Title: Dreamday and Flutterby
Author: Thimble
Series: xxxHolic
Characters/Pairings: Doumeki Haruka, Story Ghost, the Zashiki-warashi, the Ame-warashi, Watanuki Kimihiro, the Fox Cub
Rating: G, with some very mild bad language
Author Notes/Warnings: Bouncing-gently-off-the-wall character interpretations, a timey-wimey ball, and references events up to about Book 10 or 11, maybe? Originally written for Round 5 of the Dimension Shop fic exchange.

Summary: A day of the life of Doumeki Haruka.

Dreamday and Flutterby

"That woman looks like a ghost," Haruka said to himself as he stood at the crosswalk, holding his umbrella against brief, bitter spatters of rain.

Between one blink and another she was standing beside him, drab and grey and ragged. She lifted her drooping head and looked at him with blank eyes through rough straggling hair. "How did you know?"

Her voice was hoarse and very faint. A smoker's voice perhaps, or a whisky drinker's. Haruka thought he might sound like that, were he not a youth. He smiled, retrieving a cigarette pack from his heavy priestly robes and shaking a cigarette out of it one-handed. "Perhaps I only dreamed it." He lit the cigarette with a silver zippo lighter and breathed a trail of smoke into the cold, damp air.

"Smartarse," the ghost muttered faintly.

He smiled again, a sidewise smile, with his eyes and the corner of his mouth. "Can I perhaps be of assistance?"

The ghost's head drooped down again. "Dunno," she muttered. "Don't remember."

Haruka held his umbrella over her head as the rain started again. "Then walk with me, lady, if it pleases you. Perhaps it will come to you."

So they continued on his errand, to the sounds of his clacking wooden sandals, the tapping of rain, and the rattle of leaves swirled by the wind and stopped at a grand and derelict mansion that used to be owned by a magician. He slipped through the grounds, past mudspattered yellow bulldozers covered with crows and picked the lock on the great front doors. The ghost watched dully as Haruka talked with the resident zashiki-warashi, a youth in a round cap with a tassel, and gave directions to a pure mountain on which to live, once the house had been destroyed.

The good-luck spirit trotted nervously down the path to the front gate and shied back from the traffic on the street, biting fingers and blushing as the crows wheeled anxiously overhead. The cold miserable rain increased and the zashiki-warashi's head tilted upwards, eyes closed, as if the rain were a blessing from heaven, which it was.

Haruka spied a patch of brilliant colour in the leaden sky and watched from the door as a powder-blue lace-edged parasol tumbled about in the air. The parasol stopped suddenly and gently fell straight down, ignoring the wind. And now there was a girl, an ame-warashi rain spirit, standing on the gatepost in a lacy dress to match her parasol, red-haired with a crumpled grumpy face.

She said something sharp to the zashiki-warashi, who responded almost inaudibly. They talked back and forth a little, and then the zashiki-warashi reached out one hesitant hand which was taken just as hesitantly, and they walked together across the street, surrounded by crows and rain-drops and broken motorcars that had been stalled by swift blows of a lace-edged parasol.

Haruka watched thoughtfully as they went. "That looks to be the beginning of a relationship best described as 'interesting'," he murmured. His eyes flicked to the ghost beside him, and he offered her his cigarette.

"This tastes terrible."

He smiled sidewise. "Sorry."

But she seemed a little brighter from his borrowed breath, stood a little straighter, and it was both easier and less messy than offering blood so he lit another cigarette and stood in companionable silence on the dead magician's porch as the clouds cleared from a steady wind and the sun walked across the sky.

"Have we met?" said the ghost, presently.

Haruka ran his thumb over the elegant rakish butterfly engraved in the side of the lighter and said nothing.

"You are an annoying person," the ghost said, tossing her head. She ground out the cigarette butt under the heel of her boot, and wandered back into the decaying mansion as Haruka walked on.

**

He stopped in a park at a place where four concrete animals arched their long backs to make seats for visitors. An old man in a beautifully tended suit was sitting on a silent tiger-cat with one of his legs laid out straight, holding a lacquered cane. He was very tall and very thin, sharp-cornered and still, as if he balanced daily and calmly on the edge of a razor until the thought of falling no longer even occurred to him, though he tapped his cane on the ground with a certain amount of absent-minded irritation.

"I'm waiting for my friend," he explained. "He's late. He does these things to torment me, you know."

They shared the old man's lunch.

"Thank you, grandfather," said Haruka respectfully.

The old man looked at him from under lowered eyelids, his mismatched eyes oddly sly. "It's nice to call and be called by our names," he said. "Isn't that right, Doumeki Haruka-kun?"

"You know my name," said Haruka, smiling.

"My friends call me Kimihiro."

"Then thank you for the rice-balls, Kimihiro-san."

The old man smiled like flowers opening in the spring. "Be careful on the road," he said.

**

It rained again that afternoon, half-rain, with the sun shining through the falling water. Haruka splashed through rank puddles in a narrow alley and shifted a stack of dislodged boxes. A very small foxcub squeaked in fear and defiance at him from underneath. He reached in carefully and stopped when the the cub bit his hand, drawing blood.

"I'm sorry," he said, and then reached for the scruff and pulled the little beast out. It waved its legs frantically as he tucked it securely into his robes, and scratched him while he walked to a patch of green around a gushing outlet pipe. He released it onto the tangled wild grass and it scurried frantically to a rise and looked at him over its shoulder.

"Thank you, grandfather," it said very clearly, as if it were a creature from a story, or a dream.

Haruka walked on, rubbing the back of his head and smiling.

He stopped again at a crosswalk, where a car and the family inside it had suffered a terrible accident. The son of the family, a small child, had been thrown clear but the parents were trapped by their seatbelts, hanging upside down with strands of their hair dangling down and swaying from their movement. He seized the boy by the arm and prevented him from running back to the car. The child glared at him with hatred in his dark blue eyes as the car lit on fire. "I'm sorry," he said, and blocked the boy's ears as best he could.

**

"One of us is dreaming and one of us is dead, isn't that right?" said the ghost as she leaned against the door of the mansion, arms crossed.

He smiled, looking up into sun-tinted clouds. The smell of rain on stone and wet grass mixed with his smoke. "We will meet here, long ago, or have met. Are meeting. You will be angry with a friend who had been dying, and I am a young priest who knew nothing. And we share a cigarette and argue about sake. A good place to mark the end of a relationship best described as 'interesting'."

"Fool," the ghost said.

Haruka nodded his head meekly, but could not hide his smile.

"I am surrounded by grinning idiots," she muttered. Then, "Kiss me?"

He shook his head, but let her wrap herself over him and rubbed small circles over her narrow spine and sharp shoulder-blades, making little shh-shh noises as she shook and cried. "I'm sorry," he whispered.

And then Haruka was alone, walking down the road into the warm glow of a sinking sun. The light was beautiful.

Owari