Set in Stone

 

Chapter Eighteen

 

The fully charged moonstone felt hot in Yata’s pocket as he stepped into the lobby of Munakata’s office building.

It had been like that since the afternoon, when they’d completed the final charge – a comforting sort of heat that gave him the impression of sunlight sinking into his body. At the same time, he could feel the sense of the stone’s own identity, cool and inviting, as a contrast. It was sorta like the completed charge had given it a new aspect, drawing out a side of its personality that had been suppressed before.

“Since when does a stone have a personality?” Saruhiko had drawled when he’d voiced that thought as they wrapped up their moonlight charging.

Yata had shrugged it off. “You just don’t get it.”

“I’m fine with that,” Saruhiko had agreed dryly. “It’s enough trouble keeping up with sentient beings – I don’t need to consider the feelings of rocks on top of that.” A slight pause had followed, and then he’d added reluctantly, “This one does feel different now, though.”

That had been enough to draw a grin from Yata. “Told ya.”

“I already regret saying anything.”

The exchange had been somewhat subdued; they’d already said their personal goodbyes before flying out to Munakata’s office building for that last charge. After a lengthy discussion and putting together what seemed like a solid plan for how they’d see each other going forward, neither of them had wanted to draw out what remained of this flawed contract, so the decision had been to cut it off cleanly and start on the new arrangement as soon as possible. It meant a few days apart before Yata would summon Saruhiko again, but that was something they were going to have to get used to, regardless.

“I probably need to clean up a bunch of messes at work anyway,” Saruhiko had said easily, his fingers playing idly with Yata’s on the mattress between them. They had done most of their talking like that, enjoying the closeness and comfort it allowed. “There’s only so much you can do remotely.”

Yata had huffed out a brief laugh in response, turning his hand so their fingers could entwine. “Bet it’s not as bad as you think.”

Saruhiko clicked his tongue. “It’s probably worse.”

“You’re just too damn fussy.”

Truthfully, he was gonna have some catching up to do, too; he’d had way too many unplanned days off already, and there was still rent and bills to take care of. Plus, he missed going to Homra more often. Basically, life went on – they’d just have to keep up as best they could.

He didn’t mind shifting some stuff around to make room for this new thing between them, though. It was worth putting in the effort to make it work.

“This is it, huh?” Saruhiko mused, as Yata pressed the elevator button in Munakata’s office building. His expression was relaxed when their eyes met, a small rueful upturn to his lips the only indication of his emotions. “Ready to end it?”

“Ready to start it,” Yata corrected him, smirking in response – and got the satisfaction of seeing that tiny upturn grow to a real smile in response.

“I guess you’re right about that.”

Munakata was waiting for them when they made their way down, still seated behind his office desk despite the late hour and with a smile on his face that looked entirely too self-satisfied for Yata’s taste. “My, my,” he commented when they stepped through the door. “How unexpected to see the two of you at this hour, and after such a lengthy absence.” He leaned forward in his chair, studying them with interest. “I was beginning to think that perhaps some trouble prevented you from coming.”

Yata snorted. “Yeah, well, you thought wrong.” ‘Trouble’ was probably not the right word for it, but he wasn’t gonna explain more than he had to. “And talking about the hour, how about you, huh? D’you just sit here constantly or what?”

The smile on Munakata’s face widened marginally, but he didn’t respond to the question. “Judging by the timing of this visit, I expect the charges have been completed.” He glanced back and forth between them. “Is that a fair assumption?”

Saruhiko clicked his tongue, even as Yata scowled. “Why do you bother to ask when you already know the answer?”

“Call it a professional courtesy,” Munakata responded smoothly. He bridged his hands in front of him. “And how did you find the experience of charging them, if I may be so bold as to ask?”

Yata glanced at Saruhiko, and found his gaze returned. Somehow, just the simple act of making eye contact had his skin prickling and heart picking up a notch. He couldn’t help the wry smile spreading on his face, and was gratified to note how the corners of Saruhiko’s mouth turned up in response. “Pain in the ass,” he answered glibly, letting that smile build to a smirk as he turned his head forward again.

“Unnecessarily complicated,” Saruhiko added dryly – but the amusement in his tone was clear.

“I see.” Munakata shut his eyes for a moment, letting out a soft chuckle as if in response to some private joke. When he opened them again, his gaze was strangely fond. “It would appear that the two of you have exceeded my expectations.” Lowering his hands, he pushed himself gracefully up from his seat. “Congratulations are thus in order.”

Yata blinked, taken aback. “Eh?”

Saruhiko recovered more quickly, clicking his tongue. “You haven’t even seen the results yet.”

Munakata smiled beatifically, moving around the desk to face them. He was a tall man, which Yata more or less knew from the few times they’d faced each other when he wasn’t sitting at his office desk – but it still irked him all the same. “If you would be so kind as to present them, then.”

That was a cue he could understand. Yata reached into his pocket to grasp the moonstone. He felt a strange reluctance as he drew it out, a tiny hint of loss at being asked to part with it. Probably because of… yeah. Saying goodbye wasn’t easy, even if it wouldn’t be permanent. Despite the feeling, he held out his hand without hesitation, opening his fingers to reveal the stone on his palm. A second or so later, he noticed Saruhiko doing the same beside him.

Munakata studied the two of them for only a brief second before nodding his approval. “Set them on my desk for now,” he instructed. “I will have Awashima-kun carry them on to their next destination once her time permits.”

Next destination? The thought jumped into his head just before Saruhiko asked, “Where are they going?”

“It need not concern you for now.” The response was easy but firm; clearly, the subject was off-limits. Munakata waited while they followed his instruction, and then went on. “Before I proceed to void the contract, did you have any farewells to make?”

Already done. Once again, Yata glanced at Saruhiko – and once again, he found Saruhiko meeting his eyes. This time, it was a full grin that spread on his face. “See ya,” he offered casually.

Saruhiko lowered his eyelids, the smile on his face reflecting Yata’s satisfaction back at him. “Mm,” he returned, and then in that casual drawl added, “See you.”

It was as simple as that, but it felt like a promise all the same.

“Very well, then.” Munakata stepped forward, extending his arms to press his index finger to each of their foreheads.

The touch was light, but Yata felt the surge of energy that flooded him very clearly. He shut his eyes instinctively against it, sucking in a breath sharply – and when he opened them again, Saruhiko was no longer standing beside him.

The sense of sudden loss was sharper than he expected. Yata swallowed, staring for a moment at the spot where Saruhiko had been. This was the way they’d planned it, and he was still sure it was the best way, but he felt the ache that came from parting all the same. Now that it came down to it and they had to go their separate ways for real… he couldn’t help but feel a bit lonely.

I’ll see him again, he reminded himself, trying to shake off that mood. It wouldn’t be long, and they had their whole lives ahead of them to work out any potential problems.

“This occasion puts me in mind of a particular sentiment I’ve heard expressed frequently.” When Yata looked up, Munakata was studying him keenly. “All good things must end in time.”

“Heh.” Yata shook his head. “You got it wrong – it’s not the end.” He offered a smirk, feeling his earlier optimism returning. “This good thing is just getting started!”

Munakata shut his eyes, a small mysterious smile on his lips. “Well said,” he responded simply.

 


 

 

Saturday nights, Yata always made sure he was home early.

It wasn’t like he could summon Saruhiko right away. They’d had long talks – and occasional arguments – over the logistics of their arrangement, but one of the agreements they’d hammered out was around timing. Saruhiko was always irritable if he responded to a summon when he’d been in the middle of work, even if he tried to hide it. It had required some trial and error and a certain amount of strain at first, but eventually they’d knocked the rough edges off of the process. They both made an effort to be ready at whatever time they’d agreed on – no “spontaneous” early summons and no “voluntary” overtime.

After months of pressing the point, he’d finally convinced Saruhiko that it was no big deal to just refuse the summon if he was in the middle of something urgent, and Yata would try again in an hour. There was no point if they couldn’t relax and enjoy themselves.

Feels like he doesn’t really get the whole relaxing thing. But that was changing too.

Slowly, surely, they’d been smoothing things out. Yata couldn’t help but smile when he thought about it, the pleasant anticipation he always felt when he thought about seeing Saruhiko again coursing through him as he stepped through the door into his apartment. It wasn’t perfect, and it would’ve been better if they could just move in together without the limitations – and complications – of a binding contract, but they were making it work.

Maybe someday they’d figure out something better, but for now, he was content with what they had.

Either way, the main reason he came home early was to make sure he had time to eat and shower before drawing up the summoning circle. And today there was an extra reason he’d been eager to get back, one that had him kicking off his shoes with even more enthusiasm than before. In front of him on the table, the wrapped box he’d brought home several days ago was still sitting there, reminding him of the occasion.

A whole year since then, huh? Plus a few days, since they’d agreed to stick to their regular Saturday rather than try to hit the exact date. But yeah, a year ago he’d summoned Saruhiko unexpectedly and kicked off this whole business.

It was worth celebrating, for sure.

Yata had been thinking about what to get for a while, and finally settled on a set of coffee mugs – specifically, two of the mugs used for customers at Hakumaitou, which had cost him a lot more from his stash than he’d expected. They were plain off-white, but he’d gone out and gotten their names engraved in bold print – ‘Saruhiko’ in blue on one and ‘Misaki’ in red on the other.

Saruhiko would have to leave his here and only use it when he visited, from Saturday night to Monday morning, but Yata kinda thought the sentiment was fitting. He had a fresh bag of Hakumaitou’s special coffee, too – and hope of flying out for a view of the city from ‘their’ spot at some point during the night.

It was all pretty low-key, but it suited them. He was really looking forward to it.

Yata had just finished cleaning up after his dinner, about to move the table aside so he could start drawing up the summoning circle, when there was a knock at his door.

What the hell? He frowned, hesitating for a second. Usually he didn’t get many visitors. Sometimes one of his friends would drop by if they were in the area, but everyone knew Saturdays were off-limits, and he’d mentioned the anniversary too.

The landlord? It would be unusual, but it had happened. Well, only one way to find out. Yata hurried forward and swung the door open.

His skin prickled, mouth falling open as shock paralyzed him. All he could do for a moment was stare.

How…?

Saruhiko returned his gaze, shifting on his feet in a slight, awkward motion. His shoulders were a bit hunched and his expression was oddly hesitant. “I don’t have a key to your place,” he drawled, after a moment of startled silence.

Yata blinked, recovering from his stupor – and then blinked twice more in rapid succession, double checking that he was really seeing this. “Wh-why are you here?” he managed to stammer out after another awkward pause, too stunned to react in any other way.

There was no way a demon could come to this plane without a contract. So…?

“I’m not on someone else’s contract, if that’s what you’re wondering,” Saruhiko told him dryly, and glanced around, clicking his tongue lightly. “Can I come in? I’d rather not explain while standing on your doorstep.”

There wasn’t much he could say to that. “Yeah, right.” Yata bit back his impatience and moved aside, holding the door so that Saruhiko could step past him and remove his boots.

As soon as the door shut, he gave in to a sudden impulse and moved forward to wrap his arms around Saruhiko’s waist from behind, pressing his chest against that thin back. He lifted his face to bury his nose in the space between Saruhiko’s shoulder blades, inhaling deeply to take in the familiar scent, and mumbled, “Happy anniversary.”

Saruhiko had momentarily frozen in the unexpected hold, but relaxed almost immediately, a short contented sigh escaping him at the words. “Happy anniversary, Misaki,” he murmured, setting his hands over Yata’s arms to return the awkward embrace as best he could.

They stayed like that for another moment or two, just enjoying each other’s presence, before Yata’s curiosity got the better of him and he broke away, stepping around Saruhiko to look him properly in the face. “Okay, now spill it! How the hell are you here?”

Saruhiko shrugged, the motion seeming somehow awkward as his posture shifted slightly. It was a small change, but Yata could see a certain amount of nervous tension in the way he was standing. “Apparently we can be granted clearance to come here under certain circumstances.” He didn’t want for Yata to ask. “I’m here to propose a new contract to you.”

Something about the way he said it had a little shiver running through Yata’s body – and not an unpleasant one. Get a grip. He swallowed it back, managing to grin in response. “Oh yeah? Let’s hear it.”

“It’s not really a standard contract.” Saruhiko reached into his pocket, movements unusually sharp and jerky. “The terms are a little unusual. Technically, it doesn’t have an end date, but it’s not… exactly like before.” When he pulled his hand out, his fingers were closed around whatever he’d grabbed. “In exchange for sharing your energy, this is what I’m offering.”

His hand was noticeably unsteady when he slowly opened it, but that wasn’t what caught Yata’s immediate attention. Even before he could see what was there, the almost-forgotten sense of captured sunlight and moonlight had his breath catching in his throat sharply, recognition hitting like a truck – and when his vision caught up with his other sense, that same breath escaped him in a sudden rush.

The stones they’d charged together had been somehow shaped into solid, thick-banded rings.

How? It had been a year already, and he couldn’t imagine how they’d held their charge for so long, much less been forged so perfectly into this shape. The luster was even preserved, and he could feel the same energy…

And… they were rings, so…

So.

Yata took in another breath. “Saruhiko…”

“I made a deal with the Captain,” Saruhiko cut him off. When Yata looked up, he was met with a wary, tentative sort of gaze. “I’m guessing he planned this from the start, since his condition was for me to take on some jobs for him on this plane. If we’re contracted like this, I’ll be able to move back and forth between the two planes, which makes me a convenient resource.” He clicked his tongue. “It’s kind of irritating when you fall into his pace, but it can’t be helped. Not like I was going to turn him down.”

Yata seriously didn’t want to think about Munakata in that moment. “Right, sure, I get it,” he agreed impatiently, eyes dropping to the rings again. There was a fierce anticipation building in the pit of his belly. “What are you offering here?”

Saruhiko shifted again, if anything looking even more awkward. “The contract is in the rings,” he mumbled. “Either one of us can end it any time if we throw it away or give it back – that’s what you wanted, right?” Once again, without waiting for an answer, he added, “It’s… also what I want. To be with you.” When Yata raised his gaze again, it was in time to catch a telling hint of red spreading across Saruhiko’s pale cheeks. “If you’ll have me.”

“Are you kidding me?” Yata could feel traitorous tears welling up in his eyes, elation bubbling up through his entire body. He reached out to close his hand over Saruhiko’s, feeling the comforting glow of the rings between their fingers, and leaned in to capture a fierce kiss, pouring all of his happiness into the motion. When they broke apart, he smirked, letting his eyes go lidded. “Course I’ll have you, dumbass – why the hell else would I put up with you for a whole year?”

“Who knows.” The tremor in Saruhiko’s voice belied the mocking drawl he was trying to go for, but he smiled back, relaxing enough to lean his forehead against Yata’s and shutting his eyes to let out a shaky sigh before adding, “Maybe you’re just a masochist.”

“Pretty sure that’s you, you fucking gloomy-ass workaholic!” Yata didn’t bother holding the deep affection back from his voice; it came out throaty, but he didn’t care, staring deeply into Saruhiko’s eyes when he opened them again and feeling fierce contentment fill him. “So this… this means you’re staying, right? You’ll live here?”

“That’s the idea.” Saruhiko freed his hand and the rings, leaning back far enough to take hold of Yata’s left hand and holding the moonstone ring up between his fingers. He hesitated, watching Yata’s face keenly. “Do you accept the contract?”

He knew enough now to guess that this required a clear answer. “Yeah,” he responded seriously, returning the gaze with all the conviction he could throw into it. “I accept it, Saruhiko.”

The sensation that poured into him when the ring was slipped onto his finger was achingly familiar; Yata felt the sting of tears once again at the welcoming pulse of warmth and sunlight. There was a different energy behind it now, too – heavy and full of promise.

It matched how he was feeling right then. “Here.” Yata reached out to take the sunstone ring. “Let me.” It was given up to him without any resistance, and he picked up Saruhiko’s left hand, glancing up. “Do you? Accept it, I mean.”

Saruhiko’s eyes were half-mast; the tiny smile already on his face widened ever so slightly. “Yes, Misaki. I accept.”

When he slid the ring home, he wasn’t prepared for the sudden shift in the energy of the room – a kind of ‘click’, as if something had just fallen into place. And then alongside his own happiness, he could feel another, separate sense of joy – and something like triumph.

Yata jerked his gaze up, startled. “Wait – Saruhiko – is this…?”

The smile on Saruhiko’s face widened into a smirk. “Right, I forgot to mention,” he drawled. “Since the contract is in the rings and you happen to be wearing one, the emotion-sharing goes both ways.”

“How the hell could you forget to mention, you – ?” Yata cut off there, feeling the little trickle of smug amusement from that other source, and shook his head ruefully. Well, not like I mind. Still, it was stronger than he would’ve expected, the blend of relief and happiness and contentment. Almost overwhelming, but not in a bad way. It matched his own feelings perfectly. “Seriously, you gotta warn me about this shit!”

Saruhiko gazed at him through his lashes, that little smirk lingering on his lips. “That would’ve spoiled the surprise.”

“Yeah, yeah.” He had to admit, it was a good surprise – on top of everything else, it felt satisfying to have things go both ways between them. It would probably take a little while to get used to, but he was gonna enjoy every second. Yata grinned back. “You’re a liar, by the way. You said you’d never felt emotions like mine, remember? But yours seem just as strong to me right now!”

The sense of contentment only increased – he couldn’t tell if it was Saruhiko’s or his. Maybe both. It didn’t really matter, either way. “I learned from the best,” Saruhiko murmured, and leaned in to capture Yata’s lips again.

 

End