songs of the passing day

In his own way, this is worship.

Ushiwaka goes to her, because it is not seemly for the goddess to bow another. If he finds her in the shadow of the grandfather tree that sprouted from Sakuya’s sapling, then he knows she is waiting for him, and is grateful. He comes to her as a man on his own feet and not on his knees

(even if he wants, even if he feels he should, as penance for all his failures)

and he sits beside her, close enough to feel but not close enough to touch, and takes out his flute. For hours he will play, because there is a rule and ritual to this, and this is also worship: songs to praise the sunrise, songs about the unfurling of spring, songs that humans have long forgotten about the fire-eyed goddess who was origin of all that was good and mother to all.

Eventually, though, she laughs and touches his wrist with her long thin fingers. It is like being touched by the sun itself; it is like being touched by the sun itself. And Ushiwaka is still just a man, so he stops with the pipe half-lifted to his mouth and breathes slowly.

“You don’t always have to do this,” she tells him today, and at the edge of his vision he sees her face, lit from without and within, bright-eyed. “If you want me to come, Ushiwaka, I will. If you want me to yield, I will.”

That isn’t right: it lodges in his throat and tastes bitter — it tastes sour — and his stomach turns until his vision swims. It’s weak and it’s pathetic, but she flows against him, her arm solid and strong against his back and her shoulder supporting his. He is on his knees before her, but she crouches beside him and holds him close; the warm shadow at her throat smells like the breath of the spring wind. It shames him to know his weakness pulls her down, but he still leans against her until the sick feeling passes.

“Don’t yield,” he says into her throat. He grasps her elbow, feeling the edge of it even through the layers of her long sleeves. “Never yield.”

She just laughs again, brilliant and careless and stirring up winds around them so that the trees rustle in time with her laughter. “Ushiwaka,” she says, “we have bled together before the Emperor of Darkness. When will you see?”

“I do nothing but see,” he says, and tastes that regret, pushing against his tongue with each word. “That’s the curse of the Moon-Tribe, isn’t it? We can see, and we can build, but in the end–”

(there’s darkness and a fading light, the sun going out in a terrible moment)

Mother Amaterasu puts her warm hands on his face and tilts it up, until he cannot help but look at her. Light filters through the leaves and halos her face. She smiles at him and her expression is quiet secret warmth and a kindness that could (has) shattered greater things than a single man.

“The sun does not belong to anyone alone,” she says to him. “But everyone may still claim part of it for their own.

“Ushiwaka,” she says, “I am here.”

He breathes sharply through his nose, and closes his eyes, and she leans down to press her mouth to his. When he breathes in, he tastes summer fruit on his tongue.

Against his mouth Amaterasu laughs. “So stiff,” she tells him. “And not in the way men should be!” She takes his hands then, and pulls them to her own shoulders, guiding them under the layers of hito-e and the nagajuban until they touch warm skin, and only then does she let go. When he tries to pull away, though, to put his hands back on cloth, she clucks her tongue and leans to nip at his lower lip, playful.

“No,” she says, “like this,” and she curls his hands so that his thumbs hook on her clothes, and she pulls so that he pulls, and easy as water over stone her robes spill open and she is white-skinned and bare breasted in the sun-warmed air. He embarrasses himself by choking and looking away — because he’s seen women before, all variety of women fair-faced and coy in their nudity, hiding themselves with their hands and fluttering when he dimmed the lights, but Amaterasu just smiles at him and tilts her head, unashamed and bright-eyed in her amusement. Her own thumbs are against his wrists, pressed to the triphammer of his pulse.

“Ah, Ushiwaka,” she says. “How very serious! You may touch them, if you like.”

He licks his lips. He can taste a small bright sting from her earlier nip. He looks at his own hands as he lifts them, carrying hers with them — she doesn’t guide him this time, but she holds onto him as he spreads his fingers to the top of her chest and marvels at the contrast: even his own pale skin is dark compared to hers. This is the skin that a thousand human women painted themselves to emulate, and it yields softly when he presses, when he slides his palms down. Her breasts are heavy and full, large compared to the rest of her compact form, and she arches into him with a pleased noise that fades into another laugh.

“So serious,” she breathes again, and she presses against him, so that his hands are pressed between their chests. Her lips press to his earlobe before she bites, delicately; her teeth are very sharp. “Come on, Ushiwaka! This isn’t a test. We’ve bled together; we’re comrades now, you and I. I know the strength of your arm …” And then she lets go of one of his wrists and very deliberately folds her hand in his lap. “And of your sword.”

“M– my lady! Great Amaterasu!” He jerks back and stares at her. “That isn’t–”

She laughs and she tackles him down to the soft grass; there’s a flutter of long sleeves and long hair all around them as she settles and kisses him again, licking the corner of his mouth in-between the bubbles of her laughter. His hands are still cupping her breasts, but her own are in his hair, long fingers tangling as he makes himself relax, as he kisses her back, and rolls her till they’re side-by-side.

“It is,” she says, her eyes bright with sunlight. She presses up onto an elbow and leans over him. Some of her hair slides over her shoulder to puddle against his chest. “It is, Ushiwaka. It always is.”

He looks up at her. She is beautiful and close enough to touch; his hand hesitates, and then he sinks his fingers into her hair, curling it around his fist. Her hair is warm and thick, coarse and smooth in layers, and he kisses it, wrapped around his hand.

“Amaterasu,” he says, without title or affectation, as he called her in the human world

(before she learned the disaster he’d wrought upon her children)

and she laughed again, but softer this time, lower, intimate. “Of course,” she says, and leans down to him.

This time he opens his mouth to her, letting her in when she nips at him, and perhaps biting back when he presses his mouth to her throat, where her pulse is steady and her laughter is a vibration against his tongue. She lets him roll her to her back, pillowed and framed by her hair and her loose clothes, and she reaches to touch his face and his throat, and then she tugs his clothes open, her fingers tracing warm lines down his exposed chest. He kisses her again, one hand cupping the weight of her breast, his thumb pressing and circling the tight little nipple, pleased with the small soft noises she makes into his open mouth in answer.

“Like this,” she says, and she draws him down, into the cradle of her hips.

“Like this,” and he sinks into her, his face to her throat, breathing hard and damp against her skin as she gasps and moves against him, as she yields and he bows his head and moves and moves and moves.

“Like this,” she whispers to him, and kisses him when he comes, her hands in his hair and her mouth smiling against his.

Ushiwaka wakes hours later, when the sun is setting and there is a crescent moon faintly visible in the dusky sky. His clothes are still disheveled around him, his hair tangled with sweat and dirt. He sits up and rubs his face: he is alone, though the grass beside him is warm. He sweeps his hand across that patch and looks up.

There over the next hill is a white wolf whose fur gleams with its own light, marked in patterns of red. Her tongue lolls out in a canine grin, and she barks at him once before she turns and she runs, swift across the waving grass and trailing flowers in her wake. He watches until she’s gone from sight, until the flowers nod away and vanish.

Ushiwaka presses a hand to his eyes. After a moment he laughs, and he leans back against the tree and pulls out his flute from his sleeve. As the sun sets and the moon rises, he plays again: songs to praise the sunset, songs about the brilliance of full spring, songs that humans have long forgotten about the fire-eyed goddess who was origin of all that was good and mother to all.

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