Author's Foreward

Hello! This will be the only real author's note I'll be giving you, other than translations and cultural notes.

Firstly, I want to say that this fic was inspired by Oroyukae's wonderful fic, "Broken Promises" on Dokuga. If you haven't read it, I suggest you go ahead and DO IT NOW. That being said, though this was inspired by her fic, it is in NO way a direct continuation of her story. It borrows elements, but it stands well on its own. Additionally, it is inspired by two of my favorite movies the Korean film "Spring Summer Autumn Winter and Spring" from which this story got its name and "The Milagro Beanfield Wars" . If you've seen either flick, you'll see what I'm talking about when you read the story.

Secondly, I want to impress upon the reader that this story is intended for MATURE audiences. And when I say mature, I'm not just talking about age. I do not write easy stories. If you are looking for a PWP, this is not your story. If you're willing to endure a esoteric story that'll make you think, I got you covered.

And if you skim through the story, not bothering to read the important parts while looking for citrus (and there will be some citrus) and then you wonder why things don't make sense... that's because you didn't read it. Do not review and ask me a question that could have easily been answered had you read attentively. Additionally, I'm trying a different kind of story-telling technique (common in Japan, btw) where some parts of the story are implied, rather than explained in crystal clear detail. You may have to read between the lines a little and come up with the answers on your own. Don't be frustrated. Just read it over and think it out. I promise it won't hurt you.

This story is rated for adult themes, violence, swearing and sexual content. If you are under the age of 18 or uncomfortable with any of the things listed, please do not read any further.

Thank you for you time and enjoy the story.

Dedicated to Oroyukae, my grandfather, Robert Cope, my grandmother, Jean Cope, and my uncle, John Gipson.


Spring

One of the first things he noticed about people were their hands; they could tell so much about a person. His hands were gnarled and arthritic, ending in long, bony fingers with prominent joints that stuck out like the weathered knots of an old oak tree: dirt was caked into wrinkles that could be gorges; scars as wide as valleys; calluses hardened flat like river rocks. They were a working man's hands which had no rest for eighty-six years, and, if the gods were willing, they would see at least a few more.

With a guttural grunt, the old man crouched down, knees digging into the soft forest floor, fingers probing for the thin roots of a young ukogi plant. Taking great care not to damage it, he considered his hands as the root was revealed.

How time flies like an arrow.

Once, he had fine, strong hands; young and nimble, able to carve the world without thinking. Now, he struggled to dig out a root without his fingers becoming painfully stiff and sore. Yes, a human's life on this earth was very short. It was an eye-blink in the face of the gods; small and insignificant like the ukogi was to him. He lifted the young bush from the ground and shook it out and placed it in his basket. Silently, he thanked the plant for its sacrifice.

With a pained groan, he stood up, his aching old body protesting the sharp movement. The old man closed his eyes and rubbed the small of his back, just standing there for a moment to catch his breath. Smacking his lips, he coughed harshly, walking slowly down a well worn path.

Far in the distance, he could hear his dog, Koma, barking wildly as he ran through the underbrush. It was the first real warm day in spring; he guessed the month to be around mid-May, if he'd read the stars right. The winter had been long and hard and the fresh winds of spring were appreciated by both the man and his best friend.

'A half an hour of spring really was worth a thousand gold pieces,' he mused quietly.

Ahead, his old eyes spied the dog, running at him full tilt, his long, pink tongue hanging out the side of his mouth. The old man couldn't help but laugh; the sound was dry and rusty but warm. At the sight of his master, the dog let out a joyful sound, half bark, half yip, and it ran faster, colliding with the man at top speed and nearly knocking him over. He laughed again, and patted the shiba-inu's head appreciatively. The dog reared up and snuffled his hand, licking the rough skin reverently before going back on all fours to trot around his master's legs, tail wagging happily.

Having acknowledged his friend, the old man continued on his way, heedless of the dog's continued fussing. It circled 'round his master, barking and yipping, jumping excitedly at this and that as dogs do. Unbothered, he sauntered down the path, arms and legs swinging in ungainly rhythm as if he'd only just learned how to walk; a feat accomplished only by the very young or very old.

Every few feet the old man would stop, picking his way through the brush as he foraged, lumping whatever he found in the same battered rattan basket. He'd just found a rather tasty looking cluster of mushrooms when he noticed that the dog hadn't ceased his yapping. It wasn't all that unusual. Shiba-inu could be noisy dogs, and Koma did like to hear himself talk quite a bit but there was something different about it – a high-pitched squeal that wasn't there before. Carelessly wiping a hand over his mouth, he turned back and scowled at the mutt, who had planted himself just a few feet away.

"Quiet, Koma!" But the dog didn't seem to hear him, it only continued growling, his stance tense. Befuddled, the old man followed the dog's fierce gaze. There was a man there – no, it wasn't really a man, he thought, taking in the unnatural silver hair and blazing gold eyes. "Hmph. Youkai," he said, more to himself than anyone else, and then he turned away, intent on harvesting those tasty looking mushrooms. Yes, mushroom soup sounded nice tonight.

"You are Mushin, no?" The youkai's voice was deep; commanding.

"Ayuh," he answered succinctly, eyeing the youkai warily for a moment. Koma was still barking. How annoying. "Hush, mutt," he grumbled, giving him a swift smack to the rear with his walking stick. The dog whimpered, and the old man grunted, satisfied with the silence that followed. He glanced up at the demon expectantly and when he said nothing else, the old man shrugged and went back to work, quickly plucking the mushrooms from the desiccated tree stump that had been their home. He placed them in the basket and affixed its cover, groaning a bit as he swung it around and pulled his arms through the straps. Once he was sure it was safely on his shoulders, he trudged onward, aware that the youkai would follow him.

The old man had no idea why a youkai would be interested in the likes of him and he didn't much care. From the looks of the demon, he was quite powerful. There was very little an old codger like him could do if he decided to attack. Anyway, he'd lived a long and happy life with no regrets. If the gods wished to have him, Mushin had no argument with the decision.

As he expected, the youkai followed. The old man shuffled along, seemingly oblivious. He glanced up at the sky. It was fine and clear. There was no mist today. Some thought it was bad luck, but he'd never put a lot of stock in such nonsense. So long as one was respectful, the gods would take no issue. Anyway, the lack of fog allowed him to see the clear waters of Lake Mashū from the trees; the deep blue water reflected the sky nicely. The old man smiled softly, pressing his hands together and bowing low, he gave thanks that he lived one more day in such a world as this. Shifting his pack, he continued on, until he reached a set of barely visible stone steps. Inhaling deeply, he prepared himself as he ascended step by step, ever so slowly. The dog tore ahead of him, taking three, four steps at a time, tongue lolling crazily. He didn't look, but he knew that he hadn't shaken his youkai tag-along. It was no matter.

When he finally reached the top of the steps, his legs were on fire and it took every ounce of willpower to force himself forward. Reaching the front stoop of the small hermitage he called home, he relieved himself of his burden and sat heavily on the worn wooden boardwalk. He took his sandals off and rubbed his aching feet before folding them underneath himself. Setting his hands on his knees, he looked up at his visitor, long, wiry eyebrows lifted in expectation. The youkai said nothing; he just stared at the old man as the old man stared at him.

"Hmph," he huffed, the short whiskers on his scrubby moustache puffing out with the exhalation. Grunting and groaning as he stood up to retrieve several smaller baskets before sitting down once more. Without paying any further attention to his visitor, he went about sorting out what he'd gathered. He was aware that the youkai wasn't particularly pleased with his inattention – seemed like the sort who wasn't used to being ignored. But the old man wasn't about to pry whatever it was the youkai wanted out of him. If it was truly so important, he'd have to say something.

Ten minutes passed, and then an hour, then three, and still the youkai said nothing which didn't faze the old man much. I suppose it'll be up to me, he thought. Plunking one of his mushrooms in a basket with its brothers, he gazed up at the youkai, his dark eyes gleaming brightly, belying his age. "Well, are you just going to stand there?" he asked grumpily, dusting off and tossing a burdock root into the farthest basket. Taking a good, long look at the youkai, he noticed something. His eyes spoke, though his mouth didn't move. This is a man who has lost everything. With a great, heaving sigh, he gestured to the hermitage's small front door. "Put your things in the second room. You'll help me sort."

The youkai balked at the statement. The old man smiled, not used to being ignored or ordered, are we? Mushin wondered what he would do, and was pleasantly surprised when the demon strode forward into the hermitage. He reappeared moments later, settling himself next to the old man; he reached into the gathering basket. Before he could grab a single herb, the old man caught his wrist. The youkai's eyes widened, surprised that a human, especially as one as aged as this one, could be so quick.

Mushin turned the youkai's hands over, examining both front and back. His nails were manicured, cuticles neat and tidy. His palms were unlined and without calluses. Some might not be surprised. Youkai healing could do a great many things, but Mushin knew it could not hide the evidence of hard work.

"You got city boy's hands," he remarked mildly as he scratched his beard, letting the youkai's hands go. He could tell the demon was displeased but it was the unvarnished truth. This youkai hadn't worked an honest day's work his whole life. From head to toe, he screamed 'privilege'. "Those herbs ain't gonna sort themselves."

A few more minutes passed. The old man sorted quietly. The youkai glared at the old man. Then, quite abruptly, he reached into the basket full of herbs, drew out the ugoki and placed it gently into one of the smaller baskets.

Cultural Notes/Definitions

Ukogi -- a native Japanese thorny shrub; a close relative to Ginseng. This plant is used in traditional Japanese herbal medicine, sometimes as a substitute for the more expensive Ginseng. Almost every part of this shrub can be used, from its leaves to its root. It is generally used to treat rheumatism, minor muscle aches, insomnia, bronchitis and impotence.

Shiba-inu -- one of the oldest breeds of dog, native to Japan. They are known for their independent temperament and cleanliness. When threatened or upset, they make a distinctive sound known as the Shiba Shriek.

Koma Inu -- "Lion-dogs" that guard shrines. Koma is named after these protective spirits.

Lake Mashū -- A caldera lake, i.e. a lake formed from the crater of an inactive volcano, located in Hokkaidō. It is one of the world's clearest lakes. During the summer, it is covered in fog. There is an old superstition that if someone sees the lake during summer that they will never marry again.