Exhausting. That was how Shin would have to describe the day, after wrangling a group of suicidal humans through En’s mansion into the safety of his own quarters. Dr. Kasukabe in particular wanted to investigate every little nook and cranny of the house, foolishly. If Shin didn’t owe him a life debt, he had a feeling his hammer would be investigating the nooks and crannies of Kasukabe’s skull before long.
The man in question was seated at Shin’s table with a distant smile on his face, clearly deep in thought even as he half-listened to the conversation around him. Shin instinctively tensed when Kasukabe’s curious eyes hovered on him. He could practically hear analyses being run in the doctor’s head, mentally dissecting him and all his parts.
“You know, Shin,” Kasukabe said, “I almost didn’t recognize you at first. You’ve grown a lot.”
Shin shrugged a shoulder at the comment, glancing around; it seemed like the rest of the room was in their own bubble of conversation, not listening in on him and the doctor.
“The wonders of a full stomach and surviving your teens,” Shin answered.
“Right,” Kasukabe said with that same smile. “Well, what really made me sure it was you were the stitches in your arms. It’s interesting you still have them, isn’t it?”
That made Shin pause. True, he’d wondered about the stitches lasting much longer than expected all those years ago. His mind conjured up the image of his teenage self sheltering under a bridge in the magic world. He’d still been on the streets, hungry, but that night he was invigorated by his miraculously healed arms. It’d seemed like an undeserved blessing to have the decay totally reversed; that the stitches remained in his otherwise whole flesh occurred as odd to him, but he wasn’t about to question it.
“I think that has something to do with my partner healing my arms with magic back when we first met, but to be honest… I haven’t thought about it too much,” Shin finally said.
That answer only made Kasukabe more excited, though. Brows raised, Kasukabe tilted his head with interest. “Is that so? Ah, Noi,” he said, nonchalantly catching her attention and pulling her out of the conversation happening amongst the others. “Does your magic work by reversing damage done to flesh? Or by generating completely new material to replace what was affected?”
Noi blinked at the sudden topic change. “Huh? Well… Neither, I think. I sort of have to tell it what to do.”
Both Shin and Kasukabe sat up straighter at that.
“Really?” Kasukabe said, entranced. “Can you elaborate?”
Noi scratched the back of her head. “Usually, I just think about rebuilding bone and muscle, and that’s good enough. But sometimes… Well—say, hypothetically, someone got turned into a zombie.” Noi shrugged while she averted her eyes. “Before I tried healing them, I’d probably need to learn what’s actually changed about their body, or else I might not ‘aim’ the smoke at the right thing on the first try. Like, should I focus on their brain, or is it their heart that got messed up, or something else.”
Noi sat back and thoughtfully continued, “It’s different when I have to change something's form instead of regrowing it, though. Like, how your friend there was turned completely into a mushroom—his body knew what it was supposed to look like, but I had to think about my smoke helping it go back to normal. I guess ya might say it works together with people’s bodies?”
Kasukabe’s eyes were concerningly bright. Shin watched warily as he drummed his fingers and asked, “And what if you try it on material that’s not living?”
“What, like a dead body?” Noi almost sounded amused. “Oh, I’ve definitely done that before. Things remember being part of a whole, deep inside."
Shin’s gaze drifted down to his hands, lying casually in his lap. The seams curling around his otherwise unbroken, healthy skin stared back. What sort of "whole" was he?
"I can regrow a body from just a head, if it comes down to it.” Noi sent a cheeky grin at Shin as she said, “It doesn’t have to be a person, either. My magic can fix stuff like a hammer, even after it’s been melted into a candle!”
Shin let his mind wander as Kasukabe continued his questions. Something about, if Noi’s magic can regenerate objects, does it bring back damaged clothing after injuries, and if not, why?
Between the bustle of providing a meal for their visitors, and the effectively pointless frustration of lecturing them on how to stay safe in the magic world, Shin nearly let the question of his arms slip his mind. It wasn’t until several weeks later, when he and Noi stood side by side doing dishes at his sink that Shin remembered the thought.
Shin watched his hands move in the soapy water as he said, “Hey, Noi.”
“Why did my stitches stick around all this time? Was it really because of your magic?”
Noi paused, and let out a long hum as she thought about it. “It could be. The day we met, and I healed you…”
She drifted off. Shin was sure they were both picturing the moment, the feeling of it: a glaring noon sun beating down on them, while one set of tired, straining arms held another.
“It could be that I saw the infection as the only thing that was really wrong about your arms, and ‘cause of that my magic just healed around the stitches. Or…” She seemed especially thoughtful as she dried a cup Shin had handed her. “It might have been you. Maybe your body wanted the stitches to stay, for some reason.”
“Huh.” Shin swiped a sponge over the edge of a bowl and considered the idea. He’d certainly never disliked how his arms looked. What she said actually made sense: a part of him was proud of the things he’d done to get them. He liked knowing what he’d been through, what he’d been strong enough to survive, even when the consequences were actively rotting the flesh away from him.
“Still, what about after that?” he thought aloud. “You’ve healed my arms plenty of times, but they never go away. Wouldn’t your magic eventually get rid of them?”
Silence stretched out between them. Growing concerned, Shin glanced over at Noi—and was startled to see her with a light flush.
He was just stunned enough that he didn't move when Noi reached out and, so gently it felt like she barely even touched him, trailed one finger down the seams on his knuckles.
“Maybe I like them too," she said softly. "You got them while trying to find your smoke, right?” At his nod, she went on, “I must like being reminded that you chose to be a magic user.”
Heart beating just a tad faster, Shin eventually choked out a reply. “I’ve told you already, that’s not something you need to worry about. I’d choose here over Hole any day.”
“I know, I know,” Noi said with a small laugh. Her hand left his, but the warmth lingered.
It took a moment for his emotions to settle down, but before long the silence between them was comfortable again. Shin didn’t break it to voice his last thought: if his arms had been left to heal naturally (and without any infection), the stitches would’ve needed to come out. Instead, even though his magic might have been the reason they first appeared, Noi’s magic was the reason they became a part of him.
It was a piece of both of them, bundled together. Part of a whole.
“Anyway,” Shin said at last. “I guess they stick out now, huh. I lost my chance at normal skin, like in all the ads. What a shame.”
“Normal doesn’t suit you at all, Senpai,” Noi grinned. “I like you just the way you are, though.”
“Thanks, Noi.” Shin gave her the last plate to dry, and stretched his back as he looked up. “I think I do, too.”