This story has been tons of fun to write and while I'm not terribly happy with this particular chapter (it's really tough for me to write happy stuff... ), I'm quite proud of the story as a whole. I hope you guys have enjoyed the ride!
A grand celebration was thrown in honor of the returning jackal and the season he commanded. A feast was prepared in the name of the gods that had once been so very lost made whole again. A tradition that had been abandoned long ago, the villagers rejoiced in the old temple, gathered around two beastly gods and one that still wore the guise of a young man. They praised the creatures before them, offering food and conversation rather than children. They begged forgiveness, pleaded for the gods to understand. In answer, they received only silence and the commanding gaze of frigid blue and chaotic gold. Neither the jaguar nor the wolf said a word as they sat upon the dais that had been carved in their names and looked out at the gathered people, the descendants of those that had worshiped them as well as had abandoned them.
It was Ichigo, the boy that had become a god, who spoke when all fell silent and the atmosphere grew thick and heavy. Looking out with warmth and wisdom in his deep, brown eyes, he sat between Grimmjow and Shirosaki, dwarfed in size for the moment, but he was certainly no less than them. He told the villagers in a calm and gentle voice that there was no excuse for the actions that had played out and been taken so long ago. He told them once more that life was to be cherished, that children were sacred beyond themselves and that the gods had never and would never ask for such a thing. He told them that they were short-lived and mortal and that they would do well in holding onto their humanity and humility, but he also told them that they need not ask for the gods' forgiveness, for the jaguar, the wolf and the jackal had never been cruel and nor were they now.
When Ichigo had fallen silent, still looking out into the gathered crowd, at the faces that looked back at him, small smiles had curled onto the features of the other two gods. Their mate was truly back and his new carrier was perfect, both in mind and spirit. The boy known as Ichigo was a perfect fit for the god known as the jackal. Still holding their animal forms, they affectionately curled about their returned mate. Ichigo too smiled and ran his hand down the jaguar's muscled neck, over his strong shoulders. His other hand toyed with thick white fur as the villagers began eating and drinking in celebration. With the lightening of the two beastly gods' demeanors, so too did the mood of the gathered people lift and the tense air disintegrated.
The atmosphere was light and alive, more so than it had been in years, in generations. Gone were the heavy storm clouds that had marked the gods' grief and gone was the maddening sorrow that had reigned in their intense eyes and shadowed their hearts. The overwhelming loss that had weighed down their lithe bodies and blackened their minds no longer settled on strong shoulders. The one thing that had not retreated with the jackal's return, however, was the memory of that day so long ago and it showed as both the wolf and the jaguar remained ever alert through out the celebration.
Their keen gazes searched the gathered villagers, seeking out a hidden danger that would steal from them their mate once more, a hidden danger that would cruelly tear them apart and seek to break them before they were fully healed. A hard gleam showed in brilliant blue and molten gold, like the Winter god had played some part in freezing over their expressive gazes. It brought tears to Ichigo's eyes as he felt not only his own sorrow at the display, but the vivid emotions and pain from the jackal's memories. When he had accepted the jackal's spirit, he had also accepted the lost god's experiences. He remembered everything as though it had been him, as though he had always been the jackal, and he remembered the way his two distraught mates had circled him, protected him, mourned for him. He remembered their parting actions and words and he remembered the raw horror and pain in their eyes, a pain that far exceeded the physical pain he had felt from the sword as it had struck his beating heart.
Ichigo swallowed back his tears and turned away from the crowd, his appetite gone. He turned so that he faced the massive jaguar and the equally large wolf and watched as their ears swiveled and their eyes panned about the room to take in everything, looking the picture of powerful and immortal guardians.
But the moment he spoke, his voice quiet and barely there, two beastly gazes slid to his form as the wolf and the jaguar gave their returned mate their undivided attention without hesitation.
"He's gone." Ichigo whispered, hardly loud enough to carry over the din of the crowd. His connection with them ran deep and he knew they would hear him with ease. "He's gone and he's not coming back and nothing will separate us again."
Feline brows furrowed while the wolf's ears lowered as the two said nothing for a moment, simply taking in their long lost mate. As their silence began taking an edge of heaviness, the two beastly gods glanced to one another as they had done countless times before, a silent conversation being waged between them. Their eyes locked for just a split second and Ichigo watched as they both struggled to push away their fears and paranoia, before a smirk slid onto the jaguar's features and a wide grin bared the wolf's massive fangs, dispelling the heavy air.
"We believe you." Grimmjow rumbled as he climbed to his feet in a single fluid motion. He butted his head lightly against Ichigo's chest as Shirosaki also stood.
"Don' mean we're lettin' ya leave our sight, though." The wolf told him as he affectionately coated Ichigo's cheek in cool slobber.
Ichigo squeaked out a laugh, trying to get away from the massive creature's almost cold tongue. Tripping in the process, he stumbled into the equally large jaguar, who proceeded to side step and let him fall the rest of the way to the ground, though much more gently than he would have had Grimmjow not allowed Ichigo to use him for balance first.
Located in front of the old temple, sitting upon the dais above the rest of the patrons, Ichigo began laughing anew as he landed on his rump, the two larger creatures eagerly joining him, laying to be at his level. A small wrestling match ensued, the last of Grimmjow's and Shirosaki's fears being chased away, at least for the moment, with the echos of heartbreak that had marred Ichigo's mind only minutes ago. The play wasn't nearly as rough as what Ichigo had witnessed in his dream not long ago, nor as much so as in the memories of other play battles he now held from the jackal's previous life. The wolf and the jaguar were very aware that their returned mate was still within his human body, so they were gentle and saved their teeth and claws for each other, but the interaction was no less playful and joyous. It was even loving in an innocent and pure way, in a youthful way as it had been when they were young and had yet to know sorrow.
The celebration was still going on in full around them, a few of the villagers having stopped to happily watch the oddly amusing yet almost sweet display, such a far cry from the hollow, anger filled displays the two had put on in the recent past. After a few minutes, Ichigo managed to get the upper hand, though he knew it was only because the other two gave him a handy-cap for being in his human form, a form neither of them could take since before Ichigo had become the jackal.
Breathing a little harder than normal from the exertion he had put forth, Ichigo's attention was pulled away from the play as Grimmjow ceased wrestling. The massive black jaguar didn't bother climbing to his feet, but his big head raised, his vivid blue eyes piercing as they redirected away from his mates and toward the man that approached them. His ears flattened slightly, his front paws crossing as his slim tail twitched a few times. A flash of protective aggression made the crystalline color of his gaze look hard and stormy for a moment, like the clouds that blackened the sky during the colder seasons, but as a small smile creased the approaching man's lips, the look softened a little.
Ichigo looked away from Grimmjow to see his father standing before the dais they were now spread out upon. Laying flat beside him, Shirosaki's tail waggled against the floor slightly and his blue tongue lolled from his mouth in a wide smile. Ichigo patted his side fondly before standing and approaching his father.
The young man, now the jackal, hopped down from the raised platform and stood before his human father. Isshin searched his features for a few silent heart beats. The older man's own features were set but not angry, merely controlled, but his emotions showed well enough in his dark eyes.
"Ichigo...my son..." Isshin seemed to hesitate slightly, like he was unsure if he could still call his boy that, if Ichigo was still his son.
The reborn jackal nodded. "I'm still Ichigo, father. I'm still the son you raised. It's-it's hard to explain, but I'm still me. I still have all the same memories and thoughts, I just have the Summer's memories too...of the seasons, of the world before the village...of m-my death..." Ichigo turned to look over his shoulder. "and of them." He looked back to his father, a happy smile tugging at his lips and shining in his molten, warm gaze. "I've become the Summer."
"Oh Ichigo." Isshin wrapped his arms around his son in a tight, fatherly hug. "I'm so proud of you, son. So proud and so relieved. I can see how happy they make you and how happy you make them. You'll be a fine Summer."
"Thank you, father." Ichigo all but whispered as Isshin pulled him back to arm's length to look down at him.
"Will we ever see you again?"
Ichigo smiled. He glanced around at the gathered villagers for a moment, at the feast and celebration they had eagerly put together after the jackal was reborn. Then he looked back to his father and Isshin could have sworn he saw a flash of jackal-like mischief in his son's deep eyes. "You can't get rid of me that easily, dad. Make sure you help Yuzu cook when we come over though, I bet they eat a lot." He motioned behind himself with his thumb, to the giant wolf and jaguar watching them.
Isshin erupted in laughter, clapping his hand over his son's shoulder. "It's a deal son, it's a deal."
Still laying upon the dais, Shirosaki let out a quiet, huffing whimper of impatience as he shifted, still flat on his side, his neck stretched out and his head turned to look at the jackal. A few feet away from him, a smirk stretched across Grimmjow's feline features as his icy gaze drifted away from Ichigo and to the wolf.
Just as Shirosaki was about to climb to his feet, Grimmjow shifted over and dropped a little harder than necessary to half lay across the wolf's ribcage. The Winter god grunted as the cat's weight pushed him back to the ground.
"Wha' was tha' for?" He asked, his lilting tone taking a bit of a growling edge.
"Patience, Shiro." Grimmjow rumbled, wiggling a bit to make himself comfortable. He ended up with one foreleg crossed over the wolf's abdomen, his big head resting upon his own paw.
"Tch, but he's finally back..." The wolf whined like a shrill winter breeze, ears falling slightly from their alert position.
Grimmjow smirked again. "And he's not going anywhere this time. Patience. The humans are short lived, let him enjoy his time with his sire for a few minutes."
Shirosaki huffed again and curled his lip in displeasure but he lay still all the same, letting his keen, gold on black eyes watch over his returned mate. Still half laying atop him, Grimmjow's subtle but deep purr reverberated through his own chest as well as the wolf's ribcage. They would watch over their long lost mate. They would ensure the jackal of Summer would be safe and protected for as long as the gods stood, and they were already falling in love with Ichigo.
Later that evening, as the sun once more began sinking toward the horizon, the celebration began dwindling as villagers began returning to their homes. Ichigo smirked, stretching his arms above his head and arching his back as the giant wolf lounging beside him yawned, flashing white fangs and a darkly colored tongue. He stood, knowing without a word being said that it was time for them to return home, to return to the forest the gods and now himself called their own.
The wolf and the jaguar followed his lead and the three walked side by side back to Ichigo's family home, his father and sisters with them. The young man gave his father a hug, his sisters too, bidding them to be good while he was away and promising that he'd come back soon. Then he stopped by his mother's grave, where he stood in silence for a few moments before telling her that he loved her too and thanked her for always having faith in the grieving gods, the creatures that he became so attached to.
With the massive wolf and jaguar at his sides, Ichigo turned and walked back into the forest he had been lost in before. Unlike the first time he'd entered, there was no fear in his heart; not of what would happen, not for his family, not of the forest itself and certainly not of his brethren, his mates, the gods.
The forest welcomed him. It welcomed all of them and it seemed to rejoice in their unity. They were three pieces made whole once more and it showed in every aspect of the trees around, of the growing grasses and flowers, of the leaves and even the insects that buzzed through the warm, fresh scented air. Mother Spring, even though her season had given way to the jackal's, was rejoicing in the return of her lost child and Ichigo felt as though his own human mother sat beside her. He could almost see her smile, feel it as she looked upon them and the joy coursing through the three.
"I have missed you." Ichigo finally whispered, his voice quiet like the gentle breeze as it floated between the trees and fluttered the leaves. Though it seemed strange to be speaking for and as the jackal, it also felt natural, right. He was the jackal, and he was Ichigo. He was both, but more importantly, he was happy and it was the truth that he spoke. Something he never realized was missing seemed to fill a pit somewhere inside him that he had never noticed needed filling until it had been, until whatever it was was there and he felt complete.
To his left, the winter wolf's lilting chuckle caressed the air like the last snowflake of the season. "We know. An' we've missed ya as well."
The Summer's lips slanted into a small, but pleasant and joyful smile. He patted the wolf's broad shoulders, noting that even though he was coated in the thick, heavy fur expected of a creature living in a permanently frozen environment, Shirosaki neither felt too warm nor acted as though he was uncomfortable with the hotter temperature of summer.
At his other side, the massive jaguar turned stunning, almost painfully blue eyes his direction. The Autumn's black coat shimmered in the dappled sunlight filtering between the tree branches, flawless and smooth and hinting at a blue tint. His strides were long and graceful, silent like his heritage demanded. His body language spoke of ease and a peace the large creature had not seen in too long yet the look he turned to Ichigo was one of masked helplessness. "Does it hurt?"
Ichigo frowned his confusion at the cat's deep voice, glancing over at Shirosaki before returning his gaze to Grimmjow and shaking his head slightly. "Does what hurt? I don't understand..."
"When you were wounded...before you...died...you were-"
"Ya were in so much pain..." Shirosaki finished for his mate, understanding what the jaguar wished to ask. "An' there was nothin' we could do..."
"Oh..." Ichigo's unhurried, leisurely steps paused, his brows furrowing slightly as the memory of how the Summer had been killed leapt to the forefront of his mind. It was a painful memory, he had been wounded both physically and emotionally, but that had happened a long time ago. It was finally over and things were set right once more. Ichigo smiled slightly and looked from one to the other. "No, it doesn't hurt any longer and I don't blame you. You were there, you were with me while I endured the pain. That was all I needed. I knew you would never leave me."
There was no need for confirmation, no need to make promises to reassure his mates that what he said was true. There were no lies between the gods, all that bound them together was far too strong for such things. So when Ichigo spoke, when he told them they needn't fret or worry over what had happened, Shirosaki and Grimmjow believed him and they banished what had been scratching around inside there skulls for so long, making room for a reawakening of all that they had once been.
No longer would they be the cruel, murderous beasts they were before, but true gods and guardians of what they had once cared for and now were capable of caring for once more. The grief had been lifted from their souls and though neither of the three gods would ever forget what had happened and the villagers would ever remember the dark times that had befallen them following the death of the jackal, they put all that behind them and rejoiced that their mate was returned. They let go of what had happened and did not dwell on it in the way only long lived, godly beings could do.
The three continued their peaceful walk for a while longer, listening to the hum of life around them, enjoying the smell of healthy growth. The Summer was back and so his season rose once more, giving life to all around and returning balance to the forest. Ichigo looked about the forest, watched as a small rabbit hopped into their path for a moment before disappearing back into the thick underbrush that lined their trail, a path that seemed to open up and clear before his eyes. While he did nothing consciously, he knew all this was because of him. It was a part of him. He was warmth and life and vitality and he shared it with everything around him when it was his turn to command the seasons.
As if life had been returned to the Winter and the Autumn as well, the two moved in near perfect sync as a wide, mischievous grin spread across the wolf's pale lips. Grimmjow's blue eyes narrowed at the wolf but a playful smirk curled his dark features as well, recognizing the wolf's playful streak for what it was. Just as Shirosaki lunged, crossing in front of Ichigo, the feline god's dark ears flattened and he jerked back slightly.
The wolf's powerful jaws snapped shut, closing around nothing but air with enough force to echo through the trees. Ichigo's eyes widened slightly before he burst into laughter as Grimmjow snarled and bared his teeth at the wolf. A manic, lilting laughter escaped the frosty god as he took off at a sprinting pace, the jaguar on his heels.
"Ya better be on my side this time!" Shirosaki called back, turning slightly to look behind himself and Grimmjow. A big black paw swatted at his fleeing backside and the wolf yelped as he turned his gaze back in front of himself to continue.
Ichigo laughed and gave chase but he shook his head as he watched the two tear through the trees at a pace he couldn't hope to match. "I don't think I'll be helping either of you!" He called back, a wide smile on his boyishly handsome features.
Grimmjow's deep voiced purred out a laugh that rumbled through the trees as he closed in on the mate he'd been chasing after. Shirosaki's strange, gold on black eyes widened as he looked backward once more and spun toward the jaguar, his claws digging furrows into the loosely packed earth and kicking dirt into the air as he decided to defend himself rather than flee. Grimmjow pounced, landing upon the wolf with all the strength and weight of a powerful hunting cat and god.
Shirosaki was driven to the ground with a grunt as the two skidded under Grimmjow's force, but even through the snarling and tugging, neither aimed to hurt the other and it held no malice or anger. Nothing but an air of playfulness surrounded the two massive creatures. A happiness that hadn't been seen in generations permeated the very air and wrapped around the trees like the light breeze.
"Shift, Ichigo." Grimmjow said, looking over as Ichigo finally reached them. He half sat, half crouched over the prone wolf, one massive paw holding the Winter's muzzle to the ground so that Shirosaki couldn't close those imposing fangs around the Autumn's flesh. "Else Shiro looses again. Have you ever beaten me?" Grimmjow chuckled as he looked down at the struggling wolf.
The wolf snarled and attempted to kick his mate off but didn't go anywhere. Ichigo shook his head and sat down cross-legged beside him, watching with much amusement as they struggled and played.
"Yer really not ganna help me?" Shirosaki turned large, rounded puppy eyes over to Ichigo, his brows raised and his ears hanging slightly in a pitifully effective attempt to make their returned mate feel sympathetic.
Of course it worked, Ichigo had always been kind hearted and sympathetic toward those who deserved it and the jackal had been known for the very same. "I don't know how... I remember everything from before I was killed, but I don't know how to change...that part's just...blank..."
"That's because it's instinctive. It doesn't require thought." Grimmjow rumbled, shifting his position slightly. As a result, he pulled his big paw away from the wolf's maw, consequently releasing him.
Shirosaki took full advantage of his renewed mobility and surged to his feet, throwing Grimmjow off as he did so. With a maddening chuckle and a wide grin, blue tongue lolling from his mouth, he spun and turned the tables, bringing Grimmjow to the warm, soft bed of forest floor.
As Grimmjow had taunted, the Winter wolf had yet to actually win a match between them. The jaguar used his feline agility and fluid grace to his advantage and quickly slipped from the wolf's grasp, putting Shirosaki on the defensive again.
When the wolf took off again, running through and darting between the trees, Grimmjow took only a split second to turn to his still human bound mate with a telling grin before he raced off after the wolf, deeper into their forest home. "Come along, Ichigo. He really is going to need your help. I owe him."
Ichigo sighed and gave a helpless chuckle at his situation but he couldn't help but chase after them to the best of his ability. He was compelled to, everything in him wanted to join in, wanted to race gracefully through the underbrush and sing through the forest meant only for them, the forest that had been nurtured to become their home. So that's what he did and as he ran, watching the two godly creatures pull further away and wishing he could match their grace and speed, a strange but not unwelcomed feeling of freedom and subtle, gentle power began to settle over him. It consumed him and filled his senses, heightening them to the point that he could hear, see, smell all that was around him with perfect clarity.
It amazed Ichigo and he didn't understand at first, but he realized he was gaining ground on the two he raced after and he began to understand. Without consciously trying, without even thinking about it, long legs began changing, shifting into powerful, elegant limbs that sailed with ease over the uneven terrane. Two became four, his swift movements balanced and guided by an almost fluffy, black tipped tail. Lean muscle rippled below brilliant, shining fur. Golden ears swiveled back in a happy expression as a wide and overjoyed smile spread Ichigo's now canine features. His paws hit the ground with hardly a sound as he sailed toward his mates, his fathomless brown eyes bright.
At his swift approach, both wolf and jaguar looked up. Their battle was forgotten as Ichigo leapt toward them and sailed through the air to land in their midst. He all but pranced around them, his steps light and dancing as he laughed. Tails wagged and a deep purr emanated through the forest, drowning out the buzz of insects. An almost cold tongue quickly wet the fur covering his muzzle as Shirosaki happily showed his affection and joy, his wide grin only growing all the wider. Grimmjow rubbed against the jackal with enough strength to nearly knock Ichigo to the ground, just as happy as his mates.
Nothing of the pain and sorrow that had plagued the mourning gods was left. Their hearts and minds were light and soared like they were meant to. Their mate was back, and now he could shift to be like them, to run and to play and rule the forest with them as was always meant to be.
The three spent the rest of the day and long into the evening simply enjoying their new found happiness and freedom. They roamed the forest, sometimes at a leisurely walk, sometimes at a pace so swift the trees were a blur as they passed. Ichigo couldn't get enough of how very free and alive he felt while he roamed beside his companions. His jackal form was so light, so swift and agile in ways he never knew were possible.
Eventually they came upon a small lake of crystal clear water. Tall, green grasses grew around it, wild flowers interspersed and bringing brilliant color to the scene. The sun had sunk low along the horizon, but like the animals they took the shape of, neither had trouble seeing in the low lighting. Around them, the forest seemed to grow quiet in a heavy, yet peaceful way. The insects ceased their buzzing and the chirping of birds fell away. The only sounds to remain were the small noises made by Ichigo and his companions as they traversed the area.
The jackal's brows furrowed slightly as he carefully, silently picked his way through the tall plants to the water's edge. His mates hung back, watching in silence as the Summer sat down, the small undulations of the water lapping at his front paws. Ichigo looked out at the clear water, his warm gaze taking on a far away look.
"This is where you brought me." His voice was quiet, a whisper through the grasses around him. He didn't so much remember as he just knew.
"We did." Grimmjow's voice was an equally quiet rumble from somewhere behind, though not far away. He and the wolf gave Ichigo his space, but they remained close enough that the jackal wouldn't think himself alone.
Before taking on the mantle of god of Summer, Ichigo had known the stories, like the rest of the villagers had. After the jackal's death, his mates had taken his body from the street he'd taken his last breath in. The villagers never knew what happened, they never knew if the enormous jackal had been buried, or perhaps he simply disappeared after his soul had left his body. It wasn't something they could just ask about, the gods hadn't been in the talking mood and eventually rumors and ridiculous stories had spread. Some said the jackal had been reborn instantly, but had chosen not to rejoin his grieving mates so that they continued to punish the people for allowing the jackal to die. Others said that the wolf and the jaguar had broke the moment he'd taken his last breath and consumed their mate's body in their anger and despair.
But now Ichigo knew. His previous body had been brought back to the forest of their birth, their home. He'd been interred into the clean, crisp water and given back to Mother Spring so that he'd be given the chance to find another carrier to accept his soul.
"It's beautiful here." Ichigo cast his gaze around the small lake. The water's surface was smooth and unbroken but life surrounded it. Beautiful plants blossomed to life and wild orchids added a calming scent. Looking a bit closer to shore and more toward his feet, the jackal smiled softly as a few small fish swam lazy patterns along the white sand of the bottom.
"It's been like this since you were taken from us." Grimmjow told him. "It's timeless and unchanging."
"It was the only place ta stay beautiful an' alive in our grief." Shirosaki added, his distorted voice taking on an almost guilty tone. "The only place we didn' kill off an' destroy."
Ichigo looked out over the water for a few more moments, at the trees growing on the other side and the few animals that hovered near the bank. The few wild creatures around them seemed to realize they were nothing to fear, even though they took they guises of dangerous and deadly predators. The forest and her creatures had nothing to fear from the gods any longer. After a few minutes, he turned back to the other two gods with a small smile adorning his elegant, canine features and his expressive eyes soft.
"It's fine now." He said quietly. "All that's over... The forest is already alive once more, and the village will survive and prosper again."
Walking up to the wolf and the jaguar, Ichigo slid his muzzle along the underside of Grimmjow's jaw, then turned to Shirosaki with a small, tender lick. "Now it's our turn to heal. We don't have to hurt anymore..."
Ichigo quietly lowered himself to the ground, the tall grasses making a soft bed around and under him. Looking up at his mates, he bid them to join him without word. They did so, laying around him as the last rays of the sun's light fell below the horizon. Shirosaki spread out on his side, wrapped around behind Ichigo so that his head rested over the jackal's crossed paws while Grimmjow curled up feline like in front of him, his large body curled tightly enough that fit snug against Ichigo's front. Between them, the jackal smiled and closed his eyes as he rested his chin on the jaguar's muscled shoulder, his tail thumping quietly against the soft grasses in a slow, happy motion.
"You wont leave us again?" Grimmjow's deep voice was a quiet rumble, like thunder in the distance, his intense eyes nearly glowing in the dark as they cornered to look at Ichigo over his shoulder.
Ichigo smiled and shook his head slightly where it rested on the big cat before opening his eyes to look back at his mate.
"Ya promise? No' ever?" Shiro whispered just as quietly in the dark.
The jackal's tail swayed slowly, gently but he otherwise remained unmoving as he spoke, his words a promise that helped to set the other two at ease and finally allowed them to rest, both in mind and body. "Never again."
The gods, all three of them, slept soundly that night. The Winter wolf and Autumn jaguar didn't wander the forest, nor the streets of the village with the cover of dark. They didn't lash out and bring storms to the otherwise pleasant season or spend their restless hours searching. They didn't allow for their harsher seasons to overcome and swallow the warmth that surrounded the village and the forest. For the first time in generations, they were at peace enough to sleep through the night, unplagued by visions and memories of watching their mate die before them at the hands of a heartless man.
It was also the first time in memory Ichigo had felt so rested when he finally woke up. Snug and warm between the two, he yawned and stretched his arms out above himself, rolling onto his back and feeling the soft grasses below him. The late morning sun filtered through the branches over head, dappling him in a blanket of glowing light and relaxing warmth. The air was warm with the season, but not stifling so, nor heavy and thick despite the body of water nearby.
With the Summer's shifting of position as he stretched, Shirosaki let out a small, sleepy groan of protest. On Ichigo's other side, Grimmjow seemed to agree even in his sleep and rolled over to throw an arm across Ichigo's middle, holding him in place.
Ichigo smirked and lowered his arms again, resting his hand across the smooth, sleep warmed skin of Grimmjow's muscled forearm. Shirosaki wiggled about a bit, pushing his lean body as close to Ichigo as he could get. Content to fall back asleep in the comfort of his two companions, it took Ichigo a moment to realize that it wasn't silky fur below his fingers or pressed against either side.
A frown crossing his features, Ichigo tentatively let his fingertips wander, feeling the relaxed but powerful muscle that sat below smooth flesh. When he got to Grimmjow's body, felt his shoulder blade and the muscle of his back, Ichigo froze up. Beside him, the Autumn grumbled in his sleep for him to quit moving around. Brown eyes snapped open, wide with surprise and a bit of confusion.
He bolted into a sitting position, patting at his bare chest and looking down at himself, realizing he was back in his human body. Slowly, he turned to look at the man laying beside him. A man with golden skin stretched out at his side, his muscled body bare and relaxed where he lay. Dappled sunlight highlighted the dips and curves of strong, angular features, a straight nose, strong jawline and well defined cheek bones. As he stared, stunned and at a loss, the man stretched before the muscle of his arm flexed, tightening around Ichigo's lithe waist.
Nearly choking in his astonishment, the young man quickly swung his head in the opposite direction to find a similar surprise, but in a very different package. The man to his left was smaller than the first, his body leaner and less heavily muscled. Smooth, flawless skin so pale it seemed white like the frost that clung to a window during the winter stretched over a thin but not unhealthy frame. Long, flowing white hair clung around the man's narrow shoulders and hid part of his startling features. In his sleep, the pale man curled his lip in protest to Ichigo's movement, flashing large, sharpened canines in an expression the jackal would never forget.
It took Ichigo several moments to react, to push his astonishment aside enough for his mind to catch up, but when he did, an enormous smile stretched across his features and his wide brown eyes began to tear up slightly even as a hint of color rose in his cheeks. He laughed and shook the two that lay beside him in an effort awaken them, startling them in the process.
Grimmjow awoke with a protective snarl rumbling in his muscled chest, sounding no different and no less threatening than when he had been in a massive feline body. His sharp blue eyes darted over the surrounding area as he jolted upright, looking for whatever threat may have been lurking about and the reason he'd been awakened so suddenly.
Shirosaki's reaction was similar and as Ichigo climbed to his feet with easy motions, backing up a few paces so that he could fully take in the other two, the pale creature attempted the same as his inverted, gold on black eyes landed on their newly returned mate.
"Wha? Ya alright? Wha' happened?" He cast his vision around the forest but as he spun a circle to look behind himself, he stumbled, unused to the way his human body worked after having four legs for so long. Landing back on the ground with a small grunt, he looked up in confusion. He looked to Grimmjow only to see that the Autumn stared at him with wide eyes and a shocked expression on his very human features.
The Winter's features took on nearly the same expression as he looked down at himself, then back to his mate before both turned their bewildered gazes to the jackal. Ichigo laughed in joy and amusement, hardly able to believe what he was seeing. Even with the jackal's memories of the two, with his memories of them in the forms they now sat in, Ichigo could never have been prepared for the change. They were stunning, they were amazing and so perfect in Ichigo's eyes.
"We-we're..." Grimmjow's deep, rumbling voice caressed the air with no less power than it had in his jaguar form. It was growling and rough, like ocean waves against rock, but it also carried a disbelieving tone.
Ichigo nodded as he neared the two again, lowering himself to sit before them. A wide, wicked grin slashed pale features, a nearly matching smirk slow erupting across Grimmjow's handsome face as well.
"I didn't think we'd ever be able to shift again." The jaguar, now a man, said in a quiet voice.
"When I reawakened, I guess what had been lost in you two also reawakened." Ichigo said, his eyes going from one to the other and back again. With the rebirth of the Summer, so too had the Autumn and Winter been reborn in a sense. All that had been wronged and all that had been thrown out of balance was allowed to realign.
The seasons cycled again as they were always meant to, the warmer of the seasons rich and life-giving. Crops grew and life flourished. When summer finally gave way to fall, the Autumn took control and the forest and the village it surrounded cooled at a calm pace. The leaves took on bright and beautiful colors as the rain cooled to match the telling chill that ran through the air. The jaguar led the way as he and his mates happily ran at the front of the storms his season brought and enjoyed the slowly dying leaves as they fell to the ground. The storms the ever powerful god brought weren't like they were in the past, they didn't bring the dread and the fear they had carried before, even as lighting lit up the night sky.
When Winter took over, the chilled wind howled through the streets and between the trees with the wolf's hollow, frigid voice as he lifted his muzzle to the heavens. Snow blanketed the earth in a frosty coating, wiping away the decay brought on by the fall so that the earth would be left bare to begin anew with the spring. But still, the Winter and his deadly season didn't hold the malevolent, angry killing intent that had been present before. More live stock survived than in generations past and the snow ceased falling before it buried the village.
As the days warmed again, Mother Spring was allowed to bring all back to life. Flowers bloomed and grew, birds sang and breeze smelled of life and fresh growth. She thawed the frozen soil quicker than before, allowing for new crops to be planted and allowing the soil to grow rich. She smiled at her children, all three very much alive, as the sun chased away the clouds and the chill that the Winter and Autumn had brought.
And when it was time for her to pass over control to her reborn child, Ichigo stepped up, a happy smile on his features as he closed his eyes in bliss and lifted his face into the warm breeze and felt it race through his golden fur. Around him, the forest teamed with life and the sun above shone brighter than it had in generations.
When finally he turned away from the warm wind, he stepped through the trees and headed back toward the warm lake he and his mates had decided to settle around. As he went, his long, slender form began to shift. Golden fur gave way to sun tanned, smooth skin that stretched over wiry, lithe muscle. His orange mane of hair was ruffled by the gentle breeze and his brown eyes were deep and wise, bright and as alive as his season.
His smile only grew as two men came into view. Though still a bit unsteady on two legs, they were no less graceful and powerful than the animals they normally took the form of as they neared Ichigo. Blue eyes were intense and piercing, reflecting and seeming to amplify the summer sun. At the Autumn's side, the wolf's gold on black eyes were just as commanding as both men saw only Ichigo.
The jackal laughed as the two un-hesitantly neared him to wrap him in strong embraces. Pale arms were almost chilly where they wrapped around his middle as Shirosaki pressed himself against Ichigo's back, but the slight, barely their chill was welcomed in the summer heat as full, pink lips captured his own from where Grimmjow was molded to his front. Ichigo lowered one hand, reaching backward slightly, to let it settle along the winter god's bare hip as his other hand came up and tangled in chaotic, blue strands. Almost instantly, a deep, happy rumble reverberated from Grimmjow's chest, bringing a smirk and chuckle from the pale man at the jackal's back.
"Over grown house cat." Shirosaki chuckled in his lilting, wintery voice, his breath like a cool breeze along the back of Ichigo's neck. A shiver worked up the more colorful man's spine and Ichigo broke his kiss with Grimmjow, looking up into bright cyan with a small laugh of his own.
The bigger of the three rolled those impossibly blue orbs but smirked anyway and didn't bother to quiet his deep, pleased rumble. "Mutt." He mumbled affectionately as he leaned against Ichigo so that he could nuzzle white hair over Ichigo's shoulder. Shiro snorted a laugh but huffed a happy breath as he leaned into Grimmjow's attention.
Between them, Ichigo laughed as he enjoyed the closeness of their proximity and their strong bodies as they pressed against his own.
"You know what today is?" Grimmjow asked, his deep voice a match to far off thunder in the season he was created to control as he pulled back slightly so that he could look down at the Summer.
"Of course, how could I not?" Ichigo smirked, feeling the change of season sing through his very being as his spirt soared high. All three felt as spring gave way to summer, but none more so that the jackal himself. Just as they did on the first day of every season, they would appear in the village to celebrate with the people they were worshiped by, but with his own season, Ichigo had something special in mind.
"We better get goin' since ya wanna visit yer human family b'fore the festival." Shirosaki gave the man he'd wrapped himself around one last nuzzle as he pulled away, letting his black nailed fingers trail lightly tanned flesh as he rounded Ichigo to stand beside him.
Grimmjow also pulled away, his purr finally quieting as he took up a place at Ichigo's other side. Together, the three gods took their time as they traversed the forest. They weren't in a hurry, nor did they mind the walk through their beautiful surroundings. It didn't particularly matter which direction they went, for the forest they wandered was the very first, the one that Mother Spring had created just for her children and it bowed to the whims of the gods in it's depths. After only a few moments spent in the quiet, pleasurable company of each other, the three neared the tree line and looked out over the land that Ichigo had grown up on.
"Father!" Ichigo was the first to show himself as he stepped through the tree line, a wide smile on his handsome features.
Isshin looked up and turned, a wide grin splitting his scruffy face as well. "Ichigo, son!" He greeted back, setting aside what he'd been doing before the unexpected but welcomed visit.
His boy, now a young man and much more, stood at the forest's edge. He'd grown more since the celebration at the beginning of last summer that had been thrown in his honor, a year ago now. Even standing before Isshin in his human form, the form Isshin hadn't seen his boy in since that last summer's season when Ichigo had accepted the lost jackal's soul, his body was lean and wiry, sturdy and accustomed to the running and wandering he did all day with his mates. Shirtless and barefoot, Isshin could tell the young man was a bit darker skinned than when last he'd seen him. The pants he wore were the same he'd left in and though they looked as if Ichigo had attempted to clean them up a bit before coming, they'd still seen better days.
Isshin chuckled and shook his head slightly, not quite willing to put too much thought into the clothing issue. It hadn't really dawned on him before then, since he'd only seen Ichigo and handful of times in the past year, at the beginning of each season, and only ever in his jackal form when he'd come to the village with the wolf and the jaguar. Pushing the thought aside, he beckoned for his boy to join him where he stood behind the house.
Ichigo's smile grew even wider as he held his hands out to his sides, palms facing back toward the tree line. He shook his head, telling his father he wasn't ready to join him just yet. "I have something to show you."
The happy expression didn't leave the older man's features, but a look of puzzlement flashed in his dark eyes. As Isshin watched his son, two men carefully stepped from the forest's edge, one on either side of his boy. They took Ichigo's hands as they came up beside him, walking a bit awkwardly and unsteadily. Both were bare but stood in a way that made it seem their nudity didn't bother them, like it was natural and something they hardly noticed. One stood taller and more heavily muscled than Ichigo, his complexion a sun-kissed golden tan while the other matched his son in stature, his skin so pale it resembled snow and was a wonder he could stand in the sun at all. The first had chaotic blue hair that ever looked as though it was tussled by a cooling breeze. The second's hair was long and wild, avalanching down his back and passed his shoulders and just as colorless as the man himself. But their eyes were the same; one set of chilled and piercing blue while the other was of burning gold and frosty black.
Isshin's own eyes slowly widened as he took the two men in, his son standing comfortably between them. "Are they...?"
Ichigo nodded as they began to make their way to where his father stood. Their pace was measured, not exactly slow but not hurried either. It was clear the two gods flanking the reborn jackal were still growing used to their human forms again after so many years of not being able to change from their animal bodies.
"This is Grimmjow and Shirosaki." Ichigo said happily. "I thought you'd like to see them again now that they can shift forms."
Isshin laughed, amazed and stunned as he looked them over. They stood proud and confident under his inquisitive gaze, their backs straight and not a trace of nervousness to be found. Nor was there evidence that they had ever been so utterly broken and lost. Nothing of their time of heartbreak showed in their stances or in their eyes. They didn't look like mindless, grief-stricken creatures, they looked whole, healthy. They looked happy.
"This is... This is incredible, boys, come inside." Isshin finally found his voice passed his surprise. He turned toward the back door, opening it and holding it for the three of them. "Yuzu was just cooking your favorite dish for the festival, Ichigo."
Ichigo hummed an appreciative sound at the prospect of his sister's wonderful cooking before Shiro's quiet voice caught his attention.
"Boys?" Shirosaki's lilting voice sounded just as wintery as ever, though it held a curious and confused tone, edging on offense. "We've lived fer hundreds of thousands of human years..."
Ichigo chuckled quietly and squeezed the chilled, pale fingers that tangled with his own. "Don't take it so literally." He told his pale mate. "It's his way of including you in the family."
"Oh." A small grin tugged at the winter god's colorless lips.
On Ichigo's other side, Grimmjow smirked and glanced over the jackal to the Winter, his blue eyes bright and alive, before he leaned down and nuzzled fondly at Ichigo's orange mane.
Ichigo's laughter was warm and happy as they three entered the house Ichigo had grown up in. It was the happiest Isshin had ever seen him.
I have to admit, it feels pretty good to knock a couple of stories off my incomplete list XD
anyway, let me know what you thought please!