Ginko knew he would always find his way back to the simple village clinic by the sea, for various reasons. It was usually an exchange for those rarities he always found himself picking up on his travels. Sometimes it was for the simple kindness of a short chat and a night’s stay, before he moved on again.
More often than not, it was for Adashino-sensei himself, though there was nothing special about him. An ordinary man in his world of extraordinary strangeness; a solid anchor in his world of fleeting, shifting scenery and a thousand faces. A man who could never see the creatures he sees, but is always inexplicably delighted with the traces they leave behind. He found a strange kind of pleasure in observing the wonder and joy on the doctor’s face as he handled the curiosities, since they were usually brought about by those creatures that always gave him so much trouble.
They would exchange a few words, some playful banter. Maybe a drink or two, with the tang of the sea breeze on their faces as it blew in from the shore. They would share notes on their cases, discuss illnesses, rare mushi varieties. Sometimes they would sit in silence, needing nothing else but the comfort of each other’s presence.
There were times when Ginko felt he should end it all, and drown himself in the vein of light beneath the ground. There were only so many years of solitary, aimless travel one could endure. He would close his eyes and sit by the glowing stream, waiting for the mushi to claim him, waiting to fade into nothingness.
Then he would remember the doctor, his low, even voice; the way he glanced at him through the glass of a monocle; the way his long fingers examined an item Ginko brought him. And Ginko would tear himself away from the light, and turn his weary steps towards the village by the sea.
He could recall the night he shared with Adashino, years ago, one of many similar nights to come. There was the sudden, unexpected fumbling in the dim light of a candle, Adashino’s lips on his face and neck, the delicate surgeon’s hands running through his white hair, the clumsy professions of affection. Ginko was taken aback at first. He was always painfully aware of what he felt for the man. It simply never occurred to him that the man would feel the same way towards him.
He became familiar with the warmth and weight of Adashino’s body, over the nights they spent together. He learned the ways Adashino moved, and the ways he liked to be touched, learned to take in the burning heat penetrating him as they made love in the feeble, flickering candlelight.
But he never did get used to the parting. In the early morning, when the doctor was only half-awake, too bleary to protest, he would take his leave with a brief ‘I need to go.’ He would reluctantly put on the mask of blank nonchalance he was so used to wearing, ignoring Adashino’s earnest request for him to stay another night. He knew that staying would bring nothing but trouble for the village, that he had to move on before too many of the mushi could gather around him. He could tell it broke the doctor’s heart every time he did so, though it hurt him just as much.
He wished he could give in, tell Adashino that he’ll stay for another night. Perhaps he’ll even stay for the rest of his life. It was a futile wish for people like him, and he knew it was even more futile to dwell on it.
‘You’ll come here again, won’t you?’
He couldn’t give Adashino everything, but he could always give him one precious night. He couldn’t stay, but he knew he could always return.
When the seasons change and the swarm of mushi thin out, he could always turn his steps back to the village by the sea, back to the man he knew would be waiting for him. And he knew that it was just the way things had to be.