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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

Part 3: The Evolution of Life

October 13, 1898

Midori is full of talk of the Pine Spirit Shrine: "Truly, ten guardian spirits dwell in the pine grove, along with many smaller spirits and, I think, a fair number of mushi. It's a place of life at peace. It reminds me of my family's temple." She stopped here, looking inward. "But its practice is less... severe, or perhaps I mean less... hostile to life."

It sounds nice. Perhaps someday I'll visit it.


October 28, 1898

The day dawned overcast, so I woke up slowly, the more so because we were indoors. (Un gone from the rafters: 1898.10.27.) As I swam awake, I became aware of myself embracing Midori. I listened to her sleeping breath, felt the slender length of her arm against mine. Thoughtfully, I cupped her breast in my hand and pondered how this woman had spent hundreds of years as man. Two men!

As she stirred against me, I asked what I'd often wondered: "You were a man for most of your life, right?"


"You only became a woman in, what, the twenty-first century?"


"So what made you decide to become a woman?"

She blinked up at me, casting the sleep from eyes. "I wanted to have a baby." The most practical of answers, and it made my blood cold.

"And did you?"

"Not yet."

I pulled back from her. The chill, wet air crept around my shoulders. "Midori, you told me you had no interest in having a baby with me, right?"

"Sensei, I told you that my desire to mix with your soul was not limited to the physical act of conception. I indicated that I could and would take steps to prevent conception, all of which is true."

"So you're saying you do want my child?"

"Sensei." She pressed her palm to my face and stoked my cheek. "Of course, we do. We like you. I knew almost from the first you were the one we needed."

I sat up to ward off a wave of sickness. The chill air bit my chest. "I told you I didn't want that."

"That's why we haven't pushed you."

"Were you biding your time till you could wear me down? Or make it an accident and then play on my sympathies? Shit." I got up and put on my coat in the damp.

Midori watched me set a fire in the brazier. Then, she wrapped her robe around her and came to sit opposite me. "Will Sensei let this person speak?" she asked me very formally, as if I were a lord.

I didn't answer. I don't think I could.

"We've searched for years for a soul to help us have our child. I am a jealous lover. I cannot easily admit another soul into our union. Even our old friend, who might have been persuaded to play that part for us, did not belong in our soul with us. Sensei is not an old friend, but you're right for us. You leaven us."

I watched the coals. Perhaps she was awaiting a reply, but I had none.

"Since he died," she continued, "since I took what was left of him inside me, I have carried two souls. I was taut with this new life finding its being in our union. And as I had no means to give it birth, it built in me. When my former body died, I took a woman's body because it seemed the way. And almost at once, I felt less overfull. Perhaps some of the essence of that life settled into my egg cells to sleep; I don't know. The fact remains we need to complete that life and we cannot complete its creation ourselves."

Now, the room seemed hot, and I was weary, wishing I had never exchanged a word with this... onryou, this... overextended being, who should have passed on centuries ago.

I went out to clear my head. The thunderclouds today seem freeing. I want to fly off on the rain. And I can; I always do. Your problems are not my problems, Midori. It's not my job to gather twigs for the rat's nest of your life.


October 30, 1898

On the one hand, she has suffered a long time, and if I have it in my power to help her, shouldn't I?

On the other hand, do I want to be tied to her for life?

One hand: part of me likes the idea of a family, and Midori would take expert care of her child when I can't be there.

Other: I don't want a child I'm forever deserting, and I don't want to carry a family on my back, like a peddler. What a horrible childhood that would make.

One hand: what if this brings peace to the one inside her? He deserves it, I think.

Other: Tan'yuu.

One hand: this is life.

Other... this is silly.


June 16, 1899

Today, I left. I'd let the mushi crowd in too long; Midori said they were unsettling the pine spirits. Is it those spirits who cleanse the air, the air that flows at that shrine like running water? It's not the mushi as far as I can tell.

Midori seems at peace there. No. She never really seems at peace. Rather she seems peaceful, as if the clouds have broken up. Midori is like the sky, eternally in motion: she's day and night, bright and gray; she's sun and thunder. Now, she's summer blue in the mountain stillness. I think she's right that the shrine will be a good place to have the baby.

Three months till it's born. I told her I'd try to come back around then; it should be long enough for the mushi to have thinned. Of course, the odds of my being here exactly in time for the birth are slim, but Midori says that's all right. I don't think it matters much to her... Sometimes, I really don't like her.

One thing she said stays with me. As I was packing up, she said, "Probably it was a mistake."

I thought she meant this thing her time with me, but she didn't.

When I looked at her, she elaborated, "Dividing what was one, at last." She gave me a hard smile. "But if it's a mistake, it's not the first I've given up all I have for." (I could manage without the hyperbole too.)

We said goodbye where the road dips toward the valley. When we embraced and her belly pressed against me, the baby moved as if it knew.... As if it knew. I can't remember a time when I didn't understand that individuality is an illusion. All beings live through the lives of others. Eating, breeding, falling ill and dying, and healing too (killing): all these acts are bodies mingling. Souls, Midori would say. Same thing. This truth has always been written on me: in my lost eye, my blanched hair, in the mushi gathering in around me and the smoke I pour in and out of my body to keep them at bay. And yet it's as if I had never been a participant in life before. I have split in two, as mushi do. My life is no longer my own.

I felt wrong to leave. The priest and his wife have been assuring me all week that they'll take good care of Midori. I know they will. I know, too, she needs it less than most women, that even if she died in childbirth, she could possess another body. Still.... She kissed me and smiled peacefully, and I went.

She got what she wanted. She seduced me without uttering a single untrue word. Such expertise.


April 2, 1904

Today, I left. Not until late afternoon. I've tried to pour this last day into my memory. Midori and I made love last night, but it felt like it was for old time's sake. The scars from where her belly stretched mark my passage through her body. But she wears that body like a suit of clothes; I see it more clearly every time I visit.

The day has been unseasonably warm, so Yoki and I sat up on the rocks above the shrine for lunch. We counted kinds of mushi: he already knows twenty-seven. I lay back on the rocks and asked him to point out the ones he saw floating above us. He asked if he could smoke my cigarette. I said no; he doesn't attract mushi.

He leaned over me and coughed. I put out my cigarette. With his gentle, tentative hand, he touched the skin near my empty socket.

"Father?" he said, "Does it hurt to have a missing eye?"

"No," I said.

He likes to ask if things hurt. I get the impression he's preparing himself for the worst. I watched him watch me and was struck again by his beauty, and that isn't just a father's pride. There's a little bit of me around his chin; there's some of Midori in his forehead, but it's remarkable how little he resembles either of us. His eyes seem to hold the night.

"Will you come back?" he asked, looking away. "Naoe says you will." I have yet to hear him call Midori, "Mother."

"She's right," I said. "I'll be back in a few months."

I always say this, and it never comforts him. When I slung my pack on back, he clung to me and sobbed until Midori lifted him out of my arms, and then he clung to her.

Midori gave me a look I can only describe as baleful, and I recalled what she said to me back when he was a baby, "You must always come back, Sensei. He has already been abandoned by too many fathers."

I don't like to think about what's pretty plain. When she conceived him, she channeled the soul of the other one into his body. Whatever happened to that soul in its previous lives, I hope it's cleansed of all that now. But it isn't, is it?


August 18, 1924

We've finally arrived the shrine. I think that mountain's getting steeper. The old priest's widow, Yumiko-san, saw us first and called to Keinsuke and Sawako, "Grandfather is here! Come see!" They dashed over, surprising me as always by how much they've grown. The last time I was here (more than a year), Sawako could barely toddle.

Keinsuke found Tan'yuu fascinating. Almost the first thing out of his mouth was: "Old lady, why is your foot gray?" She laughed gaily. I'm glad he pleases her.

Yoki embraced me as he always does, much like a drowning man clings to a log. When he let me go, he gave me a smile. "I like the glasses."

"Thanks," I said. "Adashino had them ground for me."

Late that morning, a family came to see Yoki about their daughter being possessed. She had slow-crawler growing on her arm, but Yoki and I agreed that wasn't her main problem (cf. yeast 1916.4.12). Yoki thinks the other spirit attracted the mushi. Tan'yuu and I made up a treatment for her arm while Yoki talked with the spirit. He thinks the spirit can be convinced to join the pine spirits, but it may take a few visits.

In the afternoon, Midori rumbled home in his automobile. It intrudes on my ears, that machine, even though he parks it at the end of the road, well below the pine grove. He looked out of place as usual, a trim young man in his western suit. But I suppose I'm not one to talk about looking out of place.

Midori came bearing the weekly newspaper and groceries. A disciple of the news, Yoki seized on the paper. "Thanks, Naoe," he said and fell to reading the headlines. But then, as Midori was walking away, he caught him by the arm and said, "Naoe, thank you," and kissed him. Then, Midori's eyes touched him and his stone face cracked. Part of me has always envied the ease of his devotion to Yoki. I love my son, but the fire he carries I can't imagine.

Midori is the center and the edges here. I studied him today: how he leaned against the wall, alone, watching the children and Tan'yuu painting. Well, Keinsuke did more cartwheels than painting. I watched Midori's eyes snap to Yayoi as she poured water for her children. Midori is jealous of his son's wife: ugly but a fact of life. He is always extremely polite to her and glares when she isn't looking. She feels it, of course, and is extremely polite in return.

I came to his side and leaned against the wall with him.

He took a cigarette out of his metal case. "May I?" He held it up to me.

We bent our heads together, and he lit his against mine. We smoked a while in silence, watching Yoki hold Sawako on his lap and guide her brush.

"Is he happy?" I asked after a while.

Midori exhaled a slow, smoky cloud. After a moment, he said, "Yoki-san is not a man constructed to be happy. He feels the woundedness of others, feels his responsibility to others, far too keenly to be happy."

I fear that's true. I watched a moth-like mushi (cf. wafters, 1921.3.7) float past Sawako; she reached for it. She has the eye. "And you?" I asked Midori.

He smiled. At length, he said, "And Sensei?"

"Me? I'm fine." In fact, I was getting a headache, watching Yoki and the kids. Despite Adashino's best intentions, the glasses don't help much.

The headache worsened in the late afternoon, so I lay down while the others went for a walk. As soon as they left, Yoki appeared by my side. He gave me a wet cloth and a tea to dull the pain.

"Is it much worse?" he asked, meaning my eye, not the headache.

"No, just a little. If it keeps on like this, I'll have a long time to get used to it."

Though I had my head covered with the cloth, I could feel his gaze on me. I could see the mushi light in him when I opened the other eyelid. "Father, what will you do if you can't see?"

"Tan'yuu will lead me for the time I'll have left."

"If you need me, send for me."

I uncovered my eye and peered at him. "Yoki, they need you here."

He gave me his dark, grave look. "I know. I never seem to be able to be everywhere I'm needed. I'm sorry."

I squeezed his arm. "You're taking it way too seriously."

He smiled. He doesn't smile enough, except at his children.

I covered up my eye again though the headache was receding. "Yoki--" I didn't like to ask but I needed to know. "Do you remember your previous life?"

Silence a moment. "Some of it. The part of me that entered this life uncleansed, it's still a kanshousha, still continuing that old life. But there's another part too, the part from you. This life is like... waking up from a dream." Silence. "But I try to remember as much as I can because Naoe needs it."

"Even though it hurts to remember?"

I felt his hand on my forehead. "Would it be better if it didn't?"

"Depends," I said. "Don't wallow in it, all right?"

He laughed. "I'll try not to, Father."

Tan'yuu got back from the grove around sunset. When she lay down beside me, I held her against my chest and nuzzled her ear.

"You're feeling better," she said.

"Almost well. The falling light helps." I like looking at the silver-black patterns of her hair... when my eye will focus, but since it was tired, I just rested my head against her neck.

"Oh, my legs are sore." She stretched them. "Thank you, Ginko, for bringing me to meet your family."

For years, every time I'd go to see her, I dreaded being told that she had died in childbirth. It's common in her lineage, especially among the mushi-infected women. But she never married. In the end, she sacrificed life for her life, and I am so grateful to her for that. "It's your family too," I told her. For all life is one family creating itself.

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