A/N: I wrote this before we knew Yuko's and Watanuki's fate. Interesting how this matched up so well, but not perfectly.

*******

"Don't do anything too naughty while we're away!" Yuko chortled as the last wisps of her inky hair swept into the dimensional portal strung between the door posts leading to the engawa. Mokona's knowing snort was faint – knowing him, he had already reached the other end of the passage without waiting for Yuko.

The portal dissipated with a 'pop' and Watanuki was left with the only the garden to address with a snappy come-back.

He snarled anyway and pulled the white kerchief off of his head in frustration. "You're one to talk! Maybe YOU should try to behave instead of ruining your liver…or MY life!"

He took a deep breath to continue, but after a pause, he just blew it out and sunk to his knees beside a cluttered table. It was hard to get worked up without an audience. He shoved the kerchief into his smock's pocket and looked outside.

Silence, an old companion, settled around him as he watched the sakura petals spiral to the ground. He had long stopped being impressed by the year-round blooms in Yuko's gardens. They never changed.

He began to gather empty sake sets and plates onto his serving tray, clacking the pottery together just for the noise. He wrinkled his nose at the sticky residue on the table and crumbs all over the floor.

"Pigs," he whispered without venom. His lips twisted into a small smile as he ran a moist cloth over the lacquered table top. "Totally out of control. What would they do with out me?"

Or what would he do without them? The peaceful silence in this usually manic space reminded him of his lonely apartment. Since the death of his parents, his life had become very quiet and grey. His interactions with Yuko and that Domeki had brought him noise and colour through annoyance and vigor. He kind of liked it in a masochistic kind of way.

Even so, he knew very well that it might not last. The silence was always waiting around the corner for the least invitation. It always caught him at the end of the day – a constant reminder that he was ultimately alone. How long before it became permanent again? Finding it even here in the foothills of hell just underscored its inevitability.

Balancing the full tray of crockery, he pushed up to his feet and carried his burden into the surprisingly modern kitchen. The dishwasher was soon loaded and the more artistic pottery pieces hand washed, dried, and stored away. As he dried his hands, he realized that an odd part of today's quiet was the lack of any sign of Maru and Moro.

He spread the dishtowel on the counter to dry and padded into the hall to investigate. He pushed open the first half-closed shoji screen he came to and smiled down upon the girls. They were curled up together, ying and yang like, above an ornate Mandela woven into the carpet. Deeply asleep, their little chests moved up and down regularly and they smiled as if having wonderful dreams. The pipe fox spirit nestled between them and if Watanuki strained, he could barely hear it purring.

Yuko had mentioned that the girls were working hard on something and needed lots of rest. Watanuki's expression turned gentle as he closed the paper screens with a soft click. Let them sleep, he was sure they had earned it. Living here 100% of the time had to be exhausting.

He pulled off the white smock, revealing his black and white summer school uniform. Hanging it on its usual hook near the kitchen he looked around the house. What next? Should he stay here and do his homework or go home and do it? Either place was just as quiet. One had silent family pictures, the other silent sleepers. He walked into what he liked to think of as Yuko's throne room and set delicately on the end of her fainting couch to think.

Instead of homework, his thoughts strayed to the future. Would all of this be his one day? He half suspected it would. He also suspected that when that happened, he would be completely alone. Why would he need to take over if Yuko and her attendants were still around? Would he become Yuko in his own way?

He clenched his hands – so the noise and the color were just temporary: A fleeting change to lure him into this bizarre apprenticeship. He needed to not get too attached.

Humans are always alone. He knew that very well.

But still- it was hard not to care about the little family that had grown up around him. Even if for only a short while, he belonged to someone. Someone cared for him and he cared back. Impossible not to get attached. He was going to be hurt – shattered when it all ended.

Perhaps that was part of being human too.

His chuckle surprised him. He was more normal then he had realized. He was willing to risk the pain for just a moment of happiness. Just like the rest of Yuko's customers. Those hopeless fools.

April's fool.

Sitting on the throne in his plain clothing felt wrong. If nothing else, the rough cotton of his trousers caught on the velvet upholstery. He found himself drawn to the room on the opposite wall, the room where Yuko kept her dazzling collection of exotic kimonos and robes. The door was normally kept closed, to hide the clutter and mess, no doubt.

But today, it was open, almost in invitation.

Which Watanuki knew was not a coincidence. Giving up to the inevitable, he left the couch and went into the room. He was right about the mess part. He hated to think of the ruined and wrinkled silks and damasks wadded at his feet. He certainly would not be ironing them!

Other items were more cared for and carefully hung on racks and hooks crowding the large room. Enshrined in the middle was what had to be meant for him, a deep blue and aquamarine Chinese styled smoking jacket displayed prominently on a dressmaker's form. The long silk trailed down to the floor and was embellished with dragons. The cut was slightly more masculine than Watanuki had seen Yuko wear.

This was his future – to become Yuko. It had to be.

Would the loneliness drive him to drink too?

While he worried, his hands began unbuttoning his shirt and pants. Soon all of his mundane clothing joined the other items on the floor and he stood, small, pale and naked before the jacket.

He felt numb- did this mean Yuko was never coming back? Were the girls and the fox spirit already gone? Was he alone again?

He ran a hand over the smooth silk. It would feel cool and slick against his skin. It would make him the prince of this place that didn't quite belong in any world.

Proof perfect that he didn't belong anywhere.

His hand shrank back as he felt noise and irritation surging through his hopelessness. Not again – he didn't want his future to be like his past.

"No! I won't do it! You can't make me!" he shouted to the listening house. "I do have choices!"

Without looking he grabbed another garment off of a rack and shimmied into it instead of the preordained raiment. It was a vermillion yukata made out of densely woven Egyptian cotton – almost like silk in its own way. Embroidered on it were thousands of yellow maples leaves swirling about the hem and sleeve ends. He tied the orange obi around his waist tighter than needed, pushing his posture a little more straight.

He posed in the mirror – thinking the reds made him look feistier than the muted blues. "I'll do this – but on my terms," he told his reflection firmly. "I want Yuko back. I'm not ready to be alone." He felt the house exhale around him.

His reflection stared back at him with flushed cheeks and fly away hair. He could have sworn that it shrugged independently of him, but was distracted by the sounds of his cell phone ringing from his pant's pocket on the floor.

Showing long pale legs, he fumbled around for the phone and flipped it open without looking to see who called. "What?!" he shouted aggrievedly, embarrassed to have been interrupted while trying on Yuko's clothes. What if anyone found out?

"Oi. I liked the blue one better," came a familiar voice shattering the last of the shell of sadness that had been tightening around Watanuki's heart.

"What?" Watanuki screeched. "Can I have no privacy?! What were you thinking of looking in on me with our eye?! Could you not see I was changing my clothes? You pervert, if you are going to insist on peeking at me you can have the damned eye back!"

"The blue matches your eyes," Domeki said calmly.

"Did you not just hear me? One of my eyes is yellow now, thank you very much! I think the red goes better with that eye! It's too bad that both eyes don't match, you bastard!"

"Bastard!" "Bastard!" came two sleepy, but giggling voices from down the hall.

"Don't say that word!" Watanuki shouted towards the hall. "Now look what you've done!" he directed into the phone.

"Me?"

"No! No! No! No!" Watanuki shrieked as the pipe fox streaked into the room and immediately dove into the yukata and slithering around Watanuki's bare skin.

"When do you get off of work and what's for dinner?" Domeki asked as if Watanuki wasn't gasping in outraged laughter. (And as if he wasn't seeing the whole thing.)

"Agh!" Watanuki shouted, stomping out of the dressing room towards the kitchen, pipe fox in one hand and the cell phone in the other. "I can't cook in this! Who knows what Yuko will charge me if I stain it!"

"Then take it off," Domeki suggested.

The scream that resulted made the house flicker out of modern Japan's reality for just an instant. "Will I ever be rid of you?"

Watanuki leaned against the kitchen counter breathing heavily. He had forgotten about Domeki's power to keep his anchored to the world. He would never be free of that jerk.

For now the silence was gone.