Content warnings: None.
Notes: My entry for Jashi Zine. Enormous thanks to the amazing folks on the Jashi Zine Discord server for helping me out with ideas, research, and giving this a look-over; I really couldn’t have done it without you all.
Snow falls to ground, blanketing the hills in a thick whiteness. For Jack, it calls to mind memories of when he was a child, looking onward at the majesty of winter's artistry.
For Ashi, such a memory does not exist. When she sees white, she sees red. She sees blood that isn't there speckling the ground.
"We formally met for the first time when it was snowing like this, did we not?" says Jack, taking a seat next to her. He breathes in and contentedly sighs out a cloud that hangs in the air before disappearing.
Ashi laughs bitterly. "You mean when we were intent on killing one another?"
Jack raises his eyebrows in surprise. "You speak of it as though it were a wholly unpleasant memory."
Ashi stares at him, then shakes her head. "What in the world was pleasant about it?"
"It is when I first saw your face," Jack says, stroking his fingers up against her cheek.
Heat prickles at Ashi's cheeks. She looks down at the snow powdering at her feet and tries hard to recall something more pleasant: a scene she had seen earlier that day.
She's struck by an idea.
Ashi stands up and runs a few paces away to bend down and gather up snow. She forms a ball out of it and turns to throw it at Jack, who yelps as he throws his body down.
Jack sits up, chuckling nervously. "What brought this about?"
"That memory!" Ashi shouts back at him, gathering up another ball in her hands. "We never did finish our fight!"
"So you propose…"
Ashi grins wickedly and winds her arm back.
"Prepare to die, Samurai!"
Something soft pelts Ashi's cheek--it dryly clings to her skin, so she knows it can't be snow. She brings a hand to her cheek and wipes it off to examine what landed on her in the dead of the winter. Round, velvety to the touch, and pink in coloration could make it only one thing.
"A flower petal?"
Ashi senses a glowing energy beside her and turns to see Jack beaming brightly.
"Spring is here!"
"Spring?" Ashi frowns as she looks at the snow-laden path. "Jack, are you feeling alright?"
"Oh, I am quite well!" Jack says with a laugh. "Let me show you."
Jack hurries forward, Ashi following in tow.
The scene that unfolds before her calls to mind what she had envisioned in Aku's future, when Jack told her that lush wildlife used to be in abundance. Not just one, but rows upon rows of trees with rich pink blossoms sprouting from their branches sit at both sides of the path.
"Are these…cherry blossom trees?" Ashi asks.
"Close, but not quite," says Jack. "These are plum blossoms, the first sign of spring." He snaps off a sprig wearing a thin blanket of snow, blossoms sprouting out from beneath it. "They have an endurance to the cold that cherry blossoms do not. Hmm…"
Jack plucks a blossom from the sprig and tucks it behind Ashi's ear. "Resilient, protective, stubborn, triumphant in the face of adversity…these all describe the plum blossom and someone else I know."
The humid night air makes Ashi's clothes stick uncomfortably to her skin. She's tempted to discard whatever values Jack has set in place and disrobe altogether, but he's made it clear how deeply important this event is to him.
"It's the night where the spirits of two lovers are reunited," Jack explains. "As a child, I was admittedly more interested in the way it was celebrated. We would take a strip of paper, write our wish on it, tie it to a bamboo branch, then pray it would come true."
"What sort of wishes did you make, Jack?"
Jack's face reddens. "…simple ones."
Jack rubs the back of his neck. "A wish for a pet dog, a wish for Mother to let me eat all the salted plums I wanted in the summer…a wish to fly."
Ashi stifles a chuckle and is tempted to tease him further, but ultimately decides to change the tide of discussion to a different course. "Shall we make our wishes, then?"
"Yes, let us!" Jack says in a tone insistent on reclaiming his adulthood.
On Jack's strip, he writes: I wish we would stay together longer than the two lovers.
On Ashi's: I wish to disrobe.
Life is beginning to wither away. The green of the grass is turning a sickly yellow, and the brown bark of the trees is fading to that of a grey.
Yet the leaves are looking more beautiful than ever. They are adorned in varieties of red, yellow, brown and orange, all complementing each other in their warm hues.
Ashi reflects on her life; on how she was born of magic that left death in its wake, how her very destiny was the death of another, and how death never truly left who she was.
But this season reminded her that death wasn't a bad thing. Death could be good, even beautiful, in its appearance, in the peace it brings, and in the life that will follow.
"I think this is my favorite season," Ashi says, picking up a red leaf that has fallen to the ground.
Jack picks up an orange leaf and smiles at her. "Mine as well."