Because a lot of people in the 104 comm saw the one the cat was waiting for and said, wait, HARUKA-SAN?! Thus arestrange fics born.
Disclaimer: I own nothing
Doumeki shut his textbook, leaned over to turn off the desk light, and wished for the hundredth time that Watanuki would let him stay at the shop in one of the spare rooms Yuuko had never used. Watanuki had refused and snapped at him, afraid to let him come to close, afraid that the shop would swallow him whole. But he would never say that. He had only said that the price was too high, and Doumeki was tempted to ask whose wish it was, and who would have to pay it.
As he stared up at his ceiling, he remembered he would have to pick up radishes and tuna at the market tomorrow, his paper for Japanese history was due in two days, and there was a drip in the shop's kitchen sink that he would have to get around to fixing. He ran his hands over the smooth stones and knocked his feet against the low wall, mildly surprised at the dark blue plastic sandals he was sure he had lost four years ago in the pell-mell after graduation.
Then he blinked. Because he was damn sure he had been lying in his bed in his pajamas with his mathematics book on top of his stomach like a paperweight.
"Good evening, Shizuka." There was a figure sitting beside him on the wall smoking a pipe and smiling at him mildly.
They were both wearing similarly patterned summer yukata. It felt like it was always summer here, in this strange memory-place that looked too much and not enough like the Doumeki family garden in late evening. There was something slightly off about it, as if it had been patched together without hiding the seams; there were small stone paths Doumeki didn't know and bushes he didn't remember. He thought he almost recognised one of the saplings as the huge sakura tree where Watanuki's ghost woman had kept watch over his courtyard until the clack clack of mah-johng tiles had called her away.
"Ojii-san." He was too tall now for his grandfather to rest his hand on top of his head and tell him folktales but Doumeki felt a sudden strong longing for those days now. He realised why his grandfather always talked to Watanuki instead, why it should have been a rule that family ghosts never visited their loved ones in their dreams; it was too painful to sit and talk with his grandfather and know he was long dead and wearing a face Doumeki found both jarringly foreign and uncomfortably familiar.
"How is Watanuki?"
"How does he seem to you?" It came out harsher than he had intended, but no it could not have been jealousy that his grandfather could see Watanuki whenever he wanted.
Haruka frowned. "I don't know. He does not need me to guide him in his dreams now. He has gone to places I cannot reach him. And so I can only ask you."
"He is…different." Doumeki still couldn't get used to Watanuki never changing and growing older at the same time. Sometimes he thought Watanuki looked vastly older than him, centuries older, while at other times he looked so painfully vulnerable and young that Doumeki felt something fierce and protective rise within him. Doumeki wondered how Watanuki would have looked now, more tall and sleek rather than sharp-angled and gangly. Even now Doumeki only ever saw the awkward elbows and jutting hips in Watanuki's casual sleepy elegance.
"I trust you to look after him."
Doumeki knew that. He knew Yuuko had expected him to take care of Watanuki too, which made him so angry sometimes because he felt so utterly useless bussing vegetables and rice back and forth from the market in his school bag. His bow lay abandoned on the shelf above his bed, because there was no need to exorcise spirits now, no need to be woken up by frantic pounding at his door late at night.
Haruka must have seen something in his face, because he took the pipe from his teeth and let the smoke curl out of his mouth in a small stream. "It's a Doumeki man's lot in life to wait, Shizuka. You understand this now."
Doumeki was silent, thinking about Watanuki lounging on the couch with his half-open kimono waiting for him to stop by with groceries or arguing with him with one fingernail tapping against the wine glass or reluctantly cooking him inarizushi with his sleeves delicately rolled up to his elbows. "Even you?"
A tight humourless smile. He looked tired. "I still am."
Doumeki was caught off-guard. It hadn't occurred to him that Haruka was lingering in the in-between worlds for anything other than selfless reasons. Something that was so important that he was willing to wait for it even in death, and it troubled him that his grandfather was not at peace yet though it had been almost eleven years now.
Then he wondered if this had been Yuuko's intent after all and pulled the small egg from the sleeves of his yukata. It did not surprise him that it was there when he needed it, even in a place like this. "Does it have something to do with this?"
His grandfather took it from him and looked at it curiously. "No," he said. "Did that woman give you this?" Doumeki nodded. His grandfather gave the egg back and carefully folded Doumeki's fingers around it. "Take care of these objects, Shizuka. You don't know what emotions are tied to them. Memories…People."
"People," Doumeki repeated, but Haruka had turned away to refill his pipe. He knew his grandfather would eventually tell him why he had brought him here, but Haruka seemed intent on drawing it out. Doumeki was a man of almost bottomless patience, but he was feeling inexplicably restless as if he should have been doing something more than sitting on a wall and staring at the young sapling sakura trees shrouded in the dusk.
Doumeki could tell when they both sensed it. He felt a sudden deep resounding thrum that made the edges of the garden shiver slightly then something that might have been a few twanging notes that disappeared even as he tried to remember them. It felt as if the space around him was vibrating like a drum or a plucked string.
His grandfather's eyes grew wide, and he dropped his pipe. "Tomoko."
And just as suddenly, he was gone. Doumeki saw something for a moment. A bright tasseled length of cord. A twist of long golden hair.
Tomoko. It had been his grandmother's name, a woman he had only ever met through blurry black and white photographs and family stories. According to his grandfather, she had died long before he was born.
Doumeki's eyes went to the empty chair as he came into the shop. The shamisen had been lying there for the past few days like a guest of honour, ensconcing itself if Watanuki's favourite chair like it belonged there.
Watanuki followed Doumeki's gaze as he came in to set out the snacks and wine. "The cat met the one she had been longing for." A small soft smile. His eyes were far off and wistful, and Doumeki wondered what he had seen. "I told the shamisen player I didn't do anything. You found the plectrum. But she paid anyway."
"What was the price?"
"I had her play for me." And Watanuki picked up the tape that had been lying on the side table and reached over to pop it into an old dusty tape player that looked awkward and out of place in the shop.
A pause. Then a sharp melodic sound filled the room, a cascade of slow deliberate notes. Watanuki was listening with his eyes half-lidded and his head to one side. The smoke from his pipe was winding around itself and floating around the table like a circlet. A gentle breeze was blowing in through the open window, carrying the shamisen music out into the freshly swept yard where Maru and Moro were still playing with the storeroom harp and making awful twanging noises.
This. Doumeki could have lived within this moment forever, flash frozen himself like Watanuki and pasted himself into the mellow scent of tobacco, the crisp chill of the courtyard leaves just turning red, and the easy curve of Watanuki's neck under his kimono.
"Doumeki?" Watanuki was looking at him with mild curiosity, and Doumeki realised his arm was outstretched and almost touching Watanuki's blue lotus-print sleeve.
Doumeki shook his head, thinking that there was a reason all Doumeki children grew up so sturdy and strong. He had been raised to bear this. For as long as he had to. He dropped his arm. "See you tomorrow."
That night, Doumeki dreamt of ghostly shamisen music resounding within the hollows of the wish shop and of Watanuki in his long womanish kimono putting his arms around Doumeki's neck and pulling himself up to whisper into the delicate shell of his ear.
"Strike," he should have said, but instead Doumeki heard "Hitsuzen," or "Shizuka," he couldn't tell which because all the sounds were blurring together with the feeling of Watanuki's warm breath ghosting over his face.
He closed his eyes, and then opened them again to the strange not-quite garden where it was always the perfect summer evening. There was something different this time, and Doumeki felt a prickle of presence at his back. He turned around and saw one window in the house was lit up and then heard a tinkling feminine laugh. It sounded familiar, he knew he should have recognised it.
Doumeki looked over and saw his grandfather smiling at him, really smiling in a way he had never seen before. His grandfather had never looked so happy when he was alive.
Haruka nodded. "Good evening, Shizuka."
Doumeki nodded back, still feeling the phantom warmth of Watanuki's hand at the back of his neck. Strike, Watanuki should have said, and one day, Doumeki would. One day he would screw up the courage to reach across the table and rest his hand purposefully on top of Watanuki's in a way that could not be misunderstood. But it was not today. Or tomorrow. Or any day soon. Because he was a Doumeki, and it was his lot in life to wait, wait for a long time, perhaps even till after his death.
When he opened his eyes again, it was to the dark ceiling of his room and the sound of rain against his window.
In the morning, Doumeki fixed his usual tasteless breakfast and got ready for morning classes for the day. He leaned over the sink as he was shaving and stared closely into the mirror, marveling for the first time how strange his eyes were, how small and golden, how like a cat's.