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The Lovers

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Juki stared at the card he'd drawn for a long time, tilting his head this way and that so far that his hat actually fell off it, tumbled to the ground with a clatter as cutlery and coins spilled out of the band. "Haaah," he said, soft, almost a whine.

The sound drew Ritsuna's attention and she came over, stepping lightly, scooping up his hat in one hand. "Be careful with the silverware," she chided, half-mocking him for warnings he'd made like that before, and stuffed several forks and spoons back into his hatband. "What's wrong, Master Juki?"

"Nothing is wrong, exactly," he said. "I'm just not sure it's right, either. I haven't seen that card for myself for a very long time... a very long time." He put one finger to his chin, tapping it, and looking at the card.

Ritsuna tried to sneak a glance, and he turned it over, beaming at her with a bright smile, stretching the stitches across his lips. "Oh come on," she protested. "What's such a weird card that you have to hide it? You always show me."

"Now now," he said. "It's not you, it's me."

She sighed a little bit more, and fussed at him while she perched his hat back on his head, but didn't press, just shook her head after and headed into the back; if he didn't show her the card, there was a reason he didn't. He was the fortune teller here, after all; and she was just his beautiful assistant.

Of course, the truth of the matter was simply that he didn't want to give her the wrong impression and birth false hope. When he read the tarot, he got enough of an image of the potential future that he could see what it did and didn't contain; this possibility wasn't about her, as he expected. He wasn't even possibly inclined in that direction, as he'd indicated to her before. No, all that appeared in his mind when he drew the Lovers card was Rayet's bright smile.

The Lovers didn't necessarily mean romance, naturally, just partnership -- but it usually did, and, to be honest, knowing what he did about his own inclinations and about his own feelings toward Rayet, the nostalgic sense of the man he'd died for in similar habits, personality, traits, he could see where the potential lived. And it was merely potential; fortune tellers could only read possibility, and it was up to the participants to live it or not, depending on their choices.

"Well," he said aloud, getting up to get himself a snack -- Ritsuna had left him one on the counter, a dead snake, and he picked it up between two fingers, sat down in his chair, and carefully inserted it between his stitches, crunching and tucking his hands behind his head as he slowly ate it up.

Rayet came in before he'd quite finished, still wearing his acrobatics costume, and gave him a weird look as the tail of the snake slowly disappeared between Juki's lips, though surely he was used to Juki's eating habits by now. "Hey, Juki."

"Rayet~," Juki sang lightly. "How was work?"

Eyes lighting up, Rayet smiled at him, that heart-stopping expression. Juki was fairly sure Rayet wasn't aware of how he looked when he smiled -- was too unpracticed at smiles yet to give them anything less than his full heart -- and Juki didn't intend to be the one to let him know. "Yeah, the audience was pretty into it," he said. "We had to come out for a second round of bows. My first standing ovation."

"Ahhh, we all remember our first standing ovation," Juki agreed, putting a hand over his heart. His body was aching, and his chest was aching. "Fetch me that bottle by your elbow, won't you?"

Rayet snagged it without looking and tossed it in Juki's direction. Juki stretched an arm out and caught it, though the stitching around his wrists strained from the impact. "Rayeeeet," he whined. "Don't. It's delicateeee."

"You caught it, didn't it? If the bottle broke, I'd apologize."

"Yes, yes, the bottle," Juki sighed, and downed the contents. Soon, the numbness would spread back through his body, dull the wounds that made up every limb where they were held together.

By the time he'd finished, sighed, and sat back in his chair, Rayet had sat across from him with a slice of cake, the Scarlet Bat special. Juki had liked that when he was alive, and similar things, but watching Rayet enjoy it was good enough these days. It wasn't rare; Rayet had as many cakes a day as he could afford, and frequently more.

Juki watched Rayet's tongue dart over the fork and felt the usual urge to see the future; it wasn't his own desire but the universe's, and it wasn't the place of a man living off magic to argue with the universe. He picked up his deck again, shuffling. "Rayet."

"Hm? Oh, a reading?"

He flipped the deck between his fingers, drew a card, and laughed.

"What? What is it?" Rayet leaned over, eager; unlike before with Ritsuna, it wasn't like he could hide it; this was Rayet's reading, and thus Rayet needed to see.

Juki tossed the card on the table between them. "The Lovers," he said. "A partnership with another person intensifies. A mentor may guide your steps, a friend may help you heal your wounds, a passion for another person may take hold in your heart. Your emotions lately have left you glowing; it puts you in a state where you are prepared to connect to someone who responds to that glow. If not a person, you may find it represents the duality of choice: a decision in front of you towards which you're ambivalent, and given the choice between deciding something you're afraid of, or putting your faith in what you love. Ah, though of course, it could be both."

"Huh," Rayet said, his cheeks a little red. "Well, the choice already happened, right? That's why I've moved ahead with abandoning a life of death and am living for... I, I guess joy? I'm not interested in anyone right now, though, so it seems like a weird card."

Wondering what it would be like to kiss someone as he was now (he doubted he'd taste particularly sweet, at the least), Juki tapped his deck against his lips and laughed. "No," he said. "I imagine not, with all the changes in your life, your plate must be full. Well, as with all things, it's just a card that represents a possibility. If there's someone in your life, it's up to you and them what happens, hmm?"

"Yeah, I guess," Rayet said, then frowned. "It's not Ritsuna, is it? I mean, I like her and all, but she's into you, isn't she?"

Juki laughed again, fond, and slid the card back into his deck for the second time that hour. "I doubt it's Ritsuna," he agreed. "She'd be offended to hear it, I think. But you can always ask."

He rose; the medicine had washed through his unresisting system and dulled the pain already. "Well," he added, "I have some experiments to be getting back to. Enjoy your cake--"

"It's not you is it?" Rayet asked, in a tone of sudden alarm.

Juki took off for the back room fast enough that he almost left a foot behind. "I left the cauldron on one moment please," he said, high and loud, and shut the door, then leaned against it, horrified and embarrassed. Like he was a kid again, he thought at himself, amused and chiding, or alive again or something. The door rattled against his back and he threw the lock.

It rattled again a few times, doorknob jiggling, and then there was a thump on the other side. "You're an idiot," Rayet said, through the door.

Juki didn't answer.

"I know you're there," Rayet added, exasperated.

"I'm not an idiot," Juki said, mock hurt. "How rude. After I saved your life and everything."

"Because I reminded you of someone you loved."

"How rude!!"

"I need to think," Rayet said.

"Yes, I rather think you ought to."

"Isn't that necrophilia, though?"

"Yes, I'd think so."

Ritsuna, watching Juki from where she was stirring the cauldron -- which had been turned down a while back, he saw, good for her -- had clearly heard all of that since he'd entered the room; she lifted both brows and pursed painted lips with an unimpressed look. "Seriously, him though?"

"Don't you start," Juki sighed.

"Well," she said, after a moment. "It's sort of nice seeing you act like an idiot. It's pretty cute."

"Rude. You're both rude. I wash my hands of both of you," Juki said. "Let me take a look at that mixture, Ritsuna."

She rolled her eyes. "Yes, Master Juki," she said, and headed to the door.

"Don't unlock--"

Ritsuna did, though, and went out through it; Rayet was no longer there, and she moved off without another word, presumably to track Rayet down and talk to him about this. Heaven only knew what angle she'd take but knowing the two of them it would involve physical violence and perhaps hugging it out at some point.

Juki stared at his reflection in the cauldron, distorted by bubbles.

"I'm an idiot," he groaned, and covered his face with cold hands.