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[X] If it's you this dude's here 'cause of, you better answer it.
Ya look real real careful at the door, like maybe you're worried those hinges are gettin' loose. “Friend of yours?” ya ask.
“Yes,” says Rinnosuke.
“And when ya say 'friend', do ya mean actually a friend, or are we talkin' one of those friends ya pretend not to see when ya catch 'em walkin' atcha at the supermarket?”
Rinnosuke gets a real look. Like, maybe not angry, but maybe angeresque. “A friend,” he says, real sure to make sure you're real sure too.
And maybe you can get a hint. “Gotcha,” ya say, and then ya say to the door, “Comin'!”
There's a tap, like someone went for a full-fledged knock and aborted at the last sec. Ya make to the door and swing it wide open, revealin' on the other side—
Or at least that's the plan, 'cause when ya turn to do some serious door-answerin' Rinnosuke grabs ya by the shoulder and spins ya right 'round. “What are you doing?” he hisses.
“What's it look like I'm doin'?” ya snap right back. “I'm gettin' the door. That's what dudes do when knockin' happens, right?”
“It's because of you that she's here—because she's worried for me.”
“So that sorta makes it some weird version of my responsibility or something.” Ya swipe at Rinnosuke's hand—still on your shoulder—and he flings it off quick weird like ya burned it by touchin' it on your end. Yo, what's up with that? He's grabbed ya before, right? “Consider this me takin' the hit this time for reals,” ya say.
“There's no reason—you don't need to 'take the hit'; I already know who it is on the other side of that door—”
“Too late, takin' the hit,” ya say. “If I get blasted, tell my mom I was awesome.” And ya make to the door and swing it wide open, revealin' on the other side—
A dude ya don't know in a nice-lookin' dress and some headgear that redefines the term “funky”.
Ya weren't really 'spectin' anything in particular, but ya really weren't really 'spectin' that. “Yo,” ya say.
Funky Headgear sorta goggles, but only for a mo. And then she gets tetchy. “Where's Rinnosuke?” she goes at ya.
“He's over there,” ya say, “breakfastin'. I'm his official door-answerer.”
“You are not my official door-answerer,” Rinnosuke says from farther in.
“Yeah, I'm not,” ya agree. “Ya wanna come in? You're lettin' out all the air.”
Funky Headgear walks in, all real tense about it. Ya close the door and ya feel her eyebeams doin' some heated stuff to your first thoracic vertebra. Or maybe that's sunburn. You can get sunburned from bein' cooped up in the same buncha rooms for ya dunno how long anymore, right?
Right. And the fact the sunburn goes away as soon as Funky Headgear gets to seein' Rinnosuke is a real weird coinkydink. “Rinnosuke!” she goes at 'im. “How are you?”
Rinnosuke stops clearin' up the table of bowls and chopsticks and stuff just long enough to peer over in Funky Headgear's direction. He smiles. It's faint, but it's there. “I'm fine,” he says. “And you?”
“I'm fine as well. Um...”
And for a sec they both stop, the both of 'em, like they're tryin' to remember how the next verse goes. Rinnosuke just stands there, with that real pleasant thing stuck to his face, but Funky Headgear's doin' some jerky microswivels where her head meets her neck, scannin' the scenery—
“I didn't interrupt your meal, did I?” she goes with, finally.
She totally did. Ya told 'er she totally did.
“No, I was just finishing up,” Rinnosuke says, lyin'. “If you wait a little, I can make you some tea...”
“Tea would be nice.”
Rinnosuke nods, still smilin', and shoves off while Funky Headgear makes herself cozy at the table, her knees tuckin' under the tablecloth. And then the tick—the tick—the pinpoint tick he gets outta sight—
Funky Headgear starts eyeing up you. And those aren't real friendly eyes.
“So,” she says, “who are you?”
“I'm Christie Christoferson.”
Somehow, ya figure that's not what she wanted you to say, and by “somehow”, ya mean “by the way her eyes get way more not-friendly”. “And who is Christie Christoferson?” she asks.
“Christie Christoferson's me.” And 'cause prolly the symmetric property's not bein' too helpful here: “I'm the dude hangin' at Rinnosuke's. Ya mighta seen me in the paper, maybe.”
“I did. In fact, that's why I'm here.”
Huh. Ya guess this is day one outta nine of your ephemeral wonderness. Better milk it while you've got it. “So, what—ya come all the way over just to check out my visage? 'Cause I'm actually totally down with that.”
“Not precisely.” says Funky Headgear. And then she does something that's actually sort of weird, which is take off the funky headgear, settin' it real careful on the table where she's at before gettin' those eyebeams back on target. It's a neat effect, on the dude and the headgear both. Just a tick ago, it was like Funky Headgear was drownin' in dignity, like she was goin' through the motions of a graduation ceremony from another dimension or something.
Now, though, with Funky and Headgear separated, Funky looks more like Funky and Headgear looks more like Headgear. Ya couldn't 'splain it right if ya tried. Funky—'cause she can't be “Funky Headgear” without the headgear, obvs—still looks all dignified, but now it's like she's handin' out the diplomas instead of receivin'. And the headgear...
Okay, the headgear still looks like whatever it was it looked like before it got doffed, like a little fancy house or a spaceship or something. But it looks more like that now. For serious.
“Please, sit,” Funky says, and you've got the hunch it's less requestful than it sounds. When ya comply, ya do it on the opposite side of the table. And kinda scooted back. With Funky watchin' ya settle in, lookin' ya up and down without even tiltin' her head.
“What are your intentions?” Funky says, after you're all sat.
Whoa, okay, yeah, she didn't like that answer, either. Those eyes're gonna end up searin' streaks in the wall. Through your skull. “Your intentions,” Funky says again. “What are you doing here?”
“Uh...sleepin'? Eatin'? Just hangin', basically?” This feels like a trick question. “Is this a trick question?”
“It is not.”
“Oh. Sleepin', then. Eatin'. Just hangin', basically. Am I supposta be doin' something here?”
Apparently ya are.
Which makes Rinnosuke's reentry with the tea and eats really ace timin'.
Funky's eyes dim quick from pyre-lightin' to pleasant pleasantness as Rinnosuke makes with the dispensin'. “Here,” he says, and then he turns over to you. “I didn't get you anything,” he admits.
“Yeah, tea's not really my deal.” Still not your deal, which actually Rinnosuke oughta know by now, considerin' how long you've been here. Or you're pretty sure he does know, actually. Double actually.
There's something real off about this whole thing that's happenin' right now and it's makin' ya twitch.
“Oh,” says Rinnosuke, lookin' between the two of ya like he's just noticed you and Funky are sharin' the same roof. “Keine, this is Christie Christoferson. She's staying at the shop for the time being.”
Keine—ya guess that's her name—looks at ya over her tea like a dude with a hammer looks at a nail. “Nice to meet you,” she says, grindin' the words out her vocal cords.
“And Christoferson—this is Kamishirasawa Keine. She's a good friend of mine.”
Keine does a thing that's half scoffin', half laughin'. “In other words, I'm the only one who visits for a reason past purchasing something from you.”
“I'll have you know that plenty of people come by and don't buy anything.”
“Fine, then—I'm the only one who visits for your sake.” And Keine bland-half-smiles up at Rinnosuke who bland-half-smiles down at Keine and this is some kinda heartfelt thing goin' on here so of course this is when something occurs to ya and so ya ruin it.
“Yo, hold on—hold on a tick. 'Kamishirasawa Keine'?” ya say.
Keine looks at ya. Rinnosuke looks at ya. Their smiles drop like rocks. “Yes?” Keine says.
“Did someone tell me your name—” You're askin' the wrong dude. “Rinnosuke, did ya tell me her name before? 'Cause I feel like someone mentioned her name.”
“It was in the newspaper,” says Rinnosuke.
“It was in the newspaper?” Ya don't remember her bein' in the paper, but—double hold on, where'd ya put the paper, even?
“It's under your arm,” says Rinnosuke.
Oh, huh. Ya musta tucked that away when ya made to answer the door. Ya uncrumple it and skim, seekin'—
Wait, here it is, maybe. Something about how there's a buncha dudes from the Outside who've actually gone all, “Yeah, I wanna stay here,” but most of 'em are in the human village, which is where you'da gone a long time ago if Rinnosuke wasn't such a victim of inertia. The paper goes on sayin' that not alotta these dudes from the Outside are buddy-buddy with youkai—and here's the important bit—with the exception of Lastname Firstname, village schoolteacher and were-hakutaku.
“Is this it?” ya ask, turnin' the paper for all to see and tappin' your finger against whatcha think is it. “Kanji's not 'zactly my strong suit.”
“That's it,” Rinnosuke mutters, peerin' closer.
“Hey, sweet! It's 'cause I saw that 'sawa' bit, so—”
“I'm sorry,” Keine interrupts. “'Strong suit'?”
Oh. Right. Ya keep doin' that. And you're not gonna stop doin' that. Mostly 'cause ya can't stop doin' that, but if ya could stop doin' that, ya still wouldn't, 'cause that'd mean you'd given in to bein' stuck in this place forever. “I mean I'm not so good with kanji,” ya 'splain. “I'm from California, which isn't in Japan, but then one day I slept funny and hey presto! Archipelago.”
“I see,” says Keine, lookin' like she's not sure if she sees or not. “Are there many youkai in California, then?”
Ya shrug. “Beats me,” ya say, and you'ven't got a clue why this dude'd think you'd know—
Or maybe ya do, actually, maybe. “I'm not a youkai,” ya say. “I read that much, and they got that part wrong. I mean, they didn't 'zactly go, like, 'dude's a youkai', but—I'm not a youkai.”
Keine blinks at ya. Like, really blinks—if this was a cartoon, you'd hear it happenin'. “Oh,” she says.
And then a lot more irritated, eyebrows scrunchin': “Oh.”
And then she's balancin' her whole brow in the heel of her hand, lookin' like she's tryin' to be a good sport about eatin' something sour. “I should have known,” she groans. “That tengu—she's never been hesitant to embellish the truth when it suits her.”
“It's somehow charming, though,” Rinnosuke says. “As long as the article isn't about you, I mean.”
“Because it's so inaccurate.”
“We can agree on that much, at least.” Keine refocuses back to you. “So you fell asleep, and woke up in Gensokyo?” she asks.
“Yeah, that's right—real shockin', 'specially for me. I woulda spent a whole lotta time coughin' out my soul walkin' in circles if Rumia hadn't shown me over to the shop. Rinnosuke's been real decent, though. Been feedin' me rice and everything.”
“And look how you've repaid me,” Rinnosuke says, under his breath.
“Yo, I've been straight up acceptable in my guestness,” ya protest. “Not like I've been hoggin' the hot water or rockin' out past midnight, right?”
Keine peers over at Rinnosuke. “Rumia led her here?”
“It was a surprise to me, too,” Rinnosuke says. “Apparently she didn't eat her because she didn't run away.”
“And an Outsider wouldn't run away,” says Keine. “Where's Rumia now? The article in the newspaper said she was staying here, but...”
“Well...” Rinnosuke trails off, lookin' around a bit. Then he looks at you.
Then Keine looks at you.
“What?” ya say.
“She did lead you,” Keine says.
“And she was here a moment ago,” Rinnosuke mutters.
“I dunno, I was answerin' the door. Whaddya think I am, her keeper?” Ya snort, and kick out your legs under the table.
And the company goes real still.
“What was that?” Keine says.
“I sneezed,” ya say. “Gesundheit.”
“No, hold on, I sneezed. You say 'gesundheit'.”
“What?” Keine looks over at Rinnosuke.
Rinnosuke puts his hand over his face and makes a big deal outta draggin' it downwards. “It's fine, Keine.”
Whoa. Rinnosuke voice went kinda harsh for a sec there. Even Keine looks sorta aback.
And then her face kinda settles into something real concerned. “Are you sure?”
“Trust me,” Rinnosuke says. “I've lived this long. I must be doing something right.”
Keine sighs and puts her tea down, workin' herself to her feet, grabbin' her headgear on the way. “Fine,” she says. “But remember—if you need help—if you need anyone to talk to—”
“I know where I can find you.”
“You always have, haven't you?” Keine smiles. It's a weird smile. All the smiles've been weird. “And remember to eat well.”
“I'm serious. You never ate enough, even when you weren't living alone.”
Keine's smile goes more horizontal, less smile. She looks around for a sec more, like maybe there's something else she's forgotten—but if there is, she gives up on rememberin'. And after inclinin' her head, she turns and makes out the door, closin' it behind her.
So, that happened.
“Is she gone?” says the table.
Rinnosuke looks like he's gonna do the hand thing again, but gets his appendage under control. “Yes,” he says, “she's gone.”
Rumia pokes her head out from under the head of the table, tablecloth drapin' around her neck, lookin' like some sorta freaky prepubescent table turtle. “Oh,” she says, and exacts herself, brushin' off her dress dust as she gets back to standin'. And then hoverin'.
Seriously, you're not gonna get used to that anytime soon.
“She blasts me sometimes, so I hid,” Rumia 'splains, prolly thinkin' you're askin' a whole different set of questions with your eyeballs, which you're not.
“That might have something to do with your habit of eating human beings,” says Rinnosuke.
“Attacking humans is a youkai's job, so it's okay,” says Rumia. She looks over her impromptu hidey-structure, and frowns. “Somebody took the food.”
“Breakfast is over.”
“I'm still hungry.”
“Breakfast is over.”
“I'm still hungry.” But maybe Rinnosuke stressin' the “over” bit's gotten to her, 'cause she spreads her arms and floats over to where ya know the window is. “I'm going to eat something,” she informs no one in particular, and then she's gone too.
Rinnosuke sighs. Lotsa sighin' happenin' lately. “'Someone', more likely,” he says, and starts straightenin' the tablecloth parts Rumia pulled outta place.
Yeah, the pseudocannibalism prolly is a given. “So, who was that?” ya ask.
“Who was who?”
“'Who was who?' Who do ya think? That Keine dude—who was she?”
Rinnosuke stops straightenin'. Just for a tick, though. “I told you,” he tells ya. “She's a friend.”
And that's the funny part, right? 'Cause ya don't think he's lyin'. But...
“She comes by every now and then, just to check on me—to make sure I'm eating enough, or that I haven't overworked myself.” Rinnosuke gets the last corner in the corner it's supposta be in, and steps back to admire his handiwork. “She's a good friend,” he says.
“Are ya eatin' enough? Ya do kinda skimp on anything that's not rice.”
“It's enough for me. If I told her I was skipping lunch, she'd probably show up the next day with an entire fresh fish.”
“Oh, man, my mom did that once. She called up askin' how I was doin', livin' on my own, and I told her I missed her salmon. And the next day? Entire salmon. She wouldn't let me cook it, either. Totally embarrassin', 'cept it kinda made me happy, y'know?”
The corner of Rinnosuke mouth jerks, like maybe it's tryin' to quirk up but something's holdin' it down. “I know,” he says, and heads off to the same side of the pad he took all the breakfast stuff. Prolly to do the dishes. And everything else that's not the dishes.
“Wait.” Ya follow. “We're skippin' lunch? Since when?”
“You didn't notice?”
“I noticed the two-meals-a-day thing, but I figured we were skippin' breakfast. We're skippin' lunch?”
“We've been eating a late breakfast, and then dinner.”
“Seriously? Man, I've been sleepin' in too long.”
“Yes, you have.” Rinnosuke gathers up the whole buncha breakfastware, sticks it in the sink, and heads through another door. Wait, isn't this outside?
“It's your fault, though,” ya point out. “I used to have a proper sleepin' schedule. With alarms and everything. And then I got stuck here, where there's no point in wakin' up at one time specific. I prolly got fired ages ago, back home.”
“Ah,” says Rinnosuke. Oh, there's a well. So that's the trick. “Then why didn't you go with Keine?”
Huh? “Why would I go with Keine?”
Rinnosuke stops what he's doin' just to stare at ya. “Because she's the schoolteacher at the human village?” he says. “You read that newspaper article. It said so, near the end.”
Yeah, huh. It did say that, didn't it? It totally said that. That thing he just said. It said that, and ya read that, and ya read that sayin' that. It's not like ya missed it, or anything. It said that, and ya read that, and ya read that sayin' that, and ya remember that sayin' that, straight out. Straight out.
It said that.
Ya take that in, with all your grace and poise and dignity.
“Nuts! Nuts! Heckin' flippin' nuts!”