Musashi was dying.
Musashi knew he was dying. He knew because after all those years of college and medical school — after becoming a doctor — he recognized the signs. He knew because each rattling gasp out of his lungs was like the orgasms that young people — and older — lived for.
But most of all, Musashi knew because he was lying in his futon, surrounded by his wives, and not fucking them. Instead, he was dying.
His long white-haired head, now devoid of its ponytail, lay on Nami’s lap where her cool slender hands gently cradled his head. Anzu rested her own head on his right shoulder, while Suzaku grasped his hand while curled up into his left side. Mayuki lay on top of him, and even in his weakened state she was barely even a weight on his body. The small slender woman had her arms wrapped around his torso and her face buried into his chest. He could feel the frigid cold of her tears on his skin.
Musashi smiled sadly. He knew that all of them would take his death hard, but none harder than Mayuki. He was always her Sir Musashi: her Musashi-sama. This didn’t change when they all married. If anything it added another edge to their deeply intimate exchanges, and lovemaking. He brushed worn but strong slender fingers through her long hair, experienced hands in healing and pleasure, and felt an inevitable loss well in his chest before he swallowed it down back to a tired but content smile.
He saw them: forcing his gaze to grasp them where his flesh now failed him. They were trying to be strong for him now, but he could tell their hearts were breaking, and their mortal masks were slipping off of them. Nami’s golden horns sparkled through her greying dark hair and tears glittered in the careworn lines of her mouth and the crow’s feet of her eyes. Even Anzu’s emerald hair was faded and Mayuki’s once light blue hair turned just as white and icy as the flowers she used to wear in it and the element that she represented. Only Suzaku’s hair remained the same colour as before — a deep, brash and angry red that matched the scowl on her lined features as if she could read his mind right now: which — of course like her grandfather before her — she could.
Where once she would have punched him in the gut a few times for his stupidity, instead it was now her frown that seemed to tell him that he was an idiot, and it wasn’t his fault for dying, that it was something mortals do, and that they’d all made peace with that long ago and she would not abide by him belittling their commitment to him with such stupid doubts. Of course, that same expression on her face was also a very stubborn attempt to keep from bawling her eyes out and a promise to herself that she would do it later.
He managed to smile again at her chastisement and knowing her so well after all these years. Musashi remembered just how angry he’d gotten at their parents — the divine nature spirits themselves — over erasing his memories of them. He recalled going through life, doing well in school, even having other relationships and yet feeling a hole inside of him: sensing something missing after he visited his grandmother’s village all those years ago. Musashi recalled being furious at the spirits for making him forget about these girls from his childhood and was positively livid at Mayuki for voting to remove his memories of them.
She’d told him, later, that they knew he was mortal and that he would grow old while they would not. She told him that she didn’t want to keep him from his potential.
But it wasn’t your decision to make! he had shaken her shoulders hard that time and glared into her eyes, remembering childhood vows to all of them, recalling how he stood up to the very gods themselves for his love for them, It wasn’t your right.
He remembered her crying and almost turning the world into another Ice Age before taking her onto the futon and fucking her more fiercely than he ever had before. But that was a long time ago now, and he knew that it was Mayuki who ultimately changed her mind and wanted him back. He smiled back at his youthful passions, and the rash and ignorant blood-vows he made to them when they were all children, and that very confusing and frightening yet incredibly satisfying time he came back and made love to all of them.
Then they left the village, he earned his doctor’s degree and by some silent agreement between them his wives decided to grow old for him. They never had what would be considered to be a traditional life. Sometimes Musashi felt like the Shining Prince from Murasaki’s Genji Monotagari with all of his princess-wives. Yet unlike Genji, Musashi liked to think that he had a much less tragic life. Certainly, it hadn’t been easy. Unlike their lives back in his grandmother’s village, Musashi and his wives could not always be so public — with Nami as his legal spouse and the others considered family — yet it was a “secret” that they always hid in plain sight and not at all among their friends and children.
They had also fought, and bickered, and driven each other — and Musashi — insane. Sometimes he honestly wished their parents had killed him with their elemental powers back in the village. But there had also been the talks and sunny walks under the cherry blossoms with Mayuki in her frilly nineteenth century Western sun dress and parasol; the sparring matches and races with Suzaku that she always won; the movies and video games he and Anzu played together; and the home cooked meals and warm maternal arms and comfort of Nami to look forward to.
And then there was the sex. He recalled the coy submissiveness of Nami as he mounted her and the energy that crackled around her horns as he stroked them. He recalled Anzu as she wrestled him like a bratty little sister (he had long since gotten used to her calling him onii-chan even though they were the same age and not even remotely related by blood), ridden him like a demon, and loved to take him into her mouth. He grinned to himself as he thought of Suzaku riding astride him and in various positions, and knowing that he had at least one competitive sport he could match her in: if not completely surpass at times.
Then there was Mayuki — his Mayuki-sama — who he had almost always made slow, gentle and passionate love to her: the feeling of her cool skin burning heatedly under his touch. He looked at them all now and he knew that they were remembering the same things he did. Somehow, he could still see the strong broad-shouldered youth with his long shaggy dark hair in his ponytail. He could still see himself using his hands to gently spread their legs, and the intensity of his buttocks as he thrust into them.
Even though they let themselves age, they were still beautiful: his princesses. He looked at his own body and what time had did to it. Loving four goddesses had been kind to him. His body was heavily lined but not as broad as it once had been. Anzu said the lines around his eyes and mouth made him look distinguished. They had all laughed at the possibility of him wanting to grow a beard and moustache. Musashi knew he’d been a beautiful young man and that now he was a far cry from that time. Yet he also knew without looking at Suzaku’s fiercely admonishing glare that they still thought he was beautiful, and that they always would.
Musashi was afraid now. The light around him seemed dimmer. He knew he had been — that he was — a lucky man. Not many people could have done what they all did together. He knew that many relationships like these had failed; that unlike ordinary human beings his wives may have possessed different mentalities to allow for this. He also knew that many men never found true love in their lifetimes and that some died lonely and forgotten. Some never found one soul mate: never mind four.
The fact of the matter now was that Musashi wasn’t afraid for himself. He had all the love with him that he needed. Rather, he was afraid for others. He was afraid for his children — his many children — who might not find the happiness that he gained in the human world they lived in. He was afraid that they wouldn’t find that understanding and empathy. He’d told them about how most humans lived and how they usually took only one mate. Yet they always pointed out that he had been an ordinary human and that he found their mothers anyway.
Somehow, Musashi knew they would be fine. They had all visited him earlier and it was now just him and their mothers: just as it had all began. Yet the truth was, Musashi was afraid of leaving his wives: of leaving them alone and immortal to take care of immortal children in a mortal world. He was afraid of abandoning them and his blood-vows to the four of them. But more than that, he was deathly afraid of causing them pain by the mere existence of his own mortal death. Sometimes, when he and Mayuki sat under the trees and listened in companionable silence to the chirping of the cicadas, he could sense that fear of hers there and he wondered if that was part of the reason she had him sent away all those years ago: to avoid the pain of knowing his death.
“Onii-chan,” it was Anzu who spoke in his hair, “you can let go now.”
“You’ve always tried to please everyone,” Nami murmured, brushing his hair back, “It’s all right, Musashi. It’s your time now.”
“Stop being such a stubborn idiot,” Suzaku choked out, her eyes streaming but still burning into his own, “We’ll be just fine.”
Mayuki looked up at Musashi. The other three women regarded her still pale face with obvious concern until she spoke.
“We love you, Musashi-sama. Always.”
Musashi’s eyes began to blur. Then he smiled. They’d all known the risks in having a relationship with a mortal man. A part of Musashi in his later years wondered if a part of them had always regretted their decision, but he knew it was a stupid part. And as Musashi’s vision of the women he’d challenged the very gods for … whom he loved so much … began to fade away, he knew that whatever awaited him now this time he would never, ever forget them.
He’d tripped over the last branch, but finally he was at the village. The cicadas sang in the woods under the bright summer sun. Musashi wiped his brow as he walked down towards his grandmother’s house. He hadn’t seen her in a very long time.
Yet as he came down, he noticed his grandmother waiting for him outside. She was the same as he’d always remembered: with her grey hair and kimono neat, and a kindly smile on her face. Next to her was a floating winged old man with long grey hair and a beard.
What is Soba doing with the old man?
“Who are you calling an old man, old man?”
Musashi was about to respond and then had his realization as he looked down at himself. “Oh.”
Grandfather Tengu smiled, “It’s all right. You are still much younger than me.”
Musashi stared at the winged old man, then back down at his now younger, broader and taller body.
“What? Did you honestly think we’d abandon the husband of our daughters and the father of our descendants?” he tapped a finger to his temple, “We are nature spirits, boy. Greater yokai. Divine kami. We spend time with a lot of souls: the ones that reincarnate and those that do not …” the old man shook his head, “All right. Maybe you girls can knock some sense into him.”
“Told you he’d still be stubborn, Grandfather,” a young Suzaku told him, stepping out from behind Musashi’s grandmother’s dwelling, followed by the other three girls.
Musashi stares at them in shock: daring not to hope.
“Now dear,” his grandmother told him, “surely you remember your old childhood friends?”
“Your Obaasan is the only human we let live among us,” Grandfather Tengu smiled, “She always knew of our ways and respected us. We should have known her grandchild would be special as well.”
“Don’t make us have to knock some sense back into you,” Suzaku cracked her knuckles.
Nami sighed, “Now you three, don’t be disappointed if he doesn’t remember …”
“Oh don’t worry,” Anzu skipped right up to a dumbfounded Musashi, “I know exactly how to make Onii-chan remember!”
But before the green-haired girl could kick his groin, Musashi blocked it with his hand, “Of course I remember you, you idiots!”
Then Musashi spread out his arms and smiled.