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>Forest Mix because the MC is great (even though it is being a bit slow)
You're a bit slow.
(Just kidding. I was real tickled to see my story in the recommendations thread. Thanks.)
[X] Flip Cirno over so she isn't eating dirt.
[X] Listen to Red Pants.
So what is it that Mokou was all ultra-eager to yak at Rinnosuke 'bout, anyways? You've gotten real curious—curious enough to drop all the eaves—but there're first things that've gotta be first, first, which is why ya head Cirnowise, instead. “Yo,” ya say, bendin' over a bit over her twitchin' fairiness.
Cirno doesn't answer, or stop bein' face down, even, but her dusty hands stop vascillatin' and decide that fists're where it's at, so prolly she can hear ya.
'Less, of course, she got her eardrums totally busted while ya weren't lookin', which is a possibility, you've gotta admit. She looked scuffed up in general back already from when you were standin' at the door, but now that you're all up close and personal ya realize it's more like she's actually ultra-super-scuffed. That blue dress she's donnin' has got some serious frayage that it didn't before, and those crystal spiky back things she's been luggin' 'round look like they're goin' through a bad time. Or the worst time.
Or like they caught a Dali painting or two and came away from the experience with some serious aspirations.
They're not actually crystally and not actually spiky anymore, is what you're sayin'. They're more melty. “Can ya hear me?” ya say.
Cirno's fists jerk at the wrist, like they've got places to go but can't figure out how to get goin'. Nothing concrete, in other words.
“If you can hear me, twitch a bit,” ya say.
Cirno twitches a bit.
That's half-relievin'. She's not deaf, at least, even though she could maybe still be a whole lotta other things. The idea of this dude havin' gotten impaired permanent sorta on your behalf is an idea that makes ya kinda ill the more ya think it. “Ya want me to turn ya over?” ya say.
Cirno mutters something ya miss entirely 'cause it's got too much ground in it.
“I'ma turn ya over. Tell me if ya want me to stop turnin' ya over.” Ya bend over more over, and roll over Cirno till her face-down's face up, careful not to touch her ex-crystal ex-spiky back things. “That better?” ya say, once you've got a full view straight of her mug.
Cirno doesn't tell ya that's better. Cirno looks ya on with an expression like she wants to rage and cry and upchuck in your general direction all at once.
Maybe try a different tack. “Are you okay?” ya ask.
“No,” Cirno says.
An answer. That's makin' progress. Maybe.
And ya don't know how to say whatcha wanna say next without actually sayin' it, so ya say it, just. “Those things comin' offa your back,” ya say. “They're kinda seriously busted up.”
“This kinda injury is nothing!” Cirno snaps atcha.
“Like nothing literal or nothing metaphorical?”
Your concern is not mollifyin' a dude's ire here. “Just you wait,” Cirno goes on. “I'm gonna get better, and when I do, I'm gonna freeze ya solid.”
“Cool,” ya say, and get disappointed when the pun goes over unappreciated. It's not anyone's fault, even. Gensokyo's just lackin' in English-speakin' ears. And seein' as Cirno's basically sorta alright, ya leave 'er lyin' and get over to where Rinnosuke and Mokou are still makin' all kindsa mouth sounds already.
It's Mokou who sees ya closin' in first, though, and she hauls shut her gawp before you're close enough to lean in an ear. Rinnosuke, catchin' on prolly with the way the dude he's chattin' with has suddenly given it up mid-sentence, does ditto and follows her gaze till it's the both of 'em starin' atcha like ya broke up a touchin' moment with an elbow drop.
“Yo,” ya say.
Mokou makes a neutral wordless acknowledgey sound, with a little bobby nod to go with it. She looks back at Rinnosuke. Rinnosuke, sensin' it, looks back at her. Mokou, catchin' Rinnosuke's sight, stops lookin' at Rinnosuke and looks at you again instead. Rinnosuke follows her gaze again and also again looks at you. Ya look at the both 'em, first Mokou and then Rinnosuke. Rinnosuke ducks your look and looks at Mokou, quick. Mokou, sensin' Rinnosuke lookin' at 'er like Rinnosuke sensed 'er lookin' at him, looks at Rinnosuke, then looks at you again.
“So,” Mokou says, “what was that about?”
“What was what about?” ya say.
“Cirno, trying to take it out on you like that,” Mokou says. “It's been a long time since I've seen her hold that much of a grudge. Usually she just gets beat up and leaves—she doesn't come back. What'd you say to her?”
“She lied!” Cirno interjects somewhere over your shoulder. “And she's a bully! She's a lyin' bully!”
Now Mokou's lookin' atcha like you're skatin' on thin ice, which totally hurts. Like, she's gonna take the word of the dude who tried to give you a flyin' boot to the head? “I am totally seriously not a bully,” ya say, quick.
“She's lyin' right now!”
“I'm not lyin', either—ya know, for a dude all crazy up in arms 'bout bullyin', you're real assiduous 'bout hectorin' me, ya notice that?”
“She told Rumia to run away when Marisa stopped by,” says Rinnosuke, low enough that Cirno's not gonna start screamin' in his direction. “Apparently, Rumia told Cirno, and Cirno misunderstood...”
“Huh,” Mokou says, and when she looks atcha now the maybe-you're-scum look is gone. Awesome. “So you're saying you helped Rumia.”
“Yeah! I mean—dude had serious objections to gettin' blasted, so when Marisa entered the pic I was all like, 'Rumia! Jet!'” Ya scramble for proof for a sec before ya remember it's right in front of ya. “Rinnosuke was there, too—Mac, you tell 'er!”
Mokou glances at Rinnosuke just long enough to catch the latter dude doin' his own bobby nod.
“See?” ya say. And maybe you're feelin' kinda PO'd at a fairy and this visitor dude puttin' on the spot, so ya grab the wheel while the driver's distracted by something happenin' on their smartphone (yo, dontcha know that's illegal in California?) and make a screechin' U-turn with this interrogation.
“And what's up with you?” ya say. “What're you all bangin' on Rinnsouke's door for?”
“I didn't get to knock on anyone's door, for some reason. Remember?”
“Same diff. With that whole mysterious Keine's-friend production you were displayin', ya had to have some mondo-super-important reason, right?”
Mokou doesn't answer ya immediate. She gazes atcha for a bit, and even though her eyes aren't movin' up and down it feels a lot like they're movin' up and down, and also like maybe she's not totally A-OK with what she's seein' here. And then she's all:
“I guess I wanted to see what kind of person Rinnosuke was borrowing from Keine for.”
Hey. Yo. What?
Rinnosuke looks pained.
“Anyway,” Mokou says, “I got what I wanted, so I'll leave now. Want me to tell Keine anything for you when I see her?” And she's back to speakin' not to you again.
Rinnosuke still looks pained. And also like something with too many teeth is chewin' his legs up while it's super-imperative he stay cool. “If you would thank her again—that would be nice,” he says.
Mokou nods one for the road, and stalks off.
And then pauses, when she gets to Cirno.
And then she picks up Cirno (to the dude's indignant protestin'), hauls 'er over her shoulder (ditto), and continues stalkin' till she's all stalked off.
So that happened.
Or actually, no way you can cover that with just “so that happened”, not when that dude let something so seriously significant slip just now. “Yo, Mac.”
Rinnosuke freezes from where he's tryin' to stealth back into the shop. “Yes?” he says.
“What was that about?”
“What was what about?”
Yo, is Rinnosuke tryin' to play dumb? Rinnosuke's tryin' to play dumb. There's no way he seriously thinks that's gonna work, right? “The part where she was all, 'This is the dude you've been borrowin' from Keine from,'” ya say. “That 'that'. What was that about?”
“Keine lent me some money recently,” Rinnosuke says. “That's all.” And he ducks inside before he's done talkin', even, like that's gonna save 'im.
Yeah, right. You're on his back all the way, like some kinda tenacious metaphorical monkey. “She sorta straight out said ya borrowed it for me, though,” ya point out. “So I'ma say it again, Mac: What's up with that?”
You can see it when it happens. Rinnosuke kinda just goes soft up the spine, his shoulders droopin', his head turnin' so he doesn't hafta look ya straight on. It's him givin' in. “You were sick,” he says. “I just needed some money to buy some medicine. That's all.”
That's the second time he's that's-all'd in sixty seconds, and ya believe it only a little more the second time 'round, i.e. basically ya don't. Or at most the amount's zilchesque. “Ya shouldn't hafta take out a loan for a bottle of aspirin, though,” ya say, totally strategically demolishin' his testimony.
Rinnosuke blinks atcha. “'Aspirin'?”
The look Rinnosuke gives ya indicates you are something like the opposite of helpin'.
“For headaches and fevers,” ya 'splain. “Ya get it outta any dinky drugstore, straight off the shelf, and then plonk down like five bucks for it at the counter, easy. Nothing worth mortgagin' for, Mac—ya dig?”
“I think some people would be annoyed at you comparing Eientei's clinic to a 'dinky drugstore'.”
“So it takes up a buncha that mansion space? Loadsa aspirin?”
“It's less the quantity of the medicine at the clinic and more the quality,” Rinnosuke says. His brows scrunch up. “Your aspirin—does it have side effects?”
It sounds like Rinnosuke's circlin' a point, so ya beat down the urge to tell 'im it's not your aspirin. “Sure,” ya say. “Ya don't wanna give it to kids too young, 'cause their livers can get all busted up.”
“And it doesn't always work, either.”
“Yeah, no. Sometimes ya down a coupla things and it's a no-go anyways.”
“And that is the main respect in which the medicine from the clinic at Eientei differs,” Rinnosuke says. “As long as the instructions are followed precisely—medicine from Eientei always works, and medicine from Eientei never has any side effects.”
His voice is low, like a dude wrappin' up a scary story, ready to spring the last gruesome punchline and watch the mugs 'round the campfire twist in shock as the whole tale reframes itself.
“The cost,” Rinnosuke says, “reflects this.”
“So ya took out a loan?” ya say.
Rinnosuke blinks atcha again, and it's like an end parenthesis, the drama switchin' off like that. “It's not as if I borrowed from a loan shark or anything like that,” he says. “It's Keine. And in any case, it isn't as if I make a habit of borrowing money from anyone. It should be alright, just this once.”
“Not my point, Mac. Ya shouldnta had to beg anyone for green at all.” There's so much severely messed up with what he's sayin' right now that you're findin' it almost kinda hard to start 'splainin' the ish you've got here. “Okay, like—is the budget seriously that thin that ya don't have the moola for medicine?”
“I don't usually put aside money any more than what's needed for immediate necessities,” Rinnosuke admits. “And I don't find all my merchandise myself, so when I go to the village...”
“Ya went to the village?” And he didn't take you?
“Only once since you began staying here—to borrow the money.”
Okay, yeah, that's alright, then. Can't 'spect the dude to drag ya delirious all the way to wherever it is. Ya feel sorta like a heel, too—this dude's been nothing but awesome, and the first thing ya think is maybe he's sneakin' out and playin' saboteur 'gainst your tryin'-to-get-back-home efforts or something. “Yo, Mac,” ya say, and you're slippin' into serious yourself. “Can I ask you a question?”
“No, I mean, like, a serious question. Like a you've-gotta-answer-this-straight-up-honest question.”
Rinnosuke's expression gets serious appropriate. “I'm listening,” he says.
“Is it that the budget's throttled—or am I the dude throttlin' the budget?”
The fact that Rinnosuke has to pause before workin' his vocal cords is pretty answery on its own. “It does cost more to feed two mouths than one, but I don't eat much anyway,” he says. “Didn't you notice that yourself?”
Forget bein' a heel—a heel's something you can lean on. And meanwhile at the other end of the body there's something climbin' up your sinuses, something like nausea 'cept not exactly. “Ya shouldnta gotten me that kinda medicine,” ya say, and that is totally the wrong thing to say and ya know it's the wrong thing to say and you're sayin' it anyways and ya can't stop sayin' stuff. “I woulda turned out peachy with a coupla generic tablets, or just regular bedrest and waterin', even. Blowin' a chunk of someone else's cold cash—ya get it, right? Ya didn't hafta do it for me.”
“I didn't quite do it for you.”
And now it's your turn to do the kinda stupefied blinkin'. 'Cause yo: Huh?
“When you became sick,” Rinnosuke says, and then he stops, and for a tick his whole face does like he's makin' friends with a lemon, or some lemons, or maybe all the lemons, even. “When you became sick,” he says again, and the pause's in the same place, and he can't get over the hump at all.
He won't look atcha straight. Ya move your face, and he turns his off away.
“I'd forgotten,” he says, real quiet. “Or rather, I'd let myself forget. Human beings are much more fragile than youkai.”
And that just hangs there, in the shopspace. Too long and takin' up too much room.
“Ya wanna unpack that?” ya say, and maybe ya don't sound so fierce either.
Rinnosuke sighs, but his back goes a little straighter, the whole dude stumblin' back towards the mean between lecturin' Rinnosuke and the other Rinnosuke, the one that slipped out just now that you dunno what to do with and maybe Rinnosuke doesn't either, if just shuttin' the door on it doesn't count. “Youkai and human beings may look similar, but they're fundamentally different,” he says. “A youkai is primarily a spiritual being. In other words, if you injured a youkai with a normal weapon, it's more likely that they would be able to fully recover, regardless of the initial extent of the injury.”
You remember Cirno sayin' her back things were gonna get fine. Or implyin' it, at least. “So gettin' sick's the same?” ya ask.
“There aren't many illnesses that affect both human beings and youkai,” Rinnosuke says. “And I'm somewhat resistant to most illnesses myself.”
“So ya panicked.”
“It's something like that.”
“So ya panicked,” ya say.
And Rinnosuke does another kinda face, but he doesn't say “no”.
“Okay,” ya say. “Yeah, okay.” Ya put your hand up through your hair, tryin' to think up something to say next, but all you're gettin' past bupkis is that you're overdue for a haircut, and you're not gonna say that. Rinnosuke peeled his skin back just now, just for a tick, just enough for you to catch something ya don't know what it was. Ya can't leave 'im hangin'. Ya won't leave 'im hangin'.
“Someday I'm gonna die,” ya say.
Rinnosuke looks alarmed. Maybe ya shoulda left him hangin'.
Or wait, no, you can save this. “I mean—yo, check it, Mac. We've all gotta bite the big one someday, dig? I mean, it's not like I wanna buy the farm, not till I'm full up prepared to join the choir invisible, obvs—but when a dude's clock winds down and it's time to kick the bucket, there's nothing much they can do 'cept croak.”
Rinnosuke's alarm's handed off the baton to some kinda amazed wonder. “Do all of those mean 'to die'?” he says.
“There's also 'bite the dust', 'start a worm farm', and 'snuff it'. It's a doozy of a lang I'm metaphrasin', Mac. The point is—” 'cause idiomology is totally awesome but not your groove right now, “—yeah, maybe if ya strap me to a bed and stick a tube down my throat and pour all your not-mercurial miracle drugs through me, maybe I'll live longer than I woulda lived otherwise. But that's not really livin'. Does that makes sense? No, but for serious, does anything I just said make sense? 'Cause I'm actually sorta playin' the whole speech by ear, here.”
For a way lengthy sec, all ya get outta Rinnosuke is him starin' atcha with eyes that make ya think maybe you're gonna hafta resort to tossin' bromides, here—they're not really clichés if he doesn't know 'em yet, right? But then he closes those eyes and whoa, actually, maybe ya kinda liked the starin' better, 'cause now he looks like he'd be sighin' again 'cept for that he filled up his sighin' quota already and now he doesn't have anything left in 'im to bother, even. It's heavy.
“It makes sense,” he says. “And I understand.”
“Well, y'know—it's good thatcha understand, I guess.”
He doesn't say anything after that.
Ya did it wrong.
“And plus also I'm sorry,” ya say in a rush.
The eyes open again. That's a good thing, right? “What are you apologizing for?” he asks.
“You know—for gettin' super-irate atcha just 'cause you were lookin' after me. I just felt trapped, Mac, dig? Like, I'm trapped in Gensokyo, yeah, but then it was like also I was trapped in the shop. And then I got down with the sickness involuntary, so I was trapped in bed. Like some matryoshka of traps, or something.”
Rinnosuke tilts up his head. “'Matryoshka'?”
“Doesn't matter.” Ya wave your hand away, in the direction of the not-matterin'. “Look. Listen. Even if I felt like a dude in a box, I shouldnta spewed all that junk talk in your face, not the way I did. So—I'm sorry.”
“That's fine,” says Rinnosuke in a way thatcha don't actually know if it's fine or not, and he turns off to do his own thing.
So that's an okay way for this to end, right?
The dude stops, and makes back again. “Yes?”
“Yo, Mac, but—I toldja before, right? That I appreciate?”
“You have mentioned that.”
Yeah, all the verbal irony here, prolly. That's fine. You can take it. “Well, I'm not just playin' lip service here,” ya say. “Like—do ya understand how awesome you are to me? Like, you coulda squashed me under your thumb first day under your roof and I wouldnta had a choice 'cept to comply with it, but ya didn't, and ya don't. You're awesome. Real awesome. Totally awesome, okay? So—thanks. Thanks a lot.”
And that's that, and ya keep lookin' at Rinnosuke, hopin' for a change here, somewhere, somehow, but it's not happenin' and Rinnosuke isn't anywhere as anything as ya hoped he was gonna be.
“I thought you would have used more words than that.”
Or yo, what?
“Yo, what?” ya say.
“Those words you string together, every time you want to stress something,” Rinnosuke says. “How did they go? 'Super ultra'? 'Mega super'?”
Ya goggle. Then ya gape. And then something coughs outta your lungs that isn't a cough. “Hey, yeah, ya got it, Mac! No problemo!” ya say. “You're—you're super awesome! Mega-awesome! Ultra-hyper-mondo-megalo-crazy awesome—How's that?”
“Better, I suppose.”
And maybe it's your brain paintin' pictures, but ya think maybe ya see the corner of his lips quirk.
You're hitchin' your own smile muscles up your face so tight you're gonna pull itself apart, but it feels like you're relaxin'.