This is a very long one shot. I hope you don't mind. I tried to be as in character as possible, but I'm no Ginko-expert. I just made this because I found a Ginko one shot before to be very unsatisfying.
The Peach Girl
A Ginko one shot.
Pale fingers twitched beneath warm blankets as he finally began to come to his senses. Slowly he began to wake up. The smell of dry wood burning was the first to be registered before any other of his senses. He stirred, feeling the friction of the blanket that had been draped over his still shivering cold body. His ears pricked at the sound of the cracking fire. He could feel the fire not too far from his body as well.
Then he opened his eyes. The room was dark, but a fire lit it well enough to cast a dim light to the farthest corners of the room. His eyes went from the ceiling to where he heard the cracking of burning wood and he saw a small figure hunched over it, poking at the embers to make the fire bigger.
Ginko tried to remember what had happened before… There was snow and ice. He remembered now. He tried to get to the other side of a river. He didn't anticipate he'd fall through the ice. It didn't appear to be that thin… The white-haired traveler shook his head at himself. He's usually not that careless… He'd be more careful next time.
Sitting up, he realized he wasn't wearing wet clothes. He was wearing another set of dry clothes. He assumed that the one tending to the fire was the one who had done all of this for him.
He looked to the figure again, curious. Apparently, she had heard the rustling going on. A bright green made eye contact with deep brown eyes, startled and bewildered. Ginko was also a little stunned, not thinking that she could've been the one. He wasn't sure what it was, but there was something off about her eyes. He just couldn't put his finger on it.
There was a long silence, but he wasn't going to be a stranger.
"I would be frozen stiff by now." He said calmly, acknowledging the time of the day. He remembered that the sun was in the sky, even if the sky was gray and showed no sign of the bright yellow orb. "Are you the one who saved me?"
He waited for her to speak, but she did something else. She had gotten to sit on her knees and looked down at the floor, nodding for her answer. From what he could see, she was very pale, but not in a sick way.
"I'm very grateful." Ginko went on, but persisted to talk. "My name is Ginko."
There was a long silence as he waited patiently for her to say her name.
The traveler stared at her as she seemed to look around at the floor, as if waiting for something. He could tell she seemed very stressed, so he wasn't even going to ask her if she was mute. Instead, he moved on to something else.
"Where's the one who runs your household?" He could probably have a proper conversation with the owner.
The girl's gaze slowly, nervously, came to rise from the floor to Ginko.
… She lived alone, from what things seemed like.
What was a young girl like her doing living on her own? She didn't seem to be a child, but she didn't seem to be a full grown adult yet. Looking down at the clothes that he woke up with on, he realized that this girl, even though she was shy, went through the trouble of having him dressed in warm clothes.
"… Thank you." Was all he could say, before his stomach intervened.
Suddenly, there was a bowl of rice presented to him. This independent girl prepared a meal for him, even before he had fully awakened. It was small, but it was something to eat nonetheless.
He accepted the bowl with both hands and gave his thanks once again.
Ginko woke to the sound of a door being opened and then slammed shut. The wind was cruel today. He sat up suddenly, and looked to the door. The girl was not there, but in another room.
He knew he didn't have to, but it was probably best. If he were to stay too long in one place, Mushi would consume the area, surely. Ginko got up from the warm futon and walked to the only door in the room. He cracked it open, seeing the girl walk across the room swiftly, settling some things down. Preparation for food, surely.
Now that he could see her in a better tone of light, he realized just how pale she really was. Like snow, almost. Her light umber hair was long and held back in a messy sloppy tail. Then he realized just what exactly was so strange about her brown eyes; Near the center, there was a bright ring of gold.
He slid the door completely open, and instantly the sound made her spin on her heels towards where the cause of the sound was.
She stared directly into his eye, and he froze.
"You hear very well." He admitted, a calm smile surfacing. The girl's cheeks and nose were already very pink from being outside so long, but a brighter color stained her face. She looked down at the ground, her hands beginning to run over her kimono, as if trying to get rid of wrinkles in her clothes. Now and then, she trembled violently.
Ginko was disappointed in himself. His attempts at trying to make her comfortable were failing. His smile vanished, but he still tried.
"You're shivering…" He pointed out, and he looked to see a bag of rice settled down near her. She must've went out to get more food… Wait. "How far did you walk to get that?"
… What was he saying? She couldn't speak. He shook his head.
"I'm guessing you walked a mile or so without the proper clothing." He quickly went to the other room to get the blanket he had used and brought it to the girl, wrapping her up in it so she was snug. She didn't appear to be comfortable with him being so close, but she was freezing, so it didn't matter.
Soft purple hues were underneath her eyes. They were faint, but he could see them better with the closer look. He sighed heavily.
"If having me here is so stressful that you can't sleep well, maybe now would be a good time to leave."
She suddenly shook her head.
Taking her guest by the wrist, she showed him to the door and opened it so he could see. It was very windy, and snow was falling from the sky at a frightening rate. A blizzard might be in store for them.
"Maybe I should leave before the snow piles up too much…"
Suddenly, the door was shut and she shook her head no in a very eager speed. She didn't want him to go? Was she really that concerned? He was only a stranger, after all.
"You really don't want me to go outside?" He asked her. "This kind of weather can last for weeks. Do you know that? Why don't you go to someone inside of town and stay with them?" He sighed heavily and tried to think of alternate ways to deal with this. If he were to stay here, he would be locked in because of the weather outside. The mushi…
She really wasn't giving him a choice right now.
As expected, the hurricane had taken its toll on the small house by the river. He had learned his location without needing to ask the girl, but for now all they could really do it sit and wait it out. He couldn't help but feel dreadful about staying here, though. They both seemed to be safe, though. Oddly enough, the snow was keeping mushi from coming inside of the small home.
So in some ways, they were protected from harm until the blizzard stopped. Maybe if it snowed enough inches, when the blizzard ends, the mushi will not be able to make it through to Ginko. Although, there appeared to be some already inside. Few, but they were still floating around.
An idea had came to him today. He had brought out ink and paper. Assuming she could write, then they would have a conversation for once. It was worth trying…
So they were in the guest room once again. The fire was burning, but the girl had stocked up on a lot of wood before Ginko came. He told her to sit and wait, and he soon supplied her with paper and an ink brush with ink. He placed the white sheet on the floor and pushed it to her. The vial of ink was also pushed towards her, and he handed her the brush. She took it with small hesitant fingers and stared at him, thoughtless.
"I will talk to you, and you will talk to me with written words." He explained, before advancing towards her. He settled down next to her, and she didn't tremble as violently as before when he tried getting close.
He honestly did not have bad intentions. All he intended was to get to know the person he was trapped in the house with. He was no intimidating predator.
Slowly, she dipped the brush into the vial of black ink, and they began.
"What is your name?"
"The people of the town not too far from here call me Momo, because of the peach trees I grow in the spring."
"… But is that your real name?" He asked delicately. The girl paused, quiet in thought. Rolling the brush between her fingers, she came up with the right answer.
"I am Haruko Itoshii. As of recently, I have the responsibility of being the ferry to get people across the river."
"Mmm…" Ginko responded. He wasn't surprised, but at the same time, he was. Clearing his throat, he came up with another question. "Who was the previous owner?"
"Wataru Fushigi. He was a very old hermit who took me in."
Ginko's eyebrows suddenly twitched with more question. She must've read his mind, because she kept writing.
"Fushigi-san was not related to me." She paused, but didn't lift up her hand. Moments of silence went by, but she was not finished yet. "Though he is very much like a father to me."
"He's deceased." Ginko stated, and Haruko nodded. Well, now he had more questions… "How old are you, if you don't mind me asking? How long have you been that age, and how long have you been living on your own?" More importantly…
"Where are your parents?"
Ginko waited, not taking Haruko's hesitation into account. She appeared to be taking her sweet old time. Slowly, she dipped her brush into the vial before writing once again.
"I am seventeen. When I met Fushigi-san, I was fifteen. He was the one who owned his house and did the ferry service. I have been living on my own for almost four months. My parents are deceased as well."
"That's too bad." Was all he could admit. He really wasn't going to linger on it, though. Quietly, Ginko thought to himself as he tried to come up with another question to ask.
"This home you live in, it's not an ordinary house, is it?"
Ginko waited patiently, watching Haruko roll the handle of the brush within her fingers as she contemplated. He didn't realize just how far he went. He crossed the line, but he hadn't known that until she wrote it out for him.
"I don't want to write anymore." They were both quiet, and Haruko glanced at the mushi master at the corner of her eye, hesitant with every movement, fearing the worst from the man…
"Alright, I won't make you write anymore." Ginko said with such surprising easy, Haruko wasn't sure if she heard him right. The girl nodded and stood up, walking to the exit of the room and leaving Ginko to himself. He grinned, even though she was no longer with him, accompanying him. There was something protecting this home from being bombarded by Ah and Mu, and all other mushi.
Other then that, he couldn't help but notice that she blushed when she was nervous.
Things were progressing slowly.
Ginko was becoming familiar with Haruko and her silence. Haruko was adjusting to his odd clothing and company. They often communicated through writing. Sometimes Ginko would write back to her and they would just spend hours writing notes to each other.
So far, he has learned a great deal about the girl he had been living with for over a week now. Her favorite color was green, she loved rain just as much as she loved spring. Haruko informed him about the garden that she had been trying to make bloom for the past three years. She told him that though she lived alone, the villagers would often give her food instead of coins for the ride across the river. As payment, she would harvest peaches from the peach trees not too far from where they were now, and sell them.
Thus came the name Momo.
He asked her what she would like to be called; Momo or Haruko. She explained that she liked them both equally.
It was clear to see they were growing on one another. Haruko was growing faster then weeds, clinging like vines and spreading like poison ivy on the mushi master. He didn't realize it yet.
She explained to him that when she's not taking people across the river, she would grow beautiful flowers. Just like Ginko learned of her, Haruko learned about him. The girl was fascinated by what he did for a living. Obviously, she didn't intend on being a mushi master.
Though she wanted to learn more about his past, Haruko found her questions either being ignored or switched to something else. He would not tell her how his hair came to be white, or how he only had one working eye. Haruko persisted to see the vacancy of the eye, as to which Ginko was against, but showed her to settle her down…
She soon stated afterwards in writing, "You have the brightest eye I have ever seen."
They later viewed Ginko's mushishi notes. He showed her pictures, and read aloud what made an Ah different from a Mu. Ginko showed her the ingredients for love potions and various other things, not believing she'd ever need to use them, much less remember the formula.
During the showing of mushi pictures, Haruko had paused the pages to stare at a picture of a mushi that resembled a beautiful plant. She stared long and hard, as if admiring it. He smiled, reading the summery for her.
"This is Ai. They're very rare. They are mushi that live off silence or soft sounds. Ai keeps other mushi away, but if a loud sound came to disturb the air around it, it would shrivel and die." He stayed quiet, and soon the idea came. "… Do you know where I could find one?"
She sat up straight and looked into his brilliant eye, and just then, he knew that somewhere in this shabby shack, she was hiding it.
Getting up, she gently took his hand and led the mushi master out of the room. He went down a hallway he had previously seen, but had not been down, believing he was not invited to that area of the home. She led him all the way down. Down, down to the very last farthest room, and quietly opening the door, she walked in with Ginko behind.
Inside of the room, he saw it. He saw a large wallflower. The vines were green and thick, and threatened to take over the wall, but it appeared under control. It seemed to glow a bright topaz color. The color of the river of light he saw whenever he closed his second eyelid. The petals were wide and could shield an infant's head from rain.
It was beautiful. Now he could say he has seen an Ai. Such a sight to be held.
Questions came to play into his mind. He had never seen Ai before, so he couldn't help but become a little antsy. What did this mushi do to those around it? What kind of pollen did it produce? How did it get there?
Ginko slowly raised a hand, reaching out in hopes of touching the petals of the mushi—but suddenly a smaller hand came to stop the mushi master. His green eye looked to her with small surprise. She shook her head, pleading that he would not touch the mushi.
Many times before during his travel, he had told people not to touch something they shouldn't. He'd be a fool to go against his own word right now. Haruko still held his hand, even when they were safely on the other side of the door.
Her palm was so soft, fingers were thin, her hands hairless.
As he was lead back to the room they were previously writing to one another. The questioning began.
"How long has this mushi been living here?" He asked, not sounding as anxious as he really was.
"It has been here longer then my own stay in this house."
"So you don't know…" He said softly, leaning away from the sheet of paper. He wasn't sure if he should really bother to rid the house of Ai or not… Maybe it was a good thing it was living here, in a secluded room. While Ginko began to think to himself, Haruko took the chance to write more.
"The wallflower has protected this house in many ways. There had been numerous convinces where harm has threatened this place, but we managed. Fushigi-san was a sickly person, but because he lived here, he was able to live until he was one hundred sixty years of age."
Ginko's eyes began to read the words that were set out for him to read. Still, she continued to write. She was becoming more accurate with her writing now, and so she wrote with speed now.
"He died not but five months ago, counting back from this very day. Spring will be coming soon though. What will you do when the snow is gone?"
He couldn't help but wonder why the sudden concern.
"I'll be continuing my journey, the same way I was heading earlier. You won't have me to bother you anymore."
There seemed to be a sudden change in her mood. He couldn't understand it, but apparently those words made her smile disappear. She did not scowl, she did not frown. There was a drastic moment where she seemed exactly like Akoya. Akoya was only happy when she was the Ikigami. The light in Haruko's eyes dulled down and became dim. Haruko was apathetic.
"I'll be going to bed now."
Ginko stayed quiet as he watched her place the ink brush down. He watched her feet leave until the door was closed, and he couldn't help but think that the Haruko he was speaking with through the previous days suddenly… vanished. He didn't enjoy that thought, it's as if he did cause her trouble by saying that.
After that day, they never really quite kept a long decent conversation. They ate reasonable amounts of rice, which they both agreed they were becoming tired of. That's all that changed, her social skills towards him. It's as if she were only trying to keep him as far as need be.
He had grown to like her company, but within the past weeks, he knew he hit a nerve. He felt horrible, just tied in knots and colored in desperation. He hadn't felt that since he encountered that green-haired girl. She believed that there was no way she could get away from the moving swamp. She believed there was no way out, and she would not stop for anything. He wanted to study her, but still she slipped through his hands, like water or sand.
He liked this small home, this shack-like house. He didn't need to smoke to keep the mushishi away. It's as if they couldn't find him. He enjoyed being relaxed, he enjoyed being in one place. It was a quiet place, and if the spring came and flowers and peaches bloomed, he couldn't imagine how beautiful it could be.
Ginko wasn't foolish. He knew very well why she was so distant with him. It was clear to see. Small subtle words of flattery, and prolonged gazes. She was a very smart girl. Haruko was so gentle with her motions, and though she felt something for him, he learned very well she didn't have bad intentions.
He was a master of mushishi, but he wasn't blunt towards human emotions and complications of the human kind.
Not once did she touch him and hesitate at the thought it might've been inappropriate. She did nothing like that. She was young, and still very naïve. That was his reason for… never speaking of it. If he does not say anything, she will not write down her confessions for him.
Though that is the thing that threw him through loops. He could admit to having something for her, but he'd never be around long enough to be considered anything more then a common stranger. There were so many other people who needed help from him, and also more mushishi to be found. Ginko couldn't help but continue to think of ways. There was one thing that still stood out in the end of all of his mental theoretical debates;
He was smitten with the girl.
His hand came up to his face, propping up his head by his chin. As of right now, he only wore jeans in the quiet room, only because his shirt currently couldn't be found. Ginko was up early this morning… he planned on leaving very soon today…
The sound of a door sliding open startled him. Haruko wouldn't be up this early, would she? His head turned, his hand leaving his chin for his elbow was now propped on his bent knee.
Something about him sitting on the floor of the room must've not seemed as innocent as he thought. He looked upon Haruko's shocked face. In her arms, she had brought him his black shirt. It seemed to be fixed of its rips and tears. He watched as her face went from her usual pale to a bright glowing pink. She's obviously never seen the bare torso of a man before.
Ginko managed to catch the black turtleneck, and didn't expect much more then that from her. She turned her back to him and hid a portion of herself behind the door.
He tried his best to hold back the grin that spread over his features.
"Sorry you had to see that." Ginko started in, putting his shirt on. He got up to his feet and walked over to the girl, an easy smile on him as he tried his best to be as confront able as possible. "I honestly didn't think you'd be awake at this time of day."
His hands pulled on the thick fabric as he tried to take out the waves in his shirt.
"I hadn't realized it before, but this was becoming undone by the seams before. Thank you…"
He never expected her to speak. He really did believe she had no voice of her own, and therefore, never really expected her to put input into the conversation, unless it's in writing. She slowly turned to face him, and he felt that strange pang at his chest. He was beginning to experience it more and more since his stay. Only when he saw her, though. That calm yet disturbingly apathetic looks in her eyes.
Ginko dropped his smile and looked her dead into those eyes.
"For everything I've said before that might've caused you trouble… I'm sorry."
She only nodded, and though she accepted it, she was still indifferent. Still halfhearted, not all there… There was another sharp pang, realizing that she seemed like she couldn't care less. He felt almost hopeless, what with all of his efforts now seeming… useless.
"… I'll be leaving today, as soon as the sun rises."
She looked at him with a sort of reluctance, yet it lacked relief. She was not relieved by the idea, but she appeared to… accept it. Ignoring the idea that she might cry, he refused to look at her after saying that.
For reasons unknown, he picked up his straw hat and got his medicine pack, hoisting it on his back and headed to the door.
As he walked, he could hear her begin to breathe a bit unevenly. He wasn't leaving now, but he was going to wait for the sun to rise. The horizon was glowing, threatening the break of dawn. It had been the first time in weeks since he had stepped outside. The snow had melted, showing only small areas and little piles here and there, but the white of the snow and brown of the dirt was mixed with flecks of green here and there. The trees were still bare, but with time, they too would be covered in flecks of emerald.
The wind was sharp and chilling, but for now it was all a breeze. It was refreshing. He stepped out and walked around the house, towards the river he once fell into. Had Haruko not saved him, he would've died a icy watery death.
He did not expect her to follow, but of course, she was the only one who was willing to run the business. He heard her soft bare feet pattering on the ground, knowing she'd be the one to take him across. She wasn't going to keep him from his journey, but she wasn't going to reject his company either.
"This season, you'll be taking a lot of people across the river. You'll be alone for the first time." Ginko stated, and yes, he was going to show his concern. He stopped at the river, where the ice had already melted, and a decent-sized boat was there, already waiting. "Can you really with stand a year being alone, with no one to keep you safe from the harm on the outside of that house?"
He glanced to her, seeing her eyes were somewhat pink from restraining her tears. She did not look up to meet his gaze, but her hands became fists as she tried to keep her bottom lip from trembling, which was a futile attempt.
"You've had a steam of bad luck before you came here, didn't you? I just want to leave and then come to find your home burnt down into ashes."
He could only hope that didn't give her an idea of hope.
The sun peeked over the earth's edges, and she began to untie the rope that connected the dock to the boat. The water was colder then death, but she had gotten used to it very much so. Soon, Ginko and Haruko were on their way across. The river was strong, but Haruko wasn't inexperienced in it. She could go against it without trouble. She did have weak knees, but her determination gave her an advantage.
Ginko did not speak a word as they neared the other side. Both hearts were heavy, it was a wonder how the boat managed to stay afloat. There was a brief moment where she appeared distracted, and to Ginko's attention, she was watching a small harmless mushishi float within the air, almost as if they were following it. Though neither shared the others destination.
She hiked up the bottom of her working outfit, which Ginko couldn't help but notice she wore this particular day.
She neared the shallow edge of the river, and clung to the rope as she brought it to a wooden stake, originally placed there for docking boats such as the ones she was using to take Ginko across. Her shins were quickly becoming numb, but she didn't care, she didn't want to appear weak in front of Ginko, which he could tell.
As she brought the boat's side to the edge of the river, she watched as Ginko got up and hopped off, landing safely with his feet on solid ground.
Looking back over at her, he looked at her. Haruko's eyes were wide, anxious and distraught as hot water leaked out of her eyes. He knew he shouldn't have looked at her so fondly. Never look back, that's how he's always suppose to leave. By never looking back. Yet… he did it anyway.
He knew he'd regret saying these words.
"I may come back… Before the spring of next year is over. The Ai is something I'd like to study… but I'm not making promises."
Her eyes lit up before he could finish, but she showed that she was very glad by smiling. An honest smile this time, and he very much so returned it.
Though she neared Ginko with caution, he did not expect her to come close. She brought up a hand to move the hair away from his second eye. He almost backed away from her hand, not wanting her to be frightened by the sight. She did not appear disturbed, though. She looked at it, very intrigued, and she seemed very relieved before she took her hand back. As if it had been bothering her from the beginning.
He couldn't understand why.
"Be careful, Ginko-san…"
His jaw dropped slightly, mouth gapped open as he stared at her. She could speak all along…? She could speak all along, but… His fingers came to his vacant eye socket that was hidden behind his white hair, and he watched as she turned away, beginning to head back. Now Ginko was the one a little distraught… Only a little.
All this time, she had pretended to be mute? No, she just hasn't been comfortable. Well, he didn't believe he'd been lied to… but he wasn't hurt by the minor betrayal.
He… was very interested in studying the Ai now.
One Year & Six Weeks Later…
"You think that maybe it's possible to make a love potion?"
"It is possible, though it's very pricey, and I'm not quite sure it would be of your best interest… Manipulating one's emotions for your own personal desires, it's not exactly the polite thing to do. You could just go the extra mile and speak with the lucky girl."
"I would, if she would just speak to those who speak to her." Ginko's ears perked at the mentioning. "She's the maiden down by the river. Last year she was still such a small petite pale girl, but I saw her earlier today and hardly recognized her. I remembered her to be clumsy. Momo-chan has really matured, really graceful. Which reminds me, how much for the love potion?"
Ginko's eyebrows furrowed with disappointment.
"What? Hey, wait!"
Ginko had almost forgotten about her. From what he heard, she'd been an attraction to the travelers. Well, Ginko's not really the jealous type, but he remembered saying something about her being alone without safety from predators, obviously.
He wouldn't keep avoiding the fact. Yes, Haruko could possibly be a very attractive girl, but regardless, she was a good girl. Good things happen to bad people, and that's a fact. Alright, too many facts.
Ginko came near to the building, and as soon as he came to the door, he stepped lightly, remembering that Ai was very sensitive to sound. He wrapped on the door. He waited, trying to catch his breath and collect his patients. Time began to kill him, although seconds really didn't fell like seconds to him, but more like hours. Maybe that's a minor exaggeration.
The door was open, and there she stood. She had grown a little taller, her hair had gotten longer… He smiled at her surprise and was greeted with an unexpected hug, to which he did not return because she was so quick about it.
"I thought I'd come back to learn more about your Ai… The peaches kind of persuaded me, too."
"… I am glad." She didn't answer back, but she nodded eagerly and took the mushi master by the hand, taking him along inside. There, she prepared him peach-tainted food, which really was her specialty. "