Set in Stone

 

Chapter Seven

 

The sound of a downpour clattering outside of Yata’s bedroom window greeted him as he drifted awake. It was muggy inside, but not uncomfortably so, and he couldn't immediately identify where the vague sense of apprehension came from as he groggily turned his head to blink at the view from his bed. He could see a corner of the sky, grey and cloudy.

No sun.

Shit. All at once, the reality of his situation struck him and he sat up, staring at the overcast view through the window with dismay.

No sun meant no sun charging. Which meant...

Yata shot a wary look at his bedroom door. He usually didn't shut it – the airflow in the apartment already wasn't great – but he had that unwelcome visitor to think about now. Is he up yet? Somehow, it was hard to think of Fushimi actually sleeping, but he had said that he did it so there was a possibility he might not be awake.

Honestly, that sounded better than having to deal with him right away. Yata let out a huff of breath, rubbed a hand across his face, and aimed another dismayed look at his window. Of all the fucking times... Of course it would rain. Why wouldn't this situation just keep turning into more of a pain in the ass?

Now what?

They'd have to wait for the weather to clear up; there was kinda no getting around that. And considering it was almost June, there was no telling when that would be. It could be cloudy and raining for weeks.

The fact of that – it being the rainy season – hadn't factored into his plans at all until now.

“Goddamnit,” Yata muttered under his breath, thoroughly put out. He scowled at the window for another second, then let out a sharp sigh and turned to reach under his pillow for the moonstone.

That was something they’d agreed on last night – the stones should be on them all the time so there was more chance of them holding the charge they’d already gained. Underneath their pillow was the best way to handle that while they were sleeping. And it seemed like it had worked so far – the sense of the sun’s energy was still there beneath the smooth surface as he closed his fingers around it, not seeming to have lost anything from the previous day.

Hopefully Fushimi had stuck to it as well.

Why wouldn’t he? He wants to get this shit over with as much as I do. Yata slid his legs over the side of the mattress, reaching into his drawers for a clean pair of shorts and a shirt and dressing himself quickly. He was definitely awake now, and there was no point avoiding whatever was waiting for him on the other side of the door. After depositing the stone and his pouch of invisibility powder in the pockets, he scowled at the handle for a brief second, and then let out another fierce huff of breath and reached out to open it.

Fushimi was already sitting at the table with his laptop, fully dressed; the futon Yata had set up for him when they'd come back around midnight was shoved haphazardly to the side with the bedding still rumpled. “Finally,” he muttered when their eyes met. “I thought you were going to sleep all morning.” The frown on his face was openly displeased. “You really should restock your coffee.”

“Yeah, good morning to you too.” Yata frowned right back. I don't need this shit first thing in the morning, seriously. He glanced at the clock above the stove. “Dunno what the hell you're so impatient about – it's only nine. Anyway, why don't you just illusion up some coffee if you want it that bad?”

“It won’t make a difference. I can fool my sense of taste, but it doesn't make me more alert.” Fushimi clicked his tongue. “It’s annoying what inconsistencies you run into dealing with perception. Coffee is one of those sticking points when it comes to consumables.”

Yata furrowed his eyebrows, making his way across the room to the kitchen. “What, so you guys have no food but you still have like coffee shops and stuff?”

“Something like that.”

There wasn't much he could say to that – demonic daily life made no sense, seriously – so he just snorted, reaching out to pull open the fridge door and studying the contents critically. It was reasonably well-stocked – his specialty was kitchen magic, after all – but the question was what to make.

Starting the day with lots of protein was a good idea, but also... Yata tossed a baleful look out the window. Could use some luck, too.

Well, he had stuff for that.

Much like the previous night, Fushimi didn’t speak to him at all while he was cooking, but did glance up when Yata came to the table and set his bowl of apple-cinnamon rice pudding down. “Do you use cinnamon in everything you make?”

“Why shouldn’t I?” Anything that increased his chances of success in life was good. Besides, things had started looking up for him in general after he’d started practicing in the kitchen and using that as his main focal point. Yata pulled out his chair unceremoniously and dropped into it, shooting a flat stare across the table. “Anyway, what do you care?”

Fushimi clicked his tongue, turning his eyes back down to his laptop with a frown. “Never mind.”

“Yeah, thought so.” Yata snorted, turning back to his meal.

They left right away after he finished eating – showers had been a ‘last night before bed’ thing – and with only minimal grumbling about ‘impatience’. Munakata didn’t exactly have business hours, but the sooner Yata got there, the more jobs he could get done and the more money he made. They could worry about the whole business with the stones when it wasn’t raining.

Hopefully it doesn’t go all week or something. He wasn’t feeling optimistic about it.

Speaking of which… Yata grabbed his umbrella from the entranceway on the way out, remembering only as he did that there was just one. He hesitated just outside the door where the awning kept the downpour from hitting them, shooting Fushimi a dubious glance. “You gonna be okay in this or – ?”

“It’s fine.” Fushimi brought up his hand as he stepped through the door, materializing a second umbrella without even changing expression.

Yata frowned, skeptical. “If that thing’s an illusion, how’s it gonna keep you dry?”

Fushimi returned his stare blandly. “How well do you understand physics?”

Yata huffed a brief laugh, turning to lock his door. “That some kinda trick question?”

“Right. Forget I asked.” Fushimi’s voice was dry. “In any case, you can think of it as a question of power. Lower ranking demons wouldn't be able to take it to that level.”

“Okay, sure.” He could understand that much; the more power you had, the more you could do. Yata turned, opening his umbrella and moving toward the stairway. “Let's go.”

As they stepped out into the rain, Fushimi asked, “How long do you think it'll be before this clears up?”

Yata scowled at the reminder, narrowing his eyes at the soaked sidewalk in front of them. “It's the rainy season, so who knows. A day? A week? Could be more, even.”

Fushimi clicked his tongue. “That's annoying,” he muttered.

“You're telling me.” This sucked. The more it rained, the longer he had to deal with this bullshit. There wasn't a damn thing he could do about it either, which pissed him off even more.

What a pain in the ass.

It was still warm out despite the rain, and the air was muggy. With the last few days being pretty clear, Yata had almost forgotten how unpleasant the weather usually was around this time of the year. He was starting to regret his decision to go home and sleep instead of hunting down more charging points like Fushimi had suggested – not that he’d admit it.

Whatever. We found one, and it’s not like we could just charge these things up in one night anyway. Still, it was frustrating not to be able to act now.

“You do plan to stop for coffee, right?” Fushimi muttered, sounding out of sorts. When Yata glanced at him, he was frowning, as if his surroundings had somehow offended him. “Today is already going to be enough of a pain as it is.”

“Yeah, yeah – I got it.” He could use one himself, honestly. “The place I get the beans from is closed on Mondays, though – we’ll just get something cheap at the station and grab the good shit tomorrow.”

Fushimi clicked his tongue. “I guess it’ll have to do.”

Yata shot him a disgruntled look. “Hey, don’t complain – I’m the one who has to pay for this shit, remember. So – ”

“No need,” Fushimi cut him off, bringing up his free hand almost lazily. A card manifested between his fingers. “Don’t assume I’ll freeload off of you. I can cover my own expenses.”

Yata furrowed his brows. That looked like an ordinary credit card, but… “How do you pay with that thing? Does it actually connect to a real account?” It occurred to him as he said it that Fushimi could’ve duplicated any random card, and he couldn’t help starting, a little surge of alarm rushing through him. “Wait – don’t tell me you – ”

“It’s the Captain’s work account.” Fushimi raised an eyebrow at him. “What were you expecting? That I’d just commit fraud casually? We do have ways to get along in your world without resorting to that kind of thing, you know.”

That was a relief, at least – and a double relief that he wouldn’t have to pay for the coffee. Yata let out his breath in a huff. “So it’s just my place you’re freeloading off of, huh?”

Fushimi clicked his tongue again. “Not by choice.”

“Yeah, yeah.” He brushed that off. “You’re still gonna mooch my coffee, though.”

“Are you still hung up on that?” Fushimi clicked his tongue a third time. “I’ll pay for it if you’re that bothered.”

“I am that bothered, okay?” Yata reached out to jab him in the arm lightly, frowning stubbornly when Fushimi glared at him. “You don’t just take people’s shit without asking! Anyway, it’s not like you can pay for it.” He let out an irritated ‘ch’, reaching up to scratch his head with agitation. “I got a full jar of dream herb still, but with both of us drinking coffee every day, I’ll have to pay for it twice as often. And I didn’t even do a harvest this week or anything…”

“What are you talking about?”

“Huh? Oh yeah.” Fushimi wouldn’t know about his system, after all – most people would assume you just pay for coffee beans. “It’s kinda… The café that has those beans is a coven’s headquarters. They don’t usually sell ’em, because they’re – y’know – spelled. For enhanced effect. It’s not kitchen magic, the way I do it, but… hard to explain.”  Yata shrugged. “You’ll see. Anyway, I trade ’em for stuff I harvest.”

Both of Fushimi’s eyebrows went up. “Harvest…?” He tilted his head quizzically. “If your ‘dream herb’ is the one I’m thinking of, it shouldn’t grow in this climate.”

“Heh.” Yata couldn’t help but grin at that, pride softening his earlier irritation. “I’ll show you. Just wait.”

The irritated way that Fushimi’s frown deepened as he turned his head was hugely satisfying.

As promised, they got coffee to go from a stand at the train station, and continued on to Munakata’s building with their hands full of umbrellas and to-go cups. The rain started to ease off just a bit as they came off the train in the business district, but the sky was still as grey and cloudy as ever, showing no signs of letting up or allowing even a trace of the sun through.

“What unfortunate weather,” Munakata greeted them when they arrived at his office. He took Yata’s scowl with his customary oblique smile. “However, I see that you were able to begin the charging process already.” He bridged his hands in front of himself again. “As expected of such an exceptional pair.”

Yata snorted derisively. “Yeah, right, ‘pair’.” He fixed his employer with a flat glare. “You got stuff for me today, right? Let’s hear it.”

“Indeed.” As usual, Munakata seemed amused by his demanding tone. “Without delay, then…” He reached beneath his desk and brought forward a single sheet of paper, sliding it across the desk so that Yata could easily retrieve it. There was a list of five locations and contacts, along with the items he was going to be either retrieving or delivering.

Five, huh? He could get that done in a day, assuming they weren’t such huge-ass items that he had to keep coming back to get them or drop them off. Most of the shit seemed to be small, rare spell components. Good enough.

“The first four are deliveries,” Munakata pointed out, needlessly – the list was pretty clear, after all, but he really seemed to love the sound of his own voice. “The last is a retrieval. All payments have been cleared, so there is no need to resort to any form of ‘extreme’ measure.”

Like Yata hadn’t done it in the past – and wouldn’t happily do it again if needed. Sometimes cracking some stubborn skulls was the best stress-relief from this boring ass delivery job that he got. Still, it meant today was gonna be easy, at least. “Got it.”

“Splendid.” Munakata leaned back in his seat. “Do keep that thought in mind during your retrieval as well.”

“Huh?” Yata checked the list again, scanning the names and places he’d breezed over before in favor of the items. As his eyes hit the last line, he felt his lip curl instinctively, a sharp twinge of annoyance stabbing through him. You gotta be fucking kidding me…

Fushimi had been observing the exchange silently, but he took that moment of aggrieved silence to interject. “What’s the problem with the retrieval?”

Yata scowled, avoiding his gaze in favor of glaring at Munakata. “Nothing,” he gritted out, balling up the paper and stuffing it savagely into his pocket. “You got the delivery items ready or what?”

Munakata’s answering smile was beatific. “Certainly.” He raised his voice only slightly. “Awashima-kun, if you would be so kind.”

“Yes, sir.” The door opened behind them even as the cool feminine voice answered, and a familiar blonde woman stepped inside, straight-backed and clad in a midnight blue pantsuit. She was carrying a rucksack.

Yata half turned towards her. He was more or less used to Awashima Seri by now, but she’d made him uncomfortable during his first few weeks on the job and he wasn’t totally at ease around her. It probably couldn’t be helped, though. She was as strict as she was efficient, and she hadn’t been inclined to be patient with his initial nervousness.

As usual, she handed him the bag without ceremony or even a comment, but her flat, no-nonsense gaze spoke volumes.

C’mon, I’ve been doing this shit for months now. He frowned back at her, feeling pugnacious. I’m not gonna break anything.

 Rather than retreating directly to the door after bowing to Munakata, she turned her gaze on Fushimi instead. Astonishingly, her cool expression softened just enough to allow a small, rare smile. “Fushimi.”

“Lieutenant,” he acknowledged her, without batting an eye.

She nodded in response, as if this was exactly what she’d expected, and moved toward the door, opening it and stepping back so that they could pass.

“I believe that covers the particulars,” Munakata noted. “I shall be awaiting your report, Yata-kun.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Shouldering the bag, Yata headed for the door. “Later.”

There was still that small but odd hint of warmth in Awashima’s expression as they moved to pass her; when she raised her head, her gaze was directed at Fushimi. “Good work,” she murmured.

Fushimi clicked his tongue. “Don’t patronize me.”

“Since when did I offer praise lightly?” There was an edge of fondness in her crisp tone that Yata had never heard before. It was weird. “Perhaps I should have said ‘good luck’ instead?”

“I’ll need it.” Fushimi snorted, and her answering hum of amusement was the last thing they heard before the door closed behind them.

Huh. So people do get along with him sometimes. Yata shot a sidelong glance at Fushimi, taking in the now-familiar frowning profile and hunched shoulders. He didn’t really get what it was about this guy that could bring out a friendly side to Awashima, but it had happened.

Was there something he was missing, or what?

“So?” Fushimi cut into his pondering as they entered the elevator. “How far do we have to go?”

Yata reached back into his pocket for the list, letting Fushimi push the button to send them back up. There were a couple of out-of-the-way places on the list, but he wasn’t gonna have to fly, at least – in this weather, it would’ve sucked. “Not too far. We can just take the train.”

The name and location for the retrieval at the end seemed to pop out at him, reminding him of their existence now that he was aware of them. Yata let out a soft ‘ch’ under his breath, irritated all over again. Why that guy? Why today? This sucks…

The elevator kicked on, interrupting that thought, and he looked up to find Fushimi fixing him with a narrow look as they sped upwards. “What’s the problem with that retrieval?”

There was no point in hiding it; he’d find out soon enough anyway. Yata scowled, stuffing the paper back into his pocket. “That coven’s got bad blood with Homra.” The elevator came to its abrupt halt, jarring his teeth unpleasantly. “They hate me. I hate them. Going there is a pain in the ass.” The doors chimed and slid open, and he moved on quickly. “That’s it.”

“Ah.” Fushimi’s voice had taken on that drawl again. “So you do have enemies. How… unsurprising.”

Yata tossed a sharp grin over his shoulder, unbothered by the jab. “If you’re not making enemies, you’re not living right.”

Fushimi blinked at him, clearly not expecting that response, and then let out a soft huff that was almost a laugh. He looked ruefully amused. “What kind of philosophy is that?”

“S’true.” Somehow that expression was oddly satisfying – Yata felt a tiny rush of gratification and wasn’t sure why. “I bet you got enemies too, right?”

“Of course I do,” Fushimi responded, flat and even. The tone almost seemed mild when it came with that tiny upward quirk of his lips. “I wouldn’t be doing my job properly if I worried about pissing off random low-lifes.”

That sentiment resonated – Yata paused at the door leading out of the building, processing that unusual feeling of comradery as he met Fushimi’s gaze. After so much adversary between them, it was strange to have a moment like this where they just somehow… clicked.

He couldn’t be totally sure if Fushimi felt it too, but somehow it felt like something had shifted between them – just a bit.

Fushimi raised an eyebrow at him. “What?”

“Huh? Nothing.” Yata blinked rapidly in instinctive response, as if shaking off a stupor. He turned back to the door, allowing himself a small grin, bemused but satisfied by the exchange. “S’all good.”

 

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