Disclaimer: I don't own Mushishi.

Sump
Written November third, 2010

"It's not a disorder. Think of them similar to..." Ginko reaches for the paper on the living room table, outlining the basics of life. Plants here, humans there. As long as he keeps his sleeves rolled up and draws in steady lines, he'll wake to traces of heat.

The smoke lingering in his hair, the grit in his nails, it's not enough to ease the swell of noise. Grandmother's eyes trail wearily to the cowering youth at her side, meal untouched, hands clasped firmly to his ears. From the outside - Ginko amuses himself with the thought, hand placed firmly underneath his chin - it's like the real world is what he doesn't want to hear.

Notes rustle, Grandmother's fingers shake, and the boy curls in on himself. Adashino is waiting for him, somewhere, breathing into the knitting of his mittens and shuffling his feet in the dirt. Hoping for curiosities. Ginko wonders if tonight will be the night.

While the kettle heats he grinds herbs in a chipped mortar, reminiscing through the motions of his wrist. Folds and unfolds plain, bloated triangles, parchment and string. From the way she smooths her kimono, gathers the chopsticks and bowls, he knows approval has been met.

"Don't drink it," Ginko warns, a cachet of folded rice paper sinking into the mug. He starts again, brushing traces of powder from nicks in the rim, heaps of coloured dust resting unmeasured to the side.

Breathing in repellant from the painted ceramic, the world stills to a murmur. The boy speaks. Steam whorls at his neck and drifts to touch the small, bony horns on his forehead. There are marks where they've been swathed in bandages and hats, pressed and flicked. When Ginko nudges saltwater against his patient's ears, calloused fingers unthinkingly brush against the knobs.

"When you put your hands like that," Ginko mutters as he dabs at the warm liquid trickling down the boy's neck, "what can you hear?".

Their house is a quiet flicker of light from the snow outside, and as soon as he arrived he noticed the lack of modern comforts - no mechanical souls humming behind black screens, no scent of frostbitten oil. It makes sense, how the most afflicted are the most remote. In the interests of data, Ginko almost asks, was he brought here before or after?

xxx

"I won't make the last train, not with the transfers," he apologizes before the payment has been counted out. His hands are busy closing the last of his bag, sorting papers, capping pens. Grandmother's bones creak as she adjusts her sitting cushion, and her wrinkles grow as she smiles and offers a place to rest. He wonders if that, too, is from mushi. The horns are safely tucked away in the inside pocket of his coat, which rests in its place near the entryway.

It's a lie.

He can't stay in one place for more than a few days, or the mushi will crowd his clothes and sight and mind. Ginko dreams of them, sometimes, and even then they are an indistinguishable, quivering mass of light. Outshining buildings, people and skies, whispering of some terror yet to come. His home is the cubicle hotel, the window seat on the overnight bus, the borrowed futon that never has the same pattern twice.

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"Sump" - a pit or hollow in which liquid collects.

Ginko can't smoke in the house so he makes the kid inhale what's basically the same thing, assumed to be more concentrated, from the cup. Rice paper (also called wafer paper?) dissolves in water. The kind I thought about is a wrapper for Botan rice candy, but if I'm wrong and it only dissolves in saliva rather than water please tell me so I can fix the fic.