Disclaimer: Do not own xxxHolic.
Wrote this while enjoying the Warabi night air on my balcony with a cup of tea and senbei.
They'd had their regular 'clean out the leftovers' dinner at the end of the week like always, which meant the table had been crowded with little bowls filled with extra rice sprinkled with goma, gyoza sticking together in little clusters, steamed dressed eggplant and spinach, and all the other things that accumulated during the course of the week. Watanuki had left Maru and Moro to do the dishes (with Mokona tactfully being kept busy measuring rice for the cooker so he wouldn't meddle and break something again) and gone out to the backyard to sit and drink tea with the packet of fugashi that Zashiki-warashi had brought over during her last visit.
It was a beautiful night with the district's street lights winking in and out amid the tree branches and the light breeze rustling through the leaves like fingers against a shamisen. He heard the squeak squeak of a bicycle go past and then the muffled ringing of its bell. The steam rising from his tea got snatched up and furled out among the tiny sweet smelling lilac flowers that were blooming near the patio.
Doumeki had helped him plant the tree years and years ago, and just smelling the flowers reminded him. Doumeki had actually carried the young sapling while Watanuki had danced around him wearing oversized gardening gloves and shouting out instructions on turning the tree this way and that for maximum aesthetic value. Doumeki had finally just dumped the sapling in the little hole of dirt and said "Done," and then gone inside for krokke and shredded radish over Watanuki's shrill protests.
Watanuki smiled again and decided he would go in when his tea got cold. As long as Mokona didn't actually try to cook the rice, they would be fine. Mokona was probably the only creature on the earth that could ruin rice with a rice cooker, but that could just have been Watanuki's exacting standards and his relative definition of the term 'ruin.' The twins and Mokona had learned long ago that there was some ideal sticky and moist proportion that no one but Watanuki would ever achieve perfectly.
He sighed and leaned his head back. It had been an exhausting week. He would have almost preferred the petty human troubles and selfish vices, which usually just worked themselves out in the end. No, this had been spirit world troubles, which meant that sometimes even the shop hadn't been powerful enough to protect them. Not that it had ever come to that, but Watanuki was always aware that it could have if he had made one false move. No matter what anyone said, he was never going to meddle in ancient curses again. So he had been quite morally against this one and had to get himself involved, but interfering with curses reminded him of all the bureaucratic paperwork he'd had to do in school for bills, school tuition, and train passes. One paper after another asking for information and signatures and dates. Except multiplied over centuries. And that paperwork hadn't tried to kill him.
There had been layers and layers of it, which would have taken him days anyway without what seemed like every demon in the spirit world looking for a fight showing up on his doorstep and interrupting him. He had just started taking all his meals in the receiving room and sleeping there (really sleeping, not just lounging around with a pipe to put the customers off guard). He hadn't slept much, hadn't felt time pass while he waded through hours and hours of entanglements and subtle traps and sometimes just outright roadblocks. Sometimes it had taken the twins and Mokona at his loudest three times before he could be roused to take a little supper kept warm on a hot plate hours and hours after he should have eaten it.
At least it was finally all over. So while Watanuki had decided he would linger in the backyard only till his tea got cold, he hadn't intended to doze, but it happened anyway.
Watanuki's head shot up, and suddenly there was someone else next to him wearing an old-fashioned yukata and sipping from Watanuki's teacup.
"Mm," Watanuki said and stretched. "Nice to be able to come out of my room and see it."
"Yes, you've been busy this week. I've hardly seen you at all. Except those times you fell asleep on accident."
"During crucial parts of the spellcasting process." There was a reprimanding tone in his voice, but they both knew Watanuki couldn't have stopped to sleep.
"I know. Er, thank you?" Watanuki held up the bag of fugashi. "I'd share but…" He shrugged.
"I think you can." The bag rustled and one of the fugashi disappeared. "The Zashiki-warashi brought it. It's from my world anyway."
"Huh," Watanuki said, watching him eat it. And then, "Himawari-chan's birthday was a few weeks ago. I think I told you."
"Mhm," he said with his mouth full. He'd always been fond of sweets. "You made her the cake she wanted?"
"Yes. She and her children liked it a lot. You remember them?"
"Mm." He handed the empty teacup back.
Watanuki took it back and fidgeted with it, trying to think of something else to say. "I suppose your birthday is next."
Watanuki just got a smile in return and was suddenly struck by the memory of someone else and some other place. He wondered if this was how all the Doumeki lived, starting out brash and bright and then mellowing out softly like ripening fruit when they grew older. "How are things in your world?" he asked.
"You've shaken things up with your curse-lifting, but it's nothing I can't handle."
"Of course not. You're a Doumeki," Watanuki said as if that solved everything then shook his head and wondered if he'd really just said something that inane. God, he was tired.
"Mm. And how are you?" Watanuki felt a hand brush over his forehead and closed his eyes. His mother had done that, and funny, he hadn't thought about her in a long time, and he should have. "You haven't been sleeping. Or eating."
"Yes, well that's what Doumeki are good for," Watanuki muttered. "With their bottomless stomachs."
Watanuki felt rather than heard him laugh. "Still giving you trouble, is he?"
"He's not like you," Watanuki said exasperatedly. "Are you sure you're related?"
"I seem to recall I was a troublemaker at his age too."
Watanuki snorted. "Not this kind of troublemaker, I'm sure."
"Ha. Did you give him the new bow?"
"If by new bow you mean old bow. And yes."
This was your grandfather's, Watanuki had said and taken the old wooden bow out from storage because it was finally time, and he realised he'd waited for this moment for a long time, but now that it was finally here he wished they could have put this off for a few more years at least.
I didn't know he practiced archery too. But he accepted the bow. His fingers looked like they belonged around it.
Oh yes. And smug about it too.
A rumbling laugh. He was not.
Oh yes he was, Watanuki argued, smiling. Now go on, try it out.
But that was a mistake, because the familiar archer's stance had pricked at his throat.
Of course he was a stupid nosy Doumeki and noticed that. Watanuki, are you alright?
Oh yes, Watanuki had said around his choked throat and watched him shoot it for the first time.
"And how is he?"
Watanuki started and then forced himself to relax his shoulders. "Depressingly good at it, of course." He yawned and then yawned again. He felt his jaw crack.
"You should go to sleep. You're not much of a conversationalist like this."
"Mhm," Watanuki trailed off, yawning again. "But I don't want to just-"
"Go on. I'll see you tomorrow." And so Watanuki didn't have time to protest, "Good night, Watanuki."
Watanuki nodded. "Good night Doum-"
"-How many times have I told you to call me by my name?" And he was laughing, actually laughing at him. "My grandson is already Doumeki now." He raised an eyebrow. "And I trust you're watching over him when I can't?"
"He's your family- of course I am," Watanuki replied, a little offended. He would have never let anything happen to anyone in the Doumeki family again. It was just another bottomless debt he willingly paid to this man who had done so much for him. Still did so much for him. "He's growing up. He looks like you a bit now."
"He misses you," Watanuki added without thinking, perhaps because he was just so exhausted all of a sudden and that made him stupid. "I miss you."
A flash of pain went across his face, and Watanuki suddenly felt terrible. "Good night, Watanuki."
The patio was already blurring away, but Watanuki stretched out a hand anyway. "Good night, Shizuka. Say hello to Haruka-san for me."
"I will." And there was a feeling like the press of fingers against Watanuki's hand and a faint touch against the side of his face.
And Watanuki woke up alone on the patio still clutching the teacup in his hand, but it was empty now and there was a piece of fugashi missing from the bag. He put the cup to his lips and tipped it back to catch the last drops lingering near the bottom.
"Watanuki!" Mokona shouted from the kitchen.
Watanuki laughed softly. "Alright, alright." As he was getting up, he felt something tickle against his breastbone like a kiss and found a lilac flower tucked into the inside of his yukata. He put it to his nose as he collected the teapot and thought about springtime and gardening gloves and bicycles and the soft scratchy sound of brooms sweeping up leaves in the temple courtyard after a storm.
"Watanuki!" Mokona shouted again. "I'm going to start the rice cooker!"
"Wait for me," Watanuki said. "I'll be there in a moment." But there was no use, because it was a promise he'd already broken long ago.