- (96.20KB, 600x206, smooth.png)
image source: https://danbooru.donmai.us/posts/1763684
= = = = =
Despite the hour, they somehow were able to find a place that wasn’t crowded. The Restaurant Aotori was open to the air, like most eateries in the Human Village. It also was more of a café than a restaurant on the food services scale, being simple, and somewhat small.
A few sky-colored noren hung at the outer edge, waving in a way that evoked the sense of being at a shore, Kogasa felt. What with the heavens beginning to clear, the blue was resonating quite well in the new sunlight. She’d thought, How Summer! when those banners and the pure white name they bore caught her eye, and she’d asked if Reimu would like to sit there. Now they found themselves at a smooth and cool table, near one of the banners which Kogasa was cheerfully observing. They sat across from one another, Kogasa slouched with her arms crossed on the surface before her, and Reimu with her shoulders up and her hands closed atop her skirt. She was looking at Kogasa’s sleeves and frowning. The table was small. They were close, and quiet.
Kogasa decided to shove aside that silence, remarking, “It’s like the sea, huh?” To which Reimu’s gaze shot up.
She turned that gaze on what Kogasa was looking at: the noren. “The sea, huh... Well, I guess,” she mumbled.
Kogasa perked up, and looked at the shrine maiden with surprise and a smile. “You’ve been!?” she asked, almost breathless.
“Oh... yeah. Just... twice, though,” the maiden dragged out a clumsy response.
“That’s two more times than almost anyone in Gensokyo!” Kogasa exclaimed, bouncing in her seat. She beamed, eyes closed, as she reminisced, “I used to go a lot...” she said. “The sea isn’t at all like rain, but it’s still a lot of water!”
“O-Oh? I see...”
“Did you know? At the beach, even when it isn’t raining lots of people in the Outside World bring along umbrellas. Can you guess why?”
“Um... because of big waves? They crash down, make a splash, and you get wet...” Reimu ventured.
“Bu-buuu!” Kogasa made a noise of error, and stuck out her tongue. “Nope! Of course, it’s because of the weather! What... you didn’t know? It gets really hot at the beach during summer, almost worse than anywhere else! Jeez, that’s common knowledge, Miss Reimu! When’d you go anyway?” the youkai interrogated her lunch partner a little smugly, one eyebrow raised as a smirk perked up her lips.
“‘When’, huh...?” said Reimu in a thin voice while she looked up at the shop’s dark ceiling. “I think ‘where’ is a better question. Both times, I went to the seas on the Moon.”
“Oh! Right, Miss Reimu—you solved an incident up there a few years ago, didn’t you?”
Reimu nodded, squinted, then shrugged. “Eh...” she grunted, readying a denial, “I went to the moon a second time, but I couldn’t resolve the incident.”
“Customers, some tea. Are you ready to order?”
A waitress politely addressed the two of them while placing a green, ceramic cup before each guest, full of chilled green tea. Kogasa requested, “Rice and bamboo shoots, please,” with a light voice and a finger raised. Reimu told the waitress, “I’ll have the rabbit,” in a plain tone and with a somewhat-weak expression.
“Then, a rice and bamboo shoot plate, and roast venison with summertime herbs. Is that correct?”
“Yeah,” said Reimu.
“Would you like white rice with your rabbit?”
“Will that be all for you, then?”
“Mm.” Reimu nodded once.
“Completely understood, as you’ve asked. Please wait a little while,” the waitress, in her simple tanned kimono with a wide-diamond pattern, bowed on her leave, and Reimu watched her go. Kogasa watched Reimu.
“... When did you go to the moon the first time, Miss Reimu?” she asked, taking a sip from the cup now held in both of her hands. She watched Reimu with her shoulders raised as if she were huddling for warmth, and her head bent so as to not intimidate (though, it could be argued: Tatara Kogasa was never truly intimidating). The human girl eyed her sideways, and lifted her chin.
“I was a kid back then,” she said, lifting her cup with her left hand and bringing it near her lips while casting a wistful, half-lidded gaze across Aotori. “I hadn’t even grown all that tall yet: an actual kid. Yukari was being pushy, and somehow or another I ended up fueling the Vampire’s ship to the Moon.” She drank, and puffed a breath of irritation through her nose.
“Miss Reimu as a child...” said Kogasa thoughtfully. She cocked her head behind her lifted cup. “How much more of a brat you must’ve been then over now...” she said.
Reimu glared, and turned that glare on the tsukumogami. “Aahn?” the human uttered a threat with her voice, turning halfway and taking a posture like a gangster in her seat. “Who’s a brat? Who?”
The smile stiffened on Kogasa’s face, but she did not go pale. Her heart was unwavering; Ii this moment of tension, she saw with certainty an opportunity to start chipping away at this halting ice between them. “You’re awfully well-known for being like a kid, Miss Reimu,” she answered, “and I have to tell you this! I may not be the best babysitter, but if you watch kids enough you can recognize ‘em well!”
“I-I’m not like a kid,” Reimu denied. Her cheeks were flushed.
“I don’t think you’re that much of a kid either!” said Kogasa, her two-color eyes almost dazzling. She sat up straight and lowered her cup, continuing, “Even though you’re completely useless most of the time, you throw yourself at everything one-hundred percent! It’s really cool! I could model myself after you, and I do!” She grinned after saying this, closing her eyes once again.
Reimu frowned, and feeling her aggravation Kogasa opened her eyes to see this. “I don’t want a useless umbrella calling me useless,” Reimu said, putting her cup down and leaving her elbow on the table. “And quit it with the hollow praise! I know you’re just trying to pity me again!“
“No! No! I don’t like lying, it’s bad for your reputation!” Kogasa was quick to defend herself, raising both her palms in front of herself and leaning back. Shrinking next, her shoulders dropped and she apologized with a feeble, “S-Sorry...” It was an apology on instinct, she didn’t have anything concrete she was apologizing for. Reimu seemed to accept it nonetheless. While she scrutinized the umbrella, the edge in her eyes dulled, and the frown on her lips eased.
“Uh, sorry,” she said, “I’m just... I guess, I’m anxious? Just lately, I mean. Uhh... more than usual. Sorry.”
“... Is there an incident happening?” Kogasa guessed.
“No,” Reimu replied with a shake of her head. “Don’t worry about it,” she said with a bit of a forced smile, “it’s just me.”
Well... I guess that’s good. That’s what I was trying to fix, thought Kogasa with a measure of relief. Incidents were nothing but trouble for weaklings like her
Their food arrived, their waitress thanked them for waiting, and they started to eat with no sense of peace between them. Every tap and scrape of chopstick to plate served to deepen the feeling of unease in the atmosphere, until a near perfect image of awkwardness had been developed. Kogasa wanted to escape, but she wanted to help even more. She stayed, and ate her rice.
Chicken? thought Kogasa, holding the ends of her chopsticks in her mouth and looking up.
“Kogasa...” Reimu breathed. Her face was completely flushed now. Kogasa turned her eyes onto Reimu’s plate.
Spicy...? the umbrella theorized, lifting one of her eyebrows rather slowly.
“What... What have you been up to?” asked the human girl.
“You... You want to know what I’ve been up to?” Kogasa sought to confirm.
“That’s what I just asked, yes,” said Reimu, staring flatly and narrow-eyed at the Kogasa.
Kogasa felt her face warming. She looked down at her plate while thumbing its ridge with her left. “O-Ohh...” she stammered. “Uh, aside from Tengu just making fun of me, no one ever really asks...”
Though Kogasa couldn’t see it, Reimu was now blushing. The shrine maiden said, rather bluntly, “Well go on, what have you been doing?” and Kogasa raised her head.
“Um... well... nothing, but, I just about started thinking about doing daikagura...” she whispered.
“Daikagura? Like all parts of it? That can’t be. You mean the juggling?” To Reimu’s question, Kogasa nodded. “The juggling huh... Well, even if it’s just one part of it, isn’t that dangerous?”
Now the color drained from Kogasa’s face. She met Reimu’s eyes with hers full of concern. She repeated, in a stark voice: “‘Dangerous’.”
Reimu kept eating, speaking to Kogasa with one cheek full, “You looked it up, I guess? Maybe the book or person didn’t know, but daikagura is a practice to banish and ward off evil.” She swallowed, and went about picking apart the meat in front of her. “It’s good for humans,” she continued, “but would a youkai like you even be able to do it? That’s like self-harm, right? Suicide.”
“Is it that dangerous!? I-I knew about it being the bane of evil, but...!” Kogasa’s lips quivered in fear. This was a shock. Wasn’t juggling just juggling in the end? Surely if it was just that, nothing would happen to her... She began to lose her physical appetite.
“Eh, it’s probably alright,” Reimu said, still eating just fine. “After all, it’s just juggling you’re doing, and in the first place you’re a sweetheart so I don’t think you’d get warded off by anything like that. All you do is scare a few humans, which isn’t even ba—”
Reimu stopped, and seemed to have realized what she’d just said after a delay.
Kogasa realized at once. While stirring her rice nervously, the blush in her cheeks increased. She spoke quietly, smiling as she said, “Ha... Ha ha, ah, thank you, Miss Reimu... I ... I don’t know about sweetheart—heheh, heheheh, ‘sweetheart’. Th-Thank you!”
The compliment was making her giddy. While she wanted to be of use to humans, she’d also quite often been called a nuisance to them, and she had to admit that for a long time she’d been against humanity on principle. But even when scaring people she was usually sure to be polite and ask for their attention and time first.
She was a tool made by humans, for humans. Perhaps objectively that sounded like a depressing existence, but in reality that meant that any time she neared her purpose, and any time her efforts were recognized, she felt truly alive. A sweetheart, huh...? she thought, still smiling. Maybe “an idiot” would be better, but... Wow, that makes me happy...!
In the meantime Reimu was quickly finishing her food, shoveling meat and rice into her mouth while holding her plate up from the table. When she finished, she put down the dish and her utensils, then gulped the rest of her tea while shutting her eyes. Done with the cup, she landed it heavily onto the table and looked out toward the Human Village. With the back of her hand against the corner of her mouth, knuckle ready to clean away anything left, she looked as though she were steaming.
Kogasa, however, was entirely oblivious, caught up in a pleasant sort of embarrassment with eyes shamefully shut. She cleaned her own plate with a joyous rhythm, and when she was done she put her hands together to say, “Thanks for the meal.” She looked at Reimu, then, telling her, “And that meal too.”
Once again, somehow she’d managed to get some surprise energy out of the shrine maiden. Reimu looked across the table at her lunch partner, and her face almost looked pained. Despite this, she was able to show a more assured face in a moment, after exhale. She looked into the restaurant, saw the waitress making her way to their table, and said—
 “Hey, Kogasa, let’s make a deal.”
 “Hey, wo—... w-would you like to come over to the Shrine after this?”
 “Ko-Kogasa... would it be alright if we hung out a little longer?”