They walked to the university as usual in the morning, and Watanuki felt slightly lonely; he had never really registered the persistent murmuring of voices in his ears till they stopped. It made him feel like he had gone deaf. A woman on her bicycle passed them, and Watanuki tried to see the layers and layers of future around her, who she was and who she could be. Instead, all he saw was that the strap of her messenger bag was almost worn through, and she was wearing two different coloured socks.

They passed the telephone pole on the way to the station, and Watanuki saw Doumeki glance at it for a moment. "It's just a telephone pole now," Watanuki said. He shrugged. "Ah well. I suppose we have to take the train to the temple like everyone else now."

"Like everyone else," Doumeki echoed.

Watanuki felt the pipe fox stir around his neck and let it sleep.

They swiped their train passes at the station gates (Watanuki too, because he was an honest person, even if he was invisible), and Watanuki's shamisen case got caught in the turnstile. They barely made it to the platform on time, the last strains of the boarding music ringing in their ears as they slipped through the slowly closing doors onto the train.

"It's weird," Watanuki replied as they found a few seats next to a business man sleeping with his arms folded over his chest. "I thought it would feel different."

"Give it time," Doumeki replied. Watanuki nodded and stared down at the bento boxes in his lap. There were only two now with Kohane taking the semester off to do research for her thesis in Kanegawa. At least, that was the story she was sticking with.

They sat in silence for a few minutes. The businessman beside them woke himself up a few moments before his stop and flew out of the doors with his briefcase. He was soon replaced by another almost identical-looking businessman who also promptly fell asleep soon after sitting down.

Watanuki watched him with some amusement. "We should call Kohane-chan in the evening," he said thoughtfully. "She can probably feel some of the ripple effects of this. She ought to know."

The gentle electronic voice on the speakers announced the next stop, and the train began to slow down. He and Doumeki rose and began to collect their things.

"We are so very late," Watanuki said, checking his watch. "Never again on a weekday morning, understand?"

Doumeki hmmed non-committally. Watanuki smacked his good arm and sprinted out the doors.

"Where are you going with that shamisen, anyway?" Doumeki asked as they sped through the hallway to his classroom. The hallway was almost empty, except for a few stragglers.

"Thought I would practice in the courtyard," Watanuki said breathlessly. "The library is supposed to have some new music in."

"Hn," Doumeki managed. They winged into Doumeki's classroom a few second before the class was supposed to start. All of the students were already there, and Watanuki cursed science majors for being so punctual and eager to learn. What the hell was wrong with them?

"We'll have lunch outside, have a good day," Watanuki gasped out and leaned up to peck Doumeki on the cheek. He turned back around.

All the students were staring.

Watanuki froze. He stepped away from Doumeki and walked a few steps sideways. The students' heads turned to follow him. He hesitated and then looked over to Doumeki, who was looking at him suspiciously. Watanuki walked slowly to the door and opened it just as a student was walking past.

"Er, hello," Watanuki said.

She looked surprised. "Hello," she replied.

"Oh my god," Watanuki shouted and slammed the door shut again. Now Doumeki's students were definitely staring at him. Doumeki was staring at him.

Watanuki stared back, experimentally tipped up his shamisen, unzipped the case, and twanged out a few notes, then a long rippling chord. There was a silence, and then one or two of the students clapped appreciatively. Watanuki opened his mouth and then closed it. "Excuse me," he said in a strange voice. "But are all of you able to see me-"

"Kimihiro," Doumeki hissed, but he looked dumbstruck too. He walked over to grab Watanuki's sleeve, and Watanuki leaned towards him unconsciously. "You think it was Yuuko?" Doumeki asked under his breath, still eyeing his students.

"Must have been," Watanuki whispered back. "She's the only one that could have. One world or the other, she said. I didn't think…I didn't think she meant…" The enormity of it hit him all at once, and he felt a wide silly grin break across his face. "They can see me. People can see me."

Doumeki grinned back at him, that impossibly rare wide smile that even Watanuki had only ever seen once in his life one cold windy day when a bunch of leeks had fallen onto the cutting board.

"Doumeki-sensei," one of the students piped up. "Has class started?"

"Eh?" Watanuki said awkwardly –god, he couldn't believe he was still awkward around people after all these years, but he had only ever interacted with Doumeki on a regular basis, and Doumeki wasn't people – and turned to Doumeki's students. "Oh, er, sorry for disturbing your class. I'm…well, I'm…er-"

"This is my husband, Watanuki Kimihiro," Doumeki interrupted.

Some of the girls squeaked. Watanuki gaped at him, because Doumeki had gone crazy. "Husband?" he whispered over frantically.

"I spoke to my mother on the phone while you were in the shower, and she wants you on the family registry," Doumeki muttered back. "Now shut up—he's visiting the university with me," he continued in a louder voice. "For a shamisen demonstration for the folklore department."

"What," Watanuki said flatly and then caught himself. "Er, yes." He jerked his head towards the door. Doumeki's students followed his movements like he was some kind of fascinating new chemical structure. "So er, I should go now."

"See you later," Doumeki replied. His eyes were warm.

"Bye," Watanuki managed and got the hell out of there before he did anything stupid like shout things at the top of his lungs or kiss Doumeki in front of all of his students. And really, husband? That had easily been the worst marriage proposal Watanuki had ever heard, except for the part where it was exactly the kind of thing he had expected from Doumeki. By the way, Doumeki would have said, I found an extra sock in the laundry, I'll be home late, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Make me niku dofu. Probably in that order. None of that explained why he couldn't will his face to revert to anything other than tomato red.

"Idiot," Watanuki mumbled and sat down to pluck out some notes on the shamisen. Akane wanted him to be on the family registry. He would have a family. If he wanted, he could be... "Doumeki Kimihiro," Watanuki said out loud and then laughed so hard that he almost broke one of the strings. No, that was just strange- no matter how much he loved Doumeki, that was definitely never happening. Watanuki plucked the strings again and hummed under his breath. The sun felt good on the back of his neck.

Ironically, someone in the folklore department heard him playing in the courtyard a few hours later and invited him to give a demonstration for the students that afternoon. At this point, Watanuki just accepted there was no such thing as coincidence and took what he could get. He knew everyone in the folklore department anyway, and he didn't think walking around the engineering department would be the wisest thing to do at the moment.

It didn't matter. The rumours started anyway, because this particular one was too juicy to be kept a secret. Watanuki should have known that all the gossips he had known in high school had never really gone away—they had just grown up and gone to graduate school.

Professor Doumeki, everyone said, had a husband. He had a husband who was handsome and slightly strange and played the shamisen and made him smile. He had a husband who held hands with him at the grocery store and clandestinely bought him milk tea and crowed, "Ha ha!" at all the young female check-out clerks. He lived with Doumeki in a little house with 'Doumeki, Shizuka & Kimihiro' on the plate next to the buzzer, and the postman sometimes thought he was married to one of the temple shrine maidens, which became a long standing joke between them. He was friends with all of the students and invited them over for dinner sometimes and made the most wonderful food they had ever tasted. He teased Doumeki about the pre-mature grey hair he was getting at his temples, and Doumeki always replied that everyone knew whose fault that was. He was diligently clean except when it came to spider webs, and he would often squint at the tiny industrious spiders spinning their webs and ask, "What the hell do you want?" before moving on disgruntledly. He had something like a pet snake that was actually remarkably cute and went with him everywhere in a pile of sleepy golden coils around his neck; that last part sometimes disconcerted people, but they took it in stride once they saw how sweet the snake was.

He sometimes stared a bit too long and intensely at people and made them uncomfortable till Doumeki whacked the back of his head and told him he was being creepy. Then he would clutch his wounded scalp and snipe something back, and then they would argue over it for half an hour. They fought over absolutely everything, and it was better than television because Doumeki's husband had the most hilarious noodley arm gestures. And then they fought over absolutely nothing, and it was better than the movies because Doumeki always wore his rare smiles and his husband blushed over literally anything. And then sometimes they didn't fight, just stared at each other silently in long radio silences where terribly important things were said but never vocalised because that would destroy it. Sometimes they looked at each other like they were waiting to leave or bracing for something to happen, and sometimes Doumeki looked like he was searching for something he had lost long ago and his husband looked terribly distant and old.

But that was only once in a while. And sometimes they looked at each other like they were perfectly in love, and that was much more often.

Professor Doumeki, everyone said, had a husband. They had no idea why they had ever imagined him having a wife.

FIN


Thanks, everyone, who supported this endeavor. Again, the FF net chapters are slightly longer because I'm not contrained by word limits like LJ, so I was able to consolidate the chapters like I wanted. If you're curious about this fest about alternate endings to Clamp's xxxHolic, check out wtf_holic fest on LiveJournal!