For the first time in her life, Ashi felt sheer, burning anticipation. Sure, she faced hordes of warriors before, she even defied Aku and matched him blow for blow but this... was different. It was not wholly unpleasant, after all, it was meant to be one of the most happy moments in any person's life, but to her it was a whole new world, beyond her wildest hopes and dreams. She definitely did not swallow any, but she did feel butterflies in her stomach, another first she enjoyed.

As she was being dressed in the white kimono by the many servants and looked on by the kindly Empress, Ashi found it hard to not smile. Tended to so carefully and with such love by so many people, she could practically jump with joy, had the clothes not restricted her, as she was clad in a layer after layer of dress. Her hair was done up and hidden under a wig as well, which added good amount to her height. No detail was spared, with flowers in the hair, make up on her face and silks that covered her from head to toe. Ashi definitely enjoyed spoiling her feminine side, hidden under soot and coal for most of her life.

As funny and strange as these customs were, Ashi took it all in, carefully absorbing each detail of life around her. When Jack brought her home for the first time, it was not much to look at, the land still reeling from Aku's blows. It was amazing to see them rebuild so quickly and with such passion that she rarely saw, except when she encountered Jack's many comrades and friends.

It was hard to recall the events of the battle and tell all of it to Jack's parents, the Emperor and Empress. The sacrifice of so many for their sake was painful, and Jack had as much difficulty in recalling things as she did, but they did it in the end. Even if time travel was beyond their understanding, the Emperor and Empress seemed to understand their sorrow. However, Ashi was wary that they might not be quite understanding if she revealed her origin to them.

But the love and kindness kept coming. Even her parentage didn't phase them, and they slowly warmed up to her. As Ashi settled into the life among Jack's people, she was faced with many customs and rules, from strange foods and dress to ceremonies and protocol between people. She was even going to acquire a role among them, never imagining herself to be royalty one day when it became apparent that her and Jack's relationship was to be formalized. To be his wife, let alone a royal consort was a privilege, she was told, but it was something that Ashi did not feel was as important as her feelings for Jack, until she learned (quite quickly at that) what marriage meant. It didn't take any time for her to agree and the ceremony was organized.

As she took her first steps on the path to the shrine, followed by a small entourage and under a shade of an umbrella, Ashi witnessed large, cheering crowds that flanked both sides of a long aisle that led to the shrine. People from all over the world, who also looked after Jack as he grew up, she learned. Wherever she went, she encountered people who were touched by him and contributed to this moment. It was hard to not be humbled, even for her, but Ashi maintained her composure and strode down the aisle towards her destiny.

There he was, dressed in black, with the biggest smile she ever saw on him, with the shrine's priest and the Emperor standing by. She kept calling him by his future name and Jack didn't seem to mind at all, confusing a lot of people when she spoke of him. Hopefully she would get it "right" and call him by his birth name when it came to the ceremony itself, she thought. Ashi kept her pace and suppressed the urge to break out into a grin, but her heart beat a little faster with each step she took. This was beyond realm of possibility, the bliss after a lifetime of darkness, the only thing she could have done to deserve this was to save the world...

She felt a strange pang shoot through her like a lightning bolt. Nothing changed and no one noticed a thing, but the instant she thought of Aku, it got worse. But he was gone, never to return. He left her body even, so why was she...

She felt her knees go weak, but steadied herself on her geta sandals. Again no one noticed a thing and Ashi was too well trained to give away any weakness, but Jack alone did see it, and the smile instantly disappeared. He was perhaps the best warrior to ever walk this world, but his heart was as easy to read as an open book when she saw panic in his eyes. She didn't know what it was, but she suspected...

Ashi regained her composure and kept on walking. She could see Jack ready to leap towards her, but her steady steps reassured him as as she got closer to the shrine. The pain subsided and she barely suppressed a desire to sigh with relief. Even now she tried to take every aspect of her new life as seriously as she could - probably with more attention than the training in the temple of...

Another bolt of pain shot through her and it was impossible to hold back now. Her own smile vanished and Ashi looked upon Jack with a gaze that confirmed his worry - something was not right. But she did mount the steps of the shrine and arrived before the priest, her bridal entourage with Empress taking their side besides the Emperor.

This was it, and Ashi stretched her hands towards Jack, which he immediately clasped with his. She gave his hands a gentle squeeze and fought to put on a smile again, despite feeling inside as if she was going to come apart at seams. Jack held on tightly, staring right into her eyes, unsettled but steady. He knew and she could not hide it, but this had to happen.

As the priest began to speak the words of the ceremony, Ashi began to squeeze Jack's hands more and more. As she did so, his eyes begged for an answer as her smile got bleaker and bleaker.

The solemn invocations of the kannushi carried on agonizingly slowly, and the smile was all but gone from her face only staring at Jack, tears welling up on her face. If there was a pain worse than what she experienced in her scarred life, it was the holding back of a torrent of tears and a heartache that she endured, for him.

Everyone around smiled and began to get teary as well, save for Jack who held on to Ashi as if clinging for dear life. This was a battle of will, and despite winning one, this was far more difficult.

When the time came and the priest raised his arms in a blessing gesture, a moment passed before Ashi slowly disentangled one of her hands from Jack's grasp and turned to face kannushi. Jack turned as well after a reluctant pause, but still keeping his eyes on her. Their grasp did not lessen, but Jack felt as if Ashi's hand suddenly started to feel less and less... real. The subdued panic now rose to the top and he could not hold back any longer.

"Ash-"

Kannushi asked for the blessings of the gods, both the distant ones of the gathered people, as well as kami and ancestors of the Emperor and Empress, to protect and grant happiness to the couple and to reward their gift of life to the world with a gift of a young life of their own. Everyone bowed their heads as the prayer continued, save for the couple, their gaze still locked. Tears now flowed freely down Ashi's cheeks and Jack stared at her with a slack jaw. Her hand became less and less of a thing, until Jack felt nothing in his hand, but her face, her tears, she was still there like a ghostly image.

"May the great Odin of the Norsemen, Ra of the Sun and Wise Rama bless these two in peace over the world."

It was then that Ashi's tears began to glitter like gems and her skin started to glow, surpassing the gleam of her white kimono. Her ethereal hand suddenly came back as solid and warm flesh in Jack's hand, and she smiled at him, radiant and warm.

Jack felt the warmth travel from her hand to his heart and he too started to feel tears in his eyes.