A gift for all seasons.
This is the shop, the shop where Watanuki spends his days slaving away for a demanding and mercurial drunkard, her two soulless, lesser servants, and a cuddly, animated plush toy.
In spring, the sakura trees are in full bloom, clouds of palest pink clinging to their boughs. Breezes make petals fall in showers, lining the cobbled path to the shop entrance, landing cheekily in Yuuko's cup of sake. Watanuki protests loudly as Doumeki plucks a blushing half-blossom from his hair, and Himawari-chan giggles at the sight, mistakenly informing that they must be such good friends.
The first of April rolls around, and with it comes Watanuki's modest birthday bash. They cut a cake for him in the park, and surprisingly, it's not one that he baked himself. Himawari-chan brought it from a store she knows, and tells them as much as she dips a finger delicately into a blob of mint green cream to taste. (Naturally, Watanuki swoons.)
Afterwards, Doumeki hands him a simple package, unceremoniously wrapped in brown paper. Watanuki rails against its presentation even as he undoes the string holding it together, offended at how the very Japanese custom of ostentatiously dressing up gifts appears to have slipped Doumeki by. He reaches inside, fingertips finding purchase in warm, woven fabric, and draws out a scarf, plain and unassuming.
"It's not even cold out," he says, too stunned to imbue his voice with its usual venom.
"So keep it," replies Doumeki, unfazed.
The advent of summer brings heat and hard labour; he sweats over the barbecue, and yells at Doumeki for swiping chunks of yakitori off the grill. At night, they play with senko hanabi on the beach, the three of them together, laughing as they catch the smallest sparks on their fingertips. Watanuki squats by the edge of the water, and marvels with child-like joy at the play of light over the rippling surface. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees something like a smile flicker across Doumeki's face, barely lit by the sputtering glow of the sparkler.
Even over vacation, club activities persist, and every once in a while they show up at school, Himawari exuberant and Watanuki hesitant, a conspicuous audience at the archery dojo. At noon lunch is eaten under the shade of a spreading maple; they seek shelter from the sun there, reclining in a comfortable silence to listen to the drowsy song of the cicadas. For once Doumeki seems thankful for tea and a meal, although he doesn't say a thing. Something about the way he tips his head back, Adam's apple bobbing gratefully, to gulp down his drink, makes Watanuki swallow compulsively. At this point he forcefully steers his thoughts away from Doumeki's larynx to think about more pleasant things, such as the flecks of green in Himawari-chan's irises.
No matter the season, Watanuki receives no respite from his work. In autumn, the leaves make stubborn piles in the courtyard, of deep red and burnished gold. He sweeps meticulously between the cobblestones, and doesn't even notice that he has company until Doumeki bumps into him with a broom. Several applicable insults, like "oaf" and "moron" and "watch where you're going, you jerk!" come to mind, but Watanuki fails to voice any of them. Indeed, he seems to be at a complete loss, and eventually resumes working as though Doumeki's bizarre appearance is routine.
When finally the yard is clear of all debris apart from a tall, poker-faced boy clutching a broom, he turns to Doumeki, sounding more resigned than anything.
"I suppose now you'll want to be fed for pitching in?"
"Hanazushi will do."
Privately, Watanuki does not see the point of making elaborate hanazushi when it's just going to disappear into that bottomless pit Doumeki calls a stomach; the idiot probably doesn't even taste it while it's going down, let alone pause before stuffing his face to admire the work of Watanuki's skilled hands. Knowing Doumeki, he would likely derive the same enjoyment from a bowl of plain rice with all the ingredients stacked on top. He has no reason – none at all - to spend an hour in the kitchen working an intricate design to be displayed proudly on the cut ends of a sushi roll.
Dinner at the shop that night includes hanazushi. Doumeki, showing unusual restraint, regards his serving for a full three seconds before digging in. In an absent sort of way, Watanuki wonders if this is what it feels like to be appreciated.
The new school term starts deep in the middle of winter, when the wind chill glosses his cheeks pink and his ears a sickly blue. The falling temperatures leave their footprints on the window panes, tracing transparent veins of frost, and icicles dribble from the eaves of the roof like long fingers reaching for the hoary ground.
On the last day of winter break, he sips ginger tea at the temple with Doumeki, legs ensconced under a kotatsu. It's warm there; warmer still where Doumeki's hand rests on his knee, a reassuring weight. The steam which rises off the surface of his mug fogs his glasses, and soothes his sore sinuses. Doumeki refills his cup without having to be asked, and eats from the open bentou box on the table without a word of thanks.
That's how things work now, Watanuki supposes. Give and take. (It isn't half as unbearable as he likes to pretend it is.)
The next day, Watanuki rises early to find that his toes, having protruded out from under his blanket for half the night, are nearly frozen solid, and spends several minutes rubbing life back into them. It's frigid outside, as well; he can hear the wind howling through the miserable, damp streets. Better bring hot miso soup in a thermos for lunch, he thinks, boiling the soup stock in a pan. Wouldn't want anyone to be cold.
He packs the food, prepared the previous night, into their bentou boxes automatically, and ties a loose knot at the very top. That will be for Doumeki to carry it; what else is he good for, if not doing the heavy lifting?
Before he leaves the house, Watanuki wraps himself up in a scarf dug out of the bottom drawer of his dresser. And if it has the added bonus of concealing the blush on his cheeks, so much the better.