Set in Stone

 

Chapter Fourteen

 

The neighborhood they settled in that evening was completely different from Yata’s childhood home. It was residential and the streets were lined with houses, but that was about as far as the similarities went. The streets were wide and meticulously kept, the houses were large and opulent, and there were no schools or playgrounds in sight. Despite being built closely to one another, the houses seemed to have more sprawl to them; in general, they took up way more space.

The house they settled on – the one that Fushimi led him to without hesitation, exactly as Yata had done earlier – was clearly the right one, based on the intensity of the moon’s energy. It was also huge even by the neighborhood’s standards, taking up nearly half of the city block on its own. The roof was flat and lined with a decorative railing, so it was easy to settle on. The house itself had a dull, empty feel to it, though; despite not being able to tell for certain from their position, Yata felt instinctively that nobody lived in it, and hadn’t for quite some time.

Why, though? Isn’t this a huge waste…

Fushimi clicked his tongue as if reading Yata’s thoughts, retracting his wings and reaching into his pocket with sharp motions. “She should just sell it already,” he muttered, without meeting Yata’s gaze. “It’s pointless to leave it like this.”

If he thought he was gonna get away with that, he had another think coming. “Who’s ‘she’?”

“The woman who owns it.” Fushimi clicked his tongue again, glancing at Yata with almost unfriendly eyes. “Were you assuming I was going to spill my life story just because you happened to share yours?”

Yata scowled back, more annoyed by the attitude than surprised. “I thought I’d hear you out since you did it for me, but if you’re gonna be a dick, forget it.” Still, there was one piece in what he’d just said… “But I guess since you mentioned it, that means this place is somehow involved in your ‘life story’, huh?”

Fushimi blinked at him, expression settling into a mildly perturbed look – and then abruptly sighed. “Your instincts can be really annoying sometimes,” he murmured, and clicked his tongue again. “Fine. This is the house I lived in when I was growing up.”

That was not the answer he’d expected. Yata stared back, struck dumb for a moment before he could recover. “Wha… ? The place where you – wait. Here?

Fushimi shrugged, a tiny and somewhat jerky motion. “Until I was twelve,” he clarified blandly.

Twelve?” On top of everything else, that threw him for even more of a loop – it was so young, but it implied he’d been there so long… Yata shook his head, struggling to make sense of it. “Wait – before that, how the hell…?” He made a frustrated noise, not finding the right words somehow. “Here?

“I said so, didn’t I?”

“Fuck you!” Yata shot him a glare. “I mean, in this realm?”

“This house doesn’t exist anywhere else,” Fushimi responded dryly, raising an eyebrow to Yata’s incredulous look. “You don’t know much about demon offspring, I take it?”

“Why the hell would I?”

Fushimi ignored that exasperated protest, continuing as if there had been no interruption. “Most of the time, there aren’t any. It’s impossible for two demons to conceive in the first place.” He paused for a moment, regarding Yata critically. “It’d be too much of a pain to explain why, so just take my word for it that you need at least one human to get anywhere.”

That was a surprising enough fact to forestall most of his earlier annoyance. “Huh.” Yata frowned, letting that soak in, and then the scraps of information he’d been fed pieced together in his head. “Wait, so – does that mean – the woman who owns this place is…?”

Fushimi clicked his tongue. “Technically my mother, yes. I only saw her a few times while I lived here.” He turned his gaze again to fix it on the sunstone in his hand, frowning to himself. “In general, she’d only show up to argue with… that guy… about something or another. I don’t think we ever spoke directly.”

Yata wasn’t entirely sure what to do with that information. The situation was so weird that he couldn’t even start to piece together a reaction – and the fact that it had been stated so matter-of-factly was almost jarring to him. “Huh,” he said again, more out of a need to fill the silence than anything. ‘That guy’… It was an impersonal way to say it, but he’d called his mom ‘the woman’, so… “And your dad was a demon, right?”

Since he was watching so closely already, the subtle darkening of Fushimi’s expression was plain. “That should be obvious.”

“But he lived here with you?”

He got another sharp click of Fushimi’s tongue in response. “Why do you care? It has nothing to do with you.”

The tone was openly hostile, but Yata didn’t feel the usual rush of defensiveness. He furrowed his eyebrows, frowning back. “Why not? I wanna know more about you.” He snorted. “Not like you tell me a lot of things most of the time. Of course I’m curious.”

Fushimi’s frown deepened. He looked about to say something, and then hesitated, seeming to think better of it. “It won’t make a difference,” he mumbled, after a brief silence.

Unrestrained honesty brought the next words to his tongue; Yata didn’t even think twice before letting them out. “I still wanna hear it.” After a beat, he realized he might’ve been pushing too hard, and added with a sudden rush of chagrin, “I mean, if you’re okay with telling me.”

At that, Fushimi let out what sounded like a startled huff of laughter, and finally – finally – turned his gaze to meet Yata’s again. “Obviously I’m not,” he murmured, but the corners of his mouth were turning up almost ruefully even as he spoke. It was hard to place the look in his eyes, even with the light of the moon to help – it was something that might have been resignation or maybe relief, or some odd mix of the two. “But if you really want to know, fine. Just don’t complain when you realize how pointless it is to bring it all up.”

It was more relief than excitement that rushed through him in response; Yata relaxed, letting out a puff of breath, and grinned back. “You didn't bitch about me ‘pointlessly’ bringing my shit up – why would I bitch about yours?”

Fushimi clicked his tongue. “That's different.”

“Yeah, says who? You?” Yata shook his head. “Anyway, try me.” He braced his hands on his hips, thinking back to his earlier unanswered question. “So did your dad live here in this realm or...?”

“Not really.” Fushimi shrugged his shoulders again, eyeing Yata with his usual bland expression. That edge of wariness was still there, masked behind the indifference. “I think I already told you that demons can’t travel freely to this realm without a contract – and no contract with a regular human would last for twelve years.” He raised his eyebrow at that. “Not everyone's a changeling, after all.”

“Yeah, no shit.” Yata raised his own eyebrow in response. “So what was the deal, then?”

“The exact arrangement? Who knows.” The admission was light, drawled out. “They weren’t exactly all that forthcoming with me. Most of what I know, I figured out for myself. The rest is guesswork.” His eyes darkened again for a moment. “I couldn’t always trust the things that guy said anyway – he had a habit of making things up for the sake of getting a reaction.”

Lies for the sake of lying, huh? Yata frowned, finding a thread of instant animosity within him for Fushimi’s faceless dad. He didn’t like lies in the first place, but at least if there was a good reason, they could be excused. This, though... “He did that to his own kid?”

Fushimi snorted. “After what you told me today, you should know not everyone cares about that, right?”

Yeah, he knew it. Yata shut his eyes briefly against the echo of that word – ‘freak’ – and the furious face that went with it. Behind them, though, he thought he could picture a small, very young Fushimi staring wide-eyed and trusting at a faceless liar. It brought on a rush of indignation he hadn’t expected. “Fucking assholes,” he growled, opening his eyes again.

Something in Fushimi’s posture and expression seemed to have relaxed marginally. “I could think of worse descriptions,” he drawled, “but I’m not going to argue. Anyway, as closely as I could piece it together, he was initially contracted by someone else looking for revenge on her.” That came with another shrug, almost too casual a motion. “I was the punishment.”

The sheer callousness behind that simple fact was stunning; Yata stared, momentarily unable to think of a thing to say. Not only the fact that someone had thought to do it, but that those involved had casually let it slip in front of the kid in question... He couldn’t imagine the cold, indifference it would take. Or maybe cruelty. Both, really.

The fuck is wrong with these people?

Into the silence, Fushimi let out a soft, humorless huff of a laugh. “That guy would've been glad to do it. I think he took on way more contracts than he needed to, just for the opportunity to fuck with people. It’s the kind of thing he'd find funny.” Something dull and resigned seemed to settle in his eyes. “It’s kind of infuriating, really – he was probably one of the cleverest and most powerful demons in the Captain’s sector, and that was what he did with it. It’s no wonder someone decided to do something about it in the end.” The spiteful little smirk he offered with that somehow lacked any real force. “I would’ve done it myself if I could've figured out how.”

There was no way Yata could’ve started sorting out the kind of complicated feelings behind that smile – just the idea of that fervent wish for a person to die, especially someone who should've been closer than most people, struck him as a terrible thing to have to live with. He wondered if Fushimi might’ve wished, even a little bit, that he didn't have to feel that way. The thought made his throat ache and something start to burn within him with righteous fury. “I’d punch him for you right now if he was still around!” he offered fiercely.

Fushimi blinked at him, clearly caught off-guard, and then seemed to relax again, releasing a sigh that was far more sincere in its amusement than before. “I feel like you'd take any excuse to punch someone,” he murmured, lips curling up just a tiny bit. “Well, not that I'm complaining.”

Yata grinned back, curling his fingers into a fist and bringing it up in front of his body so he could smack it against his open palm. “Say the fucking word and I’ll beat the shit outta useless assholes like that any day!”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Fushimi drawled back. He seemed at least a little less guarded as he resumed his narrative. “As far as she goes, I’m not sure how she did it or what the terms were, but she tracked down the exact summoning circle and struck a deal with that guy.” He frowned again, reaching up to push his glasses higher on his nose absently. “Normally, since the birth happened in this realm, I would’ve been human. But she somehow transferred all custody to him, and it ended up the other way.”

That struck a chord. Yata felt an immediate understanding – a sense of shared experience – at the new information. Being born into a place you didn't quite belong... Yeah, he knew what that felt like. He’d lived it. And maybe he’d had the benefit of one loving parent, but that sense of not fitting in – of being something other...

He knew it all too well. “What happened?” he asked, voice a bit rough and uneven. In that moment, the sense of affinity for Fushimi was strong within him; he felt like he wanted to know more – get closer – and that was the only way he could think of to do it.

Fushimi clicked his tongue, glancing aside sharply as if to avoid Yata’s gaze. “Nothing that interesting,” he mumbled. “Since he had custody, he could show up periodically – he liked to do it at random, I think.” Another click of his tongue, and his frown deepened. “Not that he'd do anything particularly useful. I only learned to use my powers by watching him.”

‘Watching him’... As in, he used illusions on his kid, right? The thought, along with Fushimi’s earlier hints about ‘getting a reaction’ and ‘fucking with people’, created enough of a picture for him to see red for a moment, fingers clenching more firmly. Bastard!

Still, though... “Wait – that shit you do, you picked it up just by watching him do it?”

“More or less – at least at first.” Fushimi shrugged, turning to look at him again with obvious wariness. “It’s not really that hard to pick up the basics.”

“Huh? No way!” Thinking back on it, the cool way that Fushimi manifested objects, explaining away how illusions could trick the natural order if they were strong enough... It was even cooler to think he’d mostly taught it to himself. Yata felt the admiration bubbling up in his chest manifest as a smile that widened on his face as he stared back. “Even if it's just the basics or whatever, that’s still fucking amazing!”

Fushimi’s eyebrows furrowed, that hint of bewilderment making its way back onto his features. More than anything, he looked nonplussed – as if he didn't quite know what to make of that reaction. “Not really. It... wasn’t like I had any other choice.” He clicked his tongue again, frowning a bit. “At some point, a survival instinct will kick in for anyone, right? I could only rely on myself in that situation, since that guy would keep scaring off the housekeepers every time he showed up.” That came with a snort. “Not that I blame them. But it pissed her off, and she’d show up to argue with him. I learned a lot of what I know just by listening to them.”

It was crazy how well he could picture that: a younger, smaller Fushimi hovering around the periphery of an argument that put him on the outside of what should’ve been his family. Maybe because – though things hadn’t been nearly so bad for him – he could relate to that feeling. There had been times when he’d lingered on the outside of his mom’s new family and their happiness, too. That sense of being unnecessary – it brought back the ache he’d felt before, but stronger.

Must’ve been way worse in his case. But he still came this far.

He wondered if Fushimi had felt the same burning need to prove himself – to raise up above whatever fate had cursed him with those circumstances – that had consumed Yata through his teen years.

Maybe they could’ve related to each other really well, even back then.

Once again, Fushimi seemed awkward in the face of Yata’s silent solidarity; he glanced aside again, clicking his tongue. “Anyway, there’s not much else. One thing you should know about demon offspring is that they don’t have a summoning circle right away. Energy comes automatically from whichever parent is a demon, and you inherit the essence of their circle when they die.” He shrugged, once again with that jerky motion, still not making eye contact. “When that happened, it basically made me a full demon with my own circle, so of course I got sent to the ‘right’ realm.” At that, he made another of those humorless huffs. “I was halfway expecting it to happen any day after I learned about it – if anything, it was a surprise it wasn’t sooner.”

“Whoa, seriously?” That was pretty damn intense, the thought of being all at once in a strange place with no warning or much of an idea what to expect. A mingling of respect and admiration stirred to life in Yata’s belly. “What’d you do?”

“I scrapped by. What else could anyone do in that situation?” Fushimi clicked his tongue again, seeming a bit agitated. “That guy had a large reserve of energy already – like I said, he took contracts for fun. It was enough for me to use to find my bearings. That place isn’t so different from this one, and I’d had some time to prepare a plan, at least.” He huffed out a sharp sigh. “I managed on my own for a few years, but I’ll admit it was better after the Captain recruited me. At least he had meaningful work to offer.”

Not just that, though, huh? Even apart from getting out of what sounded like a really shitty – and lonely – situation, it felt like there was more to that ‘meaningful work’. Yata had spent enough time over the past month listening to the grumblings and the tiny tidbits of explanation to grasp a little of what lay behind Fushimi’s dishonest behavior. “And comrades too, right?”

Fushimi shot him a frown. “That’s not the word I’d use for those idiots,” he answered dryly, and then let out a short breath, resignation softening his expression. “But I guess they are a part of it.”

“Right?” Yata grinned back at him, catching the edge of that connection as their eyes met. He risked a tiny step toward Fushimi, following a sudden urge to be closer, and was gratified when no move was made to reset the distance between them.

Something occurred to him as they spent a moment of comfortable silence. “Hey,” he started, a bit hesitantly. “Does anyone call you by your first name?”

Fushimi blinked, and then his eyebrows furrowed. “Nobody’s called me that since I left this place.” Then he grimaced, clicking his tongue. “Not consistently, anyway.”

“Right. That’s kinda what I thought.” Yata took in a breath, feeling inexplicably nervous, and blurted, “How about if I called you that?”

At that, Fushimi’s eyes widened, just slightly. “You…” That trailed off, and he frowned slightly, looking away. “Didn’t you say we’re not close enough to be on a first name basis?”

“Hey, you gotta admit we got a lot closer these last few days,” Yata reminded him, the corners of his mouth edging up ruefully as he did. It was hard to figure out what Fushimi was thinking based on his expression, but he still forged ahead anyway. “That’s not really why, though. I was just thinking, when you said that stuff about my name and how it doesn’t say anything about who I am, it kinda helped. Since then… you calling me that makes me feel like I reclaimed it a bit. Y’know?” He reached up to scratch the back of his head awkwardly. “I figured you had nothing but bad memories of yours too, if it was just that asshole calling you it.”

He could hear Fushimi’s breath catch; a moment later, he was looking over again, something unusually lost and vulnerable in his expression. He seemed to have been caught without a proper response, staring at Yata in mute astonishment.

It was enough to fuel that ache in Yata’s throat; to make him want to reach further. He straightened as much as he could, returning the gaze steadily. “It’s part of you, right? If you want, I’ll help you claim it. Saruhiko.”

There was a stark moment of silence so thick it was nearly suffocating. Yata held his breath, anticipation and anxiety warring in his stomach…

Fushimi was the first to move, letting out a shuddering breath and shutting his eyes. He dipped his head forward, shoulders slouching as if he were admitting defeat, and then clicked his tongue. “Do what you want,” he mumbled.

The sudden capitulation felt a little bit cathartic; Yata couldn’t help the grin spreading wide across his face, and nodded. “Right!”

He could see the tiny hint of an answering smile on Fushimi’s – Saruhiko’s – lips even before his eyes opened again to meet Yata’s, and the spark of something bright and fluttery seemed to flare to life within him. It felt like a victory for sure.

The moment was interrupted by the warning thrum of the sunstone in Saruhiko’s hand. Yata jerked a little, startled by the sudden shift in the mood, and Saruhiko hummed lightly. “At least its timing is better this time.”

Thinking about the last few times this had happened, Yata couldn’t help but snort in response. “Got that right.” In the wake of that moment of closeness and with the light of the moon encouraging him, he felt bold enough to let his eyelids fall to half-mast, smirking up at Saruhiko. “Feel like changing that now?”

For a moment, Saruhiko just blinked at him again – and then he recovered quickly, eyes glittering in the pale light as he returned the smirk. “Fine by me,” he murmured, and leaned in just in time to meet Yata halfway.

 

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