Disclaimer: xxxHOLiC and its characters belong to CLAMP.

Note: Prompted by the following request: i Something with lots of non-sexual, yet sensual physical contact. It'd be a plus if both were in their mid-thirties /i

Doumeki is lighting incense when the first flash comes - a short vision in his right eye of a small hospital wedged between two towers. A warm feeling blooms in his stomach, and he gets up with a smile.

A few minutes later he briefly sees the portal of a school long closed, soon followed by a shopping center where a playground used to be.

It's all the warning he's going to get, and more than he needs. After detours by the kitchen and the guestroom he walks down the temple's main path at a slow, measured pace, and stops ten meters before the gate.

A second later the Mediator walks through it, his left arm hanging limply at his side. He looks weary and defiant and uncomfortable, the latter two easily explained by the outfit he's wearing. Whatever world he has just been visiting, they're big on form-hugging leather and metal buckles.

They look at each other for a moment.

"Don't you say a word," the Mediator warns, glaring. The effect is probably not what he intended.

"Cosplay?" Doumeki asks, his lips twitching with the urge to smirk as he nods towards the temple.

"I dislike you immensely," the most powerful man in several universes declares, following him up the path.

The smirk settles for a few moments.

They separate at the entrance without a word, Doumeki heading for the kitchen to bring back the tea that is just done simmering. This hardly takes three minutes, but when he gets to the guestroom the rent boy outfit is crumpled in a corner, replaced by the green and gold yukata that was laid out on the futon ten minutes earlier. It hangs low on his shoulders, exposing the curve of his neck and the upper end of a nasty-looking scar on his back.

Doumeki stops at the door, his jaw clenching.

"New friends?"

The Mediator gives a full-body snort, making the yukata slide a few centimeters further down. "There's a clan of summoners that disagrees with me on a few details," he says dismissively.

"Such as?"

"My existence."

By the time he's set down the tray and knelt behind him, Doumeki has ridden out the wave of anger; it's a familiar exercise by now.

"So they summoned something with claws to let you know?" This is happening too often, still. Of all people, the successor to the Witch of Dimensions can take care of himself, but some habits are impossible to let go off.


The pause stretches for three seconds.

"Watanuki." There's no reverence to the way he says it, this name that has long been forgotten by all but the two of them.

All he knows about the price he paid for this privilege is that not remembering what it was would be part of it. With time he's established the presence of a person-shaped hole in his memories, and too much knowledge he doesn't remember learning. But whatever -whoever- it is he's forgotten, he's confident that he weighed the options at the time and made his choice without regret.

"Don't even think about it," Watanuki snaps automatically.

It's so old a fight between them that it isn't even a fight anymore: the one where Doumeki wants to guard Watanuki's back and Watanuki won't let him.

But since the first few times they've had it, Doumeki has heard the cautionary tale of the four travellers who, for lack of a place any of them could still call home, kept moving on long after their quest was over. He's pretty sure, now, that Watanuki keeps him here so as to have something to come back to when he's found what he's looking for.

And so the fight is reduced to two sentences, and when Watanuki leaves he leaves alone - but he comes back.

Compromise was a long lesson to learn.

"Show me your arm," Doumeki says, and on a half-shrug the yukata uncovers half of Watanuki's back, exposing the full unpleasantness of a wound that looks like it was sewn up by a blind lumberjack.

But Doumeki focuses on the bare arm, limp and stiff, and he needs no sight of the spirit world to know that this injury does not have a natural cause.

"Is this from the summoners too?" he asks almost casually, putting a hand high on Watanuki's shoulder. The skin is soft and warm under his fingers, and Watanuki relaxes a little at the touch, his head lowering by a fraction.

"No, it was a more... local problem." Which he won't describe, because the one in charge of overseeing the balance of an infinity of intertwining universes doesn't disclose details on the cases he or she handles.

There's a muscle wound tight under Doumeki's thumb, which he rubs away without thinking. "You're making too many enemies."

Watanuki snorts. "Not that many. They're just a lot more obvious about their opinions." He sounds familiarly irritated, which amuses Doumeki a little.

"You're saying the ones who aren't don't display enough appreciation for your services?" Doumeki closes his eyes, lets his fingers trace a path down Watanuki's shoulder, more slowly and methodically than the repelling really requires.

"You'd know all about being ungrateful, wouldn't you?" Watanuki snarls with a complete lack of heat.

"Hn," is all Doumeki has to answer, but he's pretty sure that Watanuki hears the smile.

They lapse in comfortable silence for a while as Doumeki slowly expels the spirit parasite down Watanuki's arm, his fingers brushing on smooth skin in a way that's completely unneeded. Watanuki doesn't protest, just like he never mentions that it wouldn't take him much effort to do this by himself. After all this time, he still hangs on to his comfortable excuses.

"There's a girl," he volunteers when Doumeki's hands reach his elbow. The touch barely falters. This is an old conversation, too. "She's a little old already, but she shows... promise." There's a slight lilt at the end, the smallest of hesitations.

Doumeki makes the appropriate 'I'm listening' noise.

"She lost her mother as a kid, and she's been teaching herself magic ever since. She's good."

Again that hesitation. "But?"

Watanuki shakes his head slightly. "There was..." He pauses. "The local tyrant is the one who killed her mother, and she practically led the mob who stormed the castle and deposed him. The people there... they look up to her. Ask her for advice."

The good part about having known each other for so long is that Watanuki doesn't need to state the real thing, the cruel thing, aloud: that this girl hasn't lost everything, and that makes her unsuitable to become his apprentice.

"Maybe she'd like to see the world anyway?" Doumeki suggests, his thumb stopping on the inside of Watanuki's wrist. Maybe she doesn't have to be like you.

"Maybe," Watanuki concedes in a tone of voice that makes sure to point out that he's only saying this to humor him. His responsibility is a heavy one to bear, one Watanuki is still too nice to force onto an unsuspecting soul the same way it was forced on him.

But Doumeki is the one who fifteen years later is still holding out a ribbon in the rain; and that, he thinks, entitles him to be selfish on Watanuki's behalf, to want someone else to take that burden.

His fingertips press onto the skin for a moment longer, then he pulls away. Watanuki shrugs the yukata back on; when he turns around there's a relaxed smile on his face, like all the tension seeped away with the parasite.

He serves the tea with quiet and grace, and when he hands Doumeki his cup the liquid inside is, impossibly, at the perfect temperature.

"You need to get that wound seen too," Doumeki tells him, and looks straight at Watanuki through the long-suffering sigh, the eyeroll, and the shifty look downward. For a few seconds he's that teenager again, who is still coming to terms with the idea that people might genuinely care about his well-being.

"I haven't had time to deal with that yet," he admits, just the slightest bit defiant.

"Take the time," Doumeki tells him. He takes a dozen seconds to watch Watanuki's understanding nod and consider how much he's stayed the same, before shifting gears.

"About lunch..."

And then, as Watanuki spits and hisses at him, as Doumeki tucks his fingers in his ears, for a moment in time it's like nothing has changed.