Doumeki did it on purpose, Watanuki thought. He didn't know how, he didn't know why, but he knew, he just knew. Doumeki did it on purpose.

And Watanuki didn't know why it bothered him so much. It probably shouldn't have bothered him as much as it did, but Doumeki's inaction riled him up just as much as his actions, he thought as he watched Doumeki sit there. What he did not say bothered Watanuki as much as what he said. He was just sitting there, sake saucer in hand, staring out at the cherry blossoms. Like he was waiting. Well, he probably was - waiting, that is to say. Waiting for Watanuki to get out of his bath. They'd fallen into a routine.

Doumeki would arrive at the shop, the girls and Mokona would let him inside, and he waited with a tray of sake. Sometimes he would have a stack of papers and books; but not often. He rarely ever brought in things from his life outside of the shop. As though he thought it would contaminate something. Like the two worlds needed to be kept separate.

And Watanuki had grown too scared to ask what was going on in the outside world.

But Doumeki's eyes challenged him. His actions too; unlike the papers, he had no qualms about bringing in rain or snow or petals or leaves... But Watanuki was probably just being paranoid. He was obsessively fastidious about cleaning, Doumeki knew that, but Watanuki doubted that he was so devious as to do bring pieces of the outside world into the shop on purpose - maybe. And his words, his words said nothing and everything.

Despite his suspicions, though, Watanuki refused to let Doumeki go. Loyalty, fear, stubbornness. He was hanging on to Doumeki just as much as Doumeki was to him, desperate to keep the connection.

Which was why their relation had not changed in the time since Yuuko's disappearance. Fear constrained them, made them scared to break the calm. It was the little things that Doumeki did that reminded Watanuki of that fear. He couldn't say that their relationship had been wholly unchanged though, that would be like saying that their own selves had stagnated completely.

But Watanuki could see it in Doumeki's eyes, challenging him to change something, do something. In his words and actions, in what he did not say or do. And he did it on purpose. Doumeki was waiting.

Doumeki was always waiting... waiting for him.

--

Watanuki wasn't doing it on purpose. That, Doumeki knew - Watanuki was guileless, to say the least. Even during that incident with the woman who he was teaching how to cook. Especially what he'd said at the end, that Yuuko would have found a better way. It wasn't true. Yuuko could have done it, yes, but Watanuki's way was just as good; perhaps better.

More than that, though, he hardly ever knew what he was doing in the best of times. He was as blind to himself as he was to everything around him.

Every day, when Doumeki arrived at the shop, he would ask Mokona how Watanuki was.

Every day, it was the same answer.

Some days it seemed like Watanuki may have realized. But Doumeki was running out of time.

So he left clues. He would bring peonies and plum blossoms, forget to bring an umbrella to work in the summer, and in the winter, would trail in bits of yellow and orange and red leaves in the fall. But it seemed that nothing he did caught Watanuki's attention. He was running out of time.

Doumeki was ever frustrated by how obtuse Watanuki was being. But he also knew that Watanuki was not doing it to force him to action. No, he probably hadn't even sensed that anything was wrong. Doumeki knew that Watanuki was one to take things for granted, at least until he realized that he was losing whatever it was - except that too often he realized too late.

As much as he felt for Watanuki, as much as he wished to protect him, coddle him, or... but that wouldn't work. Not for him, not for Watanuki, and certainly not for anyone else. Because even though love was patient and kind, sacrificing and humble, not rude or selfish... there were times when it hurt.

But Doumeki chose to believe in those three words, faith, hope and love. He would endure.

Time, for Watanuki, had stopped - but not for Doumeki.

~終わり