Adashino had always liked the rain. He would often watch it from his porch and think of nothing except the way the grey haze of it erased the line between the sky and sea so that they merged to form one great curtain of movement. When it rained he always felt like he was waiting with purpose; for the land to be watered; for the air to be cooled; for the downpour to end. Adashino hated not having purpose.
But dragging a half-delirious man through mud deep enough that it enveloped his sandals, making every step a struggle to pull his feet up, bend his back so he had the leverage to pull his friend’s weight another inch, gave Adashino cause to reconsider. The rain was incessant; cold down the back of his neck, stiff where the fabric of his coat had become plastered to his arms. And Ginko was shivering beside him, his teeth chattering and his eyes half-closed, but still watching him.
“It’s not my fault.” Adashino shook his head, but the rain was coming down harder now and it was starting to sting his eyes. He was a doctor, not a labourer, and Ginko was starting to slip from his grasp. He wasn’t strong enough; he couldn’t move fast enough.
“No,” Ginko agreed.
“Don’t you know something that can control the weather? I can’t control it.”
This time, Ginko didn’t reply.
Adashino thought maybe he hated the rain now.
Between the mud and the ground water the path was hard to make out and he was beginning to regret sending the trader who had found Ginko ahead to the village. The unremitting hiss of the rain all around him was too loud, blocking out any other sound so that it seemed like they were trapped; cut off from the rest of the world and they would never see anyone else ever again.
Ginko would say he was just being dramatic. If he were awake and they were inside by the hearth, drinking tea, the smell of Ginko’s tobacco sweet in the air.
He wished for that now more than anything, took another step forward, dragged Ginko another few inches. Closer. They were creeping closer. He could ignore the way his own chest strained to get enough air from the effort of it, the way his legs felt like they’d been stabbed over and over with nails, the way the muscles of his arms pulled so taut he thought they might snap if they were moving forward.
Adashino gritted his teeth. Ginko couldn't have come to him like this on a mild spring day. He couldn't have sent ahead, warning him, Dear Adashino, I’ve been stabbed. Please prepare yourself.
He knew blood. He was a physician; of course he knew blood. He knew its smell and its texture and its weight. But when the trader had come to him saying, “There’s a man with white hair on the mountain pass,” Adashino had not expected this.
“You’re going to have to help me, Ginko,” Adashino found himself pleading. Insisting. Both. “I can’t carry you much further.”
There was another two, maybe three miles to home and no sign of the rain letting up.
He kept moving.
“Sometimes,” Adashino told Ginko, or more likely the rain, “sometimes I wish I was a simple fisherman.” His foot slipped. Adashino was sure he was going to pitch sideways but somehow managed to regain his balance. Painfully, his fingers cramped and aching, he tightened his hold on Ginko’s wrist.
“Then,” he said. “Then, I’d never have to carry heavy Mushishi miles and miles home in typhoons.”
Despite the din of the endless rain he managed to catch Ginko’s murmur, “You don't.”
Adashino frowned. It was unclear how far Ginko had travelled or how long he’d been hurt for before he’d been discovered; face down in the rain and Adashino was not going to remember that moment when the trader had said, “Dead” and all Adashino could think was, “He can’t be. He just looks pale.”
Looking at him now, Adashino could understand how the trader had thought him lost.
“I don’t what?” he asked, and was glad when Ginko opened his eyes, drew himself up, the corners of his mouth turning up into a smile.
“Want to be a fisherman.”
Of all the things.
“You don’t know that,” Adashino insisted. “It might be my most secret desire.”
Ginko was taking a little of his own weight now and Adashino tried to hurry his steps, certain this wakefulness would not last. It had been too shaded in the pass; too overcast and gloomy to properly see; and the rain had been pouring and pouring and Adashino had known there wasn’t much time; he’d seen enough of the stains of blood and the greyed colour of Ginko’s face.
“It might.” Ginko did not sound like he believed it at all.
They were coming to the end of pass, to where the flood plains began. The river wasn’t far now. Adashino could hear it already; torrents of water swelled by the rain, running off the mountains and down to the sea with nothing to slow it. He could only hope the river wouldn't burst its banks.
“You see,” Adashino nodded. “You don’t know everything about me.” Or anything, really. They never spoke of things like where they’d come from. Adashino was glad for it, and he suspected Ginko was too.
“I don’t,” Ginko said.
The path was sloping downwards and Adashino tried to use the momentum of it to move them on faster; just another mile, maybe a little more now; but it was too much. A misplaced foot, a tangled step, and Adashino was lurching forward taking Ginko with him. The water-logged mud was a shock of icy cold as he hit the ground but he had enough sense of what was happening to try and angle himself around, towards Ginko, breaking his fall as much as he could; keeping him from hitting the ground. It hurt, and Adashino knew he’d have bruises everywhere.
He lay there for a moment, catching his breath, trying to work out how they could get up again without hurting Ginko further. On his chest, Ginko breathed heavily, his eyes closed and a contorted grimace on him face. He was holding on to Adashino’s arm so tightly Adashino could feel his fingernails digging into his skin.
He didn’t need to say they had to get up; they had to keep going. That much was obvious.
“I’m going to,” Adashino found himself wheezing, “push you off me.”
Carefully, slowly, Adashino twisted himself sideways, sliding Ginko off of him. Ginko inhaled sharply as he came into contact with the ground.
On his knees now, Adashino peered down at Ginko, trying to get a better look at his wound. “This is more like swimming,” he said, swiping water away from his eyes.
The stain under Ginko’s coat was definitely widening and Adashino did not think it caused by the rain. He was bleeding still and Asashino had no way to stop it. He had nothing on him to help; he hadn’t stopped to think about what he might need; he’d run blindly after the trader as soon as he’d heard what he’d found and didn’t consider that perhaps a raincoat, if nothing else, might be useful until he saw Ginko in the rain and suddenly felt cold. What could he have done though. What use was he in this.
But if he stopped now, if he just sat here for another moment longer he knew he wouldn't be able to get up again.
“I’m going to get a fever.” Asashino pushed himself to his feet and did not think about his breathlessness, or the dizziness, or the cramping in his legs. “And you’re going to die if you don’t get up.”
Ginko wouldn't die. Adashino would not allow it. There were too many things he needed to know that only Ginko seemed happy to explain to him. There were too many warm spring evenings of sake and arguments and bartering and all the other things they had yet to come. It was stupid. They barely knew each other, not really, and yet Ginko still felt like Adashino’s closest friend. Maybe his only friend.
It really was a sorry state of affairs.
“I need a new hobby,” he told Ginko. “And you need a new job.”
Ginko blinked up at him blearily. “Like?”
“Monk,” Asashino suggested, grabbing hold of Ginko’s shoulders and hauling him up. They got maybe half way to standing before Adashino lost his hold and Ginko lost his strength and they both ended up back on the ground, icy rainwater running around them as though they were sitting in a shallow river.
The bridge, Adashino thought. It had been swept away in floods three winters ago. It could happen again. He’d be cut off from the village; the next passing place high up in the mountains. Neither of them would make it that far.
“We have to move,” Adashino urged, and grabbed hold of Ginko again, tried leveraging him with his knee this time, ignoring the way Ginko hissed in pain as he straightened. “We have to move.”
He didn’t stop to catch his breath or try to get a comfortable hold of Ginko; there was no time. The sound of the river ahead was too loud; thundering like a waterfall. He tightened his hold on Ginko, whatever hold he could get, and walked, dragging Ginko along.
When the bridge finally came into view Adashino swore but didn't dare stop, or even slow.
The river was so swollen water was rushing across the surface of the bridge; shallow but fast. He could hear beams creaking; the sound of splitting wood. In the distance he could make out the voices of the villagers calling his name.
Then, Ginko dug his heels in, forcing Adashino to come to a halt. “Don’t cross.”
There was no time for an argument. “This is the only way.” Adashino dragged Ginko another step.
“We can wait,” Ginko insisted, struggling against him.
“For what?” Adashino asked, incredulous. There was no time and he was too tired for this.
What use would help be on the other side of the river?
“We still have to cross this bridge.”
They were wading into deeper water now; furrows dug into the banks of the river as water found its way around the posts marking where land ended and the crossing began. It was difficult to stay balanced, the river flowing fast around their ankles.
Another snap, creaking, but the bridge still held.
It was difficult to hear anything but the sound of the river; the voices he’d heard before, his own heavy breathing, loud in his ears before, drowned out now by the torrents around him. Adashino couldn't remember ever being this soaked through; this completely surrounded, completely overpowered, by water.
But he could hear Ginko trying to say, “It won’t hold,” and Adashino could only reply, “I know. I know,” but he had to try.
They could stay on the bank and wait and get washed away anyway. Or they could stay on the bank and Ginko would die of the blood loss and the cold and he’d already decided that wasn’t going to happen.
Under his feet the wooden planks of the bridge creaked in protest but didn’t break, and Adashino took another step.
Over the crest of the hill beyond the river Adashino could make out the shapes of people coming towards them. He could do this. Just a little more.
It was difficult to tell if it was the river around his feet or the bridge beneath him, but it felt as through the world was shaking, trying to knock him over, like an earthquake but quicker.
“Adashino,” he heard Ginko breath beside him. They were nearly there. Nearly. He could recognise the faces of the villagers rushing down to meet them. Then, the world shook again beneath him, sharp and violent, and this time Adashino knew it was the bridge. He tried to run, knowing he wouldn't be able to stay upright anyway, and there was a great snapping sound, as though someone had just put the last axe blow into the trunk of a tree and now it was falling, splitting apart at its weakest point. The bridge broke. Water rushed in around him, everywhere, and it was far colder than the rain, or where he’d fallen on the path, or anything he could ever remember.
It would be worse though, he knew, for Ginko, and that was all that mattered. Adashino forced himself to ignore the cold, and the feeling of water pushing its way into his lungs. He was underwater, he realised. He was still holding onto Ginko. He was still holding onto something solid, too; something stopping them from being swept away.
Adashino kicked out, fighting his way to where he was certain the surface would be, holding on and holding on and pushing and fighting and kicking and clawing at whatever solid thing he was clinging too until he finally found air, drew great lung fulls of it. There was shouting and hands; he could feel hands on him, and he gasped “Ginko,” and heard someone say, “Yes, Doctor. Yes, now just let go.“
That, Adashino thought, was the one thing he couldn't do.
He slept like the dead. No dreams. No memories. No sound.
Adashino was grateful for that.
When he awoke he was still tired and cold, a feeling like a heavy iron cloak wrapped around his shoulders.
The rain still hadn’t stopped.
The villagers spoke of three houses that had been swept away. There were many missing. They brought the hurt and the half-drowned to him and Adashino apologised for the cold; they couldn't get a fire going; and patched them up with hands that oddly didn’t shake and hid them in the deepest, driest room in his house. It was full, but they found the space.
In the furthest corner Ginko slept under as many quilts as could be spared, his wounds sewn together but his skin like ice to the touch.
At the worst of it, when he’d stopped feeling his fingers because of the cold and the fatigue and when he’d failed to save an elderly fisherman he’d known for years and the body lie under his hands, unmoving, eyes open and glassy and mouth spilling with water Adashino had thought of his storage house and all the things in there that might bring fire and warmth and light. He’d thought of Ginko then, telling him, “You don't know what you’re doing.”
Adashino didn’t know what he was doing anymore anyway.
“Do you realise,” Ginko was saying, “that if you stay like that your face will burn?”
Adashino had an inkling, what with the prickling pain across his cheeks and the heat of his skin. His arm was hot too, somehow, even when he still felt cold across his back.
He was lying half on the floor, half on a futon, he realised. Someone was coughing. A fire was crackling nearby. He was being prodded in the head.
“Stop it,” Adashino demanded, or at least tried to demand, but his voice sounded scratchy; more pleading than anything.
Ginko didn't stop. “You’ve been asleep for hours.”
“It’s been a busy day. Days.” Adashino really had no idea how long it had been since the rain had started to fall; since he’d dragged Ginko to the bridge, been carried himself the rest of the way; since the drowned and the injured had started arriving and he couldn’t remember stopping until now, lying here.
“Is it raining?” he asked, blinking his eyes open. Early morning light shone through the open screen doors. There was movement in the rooms beyond, people speaking in hushed tones.
“No,” Ginko said.
“Finally.” Adashino sighed. Then looked up, peering at Ginko through the half-light. A thin line of smoke drifted around him from the cigarette in his mouth. He sat hunched over, folded his arms carefully, a blanket wrapped around his shoulders, watching Adashino. “Also, when did you wake up?”
Ginko shrugged. Winced.
Adashino frowned. He should check Ginko’s wounds. It was difficult to remember when he’d seen to them last; the days had blurred into one long jumble of faces and blood and grief. Carefully, he pushed himself into a seated position.
“I should look at that.” Adashino pointed to Ginko’s side.
Slowly, Ginko shook his head. “It’s fine.”
The paleness of Ginko’s face, the way he still wrapped his arms protectively around his middle, made it clear to Adashino that it wasn’t fine at all.
“It’s fine,” Ginko repeated. There was a smile playing at the corner of his lips. “You look worse than I do.”
Looking down at himself Adashino could see what Ginko meant; there were rust-coloured stains on his clothes, rips and tears and fraying threads; despite the fire someone had somehow managed to get started the fabric was still damp and stank.
Adashino did not grimace. “I don't know what you mean.”
It didn’t work, but Ginko tried to hide his laugh by covering his mouth with his hand.
There were things that needed doing; patients to visit and neighbours to console and damage to assess. And Adashino needed to wash away the blood and the sweat and make himself again into the unflappable, erudite Doctor he pretended to be. But for now he would just sit by the fire and breathe and be glad for what had survived.
“Thanks,” Ginko said then, face still half-hidden behind his hand.
There was nothing Ginko had to thank him for, as far as Adashino was concerned. In the end, it had been the villagers that had saved them both.
Adashino waved his hand dismissively. “Don’t mention it.” He paused. “Unless you mean to thank me by way of a new item for my collection?”
Ginko really did laugh at that. “I think I have an umbrella you can have.”
This was why Adashino had not been able to give up even when he was drowning or falling over from fatigue. It was the people he held on to. The lives he cared about. These were the things his collection represented; lost time and hope. He was a doctor, and sometimes time and hope were all he had.
“I’ll take it,” Adashino laughed too.