Set in Stone

 

Chapter Ten

 

It ended up raining for the rest of the week.

By Sunday, the sky was showing signs of starting to clear – barely. It was still overcast, but the cloud cover was spottier, and the weather forecast on Yata’s phone indicated that they might have sun by the afternoon.

Fucking perfect. He was gonna have to fly out for a harvest, and it would’ve sucked to do in the rain. Plus, once he finished, they might even be able to charge up the moonstone a bit. And if the weather held, a sunstone charge was possible too.

One step closer to getting rid of this stupid contract.

Not that things were all that bad any more. Having Fushimi tagging along as some kinda shadow in his life was starting to become routine. Despite the occasional mockery and more than a few arguments, they could more or less talk normally to each other. He’d stopped being surprised at how much they tended to agree on; it turned out that, despite their vastly different personalities, they liked a lot of the same shit and held a lot of the same opinions.

Weird as hell to discover that, but it made things a little easier.

“Where exactly did you say we’re going again?” Fushimi asked him as Yata distributed a pinch of his invisibility spell onto each of them.

“Right now?” Yata grabbed the rucksack he’d thrown together, jars clinking inside of it as he settled it over one bare shoulder. “Munakata’s. Just to get his offering, though. Then we’re heading out.”

He got a flat stare in response. “Don’t dodge the question. Heading out where?

Yata grinned, shifting so the strap would fall just outside of where his wings would emerge from his back. “You’ll see when we get there.”

Fushimi clicked his tongue, frown deepening, but didn’t comment.

Being able to fly again felt great – like stretching out his muscles and running around outside after being cooped up indoors for a long period of time. Despite the fact that it wasn’t really necessary, Yata beat his wings harder to rise up further above the city, catching the wind for a long moment of just feeling his body drift. The rush of fierce joy at that simple but freeing sensation was worth the slight delay before he dove a little and shifted himself in the right direction to aim for Munakata’s office building. He was grinning as he landed, looking up without even thinking to meet Fushimi’s gaze as he followed suit.

Regardless of everything else, it really was awesome to have someone he could fly with.

Fushimi raised an eyebrow at him in response, but there was no irritation in his expression, so the feeling might even have been mutual. “You’re easily satisfied, huh?”

Yata retracted his wings, tugging on his shirt with a good-natured hum. “Life’s better that way.”

There was a brief silence; when he glanced over again, Fushimi was watching him with a look that Yata could only classify as ‘mysterious’. “I’ll take your word for it,” he responded after a second, turning his gaze and moving in the direction of Munakata’s office.

“You’re happier being gloomy all the time, right?” Yata smirked at him as they approached the entrance to the building.

Fushimi clicked his tongue. “Define ‘happier’.”

“Yeah, yeah – you know what I mean.”

As expected, Munakata had already prepared a list and a pouch with his offering, so they didn’t have to waste time in his office. Which was a relief. Yata was happier with that part past him, bringing out his wings again and lifting himself above the city for a second time. He was starting to anticipate what was ahead now – not so much of a surge of excitement or anything, but rather a small seed of contentment planting itself in his heart in advance. His body seemed to know what was coming too, relishing in the longer flight and tingling with expectation.

Even flying, it took a while to get outside of the city – from there it was still a bit further until signs of civilization became sparser and they reached the small grove of trees that was their destination. It was easy to mark due to the patch of bare, cleared-off land and faded scorch marks – the remnants of the fire ritual they held yearly at this exact place.

That’s coming up soon too, huh? Hopefully this contract crap would be taken care of beforehand.

They landed just outside of the grove, and Yata busied himself with retracting his wings and pulling on a shirt again. If Fushimi hadn’t been there, he wouldn’t have bothered with that part, but he was still way too conscious of any exposed skin when the two of them were together.

Annoying, but it couldn’t be helped.

“What’s special about this place?” Fushimi asked; when Yata glanced at him, he was eyeing their surroundings dubiously.

“I’ll show you.” Yata returned the exasperated look he got for that with a grin, energized. Now that he was this close… Yeah, he could feel it. Something natural and relaxing. Familiar. “C’mon.”

Fushimi took in a sharp breath, as if preparing to say something, and then sighed instead. “Fine.”

The uneven ring of trees that marked the outside of the grove looked totally ordinary – simple, solid brown trunks rising up tall, moss at the bases and overgrowth lining the spaces between. Rising up out of the tall grass where they were standing, it seemed to stand aloof, no natural openings or pathways leading in. But it wasn’t exactly unwelcoming or difficult, either – Yata could easily push his way through the plant life without any trouble.

Behind him, he could hear Fushimi grumbling under his breath with clear annoyance; obviously, he didn’t care much for ‘roughing it’.

Well, I get it. For the most part, Yata was a city guy himself. But this was different.

When they pushed in far enough, they reached the base of a mound of grassy, moss-covered earth, jutting out from the other plants around it as if in defiance of its surroundings. The trees were sparse around it, as if the entire grove had chosen to defer to it in terms of space.

“Don’t walk on it,” Yata warned as Fushimi came up behind him. He cut to the side, circling around the mound towards the back.

Fushimi clicked his tongue. “I wasn’t planning on it. Is that what I think it is?”

“Depends what you think it is.” There – the dark crack at the base, as if the earth had split from some tension. Yata crouched down, sliding his rucksack free again and retrieving the pouch from Munakata as well as his own offerings. “Gimme a sec.”

He knelt down and began to pull the heavy gold coins from the pouch one at a time, holding each one in front of his face before setting it firmly in front of the opening. The clink as he stacked them was almost musical, sounding off in what seemed like an unusually loud manner in the stillness of the grove.

When he finished with the coins, his own stuff was next. On these, he usually went with his instincts, and sometimes it ended up being weird shit. A childhood toy he’d salvaged from his parents’ house, repaired over and over by his mother through the years. An old hairbrush with strands of his hair still caught in the bristles. Cooking utensils he’d recently replaced. A tiny figure made from matchsticks glued together by Totsuka to amuse Anna, which she’d placed into Yata’s hands instead.

Some of it was admittedly kinda hard to part with, but he did what he had to. In the end, it was the memories that were important, not the stuff that went with them.

Finishing with the small pile left there, Yata stood, brushed himself off with satisfaction, and then stepped over it, approaching Fushimi. “Let’s go.”

Fushimi’s brow furrowed. “Go where?”

“Back around.” Yata waved at the mound, which blocked their view of the path they’d come in on. “That way.”

“Are you serious?” Fushimi clicked his tongue, rolling his eyes as he turned around. “What was the point of all this?”

“Just go.”

An impatient sigh was his response, but Fushimi did as he was told.

Yata grinned to himself and followed.

They rounded the corner of the mound that had been blocking their view, and he had to stop abruptly to avoid crashing into Fushimi, who had planted himself without warning, body tensing up. Yata huffed out a soft ‘heh’ and edged around him, peering up at his face with satisfaction to take in the startled reaction.

“What,” Fushimi began, and then let whatever he was going to ask die on his lips.

“Pretty cool, huh?” Yata prodded him, and edged the rest of the way around him to take the lead, stepping away from the mound and waving his hand expansively. “Yatagarasu’s hidden stash.”

The better word would have been ‘garden’, but even that wasn’t quite accurate – and it definitely didn’t sound cool enough. Rather than the sparse and uncontrolled plant life from before, in front of them now was a clearing with well-trimmed rows of various plants, outlined by trees of all sorts: different sizes, different shapes, and clearly different breeds. It stretched on for a long ways, illuminated by sun that hadn’t been visible in the sky before in some places and shadowed in others – even raining or snowing in some corners – creating the illusion of varying environments but transitioning so seamlessly that it felt like one big natural section of land, surrounded closely by forest.

“What is this?” Fushimi mumbled, voice a curious mix of wariness and something that came close to wonder.

“Guess you’d call it a fairy garden. Or something.” Yata braced his hands on his hips, unable to help the little rush of pride as he watched Fushimi’s eyes move around the area, taking everything in. “I mean, I planted all this stuff. But it’s theirs – they take care of it. So even if I’m the one who gave it to them, I still can’t harvest without an offering.”

Fushimi’s eyes met his again. “You planted this?”

“Yeah.” Yata nodded. “Well, most of it. Kusanagi-san was the one who helped me set this up. And it took a lot of trial and error at first. But I got the hang of it.” He stepped carefully around some of the rows, reaching out to give one of the trees a lively rap with his knuckles. “I put this guy in just a year ago – he was a sapling then.”

Fushimi frowned, eyes narrowing. “There’s no way that tree is only a year old.”

Yata grinned at him. “Remember, this is fae territory – stuff matures differently.” Which reminded him… “We don’t wanna spend too much time here, actually.” He set the rucksack down again, reaching inside for one of the jars. “Just hang out there for a bit while I grab what I need, okay?”

“Mm.”

It wasn’t a firm confirmation, but with the way Fushimi kept looking around, it was clear he was distracted. Yata couldn’t help but smile to himself, letting out a huff that was a mix of pride and amusement. He likes it, huh?

Well… maybe ‘like’ was a strong word, but still, the place had his interest.

The contentment he’d been anticipating since they’d begun their flight out had reached him now that he was there in the center of the place, soaking in the atmosphere. He could feel that sense of familiarity – of almost but not quite belonging – that settled in his veins and seeped into his bones, energizing and reviving him. Here, he could feel the frustration and impatience and helpless irritations from his everyday life melting off of him until it gathered in an inconsequential pool at his feet.

It was intoxicating… and also dangerous. If he stayed too long, he’d probably not end up going back at all.

That was something he’d considered seriously a time or two in the past.

Yata turned his attention to gathering what he needed to avoid that thought: first his own stuff, and then whatever Munakata was asking for. Dream root to exchange for coffee beans. Myrrh resin and marjoram for the invisibility powder. Since it was so close to Dark Moon and it’d still be fresh enough, dill weed as well. Powder scraped from a Slippery Elm.

When he’d finished with his own harvest – as much as his offerings would allow, anyway – he gave in to the call of the garden urging him to take a break, sealing off the jars and sliding them back into the rucksack before slinging it over his shoulder and looking up toward the mound again.

Fushimi was still standing there, looking thoroughly out of place in the middle of that green fantasy-land. He was holding himself somewhat awkwardly, hands in his pockets and posture tense. It seemed like he’d been studying his surroundings with what looked like a mix of boredom and apprehension, but he shifted his gaze quickly when Yata moved toward him. “Done?”

“Nah. Just a break.” It kinda helped to have someone else there, honestly – it grounded him. Reminded him where he came from, too. “I still gotta get a bunch of stuff, but…” He shrugged, shutting his eyes for a moment and breathing in deeply. “Feels good here.”

Fushimi was silent for a moment. Then, “Isn’t that the dangerous part of a place like this?”

“Yeah, pretty much.” Yata snorted, opening his eyes again with a rueful smile. “Doesn’t feel like it to me, though.” He reached out impulsively to brush his fingers against the bark of the nearest tree, eyes following the path they mapped. “Guess that’s normal, considering… Yeah.” Even as the words left his mouth, some tiny part of him swelled up with a longing he didn’t really understand.

The life of this place… It was joyful, but it also made him feel kinda sad for no reason sometimes. He didn’t really get it.

“Maybe,” Fushimi agreed. When Yata turned to look at him again, he tilted his head, eyes narrow and alert. “But you don’t belong here. It’s just a place you can run away to and pretend, right?”

The unexpected accuracy of that observation felt sharp. Yata sucked in a breath, the sting echoing out from his chest and rising up his throat. He turned away with a frown, watching his fingers slide against the rough surface of the tree as he clenched them into a fist. “Yeah, probably,” he responded harshly, and barked out a humorless laugh. “Dumb, huh?”

If anything, he expected Fushimi to agree or just plain mock him, so the cool fingers that wrapped around his wrist were enough of a surprise that he put up no resistance at all when they pulled his hand away from the tree.

Sudden clarity seemed to sweep back through his thoughts like a particularly fierce gust of wind, wiping the traces of reverie and discontent that had begun to settle. Yata glanced up, startled, and met Fushimi’s blue-grey eyes without thinking. They were studying him with intensity beneath the usual half-lowered lids, and for a dizzying moment, Yata had the irrational impression that he could fall right into them.

When Fushimi spoke again, his voice was pitched low. The words came out almost awkwardly, as if he wasn’t quite sure how he wanted to say them. “It seemed like you already had one of those, though. A place to belong.”

The unexpectedly kind intent behind the words had Yata blinking at him, caught without a response. “R-right,” he managed and swallowed, trying to steady his voice. “Yeah. I do.”

Wasn’t like he didn’t know it – hadn’t already sorted it out a while back; the importance of Homra and their significance in his life – but this was… It seemed like Fushimi was trying to comfort him in an odd way, and somehow he couldn’t help but feel at ease.

As if he sensed that – well, he probably did – Fushimi clicked his tongue, expression settling into a more familiar irritation. “You’re really not what I would’ve expected.”

“Huh?” Yata frowned back, furrowing his eyebrows. “What’s that mean?”

“For a changeling,” Fushimi explained dryly. “I’m not sure what my expectations were, but it wasn’t someone so…” He paused for a moment, frowning thoughtfully. “… grounded.”

“Heh.” That, he could understand. “Y’know, I get that a lot.”

“Those exact words?”

“Well, no, but… C’mon, you know what I mean!” Yata shook his head, the beginnings of a rueful grin starting on his face. “I’ve always just felt… normal. People say it to me a lot, too. If I don’t pull my wings out or something, I’m just some regular guy on the street.” He reached up to rub at the back of his neck automatically, feeling a bit awkward about it. “Just, every now and then I get these weird feelings. Like I’m more aware of shit. A lot of it’s instinct, but…” He could remember some moments from his childhood, stuff that got brushed aside as him being a weird kid with way too much energy. It wasn’t entirely pleasant. “I guess I had a hard time finding a place where I fit,” he admitted, trying to make his voice gruff to cover the rush of sudden emotion.

He wasn’t really sure why he bothered, considering Fushimi could just feel it, but his pride wasn’t gonna let him show it anyway.

Fushimi had been watching him attentively; something in his expression seemed to subtly shift as Yata made the confession. After a second or so of hesitation, he offered, “I know the feeling.”

“Huh, really?” Yata blinked, surprised. “You had trouble fitting in at like demon school or something?”

For a moment, Fushimi stared at him – and then the corners of his mouth twitched, shoulders shaking slightly before he tipped his head forward, letting out a short, breathy huff of laughter. “Are you serious? ‘Demon school’?”

“Hey, how should I know?” Yata felt prickling heat crawling up along the line of his neck and over his jawline – partly indignant at being laughed at and partly… embarrassed.

Because honestly, Fushimi’s laughing face was… appealing.

Fushimi’s fingers were still wrapped around his wrist too, Yata realized, and the sudden awareness of the touch coiled snakelike within him, quick and sly and burning like fire. But not unpleasant.

Awkward as hell, yeah… but not unpleasant at all.

As the traces of laughter faded, Fushimi looked up again and met his gaze, the remains of a smile still on his lips, and the awareness snake in Yata’s belly seemed to slide around, sending off a shiver of sudden and helpless attraction through his body.

Fushimi’s fingers tightened briefly on his wrist, almost reflexively, and then he released it. “You should finish,” he pointed out, glancing away from Yata’s face. “Like you said before, it’s better not to stay here too long, right?”

Yata wasn’t entirely sure if it was more relief or disappointment he felt surging up in the wake of that. “Yeah… Right.” He resisted the urge to touch the place on his wrist where Fushimi’s fingers had held it, turning away instead and taking a steadying breath. “On it.”

It took a long time afterwards for even the atmosphere in that particular place to settle his heart back down to anything like a normal rate.

 

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