Watanuki panted with his efforts to move. Furious tears streaked down his cheeks as he looked almost angrily at her.

"No. nononononononononononononononono" "He almost spat, hands desperate to reach her and pull her down, to yank her from that damned black ooze. He wasn't even fully aware of what he was saying, his mind filled with such a whirlwind of horror and shock and disbelief that there was no room for words.

It was as if everything had been taken from him, starting with his parents. Even his words and movements were gone. The words that had always sprang effortlessly to his lips had abandoned him, leaving only feeble whimpers and cries of "no." He couldn't even flail in desperation and pain, couldn't throw himself forward, reach with those gawkily long arms and stretch those too thin legs to breaking point, and grab her.

She just smiled at him.

He itched with the desire to snatch that smile from her lips, tear away that sadly pitying face and reveal the real Yuuko. Laughing, teasing, raucous and wild. And kind. And wise, so so wise. He had only seen her smile that once, and that was his birthday. That bitter smile, heavy with painful knowledge. There was pity there too now. Not cruel pity, where one looks down on another. But pitying where one's heart aches with the wish to help, but knows there is nothing that can be done.

"Yuuko-san!" his voice is strangled, hoarse with desperation. "Yuuko-san!"

she seemed to slip even farther away.

"Don't leave me!"

only her head and shoulders were left, her arms held out by the ooze in a cruel impression of having them flung open, waiting for him.

"Everything I am, it's because of you!"

Only her head and fingertips remained, that gentle (broken, his mind whispers like cruel caress) smile steady on her lips.

"I love you" He threw his words at her like a stone, wanting her to know everything, hoping beyond hope that his wish may keep her with him. If a wish could keep her anchored there, he would make it. He would serve her for eternity if need be, he couldn't survive without her.

Her smile faltered. Her eyes grew large and round, and he saw, with a savage joy, that she stopped sinking away from him. But she just looked at him, and her eyes were full of sorrow.

"you can."

Even in the midst of this chaos, she could still utterly confuse him. You really had to admire that, or would have to if the situation wasn't so horrifically unfunny that he wanted to scream.

As if seeing the confusion across his face (most likely, when could he ever hide an emotion? Everything was there for the world to see. It was his greatest fault and his greatest virtue) she spoke again.

"You can live without me there, you don't need me anymore."

A defiant and furious denial leapt to his tongue, but died as she spoke again.

"You don't need someone to look after you, you can truly take care of yourself now. I've taught you everything that I can. And you have others there that will take care of you as well, if ever you should falter."

She seemed tired by her words, and slumped, held up only by the hateful ooze. But still, her eyes bored into his, that power and knowledge that always lurked there hidden, now blazing as a fire gives one last gasp of life before collapsing in death. But she roused her strength she always had so much strength, and leant so much to others) and smiled at him again.

"You just want me there, you don't need me"

"NO! I love­ you!" because he did love her. He loved her so much that it hurt. She was his protector, his mentor, his mother. Funny how he only realized how much he loved her, how much he depended on her, right as she was being wrenched away. So funny he wanted to scream with laughter until his throat bled and his eyes could cry no more.

Her smile was tinged with at once utter grief and boundless joy.

"And there are others who love you."

Even as she said it, he could feel arms holding him back, gentle and warm. He hated them, tried to tear them off, but they held onto him with such a fierce strength that he knew they would have drawn blood had this not been (not his time, a voice whispered but he shut it out with the petulance and desperation of a child) a dream. Biting and tearing at them, he reached for Yuuko but she just smiled at him, her face at once shining with maternal love and pride, and yet filled with sorrow and pain.

The arms were pulling him back. Into what he did not know, it felt warm and syrupy and he though he would drown in it. But that would be alright, a small part of his brain said, he'd be with Yuuko and his parents. But then he remembered Himawari's bright smile and Doumeki's intense gaze and faltered. That was all the arms needed, their hands caressing his face like a lover, powerful and calloused, but soft and smooth and gentle.

Come back

Come back to us

A tiny hand slipped inside his, cold and soft as satin. A huge hand enveloped his other, burning with warmth and strength, rough against his skin.

Come back Watanuki

He was at once pushed pulled and he was yanked away, the scene spinning from his gaze. He tried desperately to lock eyes with Yuuko, to try and tell her everything that she was to him, the depth of his love for her; she who had taken him, a tiny broken bird and and cared for him with tenderness and cruelty (but she had always bandaged his wounds, smoothed his hair as he slept) in turns until he could fly on his own. And now she was setting him free, kicking him out of the nest, forcing him to live. She was more than a friend, more than a lover, more than even a mother. The words would not come (how could he describe the feelings even he did not understand?), but he knew (she always knew everything, how could she not know this?) that she knew his feelings better than he did and understood.

She smiled that hateful smile, but her eyes betrayed her as they filled with tears. Of joy, of sadness, of longing, Watanuki couldn't tell. And she spoke again, although her lips did not move and his ears did not hear the words.

Thank you.

And goodbye.

And his heart broke anew as his eyes opened, filed with tears of the greatest loss he had ever known. But he smiled at the faces above him, and gripped their hands a little tighter as he saw how tears fell unashamedly from Himawari's eyes and even Doumeki's eyes were bright.

He looked past them. Kohane. Mugetsu. Tampopo. The Fortune Teller. The Oden Foxes. Zashiki-warashi. Ame-Warashi. And so many more that his throat constricted and his heart swelled around the gaping hole that was Yuuko-san.

He looked at them and remembered everything that he had decided, the people that he wanted to live for.

Watanuki took a deep shuddering breath, Yuuko-san smiling at him behind his closed eyelids. And he wept with wild abandon, reaching out his hand to touch every one of them, desperate for comfort and love that on a normal day he die rather than beg for like this

Tomorrow he would wash the salt from his face, applying ice so that his eyes wouldn't be too puffy. Tomorrow he'd prickle and shout at Doumeki, sigh over Himawari, spoil Kohane and speak easily with the others. Tomorrow he'd gather his strength and keep on living, just like Yuuko-san wanted. Tomorrow he'd be strong and brave and face the future that he knew he'd have to fight tooth and nail for.

But today, right now, he'd be weak. Today was for mourning and crying and having Himawari rub his back while Doumeki held him in his warm embrace, protecting him and enveloping him in fierce and protective love, and the others flitted above him like beautiful birds.

Yes, he though numbly as he clutched at Doumeki's strong back like a drowning man, that's what he would do.