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Cptn Swain

Snow Country


Snow fell, swirling and tumbling through the sky. Snow country in Japan was harsh, unforgiving and yet spectacularly breathtaking all at once. Asher smiled, tugging his blanket tighter around his neck.  Behind him, the maid had brought up his breakfast and left it on the table, along with fresh linens for the baths. From the window, he could see the steam rising from the bathhouse. It was eight or nearly passed it, Asher decided. 

He arrived by tram earlier in the week and had mostly kept to himself. The inn was quiet, tidy and well-kept. The innkeeper had told him that it had been in her family since the Edo period. After nearly three months with Arden as a constant companion, it was a strange feeling to be suddenly alone; but in the desperate quiet of the snow country it was oddly comforting.   Sapporo had been the perfect closing to their time together, but it had been time for Arden to leave for his new position at Starbase 39 Tango. 

Asher’s thoughts returned to the snow covered peaks in the far distance. In the winter, cold Siberian air flowed down along the ocean currents and filled the western slopes that formed the backbone of the Japanese home islands with some of the heaviest snow falls on Earth -- several meters at once was not uncommon. This year had been no different. Snow country always reminded him of the mountain ranges on Kynareth where he’d grown up, and as an academy student, had served as a retreat when the pressures of school and life had swallowed him and he needed to find himself. Now, as he had then, he hoped he might find himself among the snow and hills; nut in the swirling winter storms, one could become lost too. Ghosts -- yuki-ona -- could also find their way into your heart and lead you further from your path and into the nothingness of the beyond. Cold, alone. 

His leave would be expiring soon -- had it really been three months since they’d returned from the Gamma Quadrant? -- and he would need to make a decision he’d been avoiding. He wondered, as he took up a cup of tea from the breakfast tray, how the refit was coming. He’d made a point, at Arden’s urging, to stay disconnected from all of that.  It had been difficult at first, but after the second week, all thoughts of his career had faded into the background.

Commanding the Excalibur had never been his choice of assignments, and in reflection, his reluctance to accept the position had certainly colored his view of the last two years. Brass had been exceptionally understanding of his desire to spend time away. They had also made it clear that should he wish to have a command more suited to his interests, that they would accommodate him as best they could, though they were of course careful to make no promises. 

He took a sip of tea, staring into the cold, winterscape and the mountains once more before heading to the bathhouse. Steam rose into the cold air, a gentle mist floating above the snow-covered roof of the hotel. Like most of the ryokan (a traditional Japanese inn) in the area, the bathhouse was fed from a nearby hot spring. He slipped effortlessly into the water, his mind wandering.

The Cassini had been his home for almost a decade and her mission had been almost exclusively one of pure exploration. After the Dominion War that sort of escape had been the only thing keeping him in Starfleet. Though he had served during the war, and understood his role in protecting innocents, he had never been comfortable with the idea of being a soldier-soldier. Perhaps that’s why he’d been so uncomfortable with the assignment to Excalibur. Starfleet could say the Akira-class was a multi-use ship all they wanted, and even though it did have suitable enough laboratory and exploration equipment, it was still a warship. A warship assigned to a warzone. 

He closed his eyes and sunk below the surface. His thoughts drifted, but continued to return to one subject. Surfacing, he ran a hand through his hair and stroked an absent beard. Arden disliked both. He wondered if he should regrow them. He didn’t know when he’d see Arden again; unless of course he chose to leave Starfleet. 

That was the option he’d uncomfortably been mulling since the end of the war. In truth, the Cassini had only ever been a distraction from that question. A happy distraction, perhaps, but a distraction.

When he returned to his room, the sun had already risen above the mountain, sparkling in the distance.  He dressed quickly before leaving for a walk along a narrow winding path that twisted and snaked between the ryokan. Children played in the fields, building snowmen and riding on sleighs. The skiing crowd had left early in the morning and would soon return for lunch. Asher smiled. He had never skied, he considered. In all of the many trips he’d made to the snow country, and even on his homeworld, he’d never bothered. He doubted he’d be any good at it. Perhaps he’d take it up. Maybe he would join them for the afternoon, just to watch. 

By the time he’d returned from his walk, they’d already returned. He’d missed them by only a few minutes, one of the staff said as they brought him lunch. He had been late, so the meal was far simpler than was normal -- only a bowl of steamed rice, miso, fish, and of course, tea. He had nearly finished when the innkeeper -- a tidy, middle-aged woman with a round face and full, pink cheeks -- approached him. 

She bowed respectfully and greeted him in Japanese. “Your guest,” she continued, “can we prepare anything special for him?”

Asher smiled. He’d almost forgotten. “No, nothing out of the ordinary, but we will take dinner in my room.”

“Kekko,” she said bowing again, before disappearing back into the kitchen. 

He spent the rest of the afternoon napping and reading a book the previous patron had left. It was rather poorly written, but it passed the time as he waited for a man he hadn’t seen in over a decade.

Asher hadn’t really known what to expect when the doors finally slid open.He found his eyes lingering on the sharp features of his one time lover. There was something haunting and fleeting there he hadn’t noticed all those years ago. He wondered if perhaps it was just the cold, clearness of the night. 

“This is a wonderful little place,” Kai said as they sat down for sake. “You look well, Asher. It’s been a long time.”

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