A/N: animeverse, NOT mangaverse. Set somewhere after the last episode. If you've only read the manga be prepared for the Spider's Grudge arc not being mentioned.
It's been a year now, and Watanuki Kimihiro is still a haunted man.
Oh, the spirits leave him alone now; his ghosts are far more real than that. People he gave up, things he gave up in the interest of one thoughtless wish. He could argue that he didn't know at the time, but such arguments are irrelevant, and he knows it.
His life is strangely empty. Every time he's walking on the streets at night he expects to see that shadowy little alley with the brightly-lit oden stand, the shy little kitsune and his sweet father. He'd come to expect those faint glimpses of the Ame Warashi in the sky, and now he can only feel sorrow when the sky clears and the sun returns without seeing that unmistakable hair and that ridiculous frock – and the deadly umbrella. He's even gone to the hydrangea sometimes, but what he feels there is exactly what everyone else feels – nothing, nothing, nothing at all. He misses the girls, with their stereo-speak and their odd hairstyles and the way they ran around him and chattered and never told him when the food was burning.
He never burns food now. He's never distracted enough.
There's so little to distract him.
There are other, more keenly felt absences.
The pipe-fox, curling around his legs and tickling his back and hugging him (oh, those hugs; they almost always made him fall over, but he was grateful for them nonetheless because the fox was the only one who'd hugged him since his parents died) and he remembers how awed he felt when he first saw its true form, how grateful he was that a creature so old and wise and beautiful would care for him so much. Mokona, who ordered him around shamelessly and drank like a bottomless pit and saved his life too many times to count; he still misses that familiar annoying weight on his head at all the wrong moments; he even misses the interminable puns off his name, because nobody even knows how he writes his name anymore except his landlord.
And Haruka; wise grandfather, good friend, saviour several times over. He misses those shared dreams, misses seeing that familiar face, misses his presence that whispered of safety.
And Yuuko herself, she of the wacky dresses and fey words and sly glances and so much wisdom even if her way of imparting it was decidedly eccentric. She made him grow up, was parent and mentor and guide at a time when he had no one to fulfil any of those roles, and there are nights when he does nothing but sit at home, staring at a sake bottle and remembering her. Like any true teacher, she made herself redundant, taught him to live without her; but now that he didn't need her in his life he found he still wanted her there.
And there is Himawari-chan; kind, sweet, beautiful Himawari; his first crush, his first love, his first real friend despite everything, despite all the comments she got in school for hanging out with someone like him. He remembers her too, whenever he goes past a bakery or when someone compliments him on his cooking – since she was the only one who ever did, unlike Yuuko and Mokona and–
Until his wish was granted and he was freed from everything that had connected him to the spirit world, he'd never quite realised how much the archer meant to him. How much he'd wormed himself into every thought, every word, every yell and screech and flail. How much Watanuki had relied on his calm and strong presence, how much Doumeki had done for him without his having to even ask. Far, far too late to realise that he might have loved him, and been loved in return.
He remembers Doumeki at the oddest of times. Walking past a jewelry store and seeing earrings in the display. Lunches, lunchboxes. Arrows. Targets. Reading manga in his bed. Shrines. The park. The rain. Walking at night. People shouting in public. He doesn't yell at anyone now; he's not close enough to anyone to yell at them. Beach houses. Deadpan voices. Tranquillity. Silence. Warmth. Security. Formal clothing.
Those are the hardest memories of all.
But they are only memories. He gave it all up, and he realised far too late what the true price had been. They are all still in the same town, but he knows that they will never meet again. The price was paid, after all. Their never meeting might be passed off as coincidence by others, but they know the truth. And he can't even apologise; he isn't even allowed that.
It's been a year now, and it feels like so much more. He's not even dared to go back to where Yuuko's shop used to be, because he knows that if he went there and didn't see that strange little building again, saw only the wasteland that Doumeki had initially seen, he will break down completely. Because sometimes a slender hope is infinitely better than uncertain happiness or certain sorrow.
It's been a year, and he's alone at home. Truly alone. Even the spirits are gone.
He's alone. And even at the worst of times, seeing the most horrifying things, he has never been quite so lonely, despaired quite so intensely, felt quite so empty.
It's been a year, and that's the thought that finally pushes him out of that numbness he had hidden himself in, that indecision. It's that thought that has him jerking into his coat, tying his shoes all wrong and flying out of his door down a route so familiar he could travel it with his eyes closed, tripping twice over his shoes and not caring even when his knee is skinned on hard pavement.
It's that thought that keeps him going the last five hundred metres when the hope and fear try to make him stop in his tracks. And it's that thought that carries him to her door, to that little gap between giant buildings where the familiar dome is, and it's that thought that repeats in his mind like a mantra when he sinks to his knees on the sidewalk, too relieved to even move.
And then the magic of the shop takes over, and he's walking without quite meaning to again, but he couldn't be happier about it.
And when the door swings open in a suitably magical style, he's got his arms around Yuuko and he's crying into her shoulder before she can even make her trademark opening line, and from the way her arm pats him gently on the back she knows already, knows it all, because that's who Yuuko is.
'You have a wish,' she says quietly, and he can hear the genuine smile in Yuuko's voice even if the detached and perfect Dimensional Witch would claim to never dream of such a thing.
And Watanuki nods.