The way Kinjou’s job starts is all too familiar. Someone has decided to drive the monster he’s meant to be dealing with into a corner before hiring him to sort things out. He’s willing to bet no one has tried even saying something as basic as, ‘We’d like you to leave because this property is being auctioned off now.’
In this case, it might be better to say the ‘monster’ he’s been called in to deal with has been driven up a literal wall. The tense silence that answers his first request to come down so they can have a conversation makes it clear that the person before him is feeling extremely unsafe with the entire situation. Kinjou doesn’t blame him for not wanting to leave his refuge.
“I could kill you.”
Kinjou doesn’t even blink. In his experience threats usually come out of a need to have some control over the situation. Considering the person he’s talking to now is folded up in a small niche near the ceiling, both pairs of arms crossed defensively, he’s willing to bet fear is the driving instinct here. The last thing he wants to do is terrorize.
“I’m sure you could. So could most humans, if they tried hard enough. I’m only concerned with your intent.” Kinjou looks up into jewel-black eyes and says with complete seriousness, “I would like you to know I have no intention of harming you.”
A loud, “Kuha!” answers him. Kinjou is not entirely sure if it’s a laugh or a cough. “Thought someone sent you to get rid of me.”
“They did, and it is entirely up to me how I accomplish that. I would prefer to talk to you.”
Kinjou finds it best to be clear and honest, even if it does take a moment for the other person to process that.
“I have no idea what’s going on. Someone locked up the workshop and I’ve been stuck in here, until some idiot found me and started screaming about it. I’m starving.” This last complaint is more sulky than anything.
“All right.” That comment about being locked up will have to be examined as soon as possible, but Kinjou does understand priorities. “What do you want to eat?”
“Not afraid I’m going to say ‘you?’” There is a spark of humor there that amuses Kinjou more than he expected it would.
Food is a sincere enough expression of goodwill to coax Makishima to come down and introduce himself.
Once he unfolds himself Kinjou finally gets an idea of just how long his limbs are. The second set of arms are shorter with more delicate fingers, and he keeps them clasped neatly together.
His mouth is inherently alarming. Kinjou is used to vampires and werewolves and hasn’t yet seen someone with fangs that dominate their mouth in quite that way. Makishima politely picks his food into small pieces as he eats rather than really using them. He probably could kill a man with one bite if he aimed well, but he doesn’t strike Kinjou as the type to try it. Maybe if he were truly desperate, but it’s Kinjou’s job to make sure he’s not pushed to that.
Makishima is a tailor by trade. He had managed to strike up a deal with one of the wealthiest merchants in the seven cities. The man had made up his mind that one of his daughters would marry into nobility, which led to a lot of currying favor and polishing their public image which inevitably led to a lot of high fashion and eventually that led to Makishima, who had leapt at the offer of the finest workshop and materials and never having to beg for work again.
His shirt fits like a sack that’s been slit down both sides and tied at the waist to accommodate his arms, and he only offers a fluid shrug when Kinjou asks if he never had a chance to make anything for himself.
Kinjou would like to believe Makishima getting overlooked was an accident, but he’s also sure most of the household knew exactly who, what, and where he was. Frankly he’s offended on Makishima’s behalf that no one thought to tell him what was happening, no matter how abruptly the staff was cleared out. It quickly becomes obvious he’s been made into a squatter through no fault of his own.
“So what did I miss?”
“Your patron went bankrupt. Almost everything has been claimed by creditors at this point.”
“And then someone called on me to relocate you so they can remove the rest of the furniture before auctioning the property. If you don’t mind, I’m sure I can help you find somewhere better to set up shop.”
“Kuha!” It’s definitely a laugh this time. At least that’s something.
Kinjou escorts Makishima out with every bit of dignity he deserves. He ignores the all-too-familiar protests that he’s supposed to fight the monster, not defend them. He’s done his job to the letter, after all.
Most of Makishima’s equipment doesn’t technically belong to him, but his previous employer also owes him enough back pay to furnish his own shop. Kinjou calls in a few favors and salvages as much as he can.
Makishima makes new clothes for himself first, ones that will comfortably fit his arms. Everything is in clashing colors and patterns. Kinjou assumes that’s because he’s working with scraps, though he’s later proven wrong about that.
He’s spectacularly handsome the first time Kinjou sees him in a shirt and jacket cut to fit him.
When Kinjou stares a little too long, Makishima breaks the silence with an inelegant snort. “What?”
“I was thinking. I know a lot of people who could use your help.”
The next time Kinjou steps into Makishima’s shop it’s to introduce an old friend who has mentioned what stone skin does to weak seams. Fukutomi has always been one to reserve judgement until he sees results, and the way he goes on to recommend Makishima's work makes it clear he is very satisfied with the results.
A few days later there’s a young man with wings asking to be measured for a new shirt. When he comes back to pick it up he brings a friend. It had never occurred to Kinjou that the wings of a bird and the wings of an insect fit differently against the back, but Makishima takes it all in stride.
Word of mouth spirals out in an ever-widening net, while Makishima happily sews for every body type that comes through his door and a few that can’t.
Kinjou makes a point to check on anyone he rescues or relocates at least a few times, until he knows they’re doing well. Makishima is certainly doing well and doesn’t need his help.
Kinjou keeps going to see Makishima. Tadokoro knows to find him there now. (Well, he can find Tadokoro there too: sometimes laughing and talking with Makishima as he works; sometimes as a massive bear snoozing in the sunniest corner.)
Makishima seems to accept his visits as a natural part of life. He complains about fussy customers, or shows Kinjou his patterns. Every so often his voice rises in offense at a request as he says, “This! Look at this! It’s not physically possible!” and Kinjou has to laugh.
Some nights being with Makishima reminds him how tired he is. The light is dim in Makishima’s living area, but neither of them need much light to see. Makishima makes tea and sits across the small table, close enough that only one of them would need to move to close the gap. In moments like this, it’s all too easy to sit down and let himself be tired.
Makishima is not a particularly sympathetic ear, but he listens. That’s all Kinjou wants, even if he then scoffs and says, “I can’t help you with that.”
Not every night leaves Kinjou tired. There are jobs with happy endings, and Kinjou shares them freely. He takes particular delight in stories that will startle a laugh out of Makishima.
It takes months before he stops trying to hide it behind his hair or his hands, but when Makishima smiles it breaks his face in the most beautiful way. Kinjou can’t look away. He simply tries not to be blinded by how brightly Makishima shines.
At Kinjou’s insistence, Makishima gets an apprentice to help around the shop. Onoda is bright and cheerful and diligent. Even Makishima has to admit that Onoda was intimidated for ten minutes maximum, and then apparently decided Makishima was a brighter guide than the sun or stars. It takes Makishima much longer to adapt to Onoda’s cheerful company than it does for Onoda to adapt to the shop.
“He’s not getting anything out of this,” Makishima mutters at one point. “How am I supposed to teach him to work with only two hands?”
Kinjou looks over at Onoda, whose fluffy tail is wagging as if heating irons is a delightful way to spend a summer afternoon. (It’s not always a dog’s tail. Kinjou isn’t sure if there’s something mixed with Onoda’s shapeshifter blood or if he’s just coming into it very haphazardly, but it doesn’t seem to trouble him.)
“I’ve seen you sew with two hands.”
“Can’t teach him to use the loom.”
What Makishima calls a ‘loom’ is in fact an arcane monstrosity with more frames than even he can work at the same time. He only bothers with it for things he absolutely can’t get otherwise. Apparently it’s necessary for working with dragon wool or making gill coverings for out-of-water merfolk. He has even shown Kinjou cloth with twists of moonbeams trapped along the weft. He scoffs at the idea of weaving poison cloth as if he disdains such a thing only because it would be too easy.
Even for Kinjou, whose work includes interacting with merfolk and things that only come out under moonlight, and–in one particularly odd case–a poisoned sash, it’s an uncanny thing.
“How did you learn?”
Makishima puts one hand over his face and laughs. “My teacher might have only had two hands, but I don’t remember how he did it. I couldn’t learn his style and I can’t teach Onoda mine.”
“Then don’t. Give him room to learn his own style.”
Kinjou is sure that Makishima has already figured this out. He’s admitted that Onoda has a good eye and good instincts, things he can’t teach. He can see the potential there. He just needs someone to confirm what he already knows.
“He probably won’t get himself into trouble if I just let him watch,” Makishima finally says. He might like to sound more grudging about it than he does. In spite of himself he’s clearly excited to see what Onoda will do.
Kinjou thinks this apprenticeship will be just as important for Makishima as the other way around.
Shortly before the first snow Makishima gives him a coat. When he tries it on it’s not warm the way a piece of clothing is, but the way warmth from a sunbeam feels on his skin.
“Fire worm silk,” Makishima explains, as if it’s the simplest thing. Kinjou can’t imagine how he could have gotten that without weeks of travel, but Makishima’s grateful clients span a wide range now, and there are always a few who pay in barter instead of coin.
The coat is a blinding yellow that could be seen in a snowstorm. Kinjou doesn’t mind. Being a monster hunter doesn’t call for a lot of sneaking up on people and attacking them the way he does it.
“I wasn’t going to wait until a holiday to give it to you,” Makishima adds after Kinjou has taken time to admire the coat. He still kinks up his limbs when he’s feeling awkward about something.
“Of course. You’re off the hook for all the winter holidays,” Kinjou agrees. He hadn’t thought of exchanging gifts, and now he’s turning over in his head what Makishima would like. Now that he’s thinking about it, he would like it to be something special. “Did you make one for Tadokoro?” he asks while his brain is still engaged elsewhere.
“He’s got his own fur coat!” Makishima laughs.
Tadokoro isn’t jealous about the present. He does stomp around and declare they are both idiots, but he has a tendency to stomp around angrily this time of year anyway because he has things to do and he refuses to hibernate. Kinjou doesn’t pay it any mind.
Even when Tadokoro is clearly calm and amused and tells him they need to kiss already, Kinjou tries not to take it seriously.
Kinjou does everything he can to make sure no one gets hurt, but when someone does it always seems to be him. When he gets bitten by a poisonous client during what should have been a routine job, Tadokoro decides it’s a great idea to have Makishima look after him.
Makishima doesn’t argue, though he huffs and adjusts pillows and flips through their medical guide as if it has personally offended him.
“Dilated pupils,” Makishima mutters to himself as he goes down the list of symptoms. That’s the only warning Kinjou gets before he moves to check under Kinjou’s shades.
Kinjou flinches. His eyes are made for night vision only, and too much light blinds him. Makishima leans over him, blocking the light. His thick hair falls around Kinjou in a curtain.
“Can I check your eyes?”
Kinjou pushes his shades up so Makishima can see his eyes. It’s bright, even in Makishima’s shadow, but not quite enough to be painful.
“You don’t have pupils,” Makishima comments after a moment of looking into his eyes. Kinjou supposes he could have just said that.
“You have beautiful eyes,” is what he says in reply, which is the absolute truth. Makishima’s eyes are like perfectly polished jet.
Makishima puts his shades back on and turns to the book again. “Delirium should be on the list.”
“You know I’m not delirious.”
“You’re raving, then.”
Makishima goes quiet. He suddenly needs all four hands to hold the book steady.
Makishima’s harsh laugh sounds more like a scoff. Kinjou knows he can’t rewrite a lifetime of people screaming and flinching away from Makishima, but he can at least add his own voice.
“You are beautiful. I’ve known that for a long time.” Kinjou reaches out, hand open, wanting to hold Makishima’s hand. He gets no takers.
“You say that like it matters.”
“I thought it did.” In a world that treats human as the default, Makishima falls very far from the standard ideal of beauty. He never saw Makishima as unattractive, but it took a little time to realize how handsome he is, so now it seems important to say it. Makishima might not know.
His heart lifts every time he sees Makishima, but it isn’t because Makishima is beautiful.
Kinjou tries to sit up a little too suddenly at the realization. His head swims and he collapses back almost before Makishima can push him down again. He’s kind of okay with that, with the way it leads to Makishima leaning close over him.
“I love you.” It seems like it should have been impossible not to realize such an important thing when it takes up such a large space inside of him. Love pushes at the walls of his chest and makes him feel stronger just because Makishima is there.
For a beat Makishima seems too shocked to respond. Then he lays his head down on Kinjou’s chest, laughing helplessly.
Kinjou can’t help laughing too. He won’t say he knows for sure what Makishima is thinking from the high edge of his laugh, but it feels like they’re wrapped up in the same amazing, impossible feeling together.
“I can’t believe you, of all people.”
“Sorry. I only just realized.”
“Sho,” Makishima breathes against his chest. There’s still the lift of a laugh in it.
“Even if you think I’m delirious, I know I’ll feel the same tomorrow.”
“Mm.” Kinjou kisses the top of Makishima’s head. His hair is cool and sleek as silk.
Makishima sighs and lifts his head. He moves to rest his forehead against Kinjou’s, breathing slow and deep. His mouth isn’t made for kissing, but the closeness of his breath seems more intimate than any kiss Kinjou has ever shared.
“I already know I love you too,” he mutters in response to the question Kinjou was still deciding if he wanted to ask.
“That’s good,” Kinjou says, making Makishima snort with laughter again. He doesn’t know what else to say because it’s too amazing to hear those words and he’s busy taking them in with his whole heart.
“Tomorrow, when you’re done being delirious-”
“I’ll tell you again.”
“That’s good,” Makishima echoes, making him smile.
Maybe he’s waited a little long to tell Makihima how he really feels. It won’t hurt to repeat himself, just to be sure.