viii. the soul as a shadow and a reflection
Is there any difference between being "good" for someone and being needed?
Of course there is. Otherwise, people wouldn't try so hard.
How Daisuke came to spend almost the entire flight to Erebus with his face buried in Ken's shoulder is a charming story. First: some facts. Antarctica is a continent which thought to throw off its so-called "fetters" to Africa and South America approximately 180 million years ago, in a puckish manner not without certain internal ironies (look at where Antarctica ended up, after all). More recently (65 million years ago), Antarctica tells Australia to "get lost" and relations between the two continents have been frosty ever since. Currently Antarctica sits over the magnetic south pole of Earth, living in the one place where no other continent is likely to sneak over and cop a feel. It is covered in a layer of ice which is 5.4 million square miles in area which… in places… reaches a depth of up to 13,000 feet. A emperor's mantle of white.
Antarctica is alone, magnificently isolated. Like it always wanted to be. But the trade off is that it has to live at the pole, and therefore is subject to Polar Physics which boil down to one invariant notion: endless, intense, everlasting cold.
Summer solstice has just passed. The ice over Antarctica remains, but the punishing light of the sun carries enough energy to melt a microscopic layer of the surface snow. This creates a sea of water which is mere millimeters thick, and which (most interestingly), acts as a mirror to reflect back the rays of the sun.
The light is shimmering. The light is blinding.
It doesn't take very long for this to start causing problems for Daisuke. Unlike Ken, his eyes are not protected behind any type of sunglasses; fashionable, sinister, or otherwise. At first he begins to blink slowly, and then more quickly as his tears exacerbate the irritation. He tries looking at the sky, but that is bright too. Blue like a sword. Next he focuses his attention nearer, looking down at the body of the Airdramon, or at Ken's refreshingly dark clothing. Lastly, he trains his eyes (desperately) down into the fur collar which snugs his neck. It's as close as he can go.
Next thing he tries is to close his eyes, but all that does is replace an unbearable white light with an unbearable red one. So he closes his eyes tighter. That helps only marginally. Daisuke can do no better. He begins to whimper; it hurts.
"What's the matter?" Ken asks. A whole fifteen minutes of silence has passed since Daisuke's last outburst, and Ken has slipped into a peaceless reverie regarding his obligation and problems, trying to arrange solutions in his mind pre-emptively, attempting not to regret the failed portion of his mission at South Georgia or the unexpected addition of a human to his retinue.
"So… bright…" Daisuke says wretchedly.
This focuses Ken's attention nicely; it's a finite problem, nothing like Daisuke's troubling depression which Ken really doesn't want to think about. "Oh," Ken says, turning a layered glance to both look at Daisuke, and look through him as well. Problem: solution. Nothing tautologically superfluous or grating. The way things are supposed to be. "Here," Ken says roughly, and he shifts the arm that is around Daisuke's waist so that he can take the back of the suffering boy's head. Ken pulls Daisuke towards him, rotating his russet-topped head to rest against his nearest shoulder. Daisuke is incredibly bundled up, so this has the added advantage of protecting Ken even more directly from the cold. An elegant solution.
Unfortunately, this also brings the bud of Daisuke's mouth into contact with the thin (yet fully warming, thank you) cloth that covers Ken's chest. Worse, the boy starts talking, mumbling some gratitude or something. It's highly distracting.
What's nigglingly more worse, however, is when Daisuke stops talking. Ken suffers the inevitable settling in, as Daisuke rearranges his grip so that he can hold onto Ken better. Then Daisuke mumbles again, but Ken doesn't catch any meaning and therefore is rather unprepared for the fact of Daisuke releasing all hold onto the Airdramon, so that he can better bury his face into Ken's body by holding on with both arms.
Ken has to take the Airdramon by both horns (literally; please excuse the unfortunate association with certain overworked puns), causing familiar Irritation with is almost as good as Rage. He looks down at the boy who clings to him as helplessly as a dumb Australian joey, however, and relents. He relents completely. The light is damagingly bright: without sunglasses… or even WITH sunglasses, were they not as artificially specialized as Ken's… the light streaming heavenward from the continent below would be unbearable.
"Don't worry. I've got you," Ken discovers himself saying, words that are meaningless no less so for being true.
He feels a nod against his body, and knows that whatever empty message those noises were supposed to relay had been received and understood. When Daisuke favours him with a tighter and yet more deliberate sort of hug, Ken realizes that the withering boy receives some form of comfort from those words as well.
Ken has never been hugged. Never. Although he suspects that the shorter boy is also of slighter build, the heavy layers of clothing give him a bulky substantiality which is distinctly bear-like. Ken is glad that this is not a hug of joy or familyism or any of the many things that he could think would squick him out, but it lasts longer than any contact that he's ever had with another person, and it just keeps going.
It might be uncomfortable, or it might be unforgivable relaxing… Ken cannot tell which. A part of him feels super-charged and obvious, wondering if the instinctive recoil sensation he feels in his mind is being transmitted to flesh, worried for the weaknesses he might be unconsciously decoding for the boy. However, another part of him relates this to the feeling he had when he was tempted to place his cheek on Daisuke's chest… this is much the same thing, except in reverse. It's exactly like the way he feels right before he goes to bed after a brutally long day… a thoughtless drifting, a careless dusky happiness. This is the feeling which is most dangerous.
Ken can't do anything about it, though. This hug isn't offered because Daisuke somehow wants it or likes it: he needs it. Therefore, Ken cannot refuse, and decides that he'll just have to suffer through the lulling, petted feeling he has until they reach Erebus.
Never has a transcontinental flight seemed so long.
"Here. We're here," Ken says. He sounds ever so slightly winded.
Daisuke risks a tiny peek. He tries very hard not to be visibly underwhelmed. All he sees is white, glittering, melting… endless… snow.
Ken notices the grimace, approves of the polite instinct which causes Daisuke to withhold any caustic commentary. "I hope you're good at rappelling," he says, with a pleased smile that Daisuke does not see. "Welcome to the Underworld."
The Airdramon declines as it alights, finding a perch on the interior of the continent about five miles distant from Mount Erebus. It is an anonymous place, not very close to Ken's fortress. That really could not be helped: this is the time of the year for human science to invade Antarctica. Ken's fortress is hidden deep below the ice in caverns just distant from the still-active volcano. Once upon a time, a fairy-tale prince might have built an elaborate, shimmering castle of glass near the volcano's rim… a thing of beauty and doomed fragility. But Ken is the only ruler that Antarctica has ever known, and perhaps the only one it will ever need… he came to it during a time when secrecy was paramount. Secrecy, and practicality.
Erebus fronts the Ross Ice Shelf, and is near neighbor to the Scott and McMurdo bases which bewitch serious invetigators from the world over. Summer brings both safety and peril; safety, because of the moderation of the intemperate cold… and peril, because of the influx of eager human minds. Antarctica represents one of the two final frontiers of Earth (the other residing in ocean trenches), and draws all people who love chance. It is these people who Ken wishes to avoid: and thus, the boys must rappel.
It doesn't take long for the Prince to get all of the equipment ready; the last thing he does after instructing Daisuke in the use of harnesses and hooks is to tie a thick piece of black wool around Daisuke's eyes.
"I… have to do this blind." Daisuke states, more to himself than to Ken.
"Yes… at least until we are down a few tens of meters…" Ken answers, his voice crisp and distinct.
Daisuke nods faintly. He stands at the rim of a ice chimney, a vertical tunnel created out of warms mists rising from the hot glacier spring below. Light prisms through the snow and ice, creating blue and purple and rose shadows that glow like mild heavens, but Daisuke cannot and will not be able to admire these until he has made one backwards leap. One leap, that's all. The blindfold can be removed once he is deep enough inside not to be dazzled by the shattered light.
Gripping the ropes which secure him to the chimney edge, Daisuke tests his restraining harness with gloved hands. Careful, careful…
"Okay, now!" he shouts suddenly, and then kicks off from the ledge with all of his mustered faith.
There is a little bit of lofting resistance from the moist air which hollows the chimney. For a second, Daisuke floats and the sensation is breathtaking. Gravity falls quickly, however, and suffuses Daisuke with the lifting momentum of internal organs flying up towards his head, as if to be swallowed. His heart elevates as his body drops, the fall describing a swinging arch. The falling seems to take an eternity, and yet Daisuke barely has time to kick his legs out when they crunch into the ice walls.
"Are you all right?" Ken's voice, from high above. Daisuke shakes his restless head, and tugs the black wool down around his neck, like a scarf. He opens his eyes.
He looks up.
Groves of seemingly harvestable light envelop Daisuke in severe, dominating beauty.
"Good… that's one."
"One obstacle breached… one barrier passed. It gets… harder… from here on in." Ken's tone is clinical. Detached.
In seconds, Ken also rappels himself down, meeting Daisuke at a point rather close to where the eager-seeming boy stopped in mute admiration and distraction. "Can we… stay here… a bit?" Daisuke asks inattentively, enthralled by the surrounding stained-glass glow.
"What, just hanging out?" Ken asks in frank disbelief.
"Yeah… it's so nice."
Daisuke is probably seven meters deeper into the cleft then Ken, and so he has to look up at the incredulous prince. His golden-pigmented eyes seem to flash eerily. Daisuke grins. "Perfect."
Ken looks down, and seems to have no answer to the charges of niceness and perfection laid upon this in-between place. He's always viewed it as a bridge to home, nothing more… and the surrounding beauty is very familiar to him. Blinking, Ken straightens his legs and lets his body settle perpendicular to the crystalline wall. He says nothing for a time, just looks up at a sky in which the sun is just barely hidden. The sky is as blue as wisteria, a flower which Ken has never seen.
"Yes…" Ken says, and there is no way to tell if volition carries his agreement, or caprice.