It’s evening on the third day of Blue Night, and Noi can’t find Shin. She watches the Blue Night beetles flit through the air, glittering against the stars that are just beginning to appear, and checks the time. It’s nearing 8 PM now.
She’s willing to bet that Yaku had something to do with Shin’s untimely disappearance, but she hasn’t seen hide nor hair of either of them since Baku ambushed her in the restroom on night one, at which point she spent most the next day stuffed into a box someplace with her skin sloughing off. Now without any clues to go on, she’s had to resort to letting Shin’s dog drag her around the fairgrounds like she’s a seven foot tall snow sled, Ebisu and Fujita trailing behind her like a pair of asthmatic baby ducks.
“Oi, keep up, you two,” she calls over her shoulder.
“This sucks,” Ebisu wheezes. Fujita gives Noi a wobbly thumbs up.
They’ve been wandering up and down the main thoroughfare and through the winding side streets of the Blue Night venue for hours, but there’s still no sign of him anywhere. And if she can’t find Shin and get to the Black House before midnight, they won’t be able to renew their contracts and they’ll both be partnerless.
Truthfully, she’s getting a little anxious about it. She’s never been partnerless, not since she and Shin were much younger, when she first flunked out of devil training. When he flashed that smug grin of his up at her and said “told you I’d pay you back,” laughing like he’d just one-upped her in one of their races at the ramen shop and barely even acknowledging that he’d just thrown himself in front of Baku’s magic blast to save her life, getting the lower half of his body shot off for his trouble. She still remembers how wheezy and fast his breathing was and how his heartbeat fluttered hard and wild against her fingers as she clutched at his wrist, and his face was smeared with so much blood but his smile was bright and there was a little flush of pink in his cheeks and it nearly made her heart explode, and she knew right then that her devil training didn’t matter, none of it mattered, if he wasn’t there to share it with her. So she flunked, and got herself her first partner.
Shin was so heartbroken that she’d saved his ass from bleeding out in the middle of the street, like he’d not even considered that she would throw everything away without a second thought for him in return. But it didn’t matter, because he was worth it. Because they, together, were worth it. Over the years she’s done her damnedest to prove it to him, beyond a shadow of a doubt, and together they grew to know it, deep in their bones.
It’s all about trust, right? Throwing yourself headfirst into danger and trusting against all logic that your partner’s got your back. Loving each other as hard as you can until the last possible second. That even if it all goes to shit despite your best efforts and you die there in the blood and the muck with your organs hanging out, you do it together. Shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand.
As it stands, as they walk past steaming food carts and fairground game stalls piled high with cheap-looking prizes, she can still feel their contract humming between her ribs. She may not know where he is, but she knows he’s out there somewhere, alive. And she’ll tear this whole place apart with her bare hands if she needs to to get him back. Not like he wouldn’t do the same for her.
When they pass by the same gyoza stand for what must be the fifth or sixth time now, Guragura freezes, his ears twitching and his nose glued to the cobblestone. She stops short just before she crashes directly into his ass, which is now in the air and wiggling frantically. Fujita croaks out a “thank god ” and drops to his knees.
“What, did you find something?” Noi asks, and Guragura snuffles for a second, nose mashed against the ground. Then he barks wildly and lunches down the path, nearly yanking Noi’s arm out of its socket.
“Okay, okay, coming— I think we’re onto something here! Fujita, Ebisu, let’s go.” She breaks into a jog, her heart thumping as Guragura bounds ahead, his tail waving a mile a minute. It looks like he’s dragging them toward the fairground’s haunted house, on the outskirts. She’s not entirely convinced this isn’t just another false positive (Guragura loves the smells of the fairground, who knew), but at least she wore flat shoes today—she learned her lesson after the high heels debacle of night one.
Guragura finally screeches to a halt a few minutes of jogging later, barking his head off and wagging his tail. But it’s not Shin: weirdly, it’s a gigantic meat pie, at least three or four feet in diameter. The concrete around it is covered in something distressingly red and gooey; it doesn’t smell great, and she has a sneaking suspicion it’s not pie filling.
“Goddammit,” she mutters, sulkily kicking a piece of gore into the bushes. Leave it to Guragura to find the biggest piece of food within a several mile radius. It’s not like she has a deadline or anything.
Then Ebisu hollers in delight and dives straight for it, with Guragura right on her heels. Of course.
“Oh, gross,” Noi groans. “C’mon, Ebisu, don’t eat things you find around on the ground, you’ll get diarrhea.”
In spite of Noi’s instruction Ebisu continues to munch happily, her mask already covered in mincemeat and crumbs. Fujita squawks something indignant and tries to yank her away, but of course it doesn’t work. That kid’s got noodles for arms, and Ebisu is surprisingly wiry.
Of course, Guragura decides to join the party and mashes his face snout-deep into the pie. “Guragura, no, dumbass, we have to find senpai—” Noi hisses, yanking on Guragura’s leash. He remains unmoved.
Ah, fuck it. She drops Guragura’s leash and sighs heavily. There’s a large black bag stuffed full of something laying on the ground near the pie—no benches around and it looks firm enough to support her weight, so that’ll do. She sits down for a moment to rest her legs, idly watching Ebisu and Guragura go to town on their newfound dinner as Fujita flails ineffectively in the background. It’s disgusting, but for some reason she can’t look away. Like watching a train wreck.
Noi leans her chin into her hand and lets her mind wander back to her main problem. A diarrhea-riddled Ebisu sounds like an issue that Fujita should deal with.
She doesn’t actually think Shin’s dead, not really—if he had died she absolutely would have felt it, and she knows it would take more than just one solid sneak attack to take Shin’s stubborn ass down for good. But she also knows Shin would never leave her hanging if he had the choice, just like she would never leave him behind. So he’s got to be around here someplace; Baku and Yaku would have stashed him somewhere so they could come back for him later to drag his ass up to Black House.
But Blue Night is drawing closer to its end by the moment. She definitely doesn’t want to go partnerless, and she sure as hell doesn’t want some random sorcerer chained to her for the next four years either. Shin’s been her partner for so long, she’s not certain what not having their contract pressing against her heart would feel like.
Speaking of pressing, something pointy and metal is pressing into her ass. What the hell is she sitting on, anyway?
She shifts to kneel on the concrete ground between a few globs of gore. It looks like a body bag, and the thing poking her must have been its zipper pull. But as soon as she starts to wonder what the hell a body bag is doing in the middle of the Blue Night fairground, she hears a faint noise, almost buried beneath the ruckus of the park and Guragura’s slurping.
It sounds like… snoring? And she realizes with a jolt that she recognizes it.
On a hunch, she unzips the bag and holy shit, it’s Shin, still in his suit from the first day of Blue Night. Guragura led her straight to him after all. She feels a powerful surge of relief.
“Senpai!” She yanks his mask off and stuffs it in her pocket to better see his face. He’s breathing, thank goodness, but he’s unconscious as hell. He must have been asleep here since the other night; she knew Yaku’s tranquilizers were strong, but strong enough to keep someone out cold for two straight days? Fuck.
She grabs him by the collar and roughly shakes him—his head lolls from side to side and he grumbles quietly, deep in his chest, not unlike the noise Guragura made when Noi nudged him off of Shin’s couch this morning. “Senpai, c’mon, wake up,” she mutters through her teeth.
Thankfully his eyes flutter open after a few more vigorous shakes. He looks confused for a second, but then his gaze meets hers and he smiles—small, crooked, and very sleepy.
“Noi,” he breathes. “Hey.” His hair is sticking up everywhere, and he looks like an idiot. She feels their contract throb, warm against her heart.
“I’m so glad you’re okay.” She scoops him up into her arms and his head lolls against her chest.
“I was looking for you,” he mumbles.
“Yeah, Baku blasted me halfway to hell and then locked me in some metal box thing that suppressed my smoke. I guess Yaku got to you while I was out.” She quickly looks him over: relatively speaking he seems fine, no visible injuries or anything. “You alright? Need me to heal you?”
“Nah, I‘m alright. ‘S just those fucking drugs.” He looks like he’s having a hard time keeping his eyes open. Weirdly, it makes her notice his eyelashes: very long and pale blonde, just like his hair. “Where’d they go?”
“I dunno. I haven’t seen either of them since night one.”
A few feet away Ebisu hacks wetly into the pie, a piece of it having wedged itself firmly in her throat. The resulting ruckus probably would have been loud enough to wake Shin from his tranquilizer-induced stupor, if Noi hadn’t done it already.
Shin blinks at them sleepily. “How long was I out?”
“Two days. It’s the night of day three.”
“Hey, it’s Yaku’s fault, not yours. I’m just glad you’re alive.” She gets to her feet and tugs him upright, draping his arm across her shoulders. He leans bodily into her as she disentangles the body bag from his legs. “Let’s go sign that contract. Can you stand?”
“Think so,” he grumbles, his head lolling downward toward the ground. He’s not heavy, really; not much feels heavy to her after the months of devil training she did in that big ass suit of armor, anyway.
After a small amount of melodrama—somewhat predictably, it turns out that Fujita faked one of his partner applications, and the other one was from Ebisu, who was too embarrassed to admit it was her. Teenagers—their group sets off for Black House, Fujita and Ebisu bickering loudly about something or other as they head through the park. It’s probably a good thing they don’t have far to go, because Shin’s too out of it to help much with supporting his own weight, and he starts to slip a bit off Noi’s shoulders as they approach their brooms. He’s walking now, kind of, but his feet aren’t really moving right.
She grunts and hoists him back up. “C’mon, senpai, you gotta try to wake up.”
“I know,” he mutters blearily.
“Yaku got you good, huh.”
“Yeah.” He shakes his head, trying to clear the fog. “Motherfucker dropped a chandelier full of needles on my head. Fuckin’ asshole.”
She snorts. “And you couldn’t get your ass out of the way in time? That doesn’t sound like the Shin I know.”
“I was kinda distracted,” he mumbles. “Was tryin’ to find you, and Yaku got me pissed off. And you didn’t dodge Baku, either.”
“Hey, he ambushed me in the bathroom before the first night even started. He was cheating.” Noi huffs a stray strand of silver hair away from her face. “And he exploded my Blue Night outfit. That thing was awesome, you saw it.”
“I sure saw you fall flat on your face in those shoes.”
“Oh, shut up!” Shin chuckles somewhat loopily and she elbows him in the ribs. “Like you’d be able to walk in those things.”
Once they reach their broom she unceremoniously dumps his annoying ass into the saddle and takes the driver’s seat, wrapping his arms around her waist to make sure he doesn’t go flying off and through some poor shmuck’s roof. Ebisu and Fujita have already gone rocketing off toward Black House, and she can see them careening wildly through the night sky—it occurs to her that she’s not entirely certain if Fujita knows how to pilot one of those things.
She kicks the broom into gear and it roars to life, its engine revving powerfully between her legs. “Hold on, senpai,” she shouts over her shoulder. Shin tightens his grip and smushes his face into her back as they lift off. Man, he doesn’t even get this cuddly when he’s drunk. She’s kind of loving it.
A brief flight later they drag their asses inside Black House. One of the devils warns them that En is on his way with his newly acquired partner (Noi takes a moment to feel sorry for whoever that poor bastard is), and they’ll be beginning the contract ceremony when he arrives. Figures that En would make them wait. Asshole.
Shin sways a little, swiping a hand through his hair. He looks haggard, with giant bags under his eyes like he hasn’t slept in weeks—which is weird, considering he’s done nothing but sleep for the last 48 hours. “Fuck, I’m tired,” he grumbles. “Can’t you heal this shit out of me or something?”
Noi folds her arms and looks at him appraisingly. “I dunno if my smoke will help much—I think you just need to wait it out.” Shin mutters something under his breath that she can’t entirely make out, but it sounds an awful lot like “fuckin’ Yaku”.
Luckily the Black House’s main sitting area has a couch. Shin staggers his way across the room and crashes down into it like his bones have been replaced with gelatin. When Noi joins him it creaks a bit under their not-inconsiderable weight. Shin thumps his head against the couch’s back with a groan and shuts his eyes. Noi watches absentmindedly as Fujita paces nervously and Ebisu giggles to herself about god-knows-what.
They sit in silence for a few minutes. She doesn’t mind, though—with Shin, silence is always easy, warm.
She’s starting to wonder if he fell back asleep when he speaks up—his voice is low, even quieter than his usual. “Thanks, Noi,” he says. ”I’m glad you found me in time.”
She nudges him playfully with her shoulder. “Of course I was gonna find you, senpai. Don’t be stupid.”
“I know, but the contract’s important.” He falls silent for a second, staring at the ceiling. “I don’t wanna lose you.”
Noi raises an eyebrow. “Wow. You must be high as hell right now.”
“I‘m serious.” He turns his head a little to meet her gaze, and his eyes flash up at her from beneath his lashes. He’s so serious most of the time anyway, but when he gets like this, all soft and quiet and earnest, it’s almost blistering. His eyes are intense, twin blue flames. “You’re my partner. After everything you’ve done for me, I owe you.”
“Shin—” she says, but he opens his mouth to cut her off.
“Plus,” he starts, before pausing again—his brow furrows as though he’s thinking hard about something, but she knows his thinking face, and this is not it. This is his “about to say something embarrassing and deeply regretting it already” face. He raises his head off the couch and turns to look her in the eye. Internally, Noi has already grabbed her popcorn.
“I… care about you, Noi,” he mutters. His cheeks are a little pink.
She snorts with laughter. “Don’t look so pained when you say that.” She elbows him again with a playful smirk. “I know that already. You think I’d go to so much trouble to keep your ass alive if I didn’t feel the same way?”
“I guess not.” Her nudge sends him leaning into her, and he doesn’t lean away. His arm is warm and comforting against hers.
“I learned a little about how that dispelling magic worked after you de-lizarded me, you know.” She adopts a goofy, high pitched voice and flaps her hands about, mimicking Chota. “The spell requires the entrails of the person dearest to you.” She grins. “Romantic, isn’t it?”
“Ugh, shut up.” She cackles triumphantly as Shin screws his eyes shut and rakes his palm across his face with a long-suffering groan. “If I weren’t all fucked up on horse tranquilizers right now I’d kick your ass.”
“You could certainly try, senpai. You know I’m unkillable.”
“I’ll get you someday, I’m sure.” He yawns mightily.
“Yeah, yeah.” She ruffles his hair affectionately and he doesn’t even try to swat her hand away like usual—he really must be exhausted. “You better get some rest before En gets here. Can’t re-sign our contracts if you’re a vegetable.”
“Sure,” he mumbles. He seems almost unconscious again already. He shifts in his seat and leans against her, his head lolling against her shoulder.
“Oi, senpai. You can use me as a pillow if you want but you better not drool on my suit, okay? I gotta get this thing dry cleaned special, it’s not like my normal shit.” She complains, but there’s no teeth to it. There never is, between them. Her contract seems to purr contentedly, a cozy heat filling her chest.
He sleepily mumbles something she can’t quite hear and presses his face further into her shoulder. A second or two later she hears a quiet snore—that same snore she’s fallen asleep next to so many times, stretched out in the backseat of Shins’ car on cleaning trips for En that stretched way longer than they should have, or dozing on his couch on the nights they both decided they’d rather get drunk and watch TV than go their separate ways. She leans her head against his and he sighs quietly; it’s a tiny sound, coming from someone as big as him. His hair prickles against her cheek. She smiles and shuts her eyes. What’s a little drool between partners, anyway?