A/N: This is my way of coping with the ending of this series, and coping with the feeling that I've lost a dear friend. I feel almost silly for saying this because he is a fictional character, but I learned a lot from Doumeki Shizuka . . . I will miss him. I will miss this whole series greatly. Thankfully, writing this seemed to help.
What I Am
I was born on the day of my great-grandfather's funeral, I'm told.
People said that's why I was named for him. Nobody ever said that's why my grandmother didn't like me. In fact, my grandmother was a complicated woman and there were a multitude of reasons for her dislike, some of which I was still figuring out well into adulthood. But I was certain that being born that day was a large part of it. It doesn't help that I looked and acted eerily like him, or so my mother told me. I always suspected that she meant more by that than what the words implied. But that's getting ahead of the story.
There was an argument the day Dad took me to the shop for the first time. I was five. My grandmother was living with us, and that day, she was saying something that I didn't understand but that I knew was cruel. It made my mother angry, and that's when I began to realize just how important Watanuki was to my family. I called him Watanuki because that's what everybody else called him . . . That's getting ahead of things again.
My grandmother's distant dislike of me was nothing compared to the sheer loathing she had for him. I had already been told a few stories—there was a wizard who lived in a shop of magic that we were friends with. At this time, I simply thought of him as a story. But when I realized she was talking about this legendary figure with such disgust, I asked her why she hated him.
It took me years to figure out what she meant when she answered me. Her father, my ancestor Doumeki Shizuka, had taken her along on many of his visits to Watanuki's shop when she was young. She had never been able to understand why her father always came home late and why she had ever been introduced to the wizard. But the summer she turned fifteen, she "realized something" about the two men that made her "unable to look at her father the same way" afterward. She had "passed the responsibility" to my father as soon as he was old enough, and had never gone back.
I tried to ask what she meant, but she only said bitterly that the wizard had come between her father and her mother. That was when my mother told her to shut up. I was shocked. No one ever spoke so disrespectfully in my home, especially not to a venerable woman like my grandmother. My mother yelled that I was five years old and I didn't need to hear about such things. And that furthermore, my great-grandmother had been an amazing person who was capable of making her own decisions and didn't need an ungrateful daughter like my grandmother cheapening what she had made of her life.
I knew little about my great-grandmother at the time. I knew her name was Kohane and that she and my mother had been very close and it was their friendship that had made my mother and father get married. I was worried about the course of this argument. My father, a mild-mannered man who liked to keep people happy, managed to get in between his mother and his wife at this point, and they went off in opposite directions in a huff.
Left standing in the middle of the room, slightly shocked, I thought to ask,
"Dad? Why did Grandma have to visit that man if she didn't like him?"
My father took a while to answer. He'd made his own share of visits to the shop, but more often he allowed my mother to be the one to go. They had never told me why they went so often—once or twice a week.
"He has a magic spell on him," my father explained carefully, "that keeps him stuck inside his magic shop. He can't leave it at all. So your mother and I have to visit to bring him groceries and see if he needs anything."
Something about this scenario struck me very strongly. I was an only child, and my parents were the youngest members of my family. Even at five, I understood loneliness.
"Dad?" I whispered it, because I was so overwhelmed. "Does that wizard have other friends to visit him?"
"He has clients who need his magic," my father shrugged.
I didn't make any kind of clear decision. I didn't think about it at all, I couldn't have. I was five. The words just tumbled out of my mouth.
"I want to go there now."
"Right now?" my father asked, raising his eyebrows.
"I don't know," I said, too stubborn to cry. "I just want to."
It makes perfect sense that I couldn't explain what I was thinking. Because the thoughts were well beyond my years and my ability to articulate . . . Ah, but one thing at a time.
I would hear of nothing else. I would go to that shop and I would meet the wizard. I was unable to define my need to be in his presence, but my young self did at least feel excitement, as well. I'd heard folktales before. But I was going to meet a man around whom such tales came to life. My grandmother followed me and my father to the door, berating him for taking me, but we went anyway.
My father opened the gate and let us inside, and my eyes saw nothing of the shop itself or the yard around it. They were drawn immediately to the porch.
My first sight of Watanuki was a sight oft repeated: a robed figure reclining with a plume of smoke curling around his tilted-back head. I dragged my father over.
"Yoshi," the man said in a lazy way. "I wasn't expecting you."
He shrugged. "My son wished to come."
"Ah," the man said, looking down at me and smiling a half-smile. "Did you ever tell me his name?"
"I didn't," my father said, sounding nervous.
He had known my great-grandfather, hadn't he? "I'm named Doumeki Shizuka."
"Are you?" he said, and the half-smile became a strange and twisted smirk directed at my father.
My father shrugged again, and conveyed the fact that I had been born on the day of great-grandfather's funeral. "It was Kimiko's idea," he finished. My mother.
Something laughed in his eyes, even though my father's nervousness seemed to indicate that he should be angry. "I take it she and your mother still don't get along?"
My father's eyes flickered to me. This was yet another thing that took me a long time to understand.
"She was such a bright little girl," the man muttered, pulling a drag of his pipe. "I still have no idea what I did to make her hate me, but it's truly unforgivable if she takes it out on a child."
He turned to me then. "Do you know what my name is?" the wizard asked me.
I was a little in awe of him at this point, and so I couldn't answer.
"It's Watanuki Kimihiro," he said, and his smile to me was warm. He always had a soft spot for children.
"Do you really do magic?" I asked him, feeling better now that he was smiling at me.
"When the need arises," he drawled, and puffed a curl of smoke into the sky. "Is that why you wanted to visit me today? To ask me about magic?"
I shook my head, and I plopped myself down beside him on the porch. "Dad says you can't leave your shop."
"That's true," he said calmly.
"I thought you would be lonely. So I came."
Even I knew it was strange that I was so matter-of-fact about this. But then, I was that way about everything, even as such a young boy. I drew up my legs, planted my elbows on them, and rested my face in my hands, prepared to spend the rest of the day sitting here.
Watanuki looked genuinely startled, and the look he gave my father actually seemed almost frightened. I heard him tell my mother later that he'd never seen the wizard "lose his composure like that," and I filed it away in my brain as yet another thing to understand when I was older.
"It's too bad Mokona isn't here anymore," he muttered. "He'd have known how to entertain a child."
"I remember my mother telling me you had some kind of magical creature that lived here," my father said. "It's gone?"
"The two Mokonas missed each other a great deal. I sent Larg away to be with Soel."
"Where are they now?"
"Still traveling. They say it's only been ten years for them. And last time, they were able to stay in Clow Country for a long time. Things are changing . . ." He stopped talking of his own accord, and smiled at me again. "You must be bored. Would you like to see my house?" he offered politely.
"In a while," I said, trying to relax beside him and look as cool as he did. I lacked the ability to smoke a pipe in such a graceful way—even lacked a pipe—and I was five, so the attempt did not work particularly well.
"You live in a temple, don't you?"
"Yeah," I agreed, turning my face his direction. "I have to sweep the yard every day, but I don't mind because I like being outside . . ."
I was ten when my purifying abilities revealed themselves.
I had long since made the habit of going to the shop after school and staying for an hour or two. Watanuki behaved like an indulgent uncle, making me an after-school snack, asking me about my day, telling me folk tales and explaining all of his customers' problems and their magical solutions. We would sit on the porch together until my mother arrived to take me home, usually carrying groceries or something that Watanuki had requested. If he was distracted by a customer, he would send me off to play in the yard with the two creatures Maru and Moro. They were certainly entertaining, but they bothered me in a way I couldn't define.
I felt no qualms about wandering all over the shop without asking permission. There was a spare room, with a bed that was made up as if waiting for someone to sleep in it. I always wanted to ask who it was for, but something held my tongue. It seemed like a stupid question. I knew the room couldn't possibly be mine, but I would catch myself thinking it should be. It made no sense, so I never spoke of it.
One day, a woman came in complaining that she was plagued by a spirit. Watanuki agreed with her and immediately began talking about how to dispel the spirit. Intrigued, I wandered close, thinking I would be able to see it. I couldn't see a thing. But when I started to turn away, the woman reached out to put her hand on my head, declaring that I was an adorable child.
Both the woman and Watanuki became wide-eyed and stared at me.
"The spirit, the spirit disappeared just now, when I touched him."
It made Watanuki smile, even though the woman was frightened and I was confused. "I thought it was just your looks," he said to me, which didn't clear up anything.
He said later, after the woman was gone, that I had inherited my great-grandfather's abilities to dispel bad spirits, as well as his looks and his attitude. When my mother arrived to pick me up, Watanuki asked her if we had any of great-grandfather's things. My mother mentioned a box, and Watanuki told her she must give it to me.
There were a few boring things in there, but there were two things I was drawn to. A wooden ring, and an egg. The egg I was suspicious of, and sniffed at, but it didn't smell like it had gone bad, no matter how long it had been in the box. I didn't understand what it was doing there, but even less did I understand why I slipped it into my pocket and told no one that I had it. I took the ring with me the next day, though, and asked Watanuki if he knew what it was.
He told me it had been a birthday gift, and that I was certainly meant to have it. He said he hoped I had an interest in archery. I had never had one in the past, but once the thought was planted in my brain, it refused to be uprooted. I would not rest until my parents had found a class I could take. I think my father was the only one who was surprised at how quickly I took to it.
It was on my seventeenth birthday that I began to understand my grandmother's hatred.
She was already dead by this point, and I never got a chance to hear her explanation. But it made it easier for me to honour her memory when I realized that the reason she felt that way was because of how much she had loved her father. Her loyalty to him had caused her to despise Watanuki, and I finally began to see why this was so. It also started me on the path to understanding her bitter disappointment in my birth, my name, and the fact that I was good at soccer and Japanese archery.
I brought a piece of my birthday cake to the shop. Watanuki seemed surprised to see me and asked why on earth I was wasting my birthday with him. I don't think I actually answered him. I just gave him the cake. I didn't want to eat it because by now I had trouble eating my mother's cooking. I was becoming far too used to Watanuki's snacks, since I still came nearly every day and studied while he cooked for me. I supposed a hundred years of practice had given him the edge on my mother, as far as cooking skills went.
I never mentioned that sometimes, I felt like I remembered his cooking. Even when he made me something I'd never tried before. It was familiar, the way the shop was familiar. At least as familiar to me as my own home at the temple, which was guarded by wards he'd made for us.
"I don't remember. How old are you, Shizuka-kun?"
He lifted his eyebrows, and put on that smirk that I had come to hate by this point. Something in that smirk was false and lying and I had no idea why it angered me that he might lie to me. Why should an immortal, powerful wizard be required to answer honestly to a teenaged brat who constantly pestered him without invitation?
"We're the same age, now," he said.
It had not escaped me that he seemed awfully youthful. I had always assumed it had something to do with being a wizard. But to hear him apply an age to himself made me wonder. Obviously, there was something large and complicated behind his existence and my own family's role in it. But this was truly the first time I had seriously contemplated it. I felt a need to know, and at the same time a desperate desire not to.
"So you've lived here since you were seventeen?"
I had never asked this question before. And I immediately wished I hadn't. Because that was a frustrating, nagging feeling that I already knew the answer. And another, equally annoying feeling that it was out of my character to ask such a thing.
"I'm waiting for someone," he said quietly. He didn't explain anything more, not that night, even though he did tell me later. That night, he simply lounged back on the porch and smoked. There was something disturbing about it, this time. His behaviour toward me changed that night. Up till this point, anything odd he did could be chalked up to his wizardly eccentricities. But there was no reason for the strange way he eyed me that night, the way his posture shifted into something different.
It was when I got home that night that I finally realized how seductive it had seemed. That was so far from the way he'd behaved toward me before that I had a hard time figuring out that's what it was. But I wasn't as disturbed as I should have been. Not disturbed at all, to be honest. It just seemed amusing. Or it did until I began figuring out why my grandmother thought he'd come between her parents.
Things were beginning to make more sense than I really was ready for them to. I knew by now that my great-grandfather had come to the shop every day, for years, all throughout my grandmother's childhood. Whatever had set off her hatred when she was fifteen, it was the reason he had stopped going. But something inside me told me that it was Watanuki's decision. He had told great-grandfather not to return. I don't know what she saw. It might have been something as simple as Watanuki's tendency to bare his leg and lower his eyelids, which he began to do to me. But maybe what she saw was the weariness her father began to feel about his double life. Maybe once Watanuki saw it, he did the selfless thing and allowed the man to go live out his life with his family while he subjected himself to the less-than-tender ministrations of my grandmother. I heard that she made my father start doing Watanuki's grocery shopping when he was only thirteen, and she never returned.
My great-grandfather must have been so torn . . . And Watanuki had been alone until an argument when I was five years old had led me to him.
I never really cried as a child. But I cried myself to sleep on my seventeenth birthday.
I was twenty when I truly realized that my life was not entirely my own.
I chose a school that was a four-hour drive from the city, so for two years, I only returned on holidays. I knew my mother had resumed going to the shop, still driven by whatever she'd learned from my great-grandmother so many years ago. But every time I returned, he'd become a little more distant and a little less happy to see me.
He was preparing himself for the day I stopped coming back.
But somehow, my business major turned into an intense pursuit of a degree in folklore and history. I'd never had much use for my gift, but even the knowledge that I could repel evil spirits provided me with a link to a world that was hidden to most people. I began to believe I would only be squandering that if I ignored it and chased after a normal life.
I returned to the city and finished out my studies there. I took up a post as an associate professor. I had known that my great-grandfather had been a teacher, but I didn't know until I took the job and talked to the head of the department that I was actually following directly in his footsteps. Or perhaps I had known that without being told. There could only be one reason that this path felt so familiar and so right for me. A reason I had not yet fully come to terms with.
Several more years passed before I finally accepted who I was. A professor of folklore, living close enough to resume visiting the shop on a daily basis. Hearing at last the truth behind the mysterious existence of the wizard they called Watanuki. I started to sleep in that bed if I stayed there too late talking and drinking, and that was when he stopped guarding his words and I learned just what had occurred when he and my great-grandfather had been teenagers. I learned the truth about the woman he waited for. I learned what the Mokonas were, as well, and where they were. I learned everything, except the entire story gave me that vague feeling of having heard it before and so maybe it wasn't learning. Maybe it was nothing but a reminder. I'm not sure if he knew that by then.
I am twenty-nine now.
He's been telling me for weeks about the butterfly in his dream. I have a great deal of faith in his magical ability. The longer he's gone without being able to catch this butterfly, the more uneasy I've become.
He just told me he caught it.
He is requesting whiskey. Sounds great to me.
But as soon as I am far enough away, I pull out the egg, and feel a burning desire to use it. I have taken to carrying it with me, almost as though it were a talisman. It is my link to my past, a past I have never experienced and yet see when I close my eyes. He never even know about the egg, so there is only one way that I could know its purpose. The knowledge seems like it has always been with me. I don't remember any epiphany about it.
I want to use it. But I put it away, instead. I have more thinking to do. I cast a look back over my shoulder and see him there, and he looks younger than I do these days. He looks the same as the day I met him. Reclining on the porch with the pipe she gave him, surrounded by smoke, somehow looking elegant. Frozen. A sculpture in ice that will never change . . . Maybe it just can't change, anymore.
I never thought I would break the taboo. But I am doing it right now, and I can't stop myself.
I turn back to him and stand there looking down on him, and he's looking up at me, and he seems frightened of me.
"What is it, Doumeki?"
"You used to call me Shizuka."
"You were a child, then."
That isn't the reason he changed my name. He's a hundred years old, he can call me anything he likes. This one just comes to him more easily when he looks at me.
"Didn't you ever regret it at all?" It's like I'm five years old again. I have to whisper the question.
His face breaks, and he is turning away from me to hide what I have done.
"Of course I did," he mutters.
It was very quiet. I could pretend I didn't hear it. But it's been a hundred years, and he is tired. He speaks to me more openly than he ever did to my great-grandfather, but it's only because he knows viscerally what neither of us has acknowledged yet. Knows what I am. A second chance.
"You're only just now saying so?"
He can't look at me. "I learned to regret it far too late for it to matter. He had two children when I finally saw it."
"So you sent him away."
"He had a family. His daughter . . . It was the excuse I needed."
"What about now?"
"Now you'll keep waiting for her even though he and his daughter have died and there's no reason."
He finally turns back to me, and I am shocked to see tears in his eyes, glittering on the glass in his spectacles.
"I'm old, Doumeki," he says simply, and turns away again.
He hasn't left this shop in over a hundred years. The world has changed in countless ways, and he wouldn't even know that it had happened if I hadn't been here to tell him. Waiting here for her is the only left to him, the only thing that makes sense, the only thing that hasn't changed . . . Except, that isn't true. There's one other thing. One thing that has never and will never change.
I made him flinch. "Yes."
It was that question I had decided to never ask. The answer would inevitably hurt, I'd always known that . . . No, it wasn't me that had known that, not at first.
"What is there for me?" he asks softly. "Learning to navigate a foreign land may interest Syaoran, but he has companions. I'm not truly him, and I'm certainly not interested in doing it alone."
He finally steals a glance at me. "You're a great kid, Shizuka, but—"
"Don't call me that."
He keeps looking off at the sky. His face is too shattered to put back together, now, so he just won't look at me.
"You're not him."
"I know your name."
"I never told . . . Syaoran did, didn't he?"
"Come with me." I didn't mean to say that. There's a part of me that's only a memory that never would say it, and a part of me that's just me that can see past all of that to know how desperately it needs to be said. I am taking his hand and bringing him to his feet, and he is suddenly clumsy with shock. I grab his shoulders, and his face is heartbreakingly beautiful, isn't it? How have I looked at him for twenty-four years without seeing that? "You can leave now, and I'll be with you. You know I will. I always was. I always will be."
"Where would we even go?"
"First, to find your other self. Let's find Syaoran and tell him that he can go home. It's only been fifteen years for him. He can still go home to her."
"All the time wasted . . ."
"It doesn't matter." I lean forward, until I feel my nose and my lips brushing against the skin of his neck and making him shudder. I put my mouth so close to his ear that I could nibble on that perfect earlobe, but instead I whisper to him. "Come with me, Tsubasa."
His knees give out, but I won't let him fall.
"Shizuka . . ." My name is not the same when he says it that way.
"Come with me."
"Yes. Yes, this time I will."
We know that when we latch the gate, the store will disappear, and I know that seeing it happen would tear him apart. So I just throw the useless egg back into the yard over my shoulder, and I make sure that we don't look back.