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Title: "Patterns of Life"
Fandoms: Mirage of Blaze/Mushishi Crossover
Rating/Warnings: PG-13 for themes, light swearing; standard MoB dysfunctionality; het (but no explicit yaoi)
Characters: Ginko, Naoe, Kagetora, cameos: Tan'yuu, Adashino, Yahagi
Word Count: about 11,000
Disclaimer: Neither is mine.
Spoilers: Through the end of MoB; references to various Mushishi episodes
Summary: Ginko encounters a 500-year-old woman whom he finds bemusing, confusing, amusing, and occasionally abusing.
A/N: Apologies to Mushishi fans for this fic, in which Mirage of Blaze sits upon Mushishi like an 800-pound gorilla upon a little, translucent mushi. I put in Latin abbreviations to signify Mushishi note-taking jargon of the 19th century. Apologies for my random mix of Japanese and English vocab; it's the best more poor Japanese skills can do. Cross-fandom vocab: onryou = vengeful spirit; mushi = buggy spirit.

Part 1


Part 2: The Conjugation of Souls

March 23, 1898

Miss her. Whenever I see an interesting example of a mushi, I turn to the empty air to say, "That's a..." and remember she's gone. I wonder if she'll come back. Guess she won't, but you never know.

***

June 3, 1898

I think I came across an onryou. It's the best explanation I have for the boy's weakened condition and his claim to see a child playing (1898.6.3, hallucinations? q.v.). I can't find any tie a mushi. It could be a non-mushi-related disease, of course. It's not one I recognize, but I'm not a doctor. I'm not an exorcist either. I wish I could ask Midori. I should have trained her in the use of Uro.

***

July 10, 1898

Midori's insane. She showed up yesterday afternoon, just as I was heading out of Bamboo Ponds. She stumbled up to me in the street, glowing with mushi; I couldn't tell what kind at first. As soon as we reached each other, she slipped to her knees. "Sensei, please take care of him," she said and fell over unconscious.

Several townspeople gathered around to offer shelter, but I didn't want that mushi presence there in the village, so I declined and carried her into the fields.

As soon as I picked her up, I could smell what had happened. She was permeated by soul-threaders, so called because they divide a person's temperament into separate threads. People infected by them may be depressed for a while, then violent, then joyful, till the mushi consumes their moods, one by one, finally leaving them dead. The good part is it's easy to eradicate if caught early (1894.8.20-24, passim). I'd taught Midori all this. And given mushi's natural avoidance of her, I could only assume she'd purposely infected herself, probably by drinking from a pool where they lived.

Once we were far enough out of the village, I set up camp fast and went to gather ingredients for the medicine. When I returned half an hour later, Midori was sitting up.

I stoked the fire. "How are you feeling?"

She didn't answer or look at me as I made my preparations.

The medicine simmering, I came to her side. "Midori?"

As if with great effort, she raised her head, eyes roaming helplessly. Not a usual symptom. Gradually she found my face, though her eyes kept slipping away. "Sensei?" Her voice had altered subtly; that's typical of soul-threaders.

"I'm here."

She slumped, almost fell over again. But the infection looked new, and she shouldn't be that ill yet. When I put out an arm to steady her, she pulled away. "I'm tired," she said. "I want to sleep." It was the first time I'd ever heard her use plain form. She paused, swaying where she sat. "He's asleep. He never sleeps while I'm still awake... unless he's ill." She breathed in heavily, sleepily.

"Oi, Midori, don't drift off." I wasn't sure I'd be able to wake her again.

She drew herself up slightly and focused on me. I almost turned away. They burned like black wells; I don't know how to describe it. "You have the medicine, Sensei?"

"I'm making it now."

"Don't let him kill himself for me. It's his--" She collapsed against me. "I can't hold on. There's not--I'm not-- It's his way, but I won't let..." She trailed off and was lost in sleep.

So far, I've applied the medicine twice as a paste. It's drawing the mushi out as expected. Still, there's a different feel: the mushi tremble oddly (1898.7.9, soul-threaders).

So I guess now I've spoken to the other one. I guess she figured she'd suppress her own spirit in order to bring his back out. Crazy woman. I guess it worked, in a way.

***

July 13, 1898

Woke to Midori kissing me--that is, my forehead. I jumped and bashed my head into her teeth. She laughed, massaging her bruised lip.

"You're better," I said, feeling my brow for blood. The mushi had been gone for over a day, but this was the first time she'd been more than semi-conscious.

"Yes, it's better now. He's with me again." She reclined on her elbow. "He spoke to you, didn't he?"

"Just a little. He was pretty incoherent."

Her smile slipped. "I'm impressed he could form words at all. There's not much of him left."

I stretched and dug into my supplies for breakfast. "What happened to him?"

When she didn't answer, I glanced at her. She raised an eyebrow at me. "What didn't?" She took the crackers I handed her. "His soul died." She ate a cracker, then looked up at me. "Thank you very much for your trouble, Sensei. You've been very kind."

"It's nice to see you again," I said.

She kissed me. I kissed her back, which was probably stupid, but I wasn't in the mood to resist. Then, she put her arms around me and said softly over my shoulder, "We like the feel of your soul. I knew it would be good for us. I knew it, but he'd gone so quiet. Now, he tells me it's truly so."

I embraced her for a while, my mind telling me to stop this now, my body wanting to keep her close. She kissed my neck, my cheek. That warned me into action. I took her arms and held her away from me.

"Midori, there are reasons I don't do this sort of thing."

She gave me a gentle smile, which rapidly transformed into giggling. "I'm sorry." With what seemed a great effort, she made her face sober. "Do you want to tell me the reasons?" She laughed again and apologized again.

"Is it that funny?"

"Not you, Sensei. Me. Us. I'm being visited by a terrible sense of déjà vu." She broke down laughing just as furiously as she'd sobbed on that night. Eventually, I left her laughing and went for a walk. There's a village two miles ahead I mean to stroll through.

***

July 14, 1898

Cicadas screeching all over. I like this time of year.

Midori observes that nine years ago today was the hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the French Revolution. I've missed this sort of declaration from her fount of random facts picked up over the centuries: interesting in a pointless way.

The village of Moss Rooves is very small and densely populated with mushi. They have the beginnings of a crawler (q.v. 1892.7.25) infestation in the rice. I showed them how to dry it out yesterday, and I'll work with them on it today. Midori says she'll go with me.

The one hundred and ninth anniversary of the Storming of the Basutii Bastille; apparently the Revolution was in motion before that. I stand corrected.

Pedant.

"Do you want to tell me your reasons, Sensei?" said Midori last night over dinner.

Messenger from the village. I'll finish later.

***

July 18, 1898

That strain of crawlers was new to me. We had to dry the rice ten times over to shake it out. The village still ended up losing several bushels, but since they live right on the forest, hopefully they can make it up with game till next season. There has to be a better way than all that drying. Salt maybe. I'll experiment with that (1898.7.15-17, passim). Midori proved very useful. Since her infection, it turns out she can see mushi a little, only a vague outline of a strong presence, but that wins over nothing like night seeing shapes wins over blindness.

Still want to transcribe our dinner of a few days ago as best I remember:

"Do you want to tell me your reasons, Sensei?" said Midori, i.e. for not wanting for sleep with her.

"Are they going to cause paroxysms of laughter?"

"I don't think so." She ate her rice with certain nonchalance.

"Well, they're probably pretty obvious," I said. "I travel. I can't have a family. It would be unfair to make them travel with me, and I couldn't really look after them if they lived away from me." I found I was waiting for her to contradict me, but she didn't, so I went on, "And that's just the practical side of it. But feelings get tangled up, even after just a little while, and then... life pulls you in different directions, and everybody gets hurt."

All at once, she asked, "Are you content, Sensei?"

"Is that a Buddhist question?"

She smiled a little sadly.

"Not always," I said.

She nodded. "Still, I know what you mean. I went through centuries avoiding that sort of entanglement--when I could. I did it by finding a succession of women to spend the night with."

"And that didn't lead to hurt feelings?"

She studied me for a time before answering. "I'm sure it did. I'm not being overly harsh on myself to say that I didn't really care. On the other hand, I was mostly in the city. It's different in cities; people are used to being anonymous."

I finished my rice, thinking of what she'd said. "So I'm one of your succession?"

Again, she didn't answer at once. Finally, she said, "Yes and no."

That hurt. I told you so, Midori. When we step into that stream, the hurt soaks us that quickly.

Midori said, "There was a man about seven years ago. I liked him, in a casual way. And that's all he wanted too. It suited me perfectly. But he--" She tapped her chest. "He disagreed. He didn't like him; he didn't want him. He refuses to sleep with anyone he doesn't deeply trust, which means he very nearly refuses to sleep with anyone. I find it excruciatingly frustrating." She laughed. "He has always been frustrating. But, Sensei, we agree about you."

That hurt on an entirely different level. I hate it when people say things like that to me. I hate it because I can't say those things back, and that alone makes me unworthy of the compliment.

"Midori," I surprised myself by saying, "I already have a woman."

She waited.

"We can't be together now, but we plan to one day... if we live long enough."

She chuckled at that.

"I guess that all sounds pretty short term to a kanshousha."

"On the contrary, it sounds like a very long time. If it helps, I'm in love with another man."

"I can tell." I reached over to retrieve her bowl for washing. She set it in my hand, and I think we came to an agreement then, though we didn't say any more that evening and have been drying out rice ever since.

***

July 21, 1898

Hot. We camped in a bamboo forest, still hot after sundown. There, we bathed in a large pond, where I tried hard not to look at Midori naked. A little cooler when we pitched camp.

Too hot to eat, we lay on our blankets gazing up at the indigo sky. "Do you still want to?" I asked her.

She replied by taking my hand in her two small hands and kissing it. I let her keep my hand in hers; it felt good though it imprisoned the heat again.

"I suppose," I said, "when we go into town tomorrow, I could see if I can get a length of gut to make a sheath with."

"I'd rather you didn't," said Midori, still playing with my hand. ''If we're going to join with you, Sensei, it would be a little pointless if we couldn't take your soul inside us."

I blushed, which annoyed me. Her statement annoyed me. I took back my hand. "I don't want to have a baby with you--with anyone. That would be a very bad idea."

"Forgive me; Sensei is interpreting me too metaphorically. There's conception in the physical sense and then there's-- I'm sorry. Let me back up. In the future--"

"Anyone knows it's best not to know about the future."

She got up on her elbow and gazed down at me. "Yes, that's true, isn't it? But this is just a small part. In the future, women can take a drug that almost always prevents pregnancy. When I became a woman, I assumed this would be available to me. Therefore, when I found myself in the past, one of my first objectives was to learn the lore for preventing pregnancy, to approximate that same freedom. I can do so fairly well by a combination of lotions and monitoring the right time of month." She paused. "And if I should become pregnant, I could always exorcise its soul, and after a few days, its body would die."

That idea bewildered me. And then it seemed very like the way one must sometimes handle mushi. Not an easy thing.

"Could you really make yourself do that?"

"Yes."

I weighed it all up. "I suppose we might try it." She smiled at me so long and gently I finally asked, "What?"

"Sensei, you put me to shame. When I was a man in this time, these concerns were farthest thing from my head. I simply assumed women knew what they were doing or ought to. But your care--your concern for everything--reminds me of him."

Her voice caught on the last words. I was sensible of the compliment, so I looked for something flat to say to stave it off. "I think the difference is being a samurai."

"How so?"

"For samurai, most people existed only to be of use to them. It must have been easy not to think about those people. We peasants, we have to live with each other. We seldom have the luxury of throwing people away."

"That's true. Yet he was a samurai."

Why did that surprise me? "Well, there are good apples and bad apples all over the world."

She laughed. "And I'm the bad apple. Thank you very much, Sensei."

"I only meant in the sense--"

"No, you're right. I've always said so." She got up and fixed herself a lantern. "I think I'll make up that lotion."

"Can you see well enough to gather your ingredients at night?"

"I already have them."

I listened to her beside me, mixing, and kept my eye on the stars. The leaves stirred with the beginning of the night's slight cooling. Below, I could feel the mushi river; its glow flowed up beside my cheek. I had a curious sense of being walled on two sides: Midori pressing on my left, the mushi from below. And to the right and up above, freedom. I could almost feel myself a mushi fleeing from a fire into the open night. But I stayed where I was.

She came to me, smelling pungent. In the heat, she'd been wearing only a robe, and she shed it now. I sat up and kissed her. Her hands, pulling off my shirt, were greased with the same strong aroma. She's highly skilled, as one might expect, very pleasing.

But there was one strange thing. When I first moved to press her beneath me, she held me back and went absolutely still. After a moment, she shuddered and put a hand to her mouth.

"Are you all right, Midori?"

She closed her eyes in concentration, conversing with him, I think.

"Yes," she said finally. "Yes. We're all right." She looked at me anxiously and gave me a tentative kiss. When I caressed her, she folded against me again, and we went on just as before.

Part of me's terrified by this. She's lifetimes apart from the girls I slept with before I got wiser. In this arena, she overmasters me completely. I have no learning to help me resist her. She is stranger than a mushi; she's like a spirit in a tale, devouring mere mortals. Maybe that's exactly what she is. Then again, she's my friend, and if we can comfort each other, that's good, probably.

***

August 8, 1898

Went to Yahagi's village to see about that new strain of kagebi (q.v. 1898.8.8). We were having trouble pinning one down for examination; this strain is speedy. Midori watched me miss a few times, then gave a sort of battle cry and launched a bolt of light at it. The kagebi, naturally, went up in smoke.

Midori looked surprised. "Those things are delicate, aren't they?"

Yahagi, once she'd wiped the amazement from her face, cracked a smile: "And you approve of this method, Ginko?"

"Well, it's one way to get rid of them," I said. "Now, if we could just do that to all of Hokkaido, we'd be in business."

We finally got one. Midori darted it.

***

August 9, 1898

I noticed Midori staring at the kagebi I was working on. "You see these ones better than most mushi," I commented.

"Maybe because they're fire spirits," she said. "They remind me of spider webs in autumn, of the dew patterns in grass. They're precision and imperfection--and instantaneous completion."

That reminded me of something I heard her say a while ago. "Do they remind you of the morning glories?"

"Yes," she said.

***

September 1, 1898

There was a swarm of air-seeds (q.v. 1895.11.1) in the pink of morning. They catch insects and do no harm to humans, but their glow intensifies the colors of the sky. When I stepped out of our lodging, Midori was already up, her face turned away to the dawn. I wondered how clearly she could see the air-seeds. I wanted nothing at that moment but to watch the sunrise through these mushi with Midori. With no other thought, I went to her to put my arms around her.

The moment my hands touched her, she whipped around and backhanded me so hard my teeth cut into my cheek.

An instant later, she was apologizing profusely. "Sensei! I am so very sorry. I didn't recognize you." She brought me water to wash the blood from my mouth. Behind her, the mushi bobbled wildly in distraction.

So now I can scarcely chew my food, and the villagers are interpreting the bruise as evidence of a lovers' quarrel. Who knows how far that tale will spread? It's embarrassing.

Something similar occurred couple of weeks ago; I hadn't liked to write it, but.... I had fallen asleep with my head on her chest. We woke by degrees with the dawn. Half asleep, I felt her stretch and caress my back. Then, her body went rigid and, roughly, she thrust me off.

That, of course, woke me up completely. "Shit, Midori. What's that about?"

She gaped at me. "I'm very sorry, Sensei. I thought you were someone else."

This is the first time, I know of, that I've slept with a woman who has been raped, though I'm fairly sure it happened before she was a woman and happened, not to Midori exactly, but to him, her silent traveler.

I'll have to train myself how to touch her so that she feels safe. I want to feel safe myself. Midori is an extremely powerful being. I'm aware of that and hope to do without a demonstration.

***

September 9, 1898

She had an argument with him. She'd been gone for a few days, to check on a rumor, she said. This afternoon, when I returned to my campsite, she was pacing the fire pit, having a talk that went like this:

"I know they're all in Tokyo -- Obviously, that's why they're not going to get here but... That's true, but even when we exorcised that old woman, there were rumors...." She fell silent. "You are an incredibly inconsistent person!" she burst out. "You are the one who crucified us on the altar of the higher good. I am talking about a higher good. What would it do to them if they found us? Imagine trying to explain us to us... No, we couldn't. I would not stop until I had all the answers. Just think where...." She fell silent for a minute or so, still pacing. "But even so, it's a possibility.... It wouldn't. Nagahide would see through it; you know that.... But if there were rumors, then you might." He must have made a very cutting reply so blackly did she glower. Quietly, she said, "I am not insensible to the damage... Yes... I do. But by that very token, the world survived before and it will survive again." Again, she was silent, her face screwing up tighter and tighter. It gave me the impression of a child being flogged. Then, gradually, her expression cleared, settling into a somber mask.

For the first time, she looked at me. "Therefore, we go." She tied up her back and swung it roughly on her back. "The master calls; the dog jumps. Damn it." And off she stumped.

***

September 12, 1898

Had word today of a grove of trees toppled to the ground. Fires and quaking. Eight miles north. I do not suspect mushi. But I suppose I had better investigate.

***

September 13, 1898

I have it on good authority that the Satomi, for the time being, have been vanquished though their weeping katana will endure to wreak havoc again ere the end. The tree toppling uprooted a large root-sucker, which I have been dealing with for the past three hours. I am going to smell of dead fish for the next three days (1896.2.18-19 passim). As for Midori, she triumphed with a mere three slashes on her right arm and a large bruise on her left flank. Apparently, the upstart Satomi onshou had poor control over his nenpa, and his minions' weak goshinha rendered them easily subdued. Or something... She tells me this action has saved ten lives, though, so I shouldn't be facetious.

***

October 2, 1898

Visited Tan'yuu, first time in almost two years. Midori expressed an interest in seeing the library, and rather than try to put her off with excuses, I decided to be blunt.

"Midori," I said, "remember when I told you had a woman?" This characterization of the situation, though wildly inaccurate, produced the desired effect.

"Ah," said Midori. "All right. There's a shrine I've been meaning to visit. Perhaps I'll go there now and meet up with you in a couple of weeks?"

Tan'yuu was hurt by my long absence. She told me so by her reserve. She did manage a smile, though, when she said, "Ginko, I've heard the most curious tale about you: that you'd gotten married but your wife beats you."

I laughed. "You can't believe everything you hear. She's not my wife; she's just my student. She did hit me once, but it was a mistake."

"That's quite a mistake!"

"Well, I inadvertently snuck up on her, and she thought she was being attacked."

Tan'yuu gave me a quizzical look that seemed to fill in the spaces in that story quite adroitly.

I talked a long time, as always. I told her the stories that help her extract the mushi from her body and the ones that simply give her solace. I didn't tell her I was sleeping with Midori. She didn't ask. We know what not to say.

Today, it rained. I smoked a cigarette on her porch before saying goodbye. She spoke about whether or not she'd pass her mark to her descendents. Every time I visit, she speaks of her descendents, but never does she speak of marriage plans. I wanted painfully to kiss her, for which I blame Midori. She's reawakened my body, and now it craves and craves.

***

Part 3

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