[X] No way you're leavin' Rumia hangin', youkai-skin or no.
“Cool,” ya say. And then ya go back to Alice, 'cause: “Still the principle of the thing, though. Are we in or what?”
The space between Alice's eyebrows twitches. “Surely you can't be serious.”
Oh, man, if she'd been speakin' English? Perfect setup. How does that keep happenin' now, when ya can't do the thing? Things. “Dude, I am totally serious,” ya say instead. “I mean—yeah, maybe hypothetically Rumia totally could stand gettin' dumped out in the chill overnight, if that happened. And maybe she wouldn't even get a runny nose from the deal. But just 'cause ya can, doesn't mean ya hafta. Dig?”
“I agree wholeheartedly.”
Blinkin' happens. “Ya do?”
“Yes. It might be that I can allow a dangerous youkai into my house, if I'm so inclined to do so, but it doesn't necessarily follow that I have to.”
“Okay, one, not cool,” ya say. “And two, aren't you a youkai, too?”
The question seems to leave your maw in slow-mo retroactive as Alice's mug does—well, does something. Whatever it's doin', it's givin' a feelin' like a dude who's just realized they stepped on a landmine the moment before they aren't gonna be able to not realize they stepped on a landmine any longer.
“There is a difference,” hisses Alice. “I'll ignore the insult, if only because you know no better.”
And call it a hunch, but it feels like your chances of gettin' Rumia in just dropped.
Ya switch to a different tack toot sweet. If ya can't appeal to logic, you're gonna razzle and-slash-or dazzle 'er with natural awesome. “Check it, dude,” ya say. “I dunno what reason you've got this hate-on for youkai for—
“Their tendency toward violence and generally uncivilized behavior?”
“Yeah, like, there's tons of things 'bout ya I dunno, 'cause we don't spend a whole lotta time next to each other, for some reason.”
“The sheer irritation of your presence may be some minor matter.”
“But anyways, I've got my loyalties, dig?” And ya point at Alice grand, like a dude in a courtroom 'bout to turn the whole deal upside-down. “So check it,” ya say. “If you're gonna kick Rumia on out into the not-even-streets-out-there, then I'm followin' 'er. Whaddya say to that?”
Alice's door is hard against your back.
“Okay,” ya say, “but I won the moral victory.”
“Mm-hmm,” Rumia says.
You adjust your sittin'. It's a real useless effort, though. Between the cold, hard ground and the cold, hard door, there's no way you're gettin' comfy out here.
“We're not 'here' anymore,” Rumia observes.
You consider that. “Yeah,” ya say.
There's a cold wind, 'cause winter's becomin' a thing, if it isn't already, and also Japan. Most of it sorta whiffs over the treetops, visitin' on ya some real atmospheric susurratin', but enough of it gets through to your level thatcha shiver and try pullin' your jacket collar up to guard.
Ya fail at that, mostly 'cause you're not wearin' a jacket.
“Y'know,” ya say.
Rumia tilts her head. That's her I'm-listenin' tilt, you're pretty sure.
“Ya could hold that wherever ya are, that's your 'here.' Like, that's an argument you could make.”
The headtilt doesn't jostle a millimeter. The smile, though, spreads out at the ends. Maybe even that same millimeter the neck decided not to deal with.
Dude is conserved.
“Totally not gonna make that argument, though.” Ya make that super clear. “It's a hinky argument that counts on bein' technical, and not even a cool technical, like if ya were trickin' a demon into not gettin' your soul or something. It's just a douchey, spirit-violatin', language-dependent, we-all-know-whatcha-meant-and-we-all-know-ya-didn't-mean-that kinda technical.” You say that, lookin' over to make sure Rumia's got the picture proper.
Rumia's smile does its deal at you, just as her as it ever was. Then the dude of the hour goes, “Okay,” runs her hands down down the front of her dress in a way that's real familiar by now, and takes a sittin' spot beside ya at the outside foot of the door.
“Hey, dude,” ya say.
“I've got a buildup of lame wordplay. Wanna hear a joke?”
Rumia considers the offer. “Okay,” she says.
“It's in English, though,” ya warn. “'Cause I dunno Japanese puns, just English puns. That all good with you?”
“I don't know English.”
So much for that line of convo. Ya go back to tryin' to find the sweet spot for your spine against this door, which ya theorize is a thing that exists but also which ya suspect is on the aforementioned door's otherside, which makes your theory a real unfalsifiable one at the mo. (Yo, is this what it's like to be a string theoriest? Double bummer.) Like, you'd try any of the door-testin' procedures that occur to you, if ya could, but this whole bein'-corporeal shtick you've bein' haulin' for two decades plus is keepin' ya outta the relevant testin' area.
Somewhere off over your head, a bough shifts. Ya look up and out, but if there's anything to catch, ya don't catch it.
Well, it's prolly just the wind again. Or a squirrel.
Wait, do they have squirrels in Japan?
“Do you want to tell the joke?”
Ya swivel your head Rumiawards. “What?” ya say.
The look on Rumia's face stays the same, but somehow she's givin' off a different kinda air outta her. Like an elementary school teach with an overabundance of love and an underabundance of sleep. “If you want to tell the joke, you should tell the joke,” Rumia says. “It might be funny.”
“What the point?” says you. “Not like you're gonna understand it.”
The woods are silent and tulgey as all whatnow. Whatever that squirrel or not-squirrel was—if there was even a squirrel-slash-not-squirrel at all—it's royally shoved itself off, prolly outta consequence of hearin' your voices and not wantin' to be in the vicinity of that. Squirrels're skittish, right?
You're pretty sure squirrels're skittish.
“Yeah, okay,” ya say. “So...”
“If it's a funny joke,” 'splains Rumia, with the infinitest of patience, “it'll be funny when I don't understand it, too.”
Can't argue with that. Or actually ya totally can argue with that, but at the same time, it sorta feels like there's a real cromulent point Rumia's got in there somewhere. So what the hey, right? “Okay, check it,” ya say.
Rumia looks up atcha all attentively, back straight, eyes lit.
“If the both of us got booted out here outta solidarity,” ya say, “does that make this a sit-out?”
From somewhere far off, over the rockin' mountains and rollin' seas, comes super-faint but super-there the echo of a distant rimshot.
Nah, just kiddin'. That doesn't happen.
It woulda been totally cool if it had, though.
“I don't get it,” says Rumia cheerily.
Ya shrug. “What'd I tell ya, dude?”
“Dies mei velocius transierunt quam a texente tela succiditur, et consumpti sunt absque ulla spe. Memento quia ventus est vita mea, et non revertetur oculus meus ut videat bona.”
Ya stare at Rumia. Just for a little bit.
“That's my wordplay,” Rumia 'splains. And then she doesn't stop smilin', but the whole look goes a little wan. Dude looks kinda apologetic, almost. “I told it wrong.”
“Well, if it's a funny joke, it's gotta be funny even if I don't get it, right?”
And Rumia's smile still doesn't shift, but her head does, just a titch, and it's like she's sayin', “Touché.” And then she and you go back to sittin', and it's quiet, yeah, but it's a good kinda quiet. Ya don't mind it.
Or at least ya wouldn't mind it if it wasn't so cold. “So,” ya ask, more outta desirin' distraction from your own goosebumps than anything else, “what's that line like when ya tell it right?”
And ya don't find out what, actually, 'cause that's the moment the door behind ya solid all of a sudden isn't, sendin' ya tumblin' backwards literally headlong into the gap. The back of the skull is the first of you to find out, and the usual way, too, which you've gotta point out real quick is a thing that keeps happenin' and you're also real quick gettin' tired of it happenin', thanks.
At least it's Rinnosuke lookin' down at you instead of some-hypothetical-one else. “Are you okay?” he says, kinda unsteady halfway through, like he's still stuck tryin' to process your entrance even though he's the dude that engendered it.
Still, the concern seems legit. The least you can do is a thumbs-up. Which ya guess is a thumbs-to-the-side from his perspective, but he can prolly figure out whatcha mean. “'Sup, Mac?” ya say.
“I've arranged matters with Margatroid,” Rinnosuke says, after a sec.
And also prolly he doesn't mean it, but you've gotta say it: “The way ya said that made it sound kinda fearsome, Mac. Is this good news or bad news?”
“You'd call it good news. Would you please get up from the floor?”
“Fair 'nuff.” Ya flip yourself over, all turtley, climbin' up in the air and turnin' on your footballs till you're facin' the right direction, i.e. towards the dude who letcha in. “So, what's the deets, Mac? Behavioral authority I'm not, but I feel like Alice didn't just do a total one-eighty on the deal here.”
Behind ya, Rumia stands just out the doorway, all politely passin' up actual encroachment, appraisin' this whole sitch as it develops. That's prolly the smart thing to do.
“I was able to arrange matters with Margatroid,” Rinnosuke says to you. “She says that she'll allow Rumia to stay, but only for one night, and nothing longer than that. That was the best I could get her to agree to.”
“And how'dja manage that?”
Rinnosuke's mouth stretches out at the sides. Whoa, déjà vu. “I am a shopkeeper,” he says. “My job is to convince others to buy items they might not be inclined to. It took a little while, but I found an argument that Margatroid would accept.”
“Sweet, Mac! What was it?”
“Six books of my choosing, owed me at a date or dates also of my choice.”
That's not Rinnosuke. That's Alice, makin' herself a presence as she peers at you (and also at Rumia, but mostly at you). She's not smilin', but she's managin' to radiate this grim sorta triumph anyways, which you've gotta admit is a real neat trick and a half even as much as you don't like it. Seriously—the way she looked sayin' what she said was something like a dude deliverin' the witty action flick pre-kill line, which'd actually be alright if also she wasn't standin' there givin' off the impression like she's the villain of the piece.
Like, if she'd ripped off a latex face instead and gone all, “Ha ha! In reality, it is I, the nefarious Fräulein van Winter!” you'da been only half surprised. Sixty-five percent surprised, at most, and most of that only 'cause nobody's a fräulein anymore. They're all fraus. Frau. Frau-en? They're one frau, and also an indeterminate number of 'em followin' that.
Full disclosure: You dunno from German. Null.
But more importantly, you're just realizin'—maybe that bit Alice just mouthed off was the pre-kill line, actually, 'cause you're lookin' at Rinnosuke now and—there's no easy way of sayin' this, but you're pretty sure he just had his dignity executed. Like, he's sorta still actually technically got his composure, in the same way an asterisk-laden baseball record's still actually technically in the books, but the only thing hidin' that 'spression he's got on his face is the rest of his head.
He looks embarrassed.
“Hey, Mac,” ya say, and then ya don't say anymore, 'cause words. Words. For some reason they'ren't a thing that's happenin' right now?
“Your benefactor proposed an exchange of goods for favors,” Alice says, like ya aren't goin' through a crisis at the mo. “Whatever it is responsible for your complete lack of self-preservation instinct must be communicable.”
Ya look at Rinnosuke again.
Rinnosuke looks at you. He looks past ya. He's not lookin' atcha at all.
“Dude,” ya say, and ya still can't say anything else. Rumia toddles in behind ya—behind ya, carefully, like she can count on you to aegisize. You dunno if ya can. Ya try again.
And that's a triple no-go on the wordage, and ya can't understand why. Like, ya know whatcha wanna say: “Thanks, Rinnosuke, for gettin' Rumia let in by givin' up a buncha un-up-give-'em-ables.” But all of a sudden you're aware of your tongue, and it's massive, and ya can't get it to do anything but uselessly fill up all the gawpspace.
But slowly, like maybe what you've somehow managed to squawk out is enough, Rinnosuke's head shifts—not a lot, but just enough to focus on you instead of out there. His eyes, too. They're meetin'—yours and his.
Ya open your mouth. You're gonna get it right this time.
Ya breathe in—
“I have one guest room,” Alice says, and whatever it was you were gonna say straight up just dies in the back of your throat. For realsies. “I can't see three individuals as yourselves arranging yourself comfortably in such space, but that difficulty is yours, not mine.” She turns, all military-like in demeanor, then stops, archin' her neck sideways for the partin' shot.
“Meals,” she says, “are not within my purview.”
And then she stalks off, leavin' you, Rinnosuke, and Rumia fillin' up the foyer, stealin' glances triangularly like something's gonna go off if any of you are direct about it. Rumia's the first to break it off, but more outta occupation with some else than any kinda mutual uncomfiness—she pushes the door away till it shuts into the frame with a sound that's way, way more audible than it oughta be in a sitch like this.
“Yeah, so,” ya say.
Rinnosuke looks at you, and you look at Rinnosuke, and Rinnosuke looks away from you, and you look over Rinnosuke's head, and you and Rinnosuke suddenly suck at this for no apparent reason, ya guess.
It's not like you were 'spectin' Alice to suddenly surprise ya with a full-course meal, but the dude remains real firm on her disclaimer. Well, it's not like she herds ya over to the dinner table and makes ya watch while she gobbles up three kindsa poultry, but she didn't notably not do dinner, either. It just doesn't come up from 'er. At all.
Do youkai not eat or something? No, check yourself; that definitely can't be it. Rumia's a thing. Ya know Rumia's a thing, here. Get it together, Christie.
Luckily, Rinnosuke is Rinnosuke, and also awesome, and so the dude saves the day once again, duckin' outta the pad before night can fix itself firm over your respective heads and returnin' in a surprisingly shortish time with muchables. Meat, specifically, and rice, all of it in a buncha little what-you've-gotta-guess're-bamboopunk-versions-of-takeout-containers. You're all for that, and ya know Rumia is too, if the way the stuff goes from in the containers to not is a clue.
And then it's bedtime, which is a problem, but also a surprise, 'cause goin' straight to bed after supper? Not the norm, as far as norms've been normalized over the whole stayin'-at-Rinnosuke's deal. Then again, it's not like Rinnosuke can complete his customary after-dinner fiddle-with-the-Outsider-thingamabob activity, not when all the thingamabobs that'd fulfill the fiddlee role are over at Rinnosuke's pad and also importantly not here. Dude can't poke and prod and theorize and get grinned after from behind your fingers, obvs, so he's skipped to the next item on the list, which is just “go to bed.”
Which is where “problem” comes in. Remember “problem”? Ya said “problem,” first.
There's only one bed. A standalone closet, a waist-high set of drawers featurin' a single lantern-lookin' thing that's pretty good at castin' the whole locale in forebodin' dimness, but only one bed.
That's a problem.
Or wait; actually, that's not a problem at all. “I call dibs on the floor!” ya call out.
Rinnosuke jerks his head over so fast you're amazed he doesn't pull a muscle. Or maybe he did and he's just seriously chill 'bout it. “What?”
“I call dibs on the floor,” ya say again. “Like, throw down a blanket and an extra pillow or something. You and Rumia can take the bed.”
“Okay,” Rumia says, and points herself off crowish in a mattressy direction.
Unfortunately, she's the only dude that done. “I am not sleeping in the bed with Rumia,” Rinnosuke says.
“Why not?” ya say back. “There oughta be enough room. Rumia's small.”
“I'm small,” Rumia agrees, already liftin' the covers.
“Yeah, see? Bed's kinda narrow, but you can totally make it work.”
“It isn't a problem of how I'll fit on the bed,” Rinnosuke says. “It's a problem of how I'll survive the entire night.”
Ya narrow your peepers. “Is this a Rumia thing? Mac, ya oughta be the second dude to know—Rumia's cool. Rumia, you're cool, right?”
“I'm cool,” Rumia agrees, adjustin' her pillow.
“You're the only one she's 'cool' toward,” Rinnosuke says. “I still don't know how you accomplished that.”
“Well, I am seriously awesome. But also Rumia's awesome, too, so we ended up combinin' our powers to create this rainbow bridge of awesome between Christiekind and Rumiakind,” ya say.
Rinnosuke looks at you with the mug of a dead man.
“Or something. C'mon, Mac, ya know Rumia's alright. She's been hangingaroundin' your shop all this time, right? And she hasn't ever tried givin' you the chomp.”
Rinnosuke looks at you with the mug of a pained dead man. “That's true,” he admits, “but I can't depend on that.”
“Mac, ya can't depend on anything. How do ya know I'm not gonna suddenly spring up this second and go for your jugular with a shivvy device I secreted away on my person specifically for this purpose. Ya can't.”
“Then you can sleep with Rumia,” says Rinnosuke, takin' a step back.
Which is a solution, you've gotta say, 'cept: “Yeah? Then where're you gonna sleep?”
“I'll sleep on the floor, or perhaps find a chair in the kitchen. Anywhere will be acceptable as long as it's somewhere else.”
“Veto, Mac. There's no way I'm takin' the bed while you're takin' the floor.”
“I'll be fine. I'm used to sleeping on the floor, after all.”
“And like I told Alice, just 'cause ya can manage something, doesn't mean ya hafta. You take the bed.”
“You're the guest. I won't make you sleep where you'll be less comfortable.”
“This isn't your pad, Mac. We're both guests.”
“And I shall evict both guests if they don't form a compromise!” snarls Alice, all of a sudden loomin' into the room like a jerky horror flick specter. “Now go to sleep!”
And she slams the door shut so hard you're pretty sure back home they're wonderin' what that was.
The two of you stare in that direction for a tick. “Uh,” ya point out.
There's a sound of breath blowin', and the light from the lantern goes out, plungin' the room into dark. “Good night!” chirps Rumia.
There's the sound of someone settlin' into a bed, somewhere real close. And then the sound of an irate cottageowner makin' floorboards creak, but then that's over with, too.
“Hey, Mac,” ya say, once it's clear the sitch isn't gonna change on its own.
“Yes,” goes Rinnosuke's voice, from where you'd expect Rinnosuke's voice to come.
“That closet—ya think it's got any spare sheets in it?”
“It's possible,” goes Rinnosuke voice.
The silence is a yawnin' chasm. Or maybe just the gap between a wall and a stick of furniture.
“Hey, Mac,” ya say again.
“Yes?” goes Rinnosuke's voice.
“My eyes haven't adjusted to the dark yet.”
There's a sigh in the dark. “I'll go and see,” goes Rinnosuke's voice, and then prolly it does.
There are sheets and pillows. Turns out Alice keeps the closet pretty decently stocked. Guess she already at some point figured the possibility of multiple guests.
Even luckier—it's proper futon, not just sheets. Sure, they smell like camphor and disuse, but still:futon. You're all for that.
You can sleep on a futon. You've been sleepin' on a futon. It's just like Rinnosuke's pad!
Well, 'cept for the fact that Rinnosuke's sleepin' on a futon right next to you. That's new. The next-to-you part, not the futon part. You're pretty sure Rinnosuke already slept on a futon.
If ya reached out, Rumialike, you're pretty sure you could touch 'im. Though ya don't do that, obvs. As it is, you can feel the sorta himness that he's exudin'. Not, like, body heat or anything, though maybe there's a difference there, too, but the fact of 'im just bein' there. The dude's presence.
It's sorta weirdly comfortin', and at the same time? Not. Not thatcha think you've got anything to fear outta Rinnosuke. It's just thatcha haven't slept with another dude this close since—see? Ya don't even remember when. Sometime when you were years younger, with either your mom or your dad or your brother or some close-family combo.
“Nervous nostalgia”—that's the perfect way to say it, and not just 'cause it's alliterative.
[ ] Time for some shuteye.
[ ] With a slumber party, talkin' is obligatory. [Choose one.]
-[ ] 'Bout Rumia.
-[ ] 'Bout the shop.
-[ ] 'Bout the festival.