hello yes here is my magi big bang fic! after months of work I can finally start sharing it and I'm so excited! it's a long, sprawling mess of a fic so I'll be doing a weekly update schedule, instead of dumping all 30k+ words at once. sorry XD
I drew a lot of influence from Petshop of Horrors for this, aka one of my favorite manga ever, as well as just...weird urban magical bullshit, I guess. there's a lot happening and I'm just really proud of it, so please enjoy!
Hidden deep in the backstreets of the city yet somehow in the middle of everything, Hakuryuu finds an antique shop. The front is unassuming to the point of being dull, but he's never been one to pass up an opportunity to find something new for his collection, so he pushes open the door.
It's something different inside, silken tapestries hanging in the windows and brass chandeliers casting warm light throughout the spacious room. It's bigger inside than he expected and crammed to the brim with colorful knickknacks and and elegant furniture. There's a shimmering mess of jewelry in the front counter and a pretty young man grinning at him from his perch on a chair.
"Welcome," he says, gesturing at the store. "What are you looking for today?"
"Hello," he says, slowly surveying the room. It doesn't look like there's much pottery, but… "I'm not sure if you'll have it, but there's this type of traditional Chinese pottery that I collect, and-"
"Ah!" the employee says, cutting him off and hopping off his chair. "Come with me!"
He leads Hakuryuu further back, and Hakuryuu takes a good look at him. He's dressed in layers of silks and brocades and draped in enough jewelry that he jangles with every step he takes. He almost looks like a part of the shop himself, Hakuryuu thinks. As they continue on, it really feels like the shop is much bigger inside than it looked from the street. They pass through rooms of glittering jewelry and vibrant silks, a hallway full of gilded frames containing seemingly priceless works of art, and Hakuryuu feels almost dizzy with each turn. He's half convinced it's an endless maze when they finally reach a curtained doorway.
The employee pushes back some of the heavy drapery and gestures. "After you," he says, grinning.
The shelves are packed with a veritable treasure trove of pottery, ceramics from all eras and cultures. At first glance it's impressive, but Hakuryuu knows better. Finding this many authentic pieces in one place - outside of a museum, that is - would be nearly impossible. Upon closer inspection, he's met with countless forgeries, but that doesn't stop him from handling everything with care as he delicately turns pieces over to inspect them.
Throughout all of this, he can feel the shopkeeper drifting around the room. Not too close- but he's there, waiting to be needed again while watching his merchandise.
No matter. He's letting Hakuryuu look in peace, mostly, and that's the important part.
In the back of the room, all alone and nearly hidden in shadow, sits exactly what Hakuryuu is looking for. He can feel it, even he he's not usually one to rely on instinct alone. But it's not just in shadow; it's caked in a thick layer of black dust, probably from sitting in the back of an antique shop for years. Hakuryuu picks it up almost reverently, carefully inspecting the piece through the grime, and he can tell: it's the real thing.
Hakuryuu sets it back down gently, hardly believing his luck. He turns to find the shopkeeper right behind him, watching.
"Find what you were looking for?" he asks, and Hakuryuu nods.
"Yes, thank you. I'll take this one," he answers, gesturing to the piece. "I don't mind the cost, but I do expect it to be fair."
The shopkeeper looks him up and down, far too calculating for what Hakuryuu is comfortable with, before finally giving him a broad smile.
"Twenty bucks," he says, and Hakuryuu is sure he didn't hear that correctly. Even in its dirty state, it would fetch thousands at auction, easily. "Oh, but," he begins, and Hakuryuu waits to hear a more accurate price. "You can't clean it."
He's still grinning, and Hakuryuu thinks he must be hearing wrong. "You heard me. It can't be cleaned."
"I assure you, I know how to properly clean something like that. I'm not going to bring it back because I messed up," Hakuryuu says, trying to explain himself. Obviously, the shopkeeper must be concerned that he'll carelessly damage it and expect some sort of compensation.
"Nah, you're not listening. I'll only sell it to you if you promise not to clean it."
This man is clearly insane. Normally, he would be morally opposed to lying, but Hakuryuu can't pass up this opportunity. He waits a moment, trying to seem like he's considering his options, before he nods. "Alright. It's an odd request, but I suppose you're the one selling it."
"So you're agreeing to the terms?"
And the air feels strange in the far back room of this odd antiques shop, heavy with promise and power and something Hakuryuu can't quite place, and-
"Awesome! Come on, let's go wrap this up and get you on your way. You wouldn't want to be late to anything, right?"
He did have a dinner with his sister planned this evening. Hopefully he hadn't spent too much time here.
The shopkeeper leads them out, passing through different rooms this time, until they're back in the cramped front room. He cheerfully boxes up the pottery, carefully wrapping it before putting it in a sturdy box.
"Twenty bucks and you're good to go," he tells Hakuryuu, as though this is a totally normal transaction for him. Hakuryuu digs out his wallet, looking for cash as quickly as he can because he still can hardly believe his good luck.
"Oh, and sign this," the shopkeeper says, placing a small sheet of paper on the table. Hakuryuu skims it, and it's just a store policy contract: follow all instructions provided with your purchase or the store isn't liable for any difficulties or malfunctions you may have, and no returns. Hakuryuu signs away and hands over his money, fingers itching to get the bag and get home.
Long fingers snatch the form back and bounce off the gaudiest stapler Hakuryuu has ever seen. He's handed the receipt with its attached policy, then finally, the brown paper bag containing his carefully wrapped purchase.
"Have a nice evening, Hakuryuu," he says, and there's a strange chill in hearing a stranger call him by name so casually.
"Thank you," he responds on his way out, and clutches the bag closer to him. He has to run home and store this somewhere safe before his dinner with Hakuei.
All through dinner with his sister, Hakuryuu could barely concentrate. She had news about some of their cousins and stories from her most recent trip abroad, but all Hakuryuu could think about was going home to properly inspect his new acquisition.
He takes the first chance he can to escape, and once he's settled into his apartment, he can finally do just that.
Hakuryuu carefully removes it from the box and its wrappings, setting them aside to be thrown away later. For now, he can't wait to clean it up and see its exact condition.
Hours later, after meticulously removing every bit of grime and dust, Hakuryuu observes his handiwork with pride. It's truly a beautiful piece and he still can't quite believe his luck. He carefully puts it on a shelf for the night and heads to bed feeling accomplished, if a little exhausted from staying up so late.
Morning dawns gray and bleak, but Hakuryuu won't let the dreary weather ruin his mood. Nothing like finding something marvelous to help. He can't get his mind off his good find while getting ready, especially since having a fully intact piece is a rarity.
Something feels off when he walks through the living room. Hakuryuu can't quite place it, but it's not right.
The pottery sits on the shelf, dark and grimy as yesterday in the antique shop, and he gets a sinking feeling in his gut. It's impossible, and yet...here it is, caked with dust again.
Hakuryuu glances at his watch and breathes a sigh of relief. He still has enough time before work to do some preliminary cleaning. If he can just get this started, he can come straight home after work and finish it up. He'll have to be more diligent next time.
Evening brings him home to an even dirtier piece, and Hakuryuu feels the strangest frustration. Did the shopkeeper trick him? Is he imagining things? It doesn't matter, though. He can just clean it again.
And somehow, he falls into a routine. A quick clean in the morning and a more thorough one in the evening, sometimes stretching into the wee hours of the morning until he's so exhausted he can barely keep his eyes open. But he has to clean it, purge it of the seemingly never ending filth, and that's more important than sleep.
Eventually he buys a glass case to house it in, in case it's somehow attracting the dirt in the apartment. But it somehow still seeps in, through the glass and onto the ancient ceramic, and Hakuryuu takes to scrubbing down the shelf every day as well. Maybe if he can keep everything clean enough, it will finally be enough.
Yet still it isn't enough.
The cleaning may begin with the piece, but it doesn't end there anymore. The glass case clouds with fingerprints and dust and a thin veneer of oil, and cleaning that takes at least an hour. Then from there he has to scrub down the shelf, and cleaning that knocks dust and dirt into the carpet, so he has no choice but to vacuum after every cleaning.
His hands seem black as the grime somedays, caked into every crease and pore, and they won't come clean no matter how much he scrubs at them. But it's alright. As long as he keeps cleaning, everything will be alright.
After all, it has a routine now- he wakes up in the morning, does the glass and the shelf, then washes his hands before he vacuums the carpet. From there he takes the piece to be cleaned, pausing to wash his hands so as not to cross-contaminate. Some days he calls off work when the grime is bad, and one day "some days" turns into every day, and then he doesn't have to call out anymore because he's simply told not to come back.
He has work enough here.
The walls get washed every other day, because to do them every day would take too much time. Making sure the piece itself is clean is the most important part. It seems every cleaning simply reveals a new place for dirt to get caked in, and his hands shake as the sun rises through a dingy window. He sets the prize back in the glass case and shuts it, heading to bed. His disheveled sheets welcome him with the sour smell of sweat, and he clenches his eyes shut to take a fitful hour of sleep before the cycle starts all over again with blackened walls and grimy glass and a priceless piece of pottery that refuses to be cleaned but is so, so beautiful.
His phone screams him awake, and Hakuryuu fumbles to turn it off. There's voicemails and texts from his sister, unopened, unheard. When did those get there? He has a moment's concern for the thought, but it's gone quickly- he needs to wash his hands and get back to work.
The water is cold, and the soap stings. Hakuryuu looks down to see cracked and split fingers, blood mixing with the grime in the sink, and he realizes that the something might be wrong. All he can think about is cleaning, even if it dirties him too, but now the dirt isn't coming off his hands. Just skin and blood and Hakuryuu thinks he might vomit.
He has to stop scrubbing his hands raw. He drags himself away from the sink and collapses on the couch. What's happening to him? He takes a few deep breaths, purposefully avoiding looking at the pottery, and tries to think. He hasn't been to work in days now, maybe more since he's been losing track of time. He needs to come up with a plan. Something different. His hands ache but he can't stop thinking about wanting to clean some more, to continue purging the dirt from everything. Even the shelf looks dirty now, dripping ooze and dust and Hakuryuu grips the couch tightly to steady himself again.
Something is definitely wrong.
He needs help, and despite the warning, he can only think of one person who might be able to help him: the shopkeeper at the antiques shop.