Disclaimer- All belongeth to CLAMP.
AN- Most following the story thus far have already seen my apology for the lateness, for those who haven't, well, sorry it took so long. :-) And for those just joining: count yourself lucky. Everyone else had two wait two years for an update. ^_^;;
OMG, I had to reread the first six chapters so many times...
To reiterate, this story takes place after volume 7, but before volume 8 (with the Himawari thing). So all the stuff in the latest chapters... I won't spoil it for anyone who hasn't read it but, for the basis of this story, pretend it doesn't exist. Or my whole storyline falls apart...
Words to note:
Furoshiki- cloth used to wrap and carry bento/lunch boxes.
"You know, I can walk to the classroom by myself." Watanuki shot a disgruntled look at his companion who, in turn, ignored him completely. "You've given me the room number already; I don't need an escort too."
Twitching at the distracted reply, Watanuki debated the effectiveness of another glare, but decided it would probably just be a wasted effort. He settled for a put-out sigh.
"Really, must taciturnity be your key feature? I mean, I'm sure it's handy for keeping people from holding a conversation with you, though why they would want to in the first place has always been a mystery to me, and it probably hides a multitude of bad personality traits from unsuspecting people, I can think of several of the more annoying ones just off the top of my head. I, regrettably, have not been so fortunate as to be spared from- what?"
Doumeki merely continued to stare at him with an expression of mingled amusement and incredulity in lieu of answering.
Realization struck and Watanuki cleared his throat, deciding to pretend he hadn't forgotten he was speaking to a briefly known acquaintance rather than a long time companion who was more accustomed to his longwinded rants.
"So anyway..." He floundered for a topic. A giggling girl walked past, laughing at something her companion was saying, and a new focus came to him. "Ah! Himawari-chan. Do you, I mean we, know her very well here? I mean, obviously we know her; she was in the nurse's office when, well... But anyway, what I meant was-"
"Yeah, we do." It was obvious by the hurried reply that Doumeki was probably trying to stem another babble of words, but Watanuki momentarily disregarded the affront in favor of concentrating on the implication of those words.
The world was suddenly much brighter than it had been a few minutes ago. A brilliant light was now shining through the dark and murky gloom that was his current situation. If Himawari was in this world and they were still friends, then surely life couldn't be so very bad here. Maybe he would be able to get through this after all. But before he got his expectations too high, he needed a little more information.
Watanuki turned a shining, optimistic face to his companion.
"So, how well would you say we know each other? Good friends?" He hardly dared to hope, but Watanuki still held his breath as he awaited the reply. Doumeki thought about it for a second or two before answering
"That's probably true. We do eat lunch together every day. And we walk home together sometimes. She and Kimihiro get along well." There was nothing to indicate to Watanuki that Doumeki thought there was more to their relationship than that, so he was forced to conclude that even in this world there was nothing between them. Though other, more disturbing, relationships seemed to have cropped up instead. Still, the prospect of seeing his beloved was enough to lighten his mood immensely.
With a goofy grin, Watanuki spun in a circle and skipped down the hall a few steps. "Himawari-chan! It'll be good to see such a friendly face! Your smile makes almost anything bearable!"
Two girls standing a few feet away glanced up at his voice, identical looks of surprise etched on their faces. Doumeki flicked his eyes to them briefly before returning his attention to the prancing boy in front of him. Watanuki was just about to demand to know why he was being given the evil eye when he was abruptly tugged in the opposite direction they had just been walking.
"What are you doing!? The classroom is that way. Hey! Stop manhandling me you-"
"Shut up." This command was accompanied by a shove into an empty room. Watanuki was surprised enough to actually comply. For a second or so.
"What is your problem?" Watanuki demanded as he spun around to more effectively project a Scowl of Doom at his companion. Doumeki was just shutting the door behind them, but quickly turned to retaliate with his own Scowl of Moderate Aggravation.
"Several things. All of them start with you." The tone bordered on anger and Watanuki could see the struggle as Doumeki tried to keep it in check.
The Scowl of Doom slipped a bit and then fell completely a second later. It was certainly odd, watching as Doumeki closed his eyes and appeared to count to ten. The emotions he had seen in this world's Doumeki easily doubled the amount he was accustomed to. And that was just in one day.
He acted almost... human, or something. An intriguing concept that had never really occurred to him before when thinking in terms of the Doumeki persona. He had personally always thought of the taller boy to be more on the robot side of the spectrum, truth be told. And a poorly programmed one at that.
His former happy mood had disappeared by now, leaving him with a feeling of having been robbed of his one bid to normalcy. Confusion set in once more, and ordinary, knee-jerk reactions had to be squashed down and re-examined. Normal was no longer automatic, and the fact that Watanuki felt he had to watch what he said around this person almost offended him.
And it struck Watanuki then, how dependant he had become on Doumeki's unflappable attitude towards him. It was frustrating and annoying, not to mention all the times it made him want to strangle a response out of the moron, but still, he never had to worry about saying the wrong thing, or sounding weird, or-
Watanuki glanced up at the firm tone, his train of thought interrupted. Doumeki was rubbing his eyes in the way of a headache victim, the words "it's too early in the morning for this shit" all but hanging above his head.
Swear word and all.
"We need to get a few things straight between us." The rubbing stopped, but Doumeki kept his hand covering his eyes for several more seconds before slowly lowering it to look at the teen across from him.
Again, Watanuki had to bite back a retort. Literally even, as he stuck his tongue between his canines and pressed down, determined not to interrupt what his companion was trying to say. He had the simultaneous feelings that it was both important and something he wasn't going to like.
"First..." Doumeki paused, shook his head, and tried again. "You look like him. Without a doubt, you'll fool anyone who just sees you. But..."
Again, the taller boy paused. It was nerve-wracking enough being alone with a Doumeki-clone in a strange world, but all the dancing around of issues was just plain annoying. He never thought he would miss the old Doumeki's bluntness.
"Just say it already," Watanuki grumbled, eager to hurry things up and get to the blessed normalcy of note-taking and learning.
He could swear he saw a vein twitch above Doumeki's brow just then.
"That!" An exasperated hand flew into the air and waved at him momentarily. "You open your mouth, and then idiocy flies out. You'll never convince someone you're Kimihiro unless you tape your mouth shut! He would never say half the stuff you do, or do that girly-dance thing, or yell, or-!" A growl of frustration issued from the teen before he turned his back to Watanuki and walked over to the opposite wall a few feet away.
Doumeki sighed deeply, and placed his hands on the white-washed plaster in front of him. It was a few seconds before he spoke again, but he seemed calmer, though he still addressed the wall.
"I don't think this is going to work. Going to school, I mean. I'm not going to kick you out or anything. It's just..." His voice trailed off again.
Throughout Doumeki's sudden outburst, Watanuki held his peace, waiting for an opportune moment to break in with his own two cents about just how this whole thing wasn't exactly his own cup of tea either, but he was choking it down anyway, so Doumeki had better start to suck it up too, dammit. But something made him rethink what was sure to be a hastily thrown together rant-fest.
So instead he used the break between words to make an uncharacteristic decision. To stay calm.
And keep quiet.
"Kimihiro is shy, and peaceful, well most of the time anyway. He doesn't say... strange things. He certainly doesn't see the things we do, so he's normal. Because of... his past, Kimihiro likes to keep his real personality hidden from everyone. It's taken me 5 years to break down as many walls as I have, and there's still and entire fortress to go. He shows people what he thinks they want to see with out regard for what he wants. Selfless. In the most destructive way there is.
"And you come along with every emotion you have walking ten feet in front of you and expect to fool people. It's almost absurd to think you and Kimihiro could trade places. I..." Doumeki turned to face his silent companion, disappointment painted clearly over his face. "Just don't think you can pull it off."
Watanuki didn't answer right away. He chewed on the words, turning them over and over, this way and that, around his head. But each way he flipped them, it still came down to one conclusion.
Doumeki was telling him he couldn't do something.
No. That wasn't even it. Doumeki was telling him he wouldn't be able to do it right. Which was just as bad.
Disregarding the fact that this wasn't even a Doumeki he had enough experience with to want to prove wrong, or that this was an almost completely new world to him, Watanuki kept his mouth sealed firmly shut as he purposefully marched past the other teen and to the door.
Just as he had one hand on the doorknob, preparing to turn it, Watanuki turned back and looked Doumeki in the eye.
"You don't know what I can and can't do."
The door closed behind him without a retort.
Watanuki slipped into one of the only open seats left with approximately two minutes to spare. Thirty seconds later, Doumeki stopped in front of his desk.
Clenching hands under the desk top, Watanuki looked up expecting to see anger. Instead, he saw... amusement.
"Wrong seat. Kimihiro." Then Doumeki nodded his head to the seat one up.
It took a second for the information to process, but Watanuki quickly snapped into action, gathering his books and pencil and shifting them to the next desk. "Oh, er, sorry."
Had he come all the way over here just to tell-
Why was Doumeki sitting down behind him?
Warm breath tickled the hair on the back of his neck. "I'll give you a trial. If you can't pull it off, I'm telling everyone you're sick and I'll chain you to the apartment if I have to."
In an extraordinary show of willpower, Watanuki refrained from shoving Doumeki face back with a fist. It was fortunate that his desire to prove Doumeki wrong was much stronger than his impulse to cause bodily harm.
"I'll take that into consideration," he muttered under his breath. "You can leave now."
"Can't leave. Class is starting." Watanuki could practically hear the smirk. But he was cut off from any verbal laments by the appearance of their teacher at the front of the class.
Oh yes, someone was laughing their ass off somewhere. He had a feeling he knew exactly who it was too.
The classes themselves were easy to get through. Sit quietly, take notes, and answer when called on. In between classes weren't hard either, if he kept to himself and just waited for the next teacher.
He let Doumeki whisper hints to him about their classmates. Some of them he already knew, but most he did not. Every now and then a boy or girl would walk past their desks with a smile, a nod, or a greeting, and Watanuki would reply in like as Doumeki leaned close and filled in the gaps.
It went like this up until lunch; by that time Watanuki was ready for a break from his classmates.
He'd never smiled to so many people in the space of a single day.
Doumeki had led him to a large tree outside –the only one that had managed to keep more than two of its leaves –and they were currently leaning against the rough bark, waiting for Himawari to join them. Watanuki shivered, the sun doing little to dispel the chill in the air, never mind the cold seeping up from the ground, numbing his butt.
"Shouldn't we be buying lunch? I didn't make anything for us to eat."
"Don't need to. It's Kunogi's turn today."
Watanuki twisted around to get a better explanation. "What do you mean it's Himawari-chan's turn?"
"Just what it sounds like. Though Kimihiro likes to bring something extra anyway. We normally take turns bringing lunch to share. Don't worry, she's a good cook. Nothing like Kimihiro, but decent."
Anther question had been posed on his lips, but at the mention of Himawari being a good cook, Watanuki promptly forgot what it was. "She cooks it herself?"
There must have been something in his voice, because suddenly Doumeki spun on him and held up a warning finger. "Don't start that crap again."
Watanuki didn't bother to ask what crap he was talking about and just frowned. "I wasn't. It was a simple question."
Doumeki narrowed his eye suspiciously for a second, then answered shortly, "Yes, she does."
Though he tried hard to squash his inner flailing, Watanuki could still feel a giant grin spreading over his face. Doumeki rolled his eyes at it.
"Watanuki-kun, Doumeki-kun!" a voice called to them from their left. Himawari jogged towards them, a bright smile on her face and a stack of neatly wrapped bento boxes in one hand.
Watanuki reflexively leapt to his feet to help her carry the package, but stumbled after the first step and paused, unsure of what he was seeing. What he had first thought to be a class letting out behind Himawari was actually a large group of students milling around her. Girls and boys alike vied for her attention, calling her name, or trying to hand her gifts. A few went as far as to touch her shoulder or arm, though they left at a run directly after, strange mixes of happiness and guilt radiating from their faces.
None of them seemed to mind that Himawari was completely ignoring them all.
The greeting bubbling up from his throat fizzled out with uncertainty, until only a tiny "um" was left to pass through his lips. Doumeki hadn't mentioned that half the school would be joining them as well.
But before Watanuki could turn and accuse his companion, Himawari stopped, did a 180, and tilted her head to the side prettily. Watanuki could picture perfectly in his head the cheerful smile on her face and the crinkle of her eyes as she said, "Thank you for accompanying me outside. I'll be joining my friends now, so please have a good afternoon everyone."
As if they were the magic words to break some spell, the crowd immediately started to break apart and people drifted off in different directions.
Watanuki blinked at the sight, trying to figure out why it was such an unusual sight. Of course Himawari was popular; that was a no-brainer. She was cute and sweet and cheerful and funny and had the most wonderfully adorable smile that was aimed at Doumeki way too much for his liking and... wait, what had he been trying to figure out?
As Himawari waved off the last few stragglers, Watanuki figured out what was bugging him about the scene. If he honestly thought back to all of his encounters with Himawari at school, minus the sparkles and flowers, he couldn't remember ever seeing her hanging out with more than one or two people at a time, never mind the huge crowd like the one he just witnessed.
But that couldn't be right. Someone like Himawari should be constantly covered in friends. Right? He thought harder, but could only come up with two people that constantly could be seen in her company. And they were both present and accounted for. But now that he had thought of it, the strangeness of not having to beat people off with a stick to get to her seemed even more pronounced.
How could he not have noticed her lack off friends?
"Watanuki-kun? Are you still feeling ill?"
Watanuki shook off his musings and lifted his eyes to Himawari's concerned face. While he'd been lost in thought, she had closed the last few feet between them. He internally squashed down the immediate reaction to adamantly reassure her of his fabulous health with a full demonstration of flexing and perhaps a jumping jack or two and only smiled.
"No, I'm actually feeling much better. Thank you," he said, taking the bento boxes from her.
The crinkle between Himawari's brow disappeared and she smiled again. She laid a hand on his shoulder and gave a gentle squeeze. "That's good. You looked a bit distant a minute ago, but if you're sure..." She left the last bit hanging and examined Watanuki's face a second longer, then turned to greet Doumeki.
But Watanuki didn't answer the mild question, because he was trying very hard not to do something stupid. Because Himawari's hand. Was still. On. His shoulder.
"Then, let's- Oh! Watanuki-kun, your face is so red!" Himawari moved to put her hand on his forehead, but Watanuki snapped out of it long enough to back up a step and wave her away politely. "Oh, no, it's nothing. I'm just, um... hungry! Yeah, so here." He all but threw himself to his knees and began to work the knot holding together the furoshiki.
Himawari knelt beside him, still looking unconvinced, but not saying anything else. Though he did see her exchange a look with Doumeki from the corner of his eye as he spread the cloth out beneath the boxes. He wondered what look Doumeki gave her back. A stupid looking one probably.
"Oh, wow! This all looks delicious Himawari-chan. Ah! Those are my favorite!" Watanuki snapped shut his mouth at once, realizing he might have made a mistake. Who was to say that the Kimihiro in this dimension shared the same tastes?
"Oh good, I remembered correctly then. I thought I'd make them special for you, as a get well wishing, I suppose."
"Himawari-chan..." Watanuki didn't worry that his expression might be off, because he was sure any form of himself would be grateful to have a friend who would take such care for him. As touched as he was, though, he could still see Himawari's smile was a bit sad, and he hated that he had made her worry so much.
She did brighten a bit a second later when she reached into her pocket and pulled a folded sheet of paper out.
"I almost forgot. Here, Watanuki-kun." She handed the paper to him. "You wanted this, right?"
Watanuki took the proffered gift and smiled, unsure of what it was, but ready to thank her anyway. He unfolded it carefully, words of gratitude already forming on his lips. When he saw what it was, however, the first thing to pop out was a pleasantly surprised, "Oh!"
"I'm sorry it took so long to get it. My mother has been gone a lot lately." But Himawari seemed pleased by his reaction, despite her apology.
"No, not at all! Thank you very much." And Watanuki dropped a greedy gaze down to the recipe he had searched for months for with no luck.
"My pleasure." Her smile was glorious and Watanuki knew he had to avert his gaze before he embarrassed himself. He glanced away and immediately bristled.
"Hey! You're eating already?!"
They were nearly back to the classroom before Watanuki's thoughts brought him back to his previous observation and he thought to ask Doumeki directly about it.
"Say, Dou-mmph." A hand over his mouth abruptly cut him off. He glared over the fingers, but quickly replaced the look with a friendly expression when a classmate walked past them.
Doumeki glanced around and then motioned to an empty corner, dropping his hand. Once out earshot of the main crowd, Watanuki demanded and explanation.
"What the heck was that for?" he hissed.
Watanuki blinked. "Eh?"
"It's what you have to call me in front of people."
That earned another blink.
"It's my name." He spoke slowly, as if addressing a small child, or a not so bright adult.
That brought Watanuki back and he settled his previous glare in place, annoyed at the boy in front of him. "Yes, I know that, thank you."
"Sorry, I couldn't tell from your stupid expression. But anyway, just do it."
"Now wait a minute!" Watanuki made a clumsy pull at Doumeki's sleeve as he began to nonchalantly walk away after his bomb-dropping. Tugging his companion back into the corner, Watanuki scanned the area none too discretely for eavesdroppers, frazzled by the sudden request.
The archer raised an eyebrow at all the fuss.
"I can't do that!"
"It's not really that hard to pronounce. Just try it." The bastard didn't even have the decency to smile when he said it.
"That's not the problem," Watanuki growled under his breath, smiling as a classmate waved to him across the hall as she passed.
"Then..." Doumeki swept and arm out to his side, indicating Watanuki should finish.
Watanuki fidgeted. "Well, it just sounds, you know... intimate." He whispered the last word, eyes darting to make sure no one had overheard. Embarrassment tinted his nose pink.
"Yes. I know." And then he did smile.
He left his companion floundering between expressions of shock, mortification and resentment until the bell rang.
It took him the rest of the day's lessons to figure out how he was going to get of the latest demand on his role of "Kimihiro." By the time the last bell rang, he thought maybe he had figured out the best solution.
So, he couldn't call Doumeki by his family name in public. And he damn straight and sure as hell wasn't going to call him Shizuka.
The solution, then: don't call him anything. There was absolutely nothing wrong with leaving off a person's name when speaking with him. All he had to do, really, was remember not to call him Doumeki at all.
Watanuki was pleased he managed to avoid what was sure to be a lot of embarrassed stuttering on his part and even more sadist amusement on Doumeki's. It was an airtight plan, and he couldn't help but gloat a bit at his triumph over the taller boy's ridiculous request as he gathered together his books.
"Well, shall we be off to see Haruka-san?" he questioned Doumeki, who was still writing notes in his notebook. He didn't look up, or even respond.
Thinking he hadn't been heard over the clatter and chatter of the departing class, Watanuki repeated his question.
And realized he was being deliberately ignored.
Thus his foolproof plan backfired in the face of obscene amounts of Doumeki snobbery.
The last few classmates trickled away until it was only the two of them remaining. But still Watanuki stood silently by his companion's desk, refusing to grab his attention in the sought after fashion just as resolutely as the boy in said desk refused to acknowledge the figure hovering over him.
Watanuki cast two sideways glances to make sure no one lingered in the room before snatching the notebook from under Doumeki's scratching pencil.
"Oi," Doumeki said to the desk.
"Oh shove it. You can hear me perfectly well, so what's with the deaf and dumb act? Though I doubt the last part would be a huge stretch for-" Realizing he had forgotten himself again, Watanuki clamped him mouth shut and wondered if badmouthing Doumeki would ever stop being as reflexive as breathing.
"And no sooner had the company of others departed, when moronic jabber once again assaulted my ears. Or at least that's what I would write if my journal hadn't suddenly vanished."
Watanuki contemplated ripping apart the item in question just to see if Doumeki would finally give in and look up. But, alas, his sense of conscientiousness and respect for other people's property seemed to extend to even the most annoying of them all. With a harrumph, he shoved the book back onto the desk.
"Can we please just go see Haruka-san?"
"Ah, there it is." The scritch-scritch of pencil on paper resumed and when Watanuki glanced down, sure enough, Doumeki was writing exactly what he said.
"I may be haunted," Doumeki narrated as he wrote, "I hear strange noises to my side. Some kind of cross between a drowning cat and a grinding millstone... that swears under its breath."
"Millstones don't breathe," Watanuki retorted stingingly. "And if you're done playing, maybe we could get out of here?"
"Who?" The pencil paused.
"Us. You, me."
Watanuki gripped the handle of his schoolbag tightly in both hands, physically restraining himself from throwing it at the other boy. "There's absolutely no reason why I need to call you by your given name. I can just as easily remember not to say anything at all."
Doumeki made a noncommittal noise.
"You're just being stubborn! Why can't I-gah!" He threw his hands up in annoyance as Doumeki began to write in his journal again.
"Fine, fine. I get it. If I call you what you want can we please leave?"
The scritch-scritch paused again to listen.
Watanuki took that as a yes.
"Will you take me to see your grandfather..." Watanuki swallowed and willed complete indifference into his voice. It was just a name after all; it didn't require any special inflection. So with a distinct lack of emotion, Watanuki finished.
Doumeki blinked and raised his head, but didn't face him, which was surprising, because Watanuki expected to see a smirk, or gloat, or some sign of Doumeki having proved he won.
Instead the teen silently packed his bag and stood, then walked to the door. Watanuki followed after a few steps, and then stopped when the other teen suddenly halted right in front of the doorway.
"You know, I think you're right. Saying nothing would be just as easy. I was wrong; you don't need to call me that anymore."
Watanuki would have been more pleased about the whole him being right and Doumeki being wrong thing, if he wasn't so confused by the complete turnaround he just witnessed. Or by the indecipherable look Doumeki gave him a second later.
"We'll go seen my grandfather now."
Wisely, Watanuki followed without another word.
It was several blocks of silence before Watanuki felt the urge to speak again. And he probably could have gone even longer if a previously pressing question hadn't reminded his brain that it was still in need of an answer.
"Hey," Watanuki began, unthinkingly stealing his rival's favorite form of address, "I had a question. About Himawari-chan."
Doumeki tilted his head to his companion. "Again? I really don't know that much about her."
"Yes, well, it's more of a general question." And maybe a strange one at that. What was he trying to ask anyway? Why was she so popular? That answer was obvious. Maybe more along the lines of why, with so many admirers, did Himawari-chan spend her free time with them?
He decided to start with a roundabout comment, to see if more information would bring less lame questions.
"Himawari-chan certainly has a lot of other friends."
To which Doumeki responded with a wholehearted snort and an ugly look. "Sure she does."
White-hot anger burned up Watanuki's throat and out his mouth. "Don't you dare badmouth Himawari-chan!" he spat, grabbing on to the taller boy's arm and spinning him around. Not expecting the abrupt assault on his person, Doumeki lurched a step or two before fixing Watanuki with surprised eyes. He opened his mouth to respond, but was quickly cut off.
"Any person with even half a working eye and ear can see she's the sweetest, most kind-hearted, caring, and beautiful person in Japan. Inside and out. In case you didn't notice during lunch, she practically had to climb out of that group of people to get to us. So don't sit there with that nasty look on your face and tell me she's not popular!"
Watanuki was red-faced and out of breath by the end of his speech, but more than willing to jump to Himawari's defense again at the slightest hint of noncompliance on Doumeki's part.
As if sensing another onslaught of verbal whipping, Doumeki held up both hands in surrender before even attempting to speak. When the smaller teen lost the look of battle-readiness, he finally spoke.
"First of all, calm down. I would never insult Kunogi." He sighed at Watanuki's narrow and suspicious glare, but continued anyway. "Second, popularity, from what I have seen, does not equate to having a multitude friends."
"Wait, isn't that exactly what it means?"
"No. Sometimes I think it's exactly the opposite."
Watanuki waited a second for a more enlightening answer, but found none to be forthcoming. Crossing his arms, he voiced his confusion. "If those people aren't her friends, why would they bother following her from class, talking with her, smiling at her? Don't only friends do those things?"
Doumeki raised a hand for peace, and, finding the motion once again successful, posed a question of his own for Watanuki.
"If someone you barely know is following you around, trying to get your attention, flattering you, sucking up and otherwise ingratiating themselves to you, what would you think? Do you consider this person a friend?"
It was obvious when Doumeki strung it out in so many words, but if what he was implying was true...
"I'd think they wanted something. A favor."
Then Himawari was being hounded. By suitors maybe? No, but there were girls too, so what could they want from her? Maybe they were-
"Vultures. Parasites. Leeches. Call them anything like that. But don't ever mistake those groupies for friends. You're right; they all want something from her. The same thing actually."
Doumeki considered the anxious question for a moment. "I suppose you don't have this problem where you come from, since you're so ignorant of it."
Watanuki barely had time to feel insulted before Doumeki continued.
"But you obviously know Kunogi in some way. And though you fawn on her ridiculously, it's not nearly as sickening as the phony crap she's used to."
Watanuki began to protest, only to be cut off again.
"I guess it's alright to tell you she's a Special."
"I already know she's special, thank you," Watanuki snapped, glad that he wasn't interrupted for once.
"Not just special. A Special. It's a class. I'm not telling you anymore until we get to the temple though. "
"Why not?" If Doumeki was going to keep throwing around capitalized S-words, he wanted to know why Himawari was part of the labeling as well.
"It's not that much further, just be patient. My grandfather can explain it more clearly anyway."
A scowl and a half shut him up.
A few blocks later, when the air between them cleared to placid companionability, Doumeki made a quiet request. Watanuki stared at him for some seconds and then stuttered a hasty agreement. Doumeki nodded his thanks and they continued the rest of the way in silence. Watanuki spent that time berating himself for letting it slip that Haruka was dead in his dimension, and wondering how he could apologize for having made Doumeki request he not mention the fact to his own grandfather.
Aside from the few small alterations he had noticed on his previous hasty look at the Doumeki temple in this world, if a tree could be called small, the grounds and buildings sprawled across it were essentially unchanged. It had a hollow reassurance, however, since the property always had the feeling of unfamiliarity and vastness, no matter how many times he (unwillingly) visited.
Doumeki led the way to one of the back buildings, past the main house the family lived in, and near the left edge of the property. Watanuki didn't think he had ever been on this side before, even during impromptu bouts of chore helping.
They stopped in front of a small domicile that could kindly be referred to as a hut, but probably more accurately described as a dilapidated shed. Watanuki briefly wondered if Doumeki had taken him here to grab a broom, and they were about to do chores.
I would be like him.
"My grandfather should be in there right now."
Watanuki raised his brows in mild surprise. "In the tool shed?"
A frown stretched Doumeki's mouth a fraction. "It's not a tool shed. This is where he studies. Wait here. I'll see if he's not too busy."
He left Watanuki on the side of the path and took the on step up to the threshold, raising one hand to knock on the battered wooden door. His fist came down on air a second later when the door opened of its own accord.
A figure silhouetted the doorway, but was at the wrong angle in the light for Watanuki to make out anything more than a vague impression of something presumably human shaped.
"Oh, good. Here," Doumeki moved to the side and gestured to Watanuki with one arm, "this is him."
While Watanuki thought perhaps Doumeki could have made the introduction a wee less cryptic, he saw the figure moving out of the tiny building and into the light before the archer had even finished.
"So I see," Haruka said he approached Watanuki. And then he gave a short chuckle, as if remembering a private joke. Watanuki hoped it wasn't at his expense.
Up close and in the daylight, which, now that he thought about it, wasn't ever a time of day he had ever spoken with Haruka, the older man was different to look at. There was still the uncanny family resemblance, but much older, and Watanuki had to remind himself that of course the real, living Haruka-san would be age appropriate. His dream friend had said himself that he used his younger version to be more familiar.
But it was still unnerving to see a grey-haired Haruka with smile lines and crow's feet, no matter how well they suited him. Though he did find himself musing that as long as Doumeki didn't let himself go and stopped eating like a complete pig all the damn time, he was in for a graceful aging process.
Doumeki's grandfather stopped in front of Watanuki, tucked his hands into the sleeves of his yukata, and stood comfortably for a moment with his eyes fixed on the boy's face. And while the gaze never strayed from his own, Watanuki got the feeling he was being thoroughly inspected.
After a minute of quiet scrutiny, Haruka finally spoke again.
"You're quite out of place, it would seem."
"Haruka, please." Eyes crinkled pleasantly as the older man smiled.
Watanuki smiled back involuntarily. "Yes, Haruka-san."
"Well, close enough." Haruka turned to his grandson. "An exact copy, you say?"
"On the outside, anyway," was Doumeki's reply. "So you can see him like me?"
The exchange made little sense to Watanuki. Surely Haruka-san had met the other Watanuki before. He seemed too close to Doumeki not to have.
"Have you never met, er, Kimihiro, Haruka-san?"
Haruka turned back to the shorter boy, smile at the ready. "Of course I have. Very nice boy."
"I have never actually seen him, however. Which is why you'll have to excuse me for using you as a point of reference."
Which made even less sense.
"I don't understand," he finally admitted.
Haruka glanced over his shoulder to Doumeki.
"I've been finding out that while they look the same to him, things are apparently vastly different where he comes from."
"So, what you mean, Shizuka, is that Watanuki-kun does not know I'm blind."
And he looked Watanuki directly in the eye and grinned as he said it.
An- It ended up being over 6k words. Congrats on making it to the end! Thanks for reading.
And thanks to my beta, Toriolees, for the green light. And the patience. Always with the patience.