When Watanuki closes his eyes he sees a pool of red and a child's still eyes. He tries not to close his eyes, but it's three in the morning and he's exhausted. They're walking, each step bringing him closer to his apartment and blessed oblivion, but movement alone isn't enough to keep his eyes from slipping shut every few minutes. It'd been raining since earlier that afternoon, and they're the only people on the street – most, the sane ones, the ones that don't work for Yuuko, are tucked away inside their homes, safe and dry.

Water soaked through his clothing, drenching him to the skin. The patter of water on the sidewalks reminds him of the ghost child's crying. It'd been raining when he first met her, just a few days ago. He'd thought she'd been just another ghost, just another dead child trying to find her parents. He should have realized it was something different when Yuuko took interest.

His eyelids droop and he stumbles. There were red droplets on the flowers outside her room, a broken doll clutched in her hands. He remembers the frills on her white dress, delicate lace stained red around her chest. The police had questioned them, though not for long, only until the detective – Yuuko's most recent client – had found them and sent them home. Watanuki still doesn't fully understand why it turned out that way.

One ghost, two dead girls. They were sisters. Both still children, under the age of seven. He'd just stood there, watching the ghost watch her sister die. Yuuko had warned him, but in the end it was... hitsuzen.

That didn't make Watanuki feel any better.

A drop of rain ran over his nose, startling him back to the present. The girl ghost is still with him. He can feel her, skipping along the pavement just a few feet behind them, but he can't see her. She's not alone. He can't see any of them but now that he knows one is there, he can't help but notice all of them. The air reeks of ghosts, so thick it almost chokes him. He knows why they're following him.

If it weren't for Doumeki's hand in his own, he wouldn't make it home.

Neither of them spoke. He didn't question why Doumeki had taken Watanuki's hand in his own. He'd learned not to question a lot of things when Yuuko was involved, and as much as he might hate Doumeki, it was comforting to not be alone. He's pretty sure Yuuko planned it that way.

Shadows danced between the street lamps, jumping from post to post in a macabre dance. If he were less naïve he might think the shadows were just a coincidence but he knows better. There is no coincidence and street lamps aren't the only things that cast shadows around Watanuki.

The wind was starting to pick up, rattling the awnings of the shops they passed.

A child's voice sang out in front of them. "Tooryanse, tooryanse..."

Watanuki froze. His fingers tightened around Doumeki's but the song didn't stop.

"Koko wa doko no hosomichi ja?"

"What's wrong?" It was hard to hear Doumeki over the wind.

Watanuki stared at the dark street ahead. Doumeki repeated himself.

"There are voices," Watanuki answered slowly. He shouldn't be hearing anything with Doumeki this close. That was why they held hands. Doumeki was supposed to keep the ghosts away.

"Chitto tooshite kudashanse..."

Watanuki took a step forward. It was too dark to see much beyond the street lamps, but he knew this area. There was a park just ahead. His apartment building was still two blocks away. He could hear swings creaking as they were pushed by the wind. White lights danced just beyond the edge of the road.

"We need to get inside." Watanuki tugged on Doumeki's hand.

"Alright."

"Iki wa yoi, yoi..."

Doumeki kept pace with him, though he could probably have outpaced Watanuki easily. Even on his best day, which this was not, Watanuki was no athlete. He slipped on the wet streets but each time he started to fall, Doumeki pulled him upright.

"Kaeri wa kowai..."

Watanuki shivered, though not from the cold. Doumeki released his hand and the street disappeared. Children laughed, almost drowning out a deep, rumbling growl. He tasted sulfur on his tongue as his throat closed off. The pavement was rising up to swallow him. It cracked around him. Beneath the road was a mountain of broken dolls.

"Watanuki."

Rain hit him like a cold shower. He coughed to clear his throat. Black slime fell from his mouth and slithered down the road.

"Come on." Doumeki's arm was around his waist, his other hand now holding Watanuki's.

The children's song grew louder as they ran, laughter echoing in the pounding rain. Watanuki's attention slipped in and out of focus. One minute they were still on the street, and then the rain was gone. Bright light blinded him after being in the darkness for so long. There were stairs and then Doumeki was asking for his keys.

Watanuki fumbled with the lock. The keys shook in his hand and he almost considered giving Doumeki his keys. A hand settled over his own, steadying it. Paper fluttered around them as the door opened, crinkling under their feet. They toed off their shoes before stepping further into the apartment. Water dripped from their clothing, blurring the ink on the ofuda on the floor.

Wind roared outside the apartment. Two more ofuda fell from the wall. He almost asked to spend the night at the Doumeki's shrine but the thought of leaving the apartment terrified him.

Doumeki shut and locked the door. His gaze stayed on the fallen papers for a moment. "I'll put more up before I leave."

Words stuck in Watanuki's throat. He shivered again.

Doumeki turned towards him, his expression blank. "Do you have some dry clothes I can borrow?"

"Y-yeah." His teeth chattered. The apartment was cold, or maybe that was just him.

Watanuki flipped on the bedroom light as he passed. He pulled out a drawer, digging through it until he pulled out a pair of over-sized sweatpants and large t-shirt, tossing both garments to Doumeki before retrieving a set for himself.

"Thanks."

Watanuki didn't turn. He stepped into the bathroom, leaving the door open so that Doumeki could join him. He kept his eyes on the wall as he pulled off his shirt. The wet fabric went over the edge of the bathtub to dry. He heard Doumeki step in behind him. Watanuki pulled a towel off the rack and handed it back to Doumeki. Their fingers brushed. Watanuki pulled away quickly and reached down to unfasten his pants.

Fabric touched Watanuki's bare shoulders and he jumped. "What-"

"You need to dry off." He could feel Doumeki's hands through the towel, moving over his shoulders and down his back.

So do you, he wanted to say, but his mouth didn't want to form the words. He'd almost forgotten what it was like to be dry. Warmth spread from his back, chasing away a bit of the fear. It wasn't enough.

The towel was draped over his shoulders. Doumeki shifted forward, his chest pressing against Watanuki's back. There were no dead children when Watanuki closed his eyes this time. Doumeki's breath tickled the hair on his neck. Two hands reached around, pushing Watanuki's away to unbutton his pants. The zipper slid down quietly.

"Doumeki..."

"It's okay," Doumeki whispered.

Wet fabric stuck to Watanuki's skin. Hands slipped into his pants, peeling the fabric away and pushing it down. The towel moved from his shoulders to his waist. Doumeki knelt behind him as he dried off Watanuki's legs.

"Doumeki," he tried again, "what..."

Lips pressed against his hip.

"Oh."

Suddenly, it all made sense. "That's why... the blood..."

The towel moved back up his skin and around, passing briefly up his thigh and over his chest.

"So you finally noticed." Doumeki's voice was in his ear. Lips pressed against Watanuki's neck.

Watanuki stared down at the wet tile. There were no coincidences. This... this was fate. With the realization came a sense of freedom. He forgot about the storm outside. Watanuki turned.

He reached up to touch Doumeki's cheek. His thumb touched the corner of Doumeki's lips. "I don't want to be alone tonight," he admitted softly.

Arms around his waist drew him closer. His skin pressed against wet fabric.

Doumeki leaned down. "I wasn't planning on leaving."

Their lips touched. The world froze, just for a second. Then Doumeki shifted, his lips parting, opening Watanuki's mouth along with his own. Watanuki had never kissed a man before. He'd never kissed anyone, not like this. Doumeki's tongue felt strange in his mouth, but it was a strangeness he could get used to.

Watanuki's hands moved to the collar of Doumeki's shirt, fumbling slightly with the buttons, but they popped open for him after a few brief tries. The shirt joined Watanuki's over the bathtub. He took the towel from Doumeki, kept his eyes focused on Doumeki's chest as he ran the fabric over Doumeki's skin. Wet fabric hit the floor again, Doumeki's pants this time, and he took the towel away from Watanuki to briskly run it down his own legs. Watanuki couldn't help but stare. He was blushing, but he couldn't really bring himself to care.

"Come." Doumeki's hand closed around Watanuki's and he pulled, flicking off the bathroom light as they stepped into the bedroom. At least his room was neat, Watanuki thought. The futon was already laid out, his laundry piled neatly in a basket in the corner.

Doumeki pulled back the sheets, then started rifling through Watanuki's bedside table.

"What-"

Doumeki slid the drawer shut and held up a bottle of lotion. The blush on Watanuki's face spread, turning his ears a light pink. An arm circled his waist. Doumeki sat, pulling Watanuki with him.

Watanuki was lost. "Do you..." He stared across the room, not even sure what he should be asking. "What do you..."

"It's okay," Doumeki said. He helped Watanuki lean back against the sheets. It felt strange being naked in bed, probably less strange than it should feel considering he was naked in bed with Doumeki.

Doumeki knelt over him, looking down at him for a long moment before he leaned in for another kiss. At least with this, Watanuki knew what to expect. He opened his mouth, letting Doumeki inside without question. Watanuki was tired and awake at the same time. His limbs felt heavy, his mind alert. He was glad he was already lying down, and he hoped he could stay lying down for a while.

"It's okay," Doumeki repeated against Watanuki's cheek, softer this time.

Hand slid down his sides and around to his knees, lifting them apart and rearranging them until his legs were around Doumeki's hips. He heard the cap pop off the lotion. Doumeki's lips distracted him, and kept him distracted until one slick finger pressed against his entrance then slid inside.

Watanuki arched. "It hurts." He could feel his nails digging into Doumeki's skin.

"It's okay. Breathe. Relax. It's okay."

He exhaled into Doumeki's kiss, breathed against his cheek. Doumeki waited. One hand slid along the underside of Watanuki's leg, the slow caress working almost as much as Doumeki's whispered words to bring Watanuki's back down onto the futon. He exhaled and the pain lessened.

"That's it," Doumeki whispered. His finger moved, slowly, and Watanuki tried to stay relaxed. It was hard. "Breathe."

He breathed, dragging in long lungfuls of air as Doumeki touched inside of him. First one finger, then two, and more. Somewhere between breaths the pain had changed and it didn't hurt so much anymore. Doumeki's finger pressed inside of him. He shivered, legs twitching against Doumeki's hips.

Then, the hand was gone and Doumeki was kissing him again, his lips pausing on Watanuki's mouth and then moving off to press kisses against his cheek, along his neck, and down to his shoulder. Hands move Watanuki's hips, lifting slightly, and then Doumeki was pressing inside. He moved slowly, whispering encouragement in Watanuki's ear. Watanuki breathed and relaxed as Doumeki slid into him.

"It's okay."

"I know," Watanuki answered. He wrapped his arms around Doumeki's shoulders and held tight.

It felt good, more than he would have imagined. He understood now what it meant to be lovers, maybe even what it meant to love. Even if there was pain involved, it was worth it to be like this, to be loved.

"Let go," Doumeki whispered against his neck, following the words with soft kisses and the barest touch of teeth. Watanuki knew Doumeki wasn't referring to his arms around Doumeki's neck.

Doumeki's hand slid down his stomach, sending butterflies dancing along Watanuki's nerves and that was almost enough, just that. But Doumeki's hand kept going, his hips kept thrusting into Watanuki, over and over, a heady slide of flesh on flesh that made Watanuki's skin burn.

Fingers curled around his erection, Doumeki's fingers. They moved, stroking up as Doumeki pushed inside, pulling down as Doumeki slid out until the tip of Doumeki's cock was barely inside of him. It was maddening, but madness was something Watanuki had experience in.

Doumeki pushed inside and Watanuki let go. He arched his back, limbs tightening around Doumeki as he came. Doumeki's shoulder muffled his cry, just as Watanuki's mouth muffled Doumeki's own minutes later.

Watanuki felt hot and sticky and entirely disinclined to moved. He closed his eyes, already halfway to sleep as Doumeki slid out of him. His fingers brushed against Doumeki's as the other stood and moved away.

The sun rose to a clear sky the next morning. Sunlight on his face woke Watanuki, but it was the arms around him and the warm body pressed against his back that kept him in bed. The night had passed without him noticing. No nightmares had disturbed his sleep, no ghostly voices chased him in his dreams.

His rivalry with Doumeki had dissolved. The world didn't end, but something new had definitely begun.


The song is "Tooryanse", a Japanese equivalent of the "London Bridge" children's rhyme. More information is available at en./wiki/Warabeuta . The phrases quoted above translate as follows:
Tōryanse, tōryanse Let me pass, let me pass
Koko wa doko no hosomichi ja? What is this narrow pathway here?
Chitto tōshite kudashanse Please allow me to pass
Iki wa yoi yoi, kaeri wa kowai Going in may be fine, fine, but returning would be scary