Set in Stone

 

Chapter Three

 

It was cloudy outside, which wasn’t unusual, and there was a mid-Spring chill in the air still. Yata threw a hoodie on over his T-shirt before they left the apartment, but Fushimi seemed more or less indifferent to the weather.

“Aren’t you cold like that?” Yata asked him as they turned off the walkway leading from the apartment complex onto the sidewalk.

“I don’t have the same body temperature as a human,” Fushimi responded blandly. He was walking with slightly hunched shoulders, hands in his pockets. It made him look even more like a regular person, which made the previous night feel even more like some kind of weird dream and not an actual thing that had happened and potentially fucked up Yata’s life. “Or a changeling, apparently.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Yata glanced around just to be sure, but nobody seemed to be paying them the slightest attention. Not that they’d be taken seriously even if someone heard… “I’m not that much different from a regular human. Just the aging thing and – ” He stopped there, abruptly unsure how much he wanted to give away.

Fushimi gave him a sidelong look. “And…?”

“Never mind.” Yata shook his head slightly. Better not to reveal all his secrets. If they had to stay together long enough, he’d find out pretty quick, but that didn’t mean there was any reason to tell him now. “I’m not that different, s’all.” He managed a bit of a smirk. “I don’t have horns or anything.”

The typical click of Fushimi’s tongue answered him. “I could fix that for you pretty easily.”

“Hah! No thanks.” Yata shook his head, smirk widening as he turned back. “Y’know, I’m not totally ignorant about this summoning business. I’m the one who summoned you, right? I know you can’t do anything to me that I don’t want.”

The expression on Fushimi’s face turned sour; Yata couldn’t help but huff out a laugh. “You don’t like losing much, do ya?”

“That’s a stupid thing to say,” Fushimi muttered back. “Nobody enjoys losing.”

Yata’s spirits were buoyed enough by the small victory that he let that one pass. “Anyway, we got a few blocks to go to get to the station. Usually I’d use my skateboard or – ” He caught himself in time, and cleared his throat instead of continuing. “Well, you’re slowing me down, but whatever.”

Fushimi raised an eyebrow at him, unimpressed. “Would you rather I followed you from the air?”

That… actually wouldn’t have been a bad idea, if it wasn’t shitty timing. “We’re in public, dumbass!” Yata reached up to scratch the back of his head, annoyed that he hadn’t thought of it sooner. “Look, if you’re still around later, I’ll find some place to cast invisibility and – wait.” He squinted at Fushimi, realizing belatedly that he really had no idea how demon magic worked. “Can you make yourself invisible?”

“No. Unfortunately.” The answer came with another almost petulant click of Fushimi’s tongue; he frowned. “If I could, I’d have done it already and not have to deal with navigating your world in the first place.”

“Right, right.” Made sense; no point doing things the hard way if you didn’t have to. “Anyway, I can do it for you later and then you can race me if you really want.” He couldn’t help a smirk at that. “I’m pretty fast, though – just sayin’.”

Almost reluctantly, the corners of Fushimi’s mouth edged up in response. There was a flicker of something like interest in his eyes. “Is that so?”

“Better believe it is!”

“Hm.” Without losing the tiny smirk, Fushimi shut his eyes, letting out a small, amused huff. “We’ll see.”

The exchange was oddly enjoyable – and the prospect of a challenge had Yata feeling fired up. “All right!” He folded one hand into a fist, raising it with enthusiasm. “Let’s get this shit done and I’ll show you!”

“So noisy,” Fushimi muttered, but it lacked most of the frustration of earlier.

They walked in silence for a bit. It was an uneasy silence – like a temporary truce had been called – but it wasn’t horribly uncomfortable. Yata wasn’t sure if it was more of a relief not to have to defend himself from constant verbal attacks or… kind of a disappointment. For all he’d been an asshole, Fushimi was strangely fascinating. Or maybe not so strangely. He was a demon, after all – that was kinda cool, and it was something Yata didn’t know a heck of a lot about. If they’d been on better terms, he might’ve asked about what that was like.

Where did Fushimi live when he wasn’t being summoned? What did he do all the time? Did he have a family? Friends? Hobbies?

Yata stole a glance sideways at the man walking next to him. He looked perfectly normal – well-structured features, yeah, but not a vision of perfection by any stretch. His clothing, posture, habits, and general appearance were all that of any regular guy. He didn’t seem phased by the apartment or city. Did that mean he lived somewhere like this? Was the place demons lived another whole plane of existence, like the fae that Homra dealt with?

Fushimi seemed to notice he was being scrutinized, because he tilted his head slightly and met Yata’s gaze. “What?”

“Huh?” Yata blinked, caught off-guard, and shifted his eyes forward instead, reaching up to rub at the back of his neck awkwardly. “Oh. Nothing. My bad.”

He could almost hear the frown in Fushimi’s response. “If you say so.”

The feeling of eyes on him made his skin prickle in a way that wasn’t… totally unpleasant. Yata made an attempt to shrug it off, letting his hand drop and deliberately increasing his pace. “S’not much farther. C’mon.”

The subway station was crowded as usual – it wasn’t too bad with it being past noon on a weekday, but rush hour would start in an hour or so, and if they weren’t quick, it might be hell coming back. At the moment, the traffic was just a steady stream, which meant there’d be more than enough standing space in the trains, but having to pack in like sardines wasn’t fun, even if he could be sure Fushimi wouldn’t do anything if he got annoyed enough.

Yata frowned, considering it. I might end up having to show him after all…

“Are we going in?” Fushimi’s voice cut into his thoughts. He’d slowed to a stop when Yata had, and was studying him with that inscrutable expression.

“Uh – yeah.” Except… tickets. Which was no problem for Yata, since he had a transit pass, but… “Shit. I forgot I’ll have to buy you a ticket.” He pulled out his wallet, checking the meager supply of cash he kept on him.

Fushimi clicked his tongue. “Don’t bother.” Before Yata could react to that, he turned, stepping into the path of a random man. “Hey. You.”

What the hell is he doing? Yata stared after him, momentarily stunned into inaction.

The man who’d just been accosted blinked, openly startled. “Uh… me?”

“That’s right.” Fushimi indicated to the paper in his hand. “Did you just buy that ticket?”

“Uh…” The man lifted the ticket and looked at it, as if needing to confirm, and then squinting dubiously at Fushimi. “Yes?”

“Good. Which way is the ticket station?”

“Oh!” The more innocuous question seemed to relieve the man, who turned with much more confidence to wave in the direction he’d come from. “Just back there – you can’t miss ’em!”

“Thanks.” Stepping around the man – who seemed happy enough to scurry off without a backward glance, Fushimi made his way back towards Yata.

“What the hell was that ab – ?” The protest died in his throat as he watched Fushimi hold his hand in front of his body, fingers curling as a small square of paper appeared from thin air within them.

“Let’s go then,” Fushimi drawled, deftly turning the paper to reveal the ticket information printed on it.

Yata gaped at him, unable to help. “You – hold up – how’d you do that?”

Fushimi’s answering look was flat. “Magic.”

“I never saw magic like that.” He was used to components – incantations – runes – channeling… Not just making things appear out of thin air. Who did that?

Well, okay, demons – but still!

Fushimi sighed, sounding long-suffering. “You’re going to be tiresome about it, huh?” He held the ticket between two fingers and slid them apart slowly. The paper dissipated between them, leaving no trace behind. “It’s illusion. The ticket isn’t really here.” He brought his fingers back together, and the ticket manifested again between them. “Demonic magic is all about fooling the senses. Starting with mine and ending with everyone else around me.”

“Really?” It sounded so simple. Yata reached out automatically towards the ticket, and felt his fingers brush the paper. It felt real. “I can touch it, though.”

“I said your senses, not just your sight.” Fushimi clicked his tongue, withdrawing his hand. “Shouldn’t we go? We’re going to look suspicious just standing around here.”

That was true – a glance around showed a few people giving them curious looks. Yata frowned back at them, and they quickly looked away. “Yeah, yeah, fine,” he gave in grudgingly, tearing his eyes from the ticket in Fushimi’s hand to pull his pass out. “Let’s go.”

There was a small line-up at the ticket gate, so Yata took the opportunity to continue his line of inquiry in an undertone. “Hey. So why’d you have to stop that guy back there?”

“I needed to see what a ticket looked like.” Fushimi’s voice was almost a mumble – barely audible over the chatter around them. “Otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to make one, would I?”

“Huh.” That kind of brought up an alarming thought, though. “Wait, you didn’t just copy his ticket, did you? Because – ”

“Keep your voice down, will you?” Fushimi cut him off sharply. He frowned. “Of course I didn’t – I’m not an idiot. The barcode is based on a time stamp.” His tone was flat and matter-of-fact. “Once I saw what his looked like, I calculated mine based on a different time stamp.” He reached up to push his glasses higher on his nose. “It’s unlikely that anyone here will have an exact duplicate, but even if that happens, I can pretend it didn’t scan properly and change it to a different one.”

Yata stared at him, astonished. “You figured that out in your head?”

Fushimi shrugged. “It’s not that hard.”

“Seriously? It’s fucking amazing!” The grin spreading on his face was almost involuntary. Damn, this was actually cool. Fushimi was a damn genius. “All you did was glance at his ticket, and you figured that all out in like – what – thirty seconds? Not even!” It was impressive as hell; he couldn’t help the admiration flooding through him. “That’s awesome!”

For a moment, Fushimi just blinked at him, clearly taken off-guard. It was almost charming. He recovered quickly, though, clicking his tongue and turning his gaze to the side. “Don’t be so loud,” he mumbled.

“Yeah, right.” Yata shrugged that off, stepping forward again as the line advanced. He eyed the gate. “Even if it’s an illusion, it’ll still go through okay, right?”

“If I can fool a person, I should be able to fool a machine,” Fushimi responded drily.

He ended up being right about that – the ticket scanned with no problems, allowing them to pass through to the platform and then the train without incident. Yata bit back the storm of questions raging around inside his brain while they boarded and rode the subway, waiting impatiently for them to be in the open where there was less chance of being overheard.

Unfortunately, the aisle where they stood side-by-side on the train car had them facing a group of four girls who looked like they should’ve been in school at that time of day. Yata did his best not to look at them, growing increasingly uncomfortable. Every time he happened to glance down at where they were sitting, at least one of them quickly averted her eyes and the whole group giggled nervously. It was a stressful experience.

“You’re not very good with women, are you?” Fushimi commented blandly as they – finally – stepped off the train.

“Shut up,” Yata grumbled in response, trying to shrug off the tension that had collected in that cramped space. He’d never managed to figure out where that discomfort came from – it was just something to do with the way it felt when women were looking at him. Like they could see through him, in a way that men couldn’t somehow. He was old enough now to know it was irrational, and he seriously was getting better at dealing with it, but his feelings didn’t always cooperate. “What’s it to you?”

The question was ignored. “Is that why you prefer men, maybe?”

“Not so loud!” Yata glanced around furtively as they pushed through the doors leading out of the station, but it didn’t seem like their conversation had attracted any attention. Good. He wasn’t particularly ashamed of his preferences – not any more, anyway – but it pissed him off when people gave him those judgy looks. It was none of their fucking business.

Actually, it wasn’t Fushimi’s business either, but hell if he was gonna let that stupid misconception go. “I like guys because I like guys. That’s it.” Automatically, he reached up to scratch at the back of his head, letting out a frustrated breath. “Dunno if I’d be bi or something if it wasn’t for the… women thing, but that’s how it is.”

He could feel Fushimi’s eyes on him. It was unnerving, like his thoughts were being read right through his skull. The part he hadn’t admitted – and wasn’t going to admit – was that there were things he’d found he liked in bed that he wasn’t likely to get from a woman, at least not without having to bring it up in a really awkward way. Things he didn’t really feel like doing without, honestly. It made any speculation on that subject moot, more or less; he could safely consider himself exclusively gay.

That was going way too personal for a conversation with someone he barely knew and didn’t even particularly like that much. Yata hastily changed the subject, picking up his pace just enough to lead them in the right direction onto the sidewalk outside. “Anyway, you said demon magic was illusions, right? Can you put illusions on anything? Like, make things look like something else, and all?”

“More or less.” Thankfully, Fushimi picked up the new topic without any fuss. “There are rules, though. I can only make things seem like they’ve changed – or that they exist in the first place, when they don’t already.” He held up the ticket again between his index and middle finger before giving them a wriggle and brushing off the illusion as if it were dust. “I can’t make things disappear if they exist in reality. But you know…” At that he smirked a little, glancing sideways at Yata again. “The things I make are real enough. An illusionary knife will still cut.”

Yata frowned back at him, shaking off the involuntary shudder that came with the statement. “You’re creepy as hell, y’know that?”

“Demon,” Fushimi drawled in response, without losing an inch of the smirk.

“Yeah, yeah,” Yata grumbled, vaguely annoyed by the tone. “If your magic is all illusion, doesn’t that mean you could just make yourself look like a bird or something instead of going invisible when you fly?”

“I can’t use illusions on myself.” At that, the smirk did lessen, shifting toward a frown. “It’s awkward, but sometimes you can work around it. External things like clothing work, for example.”

“Huh.” The word was barely out of his mouth before an outrageous possibility entered his head. Yata turned to stare, vaguely alarmed. “Hey, wait – does that mean – those clothes you’re wearing now – ?”

Fushimi clicked his tongue. “I don’t exactly bring a wardrobe with me when I respond to a summon.”

Yata tripped over his own feet and just about fell, stumbling a few steps as he stared at Fushimi incredulously. “The hell? Doesn’t that mean you’re walking around” – He felt his cheeks flare up as outrage mounted within him, and lowered his voice, glancing around furtively for any possible eavesdroppers – “naked?

“Would you like me to?” That smirk was edging up on Fushimi’s face again, slow and wicked. “It seemed like you were trying not to attract attention earlier, but it makes no difference to me.” His voice had shifted back to a mocking drawl, but there was an undercurrent of interest in the lazy gaze he shot Yata’s way. “By the way… that’s an awfully strong reaction for someone who can’t tell the difference. What are you imagining?”

The blurred image of a pale-skinned bare torso flashed to the front of Yata’s mind, and he nearly choked, the warmth on his face intensifying. “I-I’m not imagining anything!” Setting his mouth into a scowl to cover his embarrassment, he deliberately increased his pace to put a little space between them. “It’s weird to think about, okay? That’s all!”

“Is it?” The response was light and unaffected. “Because your emotions say otherwise.”

That was irritating enough that Yata shot him a glare over his shoulder. “Shut up, asshole,” he gritted out, before turning back deliberately. “Can’t wait to get you out of my head and out of my life already!”

Fushimi clicked his tongue again, the drawl giving way to irritation. “You’re not the only one.”

There was no point justifying that with a response. Yata distracted himself by turning his attention to his surroundings, despite having come this way often enough to more or less know the place by heart. This was part of the city’s business district, so they were surrounded by high rise buildings. The streets were wide and well-kept, crowded with cars even at this hour, and the sidewalks were mostly occupied by professionally dressed men and women. There was a feeling of cool efficiency in the way that people moved briskly about, both the steady traffic of the road and the confident pace of the pedestrians on the walkways.

At one point he’d been uncomfortable coming to this part of town, but he was more or less used to it by now. Barely anyone gave him more than a half-interested glance, too absorbed in their own business to pay attention to random punks. The attitude used to piss him off when he figured they were all looking down on him, but a certain amount of experience made it pretty clear that most people just didn’t pay attention to anyone; it wasn’t really anything personal.

Hell, sometimes it made things easier for him. He couldn’t complain.

“Here.” Yata paused at the ramp leading up to their destination so that Fushimi could cross the couple of steps worth of distance between them. The building they were in front of was sandwiched between two high-rises, which made it look a bit odd, considering that it was a fairly modest height compared to some of the others in the area. The design was sleek and symmetrical, the majority of the exterior made up of thick-paned one-sided glass. There were two thin marble planters on either side of the double doors that the ramp led up to, with neatly cut plants growing in an elegant arrangement.

As usual, it was sickeningly perfect. “Let’s go.”

The inside of the building was no less orderly than the outside, the cleanly tiled floor shining in the light that poured in through the windows from all sides. There was a large crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling that scattered tiny refractions across the room. On the wall opposite the entrance was an elevator and a listing of the floors and offices in the building – nothing particularly unusual.

Yata pressed the ‘up’ button without bothering to look, tucking his hands into his pockets and watching the elevator door idly as he waited.

“Is this really an office building?” Fushimi asked him; when Yata glanced at him, he was looking around the room, eyes lingering on the ornate light fixture above them.

“No idea.” Yata shrugged, turning away as the elevator pinged at them. “I only ever go to one place here.”

“Hm.” Fushimi didn’t appear satisfied with that answer, but he let the matter drop without comment and followed Yata onto the elevator.

Once the doors closed, Yata hit the emergency stop button, paused for a second to make sure the lighting on the numbers changed from white to red, and then hit a few of them in the sequence that Kusanagi had painstakingly drilled into his head. The panel beneath the number pad popped open and a thin keypad slid out, which he dutifully typed his personal access code onto.

There was a click, and the lighting changed from red to green. The keypad receded.

Into the following silence, Fushimi commented blandly, “’Yatagarasu’?”

Goddamn, he was good at catching things. Yata shot him a frown. “Nickname with my coven.” The reminder had his frown shifting even further into a scowl. “Dunno how this guy figured that out, but – ”

He was cut off as the elevator whirred to life, and the ground abruptly seemed to drop from beneath them as it began its rapid descent.

Even though he’d done this countless times already, it was still jarring. Yata grit his teeth, holding steady as the disorientation passed. Sometimes it felt like that pause between entering the code and the elevator starting to move was just for the building owner’s amusement value. Seriously wouldn’t put it past that guy…

Fushimi clicked his tongue; when Yata glanced at him, he looked irritated. “What is this, an amusement park attraction?”

Yata couldn't help but snort in response. “You’re telling me. I have to come here almost every day for this asshole. It’s not something you get used to.”

There was no real chance for a response, even if Fushimi would have offered it; the elevator slowed and came to a halt almost as jarringly as it had started up, sounding off an obnoxious ‘ding’ as it did. The doors slid open.

The hall they revealed was similar in elegance to the lobby above, but the decor was not as plain. The ceiling was vaulted, and both it and the walls were ornately carved with delicate lines and simple patterns, soft off-white with little traces of silver and gold. The floor was slick, polished grey, and the lighting, cool and faintly tinted with blue, seemed to reflect off of it and cause a myriad of colors to echo through the room.

Yata let out a soft ‘ch’, already a little irritated just from the sight of it. Show off. He started out from the elevator, deliberately letting his sneakers skid on the spotless floor.

At the end of the hall was a familiar set of double doors, large and black with golden handles and an elaborate knocker with the Roman numeral “four” engraved on its surface. Yata ignored the knocker, reaching for the handle without hesitance or ceremony – the guy behind the door knew they were there already, so why bother?

Behind him, Fushimi let out a strangely resigned-sounding sigh. “The fourth, huh? I thought so.”

Yata paused with his hand on the handle, turning to frown at him. “Huh?”

“Never mind.” Fushimi shook his head. “Let’s just go in.”

For a moment, Yata squinted suspiciously at him – but hell, he wasn't going to get answers by standing there arguing with this guy. “Yeah, yeah.” He pressed down on the handle and opened the door, stepping in without waiting.

“Oh?” A deeper-toned voice greeted him with mildly. The man it belonged to sat opposite the door behind a broad wooden desk, which was surprisingly bare in contrast to the overdone ornate decor on the walls and flooring. The structure of the hall extended into this room as well, but somehow the light within felt like daylight seeping through open windows. Which was stupid, considering they were underground, but there it was. Several display stands with various items – most of which were probably rare, and way more than he could afford anyway – flanked the desk. On the surface in front of the man, a half-finished puzzle was laid out.

This was Yata’s current employer, a man he knew very little about beyond his name – Munakata – and the vague nature of his underground business. Which was... something to do with providing rare and valuable components for some of the more extensive spells Kusanagi cast on the Homra bar to keep their doings under wraps. Whatever. As long as Kusanagi vouched for him, Yata was fine with it too. And since he was getting paid well enough, the rest wasn’t too important.

The smile offered up in response to his entry held the usual annoying mix of knowing and amused. “How unusual that you would return today, Yatagarasu-kun.” Munakata rested his elbows on the desk, creating a bridge with his hands and somehow managing to avoid brushing aside the tiny puzzle pieces with his heavy, ceremonial black robes. “I seem to recall being informed that your intent was to have the day ‘off’.”

“Yeah, well, shit happened.” Yata scowled at him in response, even more irritated than usual by the formal speech. “And quit calling me that! It’s not my real name, goddamnit!”

“My apologies.” There wasn’t a trace of real apology in the statement. “I admit to being quite charmed by the fitting nature of the nickname. But that aside...” His gaze shifted away from Yata. “You appear to have gained a most interesting companion.”

“What ‘gain’?” Yata muttered, glancing back.

Fushimi clicked his tongue, cutting off any further complaint. His was looking past Yata to where Munakata sat, gaze wary. “What are you doing here, Captain?”

“Eh?” For a moment, Yata was too stunned to do more than look back and forth between them, caught completely off-guard. “Wait – what do you – ?”

Munakata leaned back in his seat, leaving his fingers interlaced in front of him. “This is merely a side venture, Fushimi-kun,” he responded, without acknowledging Yata's stuttered attempts at questioning them. “Please rest assured that I have no intention of neglecting my more pressing duties.”

Fushimi frowned at him. “And what do you call giving out a collection of our summoning circles to a civilian?”

“Yata-kun is a most competent witch – not to mention an exceptionally strong being.” Munakata's gaze flickered very briefly to Yata, and his smile widened marginally. “I had every confidence that he would not misuse such a gift.”

That earned another click of Fushimi’s tongue. “Your confidence is misplaced, then. This guy performed a summoning while drunk, and didn’t bother to include a timeframe.”

“Is that so?” Munakata leaned forward again, keen interest lighting in his gaze. “And you responded even so.” He tilted his head. “How very unlike you, Fushimi-kun.”

Fushimi caught his breath sharply; when Yata looked over at him, he caught only a brief glimpse of those blue-grey eyes widening before their owner was turning his gaze aside, scowling. “You didn’t have to say that much...”

“What’s that s’posed to mean?” Yata demanded – and then abruptly remembered there were more pressing questions. “And – wait – how the hell do you guys know each other? What are you even talking about, anyway?”

“Haven’t you guessed yet?” Fushimi muttered, sounding out of sorts. “This guy is my boss.”

Huh?” Yata gaped at him for a moment, then spun around again. “Wait, wait, wait…” He thrust a finger in front of him, pointing directly at Munakata. “You’re telling me this guy’s a fucking demon? Like, a demon lord, even?”

“Lord of the fourth region of hell’s influence.” Fushimi's tone was drawling, almost bored. “Not that it means as much as you'd think.” He looked up again to fix Munakata with a steady gaze, pushing his glasses up on his nose. “But he does have jurisdiction over any contracts formed in my sector.”

The word ‘contracts’ somehow managed to snap him out of his shock. Yata lowered his finger, directing his own glare at Munakata, who smiled pleasantly in return. “So you’re the guy who can get us out of this.” He narrowed his eyes. “You’re the fucker who got me into this, so you’d better fix it!”

“A most unjust accusation, Yata-kun.” Munakata seemed unbothered by the attention. “I merely gifted you with the book – there was no coercion on my part regarding how you chose to make use of it.” He tipped his head towards his interlaced fingers, glasses catching the light in a way that made them seem to glitter. “However, if you are in need of my assistance, I can certainly provide it – in exchange for an appropriate price, of course.”

This fucking guy... Yata’s hands curled into fists at his side, scowl deepening. “‘Appropriate price’, my ass, you – !”

“What price?” Fushimi cut him off, voice sharp and dripping with suspicion.

Munakata made a small noise of approval. “How practical of you to ask, Fushimi-kun.” He finally unclasped his hands, reaching down to open one of the drawers of his desk. “As it happens, I do have a task that will suitably employee both of your unique talents.” When he straightened again, the hand he extended toward them held two small stones.

They looked like ordinary stones, Yata noted, squinting suspiciously at them. Both were small and oval-shaped with smooth surfaces. One was orange and crystaline, with sharp angles and tiny specs of contrasting shades within, like ashes rising from a flame. The other was soft blue with splintering white highlights, looking as though a blizzard had been frozen and contained within.

“Sunstone and moonstone,” Munakata identified them without being asked. “In reality, two different offshoots of a mineral known as feldspar. Their potency for use in magic is almost entirely dependent on the amount and quality of sunlight or moonlight they have absorbed.” He paused very briefly, and then added, “At present, that potency rests at zero.”

“So? You want us to charge ’em?” That didn't sound difficult. Yata frowned in response. “Gotta be more to it than that...”

“Most perceptive of you, Yata-kun.” Munakata set the stones delicately on his desk in front of the half-finished puzzle. “In point of fact, an ordinary charge would not be sufficient for the purpose I intend to turn these to.”

Fushimi let out a short sigh. “Is it necessary to be so cryptic?”

“My apologies. The intended purpose need not concern you.” Munakata leaned back in his seat, this time crossing his legs and clasping his hands in front of him. “Yata-kun, your aspect is the sun – and Fushimi-kun’s, the moon. That makes the two of you ideal for this... unusual venture.” Without waiting for comments or questions, he went on. “In this instance, I need to have the moonstone charged with sunlight and the sunstone charged with moonlight.” He studied them both intently. “Further, the charges need to be exceptionally strong – and completed within a lunar cycle of one another.”

Huh?” Yata blurted, even as he heard Fushimi’s flat, “What,” from beside him. He stared at his employer, flabbergasted.

To charge the stones in the opposite element... What the hell’s the point? Also, because of the incompatibility, it was going to be hard to get a decent charge – much less an ‘exceptionally strong’ one. And how were those charges going to last long enough to be of any goddamn use? The stones wouldn’t hold them for all that long.

In short, none of it made any damn sense at all.

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Fushimi echoed his thought out loud, an edge of thinly contained impatience in his voice. He frowned suspiciously at Munakata. “What are you up to, Captain?”

Munakata returned the frown with an untroubled smile. “Have faith, Fushimi-kun – my actions will surely line up with the logical order in time, as always.” He glanced at Yata, and made a small, self-satisfied hum. “It would be wise if Yata-kun were to take charge of the moonstone and you the sunstone, for now. I can sense the presence of twelve points in the city ideal for the collection of either moonlight or sunlight – if you can endeavor to locate each one and determine its properties, I have confidence in your ability to collect a full charge in each stone before long.” His gaze lingered almost uncomfortably. “Yata-kun has an uncanny knack for determining precisely when exposure would hinder rather than help; I suggest you make use of that.”

The unexpected compliment brought an odd blend of disgruntled acknowledgement and reluctant pride; Yata stared back at him, nonplussed and not sure how to respond. “Yeah, right,” he muttered, reaching up to scratch at the back of his head awkwardly.

Instinct, again – he’d always been good at finding just the right quantity and quality of what he needed, without bothering with measurements or anything. Kusanagi had gotten him to charge things in the past, though Yata more often made use of that talent in the kitchen where he did most of his casting.

It was something that rarely failed him – except when it came to his love life. And demon summoning circles, apparently.

The reminder fired up his determination. Yata reached out and snatched the blue stone from the table, letting out a frustrated ‘ch’ as he did. “Whatever. I’ll do what it takes to get this asshole out of my goddamn life. The sooner the better!”

Fushimi clicked his tongue as well, extending his hand to pluck the orange stone with far less enthusiasm. “What a troublesome job.”

Munakata chucked. “I have every confidence in you both.”

That wasn’t even worth answering. Yata snorted, pocketing his stone and turning to head for the door. “This doesn't change the fact that I’m off today,” he said irritably, reaching for the handle. “I’m not doing any deliveries until tomorrow.”

“Of course.” Munakata's response was perfectly calm and even. “I had no intention of allowing these... unusual circumstances... to interfere with our regular business arrangement.”

Naturally he wouldn't. Yata huffed a frustrated breath, swinging the door open with force and stalking through it, leaving Fushimi to close it behind them.

“Take care,” Munakata's voice followed them, and then the door shut firmly, cutting off any remaining connection.

 

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