Xxxholic belongs to CLAMP
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This is post manga and contains spoilers for the end of Xxxholic
The existence of this story is the result of various conversations with a group of talented people after reading the end of Xxxholic. You guys fill my days with laughter, my brain with crack, and inspire me to improve my writing every day. This one is dedicated to all of you.
Grateful thanks are bestowed on Uakari, The Ribald Bard, for editing this story. Any and all mistakes that remain are my own.
The youngest and seventh generation of Doumeki's line to aide Watanuki in the shop was a carbon copy of the prior ones only in appearance. The ten year old seemed to have refined the stubbornness of his ancestors and, unfortunately, coupled it with a cold sort of anger at the world. Currently, Shizuka, the first to carry that name since his namesake, was straddling a tree branch that extended several feet above the fence surrounding the shop and pointedly ignoring the bespectacled man standing at the base of the tree.
"You can't stay up there all night," Watanuki told the boy, irritation pushing aside the last remnants of his patience.
Shizuka didn't bother to even shrug, continuing to stare over the fabricated image of a wooden fence that visually marked the protective barrier surrounding the shop. Some months ago, he, along with a group of other children who were considered 'at risk,' had been given a tour of Tokyo's Jail and been forced to listen to an inmate tell them how much he regretted his choices and that they needed to reform their ways or else. Shizuka had been unimpressed with the entire experience; however, the silver coils of razor wire stood out clearly in his mind. Not because he had found them frightening, but rather because he had thought them nothing compared to the fence he was currently looking over. It was the first time he had realized the shop was a prison and someday he was meant to be a guard, just as his Grandfather was currently.
Watanuki stared at the boy, whose shape was rapidly becoming lost in the darkening shadows of the tree branches. This kid was just as much of an enigma to him as any of his ancestors, but not since the one he had attended school with had Watanuki felt that he was somehow failing one of them. Heaving a frustrated sigh, he addressed the now dark shape above his head, "Stay up there as long as you want, but I'm not holding dinner for you. If you aren't down when it is time to eat then you can go without."
Watanuki had just begun to shift his weight to leave when he heard the first words the boy had deigned to utter since arriving that afternoon and clamoring up the tree. "Come up," the two words spoken devoid of inflection.
"What?" Watanuki demanded, glaring upwards ineffectually.
"I am not going to climb a tree, let alone one in the dark," Watanuki barked. He was not playing this game any longer; if the scrawny little delinquent wanted to stay up there all night then he damn well could. It wasn't as though there was anything here that could hurt the brat. Watanuki made it to the midpoint between the tree and the house before his conscience stabbed him brutally, wielding a Spork; there was nothing that would hurt the child except being abandoned by yet another adult who claimed to care about him and, of course, a fall that could kill or cripple him. "Damn it," Watanuki mumbled returning the tree. "Get down here now or I'll never make Anmitsu for you again," he threatened in a last ditch effort to draw the boy down from his perch.
With numerous growls and purposefully garbled complaints, Watanuki awkwardly pulled himself into the tree's lower branches. Mentally using language colorful enough to make Kurogane blanch, he climbed until he balanced on branch a few feet lower than the one holding Shizuka. "I'm here. What did you want?" he snapped when the boy continued to ignore him to stare over the fence.
"Look," Shizuka said in a monotone, nodding in the direction he was gazing.
Instead of looking, Watanuki stared at the impassive face of the child in front of him. The boy's Grandfather and Grandmother had taken him in after his parents' divorce two years ago. His Mother, Doumeki Yuuta's only child, had asked her parents to look after Shizuka while she got settled, but her infrequent visits home brought with them only additional excuses as to why she could not take the boy. His father hadn't bothered to make any sort of pretense and had not contacted his son since the day he moved out of their apartment. "Shizuka-kun, it's time to come down," Watanuki said, his voice softer than it had been.
Giving a small huff Shizuka used his open hand to push the side of Watanuki's face in the direction of the fence. "Look," he repeated for the second time.
Giving in, Watanuki obliged him and looked beyond the boundaries of the shop for the first time, outside of a dream, in more years than he could remember. He had noticed the changing architecture of the buildings that towered over the shop, but he had not seen the changes that had been happening at street level. The street was illuminated by the small pools of orangish colored light and Watanuki gave a small gasp, not because of the changes, but because while the style of the buildings had changed over time so very much else had remained the same. He felt his chest tighten as his mind painted the retreating backs of a pair of high school students, the ghostly figures drawn from his memories and fading as quickly as they had been conjured.
"Someday, I'm going to travel like those guys who showed up the other day," Shizuka stated calmly, returning his gaze to the road.
Watanuki raised an eyebrow at the boy, "You want to travel to other worlds?"
"Yes," Shizuka said, a touch of fierceness slipping into the word.
"If that is your wish, then, when you are older, I'll help you and I will be here waiting to welcome you when you return, just like I do them," Watanuki said, his voice kind, understanding that Shizuka wasn't speaking the words of a child's dream, but of a firm determination.
Shizuka scrambled to his feet and stood above Watanuki, the street light illuminating his expression. The boy was glaring, his mouth a thin angry line. "No you won't!" he snarled, before clamoring down the tree faster than Watanuki could frame a reply.
No sooner had the boy's feet touched the grass than he had run across the lawn and through the illusionary fence, leaving Watanuki alone in the tree to watch the very real retreat of the child's back down the street.
Shizuka continued to come to the shop every few days with his Grandfather, but he stopped coming by himself and even when he did visit, he rarely spoke more than the words required by propriety. It was a typically humid summer night nearly a year later when the boy, wild-eyed and gasping, tore into the shop.
Watanuki, alerted by Mokona's concerned yell, had rushed into the shop's public room in time to witness Shizuka throw an oil filled lamp against a wall, the hungry flames quickly licking up the wall. Franticly, the boy turned blindly in a circle until he spotted a second lamp, his hands out stretched and reaching, until Watanuki wrapped him into a tight hug, pinning his arms to his sides and halting his run. Uncharacteristically solemn, Maru and Moro appeared to extinguish the flames, preventing their spread.
"What are you doing!" Watanuki yelled at the struggling boy in his arms.
At the sound of Watanuki's voice, Shizuka froze, letting his arms hang limply at his sides. "I hate this place," he sobbed.
Picking up the child, Watanuki carried him out of the shop and onto the porch where so many generations had spent their evenings. "Shizuka-kun, what is going on?" he asked, his voice soothing. Yuuta had said the other day that his grandson had been suspended from school for fighting, but Watanuki could not fathom what would prompt him to commit this bit of arson.
With tears streaking his face, Shizuka twisted in Watanuki's arms until he freed himself. Not speaking, he used both hands to push Watanuki back a few feet until the older man caught himself and was braced when Shizuka attempted the shove him again. Meeting only Watanuki's unmoving chest, he curled his hands into fists, his head and shoulders bowing as sobs continued to tear themselves from his raw throat.
"Grandpa's dead," Shizuka wept. "He spent his entire life chained to this place, just like all the rest, and now he's dead and I'm next."
Watanuki attempted to draw the boy into another hug, only to be pushed away with a tear drenched snarl. "Shizuka-kun," Watanuki started to say.
"Shut up!" Shizuka screamed. "I hate this place! I won't be cursed to guard it! I won't! Grandpa wanted to take Grandma on trip, but he couldn't. They never even had a proper honeymoon because he couldn't leave you, and you won't leave this place. If this place wasn't here then everyone would be free!"
Watanuki sank down until he was eye level with Shizuka. Slowly, he reached out to rest one slender hand on top of the boy's head. "Shizuka-kun, I swear to you that you do not have to come here if you don't want to. You are free to travel, to go and do whatever you want. If you don't want to come here, no one will make you and you are not obligated to, ever. Do you understand?" Watanuki asked his heart nearly as heavy as Shizuka's with the realization that his decision to remain in the shop had caused the boy to feel imprisoned.
Shizuka glared angrily at Watanuki through bloodshot eyes, his gaze shifting over Watanuki's shoulder into the room he had attempted to burn down. The damage caused by the small fire had already disappeared and the empty room appeared unchanged. "I'm leaving," Shizuka told Watanuki, brushing his hand away.
Once more, Watanuki scaled the branches of the tree and watched the child disappear down the street. This time, however, Watanuki was very aware of the fact that he was alone among the leaves as he mourned the passing of not just Yuuta, but the others as well. His eyes and throat still stinging from the smoke created earlier, he closed his eyes, imagining that rather than the voices of the cicadas he could hear that asshole, Doumeki calling "I'm back."
Shizuka had turned twenty-five the day before, and today he appeared before the gateway of the shop for the first time since his Grandfather's death. His feelings regarding the shop had not changed during the interval and he refused to step through the gateway, choosing to linger before it waiting for the proprietor to appear. The minutes had ticked into hours, but he remained, waiting with the calm stoicism that he had inherited along with his physical appearance. He stood, his stillness compromised only by the rise and fall of his chest and occasional blink of his eyes. He ignored the stares of passerby who gawked from the corners of their eye at the imposing figure gazing into the weed choked lot squeezed between the towering monoliths of steel and glass.
Shizuka's thoughts refused to remain idle as he waited and, with minute flickers, his eyes traced the landscape and architecture visible to only a small number of those walking beneath the sky (Though when complied over the long history of the shop, the numbers had grown disproportionately large). Though he had shunned the shop, Shizuka, was not ignorant of what occurred within its confines during his absence. His Mother had returned for his Grandfather's funeral and, whether out of some new found maturity or guilt, she had remained to take her Father's place as caretaker of the Shop's master. In time, his anger toward her had cooled and, while he never gave her outright forgiveness, he did not hold lingering resentment. His Mother didn't seek to compel him to return to the shop, but she took his silence when she spoke of it as consent and recounted their family's oral history and that of the Shop's master. Without effort, Shizuka had absorbed the stories and could unerringly repeat them. He often wondered if the knowledge had become engraved in his family's genetic make-up, needing only a single telling to awaken and replicate throughout their beings, like a mutation passed from parent to child endlessly.
That this day was the one he had chosen to return to the shop was not something he had decided due to some cosmically significant date, but his acceptance of a palm sized egg. He had spent the night turning the insignificant appearing object in his hands, holding it to the light so that its hollow interior was illuminated; he had felt the desire to laugh and scream that so many lives had been altered by the thin shell he held. He had done neither. Nor did he crush or hurl it from him as he thought he would.
For the last five years he had been living an unbound existence, traveling ceaselessly and perhaps it was the knowledge he had accumulated during his travels that now enabled him to stand with calm resolve waiting for a man who had over the years become more a creature of myth than staid flesh.
When Watanuki finally made his leisurely way to the entrance, Shizuka immediately noticed the look of trepidation on his falsely youthful face. What Shizuka did not see was any form of surprise, and his disgruntled thought was that of course Watanuki knew he would come today and had left him waiting in spite of it.
"You have grown," Watanuki stated, stopping just shy of being rude in the space separating them.
Shizuka raised an eyebrow. "I am not going to attack you," he told Watanuki, abruptly feeling tired with the weight of generations' of hesitation laying like a yoke across his shoulders.
Shizuka felt a fleeting touch of gratification at the surprise his words generated in Watanuki's otherwise tranquil expression. "I never considered that you might," Watanuki advised Shizuka with a small smile. "If you are waiting for invitation, you should remember there has never been need of one for those of your linage."
Slipping his hand into a pocket, Shizuka withdrew the egg, curling his fingers around it and turning his hand so what he held could not be discerned. "I have come to give you something," he said, his voice the echoing monotone of those who had possessed the egg before him. Keeping his hand turned so the egg could be exchanged without being exposed, he extended his arm, his hand hovering over the border separating them.
Watanuki hesitated; knowing that acceptance of whatever Shizuka offered would be an irrevocable choice. "What are you seeking to pass to me?" he asked, the still air stagnant around them.
Shizuka considered the question a moment seeking the answer, "This was given to him to hold for you. It was always meant for you, but no one believed the time to use it had arrived, and so it has been kept by each generation."
"You believe the time has come then?" Watanuki asked.
"No," Shizuka told him flatly, "I think it is wrong for the responsibility of knowing when to use it to belong to anyone other than you."
Watanuki gave a slow nod of his head and took a few steps forward, extending his arm, palm up to accept what Shizuka held. The egg fell the few inches from Shizuka's open hand into Watanuki's closing one and the universe continued its journey without notice. Watanuki studied the egg, holding it between his thumb and forefinger. Its appearance stirred memories of another egg from which he had hatched a bird and a dream in which Doumeki had accepted something from Yuuko. He sensed that this egg was twin of the one given in payment for water, but there was no seed of life within its shell, nothing would spring from its confines. So why was its slight weight sending his blood in an adrenalin filled rush through his veins? "What have you given me?" he whispered the words breathless.
Shizuka rolled his shoulders in a shrug, "Release, amnesia, enlightenment, absolution, I don't know." Shizuka shoved his hands into his pockets, tilting his face toward the sky, squinting meditatively at the wisps of clouds brushed across the blue. The posture was more reminiscent of Haruka than the source of his name. "Want to go for a walk?" he questioned as he closed his eyes.
Watanuki's gaze had remained locked on the egg and it was with a violent shiver that he broke away from it. He had not been compelled to fixate on the egg, but its presence in his hand was one of overpowering and undefined emotions. Watanuki looked up to see Shizuka's upturned face, his eyes closed as though he were basking in the day's heat. Watanuki felt a drop of sweat trail from the edge of his hairline, down the side of his face and neck, only to be absorbed by the edge of his clothing. The voices of the cicadas rose to drown out all other sounds, and the universe of two men trembled.
Watanuki twisted his torso to stare at the shop. With a slow blink he saw Mokona, Moro, and Maru standing in a row before the door. The three met Watanuki's bi-colored eyes unblinkingly, waiting. A small fluttering movement stirred by an unnoticed zephyr drew his eye, and he followed the movement as it danced from the eves of the shop and along the walk, the poignant shape of a butterfly coming into focus as it broached the distance separating them. Turning his body to track the butterfly's flight as it circled him once, he watched its wings brush Shizuka's cheek when its path carried it past, before distance caused it to dwindle from sight. Watanuki's fingers tightened around the egg and he turned with a small smile to face the three still behind him. With a solemn grace they bowed low, their expressions serene. Watanuki' s bow was equal to theirs and as he gently placed the egg on the stone path, his vision wavered, liquid creating a minuscule current as it filled his eyes.
No longer needing words, Watanuki stepped through the shop's boundary and fell into step alongside Shizuka who had begun walking the moment Watanuki reached his side. Watanuki's strides matched those of Shizuka and, distantly, he knew the younger man had a destination in mind, but his thoughts and eyes were wrapped in layers of memories and the apparitions of those long dead. He stumbled only once, when the past and the present overlapped seamlessly before a Hydrangea whose blossoms seemed to embrace the clouds. Shizuka slowed, but his momentum did not cease carrying both of them deeper into the ancient park. Watanuki stopped Shizuka with the brush of his finger tips on the other man's shoulder. Slowly, with a grace that had been disguised as clumsy flailing's in his youth, Watanuki slipped his shoes from his feet before touching them to the grass. Their positions as leader and led reversed, Shizuka took a step to follow, only to be halted once more, Watanuki's hand flat against his chest. Watanuki gave a soft shake of his head, his hand reaching up to caress the side of Shizuka's face. Shizuka laid his own hand briefly over Watanuki's and closed his eyes against the sorrowful longing he saw in Watanuki's expression, knowing that it was not him Watanuki was seeing in that moment.
Dropping his hand to his side, Watanuki turned to the field, and let his feet carry him forward. The grass had been left to grow wild and rose nearly to his waist. His progress disturbed a flock of birds who had taken refuge among lush growth; still he continued, paying no heed to of the creatures taking flight around him. He was drawn onward by the sounds of familiar voices carried to him with each beat of their wings.
Shizuka saw dark tendrils twist their way around Watanuki from the corner of his eye; however, before he could call out, the air was filled with the chorus of birds as they left the confines of the earth, their flowing feathers obscuring Watanuki's form. Shizuka's last sight of the shop master was his smile as he looked back at Shizuka, his mouth forming a pair of words Shizuka couldn't hear, but understood nonetheless.
The last traces of the bird song dwindled into nothingness, leaving Shizuka alone with only the cries of the cicadas as proof of any existence other than his own. "You're welcome," he whispered as the shimmering humidity in the air offered a wavering vision of four people waiting for a fifth to catch up. The thin figure, clad in ancient black garments, ran heedlessly forward to grasp the outstretched hand of a similarly clad form. A cloud covering the sun brought the mirage to an end and Shizuka sank to the ground.
Somewhere in a certain city there is a shop, it is said that those who enter the shop will have their wish granted for a price, but now the shop sleeps, waiting for the return of those who will awaken its magics once more.
This fic started out with the seventh generation Doumeki sitting in the tree throwing rotten eggs at Watanuki, but the story stalled out after the first page. I had given up the entire idea, but I got to thinking about little Shizuka one day and this is what happened. This story is why I should not be left alone with puppies and rainbows. The puppies would shred the rainbows to use the colored strips to hang themselves. I seem to be drawn to angst.