Everything After

It's a rare moment in which they share the quiet equally, both submitting to the sudden silence. Watanuki moves first, which is only fair since he is the one who hasn't been speared in the leg with a chunk of wood, previously belonging to the roof.

Dust falls from Watanuki's hair as he slides out from underneath Doumeki and takes a moment to look up into the clearing sky exposed through the jagged hole. 'Huh,' he remarks to the ceiling… '…didn't mention that in the instructions.'

'Never does,' Doumeki remarks pushing pieces of plaster off his shoulder and leaning back against the wall. 'Just tell me it's gone.'

'It's gone.' Watanuki turns to regard him, his mismatched eyes dark with adrenaline. His gaze rests on Doumeki's leg. 'We'd better get back to the store,' he says simply.

Doumeki only nods in agreement and pulls his uninjured leg under him in order to stand up. Watanuki grabs his hand to steady him as he rises. 'Seen my bow?'

'Over there.'

It's the second bow he's broken in a month. 'Shit,' he remarks.

'I'll get it.' Watanuki's hand presses against his chest to stop him from putting weight on his leg. The young man clambers over the wreckage to gather the pieces of his bow.

Doumeki uses the main length of his bow as a walking stick, his other arm wrapped around Watanuki's shoulders as they make their way slowly back to the store.

The house doesn't surprise him any more, he can barely remember the time when all he could see was an empty lot. Sometimes he longs for his ignorance… then he remembers Watanuki.

Watanuki, who has always been shadowed by knowledge and has never known the embrace of ignorance.

As Watanuki passes the gate the lights in the store flicker and illuminate their way, though no one is home. He watches the subtle lean of the plants along the pathway, straining towards Watanuki as he passes.

Unsteadily they navigate the stairs as the door swings back on its hinges. Shoes are hastily discarded in the entrance way as the last of their energy is used to make it to the kitchen bench.

With a sigh Doumeki closes his eyes against the pain. He can hear Watanuki shuffling through the pantry, then the pull of the kitchen chair across the stone floor. They should really start keeping the medical supplies on a lower shelf.

'We need more bandages,' Watanuki murmurs. 'Remind me to put it on the shopping list,' he says kneeling next to the bench.

Doumeki nods, his eyes opening a sliver to look down at his friend. Watanuki is considering the splinter of wood lodged in Doumeki's thigh, his face a shade whiter than usual. 'I'll do it,' Doumeki comments.

'No,' he replies. 'You might make it worse. I need to get all the dirt out or it'll become infected.'

'Suit yourself, but if you pass out I'll leave you on the floor for the night,' he remarks with a shrug.

Watanuki wields the scissors unsteadily, he hand still trembling from the force of the energy he pushed through it. When Doumeki raises an eyebrow at the waggling twin blades, his friend smirks in silent response.

'If I miss out on fatherhood due to your shoddy shearing skills I will be expecting you to provide me with an heir…'

Watanuki's face twists in disgust, it's quiet, without the energetic flailing of the years before. But he tries; they both try.

Try to act like nothing has changed. To exchange the barbs of their former selves, to bait and react in their predictable and comfortable ways.

Watanuki rolls his eyes as he slides the bottom blade under the hem of his pants and begins to slice. As the fabric parts beneath the blade, Watanuki's guiding hand slides over his skin. Fingers pausing on another scar along the way, wasting a moment in pointless regret.

'Hey,' Doumeki barks, breaking Watanuki's motionlessness. 'Bleeding here…'

'Maybe it wouldn't be so bad if I accidentally injured your potential for fatherhood. Some genes aren't meant to be redistributed… There,' he finishes with an unnecessary flourish. 'Should I just yank it out?'

'I'm sure yank is a medical term…,' Doumeki grunts. 'Just pass me the sake first.'

Watanuki purses his lips in disapproval, his mind perhaps thinking momentarily of Yuuko. 'Fine,' Watanuki hands the bottle over and Doumeki takes a deep drink, not letting up until his eyes water and his head swims at the smell.

'Okay… do it quick like a plaster.'

Watanuki's grim nod is the last thing he remembers before waking up, the tendrils of pre-dawn light in the window.

Watanuki is laid out on the bench beside him, head resting on his uninjured leg. Doumeki momentarily rests his hand atop his friend's head. The softness of Watanuki's hair catching against the roughness of his calloused palms.

Watanuki huffs quietly in his sleep, nose crinkling as if he smells something unpleasant, which wasn't so unlikely considering their state. It's going to be one of those sleeps… the kind of sleep that leaves him wondering what the line is between a deep healing rest and a coma.

The circles beneath Watanuki's eyes are dark bruises that never quite disappear. His hand is twisted like a claw, the immobilised pinkie sitting alone and straight as the others curl in towards his palm. The hand causes him a lot of pain.

He momentarily considers the bandage wrapped around his exposed thigh, the acrid smell of Yuuko's poultice, its yellowy-green stain seeping through the bandage. He stretches the leg with a grunt. Sore and stiff, but it'll have to do. Watanuki can not sleep on the kitchen bench for a week and neither can he.

If he's less than careful about swinging Watanuki over his shoulder, it's because experience has taught him that nothing can wake the young man from this kind of sleep. That and his leg, which prevents him from doing it in a more graceful manner. Though when Watanuki wakes up he will say he carried him 'princess style'. It is one of the only barbs that still gets a genuine reaction.

Doumeki rests the unconscious Watanuki on the lounge in Yuuko's room. Normally they sleep on futons in the room Watanuki used when he served the time witch. But Yuuko's bed is high and comfortable, and with his leg it is easier to maneuver Watanuki onto.

Efficiently Doumeki unties the complicated series of knots holding Watanuki's robes together. He is practised at it after being left with the young man unconscious on more than one occasion. Lacking the energy to actually bathe either himself or Watanuki, he quickly and gracelessly scrubs at the worst of the dirt with a wet flannel.

With Watanuki somewhat cleaner he removes a simple yukata from the drawer. Folding back the sheets on the bed he lays the obi out across the mattress, before moving back to his friend. Resting Watanuki against his chest, he pulls the boys arms through the sleeves then carries him to the bed and lays him atop the obi so he can cinch it tightly about Watanuki's narrow hips.

Things are not going well and the evidence is reflected in the drawn face of the young man sleeping fitfully. It's during these times by himself that he wonders what the hell Yuuko was thinking when she left them alone. Only a note accompanying her departure.

'Gone for a time. Take care of the shop. Yuuko.'

The finality of the note was affirmed by the absence of Mokona and the twins. Only the pipe fox remaining.

Two years have passed since Watanuki showed up at his university, looking lost amongst the busy hustle of the students. His stillness pushing outwards from his centre. Doumeki felt him immediately, exiting his lecture mid discussion point. Wordlessly he caught the note as it slipped from Watanuki's fingers.

He left the university with Watanuki that day. Maybe he knew even then that he would never return.

Some people are not destined for an ordinary life. But still…

… things are not going well.

He falls asleep on Yuuko's divan, his head awkwardly braced against the arm. Though he's exhausted he stills wakes when Watanuki becomes restless. It's dark again, the day having passed, but even in the dark the expression of pain is apparent on Watanuki's face. He shifts Watanuki onto his side and heads down to the store room.

In the endless storeroom he walks, unguided by light, to the shelf where they keep the known items. Items that are safe to touch, safe to use. After the first couple of incidents in the storeroom they learnt the importance of being cautious. The process of determining the safe items wasn't without its incidents.

The pipe sits on the right hand side, just below chest height. His fingers brush over the familiar silver work before also taking a bottle of plum wine from the shelf below.

Silently returning to Watanuki, he rests the pipe in his injured hand and watches as the kudakitsune rises from the mouth of the pipe and gently wraps his body around Watanuki with an almost inaudible trill of contentment. Immediately Watanuki seems more settled.

No matter how Watanuki protests the over enthusiastic affections of the pipe fox, there is no doubt that in these resting times the spirit fox is a comfort to him.

Reassured that Watanuki is sufficiently cared for by the shop and its guardians he takes up the plum wine and steps out into a night lit by the full moon.

He walks the pathway swiftly, but in an unhurried manner. The way memorised by numerous trips with Watanuki. As he rounds the corner into a street unnaturally flooded by the light of the moon he stops and sits down on the bench, placing the plum wine on the seat.

He wonders after a time if he has taken a wrong turn, but then he feels it. The slight pressure, the ghost of a passing touch. It is the feeling he gets when Watanuki is in contact with spirits.

The rustle of the trees and scuttle of dirt over the paths begins to form itself in his ears.

'…the blind one has come alone…'

'…Yuuko has not returned…'

'…a bad omen?'

He feels a little ridiculous speaking into the empty space before him; he relies on Watanuki to do the communicating. 'I brought wine for you,' he says, gesturing to the bottle.

'A very good plum wine it is. Yuuko's is it not?'

'Mm,' he nods affirmatively, the hairs on the back of his neck raising as the feeling of cloth sweeps against his ankle and the bottle rocks on it's base.

'I recognise her good taste… So the time witch has not returned. This doesn't bode well for our world. It doesn't bode well at all.'

He can almost see the contemplative face of the old fox, so lively is Watanuki's description of him. 'We keep the shop for her until she returns,' he replies with more confidence than he feels.

'…and if she doesn't return in your lifetime?'

'We keep the shop… until she returns,' he affirms hesitantly.

He is startled by the brush of fur across his hand. 'So few of you left, so few… how is Watanuki Kimihiro?'

His name is a quiet roar, repeated in the whispers of the wind. 'He is resting. Your oden helps, if it isn't too much to ask.'

The fox laughs with a slight bark. 'If it isn't too much he says… Inugami he bound tonight was eating everything in its path.'

The bottle is gone and in its place sits two generous serves of oden and a serve of gyoza. His stomach clenches in sudden hunger.

'That should fill you up,' the fox calls out as he rounds the corner, making his way swiftly back to Watanuki.

'Where were you?' Watanuki accuses him from the doorway of the bedroom, one arm bracing himself against the frame, the other clutching his robe around him. The young man's nostrils flare suddenly and land upon the bag in his hand. 'Fox udon?'

Doumeki nods, the explanation forgone.

Watanuki eats like he has been starved for a week, but the enthusiasm lasts only a few moments. More than half the bowl is left as his eyes again begin to slide shut. He doesn't even protest when kudakitsune swipes the sweet bean curd from the bowl.

'The fox spirit asked me something?' Doumeki says quietly.

Watanuki shifts imperceptibly.

'He asked what we will do if Yuuko doesn't return in our lifetime…'

'Oh.' Watanuki absently runs his hands over the pipe fox.

'Mm,' Doumeki replies.

'Thank you,' Watanuki says quietly.

'For what,' he replies picking up the dishes from the table, preventing Watanuki from replying.

He helps Watanuki back to Yuuko's room, the young man barely awake. 'Tomorrow night,' he says hoarsely.

Doumeki grunts in reply.

'It's oban. We have to host the visiting spirits, in the garden… It's what Yuuko would do.'

'You're not well,' he protests.

'It's what Yuuko would do, I have to…'

Doumeki pushes back the covers and helps Watanuki onto the bed. 'Make a list in the morning.' Watanuki nods, looking relieved.

'Shizuka…' Watanuki's uninjured hand curls around his own and pulls him back down to the edge of the bed.

'Shizuka… all of this,' he gestures around, gestures to himself. 'It's my burden… You can go. Go back to your life…'

He sits, beside the young man who has altered the course of his life forever. A course that is dark with unknowns and far from the life he had consciously planned for himself. And yet he knows that all his plans were wrong and that each step he takes beside this man is a step that has been set by his destiny long before choice was ever possible. To Watanuki he says only one thing.

'…hitsuzen.'

Watanuki smiles, his eyes sliding shut, their hands still entwined. 'Stay a moment,' he whispers.

He lies down beside the young man he's committed his life to. Watanuki fits against him comfortably, the movement of his breathing creating a comforting pressure.

'I never thanked you for staying, for not leaving me alone.'

Doumeki smiles quietly, pressing his lips gently across the back of Watanuki's neck. 'You never needed to… Kimihiro.'