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One More

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"Just one more day! Please, Nui, just one more day! I want to stay…" The dark-haired boy's hands clutch at her kimono in one last bid to get her to change her mind, pleading, a mixture of longing and panic standing naked on his young face. "Please…" She shakes her head, wordless; she has nothing more to say to him. She pushes his fingers away, firm but oddly gentle, and gives him the lantern. His face crumples a little and he takes the lantern, looking over his shoulder every now and then as he moves off into the woods, still hoping that she might relent, let him come back.

Just one more…

"…home." The boy mutters to himself. "Wonder how long it will be before I get kicked out of this one." His face beneath the ragged white hair is expressionless, the single green eye dully watching the adults move around him. The adults, for their part, avoid his gaze. They're trying not to look at him, this boy with the strangely-colored hair and eye. 'Maybe he's cursed,' he can hear them say, in voices they don't bother to lower. 'That mushishi must have left him behind for a reason…' He can sense the tension in the air—a skill that he developed from practice and necessity—and he's long gone before they decide to throw him out.

Just one more…

…minute! Another minute, she just needs to hold on for one more minute… he runs down the path in the dark, his breath rasping painfully in his throat, cradling the little girl wrapped in blankets carefully in his arms. If he doesn't get her back to her home, and the fire burning there, she will die. His quick breaths turn to clouds of steam in the frosty air. He doesn't know if she's still breathing herself; all he can hear is his own heartbeat and the slap-slap of his feet on the hard-packed earth below. He doesn't dare stop to check. That would take precious seconds that he could have spent running, and might mean the difference between life and death… if she's still alive. He keeps running. He can see the house in the distance, now.

Just one more…

…mountain. He stops in his tracks for a moment, turning to look back at where he's been. He doesn't do that much… it's a nice view, though. He shifts his medicine box a little, re-centering the weight, then presses on. Adashino will be happy to see him again, or he'd better be. He had some interesting finds for the doctor to look at this time, and maybe he could check on Io. See how she was settling in. And maybe, just maybe, he can stay for more than a day or so this time.

Just one more…

…second. If he could just think, just come up with a plan… but that's surprisingly hard to do when you're less than a second away from dying. His life didn't bother to flash before his eyes; he has been in this position many times before now, and his mind had long ago stopped trying to distract him like that. He pulls against the mushi entwining him, gently… the creature tightens its grip around him. He sighs, and wishes he could at least have a last cigarette.

Just one more…

…year. He breathes slowly, inhaling the almost-pleasantly bitter, slightly herbal smoke from his cigarette, watching her work… as usual, it looks painful. He knows it is painful, but watching her as she writes reminds him yet again that she suffers from that dark birthmark engulfing her leg. But it's getting smaller, slowly. She once said she would go traveling with him when her leg healed completely. He expects her to keep the promise, but some days he thinks she's given up hope of the birthmark ever going away. Other days, he knows she has. But maybe, in one more year, or one more year after that, it really will be gone.

Just one more…

…week. He thinks he can stay for one more week. He wanders the hills covered in blossoming cherry trees when he's not helping to repair the roof, observing the local mushi population. It doesn't look any larger, so he lights another cigarette and heads back to the house. His supplies are getting low… he'll have to head into a town after this, to restock. And spend some time hunting for the appropriate herbs… he's found some around this area, but not the really important ones.

Just one more…

…step. It was a stupid mistake, an idiotic miscalculation… he should have known better. He lurches forward, hand clutching his side, feeling the warm blood slipping through it. Everything else about his body feels so cold… but he has to keep walking, he can't lie down and go to sleep like he wants to. There was a house back here, somewhere, he remembers it… unless his mind is playing tricks on him already. He stumbles, collides painfully with a tree, but he welcomes both the pain somewhere else on his body distracting him slightly from the pain in his side and the support it offers. He leans against it for a moment, just for a moment, then pushes away to move forward again. Another step… another… another…

Just one more…

…hour. He licks his lips, tasting the sake still lingering on them, and watches as the sun slowly rises in the east. He sits without moving on the hill by the simple grave, waiting until the sun has completely cleared the horizon. Then, quietly, "Happy New Year." He pours the rest of the sake over the grave, an impulsive move… there isn't much left in the bottle, anyway. He gets to his feet, hoists his medicine box over a shoulder, and walks away. It's hard to tell if he's drunk or not… his footsteps are just as sure and steady on the path as ever, but his face beneath the white hair is pale and wet with tears.

Just one more…

…journey. That's what he tells himself these days, just one more rambling trek around Japan before he lets himself rest… but every single time he finds more people who need his help, more mushi that would be killed by any other mushishi, and he can't just not help them. His joints hurt all the time now, and he has wrinkles that weren't there twenty years ago. His hair should probably be turning white, if it hadn't been that color his whole life. But he still loves his work, and he'll probably keep doing it until he gets too slow to avoid being eaten or killed by a mushi. That's what he always told Tanyuu would happen to him, after all.

Just one more…

…day. He sits by the pond he found deep in the woods, on the porch of the abandoned house. Something about this place appeals to him, the white fish with their single green eye. Maybe, after all his long life, he will finally find the answer he never really looked for. Why he has no memories of his childhood, and why his empty eye is full of tokoyami… he coughs suddenly, harshly. And waits for nightfall.