Celebrating with a new chapter - For those who were wondering if there would be another one, yes there is! Right now I am celebrating the end of writing a copious amount of essays in a very short amount of time. I am not an essay writer by any means and found it quite painful in some ways. So, if you were looking for updates to this or any of my other work, it'll be coming along soon as I enjoy myself with 'regular' writing - cleaning and pushing out chapters. Ah, it feels good to be writing fiction again...

I do think that perhaps too much is being made of the orientations of the two main characters in this tale, but it is what it is. There is very little in the way of yaoi with regard to this series, likely because it doesn't really lend itself to it. There are no cute and shy boys, just two guys doing a job. Please do your best to look at them as two people first because their orientation, while an important part of the piece, is really not their main raison d'etre. The M rating came about not because of explicit details, but because the subject matter is perhaps not something that younger folks would want to read, anyway.

For those who are still reading this - please enjoy this shortish chapter which, as mentioned at the start of the last chapter, a vignette into the earlier lives of Ginko and Adashino-sensei. Celebrate with me, as I return to doing something I love :) Woo?!

In a few springs, the village matchmakers gave up on Adashino, especially with Ginko hovering around so often, staking his claim to their local doctor. Just as the matchmakers' challenges ended, another sort came along. This time it was in the form of a visitor wearing fine clothing that had come into town, late the night before, staying down at the local inn. In the morning the visitor was standing and looking concerned at the strangeness that was happening just outside of the home that Adashino often shared with Ginko.

"What is this? Where is Adashino Touji-sensei?" He demanded, glowering down upon Ginko who was wearing a cloth mask over his nose and mouth, crouched beside a large boiling pot of… something.

"He's in the house." Ginko nodded toward it, "Who are you?"

"Kantou!" Adashino had come out onto the front porch, answering the question.

"Touji. There you are."

"What are you doing here?" He came down the steps toward them.

"More importantly, who is this strange person and what is he doing??" He pointed at the white head of hair.

Ginko pulled down the mask from his face, "I'm his partner, that's who."

"Partner? What does that mean?" Kantou scowled.

"Aa, Kantou… Just come inside. I'll explain." He flustered, bringing his brother up and into the house to have some tea.

"So, what was that all about? And why is his hair white that way? He doesn't look that old..."

"It's just something that… well, he's had that white hair since he was very young. It can't be helped." Adashino sighed, feeling annoyed by the surprise visit.

"What does he mean by partner?"

"He helps me now and again… We consult with one another on certain things and he lives here with me when he is able to stop traveling…"

"He is a doctor?"

"In a manner of speaking, yes… He is a mushishi and also rather skilled with herbal medicine."

"Ah… More of that nonsense." Kantou huffed, "When are you going to come home and start to practice medicine properly?"

"No time soon." He nodded, "Is that why you have come all this way? Just to bother me about what you see as my failings?"

"The family is concerned, Touji. And you're already 30, unmarried, out here in the middle of nowhere, toying around with all this superstition."

"Yes yes…" He waved a hand in dismissal. He had heard it all before. Mostly it had been in the form of letters from the family, asking for his return. It had been easy to ignore those because of the distance between himself and his family, but now it seemed they were more serious. At least enough to send his older brother to ask after him.

"It's time you came home. That is why I am here. To bring you home."

"Wh… What?" He scowled, "Do I look like a child to you?"

"You look like someone on his way to wasting his life! You are coming home!"

"He's not going anywhere." Ginko had come in, dusting himself off.

"You… You have no say in this matter." Kantou replied.

"Oh, I have plenty of say in this matter." He corrected.

"Ginko…" Adashino tried to take a stern tone, warning him off.

"Get out, you good-for-nothing vagrant." Kantou told him quite sternly.

"This is my home, and you are a guest here, I'll thank you to remember." He wandered past them, stretching a bit and yawning before pouring a cup of tea for himself. The two brothers watched him take a slow sip, having not yet had tea due to their discussion.

"I have no idea how you imagine that to be true." Kantou scoffed.

"This is also his home. You have no right to tell him what to do."

"He is part of my family. Of course I have a right to tell him what is best for him! Stay out of it!"

"Aah, I see at least you're just as stubborn as your younger brother can be." He smiled lazily.

Adashino had really hoped that his family would just forget about him and their lives would move peacefully forward, but it appeared that they were determined to pull him back. Faced with this situation, he wasn't quite sure what to do. As it was, Ginko seemed to have his own ideas about how to handle things. His peaceful methods didn't seem to be winning Kantou over. If anything his older brother was just becoming more annoyed.

"Chh… Touji, there is a marriage awaiting you in Kyoto. You are expected to take it and become part of the family practice. One way or another I will bring you home."

"You're too late. He's already married." Ginko mentioned, starting to prepare a cigarette now that he'd had his first sip of tea.

"What??" Kantou's eyes widened with shock, "Don't tell me you've married yourself to a low-class fishing village girl!"

"N… No…" He could only wonder how far Ginko was planning to take this but there didn't seem to be anything he could do to stop him. Perhaps it was for the best.

"Where is she?? There is always a way to end these things! We will pay her family off!"

"I don't think that will work." Ginko mused, lighting up from the cooking fire.

"Why are you even still here in this room?? Get out!" Kantou vented at him.

"I like this room." He shrugged, not reacting to Kantou's loudness. If anything he was doing what he usually did when faced with confrontation that didn't worry him. He was becoming more relaxed about their interaction. He knew he had already won. There was no need for him to fight.

"This is family business!"

"I know." He nodded, "That's why I'm here to let you know that what you are asking for is impossible."

"What the… Who is this person?? Why is he still here?? Get rid of him, Touji!" He turned his anger on his younger brother since he didn't seem to be able to do anything about Ginko.

"I… can't do that. As I've explained, this is also his home." He huffed and made his decision to speak his mind. It couldn't hurt, "Kantou, it's time for the family in Kyoto to finally forget about me. I am not coming home. I came here for a reason, and that was to practice medicine for those hard working people who might otherwise not have access to care. I also came out here to learn more about things you think of as foolish. The unseen world. While this is an embarrassment to the family, I cannot change that this is important to me, and very real."

"There comes a time when you should put aside your whims and hobbies in favor of your family honor, Touji… It has been far too long." Kantou shook his head disapprovingly.

"I will not do as you ask. And anyway, as he told you, I am married as much as I can be already."

"What is that supposed to mean? I've already said we will pay that family to end the marriage. It is not an issue."

"I don't think that money will be able to free me from this obligation." He laughed uneasily, "I don't want to be freed of it, anyway."

"This isn't a matter of what you want, Touji. You need to grow up at last. Take to your responsibilities as the grown man that you are."

"I see." He sighed, "Ne, Ginko… How much money do you want for me?"

"There is no money that equals your worth. I won't be selling you today." He smiled slightly more, taking another draw on his smoldering cigarette.

"There. You have your answer. I am not for sale." Touji shrugged.

Kantou just stared at the two of them, absorbing… and then, "WHAT?? You cannot mean to say you consider yourself married to this… person!"

"I do." He nodded.

"Just ask the village matchmakers. Even they've given up on separating us. I don't think you'll have much more luck... You want some noodles, Kantou-san? I'm about to make some lunch." Ginko casually jerked a thumb in the direction of the cooking pots.

"This is insane! You've definitely lost your mind! A man? And a vagrant herbalist at that??" Kantou spluttered.

"It's true. This is how it has been for several years now. It is not something I can put aside."

"What is he holding over you to make you say such a thing??"

"Holding over me?" Touji leaned forward, laughing a little, "Nothing. I just love him." Suddenly it seemed all too easy to just let it go and say what the truth of the matter was. What could be the worst thing that would come of it? He would be disowned? That didn't worry him at this point, "These are the facts of our lives. I cannot do as you ask. He is my partner and I will not be making any changes to this. Please go home and tell our honorable family that I have become quite insane and would thus only tarnish their reputation if I were to return as I am now. I think that would be for the best. Don't you?"

Kantou was in shock, hearing these things from his younger brother. Finally he started breathing again, clapped a hand to his face.

"What are you telling me? Is this really true?"

"Have you ever known me to be the sort of person to lie about such a thing? Why would I make that up? It's ridiculous to think so!"

"It is definitely ridiculous! In love with a man?"

"It's not so strange, after all. He is a good person who is dedicated to healing people and preserving the natural balance. No matter how you view him, I have my own opinions. So do not go accusing him or supposing you know anything about him. He's my business, not yours." He scowled.

Ginko was just amused, watching the two of them, so alike in their personalities and similar in their appearance. It was like watching two stone walls confronting one another. Neither wanted to yield. They bickered back and fourth loudly for a good while and then both turned their backs and marched away. Kantou stormed out the front and Touji retreated to the back of the house to go out to the store house.

"Does this mean I am cooking only for one?" He wondered, now alone in the suddenly quiet place.

The brotherly bickering went on for several days of Kantou's comings and goings from their home. Ginko thought it was rather touching to see Touji defending him to Kantou. He had gone from his usual state of reservation and embarrassment to full out defense of their relationship. In response, Kantou brought the village matchmakers up to the house to bolster his case. They simply told him that they had tried to find Touji a proper wife but he preferred Ginko and Ginko defended his claim to Touji well.

"Honestly, they are a very good pair. Their relationship is strong and they're peaceful together." The elder shrugged, "I can find no fault other than the fact that they will be unable to have children."

"Well, that is rather important, don't you think??" Kantou blustered.

"What a difficult guy you are…" Ginko sighed, shaking his head, "It doesn't matter if you keep yelling. You're not going to change anything. You're just like your brother, so you should know how you would react under the same circumstances. He's just going to become more set on his opinion, and so will you… Maybe it's time for you to go home. This is going nowhere."

The matchmakers nodded in agreement, making Kantou even more frustrated. Once again, the brothers stormed off in different directions.

"Is everything all right, Ginko-san?" One of the matchmakers asked.

"Yeah, this is just getting tiresome. I have a headache from all the yelling." He rubbed his forehead, "Thanks for coming by. Maybe you'd like some tea?"

"That would be very nice!"

Finally Kantou decided to go home so Ginko started the long process of calming Touji down. Finally the man relaxed himself enough that they fell into a long-missed embrace… that Kantou came in on while stopping by to say his farewells. He turned bright red at the sight of them.

"What are you two doing???" He yelped.

Touji went rigid, breaking away from Ginko and blushing too, "Don't you know how to knock?? Get out!!"

So Kantou's partings were no more peaceful than his arrival but at least he was on his way back to Kyoto at last. It wouldn't be the last that they heard from Adashino's family, however. The worst part for him was that all of the time that Kantou had been there bothering them could have been used in enjoying their limited time together. Given that it was summer time, Ginko had only really just stopped by for a visit on his way to other places again. The day after Kantou had gone on his way, Ginko was on the front porch, putting his shoes on.

"Here you are…" Adashino handed him his shirt, freshly cleaned and dried in the sea breeze.

"Thanks." He smiled and accepted it.

"Looks like the weather will be good. Not too hot."

"Yeah." He agreed, pulling his shirt on but leaving it unbuttoned. He seemed to be really enjoying the steady breeze off the water that day. It rippled through his clean shirt and through his hair. His eyes closed, face looking peaceful.

"You all right?" Adashino sat beside him.

"Fine… Just enjoying the moment. There is no yelling, the air feels nice and cool, my stomach is full, and you are beside me."

Adashino sighed, feeling a twinge.

"These are all things I want to remember while I am gone." His hand reached over and came to rest on Adashino's far shoulder, tugging them together where they sat.

"Nothing is bothering you?"

"Just that I won't be enjoying these things, shortly." He leaned, bumping his head affectionately against Adashino's.

"I'm trying, you know… I don't like this any more than you do... but I can't find anything yet to change it."

"I know, I know. I'm not accusing you of anything." He chuckled, "Just trying to let you know, you'll be missed."

"I know I will be…"

"How long has it been now? 5 years? I'm losing track."

"It depends on what you're using to mark the anniversary you're measuring from."

"Our first night, of course." He smiled slowly.

"You would, wouldn't you?" He huffed.

"I would… You know, you really are giving up a lot to be with me. Kantou is correct about that… So if you are feeling that way, let me know, would you?"

"Don't be stupid. I know clearly everything I need to, to make this decision. If I had wanted that life, I would have taken it long ago. It would have been plenty easy."

"Especially compared to this and saying goodbye all the time."

"It's not 'easy' that I am looking for. I don't take this lightly, either."

"I know. Neither do I."

"So then don't start feeling like this again. Don't ask me any more if I'm changing my mind. I won't."

"I won't either… Since I'm so set on you, I wanted to be sure you were the same way, given this persistent offer from your family of an easy life."

"I'm perfectly decided upon you."

"Then, I am perfectly happy."

Adashino saw him off, walking with him over the hills for a way before parting with him and heading back to the village to wait again for his return. While he waited, he would have to get back to the task of finding a way to change the draw that Ginko had to the mushi in the world. He had some ideas, but none had yet lead to anything solid... but he was determined to find a way to end Ginko's forced wanderings, for both their sakes.

That's all for now - Thanks for reading!
If you are kind enough to leave a review, let me know if you'd like to have the next chapter be more from the past or more from the present.