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How Do You Unsummon The Undead?

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       The abandoned cemetery is empty. It’s three in the afternoon and Takumi’s got his spellbook tucked under his green hoodie. Takumi’s jeans are muddy on the bottom hems from walking through the underbrush. He had to drive two hours from his house to find the backwater location. It’s far from town and the rocky road scratched the paint on his car.

       He remembers reading that this particular cemetery hasn’t been used in at least a century. Which is good- it means any residual will of his summoned minion won’t hold much sway-

       He hopes that’s what the book says, anyways. Translations can be weird sometimes. At least he didn’t use Google Translate like some people he’s met before. Gross. What a disgrace to the Necromancy community.

       Why couldn’t he have pursued blood magic like his mother. No- “Necromancy’s cooler” they say “it shows an extensive control over magic.” The books are harder to come by and more expensive- and Takumi can’t really read shit out of it without a codex. Codices are hard to find, too.

       He’s going to hell eventually and he couldn’t even read the goddamned fine print when he signed up.

       The problem with abandoned cemeteries is it’s almost impossible to read most of the names. He needs their name. That much is for sure. It’s one of the only things that requires one of the book’s codices and not both.

“No. No. I think I can read this one? Nah, it’s too faded.” Takumi mumbles as he browses the tombstones.

       He stops at one near the end. It’s more overgrown than the others but Takumi can make out the name.

“Ikoma, huh? Weird, the rest of the writing’s scratched out. I guess this one’s the only candidate.” Takumi pulls out his book and opens the page.

       The yellow post-it notes with scribbles of the translations stand out against the darker aged paper. Or was it linen? Or something else. The seller didn’t specify when he bought it. He’s not that interested in knowing either.

       Takumi flips to the page he needs and reads over the words again. He holds his hand out to the chosen grave and recites the spell. The spellbook glows at the edges and floats. A wind whips up around Takumi.  It tugs at his hoodie and rises around him until he feels like he isn’t even standing. The magic in his body activates and flows through him to the outside. He keeps his focus so it bends to his will.

       The glowing blue lines of Takumi’s natural magic flow are showing. They haven’t shown since the flow manifested when he turned thirteen. A darker blue that was rare compared to other glows he’d heard of. They’re supposed to show what types of magic the individual could excel in. Takumi was shit out of luck when no one in the local magic user community knew what the hell navy blue meant. So- he just pursued whatever.

 

       When Takumi finishes reciting the spell the lines on his body vanish. A sudden jolt of pain sparks through his veins to center around his chest and he falls to his knees. He was expecting pain- it’s the magic of the dead after all. It doesn’t scare him. His spellbook closes and drifts down onto the ground. The wind stops. Takumi looks up.

       The ground in front of the tombstone shifts. It pulses and sinks before the surface of the grave is broken.

       Takumi expects a head. Maybe even a hand reaching to the sky like those classic zombie movies.

       He doesn’t expect a foot to poke out of the ground. The toes wiggle out of the soil and flex before pulling back underground. Takumi’s left horrified. It’s like watching an elderly person test a swimming pool before they step in.

“Don’t go back down! Rise!” Takumi commands his new summoned undead. He stands and points at the grave.

       The foot sticks back out again. It retreats.

“I said rise, corpse!” Takumi yells. He's pissed. He didn't just sell his soul for a zombie foot.

       The soil parts as all at once “Ikoma” emerges. He seems to have died around Takumi’s age. There are vinelike scars that travel his body and are a dull red. His skin is an ugly pale green that’s only rivaled by his hair. A pair of glasses with the left lens missing sits low on his nose. His eyes are red. He- he’s wearing pants at least. They’re the color of the soil he came from and ripped on the left leg. There’s no sign of decaying flesh?

       Takumi’s- not sure that’s what newly raised undead look like.

“You’re a rude master. Noisy, too.” The zombie mutters through a mouthful of dirt. He spits the soil out and stands up.

“Y-you can talk?? You’re supposed to be dead!”

“Undead, from where I stand.” Ikoma’s rubbing at his tongue between words to get rid of the dirt stuck to it.

       Takumi reels back. The book explained how to raise the dead but not what to do once they’ve been raised? They never explain that the summoned dead can talk back? Or know they’re dead?

“Who the fuck were you before you died?” Takumi holds his hand against his chest.

“Depends which time you’re interested in.” Ikoma wipes his hand on his pants.

“Which time? You died more than once?”

“I think so?”

       Takumi wishes the spell hadn’t worked. It would be easier than this.

“Do you know your name?” Takumi squints.

“Ikoma.”

“What were you when you- first- died?”

       Ikoma’s expression draws a blank. He gazes at Takumi without an answer. Ikoma raises a finger and grins.

“I can’t remember at all!”

“You’re smiling about that?”

“It’s not like you care, anyway. What do you want?” Ikoma put his hands in his pockets.

“I-“ Takumi looks around. He doesn’t have a damn clue, really.

“You called me and didn’t even know what you wanted?”

“I’m supposed to have something in mind aside from just summoning?”

       Ikoma crosses his arms.

“It’s not like these spellbooks come with manuals!” Takumi argues. He points at the spellbook.

“So you were hoping on a manual- for a manual?”

“Shut up.” Takumi’s eye twitches.

“Okay.” Ikoma holds his hands up.

“I just wanted to see if it would work and it did. So- do you just go back?”

“Hell if I know.”

       Takumi grabs his book from the ground and flips to the spell he used. He checks his half-assed translations and groans.

“Don’t tell me-“ Ikoma starts to guess.

       Takumi holds up his finger to stop Ikoma.

“I don’t think there’s a spell in here on how to unsummon. I think I fucked up.” Takumi’s confidence hits rock bottom.

       Takumi closes the book and presses his face against it. Fuck whatever material the book’s made out of- he just wishes it was a wall to hit his head against.

Chapter Text

       Takumi’s car is a beat up gray sports car that he got on discount since the previous owners were friends of his family. Painted on the roof of the car in black is a scrawling decorative design hiding different warding and protection symbols his mom insisted stay there until she thinks Takumi’s old enough to handle himself. Which will most likely be never. The central image is some sort of rock-on-show- something or other. A circle with four lines that make it look like a tiny house with the sun setting behind it. Takumi’s mom said it’s supposed to “cleanse all of your senses because we all know you can’t perform a cleansing to save your life.”

       Shit, he wishes he was that bad at it. Maybe then he wouldn’t be here. Driving his car hours back home. With a zombie sitting on a trash bag in his back seat. A very obnoxious zombie. A zombie that isn’t wearing his damn seatbelt. That can’t seem to control his volume or the flow of stupid questions that come out of his mouth. How the fuck is he even breathing to speak? This shouldn’t be allowed.

       The idiot Ikoma’s already asked about nine billion questions about modern society. He’s asked where the classical music is coming from. Why the glass can move up and down for the windows because Ikoma’s never seen stuff like that before. Asked if the car uses fuel like the cars in his days or if it’s magic, too.

       The forest is far behind them by now. Takumi’s hometown is in view. It’s not cramped by comparison to other towns farther away- at least it has fast food chain restaurants there. Makes the cost of living cheaper for Takumi when he only has pocket change.

“Do you own this car, master? It looks nothing like the cars I’ve seen before.”

“It’s mine.”

“Wow, you must have a lot of money!” Ikoma’s shouting again.

“Cars aren’t as expensive as a house. Or professional therapy. Of which I need both.”

       Ikoma’s quiet for a few minutes. Takumi thinks he’s finally finished. Takumi thinks he can relax and breathe easy and let his music wash over him so he doesn’t buy too much McDonald’s this time. It’s only Tuesday. He can’t go crazy. He isn’t even supposed to be having fast food until next week. He has groceries at home.

“Where are we going, master?”

       Fuck it. He’s getting McDonald’s.

“Please stop that.”

“Asking questions?” Takumi can’t tell if Ikoma’s honestly asking the question or is doing it to mess with him.

“The “master” thing. I- I just can’t.”

“But if you summoned me-“ Nope. Ikoma’s argument won’t hold.

“Master doesn’t always mean that these days. Just- call me Takumi. Please”

“Okay- where are we going, Takumi?”

“McDonald’s. I need an instant heart attack. Stat.” Takumi already feels sweat on his forehead and notices his heart rate’s up.

“Where does McDonald live?”

“Please stop talking. I don’t have the endurance to put up with this right now.”

“Does he live far?”

“Shut up before I turn this car around and leave your ass back at the cemetery!”

       Ikoma, thanks to whatever weak control Takumi has over the idiot, shuts up. The McDonald’s drive-through line is full. Takumi pulls at his hair.

“Oh, I get it! McDonald’s is a restaurant!”

“Yes. Good job on figuring that out.” Takumi presses his palms against his closed eyes. He has at least five minutes of waiting in the drive through before he can place his order. Ikoma doesn’t talk. He stares out of the car window at the building wide-eyed. He places his hand on the window of the car.

“Now please for the love of whatever or whoever you believed in- just- stay quiet okay? Most people around here don’t know about magic and I on behalf of the magic using community speak for us all when I say we’d like to keep it that way.”

       Takumi pulls his car up to the speaker.

“Welcome to McDonald’s. How can I help you.” Sukari’s less-than-enthusiastic voice scratches through the speakers.

“Hello, yeah- I’d like a large fries and a large m&m McFlurry.”

“Nice to see you again, Takumi.” Sukari’s faux-friendliness grates against Takumi’s ears “Need anything else?”

“Could you- like- pre-blend my fries into my McFlurry for me? I want to have a heart attack as soon as possible. Thanks.”

“Are you serious?”

“As serious as I am about my stance on practicing time magic, heathen.”

“Heretic.”

       Ikoma leans forward. His eyes are wide and his shoulders are stiff.

“Hey, who are you talking to? Is there someone in that box? Hello? How’d you get in there?” Ikoma, not controlling how loud he’s yelling in Takumi’s ear, pushes his way between the driver and shotgun seats and looks through the window at the speaker. He elbows Takumi in the face while he struggles to find Sukari.

“For the fuck- sit back in your damn seat!” Takumi shoves Ikoma back. Ikoma’s chest is rough and there’s an unidentifiable substance on it that Takumi’s going to disinfect his hand for later. Ikoma smacks against the rear seat and quiets. Takumi watches Ikoma cross his arms in the rear view mirror.

“Wait hold on- you actually let someone inside your car? You have friends?” Sukari for once sounds surprised. Or it could just be a lie.

“Not the time, Sukari!”

“Why was he asking how I got in- No way-” Takumi can hear muffled laughter from the speaker.

“What?”

"You couldn’t make any friends yourself so you summoned one?"

"Fuck off and make me my heart attack McFlurry."

       Sukari tells Takumi the total and to drive around to the next window.

       Takumi rolls his eyes and drives around. Sukari’s pulled up a stool and is sitting in front of the register. The edge of his phone’s peeking from his apron pocket. His hair is tucked back under his employee hat, even his ponytail. He leans to get a peek inside Takumi’s car. Without hair in the way Takumi can see that the same damn cleansing symbol or whatever is tattooed behind Sukari’s ear.

“Who’s the unlucky undead?” Sukari asks.

“His name’s Ikoma. Aren’t you going to at least congratulate me for the spell working?”

“Not really. Not like anyone didn’t expect you to succeed. Like you always do. At everything.” Sukari takes Takumi’s debit card and finishes the transaction.

       Takumi frowns.

“He sucks! He doesn’t even know how to stop a spell!” Ikoma yells in a tantrum-like manner from the backseat. Takumi turns around and glares at Ikoma. Ikoma’s staring back. Is this some sort of sick revenge for shoving him in the back?

“I was using sarcasm. Did they not have that in your time period? Takumi couldn’t hold a location scry to save his life in basic training. Trust me, I was there. I’m surprised he even managed to summon you.” Sukari’s response is blunt. He finishes the transaction and holds his full hand out at Takumi.

       Takumi, ashamed, takes his card and the receipt from Sukari without responding before he drives up to the next window. The McFlurry and fries are unblended, of course. It’s not like the other staff would fulfill Takumi’s need to just stop living in the scenario he’s in.

       He really should have just been a blood mage. The blood can’t backtalk, or act stupid, or not listen. It has no will of its own- which is what Ikoma should have been. Something had to have gone wrong with the spell.

       Ikoma- he looks upset. Like a regretful upset. He isn’t staring into the rear view mirror waiting for Takumi’s reaction like he has been doing the entire car ride.

“Well. Now you know. I’m the shittiest necromancer within a hundred miles. And I’m the only damn one nearby so you know it’s bad.” Takumi pulls out of the parking lot and finds himself stuck in rush hour traffic. Fun. He digs his spoon into his McFlurry and revels in the crunch of the m&ms between his teeth.

“I didn’t mean to embarrass you in front of your friend.” Ikoma pulls his knees up against his chest.

“Friend? If you have a loose definition of what friends are. I just know him. It’s hard not to run into someone at least twice a week in this town.”

“Oh.”

       Ikoma’s quiet after. He picks at the frayed edges of his pants.

Chapter Text

       Takumi’s McFlurry is finished, he’s halfway through his fries, and his apartment’s a mess. He’d been so preoccupied with his translations before going to the cemetery that his workspace is covered in scrapped post-it notes and broken pens. The codices are still open on the pages he needs. Takumi pulls his spellbook out of his hoodie and sets it down on the desk. He sets the to-go bag beside it.

“You live here? Does anyone else?” Ikoma asks. He stands in the doorway for a moment before closing the door behind him.

“No. It’s just me. You too, for now. I guess. Until we can figure out how to reverse this spell. Who knows how long that will take.” Takumi stares at the codices. He doesn’t know the first thing to look for. Maybe a page that says “stupid shit to not do.”

“All by yourself? That must be great.” Ikoma’s gaze drifts around the entire apartment. He walks through the kitchen/living room before he wanders into the bathroom. Takumi doesn’t want to know what reason Ikoma has to make the echoing noise of awe he hears come from it. Ikoma wanders out of the bathroom and into Takumi’s room.

“Just don’t touch anything.” Takumi shouts before Ikoma can get any ideas.

       Takumi’s skin crawls when he hears the distinct sound of his spring mattress creaking.

“Ikoma!” Takumi fumes. He sprints to his bedroom and stares.

       Ikoma’s curled up on the bed. Takumi’s bed. Putting dirt and god knows what the hell on the cream colored bedding. Takumi’s bedding. His bedding that he just washed yesterday. He’d even made the bed today. Fuck, is Ikoma smelling the bed? His nose is pressed against it and his eyes are closed.

       Takumi will find some damn way to make Ikoma from undead to alive just to kill him and bring him back again as an undead. Maybe do it a second time.

“Ikoma.” Takumi clenches his hands into fists. He approaches the bed.

       Ikoma opens his eyes and peers up from the mattress. The vibrant red of his irises contrasts against the bed. Takumi wasn’t quite aware of just how red they were from the shaded lighting of the forest and then the hectic car ride home. It’s like the garnets that Takumi keeps around for spell purposes. The whites of his eyes are a dull gray rather than white. Ikoma’s skin might have a green tint but it’s pale. The sort of pallor Takumi’s seen on corpses before- so he’s close enough to looking like he’s supposed to be undead.

       Takumi’s anger doesn’t fade. Ikoma’s still on his bed, trying to look innocent. He’s not a stray cat that got picked up. He’s a goddamn zombie. A zombie that’s messing up Takumi’s bed.

“I think I could get used to this “modern society.” It’s clean. Speaking of- can I clean up? I feel like I’ve spent a few hundred years in the ground.” Ikoma’s back to being a smartass.

       Takumi’s eye twitches. His hands tremble from how tight they’re clenched.

“Get off my bed.” Takumi’s eyes narrow. He sees a quick flash of his magic flow glowing on his hands in the bottom edge of his vision.

“Oh, shit.” Ikoma’s eyes widen. He retreats off of the mattress and stands away from it.

       The damage to the blanket isn’t as bad as Takumi had feared. He’s sure a run through the washing machine on the first floor could fix it. Takumi sighs. He turns to Ikoma.

“Rule one- no touching clean stuff if you’re dirty. Especially my bed. Got that? Rule two- don’t leave the apartment unless I come with you. Rule three- yes, showering is a must. Get yourself cleaned up. I’m going out to get you fresh clothing. If you’re staying here under my roof then you’re going to at least be an animated corpse with hygiene.” Takumi explains. He crosses his arms.

“Uh, thanks? I guess I’ll go get cleaned up. Sorry- about the bed. I just never had a mattress before.” Ikoma keeps his head ducked down and maneuvers around Takumi. Takumi doesn’t relax until he hears the click of the bathroom door closing.

“Never had a mattress? Wait, does he or does he not remember his life?” Takumi rubs the back of his head “I’ll figure it out later, I guess.” He grabs his car keys and locks his door behind him.

       On the car ride to get clothes Takumi decides against going to a regular store. It’s unlikely that Ikoma will be with him long anyways. Something bugs Takumi during the drive. Like he’s forgotten something. He can’t figure out what it is.

       The local thrift store is just on the verge of closing so he rushes to grab what he can before he gets on the nerves of the employees. It’s not hard to find clothing that should fit Ikoma. They’re basic clothing and aren’t really fitted. He makes sure to not grab any shirts with pop culture references. Ikoma would no doubt pester him until he gave an answer on what they mean.

       The drive back to Takumi’s apartment is calm. The traffic has died down and Takumi can hear his music without multiple rounds of twenty questions. It helps settle Takumi’s frayed nerves.

       When Takumi gets back home the apartment is silent. He can almost imagine that there isn’t a zombie that he managed to summon somewhere in the walls of his private sanctuary.

       Where is he?

“Ikoma? I’m home.” Takumi announces his arrival. He checks the main apartment area. Nothing. His bedroom. Still nothing. The bathroom door’s not closed all the way. Takumi pushes it open.

       Ikoma’s sitting in the shower. He’s still naked and wet, staring at the wall. His hair is flattened against his face from the shower. His pants and glasses are on the floor by the toilet. There’s an emptiness in his gaze that Takumi’s never seen in anyone before.

“Ikoma?” Takumi tries to catch Ikoma’s attention.

“Huh? Oh, Takumi! You’re home!” Ikoma’s behavior turns cheerful. His shoulders raise a bit as he smiles.

“Yeah. I bought you some new clothes to wear. How long have you been sitting here?”

“I finished cleaning up before you got back. I figured I would wait for you to get back to ask where the towels were-“

       It’s like taking care of a goddamned child.

“Aww fuck that’s what I forgot to do. Tell you where my damn towel is. Let’s get you dried up. Come on.” Takumi groans. He motions for Ikoma to follow him. Ikoma stands up and trails behind Takumi without a word.

       There’s a wet, naked zombie walking behind him in his apartment. This is the weirdest Tuesday Takumi’s ever experienced. He’s had a lot of weird Tuesdays but this one tops the list.

       Takumi goes into his bedroom closet and pulls out his towel. He tosses it at Ikoma who fails to catch it. The towel slips right out of Ikoma’s grip and onto the floor. Ikoma picks the towel up and dries himself off. He keeps his gaze locked on the ground.

“Those glasses-“ Takumi starts his thought slow “do you need them?”

“Huh? Oh. No. I can see just fine without them I guess.” Ikoma scratches his upper arm.

“But do you want them fixed?”

“No!” Ikoma’s voice is defensive. His eyes look darker, browner, before his pupils dilate and he returns to drying himself. He settles his energy before he continues “I mean. It’s okay if they’re missing a lens. They don’t need to be fixed.”

“Okay. I won’t touch them.” Takumi digs through the shopping bags and pulls out a set of clothing. A green t-shirt, blue jeans, and a pair of plaid boxers. He holds out the boxers to Ikoma without looking at him. Takumi lets go when he feels the fabric being pulled away from his fingers “I didn’t buy any shoes yet because you need time to adjust. You’re not just going to go out whenever like I said in the rules. You don’t need shoes inside the apartment.”

       Takumi looks at Ikoma when there’s no verbal agreement. Ikoma nods.

       By the time Ikoma’s been dried off and dressed, the sun has already gone down. Ikoma, with his glasses now clean, lies down on the couch and flips through the various books and magazines on the small table next to it.

       Takumi pan fries a chicken breast with some vegetables for himself. He wonders mid-seasoning the chicken if Ikoma needs to eat. He shakes his head and continues cooking.

       Takumi sits down at his desk with his food. He searches through his spellbook using the codices as references. His hand subconsciously rubs at his chest, right over where his heart is. Where the sharp flash of pain had been earlier in the day.

       There’s the sound of breathing behind Takumi. It’s close to his back and then there’s warm breath against his neck.

“Ikoma-“ Takumi starts until he feels the first contact of teeth on him.

       Takumi panics and slams his arm back into Ikoma with as much force as he can muster. Ikoma stumbles back and falls against the back of the couch. His pupils are dilated, he’s breathing heavily, and his eyes look redder. His jaw is slack. He’s using the couch as support. Ikoma raises a hand to his lip where Takumi‘s elbow hit. There’s a small tear that isn’t bleeding. He licks it.

“What the fuck, Ikoma?” Takumi shouts. He stands up and faces Ikoma.

“I- what? Was I going to bite you?”

       Ikoma looks just as horrified as Takumi is. He sinks down to the floor with his back against the couch. The back of his hand is pressed against his mouth and his gaze doesn’t leave Takumi.

“Before we” Takumi sighs here because now he has to rein in his emotions “get out of control here and blow things out of proportion- let’s figure out why this happened, I guess. Was there anything that caught your attention before this happened?”

“I was just reading- but I did think that your dinner smelled good.”

“Dinner- food! Do summoned undead get hungry? I guess. Umm. The best I can offer is meat that I already have in the fridge? Zombies don’t eat brains, I hope. I’m fresh out.” Takumi worries for the safety of his own neck. How dangerous is a starving zombie?

“We could try it. Do you have any chicken left?”

       Takumi checks the fridge for the last chicken breast he has. He pulls out the container and holds it out to Ikoma. With a look of disgust at first, Ikoma accepts the container.

“Does it smell bad?” Takumi asks.

“Do I really have to eat it raw?”

“Do you want to try my cooked one first?”

“No, it’s your dinner. I’ll just-“ Ikoma doesn’t finish his thought. He picks up the chicken breast and his nose scrunches up. He sticks his tongue to it.

       And just like that, Ikoma’s caution vanishes. His eyes narrow and his grasp on the meat tightens. Takumi returns to his desk as Ikoma rips into the chicken breast.

“Get any of that anywhere but inside your mouth or the Tupperware and I’m going to bring you back just to kill you again.” Takumi threatens “and wash your hands when you’re done!” His hand wanders back to his chest, massaging away an ache that isn’t there.

       There’s a vague grunt from Ikoma and the messy snap of meat being ripped. Takumi pushes his unfinished dinner away from himself and holds his face in his hands.

       Not long after eating, Ikoma curls up on the couch and becomes unresponsive. Despite Takumi prodding at him to get conversation there’s no response. Takumi checks the time and decides it’s bedtime anyway. He retreats to his room and locks the door just in case.

       Changing into his pajamas, Takumi notices thin crack-like red marks branching over where his heart is. He runs his fingers over them and recalls that he’d been rubbing that spot earlier. He also notices that they look a lot like a thinner version of the marks on Ikoma’s chest.

“I think I fucked up more than I thought.” Takumi mutters.

       Takumi needs to see someone about it. There’s only one other magic user in the area who’s weird enough to take him seriously. Frustrated, Takumi gets in bed and decides to take care of it tomorrow

Chapter Text

            "Okay man just do me this one solid is all that I ask for- just please don't touch anything." Takumi begs

            "A solid what-?"

            "You know what, just don't say anything either."

            Takumi hurries down the streets, his heart pounding both from the workout and the anxiety that comes with being followed by a literal zombie. He debates on running and screaming like in the movies to hopefully ditch Ikoma- but their destination is uphill. No way in hell is he running up that.

            The shop they’re heading to is in a little shopping alley downtown, crammed between two larger buildings. Takumi had been forced to park a block away and throw whatever clothes he had in the backseat onto Ikoma to cover him up as much as possible- this resulted in a makeshift scarf and a hat that made people raise eyebrows wondering what this guy was doing dressed like that in the full of summer.

            Not the fact he’s undead, of course.

            "Where are we going again?"

            "I know a guy who knows things-" Takumi huffs, "He runs a magic shop down here, he's a bit on the weird end-" he swirls a finger next to his temple and glances over his shoulder, surprised how nimble Ikoma is to be keep up with his pace- definitely not like in the movies, "-But he knows a damn lot about magic weather it's his field or not. If anyone can help me it's him."

            They finally reach the shop, squished just slightly further back from the street. A bunch of plants and a wooden fence decorate the front. A painted sign sits in the window, but the letters are too faded to read. Instead, a glowing rune in the door gives away what the shop actually is.

            A bell chimes as the door opens. It smacks into a bookshelf immediately. Takumi’s hit with the overwhelming smell of incense, sage, soaps, and so on. Rocks and lanterns hang from the ceiling, bones are piled in with endless books- all of them have tiny price tags on them. Takumi squeezes in, dancing around the baskets of fabrics and who knows what else all over the floor, "Suzuki?"

            A man looks up from the desk in the back of the room- his eyes are covered by huge goggles, but they are probably bugging out of his head once Ikoma comes stumbling in behind Takumi, "Oh my God-"

            Takumi raises his hands in a 'please calm down' gesture, "I know, I know. I need your he-"

            There is a clatter as Suzuki’s climbing over the desk, knocking things over on his hurry to get right up in Ikoma's face. Ikoma steps back, bumping into the door making the bell ring again.

            "Amazing!" The man whispers- in perfect English, oddly- then yanks Ikoma's scarf down to get a better look. There is bright red beneath the green tint of Ikoma's skin, the color matching the red of his eyes that serves as a dead giveaway to anyone who knows any amount of magic. Suzuki's head whips around to look at Takumi, "You summoned one!"

            "Y-Yeah, now I need to put him back." Takumi scratches his head and pulls the book out of his bag, "I think I must have fucked up translating at one point cause he can talk and eat and-"

            They slip over to the desk and lay the book out, Suzuki is already flipping through the pages as Takumi continues, whispering, "And he's fucking rude. Aren't summons supposed to be obedient?"

            "Mm, depends how you arrange the runes to make the spell." Suzuki taps a finger on a bookmarked page, "Is this the one you did?"

            "Yeah."

            Suzuki scratches his chin and studies the page for a long time, finally shaking his head and straightening up, "I recognize the elements of a summoning spell, but it's missing key points-" Takumi gapes at him, "What do you mean!?"

            Suzuki points at the sticky notes plastered all over the edges of the page, "Essentially- if this is what you said in the spell- you didn't just animate a corpse as you hoped- but you may have brought back his soul as well."

            Takumi steps back, feeling a little sick, "You mean…?"

            One of the basic lessons in necromancy is that the soul and body are separate.  To create a minion, only the body is animated. This makes the subject obedient, nourishment isn't needed, and most importantly is only temporary. If done incorrectly, however, there are some cases of bringing back the soul that was once attached to the body- but the practice takes extreme skill, as even the slightest mistake has many consequences… Making it taboo in the magic community.

            Takumi gasps, tearing at his jacket zipper and yanking his shirt down.

            As he expected, the thin red marks he had noticed the night before are still there. And to his horror- they look larger.

            Suzuki whistles.

            "Wh-What does that mean!?" Takumi's arms drop to his sides. He steps forward in a panic, "How do I reverse it!? What's going to happen!?"

            "I don't know." Suzuki says solemnly, "But-"

            There is a loud clatter and a shriek. The two drop their conversation and run to the other end of the store, as a thud and a curse from what sounded like Ikoma come next. They stumble around the walls of shelves to find Ikoma slouching against a shelf, a girl with long brown hair tied up in a side ponytail stands a few feet away, gripping a broom in her hands.

            "Ikoma!" Takumi gasps, helping him up, "What did you do!?"

            "He tried to bite me!" The girl barks.

            "Fucking seriously!?" Takumi hisses, Ikoma gives him a sheepish pout and shrugs dramatically.

            "S-Sorry, we'll get going now-" Takumi takes Ikoma by the wrist and pulls him to his feet towards the door-

            "Hold on-" The girl steps forward, still holding the broom defensively but gets a closer look at Ikoma up and down, eyes widening a bit, "Are you… human?"

            "Er-"

            "Kajika." Suzuki steps, "This stays between the four of us, but we're not sure. Do you know any necromancers or someone who can at least translate a spellbook?"

            Kajika stares at him for a moment, glancing between the three of them while she thinks. Just when Takumi is about to say 'nevermind' she seems to remember something, but she hesitates, "…I do." She doesn't say anything after that, so Takumi presses further, "Who!?"

            She's still hesitant, "Well, I don't know if she can read a spellbook, but I think she knows more than all of us about necromancy."

            "Is she a necromancer!?" Takumi gets excited, having never met anyone pursuing necromancy seriously other than himself.

            Kajika shakes her head, "No- She's an undead herself."

 

            Takumi isn’t sure how to respond to that. He keeps his thoughts to himself over the entire situation. Phone numbers are exchanged and Suzuki lets them leave with a warning to be careful.

            The walk back is more intense than the walk to. Probably because Takumi struggles not to topple over himself while going downhill. Ikoma spends the entire time sulking. He doesn’t respond much aside from comment on things he sees.

            Takumi’s car refuses to start at first. It sputters and coughs before the engine cooperates. Traffic is calm, which lets Takumi ignore Ikoma’s continued sulking.

            Once they’ve returned to Takumi's place, Ikoma sits leaning forward on the couch, staring intensely at the television. Some cartoon is playing; Takumi can hear it from the bathroom while he stares at himself in the mirror. His shirt is bunched up on the bathroom sink.

            "She lives out of town, but I'll see if I can get her over here to meet you. I'll text you when I hear back?"  He checks his phone again for Kajika's message- still nothing. He runs his fingers over the scars again, his anxiety eases a bit upon seeing they don't seem to have grown in the past two hours.

            I'm just getting myself worked up. He huffs, throwing on a shirt and stepping back into the living room.

            "Takumi!" He almost winces at Ikoma's excited bark, "This thing is amazing! How the images move so quickly and you don't even need a light behind it-"

            "What year are you from again?" Takumi sighs, slinking into the kitchen to look at few groceries he had. He figures definitely before the 20th century, being how old the graveyard was. Though from his research he had also learned that the graves ranged for several centuries-

            "Mmm…" Ikoma scratches his head, "I remember…" He squints, his memories are fuzzy- he sees a room with many large machines, people crammed together running around each other inside the rooms. Someone next to him is reading a newspaper-

            "… 180… 7?"

            Takumi spits into the milk carton he's drinking from- he had expected a long time ago but not that long. He peeks around the kitchen door- now Ikoma is not staring at the television- but off into space. He's half turned towards the kitchen, an arm slung over the couch. The light of the screen behind him reflects off the one lens of his glasses.

            Takumi is curious, "…Do you remember how you died?"

            Ikoma blinks for a moment then shakes his head, "I think I was a mechanic? What I do remember I'm always around a lot of machines-" Spins around, taking on a completely different look, "Hey! What do your zombies normally act like?"

            "Um-"

            Ikoma climbs over the couch, moving stiffly and making groaning noises with his arms outstretched, "Like that?"

            "I think so." Takumi smirks, "My first summon turned out to be bringing someone back to life or something."

            "Isn't that the point?" Ikoma raises an eyebrow, "I'm alive- I think-?" He pats at his chest a bit, reminding Takumi, "Hey, were those scars there before?" He asks, "Before you- died?"

Ikoma pulls his shirt collar out to stare at his chest, "I don't think so? I don't remember."

            Of course. Takumi sighs, he goes to take another drink but hears his phone vibrate in the other room-

            Takumi shoves past Ikoma and stumbles into the bathroom, "It's Kajika!"

            Hey it's Kajika. She said she could meet us at the shop on Monday, does that work for you?

            It's Thursday, "So long…" Takumi types back, Yeah that works, what time?

            "Takumi?" Ikoma hesitantly steps in. Takumi grins, "She says her friend can meet us at the shop on Monday!  Then we can hopefully figure out how to un-summon you." He walks past Ikoma to go back into the kitchen.

            Ikoma stands in the doorway, staring at the floor blankly and frowning a bit, "Yeah, I guess…"

Chapter Text

            Over the next few days, Takumi feels a definite change. The first day, the marks grow significantly overnight, beginning to drift over his shoulder. He also feels a drop in his energy- he becomes sluggish, sleeping in later by the day and going to bed earlier. He guesses this is from Ikoma’s sudden jump in energy- for a dead guy the man sure can talk. When Takumi feels extra sleepy he gives Ikoma various chores to do- just to keep him busy.

Ikoma begins sleeping a bit as well- which is strange for both of them. Takumi hopes it’s the magic wearing off, because by the time Monday morning rolls around he has to practically drag himself out of bed.

            He blinks lazily in the bathroom mirror a few times, not surprised when he notices the marks had grown even larger- taking on a texture of scars, almost.

            I should go see a shaman or something… He sighs to himself, stumbling into the living room to shake his zombie roommate awake.

            Anxious, Takumi is out of the apartment in minutes, Ikoma in tow. It’s early in the day, not many cars are out so parking in the public parking lot is quick and easy… it’s the walk to the shop that almost kills him.

            "Ikoma! Wait up…!" Takumi leans against a wall, trying to catch his breath. Ikoma trots back to him, frowning, "Didn't you just walk this way last week!?"

            "I've been feeling like shit lately." Takumi wipes the sweat off his forehead- how did it get so hot this early!? That’s when he notices Ikoma's sleeves are rolled up to his elbows.

            "Hey… Didn't you have marks on your arms?" Takumi points- if he remembers correctly, the marks on Ikoma's body were everywhere. Ikoma blinks, looking at his arms, "Oh yeah, they disappeared I guess."

            "How do those just disappear!?" Takumi yells. Now that he sees Ikoma in the daylight- after several days of keeping the blinds in the apartment closed to stop the pain in his eyes from the light- he notices Ikoma's skin seems slightly… less green? It looks smoother as well- his eyes trail up to Ikoma's face, noticing how clear his eyes look and that his hair is starting to lose the white streak in the front.

            Meanwhile, Takumi is beginning to look more-

            "Um, excuse me?"

            Both men look up towards the voice- a small girl stands a few feet away. She’s wearing a loose fitting white tank top and denim shorts beneath a large pink baggy unzipped hoodie. On her feet are matching pink tennis shoes. A few necklaces dangle around her neck, including a purple ribbon. She asks with a neutral expression "Are you dead?"

            Ikoma blinks- how blunt of her. He is about to answer, but notices she’s looking at Takumi.

            "I feel like it." Takumi mumbles, then realization hits him and his head shoots up, "Wait- do you happen to know Kajika?"

The girl steps forward, "Yep, I'm meeting some of her friends nearby. Is that you two?"

            Takumi straightens up, facing her this time, "That would be us- I'm Takumi, what's your name?"

            The girl takes a sip of her drink lazily, "Mumei."

            After some short introductions the trio head to the shop, not wanting to talk in an area as open as the streets. The shop is empty, the group stands around by the back counter where the register is located. Kajika makes them some tea before leaving to go organize the shelves somewhere.  Suzuki sits behind the register itself, reading a book.

            "I'm guessing you just want the spell to get rid of him?" Mumei asks, nodding towards Ikoma.

            "That would be ideal, yeah." Takumi mumbles. His gaze catches onto a stool sitting to the side that’s not being used. He pulls it over and sits down, exhausted from standing so long, "But I was hoping you could answer some questions first?"

            "Shoot." Mumei says simply, taking a sip from the tea.

            "How were you summoned?" Takumi hopes that isn't too personal- what’s too personal for an undead anyway? Luckily Mumei doesn't seem to mind, in fact she almost seems to expect it, "I died in a house fire about… thirty years ago?" Her eyes flick upwards for a second, thinking, then back to her drink, "My brother summoned me five years ago to test his theory on reviving the dead." Grins a bit and holds her hands out, shrugging, "It worked, obviously."

            "Your brother?"

            "Well, not really." Mumei corrects herself, "I was twelve when I was revived, so he was like a big brother to me I guess." Takumi can't help but notice the 'was', and gets a bad feeling in his chest, "You said he was testing a theory- does he study necromancy? Where is he now?"

            "He's dead." The clack of Mumei's cup being set onto the counter is the last noise before silence.

A customer walks in a moment later, Kajika goes to help them but Takumi can hardly hear what’s happening around him. He doesn't even notice them buy something, and leave. It's Ikoma that finally speaks up, "So… You're living on your own? As an undead?"

            Mumei's eyes flick to him, and Ikoma notices that she shares the same red color with his own, "It's possible. I'm under the radar though, as far as the world knows I'm still dead."

            "Uhm-" Takumi finally finds his voice, "What happened to your brother…?"

            She looks at him seriously now, her gaze is intense enough to make him glance away, "To be blunt- you traded your soul." She points at him, "You took your…" Waves around a bit until she finds the right word, "… Living energy, and traded it with his dead soul." Points at Ikoma with her other hand. She crosses her arms and stares at Takumi, "I can already tell by looking at you that you're already halfway there."

            Takumi feels like he’s going to throw up, all his worst fears throughout the past week are now a reality. He had tried to push the theory away, tried to think of other reasons for how his body has been changing, but now there’s proof-

            He’s dying.

            "H-How do I reverse it!?" Takumi blurts out. He stands up from the stool he’s sitting on with enough force it topples over. The sudden loud noise rings in his ears enough to make him wince in pain but he’s too distressed to care, "How do I get rid of him!?" He doesn't notice Ikoma flinch, but Mumei does. She eyes the other undead for a moment, before slowly turning her gaze to Takumi, speaking slowly, "I know the spell… To an extent. I can't read it but you might be able to."

            "I-I think I can! Here, write it-" Takumi fumbles around the counter for a blank piece of paper, Suzuki pulls one out from a drawer and hands it to him without looking up from his book. Kajika’s joining them now, leaning on a shelf a few feet away. Takumi yanks a pen out of the holder beside the register and shoves the paper towards Mumei, "Then I can try to-"

            Ikoma slaps the paper off the desk, the pen clatters to the floor noisily, the page fluttering down a moment later.

            No one moves.

            Ikoma's hair covers his face, his hand on the desk curls into a fist. His head whips up to glare at Takumi, "Were you going to ask my opinion on this!?" Takumi is taken back, Mumei smirks ever so slightly, resting her cheek in her hand. Ikoma slaps his palm against his chest as he speaks, "I'm a living, breathing person! You can't decide for me if I should go back into a grave again!"

            Takumi gapes at him- he hadn't even thought… Oh man. Now he’s torn- while he doesn't necessarily enjoy Ikoma's talkative, nagging company, at this point he would be killing Ikoma.

            But at the same time, he isn't ready to die either.

            Fucking hell… Takumi inhales deeply, "I don't… know what to do, Ikoma." His voice breaks, "I know exactly how you feel, I'm scared too…"

            There's a bit of silence. Mumei finishes her tea before stretching, "There's also another way, you know." All eyes focus on her. Takumi opens his mouth to press further but she holds up a finger to silence him, wrinkling her nose a bit "My brother was testing it with me and one other before he died. It didn't work with three people but two might work-"  She lowers her hand, weaving her fingers between each other and glancing between the two of them, "You can both share a soul, and live halfway between dead and alive."

Chapter Text

       Mumei’s words settle like dust over the shop. Takumi’s heart is pounding in his ears. He can’t quite grasp what she said. He doesn’t understand-

“Between dead and alive?” Takumi echoes Mumei’s words.

“That’s right. Your body will perish if your soul leaves you completely.” Mumei glances to Ikoma, unweaving her fingers and crossing her arms “and your body will cease to exist if your soul is returned to where it was summoned from. But if you two balance your energies- then you both will be able to live. Well, half live. It’s better than dying at least.”

“How do we do that?”

       Mumei uncrosses her arms, glaring as if Takumi had asked a stupid question.

“Practice. You two will have to adapt to each other’s energies- since you’ll be sharing it if this works.” Mumei explains.

“That’s it?” Takumi asks.

“For the most part- but you have to remember-“ Mumei tilts her head from side to side. She looks to Kajika and Suzuki for a moment and returns her gaze to Ikoma and Takumi “This is a sensitive concept. You can’t goof off or ignore your responsibilities to it. If one of you slips up once you start equalizing- you’ll have to start over again from the beginning. I think I’d rather explain the rest without an audience.”

       Ikoma isn’t saying a word. His shoulders are less tense but he won’t look at anyone. He’s preferring to stare at a shelf that has different types of crystals on display.

“Oh, are we being too nosy? I’m sure I can find something to do so I’m not listening.” Kajika questions. She glances about, searching for a way to distract herself.

“The rest of this is information I shouldn’t say- heck I’ve spoken enough as it is. It’s better that as few people hear this as possible.” Mumei shakes her head. She turns her attention to the closest shelf, peering over the contents.

“I live alone- so my place is available.” Takumi offers.

“Do you live far?” Mumei pushes at a stone sitting the shelf, glancing back for a moment to make eye contact with Takumi.

“Not really. We just have to walk to my car first. It’s in the public parking lot.”

“Let’s get going if you two actually want a solution to this, then. I have things I need to do.” Mumei complains. She heads for the door, waving without looking back.

       Takumi looks to Ikoma, but looks away in shame when Ikoma meets his gaze. Even while he’s still not happy- Takumi doesn’t want to be responsible for Ikoma dying. Again. He’s not that heartless. Even if he’s unhappy with Ikoma being there to begin with-

       Ikoma leaves the shop, too.

“Hey, are you coming?” Mumei calls back.

       Takumi sighs. He sets the stool he knocked down back up.

“I hope you feel better.” Kajika’s voice is gentle.

“Thanks.” Takumi smiles. It’s faint, more of courtesy than actual emotion.

       Takumi exits the store, he winces again when the bell chimes. The midday sun is intense, burning down on Takumi and making him wish he could just teleport into his car and not walk. Ikoma and Mumei are standing at the end of the walkway. They’re whispering to each other. Ikoma steps back, his shoulders tense.

“You’re lying-“ Ikoma says.

       Mumei elbows Ikoma in the side and turns to face Takumi.

“What were you two talking about?” Takumi approaches, curious.

“Undead stuff. Nothing you need to know.” Mumei snarks.

       Takumi purses his lips. He doesn’t argue- but he’s left feeling out of the loop.

“Well? Stop staring and lead the way. I don’t know where your car is.” Mumei gestures with her hand.

       Takumi finds the walk downhill a little easier. He doesn’t lose his breath as fast and manages to make it to the car without stopping. He digs his keys out of his pocket and unlocks his car. Mumei runs her fingers over the sigils on the roof, tracing the patterns and taping on ones that stand out the most.

“So did you put these here? They look pretty good. Hard to believe you messed up a “summoning spell” if you could do these.” Mumei comments.

“My mom did.” Takumi explains. He’s not going to take credit for his mom’s work. She spent hours making sure the sigils didn’t overlap to the point of affecting their function.

“Oh.” Mumei’s interest drops.

       Ikoma slides into shotgun and keeps his gaze focused on the scenery outside of the window. Mumei grumbles about being stuck in the backseat.

       Takumi’s fingers tremble against the steering wheel as he drives. He doesn’t have long for Ikoma and him to figure out how to “equalize” if he’s already halfway to being dead. He doesn’t notice he’s clenching his jaw until he feels his teeth slip against each other.

       Playing music doesn’t help. His classical music doesn’t help at all to calm him down after the trainwreck that has been today already.

       As Takumi pulls into the parking lot for his apartment complex Mumei clicks her tongue.

“You practice necromancy? Here?” Mumei criticizes.

“If by here you mean my apartment- then yes. I practice necromancy here.” Takumi responds.

       Takumi makes sure his car doors are locked before heading into the building. He’s silent until they’ve reached his apartment and the door is closed behind them.

“So what was so sensitive you couldn’t say it where we were?” Takumi asks. He goes into the kitchen area to get some water. His throat’s dry.

“I need to teach you two how to start balancing, as well as explain why this spell even worked at all.” Mumei links her hands together behind her back. She meanders to the couch and sits down.

“Why it worked? Are you saying there was a chance the spell wouldn’t have even worked?” Takumi fills a mug with filtered water from the fridge.

“Exactly. The only reason you managed to do anything aside form just give yourself a headache from a complete failure to do anything- is because Ikoma’s soul is in purgatory.” Mumei explains.

       Takumi chokes on his water. Some of it sprays from his nostrils as he tightens his grip on the mug.

“Purgatory? Like- purgatory, purgatory? The place where neither “good nor bad souls” gather? That place actually exists?” Takumi gasps.

       Mumei leans away, nose scrunching up.

“Ew- and yes. That’s where you’re being taken to in exchange for him. What, did you assume you were bringing a soul back from anywhere else? Get real, you took what could be considered a reject.” Mumei taunts.

       Ikoma’s still standing to the side, not engaging in the conversation. He’s frowning, picking at the edges of the scarf around his neck. A reject- it reminds Takumi of when he was a kid.

“Wouldn’t that make you one, too?” Takumi snaps, attempting to make Mumei realize she’s being cruel.

“Yeah, I came from purgatory. I don’t remember what’s there- probably because it’s just nothing. That doesn’t matter though. What does matter is that you have to know just where you fucked up as a Necromancer so you don’t do it again. I can’t show you where you messed up decoding. That’s your job to figure it out.” Mumei’s unfazed by Takumi’s comment.

“My job?” Takumi’s not happy with Mumei telling him what is or isn’t important.

“Yeah. If you’re a practicing necromancer you should be a responsible one, since the acceptance of it is blurry to begin with. What spellbook are you even using, anyway? A soul exchange spell isn’t exactly common knowledge, since it edges near the territory of forbidden magic.”

“Uh, this one-“ Takumi sets his cup down on the coffee table. He returns from his desk with the spellbook.

       Mumei’s gaze falls on it and she freezes. She reaches out to the book and pulls it out of Takumi’s hands before he can offer it.

“Rude-“ Takumi grumbles.

“How did you get this?” Mumei questions, not looking up from the book. She slides the palm of her hand on the front cover.

“I bought it from a magic store a few towns over? It took me months to find one I could afford, anyway-“ Takumi trails off, wondering if he’d picked up a bad spellbook or something.

“This isn’t a book someone like you should have even been able to afford-“ Mumei’s voice is bitter. She looks up at Takumi, eyes narrowed.

“I used a lot of money I’d been saving up, okay? I heard this book was an extensive collection of spells so I wouldn’t have to buy a new one any time soon. The codex they offered for it was expensive, too.”

“They sold you the codex?” Mumei’s downright offended now. She curls her lips back and clenches the book close to herself.

“Yeah. Why, is that a problem?”

“This book was my brother’s.” Mumei relaxes her arms, sighing. She flips the book open and runs her fingers over the inside of the cover. She pokes at a name written in curving script. It’s not any name Takumi’s ever seen, the letters are all scrambled up. “This is his signature. It makes sense, since I don’t know any other necromancers who studied retrieving souls. Not that there aren’t any that I don’t know about.”

“Is it a problem that this is his book?” Takumi’s surprised at the coincidence. He didn’t figure that the book had been recently written. It looked so old-

“No.” Mumei spits. She turns more pages, flicking the post-it notes that Takumi has been writing translations on.

“You don’t sound like you mean that.”

“What am I supposed to say? That no matter what I do this book keeps finding its way back to me?” Mumei groans. She sets the book down beside her, groaning. She runs her hands over her face and changes topic as she complains “Whatever. We’ll talk more about this later. For now, I need to get you two on the path to equalizing your energies. Sit on the floor facing each other.”

       Takumi sits down in front of the coffee table, crossing his legs and resting his hands on his knees. Ikoma sits across from him. There’s at least four feet between them.

“Closer, guys. The further away you are the harder it’s going to be for you two.” Mumei grunts.

       Takumi scoots closer. Ikoma shifts a few inches forward, not meeting Takumi’s gaze.

“Take each other’s hands. Takumi, do you know how to open your magic flow?” Mumei looks to Takumi, squinting.

“I think I remember? That was like second level courses.” Takumi rubs the back of his head before grasping Ikoma’s hands.

“Open your magic flow?” Ikoma echoes. It’s the first time he’s spoken to Takumi directly since he snapped at Suzuki’s store.

“Yeah. Magic users have their own flow in their bodies that they use to help fuel spellwork. This flow can visually manifest in a glow on the user’s body. The color of the glow varies depending on what magic they can use best. ” Takumi explains, tilting his head as he strings his words together. He’s reminiscing over his magic lessons when he was younger for an explanation “The term “opening” doesn’t mean that so much as um-“

       Ikoma squints, there’s very little body language letting Takumi know that his words are even making sense at all to Ikoma right now. Takumi changes his approach to the topic.

“You know what? Never mind. It makes more sense just saying the casual term for it.” Takumi shrugs, opting for the easier path, not wanting to bother with saying terms that he’ll have to explain, too “It means that you’re leaving your flow active for subconscious use rather than a proper spell? Your senses and mind are undefended against outside influence when you do it. It’s done a lot in scrying and other forms of magic that require extending your awareness beyond yourself. Shit, I feel like I’m being quizzed in basic magic all over again.”

“You should be, considering how poorly you handled explaining it.” Mumei gripes.

“I think I did okay! Did you understand, Ikoma?” Takumi looks across from himself.

“Sort of?” Ikoma answers.

“Fine then. Enough technical speak.” Mumei speaks louder to keep the attention on herself “Let’s get to work. Takumi, open your flow. Equalizing means we’re going to be manipulating the spell to make it possible for the exchange to be balanced out. I need you to listen to my instructions without questioning them.” Mumei orders.

      Takumi’s grip on Ikoma’s hands tighten. He frowns but closes his eyes. Focusing on himself, he reaches for the sensation of tearing down any barrier he’s set up. He’s short of breath by the time he feels his magic activate. Ikoma gasps, no doubt from the blue lines that run across Takumi’s skin.

       With that, Mumei’s instructions begin.

“Now I need you to expand yourself outward. Search for a resonance with your own magic- that will be Ikoma. Focus on him- Ikoma, I need you to pay attention rather than gape at Takumi! Yes, he’s glowing, but I need you for the next part. I need both of you concentrating or else we won’t be able to modify the spell.”

       Takumi can feel Ikoma there as he reaches outward with his magic. It’s the farthest he’s ever gotten to creating an outside awareness of himself. Once his magic comes in contact with Ikoma, it’s strange. There’s a different sensation wrapping around his own magic. Like it’s a flow- but not his own. He’s never felt someone else’s magic before. Not by reaching out to it.

“Wait- hold on- what?” Takumi gasps. He withdraws from contact with Ikoma and the sensation of someone else’s magic fades.

“Don’t tell me you’re losing focus, too!” Mumei’s almost shouting.

“No! I just- Ikoma- were you a magic user?” Takumi makes eye contact with Ikoma.

“No? I- I don’t remember being one at least. All this is new to me.” Ikoma gestures to the entire situation by waving his hand about.

“An untapped magic flow? Didn’t that stop becoming common in like the 1900s? That’s what I was told.” Mumei interrupts.

“How do you think he got it?” Takumi questions.

“I’m not sure.” Mumei crosses her arms. She tilts her head from side to side “There were cases where a non-magic user came in contact with intense magic or a magical object and their bodies started creating their own- but those were regulated back when the magic user communities became more localized. Mid 1800s if I remember.”

       Takumi curls one of his hands into a fist and taps the side of it against the palm of his other hand, recognizing the historical event.

“I think they taught us about that! The communities started to hold themselves and other members accountable for any magical-based accident they were at fault for, right?” Takumi inquires.

       Ikoma glances between Mumei and Takumi, expression neutral as he watches who’s speaking.

“Yeah. They wrangled a lot of the artifacts and magic-imbued items that were being traded about before without care for who got their hands on them.” Mumei purses her lips, staring at Ikoma.

       Ikoma glances down at his hands. It’s like he’s gazing through them.

“Ikoma told me he remembers 1807. I don’t think he lived long enough to actually be around when the magic regulation movement started.” Takumi brings up.

“What if I got it because I was brought back?” Ikoma questions.

“I probably would have seen it when it formed-“ Takumi debunks the theory. Magic flows manifesting for the first time are visible.

“Wait, Ikoma might be onto something there.” Mumei holds her hand up to stop Takumi’s thought. She looks at Ikoma. “The amount of magic needed to bring a soul back is immense- so you may have gotten it when the spell touched your soul.”

“So I can use magic?” Ikoma’s face lights up. He’s excited about being able to use something he doesn’t even understand?

“I doubt you can do anything without training first-“ Mumei holds up her hands to tell him to stop “-but this might help the equalizing take less time. Takumi, let’s get back to the exercise. I think we can skip a few steps since Ikoma has a flow of his own. Clear your heads. Back to where we were.”

       Takumi curls his fingers over Ikoma’s again. Ikoma looks up right as Takumi closes his eyes. Takumi relaxes his breathing and focuses. It’s harder to reopen his magic flow this time. He feels a wave of exhaustion pass over him as he reaches out to Ikoma’s magic. The sensation of coming in contact with the spell that’s working to exchange souls is unsettling. Takumi recognizes it as his magic- but it feels like a call to elsewhere. Like he’s being told he’s needed somewhere-

“Keep focus. Keep in mind that if you’re not careful you could speed up the entire soul exchange process, too.” Mumei points out without prior warning.

       Takumi almost breaks concentration, recognizing that the pull he’s feeling is a bad thing based on Mumei’s words. He feels the other magic flow that’s entwined with the spell.

“Ikoma, since we now know you have your own magic- try to open yours up. This will be way easier with both of you having a magic flow. You don’t have to do anything just yet- but having it open will help to start equalizing as soon as the spell’s modified.” Mumei comments.

      Takumi waits, evening his breathing out. He can feel the new and unfamiliar magic flow curve and branch in different directions like a tree as it’s being manipulated. Takumi gasps as the magic reaches out and makes contact with his own. Ikoma’s hands clench tight around his fingers.

“Takumi, I’m going to say the words you have to repeat. These are an add-on to the spell already there. You need to modify it right the first time- there aren’t any second chances.” Mumei warns.

       A cold sweat is forming on Takumi’s face and his hands are sweating. He’s never done a spell right on the first try- at least, except for Ikoma. Not like he’d intended that to happen-

       Takumi keeps his focus on the resonance of his magic. He listens to Mumei say the spell once, twice. He rolls the pronunciations in his head and hopes he remembers it correctly. Takumi repeats the words, aiming his magic at the active spell. For a moment he fears it does nothing. Then the intensity of the resonance lessens. It’s still there- but not as intense of a sensation.

“Did it work? The spell should have changed.” Mumei asks.

“Yeah- it’s- different. Is it supposed to get weaker?” Takumi clenches his closed eyes tight, worried.

“I don’t know. I’m not an expert. But I guess it means the energy being put into the soul exchange has been slowed down.” Mumei muses “Here comes the hard part- you two have to sit there. Synchronize your breathing, become familiar with each other’s energies- yadda yadda. You should equalize out after daily sessions of meditation.”

“How many days?” Takumi wheezes.

“Shit, I don’t know.” Mumei’s response is faster than Takumi expected, like she was waiting for the question “I would- if the equalization had worked in my case. I’ll stick around for this session just to make sure you two are on the right track.”

       Mumei doesn’t speak after her comment. Takumi has to focus to drown out the sound of writing. She’s writing?

       Takumi and Ikoma stay silent. It’s uncomfortable. Takumi’s not quite sure what Mumei meant by her explanation of how their meditations should work. He tries to focus on Ikoma’s breathing, but it just frustrates him. He can’t accustom himself to the sensation of Ikoma’s magic surrounding him. It’s like he’s being suffocated under voices. He gets faint flashes of images behind his eyelids. Some are his own thoughts and memories. Others- whose are they?

      He can see machinery. Buildings that loom overhead and busy streets. The smell of smoke in the air and the groan of metal. People talk around him but he can’t make out the words. It’s like he’s looking through someone else’s eyes. There are spots of the scenery that appear blurry. The images fade away.

       The next thing that flashes in Takumi’s vision is a small classroom situated in a house covered in stones and old tomes. He’s crying at the edge of the room, squeezed between two beanbag chairs. The world feels so large around him, still small even at thirteen. There’s no chance he’s going to get his growth spurt just yet- a late bloomer. He wipes his face with his arm to get rid of the snot and tears on his skin.

“Look- he’s crying again?” A young boy with wavy blond hair questions. He has on brown shorts, a matching shirt, and there’s a red scarf around his neck that’s too large for his body. It covers his check and reaches up to his jaw.

“Just leave him, Sukari. He does this every time he can’t do something.” Another kid responds, apathetic to Takumi’s tears.

       Takumi’s overcome with shame. His chest feels tight. As soon as he feels Ikoma’s fingers twitch against his hands in recognition Takumi withdraws from contact, pulling his magic back to himself and opening his eyes. He’s hyperventilating. There’s a maroon glow fading from Ikoma’s skin. It’s a repeating pattern of curving lines rather than the sharp angles that make up Takumi’s.

“Takumi- what are you doing-“ Ikoma complains.

“Stay out of my head! You’re not allowed there-” Takumi yells, unable to control his volume.

“Sort of hard for him to do, since your souls are both bound in the same spell. You’re both going to see each other’s memories. Don’t yell at him for something he isn’t controlling. If anything- it means the equalizing was working.” Mumei says.

“That’s what we’re going to go through every time?” Takumi’s voice cracks. He doesn’t look forward to it. He want it to happen-

“Sharing memories? Yeah. You’re eventually going to have to be able to fully trust each other if you plan on this actually working. You guys don’t get the concept of balancing energies between two souls- do you?” Mumei’s scowling.

“Not at all! Aren’t you supposed to be helping us?” Takumi demands.

“I am. I explained it, didn’t I?” Mumei brushes off Takumi’s aggression. Does nothing faze this girl?

“Not enough, obviously.” Takumi mutters.

“What do you want from me? A sixteen week course? We don’t have time to explain every little thing that will happen before we do anything.” Mumei sits up straight and gestures at Takumi “Either way, you’re too exhausted to continue even if you weren’t already defensive from your memories being put on display for him. We have to stop for now.”

       Ikoma clenches his hands and stands up.

“I’m going to go take a shower.” Ikoma announces. He meanders off to the bathroom before anyone can respond. He slams the door behind him.

       Takumi crosses his arms, frustrated.

“You were the one at fault there, you know. You can’t just expect something like balancing souls to be easy.” Mumei frowns.

“I don’t like people going around in my head. It’s a private place. The last one I have, apparently.” Takumi feels the silence wash over him and settle around his racing thoughts before he continues “My car’s got passengers now. My house has an unwanted guest. I just want this over and done with so he can go off and leave me alone.”

“He won’t be able to. The further away you two get from each other once you’ve equalized- you risk unequalizing and the spell continuing where it left off.” Mumei counters Takumi’s perspective with something he doesn’t want to hear.

 “You mean it’s not a permanent fix?” Takumi’s gaping, unable to process what Mumei’s saying anymore.

“You thought it would be? You know the nature of an active spell. Until dismissed or it reaches its intended outcome it doesn’t stop.” Mumei argues.

“I know- but I figured the modification would- change the nature of the outcome?” Takumi evaluates what Mumei’s saying. There has to be a loophole somewhere-

“You don’t just leave two souls bonded halfway between purgatory and the mortal world! There needs to be an active spell to keep them there. If you let go of the spell then Ikoma gets put back in purgatory. It’s simple.” Mumei defends her statement.

“Why does it require him to see my memories though? It’s unfair and a complete breach of my privacy.” Takumi holds his hand against his chest, unwilling to share his view of the world with someone else.

       Mumei slams her hand on the coffee table. The hit is so strong the mug sitting on it bounces a bit. She’s furious, there’s no denying how her eyes are narrowing and how she scowls.

“It’s understandable and it’s not unfair specifically to you. If anyone should feel like it’s unfair it should be him. He was minding his own business in purgatory when you pulled him back out of the ground.” Mumei refutes Takumi’s argument, blowing it aside and calling him out “You know what souls hold? Everything that makes a person them. Their memories, emotions- Science argues that the brain stores everything but our souls are what really do a large portion of the work. Did they even bother teaching you about souls in your magic classes?”

       Takumi retracts his aggression. He looks away, recalling what his lessons were about.

“I was told spellwork involving souls is- um- taboo. So our teacher never explained much aside from they are the essence of a person and can’t be duplicated or created. It’s apparently a primal magic that’s far out of the ability of any magic user? Not like it would exactly be accepted if there was someone who did have that skill, anyway.” Takumi points out.

       Mumei smirks. She raises an eyebrow and leans back against the couch.

“What’s funny, now?” Takumi’s aggression threatens to boil back up at the low sound of Mumei chuckling.

“Nothing. Either way- here.” Mumei picks a piece of paper up from under one of the magazines Takumi had lying around on the coffee table. She holds it out.

“What’s this?” Takumi asks, taking the slip of paper and looking it over. It’s a series of symbols- the same ones he’s seen in the spellbook.

 “The way to cancel the spell.” Mumei’s cheerful at first, but her tone drops and she stares Takumi down “If it seems like neither of you are getting anywhere by the middle of next week- use it. It doesn’t matter at that point who feels what about whatever- it’s safer to have the person still in the legal system survive. Being on the run isn’t worth living.”

“On the run? But you act like-“ Takumi squints, attempting to discern Mumei’s reasoning.

“Like someone who’s been doing this so long it’s second nature by now. Don’t argue with me.” Mumei’s shoulders are tense, she’s not looking at Takumi “Learn that, and make sure you’re safe. You two need to meditate twice every day. Fifteen minutes minimum. Got it?”

“Fifteen minutes?”

 “Yes. Don’t slack off. I can’t stay any longer so I won’t be able to hold your hands through this. I’ll get your number from Kajika and call you another time to check up on you.” Mumei answers.

       Mumei stands up, walking off towards the front door. She stretches her arms up over her head, tilting them to loosen up her muscles. She doesn’t look back.

“You’re leaving, now?” Takumi stands up, not willing to let Mumei leave after dropping so much information on him.

“I thought that was obvious. Like I said- on the run.” Mumei turns to look back. She’s frowning.

“From who?”

 “Not anyone in particular right now- but I can’t risk it. Soul spells are taboo, remember? I’ve ran into guys who were ready to send me back where I came from. Good luck, you’re going to need it.” Mumei continues her walk to the front door, opening it without stopping her forward stride.

“Wait-“ Takumi rushes to grab the door and stop Mumei from terminating the conversation.

       The door’s slammed in Takumi’s face. By the time he opens it to speak more- Mumei’s gone.

“Where did she go?” Takumi crushes the note in his hand, fingers tense “Whatever- I don’t have time to deal with a melodramatic runaway.”

       Takumi closes the door. He slumps on the couch and uncurls the paper, looking the instructions over.

“It looks like it’s a combination of action and spoken spell? Or is this a spell that needs the sigils written? I guess I have to translate it later-“ Takumi mumbles.

       Takumi shoves the paper into his pocket. He leans his head back and stares at the ceiling. It’s hard to clear his head when all he’s thinking about is how he’s going to have to bare his memories in order to let Ikoma live. He doesn’t want to. He hates the thought of letting anyone in.

       All anyone’s ever done is taunt him for being unable to even do basic spells. He doesn’t even want to make friends with people who aren’t in the magic community. Too many risks there. He’s stuck with a lot of textbook knowledge and common sense- but that doesn’t mean shit when he can’t do anything without messing up. So he stays on the couch, hoping he could morph into the upholstery and just not be. Praying that whoever might be listening to him will pity him and just take him out of this stupid situation.

       He misses the soft quietness of his home. Not having to worry about opening the fridge to find food missing without warning ever since Ikoma started eating regular food rather that raw meat. His belongings keep getting misplaced. Ikoma’s an annoying housemate who can’t control his volume or even put a filter on what he says. He’s obnoxiously talkative and asks way too many questions than should even be possible.

       It’s at least ten minutes before the shower shuts off. Takumi closes his eyes, feigning sleep so he doesn’t have to bother with speaking to Ikoma. He hopes he’s a good enough faker- no one’s ever told him. Takumi doesn’t hear the bathroom door open. He finds the lull of his eyes closing too tempting to not take a nap.

       Takumi wakes up an unknown amount of time later. There’s a blanket draped over him and the TV’s on. He pushes the blanket off and rubs at his face, squinting to see what’s playing. It’s an old animated movie- not one that Takumi’s seen before. Ikoma’s sitting on the floor between the couch and the coffee table.

“Ikoma?” Takumi murmurs.

“Oh, you’re up. Hi-“ Ikoma glances back at first. He lowers his gaze and sounds solemn as he focuses on the TV again.

“Hi? That’s it?” No “why did you have to fuck up the meditation?” Or “you must have been a real baby when you were a kid.” Or-“

       Ikoma shifts. His shoulders are loose. His hair isn’t damp- which means Takumi’s been asleep for a whie since there isn’t a hairdryer in the apartment.

“I understand. It’s not like I was comfortable having you in my head, either. I still can’t remember most of my past. It makes it really hard to know what I wouldn’t want anyone to see. You’re lucky- you know- because you do remember.” Ikoma comments.

       Takumi feels guilt shatter his earlier defenses. He’d been focusing so much on how the entire process was making him uncomfortable- that he’d never stopped to wonder if Ikoma felt the same way.

“I don’t like this.” Ikoma groans. He leans back against the front panel of the couch, stretching his legs out under the coffee table “It feels too- personal? Like, who in their right mind wakes up one morning and decides they’re going to bring back a dead person to meditate with them for a long time? It’s dumb. I mean- can Mumei even use magic? Or is that another thing to add to our pile of luck?”

       Takumi ponders over Ikoma’s question, gasping when he realized that Ikoma brought up a valid point.

“She didn’t say-” Takumi worries. Did she even know what she was talking about?

“I bet she didn’t stay long, too.”

“She didn’t. She left while you were showering.” Takumi mentions. He glances around the room, regretting that his apartment only has a window in his bedroom. He can’t see outside so he asks “What time is it?”

“Eight something. I was about to wake you up. You haven’t had dinner yet.“ Ikoma’s concern leeches into his words. Takumi’s reminded of his mother with the tone Ikoma’s taking.

“Ikoma- why are you still being friendly? Earlier today I was intent on just stopping the spell and basically killing you. Then I yelled at you for something you weren’t doing to where you felt like you had to go shower just to avoid me.” Takumi’s breaking the silence over the event. If there’s going to be a fight over it- they might as well have it before they go any further.

“So?” Ikoma’s clueless? Does he not remember what happened earlier today?

“So? Is nothing getting through to you? That I’m an asshole who only thinks about himself?” Takumi’s frustrated. He was expecting aggression, bitterness- not, concern. Who does that? Not anyone in ther right mind.

“No. Like I said- I understand.” Ikoma reiterates. He sighs  “I think after today I know you a little better. You were crying because everyone thinks you can’t do anything right. I remembered a few things while you were asleep. I guess- people didn’t like me all that much, either. Or maybe I just preferred to stay away from everyone. I don’t know.”

“Does that make you sad?”

“Not knowing does, I guess. Like-“ Ikoma picks at the edges of the couch, searching for the right words.  “What if I remember everything when we’ve equalized and- this isn’t who I am? What if my life made me a lot more different than how I am now? What if I turn out to be a complete asshole, right?”

      Ikoma’s nervous laughing makes a strange emotion well up inside Takumi. He’s never felt it towards anyone before. Is it pity? It sure feels like how it’s been described to him- a weighted feeling in Takumi’s chest that makes him want to try and fix whatever’s bothering Ikoma.

       He doesn’t like pity if this is what it feels like.

“Well, then it would just be two assholes under one roof.” Takumi brushes off the negative emotion curling in his chest, instead turning the scenario into a joke to lighten the mood.

“Birds of a feather?” Ikoma suggests.

“They had that expression back then?”

“Yeah.” Ikoma laughs. It’s unweighted and he looks happy. A legitimate happy, like he has the answer to something for once “A few things haven’t changed, I guess. How about this, we don’t judge each other for our pasts. Whatever we see- we see. We’ll sort all that out once neither of us is at risk of dying. Deal?”

       Ikoma turns on the floor to face Takumi. He sticks his hand out, fingers spread for a handshake. He looks unburdened like this- unaware of the threat of his own death looming over him again. His grin widens and his shoulders are pushed back from sitting up straight.

“Yeah, okay. You’ve got a deal.”

       Takumi closes his hand over Ikoma’s. All the while, he keeps at the back of his thoughts that there’s a piece of paper he has to translate. Just in case everything falls out under them.

Chapter Text

       The moment their magic flows connected Takumi flinched at the sudden burst of images flooding behind his eyelids. Memories, both from he and Ikoma, filled both their minds, and Takumi's grip tightened on Ikoma's hands.

       An unfamiliar scene played out before him- the streets were filthy, steam and smoke rose into their air around the crowd making their way down the dirt roads. A quick glance in a nearby window, fogged up by dust and scratches, revealed Ikoma- dressed in a black coat patched up at the elbows, a thick scarf around his neck and a dusty cap above rounded glasses. He was pulling on a pair of gloves as he walked.

       Ikoma's interest pricked, Takumi felt it- he was anxious, but not closing himself off from showing the memory. After all, they had agreed to see whatever they see and let it be.

       Takumi couldn't help but be curious, anyway.

       What looked like a factory loomed overhead, though as the scene began to enter through the gates the memory became fuzzy, and Ikoma let out a puff of frustration as it faded out completely.

       Takumi could feel the magic flow becoming too strong, Ikoma's energy flowing into him at an alarming rate, the other trying desperately to latch on to the memory, "Even out." Takumi warned.

       After meditating together four times over the past few days they had gotten better at speaking without loosing concentration. Before one of them would try to make a comment and would break the bond completely. This resulted in a few short bickers but nothing more.

       The flow evened out, and in a few moments Takumi realized with horror that the next memory coming was his. He recognized his parents' backyard, where he could see through his younger self's eyes staring at a dead bird in his hands.

       He flinched back, trying to push the memory away, but Ikoma's energy surged forward, stopping in time to even out.

       He was getting alarmingly good at it.

       Takumi was fourteen at the time, if he remembers correctly, right when he began pursuing magic. In the memory he took the bird to his room, setting it gently on his dresser and searching up a spell online.

       He said the words- very sloppily, Takumi snorted at the memory. Now being more experienced, he knew the reason why that spell didn't work.

He lets out a breath when the memory fades out, then feels Ikoma let go of his hands and the flow snaps a few moments later. He opens his eyes to see Ikoma stretching, "Sorry, I was getting stiff-"

Takumi glances at the clock- smiling when seeing they had been sitting at the table meditating for almost thirty minutes. They were getting much better, indeed, "How do you feel?"

"Kind of nauseous." Ikoma admits with a huff, "A little shaky too. I think I used too much to keep that memory-" He stops, thinking.

       Takumi doesn't pry further, feeling uncomfortable himself after having his memories shown. He was just glad that it wasn't something too personal. He stretches himself then gets up to head to the kitchen, frowning at the empty cabinets, "Aah, looks like I need to go to the store again." Spins around to squint at Ikoma, "I wonder if Suzuki is hiring, I can't afford your food and mine!"

Ikoma whines a bit, Takumi marches back to the table with a box of cereal and whines sarcastically back, earning a squint from Ikoma, "Gimme a break, you got a few hundred years off." He waves his spoon at Ikoma as he sits down, "And look, I know we're trying to learn to get along. But I'm still not comfortable with this whole sharing memories thing, so if I try to push one away it's for a reason and I don't want you pulling it back up."

Ikoma puffs his cheeks a bit, but Takumi interrupts, more sternly this time, "Especially if it uses your energy. Save that for, ya know, not letting me die. Okay?"

       Takumi finishes up his meal then throws on some clothes, tossing some at Ikoma as well, taking a mental note that they should get him some more- he was going to need more than two outfits for as long as he's staying.

       They head to the grocery store mostly in silence, upon entering the parking lot and maneuvering the cars and people Takumi realizes with a sigh of relief that Ikoma now looks… human enough to go out in public without worry. In the past his almost green complexion and black bags under his eyes had gotten some stares, but both had faded quite a bit in the past few weeks.

       Takumi however had gained some of these traits, but again- not too noticeable.

       Ikoma followed closely through the isles, eyeing the shelves filled with unfamiliar foods that Takumi grabbed and tossed in the cart without thinking much. As they were finishing up Takumi felt his phone vibrate in his back pocket.

"Hey zombie boy u still alive?"

Mumei. Takumi rolled his eyes at the comment and texted back, "Somewhat. We're getting better at the equalizing thing."

"Cool. I might be in town next week, think you'll last?"

 Ikoma pulled a box of dry cereal out of the cart and started eating it, Takumi raised an eyebrow at him before finishing his reply, "I'll see you then."

       The rest of the day went by pretty lazily. They finished their shopping and ate a full meal as soon as they got home.

       Ikoma retired to the couch to watch television while Takumi went to shower. As he did at least once a day if not more, he checked the scars, wrinkling his nose a bit, "Hey, have your scars changed at all?" He asked as he walked back into the main room, plopping onto the other end of the sofa with his spellbook.

Ikoma raised an eyebrow, "No?" Are yours!?" His voice hitched in worry.

"No, they're exactly the same."

"…That's good? I think?" Ikoma's eyes flicked upwards in thought.

"I think so too. I was just hoping they'd disappear completely I guess." Takumi sighs, opening the book to study the page Suzuki had helped him translate recently.

"Hey, shouldn't we try meditating again?" Ikoma piped up. Takumi huffed and shut the book, "Probably."

       Twice a day was quite exhausting sometimes.

       Ikoma crossed his legs and faced Takumi, who lazily leaned his side against the back of the sofa, holding his hands out and closing his eyes. Mumei's instructions ran through his head once, then he cleared his mind and summoned his magic flow, feeling Ikoma's come up as well.

       The process was all the same, and Takumi relaxed at the familiar feeling, proud that what they couldn't even accomplish in hours a few weeks ago was now almost natural.

The memories came fast- he saw what must have been Ikoma's first. A massive black train loomed overhead, steam pouring out of the top. Several mechanics buzzed about, pushed back by the steam, "What's going on!?"

"A pipe burst, we need to shut off the steam-"

       Ikoma shoved his way in, twisting the knobs with knowing precision until the engine quieted. Someone slapped him on the back, grinning, and Ikoma smiled back.

       Takumi could feel Ikoma's pride and wonder, He was a mechanic on steam trains. That's kind of cool.

       Suddenly a loud whirring noise filled the memory, in the image Ikoma spun around, eyes widening at the sight of the pressure gauges needles shaking in the red zone, smoke poofing out of the funnel overhead-

       A burst of white and the memory ended abruptly, Ikoma's grip went limp in Takumi's hands. He could feel them shaking slightly and he tightened his grip to assure Ikoma, despite the cold sweat breaking out on his own palms. How terrible. He was surprised the contact didn't break however, the scene moving on.

He saw the inside of his apartment, Mumei handing him a scrap of paper, Takumi hears himself asking "What's this?"

"The way to cancel the spell."

Fuck-!

       The contact snaps like a rubber band, Takumi physically reeling back against the arm of the couch. Ikoma sits stiff as a board, face paler than usual.

Guilt fills Takumi immediately. He runs a hand over his face, "Ignore that, it was-"

       Ikoma glances away awkwardly, beneath his glasses his eyes are puffy and he's shaking slightly. It's the equivalent of a slap to Takumi, and all he can do is shake his head slightly, knowing that trying to cover it up would only make it worse. He feels terrible, not only did Ikoma just see how he died, but now Takumi has a way to do it again, after Ikoma had clearly stated in the shop with Mumei that he wanted to live again.

There's a long silence before Ikoma takes a shaky breath, "I'm done for the day." Then he turns the television back on and won't look at Takumi. Not that Takumi could return his gaze anyway, his shame won't let him. Instead he takes his book and goes to study in his room for the night.

 

       The week passes… strangely. Ikoma is oddly quiet, rarely making eye contact with Takumi, and when he does answer it's only in short words. This drives Takumi insane, but he only guesses that he must still be upset over what he learned… not that he could blame him. They still meditate together, but the sessions are ever shorter, the memories dull. Ikoma's magic flow is weak and hesitant and Takumi feels his own fading as well-which frightens him the most. He tried several times to bring it up to Ikoma, only to be answered with something along the lines of, "I'm just not feeling good today."

       Takumi's nerves go haywire when he sees his scars changing shape and expanding. He knows that something else even deeper had changed between them.

       On the day when Mumei is in town, Takumi goes alone.

They meet at a café near the shop, Mumei is already there waiting by the time Takumi arrives. She greets him with a small wave and he sits with a sigh, she's eyeing him within seconds, "You look terrible."

"I know." Takumi runs a hand over his face, "It's Ikoma. We saw how he died."

"Ouch."

"Yeah, and-" Takumi speaks a little quieter, even though the music is loud enough to drown out most of their words, "He saw my memory of you giving me the spell to unsummon him. I think he took it the wrong way."

"What wrong way?" Mumei raises an eyebrow, "It's for if your equalizing doesn't work and you're about to die. He must understand that-"

"But he doesn't!" Takumi throws his hands up, back hitting the chair, "I've tried explaining it, but he's become so hopeless that our efforts haven’t shown much progress!" Hands drops back to the table, "To be honest I'm wondering just how much longer I can put up with it too."

       Mumei doesn't speak for a second, staring at her drink.

“I bet he feels like a nuisance you know, being the reason your life is getting sucked out of you."

Takumi is silent, staring at her, "…Is that how you felt? With your brother?" Mumei flicks him a quick glare, and deciding that may have been too personal, Takumi changes the subject, "I just don't know if this soul sharing thing is going to work out." He sighs, "I feel like the clock's ticking too fast, there's too much at stake. If we mess up one little thing we can ruin it all."

       As he says this he pulls his jacket hood aside, revealing a thick scar trailing over his shoulder onto his back.

"Look! We've been meditating every day and I'm only getting worse! I've lost like ten pounds since summoning him, and I don't remember my last good night's sleep!" Takumi points out.

       Mumei taps her nails against her cup while she stares out the window

"To be honest, I knew from the beginning there was a larger chance of it failing than working. I guess I was just hoping to see it done successfully. But if you can't do it then it's up to you whether you can live with ending him yourself and putting it behind you or not." She looks at him seriously, "But he's a living person like you and me now- not just a summon you can get rid of without consequences."

       Those words stick with Takumi the entire drive back to his apartment. The clouds hanging overhead don't help his mood, which dropped even further when walking through the front door to find Ikoma lying on the couch watching television as usual. He tosses his bag aside, "Get up, we need to meditate."

"Don't wanna." Ikoma mumbles.

Takumi growls a bit, stomping up to him, he feels somewhat lightheaded, as if he hadn't eaten in hours, "Have you eaten since I left?"

       Ikoma didn't answer.

"Drank water? Taken care of yourself at all!?" Takumi demanded. Ikoma only looked away. Now even more frustrated, Takumi grabbed his wrist and pulled him into a sitting position, "Come on, maybe we-" Ikoma yanked his hand out of Takumi's grasp, almost tipping over, having to catch himself on the sofa. Takumi stared at him, horrified, "What's gotten into you!? Do you want us to die!?"

       Ikoma stiffened.

       Takumi eyes widened and he stepped back, gaping for a moment.

“Is it because of what you saw?" His voice was barely over a whisper, "The spell?"

Ikoma gritted his teeth, his eyes covered by his hair while he hung his head, "I never asked for you to bring me back- and now were having to watch our every movement. It's too much-"

"W-We've made so much progress though! Doesn't that mean anything to you!?" Takumi insisted.

       Ikoma shook his head in response

"Even then, we don't feel much different! It's like we've hit a wall!" His head snaps up, eyes wide and desperate, "I'm just so tired!"

"I'm tired too!" Takumi yells back, "I didn't want this either! I was just testing my abilities to summon a corpse, not bring someone back to life!" His mind was telling him to stop halfway through, but his mouth kept moving, "If I could have reversed it right then, then I would have-!"

Ikoma's eyes widened, lips curling into a snarl, "I knew it! If you don't want me here then why don't you just use that spell now that you know it? Go back to how your life used to be- alone!"

       It felt like a stab directly to his heart. More words bubbled up in Takumi’s throat but wouldn't come out.

Takumi grit his teeth and his fists shook, hissing out between his teeth, "… Fine."

       He didn't notice himself moving, he did it on impulse. His arm raised up, blue runes lighting up along the length of his arm and along his cheek. His mouth uttered the words, pronounced perfectly after more practice than he'd care to admit. Ikoma's eyes widened in horror seconds before a gust kicked up around both of them. Papers flew off the coffee table, a crash sounded from a mug falling off the surface.

       Beneath his sweater the scars along Ikoma's skin lit up like fire- splitting apart like a cracking stone. Takumi let out a scream and doubled over in pain, falling to his knees while clutching his chest where his own scars glowed as well. He felt like a fist was being shoved directly into his chest. Energy coursed through him to the point that it was dizzying.

       Ikoma opened his mouth in a silent scream. His eyes and mouth lit up with the same glow as the cracks spreading over his body. Takumi watched in horror as Ikoma made eye contact with him moments before his physical form crumbled apart like wood being lit by a fire. And just like that, with a puff of air and some specks of ash, he was gone.

       Takumi stared at the pile of charred clothing on the ground. His breathing was slow, heavy, and he still gripped the front of his jacket where his heart pounded- strong, solid, and even. His limbs no longer shook, his mind was clear, and he felt more awake than he had in weeks. He yanked his jacket open, inhaling sharply at the lack of scars, No…

       He crawled over to the clothes, lifting up part of the pile to make sure nothing was there, No way…

       Quiet.

       It was so quiet.

       Takumi's gaze slowly moved over his apartment, taking in the shadows on the walls, the papers strewn about.

       It was so quiet.

       A long, strained breath escaped his throat, and he found himself leaning forward. His hands tangled in the clothing on the floor as he pressed his forehead to them.

What have I done?

Chapter Text

       Once the initial shock of using the spell wears off, Takumi sits up and clutches the empty clothes to himself without thinking. Despite being able to take deep breaths without straining, they still feel too shallow.

       Surrounded by the silence of his apartment and the clutter of his belongings- he’s alone.

       Takumi’s alone and he hates it.

       There’s moisture at the edges of Takumi’s eyes. He knows crying won’t fix what he’s done and returning to the cemetery to resummon Ikoma wouldn’t guarantee the same result. They were so close and Takumi ruined it because of a stupid memory for a spell they wouldn’t have even needed. It wasn’t until after the memory appeared that Ikoma had just- given up.

       This is Takumi’s fault, for not telling Ikoma and expecting the memory to stay buried. For expecting Ikoma to not jump to Takumi’s previous reasoning of just getting rid of Ikoma.

       Takumi drops the clothes and pulls his phone from his pocket, dialing Mumei’s number on impulse. It rings four times before Mumei picks up.

“What’re you after, now?” Mumei’s annoyed tone reminds him that she doesn’t owe him anything. He’s running to someone who wouldn’t feel an obligation to lift a finger.

“Come to my apartment.”

“If it’s to get Ikoma off his ass- I can’t fix that. It’s your own problem.”

“I fucked up. Really bad this time-“ Takumi’s voice cracks. The moisture in his eyes is gathering into tears “-please- I need your help. I can’t do this- he was just being so goddamn difficult and I didn’t mean to do it.“

“I’m coming over. Have your door unlocked or I’m unlocking it with my foot.” Mumei hangs up before Takumi can continue the conversation.

       Takumi picks himself off of the floor, wiping at his eyes and making the backs of his hands damp. He gathers the papers that were scattered across the floor by the spell. They’re stacked, leveled, and placed on the coffee table in a single pile. Ikoma’s clothes are folded and placed beside it.

       Cleaning up the mess is the best Takumi can do to distract himself. He hasn’t broken down yet, but he feels like his chest is being compressed and he can’t get the tears in his eyes to fall or go away.

       The door wasn’t locked to begin with. Takumi’s neighbors hear enough yelling that they assumed he’s a frustrated college student from the first month.

       Mumei arrives less than an hour after the call. She’s panting, leaning over against the doorframe to catch her breath. Her eyes are wide. She looks up and around the apartment. Takumi watches from where he was arranging his desk.

“Where’s Ikoma?” Mumei wheezes.

“We were fighting and he’d been such a complete pain in the ass. He yelled at me to do it and I didn’t mean to actually-“ Takumi rambles.

“Takumi- did you use the spell?” Mumei speaks over Takumi. She stomps towards him, still panting.

“I- well- yes.”

“You’re so unbelievably stupid.” Mumei throws her hands in the air “I never even meant for you to use that spell- in case you hadn’t figured it that one out. I expected you to get smarter and fix the problem yourself.”

“Then why did you give it to me?” Takumi snarls.

“To make you stop being such a dumbass and focus on more important things. Did you ever figure that maybe the reason you were succeeding wasn’t the meditation at all?”

“If that wasn’t it then why were we equalizing?”

“Your dumb magic!” Mumei raises her voice, hands curling into fists “The reason why no one, not even you, knows why your magic flow is the color it is. The only reason why we’re in this mess to begin with. You’re talented in exactly what everyone has been telling you shouldn’t be touched. You can work with souls, Takumi.”

       Takumi’s mouth falls open. He waits for Mumei to laugh and point out the joke to make Takumi laugh, too. But that doesn’t happen. Mumei keeps staring and waiting for a response from Takumi that he can’t organize enough to speak out loud. Mumei groans, dragging her hands down her face.

“This is a joke, right?” Takumi finds his voice, still perplexed.

“No. This is serious. Like over a hundred-million to one chance- and you ended up getting a boost in a magic type that’s taboo.” Mumei reinforces as she steps back “I’m going to need you to keep a level head if we’re going to fix this. I’m not sure how- but we’ll get Ikoma back. You’ve already connected with his soul so you wouldn’t need to return to his resting place to recall it. This is all theory, though.”

“So we’re working soul magic based on theory?”

       Mumei points her finger in Takumi’s face, giving him no room to step closer.

“You’re probably the only one capable of actual soul magic who’s alive right now. There’s no choice but to experiment.” Mumei frowns and lowers her hand.

“And what if this goes bad?”

“Then it goes bad. I’ll help where I can- but you have to listen to what I say.”

“I can live with that if it means we’ll get Ikoma back.”

“Doing this without starting another soul transfer is going to be hard. My best guess it it’ll take a similar exchange- but how to do that without a soul to trade?” Mumei muses. She crosses her arms and looks around.

       Takumi grabs a notebook and a pen from his desk. He sits on the couch, trying to ignore that Ikoma was on the same couch less than two hours ago. He scribbles ideas down and combines his knowledge of physical spellwork with what he guesses are methods that could be used for soul magic. The first one has the wrong placement of a sigil so he crosses it out. The second requires an object that can’t be found anytime soon.

       They spend hours sitting on the couch, drafting spells and ingredients.

       Amethyst for healing and protection from negative energy. Chalcopyrite to aid in meditation and forming the bridge to the other side. Dittany of Crete for manifestations. Cinnamon for success. Echinacea to strengthen the spell.

       The ingredients haven’t changed since the tenth time they drafted a spell- but crafting the sigil they need is taking longer than expected.

“None of these would actually help create the bridge. In Necromancy-“ Takumi begins.

“Stop thinking about Necromancy for a second, would you? We need soul magic- not a tour through your failed studies.” Mumei complains, slapping the pen she’s holding on the notebook of failed ideas.

“It’s all I know!” Takumi snaps. The room falls silent. Takumi relaxes his muscles, whispering an apology before continuing “In Necromancy, the only reason why pawns can be summoned without ingredients when at their grave is because their own bones are the ingredient- it’s the link that allows the Necromancer to hook their magic in and recall what someone once was. I guess- for the spell I did the ingredients were Ikoma’s remains and my soul. But without a link to Ikoma himself- I probably can’t break through the veil. Unless-“ Takumi rises from the couch. He grabs his spellbook and the codex.

“What are you getting?”

“There’s something I remember reading a list of possible ingredients in the spellbook. To find Ikoma I can seek out his soul with his magic flow if he still has it- right? That won’t be the problem. The problem is getting my foot through purgatory’s door.” Takumi flips through the pages, glancing between the book and the codex. He stops on a page near the back and pokes at it “Here it is- yew.”

“That’s poisonous, dumbass.” Mumei smacks the back of Takumi’s head. He glares at her.

“I don’t have to actually inhale the smoke if we burn it. It’s supposed to aid in calling the dead- so maybe I can follow that path it makes.” Takumi explains.

“Let’s consider the possibility of this actually working- what then?”

“Then we’re still stuck in the same dilemma we were earlier. A soul has to replace Ikoma’s.”

       Mumei holds a finger up. She puffs her cheeks out before her eyes widen.

“Let’s think- you give something of equal appearance to a soul, since stealing someone’s soul for a trade is definitely forbidden territory.” Mumei grins.

“What are we gonna do? Sell purgatory a bootleg DVD?” Takumi crosses his arms.

“If you want that stubborn roommate of yours back- then you’re going to have to.”

“I don’t even know the first thing of doing that?”

“Figure it out. If you seem to think your Necromancy can help you here- then use it.”

“I know Biba has Necromancy spells in here- I’m just so confused at the pages using what I’m guessing is soul magic? Maybe they’re interwoven.”

“Which means you should be able to come up with something, dummy.”

“And if I can’t?”

“Then I guess we’re not getting him back, since you’re willing to give up now.”

“I’m not giving up! If you’d seen his memories you’d know he deserves a second chance. Wait- memories. That’s it-”

“Got an idea?”

“You said that souls are made up of memories and emotions, right? What if I used some of my own memories to make one? Memories of his that I’d seen?”

“I don’t think you can extract someone’s memories from your own memories.”

“It would be like- copying a file on a laptop. Not the original- but close enough to pass.”

“There’s no way to test it first. Do you have an idea how you’re going to get those memories out?”

“I might have to do it mid-spell.”

“You’re dumber than I thought. If you want to do it tonight though then we should get the ingredients. Is there roof access in this building?”

“No. Well there is- but the door’s locked”

“Then there’s roof access. I know how to pick locks. You have everything?”

“Everything except for the yew and chalcopyrite. They yew’s toxic all around but the chalcopyrite can sometimes be handled.”

“I think I know where I can get those. You get everything else together. I’ll meet you at the door to the roof.” Mumei grabs her backpack. She leaves the apartment, not closing the door on her way out. Takumi closes it for her.

       Takumi gathers the ingredients he already has. He picks his best amethyst crystal, checks the freshness of the echinacea before bundling it, grabs a few cinnamon sticks, and retrieves the small bottle of dried dittany of crete he had stashed away. They get packed in a small bag with his lighter, chalk, burning tray, candles, and pocket knife. He grabs his chalk mat so he doesn’t have to draw on the roof. Before heading to the door, Takumi’s hand hovers over Ikoma’s clothes. He decides to take them with him.

       By the time he has everything and makes his way to the roof exit, Mumei has the door open. She’s carrying two sealed boxes in her glove-covered hands. The moonlight, though not from a full moon, fades into the stairway.

“About time. Come on- we can’t stand around. You know what to do, right?” Mumei tilts her head out towards the roof.

“Sort of. How did you get the ingredients so fast?” Takumi squints.

“I’m not about to tell you all my secrets just ‘cause I’m helping you get your dumb roommate.” Mumei turns her nose up, leading the way onto the roof.

“Okay, I guess.”

       Without time to properly cleanse the area for the spell, Takumi unrolls the mat in the center of the roof. He draws a circular swirling pattern of sigils that blend into each other. Candles are placed around it. The burn tray is set down on the center of the pattern. Takumi lights the candles before setting some of the non-toxic plants on the tray.

       Takumi sets Ikoma’s clothes the opposite of where he’ll be sitting, hoping to use it as an anchor for Ikoma.

       Mumei holds one of the containers close so Takumi can use his pocket knife to scrape slivers of the yew in with the other ingredients. Takumi pulls his amethyst crystal out of the bag, cradling it in his hand. It’s about the size of his fist and an intense purple- the one his mother had given to him as a moving out gift. He keeps it safe and takes care of it the best out of all of his crystals.

       Takumi hopes it can help him fix his fuck up.

“I’m still really nervous about the chalcopyrite. Do you know if it’s already been cleansed? Or charged?” Takumi watches Mumei open the second sealed container, peering at the purple and blue shimmer that the crystal has.

“It’s fine. I might not do magic, but I know how picky you guys can be.”

       Takumi sighs. There’s no time for them to get a new crystal. They’re wasting moonlight.

“Could you set it by that?” Takumi points to the candle furthest from him.

       Mumei picks up the chalcopyrite between her thumb and forefinger, holding it away from herself as she sets it down. She keeps her gloved hands away from herself.

       Takumi sits down in front of the mat. He sets his amethyst down by one of the candles closest to him.

“Do you need me to light the tray, too?” Mumei asks “We’re upwind. The smoke shouldn’t get us as long as the wind doesn’t change.”

“Give me a second. I can’t rush into this.” Takumi closes his eyes. It feels too hot for his jacket, so he shrugs it off and sets it aside.

       Takumi deepens his breathing, feeling the lull of wind as it flows past him. He centers his thoughts inward. His focus settles enough that it reminds him of when he first summoned Ikoma. He dwells on the sensations that the memories bring. The faint recollection of Ikoma’s magic is at the front of his mind. He opens his eyes.

“Light it.” Takumi requests.

       There’s the rush of plants catching on fire with a blue glow, and Takumi opens his magic flow.

Chapter Text

            A flicker of blue flashes in Takumi's vision as he closes his eyes. The glow can still be seen through his eyelids.

("What made you pursue Necromancy?" Ikoma picks at his fries.

            Takumi squints around his burger while Ikoma looks at Takumi over the tops of his glasses. Takumi lowers his meal away from his face, shrugging.

"Even though everyone is against it? How did you stick with it?" Ikoma presses.

Takumi shrugs again, not having put much thought into it before.

"I dunno, I just couldn't give up, ya know?")

            Takumi hooks on to the memory, keeping it present while he searches for more. He remembers seeing one Ikoma's memories. Of Ikoma walking to work and looking in the window at his own reflection- Takumi hooks on to that one as well. He remembers Ikoma fixing the train, only for the boiler to burst moments after- grabs that memory as well.

            Takumi brings up the memory of when he first summoned Ikoma, pushing him into the back of his car- smelly and covered in dirt- and driving to McDonald's. He pulls up when they first went to the shop- how impressed Suzuki was and how unimpressed Kajika was.

            When they ran into Mumei-

            Their first meditation, and every time after that.

            Grocery shopping recently-

            The fight.

            Everything. Takumi pulls up every memory he has of Ikoma and channels them directly into his magic flow, feeling it surge with each added piece. He hears a faint echo of Mumei encouraging him. He’s trapped in the flow and unable to respond. He can feel his magic pulsing from his back, down his arms and out of his fingertips. It builds and before he can feel the thrum reach a crescendo-

 

            The air around Takumi turns cold and motionless. He opens his eyes and can only see a vast expanse of swirling gray. Floating in front of him- is a white and gold wispy cloud without definite shape. It rolls around itself in place. As Takumi turns his attention away from funneling the memories, his view of it starts to fade.

“No- come back-“ Takumi’s words are distant. He grasps at his throat before he notices that his magic flow is still open.

            Before the view of the cloud fades completely, Takumi concentrates on the memories again. He gathers them together at the forefront of his mind until they’re a cluster of emotions and images.

            The thrum of his magic flow reaches a point that feels too strong. He brings his hands together with the intent of creating copies of them. What instead happens- is a cloud similar to the one before him materializes in his hands. It’s glow isn’t as vibrant- but the appearance is almost identical.

“This is- really his soul?” Takumi keeps the false soul in one hand and reaches with his other hand. As his fingers pass through the cloud he hears echoes of train whistles, busy streets, and fires.

“Hold on tight. I’m taking you home.” Takumi whispers. He holds the fake soul near Ikoma’s real one.

            He takes a deep breath and yells the spell he had used in the graveyard several weeks before with all his might.

            A bright flash of light shocks Takumi and he closes his eyes. The magic emanating from his hand holding the fake soul cuts off without warning. The intense sensation of nothing fades from his skin and the light striking his eyelids dulls into the dullness of night.

            Takumi opens his eyes when they’re no longer sensitive. He’s back on the roof and there is no sign of him ever having left.

            The stack of clothes puffs outward, as if a gust of wind is blowing from within. The ashes from the burning ingredients surge with them, spiraling together and taking form. Mumei yelps and stumbles back, covering her face with her sleeve when the smoke from the burning yew blows over them both.

            Takumi watches in awe as the shape takes form before him, spinning in place. The wind dies down and Ikoma hovers an inch or so off the floor. He lands on his feet.

            No one moves, not until Ikoma stumbles forward and Takumi jumps up to steady him.

"I-Ikoma!?" Takumi feels how thin Ikoma’s shoulders are in his grip- the same way they had felt the first time.

            Ikoma opens his eyes, yawning and looking around. His eyes meet Takumi's and he blinks. He frowns.

            Takumi feels tears coming to his eyes.

"We-We did it?" Takumi glances at Mumei, who's standing several yards away staring at him in shock and confusion, "We did it!"

            Takumi’s gaze snaps back to Ikoma, clamping his hands on the other's shoulders

"Ikoma, I'm an idiot. I never should have sent you back and I'm so, so sorry, I-" Takumi begins.

            Ikoma steps back, guiding Takumi's hands away.

"Er, I'm-" Ikoma looks at Mumei, at his hands, clothes, then back at Takumi, "-what are you talking about?"

            Takumi feels his heart clench.

"Ikoma?" Takumi doubts.

"Yeah?" Ikoma blinks.

"You don't remember, do you?" Mumei approaches, shaking her head.

No-

            Takumi can't breathe.

"I don't know what's going on, sorry." Ikoma gives them a sheepish look.

            A strong gust blows through. Takumi feels it even through his jacket.

“It’s cold out here. We should talk inside.” Mumei suggests.

 

            Ikoma stands to the side as Takumi and Mumei pick up after the spell. He drifts behind them down the steps, silent.

            Takumi locks the door to the apartment behind them. He tells Ikoma to wait on the couch and pulls Mumei into his room.

            Takumi paces around while Mumei sits on the edge of the bed.

"I don't know what I did wrong! I brought his soul back, didn't I?" Takumi huffs.

            Mumei glances at the closed door.

"I think so- I didn't think of this as a possibility though. What exactly did you do?" Mumei questions.

"I pulled up all the memories of his that I had, plus my own, to make a fake soul-"

"The soul that went into purgatory?" Mumei barks.

            Takumi freezes, the gears in his head turning. He slaps both hands over his face.

"F-uck I'm such an idiot!" Takumi whines.

"Yeah you are." Mumei mumbles, "You just tossed everything you two had built into purgatory, now he's just empty again!"

"Fucking hell-" Takumi hisses into his hands.

            Ikoma opens the door, startling them.

"You know, I can hear you guys- can someone tell me what's going on? Who are you people?" Ikoma demands.

            The two glance at each other. Mumei rubs her elbow with her other hand and shrugs at Takumi. Takumi debates his options.

"-What do you remember right now?" Takumi asks.

"Nothing!" Ikoma barks, eyes wide as he steps forward, "What's going on?"

            Mumei cuts him off by stepping towards him, blocking him from coming in further.

"You should sit down, we'll tell you but you gotta be ready for anything." Mumei warns.

            Mumei directs Ikoma back to the couch, where he crosses his arms and scowls. Takumi sits next to him and Ikoma shifts to the other side of the cushions.

            Takumi and Mumei tell him. They begin by explaining Takumi's magic ability, summoning Ikoma the first time, and how the spell had gone awry. They explain the steps they took to try to coexist- Takumi finds it hard to speak when it comes to the fight, so Mumei takes charge.

"-Then dumbass here-" Mumei stops, glancing at Takumi and sighing, "-I mean- both of us were acting too quickly- we tried to bring you back with those memories. That seemed to have not worked. I think that Takumi accidentally threw the new memories away."

            Takumi rubs his face with his hands, holding his palms over his eyes as he flops back against the couch.

            Ikoma keeps his arms crossed, focusing on the floor.

"Honestly, that's the wildest thing I've never heard. So what do you want- money? I'm dead- I think- I have nothing to give you!" Ikoma explains.

He doesn't believe us?”

"What can we do to convince you?" Takumi's hands drop away from his face.

"I don't know- proof?" Ikoma scrunches his nose.

            Mumei nudges Takumi, leaning in.

"Hey- you still remember everything, right?" Mumei whispers.

"Uh, duh?" Takumi hisses.

"Whatever you did to put his memories into a soul on the roof earlier- can you do that again?" Mumei squints at him.

            It takes a moment before Takumi gets it. She was asking him to re-create the part of Ikoma's memories that are missing, then try to feed them back in to his physical form.

"But- what about the purgatory copy thing-?" He barely finishes the sentence before he’s answering his own question, "-I just did that earlier. Even if we might not have to equalize now- I can still connect to him with my magic, right?"

            Mumei grins.

 

            It takes what feels like a blood sacrifice and almost half an hour of convincing- but Ikoma finally agrees to the test.

"Worst case scenario it doesn't work and you walk away." Takumi restates his reasoning.

            Ikoma rolls his eyes.

            They sit across each other at the coffee table now, Mumei sits on the couch.

            Takumi and Ikoma join hands, Takumi feeling once again how cold Ikoma's hands were- just like when he was first summoned.

            Takumi takes a deep breath.

"So over the past few weeks I've seen some of your past memories, and have built some new ones with you the past few weeks. Right now I'm going to be trying to feed them back into your consciousness." Takumi explains.

            Ikoma squints a bit.

“Follow my lead.” Takumi requests.

            Takumi closes his eyes and expects Ikoma to do the same. He opens his magic flow. Like in the past- when he touches upon Ikoma's presence he feels a magic flow coming back as well. Ikoma flinches away at the contact but doesn't break away.

            Trying to be more organized this time- Takumi begins with what he had picked up from Ikoma. He thinks of seeing Ikoma walking to work, looking at his reflection. The train. The explosion.

            Takumi feels a jolt in Ikoma's consciousness- weather it was surprise or recognition, he doesn't dwell to find out. He remembers when he summoned Ikoma in the graveyard, playing the scene out in great detail so Ikoma can see every bit as if it were happening in the moment.

            He moves on to shoving Ikoma into the car, driving to get food, when they were at his apartment. Takumi thinks it all out in detail, like a movie. He pays attention to Ikoma's reactions to see if he’s going to try to break away or not. Instead, Ikoma own magic flow consumes the memories, absorbing them like a sponge. All Takumi can feel from Ikoma is rising awe.

            As far as Takumi’s aware it takes hours to go through several weeks of memories.

            After a while Takumi sees flickers of unfamiliar- yet recent looking- memories sparking in the back of Ikoma's mind. When he reaches the event where he had un-summoned Ikoma the contact snaps like a rubber band. Ikoma stumbles backwards, falling over himself onto his back. Mumei jerks awake on the couch, noticing the sun filtering through the blinds.

            The light streams across the coffee table, shining on Ikoma. Takumi stands up, wobbling on his stiff legs. He walks around the table to see what Ikoma is doing.

            Ikoma is lying on his back, staring at the ceiling with an arm pressed to his forehead. Tears fill Ikoma's eyes. He slides his hands over his face and lets out a shaky exhale.

            Takumi can't speak. Mumei doesn’t dare. It’s silence until Ikoma bolts up and glares at Takumi.

"You sent me back-!" Ikoma chokes.

            Takumi can only stutter, unable to make a proper sentence.

            Ikoma stumbles to his feet and stomps forward.

"After all that, you sent me back!?" Ikoma grabs Takumi’s shirt.

"I-"

            Ikoma slouches over and his forehead thumps against Takumi's chest.

"You asshole…!" Ikoma shakes as he speaks.

            Relief floods through Takumi- he remembered.

"Yeah- I'm sorry. I was an idiot and overreacted." Takumi apologizes.

"Honestly-" Ikoma stepped back, taking off his glasses to run an arm across his face and wipe off his tears, "I was being an idiot, too. I was caught up in my spite- and even knowing that your own life was at risk, too. I was being selfish."

"Us both." Takumi chuckles, rubbing the back of his head, "So, you remember everything?"

            Ikoma puts his glasses back on, blinking a few times.

"There's some holes, but probably nothing important. Otherwise I think so-" Ikoma shrugs.

            A sharp whine comes from the direction of the couch.

"That's amazing." Mumei mumbles.

            Takumi and Ikoma whip around to look at her. They had almost forgotten she was there.

"I think you two just changed history forever. You brought someone back to life!" Mumei stretches, fighting back a yawn.

"I-I don't think we've done it perfectly yet-" Takumi glances at Ikoma, "We need to wait and see if we have to equalize or not."

"Of course!" Ikoma exclaims, facing him, "And if both of our lives are still at stake- I'll try harder this time so we can move on, I promise."

“I guess I’ll try to not expect the worst outcome.”

“Deal.” Ikoma holds out his hand, and Takumi shakes it.

            Mumei yawns louder, stretching her arms up. She rolls off the couch onto her feet and brushes her shorts off.

“You guys have my number if anything. I’ve been in one place too long.” Mumei explains. She moves towards the door.

“Stay.” Takumi requests.

“Come again?”

            Takumi motions to the apartment.

“Here. Don’t you get tired of always running?”

            Mumei lowers her head. Her fingers curl into fists until they shake. She looks up again, grinning.

“No thanks, I can’t think of sticking my feet in the same place for now.” Mumei raises her hand in a wave, opening the door with her other hand.

“Well- if you ever change your mind-“ Takumi begins.

“I know.” Mumei cuts Takumi off. She walks down the hallway without closing the door.

“Just be careful out there!” Takumi shouts, frustrated that Mumei still has zero manners in his house.

            The sun rises. And for once- Takumi’s hope rises, too.

Chapter Text

       A cellphone on the edge of the desk rings, blaring some EDM song that Ikoma’s been listening to recently and wanted as the ringtone used for him. The phone vibrates enough to rock its way off the edge of the counter.

“Damnit-“ A hand snatches down to catch the phone, grabbing it inches off the ground. Takumi, body bent over out of reflex, sighs and sits up. He rubs at his eyes “I guess I fell asleep again. I need to stop doing that.”

       Takumi remembers that the phone’s still ringing. He almost drops it before he manages to answer the call.

“Hey- you landed?”

“Great timing, jerk!” Ikoma’s voice echoes over the phone, exasperated “I figured I’d let you know that the connecting flight home was delayed due to a storm near the airport. I tried calling like two hours ago but you never picked up. We’re going to be stuck here for the rest of the day, so actually go to bed for once! You’re not using the flight as an excuse to catalogue more spells in the middle of the night, are you?”

“Uhhhh-“ Takumi glances to the two empty McDonalds bags and the three hand-bound books on the desk.

       The bags were emptied a few hours apart. So it’s not like he hasn’t been up for a long time.

“No?” Takumi grins, hiding the exhaustion in his voice “Just making sure I’m okay for tomorrow evening. Sukari said that the person I’m going to help isn’t a magic user so- I have to figure out how I’m going to keep my ability secret while still helping lock away the memories giving them night terrors.”

“You’re going to be great. It’s been like, what, three years since we learned you work with Soul magic? You’ve been practicing all this time. Heck, after you realized that we didn’t have to equalize anymore that’s all you focused on.” Ikoma reassures.

       Takumi taps his fingers against his desk, using the woody tone as background noise.

“But what if I mess up? I want to learn how to help people with this- not just screw up like I usually do. Speaking of screwing up- Mumei didn’t get into trouble in France, did she?” Takumi questions. He’s feeling a bit more awake.

“Not really.” Ikoma clicks his tongue once “If anything- she was able to speak better than I was. We managed to find the false storefront for the Shop of The Hidden and found the stuff you were looking for. The shopkeep even enchanted them for us for free so Security can’t detect them.”

“ETA for tomorrow? I really hope that I don’t have to leave you guys waiting at the airport because of the client.” Takumi looks around the room before focusing on the ceiling.

“We can just ride the bus back if it’s too late, you know. I think we had enough experience dealing with that over here.” Ikoma gasps “Did you know that circles are terrifying in Europe? I used to think the tiny little thing back home was scary! I thought there was going to be an accident every time I saw one.”

       Takumi laughs hard enough that he closes his eyes. He leans over his desk.

“Stop laughing. You know I’m scared of car crashes.” Ikoma snaps.

“That was two years ago and the only thing that happened was my rear bumper was fucked.”

“That was a traumatizing experience! I need you to block it from my memories. You’ll do it for free, right?” Ikoma snorts, and Takumi hears him yelp on the other side of the phone.

       There’s a bit of static before the other side becomes clear again.

“Give me that. You’re such a child.” Mumei’s muffled voice carries through the call before she’s louder “He’s been an overdramatic baby this entire time. Next time you need him to get something you should be the one to go with him. I’m old enough to stay home on my own, in case you forgot.”

“No- I didn’t. But I suck at French and Ikoma couldn’t learn fast enough.” Takumi argues.

“Then anywhere but France. You’re doing it then.” Mumei decides.

“Geez, fine.” Takumi stretches his free arm up before rotating his wrist to get rid of a cramp.

“Now get to bed. Ikoma and I are going to hang around in the airport. I’ll make sure he texts you when the flight’s no longer delayed.”

“Okay. Keep an eye on each other. Just in case-“

“-in case someone thinks we’re suspicious or there’s a magic user with bad intentions. I know. We’ll be fine. But you won’t be if you pull an all-nighter. You need your energy if you’re using soul magic tomorrow. Good night, Takumi.”

“Wait- let me say good night too-“ Takumi hears Ikoma’s voice in the background of the call before the line falls silent.

       Takumi leans back in his chair. He looks around at the larger two-bedroom apartment that they’ve been living in for a year now. There’s a bunk bed in the master bedroom with an eclectic assortment of inlaid semi-precious stones and etched runes. Ikoma’s clothes is rarely in the drawers and instead is an almost sentient pile behind the door. Takumi can see the edge of it behind the open door. The second room’s door is closed, Mumei preferring privacy and cleanliness more than the two men do.

       The living room is organized- except for Takumi’s desk. It’s never failed to be a collection of notes, books, and reference materials. A shelf above it holds his collection of spell supplies. The couch and coffee table are the same save for the framed photos. One is an impromptu picture taken by Ikoma on accident a year ago when Mumei showed up at their door- the slanted angle and the blurriness of Takumi’s face reminds Takumi of how they learned by Mumei just entering the apartment without announcing herself first. Takumi never did manage to replicate the conjuring spell he wanted Ikoma to get a picture of.

       Through a small cut out in one of the walls- Takumi can see the small kitchen. It has zero matching colors- with the three roommates never being able to decide on the preferred color for kitchenware.

       To the right, the window by the door has a hanging shelf with a collection of herbs for spells and cooking.

       Takumi exhales a heavy sigh before standing up. He makes his way to the bedroom and pulls his shirt off, tossing it to the floor at the foot of the bed. It crumples up against one of the frame legs and becomes indistinguishable from the floor in the low lighting. Takumi climbs the ladder onto the top bunk. He shoves his phone under his pillow and lies down.

       Within two minutes, Takumi falls asleep.

       Takumi wakes in the morning to a nine-thirty a.m alarm he’d set after dinner the night before. He sits up, ducking his head forward to not bump it on the ceiling. Takumi reaches back and digs under his pillow for his phone with his eyes still closed. He feels the edge of the case- right as he bumps it off of the bed. It thumps against the floor and the alarm continues to ring.

       Takumi whines. He forces his eyes open and glares at the morning light shining through the window.

“Go back to bed. It’s too goddamn early.” Takumi snarls at the sun. His intimidation tactic fails, and the light continues on unaware of his anger.

       Takumi climbs down and picks up his phone. He turns the alarm off.

“I guess I have to get dressed now. I wonder if they’re on their way already.” Takumi wanders into the kitchen. He scratches at his belly and opens the fridge.

       There’s no food that’s ready to be consumed without cooking.

“Looks like I’m going out to eat.” Takumi groans.

       Takumi pulls on a new shirt and changes into jeans. He shoves his uncoordinated feet in a pair of sandals before picking up his keys and wallet. His phone is slipped into one of his front pockets.

       The dream of fast food is short lived- because Sukari is sitting on the hood of his junk car with a stupid grin on his face. The blond man whose hair is in a perpetually messy ponytail with a stupid face, a dumb attitude, and an eagerness to tease his friends that’s downright infuriating.

“Hey! Get the hell off my car, you useless excuse for a heathen.” Takumi frowns as he stomps closer.

“Tell your car to get out from under my ass.” Sukari snipes back, chuckling when Takumi doesn’t try a comeback “So, you heretic- I see you’re favoring the fast food diet to cope with the long absence of your roommates who cook more than you do?”

“I thought you quit working at McDonalds like- two months ago. You don’t know where I’m going.” Takumi crosses his arms.

“Taco Bell.”

“Fuck you!” Takumi points.

“I thought so.” Sukari groans “Look- if you’re going out to eat at least go to a sit down restaurant or something. I’ll even pay for it to make sure you’re not dying of malnourishment.”

“What’s the catch? I don’t buy that it’s out of the goodness of your heart.”

“You can’t just accept the offer at face value, can you?” Sukari waits for a few moments.

       Takumi unlocks the driver’s side door of his car and gets in. Sukari waits outside the passenger’s side for a good two minutes before he cracks.

“Fine, Yukina’s bus arrived in town earlier than planned. She’s here and asked me to go to breakfast with her and I don’t want to go alone. I figured- it could be a good chance for you to meet her before the appointment. Maybe it can help you pinpoint where her trauma is and give you a few hours to put together a gameplan.” Sukari says loud enough to be heard.

“Yukina’s the client? Wait- Yukina- as in the girl you have a crush on? The same one you mentioned last month?”

“I don’t see why that matters.” Sukari

“It makes everything a hundred times worse!”

“Just shut up and unlock the passenger door. We’re meeting her at Dewdrop Diner in like thirty minutes.”

“Gee, thanks for the warning.” Takumi rolls his eyes. He doesn’t make a move to unlock the door.

“If you don’t let me in I’m going to punch a hole in your goddamn window and do it myself.” Sukari threatens.

       Takumi unlocks the door, not willing to see if Sukari would carry that threat to the end. He settles in the seat and shifts a few times before buckling himself in.

“Now try to keep your swearing to yourself when you talk to her. Try to look professional. She doesn’t know that she’s your first client.” Sukari warns.

“Anything about her that you think I should know?” Takumi backs out of the parking space and begins the drive to Dewdrop Diner.

“She certainly didn’t come from a loving family like you did. Don’t startle her.”

       Traffic to the diner is light. They arrive early and find a woman with short pink hair and a green bomber jacket standing outside. She has hairclips shaped like gears pinning her bangs back.

       Sukari’s face lights up. He almost sprints to the entrance, leaving Takumi behind. The woman smiles before she knocks Sukari in the shoulder.

“Ow!” Sukari rubs where Yukina‘s hand made contact.

“I thought we were going on a date, who’s the third wheel?” The woman asks.

“Startle her? Fuck, I think she’s startled me first!”

“Takumi.” Takumi holds a hand out to shake before withdrawing it as Yukina’s unresponsive stare “You’re Yukina, right? I’m the specialist you set up the appointment with. Sukari invited me because he thinks you’ll feel more comfortable during the session if you’ve gotten to know me a bit beforehand. I’m sorry if he didn’t let you know before we got here.”

       Takumi sneaks a glance at Sukari, smiling at showing off that he can control what he says.

“Then I’ll be quick with what I say.” Yukina leans her head back a bit and pulls her shoulders back “I don’t think you can help any more than any other “healer” I’ve been to before. But- Sukari seems to trust you. I was due to make the trip here anyways, so you’re just another option that’s nearby.”

       Takumi bites his tongue and nods.

“Let’s talk about this more once we’ve ordered. I suppose it won’t be the end of the world to hold a conversation.” Yukina suggests.

       Sukari’s shoulders loosen as they enter the diner.

       It’s a simple enough task, ask questions- get answers-

“Sukari says you call yourself a spiritual healer? How do you think that whatever you’re capable of can help?” Yukina is the first to prod for answers when their food is served.

“Well- souls are the essence of a person, but it’s believed that they’re not just spiritual energy. That energy is only given shape through experiences. Memories. Sometimes the soul is strengthened through them. Other times not.” Takumi hates picking his words carefully. It’s hard to differentiate what’s considered safe to share knowledge and what isn’t.

“So you think that through the soul you can-“

“Either reduce the impact of memories or make them disappear altogether. It depends on the severity and how deeply rooted it is in what can be considered “you” to be honest. How common are your night terrors?”

“Usually once a week. It might not be every night- but it makes those days too hard to do much.” Yukina stares out the window for a few moments. Her gaze unfocuses before she shakes her head and looks back to Takumi “I think I’m done with this right now.”

“That’s cool- I don’t want to make you uncomfortable.” Takumi nods, understanding Yukina’s preference for distance.

       The rest of the meal is shared with general conversation.

       After the meal, Sukari leaves with Yukina, so Takumi has to drive home alone.

       Takumi keeps the radio off and loses himself in his thoughts. He imagines Ikoma and Mumei, restless in their seats during the plane ride home. He figures that Ikoma spent money on buying souvenirs that will sit around the house and serve as a reminder that though Ikoma’s original time is long behind him- that he’s still living. That he exists and he has a family. Takumi pictures the struggle Mumei must have gone through to keep Ikoma out of “just one more gift shop” or away from every bakery they see.

       Once inside the apartment, Takumi flops down onto the couch. With a full belly and nothing to do- he drifts into a quick nap.

       Takumi’s cellphone rings with Ikoma’s ringtone. He sits up and struggles to shove his hand in his pocket before he pulls it out. It’s two-twenty-nine p.m.

“Ikoma?”

“Yo! So uhhh- we’ve landed and I think you might want to come pick us up before Mumei decides to walk home.” Ikoma’s laughing is forced.

“I’m done for today.” Mumei hisses in the background “People have no respect for anyone else. I want to go home.”

“Do you have me on speaker?” Takumi leans back from the phone.

“Maybe?”

“Just come get us.” Mumei demands.

“I’m already heading to the car. See you.” Takumi hangs up. He locks the apartment behind him and mentally prepares for the long drive to the airport. He turns on his music to keep him company.

       The road to the airport leads out of town and through the forest. The winding road keeps Takumi alert in case there is any wildlife.

       Takumi arrives at the airport a bit more than a half hour later. It’s crowded since vacation season is ending. Takumi parks and makes his way to the terminal that the plane was scheduled to land in.

       Ikoma and Mumei are slumped in chairs at the seating area closest to the entrance. Mumei has her head tilted back and is snoring. Ikoma is scrolling through his phone.

       Takumi stops in front of the bench just as Ikoma glances up. Ikoma grins, his green tinted glasses catching sunlight coming in through the windows. He’s wearing a t-shirt with the Eiffel tower on it. Ikoma nudges Mumei. Mumei groans and leans her head forward.

“Have a good nap?” Takumi teases.

“I’ll have a better one when we get home.” Mumei whines and throws her hands up “They scheduled me to work tomorrow. Can’t they give a girl who rode in a plane like- one day of rest?”

       Takumi helps carry Mumei’s luggage to the car. Ikoma chats the entire time- scrolling through his phone to show photos he took.

“And this one was really cool. I got to see the Louvre! I mean- I didn’t get to go in but it was still really cool from the outside. Then we got these great pastries at this bakery-“

       Ikoma’s rambling fades a bit into the background as Takumi unlocks the car. He pops open the trunk and helps load the luggage inside.

“-but this one I think you’d want to see. We ended up in a really weird part of town and this made me think of you.”

       Takumi glances up to look at the phone. It’s a mural, possibly graffiti, of a featureless person sitting cross-legged with their eyes a glowing blue. A white and yellow orb is pictured floating in front of them. There’s text in French that Takumi doesn’t understand.

“What does that even say?” Takumi squints.

“To heal a soul is to reclaim the truth. Or something like that.” Mumei yawns. She climbs into the back seat of the car and lies down.

“That’s pretty cool. Was that around the magic store?” Takumi closes the trunk and gets in the driver’s seat.

“Yeah. We found it before we managed to find the shop.” Ikoma slides into the passenger seat.

“Weird. Maybe another magic user did that?”

“Dunno. I’ll show you the rest when we get home.” Ikoma scrolls through his phone’s gallery one more time before returning to the home screen.

“Can you start from the beginning then? I got a little lost after like- the first two photos.” Takumi asks.

       Ikoma shrugs. He relaxes as Takumi begins the long drive back home.

       Mumei sleeps through the ride. She becomes a human log that’s not even buckled in.

       On the way home, Takumi notices the turn off for a damaged asphalt and dirt road that the wilderness is slowly taking over at the seams. It’s only easy to see when on the same side of the road. It leads to the cemetery where Takumi first met Ikoma when he was an undead pain in the ass.

       Takumi watches the sight of the road disappear in the rear view mirror. He remembers when he had tried to get the hand of Necromancy and never could. Not that he isn’t still interested in practicing it- but for him Soul magic is uncharted territory that no one’s explored. With no experienced users there will never be anyone breathing over his shoulder expecting anything amazing from him.

       He still hasn’t told his family. Whenever he visits they just assume his Necromancy has improved and he’s pursuing it full time. His mom keeps gifting him with spell ingredients and words of caution to not sell his soul to things he doesn’t understand. Well- that didn’t help him before. Probably won’t help him now.

“Do you think anyone ever visits those graves?” Ikoma asks, twisting to look back.

“I doubt it. Road’s not taken care of at all.” Takumi brings up.

“What if no one remembers them?” Ikoma looks down at his feet before his eyes go wide and he smiles “You mind driving me back there sometime soon?”

“What for?”

“I want to take some flowers there. It’s sad- you could have ended up picking any grave out of there and I was lucky enough that you picked mine.” Ikoma picks at the hem of his jeans. He pulls out his phone and checks the time before sliding it in his pocket again.

“That’s sad?” Takumi raises an eyebrow, glancing through his peripheral at Ikoma.

“For them. If no one remembers that the graves are there- then it feels like they only existed as a concept, you know? Like something that someone mentioned but never really showed.” Ikoma shrugs.

“Time does that. People die- but I don’t think how long your name lasts is what matters.”

“Huh?”

“It should be what people attach to that name that counts. If whatever I do from here on out only lasts like five, ten years after I die- then those better be some damn good years.” Takumi tenses his fingers on the wheel before relaxing them.

“You’re a pioneer in Soul magic-“ Ikoma argues.

       Takumi shakes his head, fighting the frustration welling up.

“Something that will either be destroyed when it’s discovered because its taboo or immortalized without my name. I can’t ever remember if any field of magic has people credited as figureheads in it. It just- exists. I want to use my talent to do good. And maybe those people will remember that. Remember me as a person that impacted their lives for the better.” Takumi frowns. He can’t deny that he fears being forgotten- but he can’t prevent the inevitable.

“That’s poetic. What book did you steal it out of?” Ikoma snorts.

“Shut up. I just- I spent my childhood feeling so worthless. I never had the power to help anyone. It made me just get madder the longer I tried to do something I wasn’t good at. I pushed people away and thought if I devoted myself to Necromancy then I’d get it right. You’re a shining example of how that turned out.” Takumi chuckles, shaking his head.

       Ikoma stills. His jaw falls slack. He doesn’t speak up.

“But- I’m kinda glad I fucked up the way I did. If I hadn’t then I probably would have kept doing what I had always done. So I guess I’m the one who was lucky that I picked your grave.”

       Ikoma turns red. He socks Takumi in the shoulder. Takumi flinches but doesn’t take his hands off the steering wheel.

“You’re a goddamn heretic.” Ikoma mutters.

“You picked that up from Sukari, didn’t you?” Takumi squints.

“He shows up a lot at Suzuki’s store.”

       Takumi groans and refrains from slamming his face into the steering wheel. They’re getting back into town and causing a multi-car accident is the last thing Takumi needs.

“You and Mumei spend a lot of time there when she’s not working. You guys are positive that Suzuki doesn’t think you’re working there or something?” Takumi asks.

“No clue. But I do help him organize the shelves a bit.” Ikoma cleans his glasses, not making eye contact.

“If he’s using you for free labor I swear to whatever god he worships-“

“Hey, hey- I can fight my own battles.” Ikoma reminds, putting his glasses back on “Besides, his store’s a nice place to hang out. Kajika’s been trying to see if they can expand the building a bit to add a small dining area. She’s been getting really good at infusing teas with spells and Suzuki likes the idea of offering refreshments.”

“I guess I better stop by sometime soon and try them, then.”

       Takumi pulls the car into their parking spot. He turns it off and sits in the driver’s seat for a few moments. Ikoma reaches back and prods Mumei awake.

“Still need to sleep more?” Ikoma grins.

“I guess not. Takumi’s good enough at driving that I barely noticed we were moving.” Mumei exits the car and closes the door. She steps sideways and opens the driver’s seat door.

“Takumi- you good?” Mumei questions.

“Wha? Oh- yeah. I was just thinking about how things were before I met you two.” Takumi ducks his head down before looking between Mumei and Ikoma “Hey, you guys want to spend the Winter Solstice with my family this year? They keep asking to meet you guys and I might have let it slip that you don’t have any family to spend it with. I promise they’re cool.”

“I’ll have to see if I can get the time off for that- but it sounds fun! I’ve never celebrated that before.” Mumei smiles. She makes a note in her phone about it.

“Is that kinda like Christmas?” Ikoma tilts his head.

“Well I mean- not exactly.” Takumi attempts to word the celebration in a simple way “But it’s definitely fun. There’s a bonfire and food all night. The host of the celebration picks someone to stay up all night. Superstition is that it’s to make sure the sun will rise again even after the longest night.”

“I think I remember reading about something like that, now that you say what it’s about.” Mumei’s muscles lock up and she stared into the distance “Wait- what if I get picked? I’ll crack for sure. I love sleeping too much to pull an all-nighter. Will I get in trouble?”

“No. A lot of groups that celebrate the solstice have members that stay up. Sometimes even the entire party stays up. As long as someone’s there to watch the sunrise we’ll be fine.” Takumi assures.

“Are you implying that if no one’s awake then the sun won’t rise?” Mumei leans against the car frame, coming nose to nose with Takumi. Her eyes narrow.

“Are you willing to test that to see if it’s true?” Takumi smiles, not wanting to spoil the fun.

“Not really- just- pop the trunk so we can get the luggage out.” Mumei steps back, avoiding eye contact.

       Takumi presses the button to open the trunk. He helps Ikoma and Mumei carry their things into the apartment before settling on the couch.

“Wait till you see all the things I got! Oh- right- first- the mission.“ Ikoma unzips his carry on and pulls out a few cloth wrapped items “I kept these nice and safe for you.”

        Takumi picks up the medium-sized bundle, unwrapping the cloth that has sigils embroidered into the fabric. It’s a small orb of star sapphire. Cheaper than it should have been because the store that was selling it believed the orb to be attached to a soul that never left. Takumi closes his eyes and reaches his magic out. There isn’t a trace of a soul around the stone. It’s clean and just needs to be returned to full charge in time.

       The second item is the smallest- a red agate pendant with protective sigils carved into it. On the back there are initials carved in that match Biba’s, the man who brought Mumei back to life and gave his own in the process. He hands it to Mumei without saying a word.

“You’re really letting me keep this?”

“Those aren’t really sigils that I don’t already have somewhere in the house. I figured you could use it until you start getting those tattoos you keep talking about.” Takumi waves off Mumei’s worry.

       Mumei holds the pendant in her hands. She watches it catch the light as she tilts it.

       The third item is a lexicon of unknown origin that contains spells the shopkeep wasn’t able to translate. Due to that, it was cheaper. The emblem on the front had caught Takumi’s attention. Upon closer inspection- he sees that the book won’t be of much use to him. Despite being a chance of a subject he could use it’s impossible to translate without a codex.

       The final purchase is a gold-colored anklet with a red gem. The metal wraps over the far edges of the gem like feathers.

“They claimed that this artifact showed up a few years ago and no one knows what it does- but that it’s definitely a magic aura with a light blue glow.” Ikoma says, explaining why there’s one more package than Takumi asked for “Maybe it could prove if there are others who’ve had an affinity for Soul magic before.”

       Takumi leans back against the sofa, crossing his arms and thinking about where to put the new items.

“Uhh- it’s already five-ish. When do you need to meet the client?” Ikoma inquires.

“Shit!” Takumi shoes his way off the couch and rushes to his desk. He grabs his backpack which to his relief already has the items he needs packed in it. The only item he decides on last minute is the star sapphire- which he bundles back up and stuffs between his spell mat and a pack of herbs.

“Wait. Your hair-“ Mumei grabs Takumi and yanks him back, pulling a comb from her bag and untying his ponytail.

“Later- later- she already met me so it’s not like I’ve got a chance at making a good first impression.” Takumi yelps as Mumei pulls the comb a bit too roughly through his hair.

“Hold still and I’ll at least make you look like you care about this.”

“But I do!”

“Feeling the part and looking like it are two different things.” Mumei ties Takumi’s hair back in a loose braid and slaps him on the back “Perfect. Now get going.”

“I was trying to before you manhandled me.” Takumi makes his way to the door, checking his cellphone to make sure he’s not late. Fifteen minutes. He can make it. He hopes.

“Wait- you aren’t going to take a snack? We didn’t even have dinner.” Ikoma panics.

“I’ll get something. I’m more worried about how I’m going to do when I get there.”

“We’ll never know if you’re late. Go!” Mumei ushers Takumi out of the door.

       Takumi sprints to the stairs, keeping a tight grip on his backpack. He almost trips on the first step down.

“Good luck!” Ikoma shouts down the hall.

       Takumi is thankful that the car is parked so close to the stairwell. He places his bag in the passenger seat and pulls the car out of the parking space as fast as he can.

       The drive across town takes up fourteen minutes. Hungry but not discouraged, Takumi parks in front of Sukari’s family house. He skirts around the side of it to get to the efficiency in the backyard.

       Takumi checks his phone. Right on time. He adjusts his clothes and knocks on the door. Sukari opens it.

“Huh. I figured you were going to be late.” Sukari sighs. His shoulders relax, hinting at him being relieved.

“Guess again, heathen.”

“Come on in.” Sukari steps back.

       Yukina is sitting on Sukari’s bed. Out of public eye- Yukina makes eye contact for a few seconds before looking away. In the gentle lighting of Sukari’s efficiency her exhaustion is noticeable. The shadows under her eyes are prominent.

“First client. I’m gonna do fine. I can help her. I know I can.”

       Takumi takes a deep breath, nods, and enters the efficiency. He feels his magic at his fingertips.

 “Are you ready? Remember that you’re allowed to cancel the treatment. If this works as planned- it could change how you think about certain things. You might not even remember some stuff.” Takumi sets his backpack down on Sukari’s desk and begins to unpack the supplies.

“Just get it over with.” Yukina requests “I want to sleep. If it means throwing these memories in the trash and you’re capable of it- then do it.”

 “I’m going to light some herbs. Is that okay with you?” Takumi pulls out his incense tray and a small bundle. He’s found that the combination helps keep him focused and channel his energy longer.

“Smoke doesn’t bother me.”

       Takumi lights the herbs, breathing in the smoke after the initial burn. He pulls out the star sapphire.

“Hold this, please. I want you to focus on it and close your eyes.” Takumi requests “Keeping focus can help the process be easier. Listen to when I speak but don’t open your eyes.”

       Yukina rolls her eyes but complies. She cradles the star sapphire in her hands.

“That should help me channel my magic, too. I don’t have any proof that this will work as well on someone without magic.”

       Takumi kneels down and places his hands on top of the star sapphire. The scent of African violet, cinnamon, and Dragon’s Blood plant fills the air at last. He closes his eyes.

       As Takumi reaches out with his magic, he sees Yukina’s soul. It appears singed at the edges and is compacted into a smaller orb than Takumi has ever seen Ikoma’s or Mumei’s be.

       For a moment, Takumi has a sharp realization of who he is and what he’s capable of. That he has the ability to do what many healers can’t. A strange sense of purpose slips into his thoughts. He understands that his years of training have come down to this moment and he’s ready for it.

       He can do this and not fuck up for once in his life.