Set in Stone

 

Chapter Nine

 

The sky hadn’t cleared by the time they returned to Munakata’s office, but the rain at least tapered off to a drizzle by the time they came out again, allowing for another flight to the Homra bar so that Yata could pass along the information about Hisui – which Kusanagi didn’t seem particularly surprised or bothered about.

That was kinda what he’d expected – Kusanagi had ways of getting information that Yata would never have been able to figure out – but loyalty had prompted him to speak up anyway. Just in case.

Three of his friends – Kamamoto, Bandou, and Akagi – all happened to be there this time, and Yata stayed just long enough to introduce Fushimi and give a grudging explanation of his current situation.

An explanation that Fushimi kept interrupting with embarrassing, unnecessary details, which his friends all seemed to find hilarious. Fucking traitors, all of them.

“You didn’t have to say all that,” he grumbled when they pushed through the door into his place after flying in.

“If I didn’t, it wouldn’t get said,” Fushimi responded without any sign of remorse, lowering his eyelids and offering a little smirk when Yata turned to glare at him.

Fuck, that expression was still dangerous as hell. Yata couldn’t help but feel nervous at being the focus of it, acutely aware of his exposed skin as he cleared his throat to respond. “Yeah, well, I’m fine with that.”

“You’re the one who values honesty,” Fushimi responded breezily, lowered his lids even further to allow his lashes to veil his eyes – and Yata had to look away, hastily tugging his shirt out from where he’d tucked it into his shorts and pulling it on.

It seriously felt like he needed a barrier against that look sometimes.

The evening was… uneventful. Mostly. He made himself dinner, they took turns having showers again, and it seemed like Fushimi was just going to bury himself in his laptop. So Yata cleaned the remains of the ill-fated summoning from his floor – finally – and pulled out his portable gaming system to waste a few hours before going to bed.

He wasn’t fifteen minutes into it – swearing up a storm as usual – before Fushimi was suddenly leaning over the back of his chair and pointing out every single mistake. And he didn’t put up with more than five minutes of that before thrusting the console in his face and telling him to ‘put up or shut up’.

Unfortunately, as it turned out, Fushimi was surprisingly good at video games.

Yata could only watch him blow through all the trouble spots with apparent ease for a minute or two before a mix of chagrin and frustration had him ripping the console back out of Fushimi’s hands and furiously turning his attention to mastering the stupid thing already.

“And you said I can’t handle losing,” Fushimi drawled, raising an eyebrow at him.

They spent the rest of the evening like that – Yata playing and Fushimi taking breaks to watch over his shoulder periodically, mumbling suggestions almost as if making observations to himself. Which was annoying, but he ended up usually being right, so after a few rebellious but frustrating deaths accompanied by impatient sighs from behind him, Yata started following the advice rather than stubbornly doing the opposite.

The suggestions became more frequent after that. Almost like an annoying companion telling him what he already knew he needed to do.

“Get the chest. To the right. The right.”

“I saw it, just… this guy’s in the way! Wait, wait… There!”

“You should equip that right away – it’s better than what you’ve got on.”

“I know! I’m doing it now, okay?”

“Watch out for that guy coming back.”

“I got it, just let me do this!”

“You always miss things when I leave you alone.”

“Fuck off! I do not!”

“… You just passed a chest.”

“Damnit! I was just… I was gonna get it later!”

“Right. ‘Later’. After you die without reaching the next save point, you mean.”

“Ugh! Shut up already!”

As frustrating as it was, the evening passed by quickly, and Yata was so keyed up by the end of it that he nearly forgot the unfortunate mess they were in and the problems caused by the bad weather. Maybe it’ll clear up by tomorrow, was the last thought that went through his head before he passed out into blissful unconsciousness.

By morning, it had started to rain in earnest again.

“It’s almost like the Captain planned this,” Fushimi mumbled resentfully as they stepped out of Yata’s apartment. “Just to see how long it takes for one or both of us to snap.”

Yata snorted in response, locking his door. “Wouldn’t put it past him.” He turned to open his umbrella.

Fushimi clicked his tongue. “Your coffee place is open today, right?” He materialized his own umbrella, already open, as they headed for the stairs. “Yesterday's was barely tolerable.”

“You're like one of those coffee snobs, huh?” Yata shook his head, amused. “But you liked the shit I had, right?” He didn't wait for an answer - by now he was more or less clued in that a lack of complaints was the same as a compliment as far as Fushimi was concerned. “That's their stuff. And it's better when they make it, too - you'll see.”

“Hm.” That was a slightly dubious hum, but Fushimi didn't offer a deprecating comment with it.

Good enough.

The coffee shop required a train going in the opposite direction of Munakata's place, but it was generally worth the extra time spent. In addition to the coffee – and the desserts, which were just as awesome – sometimes they had a delivery for him to take back to work with him, which saved him a little time here and there.

Munakata also had an uncanny knack for picking out when Yata was gonna visit the place and arranging for him to take a delivery with him for the owner. It was pretty convenient, even if the all-knowing bullshit pissed him off a little. He could live with it at least.

Whatever. A job’s a job.

When they walked out of the station, it was into the center of a shopping district: all colorful billboards and banners, large store names, and fancy awnings for restaurants and small buildings. Most of them had a modern look, unlike Homra's old-fashioned decor, but there was a lot more liveliness to it than Munakata's sleek, symmetrical office building. The sidewalks were crowded with people despite the rain, umbrellas blending into a mishmash of shades and shapes and shopping bags bumping against their legs. Some of the stores had colored lighting to illuminate their signs and specials through the grey haze of the downpour.

As usual, it was a flashy place.

“This looks like a pain,” Fushimi muttered beside him.

Somehow it wasn't a surprise that he'd hate crowded areas. “Yeah, yeah.” Yata re-opened his umbrella, raising it up over his head before they reached the edge of the station’s awning. “S'not that bad once you get used to it. Anyway, it's not far - just don't lose me.”

Fushimi clicked his tongue, following suit with the illusionary umbrella he’d kept with him on the train. “I literally can't lose you, remember?”

“Oh yeah.” Right. He wasn't totally sure how that contract kept them tethered, honestly. Good question for later, maybe. “Then there's no problem, right? C'mon.”

The café was only a block and a half from the station, sandwiched between an art supplies shop and a pet store. The building it was part of was actually the outside perimeter of a mall, so it continued up past the small awning that read ‘Hakumaitou’ in cheerful, bold printing. There was a small decal in the pane of glass on the door: two paw prints, one from a cat and one from a dog. Otherwise, the exterior picture windows just offered a view of the tables and chairs inside, all of which were small and round and clearly intended for just two or three people to sit at. There were some booths toward the back that allowed for larger groups, but the obvious intent of the place was a spot to relax with one or two people you were close with.

“Why would you name a café ‘Hakumaitou’?” Fushimi muttered, seemingly to himself. “What does white rice have to do with coffee?”

“No idea.” Yata paused to fold his umbrella again and stow it in the backpack he’d bought along. “I asked once but the answer didn't really make sense. Something about friends and food? I think it's like an inside joke.” He reached out to push the door open and then hesitated, frowning. “I don't think there's any protection spells on this place. If so it'd probably just be warding off evil and those with ill intent and all. Their coven headquarters is in the basement, so that'd be the place with all the wards. I think.”

“You ‘think’, huh?” Fushimi sighed. “Well, if you're wrong we’ll be giving whoever’s in there an eyeful, and you can do the explaining.”

Yata shot him a disgruntled look. “I’m gonna go ask them, jerk. Wait here.”

Fushimi clicked his tongue. “Just remember not to go far if you don't want me following you.”

“Yeah, I got it.” Sort of. Whatever. Yata pushed open the door, setting off the cheery jingle that would alert the staff to a customer’s arrival. He brought up a hand automatically to greet the dark-haired man standing behind the counter. “Yo, Yatogami!”

He didn’t get an immediate response. Looking closer, the man – Yatogami Kuroh – was very carefully decorating the top of what looked like a chocolate cake. He set aside the icing wand after a moment, wiping the back of his arm across his forehead, and looked up. “Yata Misaki. What brings you here?”

Yata grimaced. “What’s with the full name thing, seriously?” He didn’t wait for a response, stuffing his hands into his pockets as he approached the counter. “I need more coffee. But first off…” He glanced around at the few patrons sitting in some of the tables, and lowered his voice furtively. “You guys don’t have any kinda dispels set up around this place, do you?”

Yatogami folded his arms. “This is a place of business. The wards are for protection, health, and harmony. Those who wish to pass unnoticed are welcome to keep their disguises. Why do you – ?”

The door jingled, drawing both of their attention, and Fushimi stepped inside.

Yata’s skin prickled up, first with shock and then with outrage. “What are you doing? I thought I told you to wait outside!”

Fushimi clicked his tongue, frowning in response as he made his way across the room toward the counter. “I thought I told you not to go too far.”

This is too far?” At max, he’d only put a few feet between them. “You gotta be kidding me!”

“Don’t blame me for this stupid contract’s requirements.” Fushimi raised an eyebrow at him. “You’re the one who set it up without any kind of thought put into the limitations. Magic does what it will when you set it loose.”

“A wise observation,” Yatogami cut in before Yata could snap back. He glanced between the two of them with a severe expression. “However, I’ll have to ask you to take this outside if you’re going to continue. I don’t know what the situation is between the two of you, but you’re disrupting the mood for our customers.”

It was true – a quick glance around revealed that the few patrons in the café were watching them with a certain amount of confusion. Yata felt his face grow hot. “Right, sorry,” he muttered, reaching up to rub the back of his neck.

Fushimi clicked his tongue again, frowning, but didn’t respond.

“Anyway,” Yata hurried on, trying to brush aside his embarrassment, “like I said, we’re just here for coffee.”

Yatogami regarded him evenly. “Buying or trading?”

Yata grinned back, recovering his equilibrium. “Both.” He reached down into his lower shorts pocket for the packet he’d prepared before leaving his apartment. “I got more dream herb to trade. We’re each gonna get something while we’re here, too.”

“I see.” Yatogami reached out to take the packet from him. “Very well. I’ll let Shiro know you’re – ”

“Did I hear someone mention dream herb?” The swinging door at the back behind the counter was pushed open by a silver-haired man with a youthful face: Isana Yashiro, the owner of the café and leader of their small coven. He smiled broadly, stepping into the room. “Oh, Yata! Nice to see you again. If you’re here to trade, you have good timing – we’re just about out. I was thinking of contacting Munakata, actually.”

“The hell? Don't call him for this stuff!” Yata braced a hand on the counter, leaning forward to frown at Isana. “You got my number, right? Just text me and I'll hook you up. My shit's way better than his, c'mon!”

Yatogami let out what sounded like a long-suffering sigh. “This conversation is beginning to sound unsavory.” He fixed Yata with another of those level gazes. “Should you be talking about your employer in that way?”

Yata snorted derisively in response. “He already knows what I think of him.”

“He probably finds it funny, actually,” Fushimi added dryly.

Isana had joined Yatogami at the counter by that point. He reached out his hand for the packet Yata was holding, and brought it up to peer at and then sniff. “The quality is great, as always.” He smiled across the counter. “You want the usual in return?”

Yata grinned back. “You bet!”

Isana leaned back from the counter, tilting his head towards the door. “Neko!” he called out. “If you're awake, can you bring a bag of Blue Mountain beans to the front?”

“Shiro!” Yatogami shot him an annoyed look. “Don’t yell in front of the customers like that. It’s unseemly!”

“Oh, right.” Isana looked sheepish when he turned back toward them, bending his head a little as if he were the employee rather than the other way around. “Sorry, Kuroh.”

Yatogami folded his arms, looking only mildly appeased, and turned back to face Yata again. “Now then, what can I get for you to drink?”

Their dynamic is so weird. “Uh… yeah, just a regular latte.”

“Very well.” That severe gaze shifted past him. “And you?”

There wasn’t a chance for Fushimi to answer, because the back room door flung open and a young woman with silvery hair bounced into the room, proudly brandishing a small sack of coffee beans. “Shiro! I got the Blue Mountain!”

“Ah. Thank you, Neko.” Isana stepped over to the woman and patted her head affectionately, which she leaned into exactly like a cat would. “I didn’t wake you, did I?”

“Nope! I was awake already.” She happily trailed after him as he made his way back to the counter. “The dream I had last night was so great! I’ll tell you about it if you want!”

“Of course! But later, okay?” He took the bag from her, placing it on the counter before turning to smile back. “Kuroh probably wants to hear it, too – right, Kuroh?” He didn’t wait for any confirmation. “But we need to finish with the customers first.”

Yatogami shook his head, but didn’t comment. The edge of a fond but rueful smile had crept onto his stern face.

Neko glanced at the counter. “Oh, it’s just Yata.” Despite the flippant words, her voice was cheerful. “Morning!”

It felt awkward responding to all that enthusiasm somehow. Neko tended to catch him off guard still, even though he was sorta used to her by now. “R-right. Morning.”

“Is she always like this?” Fushimi commented blandly.

Neko immediately glared at him, hackles seeming to raise with instant dislike. “What’s with this… this bad-aura gloomy glasses guy?”

“Oh, right!” In all the excitement, he’d forgotten to do any introductions. Yata grinned sheepishly. “This is Fushimi.” He shot a smirk over his shoulder. “But y’know, I kinda like ‘bad-aura gloomy glasses guy’… Anyway, these guys are Yatogami, Isana, and Neko.” He shrugged. “Sorry ’bout that.”

Fushimi clicked his tongue. “Isn’t it pointless to do introductions at this point?”

“Courtesy should always be offered when possible,” Yatogami responded strictly, and nodded. “My name is Yatogami Kuroh.”

“Ah. That’s true, isn’t it?” Isana smiled brightly. “Isana Yashiro.”

Neko narrowed her eyes suspiciously at him, but when Isana gave her a gentle nudge, supplied a somewhat subdued, “I’m Neko.”

Fushimi raised an eyebrow. “That doesn’t sound like a real name.”

“It is! Neko is my name!” She glowered at him. “Anyway, you don’t belong here – you’re not human or a familiar!”

There was a moment of stark silence. Yata’s skin prickled up.

She can tell he’s not human?

“Neko,” Isana admonished. “Be polite.”

“Hmph!” She puffed out her cheeks childishly, and then vanished with a small huff. In her place, a tiny silver kitten streaked across the floor and nudged through the door into the back room.

Yatogami sighed, took in what sounded like a steadying breath, and glanced ruefully around at the astonished patrons watching them. “Sorry for the disturbance,” he announced. “Please try to forget it.”

“We’re just practicing for an improv act,” Isana cut in smoothly, tilting his head with a cheerful smile. “Hopefully you all were entertained!”

As the patrons relaxed and turned back to their drinks and conversation, Isana lowered his voice to an undertone. “Sorry about that.” The smile he offered Fushimi was apologetic. “Neko’s very honest, and she’ll sometimes blurt things out like that when she gets excited. Hopefully you’re not offended.”

“As you may have noticed,” Yatogami added, with a meaningful glance in the direction of the back room, “we don’t discriminate against non-humans here. As long as you don’t intend any violence.”

Fushimi shrugged, accepting both apology and clarification. “I’m just here for coffee.”

“Well, this is the right place for that!” Isana waved an arm expansively. “I’ll let Kuroh help you guys out.” He took a couple of steps back toward the door, still smiling brightly. “Call me if there’s anything you need, all right, Kuroh?”

“Not so fast.” Yatogami’s voice was sharp; his stare piercing as he directed it at his employer. “You haven’t forgotten about your promise to fix the error on the till from last night, have you?”

“What? Of course not!” Isana’s grin took on a tiny hint of strain. “I just have a few more things to take care of in the back first, and I’ll be right out to deal with that!”

Yatogami’s eyes narrowed. “Don’t forget it again.”

“I won’t, don’t worry!” Isana was already opening the door and moving through it before he’d finishing speaking. “See you later, Yata! Nice meeting you, Fushimi! Bye!”

There was an awkward pause after his departure.

Yatogami sighed again, facing them. “So one regular latte,” he noted, and glanced at Fushimi. “And what are you having?”

“Large double Americano,” Fushimi responded promptly – as if he couldn’t wait to get this all over with.

“For here or to go?”

What the hell, why not? They weren’t in any rush, considering the weather and Munakata’s seemingly infinite patience. He could work well into the evening if he had to. “We’ll drink ’em here,” Yata responded, reaching out to retrieve the sack of beans from the counter.

“Will we?” Fushimi mumbled, with clear sarcasm. “Somehow I don’t remember having that conversation.”

Yata ignored him, tucking the sack into his backpack. “Like I said, for here.”

Yatogami raised an eyebrow, but didn’t comment. “Together or separate?”

“Sep – ”

“Together,” Fushimi cut in. He materialized the credit card from the other day between his fingers when Yata turned to stare at him. “You were the one complaining about the fact that I drank the last of your coffee. I’ll pay you back right now.”

That was a tempting offer - and pretty reasonable. Yata wrestled with his pride for a moment, before deciding ‘what the hell?’ and giving in with a short nod. “Yeah, okay.”

He had to move aside as Fushimi stepped up to the counter. It gave him a bit of a weird feeling, like he’d lost control of the encounter. Something about watching Fushimi in particular pay for both of their coffees, which they were going to take to one of those cozy two-person tables and drink together, felt... funny.

There was no reason for it, but there it was.

It didn’t take Yatogami long to make their drinks and they took a table in the corner, near the window and far from the other customers in the place. Yata stowed the backpack with his umbrella and the sack of coffee beans under the table.

They’d have to stop at his apartment to drop those off before heading to Munakata’s, but that was okay; it wasn’t like he had set hours, after all. If he ended up missing out on some cash, it’d be worth it to chill out for a while.

“What makes the coffee in this place so great?” Fushimi asked him once they’d sat down. He took a small sip and added, “I’ll admit it's better than most, but...”

“They use magic.” Yata set his own mug down so it could cool. “That woman – Neko – she’s Isana’s familiar. Apparently her talent is altering reality. Kinda like your illusions, but more... I dunno... inward? Feelings and stuff." It probably wasn’t the best way to explain it, but whatever. “When she has really vivid dreams, the good feelings soak into the beans somehow. So the coffee makes you feel better.” He shrugged. “It's great for hangovers.”

“You would know, I suppose,” Fushimi murmured, a hint of a smirk tilting his lips up at the corners.

“Shut up! That was one time, okay?” Yata kicked him under the table. For some reason, the comment didn’t irritate him as much as it would’ve before. “Anyway, it’s probably the only reason we didn’t fucking kill each other back at the start.”

“That explains a lot,” Fushimi commented dryly. He set his mug down, meeting Yata’s gaze across the table. “Is there a reason you decided we were going to stay here and drink these?”

Yata shrugged again. Honestly, he wasn’t sure why that whim had struck him. “Just felt like it.”

“Hm.” Fushimi's answering hum was skeptical. He lowered his lids, another little smirk at the ready. “If you’re really that desperate for a date, you should’ve made that your contract instead.”

Date. The word hit him like a bolt of electricity, setting off a shock that rippled through his body, prickling up his skin.

Oh... fuck.

So that was where the funny feeling had come from. Yata felt a sudden fierce rush of mortification surge through him, tingling skin burning in its wake – a mix that resulted in an intensely uncomfortable sensation. Right, yeah… Fushimi had paid for them both, and now here they were in a cutesy cafe at a tiny table meant for two, which was totally date-like, and he hadn’t even realized it.

Shit…

The silence stretched on painfully as he tried to come up with some response, and then Fushimi hummed lightly, smirk widening. “Too embarrassed to admit it? That's cute.”

Yata scowled back at him, irritation seeping in through his flustered paralysis. “Shut up,” he muttered, feeling his face burn, and busied himself with his coffee to avoid that smug gaze.

The worst part of it – the part he didn’t want to admit on pain of death – was that the initial shock wasn’t unpleasant. For a second – just a tiny, stupid second – the idea of a date had felt… nice. Exciting, even.

It was infuriating – humiliating. His own brain betraying him. And because of the contract and the shared emotions, Fushimi knew it.

Goddamnit…

He was bracing himself for more teasing, scowling at the mug in his hands, but nothing came. The silence from across the table was starting to felt almost stifling as the seconds ticked by – what the hell was going on? Yata took a hasty sip of his coffee, absorbing the familiar pleasure of both taste and feeling for a bit of a boost, and set the mug down on the table before finally giving in to the urge to look up and see what Fushimi was doing.

Blue-grey eyes met his immediately and from far too close a distance for his liking. Fushimi was resting his chin on his hand, elbow braced on the table and head tilted as he studied Yata. In the instant that their gazes locked, the expression on his face was almost baffled: eyebrows knit, tiny frown on his lips, and eyes searching.

It was the look of someone struggling with a particularly difficult puzzle.

Not for the first time since they’d met, Yata found himself struck dumb, helplessly captivated by the charm of that open uncertainty. He wasn’t sure what to do with that look – wasn’t sure what he wanted to do – but something within him stirred to life all the same.

The table they were at really was way too small…

Fushimi blinked, interrupting that short moment, and then clicked his tongue, expression seeming to shutter up as he lowered his hand and turned his head. “What?” he muttered.

“Huh?” Yata stared at his profile, caught off guard by the abrupt change in mood. He shook his head to clear it and then frowned. “What d’you mean ‘what’? You were the one staring at me!”

The second click of Fushimi’s tongue was almost resentful; when he spoke again, his tone was grudging. “What do you expect when you react like that?”

Yata blinked. “What’s that supposed to mean? React like what?

At that, Fushimi let out a breath, shut his eyes for a moment, and then turned his head again, reopening them lazily. That tiny smirk was spreading on his face again. “Figure it out for yourself,” he drawled, raising his mug for a sip. Just before bringing it to his lips, he added in a lower tone, “Misaki.”

And for some reason, just that – just the name, with the timbre and pitch of Fushimi’s voice – had heat spreading all the way across Yata’s face, to the tips of his ears.

Disgustingly, traitorously, irresistibly good.

And beyond fucked up. But in that moment, even as he protested loudly, glaring across the table with as much force as he could muster, it was hard to properly care.

 

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