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face made up, heart dressed down

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That Youko’s becoming so familiar with waking up in a bed that isn’t hers is rather disconcerting, but she does her best to not about that too hard and instead appreciate how much more luxurious Watanabe’s bedsheets are compared to her own futon back home. She rubs her eyes with the back of her hand, stifling a yawn as she sinks down into the pillow a little further – only then does she notice that her fox ears are out. “How troublesome,” she murmurs as she slowly sits up, but she decides to procrastinate on adjusting her transformation until she’s properly alert, instead re-adjusting her sleeping yukata to better cover herself up.

Watanabe’s already awake and dressed in day clothes, rearranging things on the vanity in his bedroom, until he finally picks up what looks like a pocket-watch. “You know, I’ve thought this before, but isn’t it weird for a man to have a vanity?” Youko asks, in lieu of a normal good morning – but she thinks that kind of greeting is fitting, since their relationship isn’t quite normal to begin with.

“It isn’t for me,” he replies, turning around. “It’s for anybody else who might want to use it.”

Youko makes a humming noise in response, and then says, “I guess that’s why you’ve got makeup there too. For whoever else you bed.”

“You don’t have any interest in makeup, then?” he asks.

“No, why would I?” Youko replies. “Human fashion comes and goes so quickly, it’s too tiresome to keep up with what’s trendy.”

Watanabe doesn’t laugh, but the way his eyebrows rise suggests to Youko that if he were even slightly less stoic, he certainly would have. “Many other women I’ve known have said the same thing,” he says.

There is a brief temptation to react like how she might if she were with Kantarou or Haruka, without holding back her temper or disdain over the comparison of her mindset to a human’s sensibilities. There is a world of difference, after all, between worrying about what will be in vogue next year when the worrier lives in decades or in centuries, and she knows that he must know that. But this isn’t that kind of relaxed, open-hearted relationship, so she holds her tongue and simply replies, “Then next time, you can call one of them, if my company is so easily replaced.”

“It isn’t,” he says, “in more ways than one. If anything, I’m sure I’d be the replaceable one between the two of us.”

As loathe as she is to even think it, though, it’s far from the truth: with so few of her own kind spread across the country, the number of entities who could serve as a suitable partner for her are few and far in-between because of how volatile her ability to shapeshift becomes when she can’t concentrate properly, reduced to a mass of sensation and instinct. It’s a testament to how long she’s spent in human society, she thinks, that she only has problems with her ears and tail popping up every now and again.

(Then again, that’s not something for a fox demon to take much pride in, she supposes – but she tells her self that it isn’t very important, that it has nothing to do with identity and everything to do with personal skill – )

“That’s right,” she replies instead, “I’m glad that you’re aware of the fact.”

“Then, in apology for my rude implication, why don’t I loan you the use of the makeup I have here?” Watanabe offers.

Youko flicks an ear and doesn’t realize she’s betrayed her interest until a moment after the traitorous deed has already been done. “I don’t even know what half of those things are for,” she says anyway, despite being perfectly aware that she’s been seen straight through.

“In that case, I’ll humbly offer my assistance as well,” Watanabe replies. “I lack the finesse of those who are more familiar with applying makeup, but – I’m certain I can at least do a serviceable job.”

Humbly , my foot,” Youko mutters. “I know you must have used this routine on dozens of women before.”

Watanabe neither confirms nor denies it, which Youko supposes she can take as affirmation. But since she hasn’t denied her own interest, and the offer hasn’t been retracted, it can’t hurt to give into whimsy for something so trivial – so she simply sighs lightly before adding, “I’ll accept. But don’t do anything too flashy, got it?”

“No, of course not,” Watanabe says. “A subtle, refined sort of look suits your beauty better.”

“More tired flirtations,” Youko grumbles, but she obliges when Watanabe gestures for her to take a seat by the vanity.

There’s something rather thrilling about having Watanabe kneel in front of her, especially when she’s still in her sleeping clothes and Watanabe is fully dressed – it isn’t like her, or so she’d like to believe, to indulge in fantasies of being waited upon like a noblewoman – but the temptation is certainly there. “Your skin is already fair, so I won’t apply anything on top of it,” Watanabe says. “Close your eyes.”

Youko obeys, trying to not flinch as Watanabe draws along the corner of her eye with something that feels cool and liquid and yet sticky all at once – it doesn’t feel unpleasant, but it does feel unusual, and she wonders for a few moments if she should really be doing something like this, something that feels like it goes against her fundamental nature. She could look like anything she wanted to, if given enough time to work out her transformation; she doesn’t need to bother with human inventions or abide to their arbitrary standards.

It’s just for fun , she tells herself firmly, just as Watanabe lifts the nib off of her face. “And now your lips,” he says. “Part your mouth just a little, if you don’t mind.”

She hums in consent before following his request – it’s only when Watanabe kisses her that her eyes fly open, her heart beating erratically in her ribcage (out of surprise, of course, her heart is only fluttering because she didn’t expect it). And it’s almost a bit vexing that he doesn’t look self-satisfied or prideful when he finally breaks away, because if he were then she could write it off as a man stoking his ego by taking her off-guard instead of something that feels almost genuine.

She wants to reply with something sharp and jagged, not because she wants him to hear those words, but because she wants to say them (or at least, she wants to think that’s what she wants) – and yet, she also feels a palpable sense of reprieve when Watanabe presses the tube of lipstick to her mouth and relieves her of the opportunity.

“Bright red is fashionable now, but something a little more muted suits you better,” he tells her. Youko can’t respond, so she just lets him finish what he’s doing, and he works quietly until he finally says, “It’s done. Here, take a look.”

And then Watanabe steps aside to let Youko have the full view of the vanity mirror. As requested, the makeup isn’t flashy at all – the eyeliner draws out the shape of her eyes, with a bit of shadowing underneath to make them pop out more than they usually do, and her lips look fuller without standing out as obviously artificial. She’d thought she would come out looking like a painted doll, but instead, she feels like she somehow looks more like herself than she normally does, with the natural features of her face accentuated instead of covered up.

“What do you think?” Watanabe asks.

“It’s alright,” Youko answers, even though she knows the pause before she replied speaks more than her actual response. “I suppose… I can understand why people like to use makeup more clearly now.”

“I think it looks very good on you,” he says, “for whatever my opinion is worth to you.”

It’s exactly the opening that she wanted him to give, and she’s all too relieved to take it. “I didn’t do it for you,” she replies, and then stands up, looking around for where she left her day clothes so she can leave and go back to where she truly belongs – home, where she doesn’t have such complicated, contradictory thoughts plaguing her all the time.

Watanabe doesn’t say any more, and simply lets her dress in silence as he goes about finishing his own preparations for the day. All he does is ask, “Shall I walk you out?” when she’s finished dressing.

“No, I can leave on my own,” she says.

Youko isn’t sure what feeling it is stirring within her when he replies, “Then, take care.” There’s no until next time , nor even a proper good-bye , but perhaps that’s for the best. She leaves without saying anymore herself.

She’s already left and down the street that she puts her hand into her little carrying purse to see if she has any money to buy something for breakfast on the way back that she realizes that there’s something in there that wasn’t the night before: a single tube of lipstick, exactly matching the color that her own lips have been painted.