AN: So it's been a while, over a month now, right? I have a terrible concept of dates, anyway, point is that it has been some time since my last update. I told myself I would have something before Christmas and so here it is! Yea! It is also about twice as long as my other chapters, at least twice as long. So, please, send your thanks to Stalker of Stories for taking in all the awful-ness and making it purdy for everyone~
Also! Is it better that I write longer chapters that take forever, or shorter chapters that...also take forever?
Warnings: Oh, Haruka, your OOC-ness. Rushed ending, par for the course these days. Excessive use of the words 'grandmother' and 'granddaughter.' OOC-ness in general, though maybe I should give up and be like 'it's an AU I will botch the characters however I please'! XP
"Mr. Doumeki! Mr. Doumeki! Over here! Please! Sir!" A chorus of thirty or more voices rang out at once, though a little out of sync, which created a weird effect further compounded by the resounding flash bulbs.
Watanuki let the blinds fall back into place by removing his index finger and turned around only to be greeted by Doumeki's less-than-enthused face. Watanuki kept the fact that he was startled by his boss' sudden presence to himself.
"You're not even outside and they're already clamoring for your attention! How do they even know you're here?!" the assistant squawked, "You don't think the woman we met at the festival told them, do you?"
"No. My car is out front," Doumeki deadpanned. He really should have considered that, and parked it somewhere else, but he had been hoping that with all the Setsubun festivities he would have been left alone. Clearly this was not the case.
"Stay here then," Haruka told his grandson as he clapped him on the shoulder, "Watanuki and I can handle these errands. Right, Watanuki?"
The twenty-three-year-old in question whipped his head back around. He couldn't help himself, the flashing lights and demanding cries were something of a spectacle, but he was still able to respond with, "R-right!"
"That's the spirit! Now, let's go before any more people show up," Haruka said and guided Watanuki towards the front door. "You can handle being alone for a few hours, can't you Shizuka?"
Doumeki gave a stiff nod.
"Good. We'll be back soon. Enjoy the peace and quiet," Haruka chuckled as he turned his back. He knew full well there was no such thing as 'peace and quiet' when the paparazzi were involved.
Haruka took the lead; he seemed to be old hand at evading the amateur photographers, which was very good for Watanuki because he hadn't a clue as how to move through the mass of bodies.
"You should keep your face covered," Haruka told him, though it was a little late, having already opened the door. The cameras were clicking away much more rapidly than before, and Watanuki was certain they'd gotten a few shots of his face.
"Why? It's not like it's my picture they want." Watanuki said, but did his best to lift his jacket. Haruka quirked an eyebrow and led the younger down towards the gate.
"You don't think you're a spectacle? Weren't you in the last tabloid?" Haruka asked. The folds of his loose haori sleeves now covered his own face.
Watanuki's eyes widened, "That was only because that guy was there too!"
"And now, you're at the temple he's staying in. The private family temple, I might add."
The gears in Watanuki's brain churned as the ramifications dawned on him. If he was identified he could be stalked too!
"Damn Doumeki! Ruining my life on so many levels! My privacy!" he wailed. Haruka merely chuckled at his expense. The two were definitely related, Watanuki thought; Doumeki would have made fun of him too.
"Keep quiet, and don't hesitate." Haruka said, his tone morphing to serious. He took Watanuki's hand and ignored the cries from the paparazzi. Watanuki didn't really have time to process the advice as he was pulled along.
It was truly amazing how rude those people were. They parted just enough to let them through and then encircled them.
"Hey! Who are you?"
"Why are you always around Doumeki?"
"Are you a slave? A foreigner?"
"Are you a couple?"
Watanuki didn't answer. He had been told to keep quiet, so he would. Besides everyone was shouting at once and the flashes of light were dizzying. Suddenly staying at the temple alone with Doumeki was much more appealing.
And all of it stopped being directed at Watanuki. Their attention was back on the temple, and Watanuki found that he and Haruka were actually beyond the crowd. Only just though.
It took another few seconds to process that the loud 'Oi' had not come from Haruka, who looked somewhat baffled as well.
"How unusual of him…" Haruka murmured and something like contentment crossed his features, "Come on, Watanuki, we should take advantage."
For a seventy-three-year-old, Haruka was rather spritely. Within a few moments they were out of sight, and out of breath.
"We'll… catch our… breath… in here," the elder offered and gestured to the cake shop they were currently in front of to which Watanuki nodded eagerly.
The duo sank into the plush chairs and began to laugh. They were both shaky from having run so far, and the adrenaline was starting to wear off. There was nothing particularly funny, but it tumbled out anyway, as laughter is prone to do.
Watanuki decided it was nerves. And maybe because they both looked a tad ridiculous, Haruka in a kimono and haori, while Watanuki was dressed in skinny jeans and t-shirt.
"This is a nice place," Haruka commented as they settled. Watanuki hadn't noticed, and on instinct he surveyed the establishment. It was nice. There was something homey about it.
"Back there when you said: 'how unusual,' what… what did you mean?" Watanuki asked. To tell the truth he wasn't sure what had happened at all. One minute the paparazzi were harassing him and the next they were back on the temple.
"Ah. I only meant Shizuka doesn't do that."
Watanuki was still confused. Haruka could see the question mark floating above the boy's head in his mind. He couldn't help the wheezy chuckle.
"He doesn't let them take pictures of him. I think he did it as a distraction… for you."
"Huh?" Watanuki was starting to become annoyed. Why couldn't the Doumeki family just be clear!?
"Shizuka was the one who said 'Oi.' He stepped outside once he heard them shouting questions at you. I think he was trying to protect you," Haruka elaborated with a gentle smile on his face.
Watanuki crossed his arms and scoffed, "He was probably jealous! Couldn't stand the idea of someone else getting attention!"
Haruka's smile didn't fade, but he shook his head, "No, ever since he was young he has hated unnecessary attention."
"Then why did he become an actor?" Watanuki asked incredulously. Haruka only sighed and looked away. Watanuki could tell, at least this time, he was encroaching on a sensitive topic.
"And, anyway, he certainly wasn't doing it for me. Maybe for you." Then Watanuki realized how that could be taken, "I mean! Not that you need him to! I just!"
Haruka waved it off in that good-natured way of his, "I know very well what you mean, but you're wrong. Shizuka hasn't interfered with them on my behalf before."
"Eh? He hasn't?" Watanuki asked. It was quite strange that Doumeki wouldn't do that even for his grandfather.
"Oh, I'm sure if he felt I needed him to, he would," a tiny smirk played at the elder's lips. Watanuki squawked indignantly. Haruka was implying he was weak!
"I'm teasing. The public already knows I'm his grandfather. Shizuka wasn't here when they were being belligerent and I was able to set them straight on my own. I am an elderly man, you know, they respect me. You are young, and much more interesting than I ever was."
Haruka thought it prudent to leave out the fact that Doumeki hadn't ever stepped in on his behalf because he specifically told his grandson to stay home, just as he had before they left. His grandson had, in a roundabout way, defied him in order to 'protect' Watanuki. Haruka viewed this as a good thing.
Watanuki sat back and tried to analyze it all.
"Is it really so strange? Hasn't he ever looked out for you before?" the elder inquired.
"If you call torturing me 'looking out'! You know during that tournament he poured water down my back! All because I looked a little 'red'! That's not looking out, that's being a jerk!"
"I remember that tournament. I have a clipping from the paper. I always wondered why he never signed up for it before. It's held every year, you know, and Shizuka enjoys archery a good deal," Haruka said.
Watanuki furrowed his brow. "The man who ran it this year said they had been trying to get him to sign up for a long time. I guess… no one told Doumeki," his voice got quieter at the end.
Something had just come to light. Doumeki… he really didn't have much control over his life. If he wanted to go anywhere, he had to cover up, and even then people still seemed to know. His personal assistants were the ones who took all his calls, and…
"Was that why they were fired?" Watanuki puzzled together.
It was Haruka's turn to be confounded, "Who was fired?"
"All of Doumeki's assistants. On my first day, his temporary assistant told me not to cancel this photography shoot because it would be good for Doumeki's image…" Watanuki blushed a little.
Haruka raised his eyebrows and prompted him to go on with: "And?"
"I… canceled it for the tournament. I mean… he… I figured he could just get his pictures taken by the paparazzi if he wanted publicity, but… it seems like… like the woman wasn't looking out for Doumeki. It was more like she was looking out for his fame, and not him as a person."
"Did you think Shizuka would have liked to go to the tournament?" Haruka asked, there was a quiet earnestness to the tone.
"I remembered he was part of the kyudo team in school… but… I just wanted him to gain some humility," Watanuki blushed again, "Which didn't even work because he won!"
"Even though you didn't mean to, you did take him into consideration, didn't you?" Haruka pressed. "More so than the others, at least."
Haruka leaned back his chair and sorely wished for a pipe.
"You're right. His other assistants were more interested in fame. In riding on his coat tails, so to speak. And some…" Haruka paused. "Well, you're very different."
Watanuki made a face. He was always being called 'different' in the least complimentary way possible.
"No, no, it's a good thing," Doumeki's grandfather placated. "It's why you'll be around much longer than the others."
"Eh?" Watanuki voiced. That was odd. Hadn't Yuuko said that too?
"Well, I think we've wasted enough time, don't you?" Haruka asked and with some effort stood up.
"Yeah, the shop closes at five, doesn't it? It's," Watanuki checked his PDA, "oh wow! It's already three!"
"We'll make it, it isn't far." Haruka said. They made a hasty retreat.
"They developed those photos fast! Didn't you ask for doubles?" Watanuki exclaimed. Haruka nodded.
"They do a good job, did you get everything you needed at the store?"
"I think so. I've never made hanazushi, so I had to look it up, but I think I've got everything," Watanuki answered and held up his bag of goods.
"Ah, so we are having it tonight. After the fuss you put up this morning I was certain you weren't," Haruka said in faux-innocence.
Watanuki choked on air and his fingers clawed at nothing.
"No, no, no! You misunderstand! I'm not making it because Doumeki asked! Not at all!"
Haruka quirked an eyebrow. The Doumeki family had it down to an art, that was for sure.
"So, why are you making it?"
"Because! Because! He dared to question my abilities as a chef!" Watanuki responded.
Haruka sent him a look that stated very clearly, "I'm old, not senile."
Watanuki crossed his arms. It didn't matter if Haruka believed him. Watanuki knew he was telling the truth. It was his injured pride, and nothing more.
Watanuki batted the hand prodding him ineffectually.
"Oi." This time the voice was a little firmer, and the press against his shoulder was much more insistent.
"What?! What is it now?!" Watanuki demanded and rolled over. Protocol would have had him up and about the moment his boss tapped his shoulder, but it was Doumeki and God knows what hour of the night.
"The paparazzi left," stated Doumeki.
Watanuki wrapped his arms over his eyes and groaned; loudly, "Thank you. Thank you ever so much for telling me this at…"
"It's a quarter after midnight," Doumeki filled in.
"God I hate you! What is wrong with you?! Go away! Let me get back to sleep!" Watanuki groused. He hadn't meant to but his voice turned a tad miserable and whiney at the end. It was hard to be hostile when operating on two or so hours of sleep.
"You can sleep in the car," Doumeki informed him.
"In the… car?! What do you mean by that?!" Watanuki squawked. Instantly he was sitting up and reaching for his glasses fruitlessly. He turned the lamp on, momentarily blinding himself further.
"The paparazzi are gone, so we need to leave now, before they come back." Doumeki explained as if Watanuki were an idiot. He was being dense, but the man was probably tired so it was forgivable.
"Ugh! My glasses!" Watanuki complained, as his search grew more frantic. Doumeki smirked. Then he leaned in, causing Watanuki to freeze mid-flail, and put the glasses on for his assistant.
Maybe Doumeki lingered too long, but he made it up by pulling back rather quickly.
"Don't do that! You, you, you! Creepy person!" Watanuki heaved an internal sigh. Was that really the best he could come up with? No time to worry about it though. "Now leave! I have to get dressed! And pack!"
"Already done," Doumeki said and picked up a duffle bag that was suspiciously similar to Watanuki's. Watanuki's eye twitched. That guy… hadn't seen anything had he?
The smirk on Doumeki's face suggested he had, indeed, seen.
"You do realize none of those things were mine! Yuuko packed them! They're hers! I swear!" Watanuki was thankful for the dark; it hid his scarlet cheeks nicely.
"Are you keeping any of it?" Doumeki asked, for once sounding 'curious' rather than 'mocking'. If you paid close attention, that is.
Watanuki gave him a guarded, incredulous look, "No. Of course not! Why on earth do you ask?"
"I just thought you might have been into that sort of thing."
"What sort of thing?"
"Maybe you aren't into the muscular type," Doumeki elaborated without really elaborating anything.
Watanuki could only stare in bewilderment before letting out a choked, "The what!?"
"Judging by the magazines…" Doumeki trailed off, he was thankful for years of discipline and self-control. They were the only things preventing a wicked smirk.
"What magazines?!" Watanuki shouted, clearly exasperated.
"The gay ones," the actor answered, and added, "You are rather flamboyant. I shouldn't be surprised."
Anything Watanuki had planned to say died in his throat and he was left with vague, unintelligible noises of something akin to rage. He took several deep breaths and grabbed the nearest pillow.
"How can you even say that?! The fuck do you mean?! I am not gay!"
Fwap. Fwap. Doumeki didn't even bother to dodge or stop the onslaught. It was just a pillow, and it was worth it.
"Urgh! I cannot believe you! The things that come out of your mouth! Oh! God! I just want to tear you into tiny pieces! No one would miss you! You would be welcomed in Hell! There's a special place that's being built just for you! I just—gak!—urgh!—argh!" Watanuki's tirade dissolved into hand motions momentarily, before picking back up, "'You're rather flamboyant'! My ass!"
"Yes," Doumeki intoned drolly, "your ass is flamboyant too."
Fwap. Fwap. Fwap.
"You! You! You cretin! I cannot believe you have the gall, the gall, to say such things to me! To anyone! I am Watanuki Kimihiro and I will not stand for the travesties you spout!"
Doumeki commended himself on the foresight he had; if he got this response from the magazines, then mentioning the g-string that had been stuffed into the bottom of the bag might have lead to an untimely demise. Though, it would have been entertaining to see Watanuki's reaction.
Doumeki paused. Since when had his sense of humor become so… perverted? He used to be called fatalistic…
Doumeki cleared his throat, in a way that could easily be mistaken for discomfort, "Anyway, you should get dressed."
Watanuki stopped mid-swing and blinked at him owlishly. That was odd behavior for his boss.
Doumeki walked away, duffel bag in hand, and tossed over his shoulder, "I left clothes out for you." He, with a small measure of reluctance, closed the door behind him.
"I though I heard some fighting," his grandfather commented as he shuffled nearer.
"Sorry, grandfather," Doumeki said and bowed his head. He should have been more considerate, but riling Watanuki had proven much too tempting.
"No need, no need. He's a very lively boy, isn't he?" Haruka said, eerily in time with a shriek. Doumeki couldn't stop the smug grin from spreading.
"What did you do to the poor boy this time?" Haruka asked, his tone full of amusement.
"Doumeki! Give me my bag now!" Watanuki barked as he opened the door a fraction. He had probably started to undress before looking at the outfit laid out for him.
"Already in the trunk," Doumeki lied and tried not to snicker.
"I don't mind retrieving it for you, Watanuki," Haruka offered. He sent a wink to his grandson.
"Oh! No! I'm sorry! It's fine!" Watanuki said, instantly turning contrite. The door was near slammed shut. They could both hear muttering and curses thrown Doumeki's way.
"You had best get that in the trunk before he exits," Haruka whispered. Doumeki nodded and did so.
He gave a quick glance out of the window, to ensure there were no aberrant photographers, and then made his way to his car.
In retrospect, he shouldn't have wasted time teasing his employee. Now he wouldn't be able to prepare any tea to ease the trip for Watanuki. On top of that, he had incensed his assistant so much that chances of him falling asleep on his own were nil. Doumeki would have to keep a watchful eye on him…
When he got back, Watanuki was dressed and trying to cover as much of his chest as he could.
"You. Are. An. Asshole!" The bespectacled seethed.
"You've been wearing skinny jeans this whole trip…" Doumeki observed. He knew, full-well, that wasn't why Watanuki was bristling like an angry cat.
"Not the pants you idiot! The shirt! The shirt! I most certainly do not 'heart' you! And it's too tight!" Watanuki barked, which nearly ruined the cat comparison Doumeki had constructed.
"Let me see," Doumeki said. His grandfather watched them with the same amused expression he had been wearing the last few days.
"Don't you touch me! Let go of my wrists! Hey! Stop it! Do you have any idea what personal space is?!"
"It isn't that tight. You're too scrawny," Doumeki intoned. That much was true; Watanuki was still quite thin, not emaciated or even gaunt, but most assuredly underweight.
"If you intend to leave tonight I suggest you hurry, before the paparazzi return." Haruka advised.
"Ah," Doumeki replied and released his captive. He received a glare as a show of gratitude
"Oh, Watanuki, these were for you," Haruka said and handed a parcel to Doumeki's assistant.
"The pictures? Why for me?" Watanuki asked, but took them despite his awe.
"I thought you would like to have them," Haruka replied.
"Thank you," the bespectacled man said cheerfully and bowed.
"You both should be leaving, I won't hold you up any longer," Doumeki's grandfather announced. "I'll walk you to the car."
"I had an excellent time, thank you so much for allowing me to stay, everything was wonderful," Watanuki said as they walked.
"It wasn't any trouble at all, you were an excellent guest. It was a real pleasure meeting you, and I have to say, even though it was only a few days, I will miss your cooking," Haruka told him.
Watanuki blushed cutely, in Doumeki's opinion, and he was objective enough to admit it to himself. He opened the door for his assistant, who entered with trepidation, and then circled around with his grandfather to the driver's side. Haruka gripped his shoulder as his hand grasped the door handle.
"I see why you are so fond of him, he's an exceptional young man," Doumeki's elder informed him. Doumeki nodded, slightly perplexed. Did he seem overly fond?
Haruka gestured for his grandson to shake his hand.
"Your grip is much stronger and surer," there was pride in his grandfather's voice, and while it warmed Doumeki it also confused him. These moments had become frequent, but so had instances of his grandfather pointing out flaws.
Doumeki bowed, and Haruka opened the door.
"Take care you two," he said as Doumeki slipped in.
"We will," Watanuki replied with some feigned cheer, his nails already digging into the vehicle's plush seat. Doumeki nodded and started the engine. Haruka closed the door, indicating he had nothing more to say. He stepped away from the car and waved as it backed out.
Doumeki could tell Watanuki was nearing his limit. They had been in the car for roughly two and a half hours. Doumeki had tried to distract him with all manner of conversation, but it just wasn't his strong suit.
"I'm getting hungry, I think I'll stop at the gas station up ahead." It wasn't the whole truth, but if he told Watanuki it was done for him chances were that he would protest.
"Yeah," Watanuki responded, his throat dry.
Doumeki parked the car smoothly and had hardly unbuckled his seatbelt by the time Watanuki had scrambled out of the car. He got out quickly and approached his assistant, who was near collapsed on the ground and several feet from the car.
"C'mon, I want to get some food."
"My legs are just stiff!" Watanuki protested. Doumeki paid it no heed, only turned and made his way toward the convenience store.
Watanuki plopped himself down on the bench just in front of the building and struggled to breathe evenly. Doumeki kept an eye on him through the glass as he grabbed two canned drinks and two bags of chips.
"Thank you, have a nice day," the cashier said robotically after Doumeki paid. The actor exited the store, glancing upwards automatically at the tiny jingle of the bell attached to the door.
Watanuki was still taking deep breaths and didn't seem to have realized Doumeki was to his left. Doumeki placed the can, already coated in condensation, on his assistant's head.
"Gaaahh! What was that for?!" Watanuki screeched, and snatched the offending drink.
"Is it because of your parents?" Doumeki asked, sitting down and opening his beverage in one fluid motion.
"What?" Watanuki must have been thrown too far off kilter to shout.
"That you're afraid of cars."
His assistant glanced down at the soda in his hands. He popped the top with an audible hiss and then took a long swig to avoid answering.
"It wasn't just a rumor was it, back in high school?" Doumeki pressed.
"That my parents died in a car crash? No, it's true, but I'm not afraid!" Watanuki insisted, trying, and failing, to down play the whole thing.
"You'll never get over it if you keep denying it," Doumeki pointed out.
"They just make me a little edgy! It's worse because you're driving!"
Doumeki gave him a look. One of unabashed skepticism.
"Ugh! Just shut up! So what if cars make me uncomfortable? I think it's perfectly understandable!" Watanuki barked.
"So you'll tell me when it gets to be too much?" Doumeki asked without a hint of sarcasm.
"…I can handle it just fine." Watanuki pouted.
"Lying isn't good."
Watanuki gave a derisive snort, "Yeah? Aren't you an actor? Aren't you paid to lie?"
Doumeki stayed silent, then he stole a page from Watanuki's book and took a long drink to avoid responding.
"Why are you an actor? You hate the publicity, and every time I mention acting, you clam up!" Watanuki dropped his voice to a disgruntled mumble, "Not that you're much of conversationalist anyway."
Doumeki shifted, accidently brushing their knees together. The bench was too small.
"See! Just like this! You go all statue-faced and won't say anything! What, what is it?!" Watanuki had started to wave his arms around like the complete loon he was prone to act like. It left his chest uncovered.
Doumeki felt a tiny smile tug at his lips. For whatever reason, seeing 'I 'heart' Doumeki Shizuka' emblazoned across Watanuki's chest made him feel… something. He wasn't the kind to go cataloguing his emotions, so the best he could do was pleased. Though, there was more to it than that.
Watanuki must have caught his line of sight, because he huffily crossed his arms back over the thin white T-shirt, "You're such an asshole! I really can't stand you!"
"Then why do you care so much about why I became an actor?" Doumeki astutely inquired. A millisecond afterwards he facepalmed, internally, because he could have easily let the subject drop.
"I don't! I don't care about you or anything you do!" Watanuki cried out, horrified.
"'The lady doth protest too much, methinks,'" Doumeki quoted. Even though, that wasn't exactly what the Queen had meant when she said it.
"Are-are you calling me a woman?!" Watanuki inhaled a lungful of air, one he would need for his impending rant, and Doumeki held up a hand.
Watanuki deflated, "Shakespeare?"
"Yeah. English playwright."
"Whatever! It doesn't change the fact I don't care!" Watanuki fumed, falling into a childish slouch. Their knees brushed again, rekindling his personal assistant's rage, "Would you move over?! You're sitting too close! As a matter of fact why don't go sit at that bench over there!"
"Too far," Doumeki replied, ignoring the finger extended in front of him. He opened his bag. He had been hungry.
"There you go with the 'munch munch munch'! Were you raised in a cave?! Close your mouth! I don't want to see your food!" Watanuki nagged.
"Shut up. Eat your chips." Doumeki retorted, glad for Watanuki's short attention span.
It was late, if they hadn't needed to stop every hour or so they would have made it back much earlier. Doumeki couldn't fault Watanuki though. He just couldn't do it.
Doumeki opened his door, Watanuki was dead-on-his-feet but still following, and carelessly tossed his trench coat aside.
There was an ear-puncturing screech and a blur of movement.
"How can you just throw your stuff around?! Do think it'll just magically put itself away?!" Watanuki lectured as he picked the coat up and dusted it off with more care than he'd ever show its owner.
Doumeki was torn between being amazed at how quickly his assistant could spring to life, and annoyed because he was exhausted, "It's late; I don't want to deal with it tonight."
Not that putting his coat away was a difficult thing, again he was just tired, plus he didn't care much for his house.
"Oh. Sure. It's just a 'tonight' thing! I can't tell you how many times I've had to pick up the stuff you leave lying around! Not to mention the fact that you've probably never touched your vacuum cleaner even once! I had to bring my duster from home once because you let so much collect that my allergies started to act up and I couldn't get anything done between the sniffling and the sneezing and the watery eyes!" Watanuki raved at every slight he perceived against him.
"Bullshit." Doumeki stated. Watanuki had finished hanging the coat in the coat-closet and slammed the door shut with killer intent. His glasses caught the light, making them shine unnaturally.
"Excuse me?! If you don't think I dusted your damn house-"
"That your allergies were acting up. You didn't sneeze once. Why are you making excuses?" The question was a curious one, and fair in Doumeki's mind.
"Okay, so I exaggerated, I mean if I were an average person I would have been in that kind of a state!" Watanuki replied.
"If you want to take care of this place, it doesn't bother me," Doumeki informed his assistant, who grit his teeth.
"Of course it doesn't bother you," the bespectacled man seethed, "I'm the one cleaning it!"
"Don't 'hn'! 'Hn' is not a response! You're lucky you have me around! Your house would be a pigsty and a fire hazard from all the dust! Did you even know that?!" Watanuki hollered after Doumeki's retreating figure.
"You can stay here, I know it's late. Guest bedrooms are right across from mine." Doumeki said, choosing to ignore Watanuki's tirade for the moment. He was only doing it to be polite, he had forced Watanuki to join him on the trip to the Doumeki Temple. Maybe it did have a little to do with his bizarre desire to have Watanuki near him, the reasons for that desire were still unknown but he would uncover them eventually.
"Like hell I'm staying at your house! I'm going to MY apartment!" Watanuki retorted, and with that he marched out the door and into the inky night.
"Waa~ It's so nice to back~" Watanuki babbled, near incoherent with drowsiness and joy. There was a soft gasp and he noticed a human-shaped lump in one of the lobby seats. It took him a little while to recognize whom it was because of the dark.
"Ko-Kohane!" he gasped, completely alert again. There was a soft, muffled sniffle, and in a second he was by her side.
"Kimihiro!" Kohane half-sobbed as she wrapped her arms around his slim shoulders.
"Oh, Kohane, it's okay, everything's going to be fine," he whispered into her soft brown curls, "just fine, you'll see,"
She began to cry harder into his chest. It had been years, years, since he had seen Kohane cry. She was such a strong girl, but even the strongest of people have a breaking point. Watanuki wished he could offer her more, but he did what he could. He tried to blot out whatever problem she was enduring by rubbing soothing circles on her back.
Kohane settled down within minutes, but kept her face buried in Watanuki's chest. If she were trying to hide her face it was unnecessary; the lobby was dark enough for that purpose.
"Why are you out here, hm?" Watanuki asked gently, he shifted his crouch so that he was resting on both knees.
"I didn't- I didn't want to wake grandmother," she murmured.
"Ah, I see, do you want to tell me what happened?" Watanuki asked, brushing some of her hair from his face.
She nodded her head, but didn't speak.
"Maybe in a little while," He said, not willing to press just yet, "Hey! You know what? I've got just enough ingredients for some muffins. Do you wanna come up and help me?"
Kohane nodded her head much more eagerly.
"All right, let's go!" Watanuki whispered in excitement. He helped her up and took her hand. She seemed to appreciate the small comfort.
When they passed through his doorway she moved ahead of him and flicked the lights on.
"What's first, Kimihiro?" she asked, valiantly rubbing her red eyes and tear stained cheeks. She gave him one of those infectious heart-melting smiles.
"Two cups of flour, Doumeki brought a whole bag last time he was here. He said he didn't know how much I'd need that morning. He's such a…!" Watanuki grappled for a suitable word, but Kohane chimed in.
"Eh!? Kohane? How can you think he's a 'nice guy'? Oh! You're too kind Kohane, to assume there's good in all people! But I tell you he isn't human! Not one bit!"
"So, more like, superman?" Kohane giggled, but didn't let the momentary silliness continue, "He really is good, isn't he? He brought you all this food, so that you wouldn't have to spend any money."
Watanuki crossed his arms, pouting quite obviously and not caring in the least. It was enough to make one wonder: which was the child?
"Let's get started, you've got the flour? Good. Next we need half a cup of sugar, and the vegetable oil. I'll measure that," Watanuki directed, shaking off his immaturity.
"And baking power, right Kimihiro? We'll need baking powder too," Kohane asked, but was already grabbing some.
"Yes, you remembered! Pretty soon you won't even need me!" Watanuki exclaimed, voice full of enthusiasm and warmth.
"You're too good at cooking Kimihiro, I'll never be as good," Kohane replied, but not in any way self-depreciating. If she could be half as talented as Watanuki, she'd consider herself gifted.
Watanuki grabbed the milk and the eggs, which he let Kohane crack because she loved to, and Kohane grabbed the salt and big bowl.
They mixed everything together, taking turns stirring so neither would end up with tired, cramped arms.
"Okay, I'll grab the muffin tin, you keep stirring." Watanuki ordered, he set the oven to four-hundred degrees, and returned with the oddly shaped pan in hand.
"The muffin cups, Kimihiro, you told me you can't forget those." Kohane reminded. Watanuki laughed.
"You are absolutely right, but don't worry, they are right…" he paused to build the suspense, then he 'accidently' bumped the pan, knocking it over and catching it somewhat awkwardly, "here!" He cried triumphantly as he flipped the tin over to reveal the inside, now lined with the colorful paper.
Kohane clapped, splattering some of the batter that invariably gets on hands when baking from scratch.
"How did you…?"
"A magician never reveals his 'sleight-of-hand's!" Watanuki cut her off and grinned like an idiot, it went softer as he decided to share something with her, "My father taught me; he used to do it whenever I was feeling sad. It always amazed me, I'm not as good yet, but I've been practicing some."
"It was really good though! Thank you," Kohane said, tears were brimming in her eyes again.
"It's my pleasure," Watanuki started, but frowned when he noticed her face. His expression was enough to tell her he was concerned.
"It's… my mother," she began, but stopped herself.
"Your mother?" Watanuki repeated in the hopes of coaxing Kohane to open up. She sweetly shook her head and spooned the batter into the cups. Whatever this was, it was serious. Especially if had to do with Ms. Tsuyuri.
The oven let out a loud 'ding' to indicate that it had finished preheating. Kohane opened it and gently slid the muffins in.
"Fifteen minutes?" she asked.
Watanuki nodded, "That's a good number to start with."
Kohane set the timer. "I wish they cooked faster," she harrumphed.
"It gives me some time to clean up the mess," Watanuki pointed out as he collected the eggshells and threw them out.
Kohane took in a shaky breath, but her voice was even, bitter, but even, "My mother, she-she promised to visit me during the Setsubun. We were going to spend the whole day together," tears trickled down her face, but she wiped them away, "she never showed. She didn't come, Kimihiro. She didn't even call!"
Watanuki was quick to scoop her into a hug, which made her cry harder and when she tried to compose herself he only held her tighter. He held her until she gave in, until she let herself cry for all of the pain her mother put her through. For every missed holiday, for every broken promise, for everything.
Despite Kohane's earlier protest about cooking times, the oven gave another 'ding' alerting them that it had been fifteen minutes.
"Kimihiro, the muffins," she insisted as she broke the embrace, "they're going to burn."
Watanuki nodded and watched Kohane grab one of his oven mitts and open the oven door. She peeked at the muffins, deemed them fully baked and carefully took them out.
"I'm sorry, Kimihiro," the brunette whispered softly.
Watanuki frowned in confusion, "Sorry for what?"
"For making you stay up so late, and being an inconvenience," Kohane murmured guiltily.
"Kohane," Watanuki said affectionately, "I wanted to, I don't mind, really. Didn't we agree? We're like brother and sister, right?"
"But… I shouldn't, I mean, I'm always going to you," Kohane began, sounding somewhat angry at herself. "I'm fourteen now, I shouldn't be crying because my mother won't come to see me."
"You don't have to be strong all the time," Watanuki told her. He crossed his tiny kitchen and eased a muffin free, which he then handed to Kohane before he grabbed a second for himself, "It's okay to need other people; it's okay to be sad and let other people help you."
Kohane took a bite out of the top of her muffin. She wore a thoughtful expression before she decided to speak again.
"That's not what you do," she said, and at Watanuki's uncomprehending 'Eh?' she elaborated. "You're always helping other people. You're always lending a hand, and always smiling as you do it. But who do you go to when you need to cry? Kimihiro, who takes care of you?"
Watanuki felt his heart clench in his chest and he couldn't speak. Her words weren't cruel, but they cut him down to the bone anyway.
"That's why I like Mr. Shizuka," she continued with a firm nod, "he tries to take care of my big brother. I think-" But she never revealed what she thought because there was a knock at the door.
"Kimihiro? Is Kohane in there?" a muffled voice asked. Watanuki could still hear the gentle concern despite the barrier.
"Yes, she's here," He replied as he went to answer the door. His landlady smiled up at him, and he swiftly moved to help her in.
"Kohane, you really should say something before you leave," the elderly woman chastised, but her eyes were soft and her tone was warm.
"I'm sorry grandmother, I didn't want to disturb you," Kohane explained with a bow as she exited the kitchen to join the elderly woman.
"Oh posh! I'm your grandmother, and as my granddaughter you are to welcome to come to me with your problems. I expect you to, in fact," she replied.
Kohane gave a smile and went to hug her grandmother.
"There, there, such a sweet child. Of all the little girls in the world I'm glad I picked you," the old woman said as she wrapped her arms around her fourteen-year-old granddaughter.
"I love you," Kohane whispered.
Watanuki felt a smile pull at his lips before he broke out into a yawn. When the two females glanced in his direction, he blushed.
"I think that means we ought to get going. You can sleep in tomorrow Kohane; our little Kimihiro can not," his landlady teased and ushered the young brunette out into the hallway.
"No, no, it's fine, really," he protested. The old woman shook her head.
"You've got a big day ahead of you, you'll need your sleep. Besides, if those bags under your eyes get any darker you might scare Kohane!" She said and guffawed.
Watanuki gave a rueful half-smile, he didn't seem to have any grounds for contestation, "I'm sorry,"
His landlady gave another chortle and began walking away, "Good night, Kimihiro. Sleep well."
"Good night, and good night to you too, Kohane," Watanuki called out. Kohane turned and smiled, not that it was visible.
As he watched them leave Watanuki decided something. He was going to take tomorrow off, Doumeki could stuff it. Kohane had one more day before she had to go back to school and Watanuki was going to make sure she would enjoy it.
He glanced at his clock. It was two in the morning. The mess could wait; he'd clean up in a few hours. Doumeki would probably show up and eat the muffins, but Watanuki couldn't bring himself to care. At least he wouldn't have to cook breakfast in the morning he thought drowsily as he turned off the light and stumbled into his bedroom.
He eased out of his skinny jeans and then crawled into his bed. He was too tired to change his shirt, if Doumeki wanted to say something about it tomorrow… well… too bad.
Sleep was beckoning him, and Watanuki was all too willing to answer.
Whew. That was pretty long for me, yeah? I hope it was worth the wait. I have no idea if kids get several days off for Setsubun but it makes my life easier if they do. If you sense discrepencies in the amount of time it takes to get from the temple to Doumeki's home, it's because there are discrepencies. Deal with it. I think I gave a good excuse. *pouts* I'm sleepy and tired and have been crazy busy. Ah, life, why do you not slow for fanfiction?