and his alone so why was he conversing with the villagers? He was his! He shouldn't talk to anyone else but him! Watching Ivan immerse himself easily with the villagers- people he's watched from childhood till death- Yao's hand clenched at his chest. It hurt. His heart hurt so much.
Yao couldn't take it anymore. The more he watched them, the larger the ache in his chest grew. He turned back around to run far away from here; as fast as his legs could take him. In his blind haste, the child tripped on the hem of his skirt and fell face first into the snowy ground. He laid there unmoving and unwilling to get up. The soft white snow perfectly concealed the tears welling up in his eyes. He no longer cared if his people saw him cry; he's had enough with the lot of them. More than just a deity or a nation, he was also human. He had feelings, he felt pain.
Just as Yao was wallowing in his own self-pity, two large hands picked him off from the ground. Ivan gently cradled the little boy in his arms, careful to hide the crying face from curious onlookers. "Welcome back," he spoke softly into the other nations' hair, "Let's go back to the yurt to wipe you off okay?"
Yao wordlessly nodded his head, clinging onto Ivan's scarf with lost desperation. When they finally reached the cozy yurt, the Russian tried to unwind the small arms around his neck, but for being so small, they had incredible strength. The more Ivan tried to set him down, the tighter Yao held on.
In the end Ivan gave up and sat on the cushion with Yao still dangling from his neck. He ran a soothing hand down the trembling back, thinking Yao must have really hurt himself. "Hey, are you alright?" Ivan asked, "Is it painful? Let me see."
"No." Yao pushed away from the larger man, flopping face down on his bed. "It hurts. It hurts everywhere and it's all your fault! Go away!"
Ivan smiled, relieved to see the Chinese boy return to his former pompous self. He crawled over carefully to sit beside the tiny child. "Since you say it's my fault that you fell, I should be responsible to make it all better then," Ivan said, nudging Yao's shoulder, "I have a magic charm that works wonders on wounds and injuries."
"M-magic charm?" Yao looked up from his pillow, sniffling.
"Yup. Now show me where it hurts and I'll make all the pain go away."
Wiping his eyes, Yao lifted his scraped hand up to Ivan. "Here."
The Russian chuckled and took hold of the delicate hand, kissing the injury. "There. All better."
"That wasn't magic," Yao pouted, "All you did was press your mouth on it. Now I have your saliva on my hand!"
Ivan gave the child nation a haughty look. "Ah, but does it hurt anymore?"
Yao stared at his hands before raising his confused face to gaze at Ivan. "It doesn't hurt as much as before. How'd you do that?"
"Like I said, magic," Ivan smirked, "Anywhere else you'd like me to perform magic on, Your Majesty?"
Yao giggled, enjoying Ivan pampering him. "My knee." The boy stuck out one leg and pulled the hem of his hanfu to reveal snowy white legs.
"Anywhere else?" Ivan asked once he finished pecking his lips on the light scratches on Yao's knee.
Yao pointed to his bleeding lip. "Here. I bit it when I fell down. Lick here too."
Ivan shook his head in exasperation. "It's not called licking, little Yao. It's called kissing."
"Then kiss my mouth too. It really stings," Yao demanded, lifting his face up for the magical kiss.
This was the golden opportunity Ivan's been looking for; the moment where he could steal Yao's first kiss. This was the whole reason he traveled back here and little Yao was so willing
but he couldn't do it. Despite him loving to watch Alfred, Francis, and Arthur contorted from pain and Toris' troubled face, he was still a romanticist at heart. When he kissed someone, he wanted them to know he desired them beyond anything else- whether it be by power or by tenderness. If he kissed Yao now, it would hold no meaning.
"I'm sorry I can't," Ivan said, kissing Yao's tiny nose instead.
Yao titled his head, holding onto Ivan's arms for balance as he sat up on his knees. "Why not?"
"You should only kiss someone on the lips if you like them," Ivan explained patiently, ruffling Yao's hair again just to annoy him.
The boy glared, but didn't go into his righteous rampage. He met Ivan's violet gaze before breaking it off with a blush. "B-but
," Yao stuttered, hot embarrassment coursing through him, "
I do like you, Yiwan. I really like you."
Ivan smiled. He placed a finger under the younger nation's chin and lifted it until he could stare into Yao's shy eyes. He believed him. He really did believe Yao liked him, but like didn't translate into love. It wasn't what he was looking for.
"Thank you," Ivan kissed Yao's forehead, appreciating the gesture anyway, "but your type of like and the like I'm asking for are two different things."
Yao furrowed his brows. "I don't understand. What types of likes are there? Why can't my like be enough?"
Ivan stroked Yao's baby soft cheeks. "Someday you'll understand. As a wise person once said to me, 'Nature, time and patience are the three great physicians*.'"
"Who said that?" Yao responded with disgust, "He sounds like a haughty person. I don't like him."
Quickly Ivan covered his mouth to keep from bursting out laughing. The irony was unbearable since it was Yao himself who taught him the proverb about nature, time and patience. Ivan always thought the older Yao was too uptight, but having the younger Yao criticize his older self was just too priceless. Even Yao thought of himself as too high maintenance. Ivan was going to use this against him the next time Yao wanted to refuse kissing him in public.
Maybe traveling back wasn't such a waste of time after all.
Day 5 & Present Day
"Yiwan! Hurry! Walk faster!" Yao whined, tugging on Ivan's hand as they trudged through the thick snow.
"We'd walk faster if you would tell me where we're going," The Russian grumbled in annoyance.
At the break of dawn just as the sun was peaking over the horizon, Ivan experienced a rude awakening. He grunted from the pain as little Yao deemed it necessary to pounce on him in an effort to wake him. "Wake up! Wake up! Hurry up and dress, Yiwan! I have a surprise for you!" Yao's cheery voice grated on Ivan's tired mind.
It was too early for Ivan; he didn't have the patience to deal with Yao's unpredictable mood swings. Turning his back on Yao and burrowing deeper into the blankets, he attempted to ignore the hyperactive child and continue his sleep. However, despite their short time together, it seemed Yao also figured out a few ways to deal with Ivan's own temperament.
When Ivan didn't seem like he was going to get up and get ready, Yao took it into his own hands to try and dress the older nation
starting with his pants.
Cold, nimble fingers caressing his buttocks, Ian shot up from his warm bed. "YAO!" Ivan let out a vicious growl, making a grab for the Chinese boy to exact revenge, but Yao was a quick little thing, evading all attempts to capture him. He daintily pranced over to the yurt's entrance with ease, giving Ivan an arrogant smile. "Yiwan, if you don't get dressed quickly, there's more where that came from~"
Ivan could only lie in his bed, staring baffled at the closed flaps. He ran a hand through his tousled hair, reluctantly getting up. He don on the clothes he came in when he first arrived here. They were sturdier. Seriously, if he stayed here any longer, he had a feeling little Yao would be taking his backdoor virginity rather than the other way around.
Ivan cringed at the unsavory (though interesting) thought as he followed the boy to the outskirt of the village. "Are we there yet? I'm hungry. We haven't even eaten breakfast!"
"Almost, almost," Yao replied with a silly grin.
They reached a clearing where snow covered everything. As far as the eye could see, the morning rays reflected the white, snowy ground.
"Here!" Yao pointed to a boulder in the middle of the field. He pushed and bullied until Ivan sat on the protruding rock. "Wait here for me okay?"
"Where are you going?" Ivan called out as Yao scurried away to retrieve his surprise.
"Just wait and see!" The young boy yelled back before disappearing into the forest.
Chuckling, Ivan closed his eyes and leaned back on his hands to bask in the warm sunlight. It was tough being with little Yao. He was continually harassed by both little Yao and his villagers while all the while holding back his urges as Yao unintentionally seduces him. Despite all the hardship though, Ivan was honestly enjoying himself.
A smile crept up the Russian's lips. Yao was a constant source of frustration and joy. With him around, Ivan was never bored, but then again, whenever he was with Yao- young or old- he always found himself content. His amethyst eyes opened to greet the blue, blue sky. It didn't go the way he planned, but he didn't regret his decision in coming here. He was glad he met Yao as a child; got the chance to understand his little lover a bit better. No matter how close he held Yao in his arms or how passionate their kiss, a shroud of sadness always surrounded the Chinese nation. Now he knew why.
He couldn't change much, but for a little while, he wanted to be the pillar of strength for him again. Ivan had forgotten what it was like to have the proud nation lean on him for support. When he goes back, things will return to normal. Yao once again strong, powerful, and facing the world's scrutiny alone. How long will he have until-
The world flashed and spun. Without realizing it, Ivan gazed at the hazy world lying flat on his back- breathing becoming hard for him with every breath. Dread filled his body. It was too soon. He was suppose to have another week.
Ivan lifted his hand towards the sky, the clouds above him seen clearly through his hands. His spell had run out. He was returning back to his present time.
All without saying a goodbye.
Ivan sprang up and ran, following the small footprints in the ground. He had to find him. Find him and tell him to wait. To wait until they meet again millenniums later. It didn't matter if his younger self during Kievan times didn't know who China was. It didn't matter if it took them almost a lifetime time before they became lovers. It only mattered that one day, everything would make sense.
"Don't forget me, don't forget me," Ivan's heart drummed the desperate prayer.
Only the outline of his body was left; a few seconds remaining. Where was he? Yao, Yao, Yao. He had to tell him goodbye. He needed to tell him he was glad they met.
There! Ivan finally found him in a patch of wild flowers. Taking a step, he fell. Gone. His legs were gone. He was gradually disappearing. So close. Yao was only a few feet away, picking happily away at the orchids around him.
"JAO!" Ivan screamed with all this might, but it fell on deaf ears. No sound passed his lips; he long lost his ability to speak.
Yao pursed his mouth, feeling something was off. He turned his head to look behind him. "Yiwan?"
He saw no one
Ivan woke up groggily to a familiar scene. The bed, the curtains- all of it he knew intimately.
He was in Yao's room, back in modern times.
"You're up aru," The man himself appeared, padding quietly towards Ivan lying on the bed. "How are you feeling?"
It was a silent shock to Ivan. Only moments ago, he was staring at Yao's small back, his clothes much bigger than him pooling at the floor. Now, he was staring in the face of Yao all grown up. The soft lines on the little Yao's face hardened into experience of seeing too many wars and too many divisions. The heart he wore on his sleeves as a child was safely tucked away for no one to see. Yao was still sweet and still laughed, but he always felt far away. Ivan smiled, patting the spot beside him. It was only when he teased or annoyed him did he feel the real Yao came out. The tiny pervert never really did disappear, Ivan knew that now.
Yao obligingly sat beside him on the bed. The tips of their fingers almost touched. If Ivan moved a nearest of inches, their hands would brush. But he knew. He was no longer dealing with the Xia boy. This Yao didn't yearn for physical touches or body warmth. He could grab his hand and make advances, but Yao would only become indignant, leaving him alone for the rest of the day. Right now, Ivan didn't want to play some game. He wanted to talk. Just talk.
"How'd I get here?"
"You were gone for a few days aru," Yao ignored his question, "Where were you?"
Ivan shrugged, "Around."
"No one could find you, Ivan. All of us felt your existence suddenly disappear aru." Yao's voice grew softer, indicating how upset he was, "After a week of searching, I felt a thread of ice running through Dengfeng* aru. What were you doing there?"
"Did you tell my boss I was back?"
Yao glared at Ivan's obvious attempt at avoiding the question. "I phoned him the moment I found you aru. I told him you were unconscious, but there were no obvious injury to you. He's sending someone right now to pick you up aru."
," Ivan calmly replied. His smiling face betrayed none of his inner turmoil. This was the moment that would determine if what he did in the past was a success or failure. Magic was never reliable and time travel a tricky business. So many things could go wrong. Yao could have forgotten him or worse yet, it might have never happened. He had to confirm it, but he was afraid of the truth. What if Yao told him he remembered nothing? Ivan would be the only one to hold their precious memory close; he wouldn't be able to stand it.
"Yao," Ivan gently took hold of the slender hand. They were much bigger and no longer soft like they were when Yao was younger, but they fit perfectly in his hands. "Do you remember when we first met?"
On most occasions, the old nation would remove his hands; this was not an opportune time. He only touched when it was necessary and only briefly- to wipe away dust, to test one's temperature, or something similar. While he doesn't condemn affectionate couples- especially nowadays when even kissing in public was becoming acceptable- he still preferred minimal physical contact. He cherished Ivan's body warmth, but he couldn't change the core of himself in less than 10 decades* when for years and centuries the Confucian ideology was constantly and insistently drilled into him. For so long, he was taught this was what separated him from the barbarians.
The look in Ivan's eyes, however, stopped him from snatching his hand back. Ivan held it gently between his palms with none of his usual playfulness. This was just a simple symbol of their bond and connection. It would be foolish of him to sever it.
"Of course I do aru," Yao huffed out indignantly, his hand squeezing Ivan's, "How could I forget we met in Mongolia's house? We lived together for a few decades aru." Yao sighed, "Are you still going on about my age and faulty memory aru?"
Ivan visibly paled, dropping Yao's hand. "The Golden Horde?"
"Is something wrong, Ivan?" Amber eyes gazed at him with worry, "Maybe you should stay the night and rest. You can return home tomorrow aru."
"Jao," Ivan accidentally let his accent slip, a telltale sign of his anxieties, "Was that really the first time we met? Where there no earlier times we spent time together?"
Yao cupped Ivan's face with his hand while the other smoothed away the worried lines around the Russian's eyes and mouth. Eyes gazed searchingly into Ivan's as Yao's soothing, gently voice questioned him, "Tell me Ivan, what is it you're asking me aru? What is it you really want?"
Ivan stared quietly at him, letting Yao's heat seep into his skin. What was it he wanted? To be Yao's first love? To steal his first kiss? He accomplished none of that. The only thing he had left was the memories he shared with little Yao. If the Yao standing right in front of him told him it never happened, then he had nothing
"I just had a realistic dream," Ivan said hoarsely, turning his face into the other's hand, "I thought I was still there for a moment."
Yao brought him close, resting his forehead against the larger nation. "Are you still dreaming aru? Have you decided to come back to me yet?"
Softly taking hold of Yao's wrist, Ivan closed his eyes and let himself be enveloped by the other's sweet scent. "I'm back and I'm not going anywhere."
To Ivan's utter shock, even older the Yao had the ability surprise him. It was a rare occasion when the older man initiated the kiss. Ivan complained to Yao once that he cared more about his beliefs than he did about him. Yao's answer to his complaint amused him to no end. After some constant pestering, Yao finally admitted it wasn't because he didn't want to. There were multiple occasions where the time and place were just right for kissing, but because their height difference was so great, it was both stupid and difficult for him to try and pull Ivan in for a kiss. It was only when the larger man was sitting or lying down did Yao try to swoop in for the prize.
Needless to say, once Ivan found out that little bit of juicy morsel, he made it as difficult as it could be for Yao to catch him unguarded. He liked kissing, but he liked an annoyed Yao even more.
Still, Yao was never one to miss an opportunity. With Ivan resting in his bed, their lips brushed. It was an undemanding, slow kiss. Modest. Gentle. It meant welcome back home. The meaning changed when the kiss deepened. It now it spoke of eternity and stopping time. Ivan understood with this kiss, even if they didn't share the same past, they had the right here and right now.
I'll let you rest then," Yao broke the kiss, getting off the bed and dusting his pants nervously, "I'll ask if you can spend the night aru. You still seem exhausted."
"Does that mean I'll be sleeping with you?" Ivan teased
"Wh-what are you saying aru!" A ferocious blush encompassed Yao's face, turning it bright red, "You need your sleep aru!"
Ivan laughed. Apparently it seemed he wasn't the only one to misinterpret what 'sleeping' meant. "I was asking if I would be sleeping in your room with you. That kind of sleep."
Yao turned away turned away to hide his embarrassment, but Ivan could still see the tips of other's ear becoming pink as well. "W-whatever you want aru. I'll go bring you something to eat." The Chinese nation stormed out the door with Ivan's laughter chasing after him.
It was stupid of him to make that kind of mistake, Yao thought, chopping the green onions angrily. Whenever Ivan wanted sex, he said sex or even perhaps making love. The onions were swept to the side, replaced by some boney pork meat. Never did he say "sleep together". Thud. The sound of knife hitting wood reverberated loudly in the kitchen. It was too tame of a word for him. Thud. Off comes the pig's feet. Argh, he was never going to live down this humiliation.
Covering his face, Yao found a stool to sit on as he imagined the oncoming teasing he would have to endure from now on. He couldn't help it though. His body collapsed from relief when they finally found Ivan lying in the middle of Dengfeng alive.
When Ivan disappeared, Yao- and every other nation- felt it. Initially this sent all the nations into panic, but when they tried to search for him, they found a note Ivan scrawled telling everyone he was going on a little vacation and would be back at the end of the month. This mostly calmed everyone some even joked this was like a vacation in itself since Ivan wasn't around to terrorize people- but Yao felt as if a big part was ripped out of him. His old anxieties came back full force.
It had happened again. Ivan disappeared without word like he did millenniums ago. Would Ivan really return by the end of the month or would he have to wait thousands and thousands of years again to embrace him. Yao couldn't stand the uncertainty.
He took a deep, calming breath. It was fine. Everything was over. Even without fully concentrating, he could feel the twinge of Ivan's thread resonating deep within him. Ivan was here only a few feet away. There was nothing to worry about.
Yao poured the ingredients into the clay pot, letting them steep in the black bean sauce.
When Ivan had asked him was he sure about when was the first time they met, elation filled his body. He would never forget Ivan. How could he when Ivan was his most beloved person as child? After so long of being the only one remembering about their time together when he was just a small, innocent boy, Yao thought Ivan finally regained his memories. But of course, he didn't. It was fine, though. Beside immortality, he had the patience to wait for the day Ivan finally remembered.
Yao smiled, oblivious to the clattering of the pot's lid as the steam bubbled out. He was such a silly child back then, following Ivan like a lovesick puppy yearning for whatever scraps of affections thrown his way.
That day when he took Ivan out into the fields, he wanted to surprise him with a present. Some villagers had found some orchids blooming early in the season*. Yao didn't have much of appreciation of flowers back then, but when he noticed the colors of those orchids, he knew he was meant to give them to the Russian man.
Those orchids matched Ivan's perfectly. Besides the delicate flower, Yao only ever saw such a beautiful color reflected in the other nation's eyes. He had wanted to give them to him. Maybe that way, Ivan would thank him with a smile and perhaps even pat him on the head. He complained furiously about hating it, but secretly he enjoyed the large hands combing through his hair.
He never got the pat on the head he wished for. The flowers he handpicked for Ivan wilted after a few hours; turned to dust after a few years.
Running through the snow, he had cried searching for him. His people was forced to drag him back when the war finally broke out between the Xia and Chiyou tribe. Barred from looking for Ivan physically, his younger self tried to find him the only other way he knew how- by how he saw other nations; the threads that connected him with the others. Ivan must surely still be here. It didn't matter where he was, after the war was over, he would go to him. The only thing Yao found was disappointment.
Since that day, Yao stopped using that ability. The missing presence of the person who taught him was too painful. Eventually, he almost forgot all about that ability and Ivan altogether as the Shang took over the Xia and then followed by the Zhou; one after another, dynasties claimed the Mandate of Heaven before falling. War, plotting, and conquering became a common occurrence to him. He saw with his own eyes family slaughtering one another for the throne, how love and favoritism became the downfall of an empire. His once soft heart hardened.
But Ivan- no matter what century- always had the ability to set alight his darkening world.
At last, they met again under Mongolian rule.
Present and Past
- Year 1281 AD-
Clack Clack Clack
Yao rode unperturbed by the methodic sound of hooves hitting hard rock. After numerous days of traveling in the arid valley, he was already immune to the noise. Only a few li remained before they finally reached their destination. Yao stared at the vast, dry grasslands and the jagged mountains surrounding him; his hands clenched the reins. He had enough of this.
The sudden break of formation caused Yao's entourage a momentary panic. Heads turned and hands reached out to stop their deity from leaving the safety of the center.
"Shangdi!" his general cried out.
Yao ignored him, racing ahead. He was tired of this. He was tired of all the war, of the scabs and bruises covering his body. He was sick of the endless travel he was forced to endure and the stale air he had to inhale. Days, weeks, and months of travel all because Mongolia demanded he pay a tributary visit and submit himself to the Khan.
He never thought this would happen. The nomads behind his walls have always been a nuisance, but they never posed any real threat. To China and his empire, they were nothing, but insignificant flies.
His pride became his downfall.
Nearing the village, Yao slowed his horse down to a trot. As far as the eye could see, yurts and farms dotted the nomadic village. The streets teemed with life as people bustled about their business, uncaring of the stranger quietly observing them. Yao could see women shaving the coat of the ewes for the coming winter, horsemen leading a cart full of weapons and the children playing sometimes with dolls or sometimes with wooden swords. Here in his city, domestic life mixed with the ways of the warrior.
It was Karakorum- the old heart of the growing Mongolian Empire.
Yao wrinkled his nose, the smell of dry air irritating him. As he rode deeper into the village, people and animals passed him by. Yao watched the children lead the herd of cattle out into fields for feeding and unexpectedly he felt a pang of nostalgia. Being here out in the hinterlands reminded him of the life he use to lead when his people themselves were nomadic. However those days were long passed. Their lives were no longer dictated by land and nature, but instead by laws and commerce.
The ache in his chest was becoming unbearable; he didn't understand why. Yao didn't regret the progress his people made- that much he was certain- yet he couldn't rid himself of the longing he felt. What was it he was missing? Why this feeling of wistfulness and melancholy warring inside him?
Lost in his thoughts, Yao didn't see a boy suddenly walkout angrily from his yurt. Frightened, his horse- trained for battle- reared on its hind legs, ready to strike the enemy down. For a brief moment Yao caught eyes the color of the evening sky widen as the hooves were about to come crashing down, but he paid them no heed. He pulled the reins with all his might. His horse turned away at the last second, barely nicking the boy on the shoulder.
Still spooked, the horse neighed and nickered, shaking its mane in discontent. The boy ran up to him, shouting, but Yao ignored him in favor of soothing his horse. Without even giving the boy a glance, he lazily patted the horse's neck and whispered comfortingly. The words the boy yelled were foreign to Yao's ears. It wasn't a language he heard before and so he easily drowned them out like he did with the thundering hooves. Yao felt more than heard the boy seethe with righteous rage at being ignored for a mere animal.
Unable to withstand such insult, the boy made a grab for Yao's reins and attention, but Yao was faster. He snatched the boy's wrist before he even touched the embroidered reins as he aimed his golden dragon eyes and sharp tongue at the little offender. He bent down and pulled the child closer, taking a breath to begin his lecture when the boy raised his head defiantly to meet Yao's eyes. At that moment, all thought cease to exist in Yao's mind.
Magenta. Violet. Amethyst. The color of the setting sky stared back at him without fear. They shined. They beckoned. The boy was daring him to strike.
Yao could only helplessly gaze back. Those eyes burned him, yet he couldn't bring himself to look away. The orchids withered and died, but these eyes- vibrant with the same color- brimmed with life. No
it wasn't he couldn't look away. He wouldn't. Not again. He won't lose him twice.
A breath hitched in Yao's throat. Slowly, but surely he felt the ice around his heart melting and along with it came the floodgate of emotions they once held back. Years and centuries of anguish haunted him. He should hate, blame the person who left him when he needed him most
.Yao felt none of them. Beyond the pain and loneliness was stark relief.
Questions and logic buzzed loudly in his head. This wasn't him. It can't be him.
It is. It's him.
This is a child. Not a man.
Yao studied the boy in front of him. He wore a hat the Chinese didn't recognize, but underneath the hat Yao could easily recognize the light colored hair. It was careless of him to mistaken the boy as a Mongolian. From his hair, to his eyes, to his facial structure, nothing about him resembled the usurpers traversing his once beautiful cities. He was smaller than the person Yao was looking for- only reaching his chest- but it didn't matter. His hand still gripping the thin wrist tightly, Yao knew. He felt him. He found the thread that connected them; he smelled the vast forest and the bite of the refreshing frost. It all returned to him.
Here. He was here.
The tiny doubt in the back of his mind vanished. He didn't know how this child and the man from long ago could be the same person, but it didn't matter. None of it did.
Expecting a slap to the face for his defiance, the boy glared as the pretty lady reached for him. He wouldn't cower or beg for mercy from these ruthless people, but still he flinched as a soft, silky hand stroke his alabaster cheek. Surprised he glanced up at the women sitting high on her horse. Her touch was shaky and uncertain, and if he wasn't mistaken
"Yiwan," she whispered, cupping his cheek. Her hands roamed his face as if trying to memorize his every feature. Despite himself, the boy felt himself blush from the seemingly intimate way she touched him.
He watched transfixed as she got off her horse and stood in front of him. There was a subtle scent wafting from her that he couldn't recognize. It smelled of flowers and spices; he wasn't sure what. The cool, swan like hand reached for him once again. His skin tingled at the feather light touch. When he didn't move, she grew bolder, giving him a watery smile. The back of her hand caressed his cheek and the scent grew stronger. It took almost all of his strength to resist the urge to turn his face and bury his nose into her hand to find the source of that enchanting aroma.
"Yiwan," she repeated. This time he lifted his eyes to meet hers. Her eyes were like any other Orient's surrounding him, but staring into them, it reminded him of warm honey- dark and sweet.
As a very young child, his sister once gave him a spoonful of it and he finished the delicious sweet in a matter of seconds. He asked for more, but his sister refused him. He cried and begged and threw a tantrum to no avail. Honey, she told him, was a delicacy that they had precious few of. They had to save what they could for later. He remembered eyeing the small jar placed on the highest shelf with hungry eyes, craving for more after his first taste. Staring at the young woman only a few years older than himself, he had a disconcerting feeling he wanted something he shouldn't have.
"Yiwan," the woman with dark colored eyes said again. It was through her eyes, he finally understood what she was trying to say to him. Smiling at the funny way she pronounced his name, he shook his head. "Не Yiwan. Иван."
Surprise colored her face, but soon gave way to
contentment? The boy scrunched up his brows in confusion.
"伊万." The bell like voice tinkled his name.
The boy huffed out an air of frustration. "нет! ee-Van! Van!"
Yao smiled; memories of the past and present melding into one, of when the strange man instructed him his name was 'ee-Van' and not 'Yi Wan'. He wasn't wrong. This boy just reaching adulthood was the Ivan he met lifetimes ago. He cupped the face he missed and longed for so long and held it, savoring the warmth. "真的. 你真的我的伊万." A sob caught at the back of his throat as he tried to laugh at the joy and pleasure of his reunion with his first love. "太好. 太好了."
True, as a child he didn't understand his obsessive need to be with the older man or why he craved his attention. He mistook his feelings for the other nation as love a child would feel for a parent. It was when his Ivan was taken away from him, did he begin to understand the unfurling emotion inside him.
Yao saw Ivan glare at him, no doubt unhappy about the mispronunciation of his name. He saw the exasperated breath, the beginning of another round of 'ee-Van' versus 'Yi Wan', and did something he wanted to do since Ivan taught him about his 'magic spells'.
He kissed him.
- Present Day-
The clay pot clattered loudly as the sauce sizzled. Yao obligingly turned down the heat to a mere simmer. Deep in thought, he sighed as he laid his hands on either side of the stove, grimacing. On hindsight, maybe stealing a kiss from Ivan wasn't such a good idea.
Yao knew the Ivan from Xia and the child Ivan he met in Mongolia was the exact same person, but he couldn't explain how a nation could revert back to being a child. It simply didn't happen. There are 'offspring' nations that emerge from the collapse of an old one, but the same exact replica? Never. Rome and the Italian brothers felt nothing alike.
To this day, Yao couldn't figure out what happened to the Ivan between the Xia dynasty until they met again under Mongolian rule. He tried asking Ivan once subtly when his envoy made a visit during the Ming. It was their countries first official contact. There were language barriers of course, but eventually Yao understood all Ivan remembered of him was 'the pretty lady with tasty lips'.
Yao smiled wryly at the memory. Pretty lady, indeed. However, it was that conversation that he knew Ivan was and wasn't his "Yiwan." He didn't remember, didn't know about the time he spent in Xia...the time he spent with him. Yao's heart ached, but he got over it. They could start anew. Yao shook his head, his hands gripping the corners of the stove tightly. No. They did start anew. What they had wasn't perfect, but it was better than nothing. As long as Ivan didn't leave him alone again, then-
"What are you thinking about?" a husky voice whispered against his neck. Arms came from behind and wrapped themselves around his waist. Instead of disentangling himself as he usually would, Yao allowed himself to be pulled gently backwards until he sat on a stool atop Ivan's lap.
"Nothing," he answered, resting his head on the Russian's shoulder and closing his eyes.
"Nothing? Really? And here I was thinking something important was keeping you away from the dying patient."
Settling deeper into Ivan's embrace, Yao sighed, "You're not dying and I'm making you something to eat aru. Can't you stop being a baby for one minute so I can finish cooking?"
"You weren't cooking," Ivan cheekily replied, nibbling the other nation's ear, "You were brooding. Whenever you brood, you frown did you know that?"
Yao pushed away the wandering lips with his hand, but didn't get up from his seat. "Hm, never noticed."
"And you probably didn't know Russians are very good with spells." Idly, Ivan drew small circles on the back of Yao's hand, afraid to meet the gold-amber eyes. His voice was calm as he made his statement. "I know a charm that can make it all go away."
Slowly, almost unbearably slow, Yao turned to face the larger nation. "A magic charm aru?" he asked quietly.
Ivan nodded. "If you show me where it hurts, I can make all the pain go away."
Yao stared at him- searching, beseeching. Hands only trembling slightly, he touched the other's pale lips. "Here. It hurts here aru."
"Does your mouth sting?" Eyes of soaked orchids implored him, removing the soft fingers tracing his mouth.
"Yes, but not as much as before." Yao wrapped his arms around Ivan's neck and drew closer. "After all, nature, time and patience are the three great physicians."
The Chinese could feel the Russian smile as their lips met in a lovers' kiss.
The clay pot rattled on the stove, but no one paid attention. It continued to simmer unattended until the stew inside turned black.