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[X] Maybe let Rinnosuke know he should let Youmu know? Like, she should see what she’s gettin’ before she gets it.
“Hey, Mac,” ya say, “can I talk to you for a sec?”
Rinnosuke pauses outta squeezin’ Youmu for the next red cent. “Just once business is concluded,” he lobs your way, before turnin’ back and returnin’ to the bargain like he barely paused.
So this time, ya tug his arm, real firm. “Hey, Mac,” ya say, “can I talk to you now?”
Rinnosuke frowns, but with a “Please excuse me”—to which Youmu nods, apparently as eager to get this negotiation to a close as he is—allows himself to be walked til you’re whatcha consider a good distance away. By which ya mean, obvs, a distance away enough that if ya hiss real careful, Youmu won’t be able to overhear how Rinnosuke’s basically cheatin’ ‘er outta dosh.
Which is the point ya take, first off: “You’ve gotta tell ‘er the book’s in German.”
Rinnosuke takes his time chewin’ your suggestion over before replyin’. “Is there any reason I should tell her the book is in German?”
“I dunno, Mac, ‘cause it’s decent?” ya shoot back instant. “I mean, German isn’t exactly the vernacular ‘round here—is it?”
“There are some speakers of German—I’ve found a number of spellbooks in European languages, for whatever reason.”
Ya don’t even bring up that that’s not whatcha asked. Ya just stare at Rinnosuke, till he loses the game of don’t-blink and tilts his eyes away from the playin’ field.
“It isn’t,” Rinnosuke says, like each mora’s a tooth bein’ pulled. “The vernacular.”
“Right,” says you. “So—ya gotta tell ‘er.”
Those metaphorically pulled teeth clench for a tick (they can do that ‘cause they weren’t pulled for realsies). “You don’t know that she doesn’t understand German,” says Rinnosuke.
“Yeah?” Ya look over ‘round Rinnosuke. “Yo, uh—Youmu!”
Youmu blinks all quizzical, but sorta leans and tilts her head—meanin’, “I’m listenin’.”
“This is totally unrelated to anything ever,” ya call, “but do ya know German?”
Pause. “German?” Youmu says.
“Like, speakin’ it, hypothetically. Or readin’ it. Or anything like that.”
“German,” Youmu says again. “No, I—no. No, I don’t know German. Why?”
“Just settlin’ a bet,” ya say, and get back into huddle. “Hey, Mac—”
“I heard.” Rinnosuke squeezes his eyes shut and also his mouth into a thin line. If ya didn’t know better, you’d think he was tryin’ to use his psychic powers to pack something in in the background. He lets it off after a sec, though, and if anything actually did get successfully mentally squooshed, ya didn’t notice. “If I tell her the cookbook is in German,” he says, “she won’t buy it.”
Yeah, just like you suspected—Rinnosuke’s doin’ his best to swindle Youmu at the mo. It’s remarkably uncool activity, ‘specially comin’ from a dude as cool as the cool dude you’ve thought Rinnosuke was, though that impression has been takin’ a beatin’ but good, as of late. “Dude,” ya say. And you’ve got this whole idea of a spiel lined up, something ‘bout havin’ pride as a dude who provides goods to other dudes or something like that, ‘cept it never even gets started, ‘cause Rinnosuke—
Rinnosuke’s visible irkedness jumps points, all of a sudden, and he rounds all up on ya, as much as he can when he’s lookin’ at you already. “This is one of the few customers I can get actual money from,” he hisses. “Haven’t you been here long enough? You’ve seen how I fare with the rest of my customers.”
And left unspoken, but hangin’ in the air as good as if he’d said it anyways, is the logical follow-up: That maybe money wouldn’t be such a big deal if he wasn’t spendin’ more than a single dudesworth of it on rice, et cetera.
So—can a dude blame ya if ya flinch?
You startin’ seems to start Rinnosuke, too, though. Ya see the irritation run out, or else get back in under the mask again—like all of a sudden he’s remembered that it’s him who’s supposta be here, and not this other Rinnosuke who’s a lot madder and also a lot obviouser ‘bout bein’ madder. “That’s not what I meant,” he says.
To which ya think: What’s not what he meant?
Dude goes on: “I only meant that—that this is a critical sale. No, not critical—” He straight up literally shakes the sentence off and tries again (again). “I don’t necessarily need to sell her that book—but I need to sell something to her. I need to sell something to somebody.”
“Alright,” ya say.
Rinnosuke blinks, and ya get the feelin’ he didn’t actually ‘spect that agreement. “‘Alright’?” says he.
“Alright,” ya say. “I mean—we don’t hafta sell ‘er that book, right? As long as we’ve got any foreign cookbook.”
“And it shouldn’t be French, or Chinese,” Rinnosuke reminds you.
“Right—but even so. I mean, you’ve got mad stacks of books here. There’s gotta be something that fits the bill decent here—right?”
“How do you not have any cookbooks,” ya ask, which is a totally reasonable question.
“I have a number of cookbooks,” says Rinnosuke. “It’s only that there’s a particular focus on Japanese food among them.”
“Yeah, but that’s like, diametrically opposite to what we’re lookin’ for. Also, I think I keep findin’ and rulin’ out the same cookbook again and again, and that’s drivin’ me nuts.”
“Why don’t you take the book off of the shelf once you’ve determined it’s not what you’re looking for? It’ll save you the trouble of seeing it.”
“Oh, nice, Mac. You’re a lifesaver.”
“I’ve been doing that this entire time with this shelf. Haven’t you noticed?”
“I’ve kinda got tunnel vision. Bookshelf vision? Rumia, what’s the haps?”
“I have a book,” says Rumia.
“Yo!” ya ‘sclaim. Ya lift your head so quick, ya nearly whack it on the underside of one of your shelves. Just nearly, though, so it’s fine. “What’s it about?”
“It’s about mochi.”
Rinnosuke doesn’t even look out whichever tome he’s studyin’ for eats. “That would be more Japanese food,” he says, voice muffled slight by the cage of pages.
“Dude,” you agree. Ya fitt your head back under the shelf again. “Also, I recant my ‘yo.’”
The unsteady interjection floats over to the foot of the shelves where you three’re sittin’. It’s Youmu—remember Youmu? You remember Youmu. She’s the dude you were tryin’ to find that book for and everything.
“Should I come back some other time?” asks Youmu. “If you’re busy...” She says that “busy” with a wobblin’ pitch at the end—the same question-that’s-not-a-question, like last time.
“Don’t go anywhere,” ya say, beginnin’ what’s prolly the first of a whole lotta tomey towers. “We got this.”
“Are you sure?” says Youmu.
“We got this,” ya say.
“You can sit down, if you’d like,” Rinnosuke adds. “Please, make yourself comfortable.”
Youmu looks the opposite of comfy, actually, but does what Rinnosuke’s told ‘er to do, wanderin’ awkwardly at the nearest sit-down and placin’ herself into position like she’s got an egg to mind. When she’s lookin’ sufficiently occupied with that (and ya don’t feel so much the eyes at the back of your neck), ya pause layin’ your literal literary foundation for a sec and huddle in closer Rinnosukewards. “‘Please, make yourself comfortable’?” says you.
“Is there something wrong with that?” Rinnosuke whisper-rasp-hisses back. “I am the host.”
“No, it’s just—that’s gotta be the nicest you’ve been. Even with Keine—” Your brain catches onto where your tongue is goin’ a titch too late, and by the time ya try cuttin’ it off, it’s already escaped. Your words, not your tongue. That’d be a whole different kinda problem, though this one isn’t so teeny, either. “I mean,” ya shove in, hopefully before Rinnosuke notices where you were goin’ there, “that was kinda nice, is all. I didn’t know you do that.”
“I have an interest in retaining what regular customers I have left,” Rinnosuke says. “It isn’t that I believe that Youmu is as inclined to break another of my walls down with a tank of her own, but...”
“Yeah, yeah, I dig. Ya find anything yet?”
Rinnosuke sighs. “It seems I’ve stocked my shelves mainly with books on East Asian cuisine—when there are books on cuisine at all. And you?”
“Something on French stuff. Ya might be able to sell it, if ya play down the snail bit.” Which is your fault—is a deal you’ve gotta cop to here. If ya’dn’t run a flapjaw so much—just a little less more than ya did, even—Youmu mighta taken that volume and gone Julia-Childin’ it up ages ago. “Rumia?” ya call for an update.
“If you put ice cream in mochi, you can have mochi ice cream,” says Rumia. She frowns, then looks her eyes over the page at the two of you. “What’s ice cream?”
“A frozen dessert made from hen’s egg, powdered milk, and butterfat, among other ingredients,” says Rinnosuke.
“It’s good,” ya add, before your brain catches up, re: “Wait, a sec, hold up—powdered milk? That’s not right.”
“Isn’t it?” Rinnosuke says. “I’ve come across descriptions now and then, and powdered milk seems to be a primary ingredient.”
“No way, Mac. You’ve gotta have milk. Like, regular milk, like ya get out a cow. I mean pasteurized and everything, but...” Ya gesture, mimickin’ whatcha hope is something halfway resemblin’ the pasteurization process. “There’s a hard limit on egg, too—what kinda ice cream’ve you been eatin’?”
“I haven’t been eating aisukurin at all. I’ve only read about it, and even that hasn’t happened very often. It isn’t a dish of common mention in the books I’ve collected.”
“Yes?” Rinnosuke’s brow squinches. “That is what we’re talking about, isn’t it?”
“No way. We’re talkin’ ‘bout ice cream.”
Rinnosuke nods. “Right,” he says. “Ice kurin.”
“That’s what I said. Is that not what I said?”
“That’s not what you said,” says Rumia.
“What?” Rinnosuke’s head jerks Rumiawards. “Then what did I say?”
“You said, ‘aisukurin,’” says Rumia.
Rinnosuke looks at Rumia like a dude who’s gone to bed havin’ set a mousetrap, only to wake up the next mornin’ and find that sometime in the night the mice set up a humantrap in response. Settin’ his useless book aside, he sorta clumsily arcs his way over to where Rumia’s sat so that he can look over her shoulder.
Which she lets ‘im, smilin’ her smiley smile as she looks into his ear. ‘Cause that’s where his head is, and she’s turned to face ‘im, but there’s no space in between. It’s perfectly reasonable, prolly.
“‘Aisukuriimu,’” says Rinnosuke, goin’ over each of the katakana. Least, you assume it’s in katakana. It could totally not be. “‘Riimu’? I know I’ve read it ‘rin’—are they the same thing?”
“I dunno what aisukurin is in the first place, Mac, so that’s a question I really can’t answer.”
“Excuse me,” Youmu cuts in. She sort of totters where she’s sittin’, like she doesn’t know whether she oughta get up or not. “I really don’t mind coming back at a later date, if that would be easier? Tomorrow? I could come tomorrow.”
You and Rinnosuke trade glances for a sec, and then, real quick, like off some sorta unheard signal, ya spring to your feet both and beat ‘em down the room Youmuwards. Well, as much as you can “beat” while tryin’ also to look super-casual ‘bout it. “We’ve found a couple of books that might be of interest to you,” says Rinnosuke, and he doesn’t sound desperate at all, seriously. “The first is this one—recipes of German origin.”
Youmu squints. “This is...the book that I was buying to begin with, isn’t it?”
What? Oh, yeah, it is. What the hey, Rinnosuke? That’s in German. Ya went over this.
That’s the ish ya try to convey with your eyes, anyways. This time, though, Rinnosuke catches it and returns with a jut of the chin and a tensin’ ‘round his own eyes.
It’s like he’s sayin’, “Well, what else am I gonna do?” Which is why you’re in the picture. “It is,” you admit to Youmu, “‘cept we weren’t gonna just letcha pick the first tome ya saw. What if it was totally subpar and we coulda done better? Which is why my rec is this.” And ya display your own pick with full ta-da energy.
Youmu squints additionally. “‘Furansu’—is this ‘French,’ too? That one—the one with the snails.”
“Yo, it’s not just snails. Dig it, will ya? There’s a reason they call the French output the pinnacle of western cuisine.”
“Oh,” Youmu says. And then: “What is the reason?”
“Well, I mean—it’s, like, seriously good, dude. Like, foie gras! Bouillabaisse! Madeleines!”
“I...don’t know what any of those things are?”
“You force-feed a duck—no, wait, that’s also ethically hinky. Uh...you get a scorpionfish—no, hold up, those dudes only hanginaround in the Mediterranean, so that’s a no-go. Um, Proust...”
Ya trail off before Youmu’s blank stare of total blankness.
“Remember Proust?” ya try.
“I don’t know who that is,” says Youmu.
“I thought we ruled out French cuisine,” Rinnosuke mutters youwards, in a voice that’s prolly just loud enough for Youmu to overhear. Ya nudge ‘im in recompense.
Only softly, though. Ya swear.
But yeah, looks like your effort to find something to fit Youmu’s hankerin’ for foreign recipes—sorry, readable foreign recipes—has produced a ginormous zilch. Which means the only book left for Youmu to possibly take is the one she can’t read, which isn’t fair—either for Youmu, ‘cause she can’t read it, or for Rinnosuke, ‘cause he’s gotta make a livin’, right?
There’s gotta be a third option, here—is what you’ve been assumin’ throughout your brisk library look-see. Only—course there hasn’t “gotta.” This isn’t some prepackaged lateral thinkin’ puzzle with a trick solution in Martin Gardner handwritin’. This is real life, and sometimes in real life there’s no easy answer to a half-youkai in a magically cut-off portion of Japan needin’ to mislead a half-phantom into purchasin’ a book on foreign cuisine in a language she doesn’t understand.
So if you’re gonna make the wrong choice, no matter what, the least you can do, maybe, is go with the way that seems least wrong. Which is why ya open your jaw and say, quick, before your lips can clamp down and trap it like maybe they oughta:
“The book’s in German.”
That sorta hangs there, like all kindsa neck-breakin’ sentences’ve hung before. There’s a chance, prolly, ya think, for Rinnosuke to hear the sentence, comprehend it, and fast-talk Youmu past it so that Youmu doesn’t comprehend it and your ethics’re satisfied. Only he doesn’t do that. And that’s not his fault—he shouldn’t be ‘spected to do that (this isn’t his fault, mostly). He doesn’t do that ‘cause he’s too busy with his head twisted at you, his face caught somewhere between shock and betrayal and simmerin’ anger—
He doesn’t fast-talk, or even talk fast, is the point. All he does is he looks at you, and ya look at him, or actually past ‘im, and that’s way enough time for Youmu to lean forwards and take a closer look at the book that Rinnosuke’s been carefully guidin’ ‘er off from takin’ a close look at.
“That’s...in German,” Youmu says, havin’ confirmed it with her own two eyes. She gazes up at Rinnosuke with her brows furrowed. “Do you have any cookbooks that are in Japanese, instead?” she asks, like this was all some sorta innocent mistake. “I...don’t think I’ll be able to read this.”
Rinnosuke doesn’t look at Youmu. Rinnosuke keeps lookin’ at you. “We have French,” he says, from somewhere steady and firm but also far away.
“I’m not sure I want French,” says Youmu. “If it’s French...”
“If you don’t like snails, you can always choose a different recipe.” Rinnosuke finally takes his eyes off you, and suddenly you can breathe easy again. Ya didn’t even know you were havin’ trouble in the first place. “They’re—” He looks at you again. “They aren’t all snails.”
Ya nod, jerkily. “They aren’t all snails,” ya say for the sake of confirmation—even if it comes out more parrot than anything else. “Actually, most of ‘em’ren’t snails. Maybe forget I ever mentioned snails.”
Youmu grimaces, a bit, like someone who’s just found out that the mystery flavor at the center of the jumbo gobstopper isn’t so much “cherry” or even “birthday cake” as it is “earwax,” but who’s sportingly tryin’ to preserve the mystery for onlookers anyways. Then she sighs. “It can’t be helped,” she says. “If this is a book of foreign recipes, it should have the sort of meals Lady Yuyuko wanted...I hope.”
And after all that sound, and also fury (and maybe you’re meanin’ the term in multiple senses, there), the transaction that follows is basically the definition of “anticlimax.” There’s some hagglin’ again—though a lot more clipped and overall despirited than it was last go—and then Youmu takes the French cookin’ book, and, with a bow and a half-muttered thanks, she and that bobbin’ blob head out the shop door.
So, yeah. That happened. Or this happened. Or maybe right now, it’s that it’s happenin’, ‘cause it hasn’t really ended yet—is whatcha think, as ya watch Rinnosuke standin’ there. He hasn’t moved from his hagglin’ spot since he and Youmu wrapped that up—he’s still starin’ into the air that coulda been fulla dudeness minutes ago as he runs his thumb absentmindedly over some thingum he’s got in his hand which you assume equals Gensokyo currency. Ya watch ‘im, and ya watch his back (when’dha get behind ‘im ya don’t know) as it slowly relaxes, muscle by mousin’ muscle, the strain runnin’ down the his edges like something viscous down a shower drain.
Ya wait till it’s all tipped out of ‘im before ya open your mouth. “Hey,” ya say.
Rinnosuke’s head jerks, a little. Just to the side. That’s acknowledgment, right?
“So,” ya say, “that worked. I mean, that worked out.” Ya pause. “Didja get a profit?”
Rinnosuke turns—no, it’s more like he whirls, and—
And for a sec: His face.
It’s still Rinnosuke, and there’ren’t any new features to it. Same mouth, eyes, nose, et cetera. But the look he’s got—
And then he closes his eyes—closes ‘em tight, presses his lips just as tight as that, holdin’ all of the above in that tensed-up way—for a sec, then two, then three—before releasin’ all of in a sigh, his face—ya can’t say “relaxes,” ‘zactly, ‘cause it doesn’t do that. Not even the way his back did, when it could (and did) go back to wound-up in an instant.
He doesn’t say anything, and doesn’t look at you, and he walks right towards you. And then it walks right past you, not even reactin’ to the way ya flinch.
“And that’s why I’m here.”
Your audience sits, totally enraptured. Prolly.