Rating: E – NSFW
There was a chime. A slow and trembling note, crystal-clear, right at the crook of Adashino’s right ear. He heard it on the first morning of spring as his eyes opened to low-lit wood, grey and pink as it always looked right before sunrise warmed it to gold.
He blinked. The chime rang again softly.
“You look tired.”
Adashino looked up from the man he was tending to and met his patient’s daughter’s eyes, less concerned for him than they were for her father, but still concerned. “I’m not,” he replied.
She frowned at him, but didn’t say more.
Adashino wasn’t tired. His hands were steady when he poured warm tea into the old man’s dry mouth, gentle as they rubbed his back through the coughs that followed. It was a bad kind of cough. Dry and wracking. Echoing off his bones like the joints of an old door, already eaten through by rust.
The woman—Hokuto—didn’t thank him as she paid him. They both knew her father didn’t have very long to live. Adashino took the rice she gave him and ignored the chime again as he took off his monocle, eyelid closing naturally.
“Sensei,” Hokuto said. “Are you well?”
He paused, fingers still on the leather pouch where he kept his lens. “Why wouldn’t I be?” he asked her.
“You don’t look well.”
Hokuto wasn’t a woman of many words. She wasn’t someone who insisted on anything without reason to. That was the only reason why Adashino took a moment to consider his answer, though he knew it wouldn’t change.
He felt fine. He had dew on his feet from walking through the grass path leading to her house, and some sweat at his nape from the afternoon sunlight; but he couldn’t find an ache on him no matter how hard he tried to look. There was no hitch in his breathing, no tightness in his lungs. No sores and no headaches.
“I don’t think I’ve felt this healthy in a while,” he replied truthfully.
Hokuto’s mouth thinned in discomfort, and she said: “You look ill, sensei.”
He dreamed of long expanses of grass that turned to rocks and sand; he dreamed of high stone buildings, white as snow, of empty wooden bell-towers that still sang alongside his breathing; he dreamed for a long time, and he dreamed for no time at all. Instants blended together into infinite stretches of time as he flew and crawled and swam, each chime of the unseen bell turning the world into something different and new.
When he woke up, it was with no start. The watery depths he was in dissolved into darkness, and the chime tickled in his ear when he tried to inhale. His eyes opened, and he was perfectly aware of himself once more.
There were people gathered around his bed.
Adashino took a second to blink, another to raise a steady hand and wipe the crust of sleep from around his eyes. “What is it?” he asked.
The five people standing around him shuddered, except Hokuto, who was kneeling right by his side. She touched the side of his neck; he had to will himself into stillness so he wouldn’t jump at the movement.
“How do you feel?” one man asked.
Adashino turned toward him. “I feel fine.”
The man looked at him with fear in his eyes.
“You’re not fine,” Hokuto said. “You’re burning up.” She took her hand back, and Adashino saw the gleam of sweat at her fingertips—took another moment to understand that it was his.
He touched his neck where she had touched him; and his skin felt warm, felt hot, felt wet under his fingers. Sick in a way that he knew shouldn’t have him able to sit up or talk.
“You’ve been asleep for two days,” Hokuto told him, and Adashino breathed in, too quickly; he didn’t resist when she pushed him back against the sheet-covered straw. “I got worried when you didn’t show up to look at my father yesterday. When I asked around, I was told that you hadn’t shown up anywhere.” She paused. Adashino heard the wet sound of tea being poured beside him, and he stopped his passivity at her trying to make him drink it—he took the burning cup between his fingers with a nod of thanks instead. “I knew something was wrong. You were pale as death when I saw you last, sensei. Now you look even worse.”
“It’s just a fever,” Adashino replied. “We’ve all had them before.”
“A fever as strong as this?”
He had nothing to reply to that.
Hokuto sighed, and pushed herself to her feet. Her geta tapped loudly against the floorboards as she walked to the door, and the people she had brought followed her out except for one girl whose name Adashino couldn’t remember, who sat on her heels to the left of his bedding with a frown on her young face and fiddled gently with the teapot.
“Come fetch me if anything changes,” Hokuto told her from the door, and the girl nodded.
Adashino thought about his supplies in medicine. He thought about fevers, in general. He leaned his head back against his headrest with the goal of thinking it over.
The second his eyes closed, and the chime rang, he was back to dreaming.
He woke up eons later, cloth sticking to his skin but feeling even better than before, and it took a few minutes for him to realize that the warmth on his face wasn’t from any fires.
It couldn’t be Hokuto’s hand. Hers were short and wide, fingers thick and callused from farming. The palm searing heat into Adashino’s forehead was wide in every way, the fingers too long to belong to any woman he knew; and when he drew a breath he smelled mountain, wind, sea.
His eyelashes brushed against the heel of Ginko’s palm, prompting him to close them again immediately. Ginko took his hand back. This time, Adashino opened his eyes.
“Why are you here?” was the first thing he asked.
His voice wasn’t even rough. He felt rested, energized, as if every part of his body and mind had rightened itself during his sleep. As if every ache he had ever felt was but a bad dream.
“I was just passing by,” Ginko said. It must be late afternoon—of the same day? of the following? or had a week gone by this time while Adashino was lost to the flight and run—because sunlight flooded the house, warm and heavy with springly odors. Ginko’s white hair caught it like a beacon; his eye shone gold because of it.
Adashino averted his eyes. “It’s a Mushi, isn’t it? Whatever I have.”
“What makes you think that?”
He let out a sigh, halfway a laugh. “The fact that you’re here tells me that.”
He heard Ginko shift from kneeling to sitting, saw the outline of him from the corner of his eyes as he extended his legs forward and brought a cigarette to his lips. Soon enough there was only tobacco and sweat for him to smell. No wind or sea.
“What are your symptoms?” Ginko asked, tranquil.
It was as though Adashino wasn’t dying of a fever he couldn’t even feel. Adashino swallowed back the edge of irritation he felt at the thought—he should know better. He knew better. “I don’t know,” he replied. “I can’t feel any of them.”
Ginko looked at him sideways.
“I feel better than I ever have before,” Adashino explained. “I know I’m badly feverish, I can feel it if I touch my own face, but I don’t even feel warm. Or tired.”
“The village people told me you’ve been asleep for three days.”
Adashino’s throat tightened at that. “I feel good. I can walk, I can run—I don’t feel at all like someone whose temperature is this high should feel.”
Gink took a long drag of smoke. It seemed to cling to his dry lips as it came out, like a kiss. “That’s weird.”
“It’s more than weird. It’s impossible.”
It took effort for Adashino to look up from Ginko’s mouth and to his eyes instead. There was a fine layer of sweat on the man’s face from the effort of climbing down the mountain to get here. The soft clothes he wore were stained at the elbow from resting on dirt paths. When Ginko put out his cigarette onto a brown stone next to him, Adashino breathed out.
“Anything else you can tell me?” Ginko asked, turning to look at him fully.
“I keep dreaming,” Adashino murmured.
Ginko dragged a leg toward himself, knee up, so he could rest an arm over it. His head tilted to the side as he did, and his scrutiny made Adashino’s body flush in a way that had little to do with the fever. “Dreams,” he said.
Adashino didn’t try to describe them to him. He didn’t think he could. “And a chime,” he added. “Every time I blink.”
He did blink as he said it, and the chime rang, right under his right ear. As if a bell was shaking at the side of his neck.
Ginko’s expression didn’t change. “It does seem like a Mushi,” he said simply. “I’ll have to think about it for a while before I try anything, though.”
“Make yourself at home,” Adashino replied, head falling back onto the headrest, hand gesturing around himself. “Just be quick about it.”
“Hurrying wouldn’t do you any good.”
“The villagers not trusting me to take care of them isn’t doing any good either.”
Ginko didn’t answer, and his silence felt like assent.
Sleeping with Ginko around was near impossible. It wasn’t that Adashino felt restless, overslept, fidgety; he knew he would find solace in unconsciousness as soon as he closed his eyes for too long, every clear singing of the bell a portal to a world he had already spent days roaming. He knew he would find himself mid-flight or submerged to the neck if he were to let himself rest.
He didn’t know that he could come back.
Ginko’s presence carried its own load of distractions, its own variety of excitements, its own atmosphere. Adashino moved from the bedding and to the open door despite Ginko’s hum of disapproval. He lit a pipe on the wooden terrace, bare feet hanging out from the edge and brushing over rain-wet grass, cool wind shivering over the sweat on him—the result of the unfelt heat in him. He felt Ginko’s presence in the house like a shadow on his skin with every burning drag of smoke. He didn’t move once he was done, not even when the smell of cooking fish reached him and he understood that Ginko had taken over the fire lit in his home. He accepted the plate that his friend brought him and ate barely any of it. He already felt sated.
Ginko took a seat beside him. He ate in silence as the sun set, one hand holding chopsticks, the other holding a roll of paper open beside him as he read. He never hummed. Never fidgeted, never played with his food. Red sunlight washed over him with all the kindness a beholder’s eye could offer, Adashino found, but Ginko didn’t move.
“The kids you healed,” Adashino said. By now his yukata was entirely stuck to his skin, never managing to dry. He tugged at the back of his collar and winced as it peeled itself off his back, because the noise it made was so unappealing. “They’ve been perfectly fine since then. Thank you so much.”
Ginko made a noise of acknowledgement.
“Do you think this is also from something I own?”
“I’ve told you what I think of your collection, Adashino,” Ginko replied mildly. “I assume you’ve got quite a few Mushi in there—you know that.” He seemed to take pity, or kindness, because he added, folding the paper back up: “I don’t know what it is yet, though.”
Adashino sighed. He drew one leg up and rested his sole onto the edge of the terrace, so that the wood dug into his skin, and yet he barely felt any pain. “I think this Mushi is trying to cure me.”
“The fever would indicate otherwise.”
“Well, I’ve never felt better. I think I could burn myself on the fire and not feel any pain.”
Ginko met his eyes, and the look in his was anything but cheerful. “There’s a reason our bodies feel pain,” he said simply.
Adashino ran his fingers through the hair at his nape, dampening their pads with sweat, giving himself an excuse to look away in the motion. “I need a bath,” he declared. He stood up, and saw the way Ginko watched him, as if ready to break his fall. “Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere.”
He had a well behind his house, one of many in the village. He figured that whoever was watching him during that time must have made tea from it to keep him hydrated. His throat wasn’t parched at all. He had drunk tea with Ginko, knew faintly that Ginko had kept his cup full of it so he would at least put this much in his stomach even if he didn’t touch food. Adashino washed himself by it, rubbed his skin pink where the fever hadn’t already done the job, feeling none of the heat and none of the cold. His arm and chest prickled with goosebumps, but the water felt as warm on him as sunlight. He left the rice bran and cloth atop the narrow stone opening of the well, emptied the bucket, and walked back inside.
Ginko was sitting cross-legged on the wooden terrace now. The papers were gone from sight, and he looked pensive. Adashino knew then that he must have found his answer.
He stepped forward until his legs almost touched Ginko’s slouched back and asked, “So what is it?”
Ginko was slow to answer.
“It’s nothing lethal,” he said, but though Adashino’s shoulders fell down with relief, the scowl didn’t leave his face.
“How do I get rid of it?” He sat down next to Ginko, their knees touching briefly before he extended his legs forward.
“It’ll leave on its own eventually. You were right, right now it’s healing you. The Mushi is the one causing the fever.”
“Bested the Mushishi himself,” Adashino said with a fleeting smile.
Ginko didn’t laugh. His eye, when he turned to look at Adashino, was somber. “It’ll take a while,” he replied. “You’re going to be asleep a lot. Your body won’t suffer, you’ll feel great whenever you’re awake, but it might take weeks for the Mushi to have warmed up enough to leave.”
“Weeks,” Adashino repeated.
Ginko nodded. “It’s using your body for warmth. Once it’s warm enough, it’ll go on its own.”
Adashino thought about Hokuto’s dying father and the children in the village. “I can’t be out of commission for weeks,” he said. “I can’t afford to just…”
He accepted without a word when Ginko handed him a cigarette, let the match burn his fingertips without feeling it and the smoke roam inside his chest, thick and bitter. When he breathed out he felt no cough in his throat. No dryness on his tongue or lips. He thought that if he were to drink boiling water, it would feel like a cool stream in his mouth.
“I really can’t get hurt?” he asked.
Ginko threw him a look. “I wouldn’t test it. You might just be unable to feel it, but a broken bone is a broken bone. You’ll need to be careful.”
“That means I can’t go out anywhere on my own. I can’t help anyone who can’t come to me directly.” He paused. “I might not even wake up enough to help at all.”
Adashino blinked. The bell rang in his ear. “I can’t tell when I’m going to fall asleep or wake up,” he admitted. “They’re so stark…”
They smoked in silence. Ginko stood up once he was finished, and Adashino followed him with his eyes, saw moonlight shine on his hair—and Ginko said, “There is a way.”
Adashino looked down from Ginko’s hair and to his face instead. His friend seemed hesitant, surprisingly. “A way to what?” When Ginko didn’t answer, he spoke again: “Ginko. I have people relying on me here. If there’s a way to get rid of this thing that you’re not telling me about—”
“You could give it someone,” Ginko cut him off. And, less crudely than he probably could: “You’ll need to be intimate with them for that.”
There wasn’t really any mistaking what he was referring to. Adashino felt his body flush with something that had little to do with the fever wrecking it—thoughts going fleetingly to Hokuto’s severe face and rough hands—”I can’t make anyone…” he started.
“You could give it to me,” Ginko said, and Adashino’s breath stopped short. “The Mushi won’t affect me like it does you.”
He didn’t sound any differently than he always did. Hesitation looked on him the way certainty did on most people Adashino knew, and though his voice bore some measure of self-consciousness, it wasn’t awkward. Certainly not as if he were offering to sleep with Adashino.
“You don’t have to,” Ginko said gently. “I wouldn’t mind. Think it over for now, Adashino.”
His mouth twisted into a little smile, and this of all things made Adashino’s heartbeat flutter too close to his throat as Ginko turned around and walked. Not long after, Adashino heard the sound that the well’s rope made as it was being pulled.
He realized that his back was knotted with tension. He felt no pain—no heat, despite the sweat already returning to his washed skin—but made himself relax, shifted until his shoulders rested against the wall of his house and only his ankles and feet extended over the edge of the terrace.
He could afford to be unavailable for a few weeks.
That was his first thought once the haze of surprise disappeared from his mind, once the prickling heat of want vanished from his belly. Having to be careful with his body, having to be monitored… he could afford to be in this state for a few weeks until the Mushi left him, sated with his own body’s warmth. People fell ill in spring more often than they did in the winter, but the winter had been kind and spring was only starting; already the stomach flu that had plagued a few households was gone, and out of the remaining sick, only Hokuto’s father was in a bad enough condition to warrant daily visits.
But Hokuto’s father was at the end of his life. There was nothing Adashino could do. Hokuto would pour tea into the old man’s mouth and hold his hands and cradle his last few moments of consciousness the way other children had with their dying parents. She would mourn. She would be okay. Adashino could ask for help in gathering medicinal herbs and knew the villagers would do it. He could ask to for people to come to him instead of the other way around; could ask to be accompanied in case he needed to go. He could be woken if the dreams took him again.
He could afford to say no to Ginko and let the Mushi grow in him until it had to leave. He could preserve the quiet companionship that he and Ginko shared, let the ache of his own daydreams be nothing more than a secret.
Ginko came back inside the house a few minutes later, clothes wet at the collar and face rid of the day’s dust, and Adashino said, “Okay.”
Ginko nodded. For a moment they looked at each other, unmoving, and Adashino understood the heaviness of his own assent—the agreement to now rather than later, so that the hesitation wouldn’t fester between them. So he wiped the shine of unfelt sweat off his own burning brow and stood, and Ginko watched him approach with nothing but quiet expectation on his face.
Adashino stopped when he reached Ginko’s level; his eyes dropped to the mess of rough sheets in the corner of the wide room and blood crawled up his neck, warmer than the fever. He almost jumped when Ginko touched it with the same wide hand that had held his forehead earlier.
“There’s no need to rush,” Ginko said evenly. The fingers at Adashino’s neck traveled down, until the full of Ginko’s palm rested at the crook of his shoulder. “If you don’t want to…”
But I want to, Adashino thought. That’s the problem.
Maybe Ginko saw that in the way Adashino refused to look at him. Maybe he read it on him with that piercing mind of his. His hand squeezed Adashino’s shoulder, and his thumb touched the hollow of Adashino’s throat. It trailed down from here, Ginko’s fingers stretching wide as it slipped into the collar of Adashino’s yukata and pressed against his sternum, making way for his palm to rest on Adashino’s breast fully, warmly.
There was no way Ginko didn’t hear the breath that he let out at the contact, or the pace of his heartbeat, or felt the heat of Adashino’s skin. But he said nothing. He simply stepped closer still, until he could lean his head where his hand had rested before, nose and lips into the side of Adashino’s neck. His other hand reached behind Adashino to tug at his obi, and the one in Adashino’s clothes moved again, from breast to waist to hip.
“You can touch me,” Ginko offered in a kind voice. The words came out damply against Adashino’s skin. “If you want to.”
Adashino breathed out, half-laugh and half-something else. He didn’t realize his fingers were shaking until they were treading through the same white hair he had longed to touch for years.
Ginko kissed his neck, the shape of his smile feeling like a brand on Adashino, before tugging off the obi entirely. Adashino’s collar opened in the motion, slipping off his shoulders and stopping above his elbows. He let go of Ginko’s hair to shrug his arms free of it and raised his hands again, cradling Ginko’s nape so he could bury his fingers in the cool, still-damp hair there—the other catching Ginko’s shirt to tug on it a little too harshly—and Ginko allowed it. He smiled into his neck, squeezed Adashino’s hip, allowed Adashino to pull up the hem of his shirt so he could press his burning hands on the soft skin of his belly. Not even the Mushi in him could have prevented Adashino from getting drunk off the warmth of it.
He was stepping toward the bed without thought, pushing Ginko along with him even while the other’s hand roamed over his chest once more, thumb catching on a nipple going down and palm twisting so the back of it could meet his skin after, so his fingers to drag through the trail of black hair on Adashino’s belly before slipping away entirely.
Ginko’s face was flushed when he raised it. His skin a warmer red than Adashino had ever seen it, even under the burn of summer sun. “Sit down,” he murmured.
Adashino could only comply and sit, naked as the day he was born, arousal burning through every path that Ginko’s fingers had taken.
His breath was still stolen from him as he watched Ginko march to the wooden box he always carried. It was sitting right by his scroll cabinet, and Ginko crouched to open it and tinker with the drawers in it until he found what he was looking for. He put a small, sealed bottled on the floor next to him. When he stood up, back turned to Adashino, he lifted his shirt above his head.
The skin of his back wasn’t as tanned as that of his face. He was built strongly, wider in the shoulders than Adashino was but narrower at the hip, taught with travel where Adashino was soft from study. When he divested himself of his pants, Adashino didn’t stop himself from looking down in stride, hip to behind to knee.
Ginko picked up the bottle and turned around, still with the same lack of hesitation that Adashino wished he possessed.
He would’ve thought that seeing Ginko bare like this would unveil some of the heavy mystery clinging to him; but Ginko’s skin, blemishes, scars, hair didn’t relent more than their appearance, didn’t strike knowledge into Adashino’s mind. They were the same as always, something to look at from the corner of his eye when they bathed and to drag up as nebulous fuel when he touched himself. With Ginko walking to him with the intent to touch, cock already flushed—with the weight of Ginko’s hand still searing at his hip—all they brought out of Adashino was stinging heat, a hitch in his chest, air hot as dragonfire on his tongue.
He moved his legs to the side when Ginko stepped onto the edge of the sheets, expecting him to sit down next to him; but Ginko’s other leg went over Adashino’s knees and he sank down quickly to rest astride Adashino’s thighs, knocking the air out of Adashino once more, carefully setting the bottle down again.
His hands went up to touch Adashino’s chest, working up from his belly and to the sides of his neck. Ginko bent down with a huff that Adashino felt against his chin and pushed Adashino down until he was fully lying over the sheets. “Everything okay?” he asked as he sat up, shifting closer—closer to the highest of Adashino’s thighs.
“Yeah,” Adashino breathed. “I’m—fine.” He hadn’t realized how silent he had been until then.
Ginko gave him a brief smile. He kept one palm pressed over Adashino’s sternum as he reached to open the bottle. The cork made a small metallic sound as he twisted it sideways; Adashino turned his head, letting go of the sight of Ginko’s face in the darkness to look as he rubbed his fingers into the bottle and as they came out, shiny with oil.
Then he closed his eyes and hissed as they touched his cock, as Ginko’s palm spread the slick and wrapped itself around him and tugged. Adashino shifted his hips, pressing harsher into the bedding under him, following the motions of Ginko’s hand. “I—” he tried, but he stopped talking when Ginko squeezed, mouth open on a gasp and eyes meeting the fleeting amusement on Ginko’s face.
“Good?” Ginko asked.
Adashino reached for the bottle instead of answering, twisting his upper body to hook his fingers into the tororo-jiru. He found Ginko’s cock easily after that, found his own pleasure in the tightening of Ginko’s hand over his chest in reaction. He raised his knees to push Ginko forward until he could take both of them in hand and Ginko’s fingers with it—and above him Ginko hummed, eye closing and face starting to shine from the heat.
It felt so natural. Adashino had never let himself go so far as to entertain the fantasies he knew he had, but touching Ginko like this felt like a well-loved dream, familiar and easy. He found himself speaking Ginko’s name more lowly than ever before, watched with satisfaction as Ginko’s mouth opened on his in return and Ginko’s hips moved to thrust into their hands.
Ginko released him—pushed Adashino’s hand aside—right as Adashino’s groin was tightening, heated and ready. Adashino had to take a long breath before asking: “How do you want to…”
“You’re the one giving the Mushi to me,” Ginko replied calmly. His hand slipped on Adashino’s hip as he reached for the oil again, leaving a track on his skin that glowed in the penumbra. “I’ll take care of it.”
Adashino didn’t try to protest.
Ginko brought his hand behind himself, hunching forward as he did, spreading his legs wider over Adashino’s thighs. Adashino watched him tense as he worked his fingers inside himself and felt such heat spread in his belly at the sight that he wondered, faintly, if he should wrap his fingers around himself to stop himself from finishing like a child. Ginko rocked into the rhythm of his own hand, fingers digging into the flesh of Adashino’s chest with the other, and Adashino watched him do it and felt, at last, feverish.
Then Ginko exhaled; sat up; brought his hand back from behind himself and rested them at Adashino’s hip, slick and body-warm. “All right,” he said breezily.
Adashino slid his hands to Ginko’s thighs and squeezed as Ginko eased himself onto his cock. He resisted closing his eyes, kept them open and fixed on Ginko’s red face through the pressure and heat of Ginko’s body around him. He moaned, “Ginko—”
“Fuck,” Ginko breathed in turn, lifting his head upward so that all of his neck lay bare for Adashino’s eyes to devour—and Adashino gave a jolt of his hips under Ginko, thrusting into the warmth of him and making the sweetest sound fall out of Ginko’s wet lips.
Ginko took control of their pace easily, thighs flexing around Adashino’s hips, his own rocking back and forth slowly, clenching down on Adashino until he was so tense with pleasure he felt his toes curl. Overwhelming and wonderful.
Adashino grabbed Ginko’s hips and thrust upward, and Ginko smiled into his sigh, placed his hands to the sides of Adashino’s head and pushed himself back with them, face a bare inch above Adashino’s. His breath rushed hotly over Adashino’s lips—Adashino let go of his hips to tug him down instead, and Ginko fell with an oof that made laughter spill from his throat warmly.
Adashino kissed Ginko with teeth and tongue alike; Ginko relented to it and licked the smile off his lips as he did, still meeting Adashino’s hips as they moved, as he moved in him—Adashino clutched Ginko’s soft hair with one hand and dug into the flesh of his ass with the other as heat built inside him to the point of burning, thrust more harshly into him, hips rising off the bedding and mouth open to Ginko’s tongue.
“Come on,” Ginko said into his mouth. “Come on, Adashino—”
He rocked back into the next thrust and stayed, and Adashino came with nothing short of a whine, heat spilling out of his cock and air burning inside his lungs; and it was as though the heat had taken life, for he felt it drag itself down from his throat to his groin and leave, invisible under his sweat-slick skin.
He couldn’t breathe anymore. His entire body dropped out of tension in the wake of his orgasm and left him weak and—hungry, he realized hazily, like a hole had opened in his stomach from the three days he had spent in the Mushi’s hold—
Ginko slipped off of him, resting against his thighs once again. He shook his head when Adashino dragged a hand toward him and simply wrapped his hand around himself, jerking himself to completion quickly.
He looked beautiful when he came. Hair in disarray from Adashino’s hand and face and chest flushed red with blood. Thighs shaking around Adashino from the ache of moving over him—from the ache of having Adashino in him.
Ginko breathed out deeply. He fell to the side, half onto the sheets and half onto the floor. In the silence that followed they both struggled to take hold of their breathing once more. Wind came from the open door and brushed over Adashino’s skin, leaving only goosebumps behind it.
“How do you feel?” Ginko asked tiredly.
Adashino felt exhausted out of his mind, but he also felt warm, sated, happy in a way he hadn’t been since. Since always.
I feel like kissing you again, he didn’t dare say.
“Like myself,” he settled on. “I think that did the trick.”
And because Ginko’s arm was still on his chest, wrist under Adashino’s breast and elbow digging into the soft and wide flesh of his belly, Adashino said: “Did you… Was that okay?”
Ginko hummed. “I told you I didn’t mind doing that for you.”
“That’s not what I meant.” This time Adashino turned his head, looked at Ginko directly. He made his hand move until he could fit his wrist into the curve of Ginko’s throat and touch his cheek and ear. They were both damp with sweat and—too hot. Feverish. “Did you like it?” Adashino asked, heart beating painfully.
It took a moment for Ginko to answer. Adashino tried not to mind the rush of realizations that Ginko was probably coming to from these words alone, under the unreadable mask of his face.
He wondered if this would be what broke things between them.
But Ginko smiled and pushed himself onto his side so that he could lay half of his body onto Adashino’s instead, cutting the breath out of him with a grunt—and Ginko’s hand came up to frame his face and stroke it, gentle as the seawind. “Yeah,” he huffed into the skin of Adashino’s shoulder. “Of course I liked it.”
The last of the cold fright left Adashino’s body, and he breathed in real air for the first time in days.
He thought he might be happy staying like this for the rest of his life. Warm from sex, with sweat chilling on his skin and Ginko’s body thrown over his like a lover’s.
His stomach tensed on hunger uncomfortably, and Adashino made a face. “We should wash up,” he said.
“Mmh. I want to sleep.”
“Don’t you dare just fall asleep on me, Ginko.”
Ginko was gone with the morning sun.
The scent of him—mountain-wind-sea—still clung to Adashino’s house. There was hot rice next to his bed as he awoke, and still-warm tea. Adashino ate and drank until his body felt less wrecked with weakness. It would be days before he was back to normal, after the strength of the Mushi’s departure.
He didn’t find any notes or other attention. Ginko’s box was gone with him, and nothing seemed out of place except for the bucket of the well behind Adashino’s house.
He would visit Hokuto and her father in the morning, before the sun was high, because the way to their house was a long one to climb from his.
For now Adashino wetted his feet in the dewed grass, relishing in the cold, skin still alight with the imprint of Ginko’s body. The chime didn’t ring again when he blinked.