Disclaimer: This will only be stated once. The following story is a fan work derived from CLAMP's series XxxHolic and XxxHolic: Rou (Cage), and also from the XxxHolic anime seasons 1 and 2 (Kei). I have taken the liberty of integrating a couple of quotes into the story, found in the dialogue only (although not all dialogue is from the story, either).

Okay, the game is up. This fic is in second person, but don't be put off by that. See how it feels first. I happen to feel my way through second-person very naturally. It's more easily accepted in Spanish, other romance languages, and a couple other tongues where there are more possibilities for using the word "you" to indicate levels of plurality, formality, and familiarity. Here, "you" is not you, the reader, but "you" Doumeki Shizuka, thinking to himself. "You" is just an unusual device to put you the reader into his head. I don't think this qualifies as interactive. So if you don't say anything, I won't either.


In the Eyes of Doumeki Shizuka (Part 1)

Eyes that Remember

You are Doumeki Shizuka. You were born to a very religious family, and they own a significant temple. These days, there is only one person in your family with any real power, however—and that is your grandfather, Doumeki Haruka. He's the one who insisted that you dress like a girl for the first few years of your life until you were ten, for what other people would call superstitious reasons. Somehow, you were content to trust those reasons even though you did not completely understand them, as he explained that they were in preparation for a future time. In addition, he cheerfully informed you that he also underwent the ordeal many many years ago, when he was young. So you could never resent him for it. It's just a way of life, although at times it did bring you grief from your peers. Perhaps that's what makes you such a stoic. Instinctively, you always knew that Grandfather Haruka was the one person most like you.

It's a shock when he dies; even so, when he is gone, he is not gone. And that's what hurts most of all, until you learn to accept that that is the way things are going to be.

Parishioners still come to the temple and remember him. His artifacts and other remnants of his power are scattered everywhere. And of course, Grandfather Haruka promised he loved you, and would look out for you, when he died. Even gone, not gone.

Sometimes you have dreams of him—with him. You never really say much, but he tells you about his life and gives advice sometimes. Haruka seems to think that you will be his spiritual successor. You're not sure yet; you neither dissuade nor encourage this thinking, but in the back of your mind — if he is right, you will need his teachings. So you treasure them: little by little you wheedle hints from his old friends, and find his last effects, the books that he wrote, and the physical things which you carry away to the storehouse. To do so forces you to explore the temple, and as you search, you find even more interesting things: things that Haruka had hidden, protected, or sealed. More often than not you leave them alone, for they require more discernment to deal with than you have at the time. It is important to know what they are and why they are there. Over time Haruka's presence in your dreams wanes, but he is never far from your thoughts.

What You See is What You Get

You are entering high school, and attending orientation is required.

As you turn the corner on a stairwell, a strange boy flies out of nowhere with a snap-kick to the face. You duck and are just barely able to avoid it.

He is too aggravated to apologize, and he can't explain why he kicked you or what made him do it. He insists that he saw you and hated you at first glance, and his body just 'moved on its own.'

This is obviously a lie—even you, a complete stranger, can tell—but by the end of the day he has convinced himself and everyone else that this was the truth. There's more to the story, but he won't tell. The problem is, he was already running before he saw you, and although you cannot be sure, his eyes didn't seem to be quite focused on...you. As if they were looking for something else a little ways beyond you.

How annoying. You expect you'll run into him rather often.

Everyone knows about "love at first sight," which is silly, but "hate at first sight" is an even more stupid excuse for, well, anything...

More Than You Bargained For

School starts. He remembers you, and avoids you like the plague. You learn that his name is Watanuki Kimihiro and that if you talk to him, he makes weird movements and yells at you, full of irritation and annoyance.

If he would only stop being so noisy and listen, maybe you could be friends. Watanuki is like a cat: very particular, sensitive, never failing to show unmistakable displeasure… If you say anything, anything at all, Watanuki reacts radically, and takes his time calming down.

It isn't what Watanuki says that bothers you—it's the tone he says it in, a kind of mock anger. Like he's brushing you aside, because he has decided that he knows what you will do before you do it, and doesn't like what he foresees. He practically invites a comeback. If you were more skilled at the art, you might indulge him. At the same time, he means what he says, in a general way: he doesn't like you and wants nothing to do with you. He must not know how he sounds, or perhaps he doesn't know what he wants. But you know he wouldn't get so angry if he didn't care, on some level. Certainly he doesn't treat anyone else the way he treats you.

For your part, you don't know why Watanuki has attracted your gaze, bothersome as he is. All you know is that you can't stop watching. It's a lot of effort to filter out the noise each day, but you've always been good at persisting until you get to the heart of the matter. You will watch and listen until you have your answer.

At least for now, he won't let you get close to him.

Observer Effect, Mirrored

It's been a very cold winter, and you are fifteen… It's raining so hard.

Despite your better judgment, you take out your umbrella and walk out by the riverside, which is full to overflowing. Although the day is damp and dreary, you can't help but feel that the rain is beautiful, even as full of sorrow as it is. You frown. Normally you don't ascribe feelings to inanimate things, like the rain, though your grandfather has told you often enough that all of nature is alive in its way.

You look. There is Watanuki, dressed in a black school uniform and kneeling by the riverbank. He is the source of the sorrow you felt. He has no umbrella. He drips with rain. You walk closer, thinking you should offer your assistance. For the first time you really get a good look at him.

His hair is rather fine, almost wispy looking; despite the rain, a couple of locks of it keep trying to rise. His eyes are dark blue, roiling with subtle power like the currents of a deep sea. Watanuki is slight, and though he is actually a couple of inches shorter than you, he seems taller. He stands straight, bending over only slightly at the shoulders over something he holds in his arms.

You halt in shock. He's holding a dead kitten in his arms and crying, head bowed, murmuring to himself about how everyone he knows and loved has died or disappeared; that it's only a matter of time before, like them, he fears that he might leave this world someday. That he too will die like this, alone. He wonders about what the meaning of life is, when there is such suffering in it.

Your heart catches on his soft, half-mumbled words.

If your heart is a rock, then it must be soft as talc. Now he isn't alone, and you won't let him be alone, if you can help it. If only he knew, and would let you in…you would stand by his side until… Imagination fails you.

But you walk on, deciding not to offer him the umbrella or let him know that you saw him after all. He would be embarrassed at being seen so weak like that, by a hated stranger of all things. You wish you could.

You must wait.

Watching and Waiting

There is a witch who knew your grandfather. Her alias is Ichihara Yuuko. She is strong and wise, but more rigid than any other magic worker that you know through your grandfather's acquaintances. Her business is wish-granting, and her shop can only be seen by those who have need of it. Yuuko is bound by the idea of hitsuzen, of fate as a matter of inevitability, and she lives by the law of fair compensation: every wish has an exact price. The only leeway she has is her interpretation of what a fair price is…and what constitutes a fair granting of the wish. This is only a small mercy, for if she extrapolates too far, the difference will fall at her feet. She has been practicing for so many years that she has become cunning with her art, and so accustomed to its rules that she cannot separate the shopkeeper's worldview from her everyday conduct. Yuuko embodies the principle that Grandfather Haruka sometimes repeated, somewhat sadly: "The only things that can be given without a price to be paid are one's own feelings." Most other magic workers will bend the "rules" a little for their family and friends. She won't. But then, she's strict because she has to be.

As it turns out, Watanuki is Yuuko's assistant. When Yuuko first heard of you, she realized that you might be of help to Watanuki. She explains to you that Watanuki attracts spirits, and that you have latent exorcist powers, inherited from your grandfather. The revelation is not surprising; indeed, it is something of a relief, for it is welcome confirmation of his grandfather's words. You have a place now, and a goal: to inherit the family temple, and become a worthy successor.

Your first challenge is investigating the Angel Game at a nearby school. Himawari Kunogi was the one who made the wish. It is completely obvious that Watanuki is head-over-heels adoring of her. The exorcism is, for the most part, a success.

Watanuki does not thank you for your help. He grudgingly accepts Yuuko's price for your help and the injury you sustained to your right arm, which is that while the arm heals, Watanuki will make lunches for you and do household-type favors. You were skeptical at first, but that didn't last long. Despite the fact that he hates you, the food that he makes is sinfully delicious and, oddly, comforting. Anyone who cooks like this cannot be a bad person inside. At school, you end up eating every day with Watanuki and Kunogi. No matter the reason, now you are in, there to stay, and it is clear to you at least that Yuuko encouraged this to happen.

Watanuki may gripe and grouse, but he'll also cook anything you ask of him. And you do ask (or demand, as Watanuki sees it). It's mostly Watanuki's pride that keeps him from backing down from the challenge: he likes to cook, and his skills are excellent. But there's something else as well. If only for the cooking, you'd like to stay around…you are getting spoiled. By the end of two weeks, your arm has healed and Watanuki's payment is done, but the group is firmly established. Watanuki never fails to grumble about your presence and admonish you for rudeness, but he never chases you off, either—although he's clearly not happy that you are there.

After awhile, you realize that Watanuki's funny little 'war dances' have become rather endearing, and you know exactly how to provoke them, and thus how to distract him. You've learned to ignore what he says, even if you have to stick your fingers in your ears to do it, and stick to the rituals he outlined for you. He won't admit it, but you know he finds them—well, not exactly comforting, or soothing, but definitely necessary so that he can relax (however hyperactive this state appears to be). It dawns on you that the rituals represent the stability of the community in his life. The idea that the people he loves won't leave him is something he doesn't quite let himself believe in. That's probably the reason for the mixed messages.

After each succeeding realization, it is easier and easier to read between the lines of Watanuki's actions and pick up the clues that allow you to filter out the truth, until the truth becomes so obvious that it is hard to imagine not knowing.

At first you didn't take much notice of her, but something bothers you about Kunogi. She puts up a sunny, cheerful face every day, much like her namesake—himawari, the sunflower. It feels contrived. Her disposition never changes, and her idle chat fills up time agreeably but lacks meaning. Her very words feel shallow. And it isn't that Kunogi isn't intelligent or a deep thinker. Quite the opposite—you can sense it, that she has to work to curb her conversation this way, and she has to be clever to discourage the many opportunities to strengthen the relationships she has. She knows she needs friends. She's an attractive, cheerful person. She doesn't avoid making connections. But she is very careful to make sure that the connections are nothing more than skin deep.

Whenever Kunogi "accidentally" pushes him away, Watanuki is driven crazy. He's too besotted to see how guarded she is. Actually, he doesn't want to see. He chalks up the brushing-off to coincidence, or her best intentions, and never thinks twice.

How can it be a coincidence that he is so blind to reality when it comes to the two of you?

Sights Unshared

Watanuki takes you to a strange hydrangea, a tall, long-lived one with crimson petals. The Ame-Warashi, spirit of the rain, claims it is dying. There are legends about this, so you have a hunch that something will go wrong. The only tool you have is Kunogi's hair ties, but you also have no idea how to use them. Yuuko never bothered to say.

Barely five minutes after you and Watanuki have been investigating, Watanuki is dragged under the hydrangea and disappears. Perhaps underground? You begin digging, with your hands alone, because you have nothing else to work with. The dirt gets under your fingernails, and the tender skin of your palms will be sore tomorrow. You don't care. You ignore it and keep digging. The work is terribly draining.

Yuuko shows up and gives you some unsolicited advice of which you are in dire need. You will never find him that way, she says. She tells you to wait, and while you do so, to hold Kunogi's hair tie at one end. It looks dumb, it sounds dumb. You do it. Yuuko goes away again.

For hours you wait. It rains. It stops. It pours. It slacks off, but by then you are drenched, soaking, and wet. Still you will not leave—sheer stubbornness, you suppose. You're strong enough to do this. You won't give up on Watanuki and leave him to disappear. For now, it's your responsibility. There's something that draws you to the other boy and tells you that he needs you, no matter what he says otherwise. Eventually it's all you can do to keep your eyes open and keep sitting, meditating.

Finally Watanuki's body fades back into existence, clutching the other end of your ribbon; as you look down, you see that a skeleton has attached itself to Watanuki's other wrist. The old legends were right. Watanuki swears it was only ten minutes for him, down there, in the land between life and death. And that's such a precarious place for him to be—doesn't he realize that?

Unnoticed, the hydrangea flowers have faded to a less alarming blue color.

Once again, Watanuki is unable to thank you properly. This time, the refusal stings a little more. Of course you won't show it. You are patient. It's not your place to scold. He doesn't understand himself, or how much danger he was in, any more than he understands you and how much you care for him. His regard for his own life is very low. He can't see why you would care, let alone bring himself to accept your feelings. Although, if asked, you would be first to admit that you are not one for making expressions full of feeling … and Watanuki is not as good at reading between the lines as you are.

Eyes That Do Not See

It's obon. Kunogi sent you a letter sending her regards and her thoughts for the holiday. By chance, you happen to meet Watanuki at the park, and he proceeds to go through his jealousies of you, mainly that you attract girls' attention and their gifts. To be honest, you'd rather not be fussed over like that. It's a lot of bother to decide what to do next, and how to turn the girls down without hurting their feelings or accidentally encouraging them. You have no idea why they are attracted to you, and Watanuki hasn't a clue either. What's attractive about a person who is stiff, unromantic, practical, and (according to Watanuki) rude? You don't have any illusions about yourself.

Well, if you both have no clue about it, then that's one thing you both have in common. If Watanuki wasn't too busy making assumptions... Oh. Apparently you got Kunogi's card and he didn't. He was lying. Bother. That's a bad habit. Why does he do that?

He's brought some treats he made for obon and absentmindedly shares one with you. Watanuki's distracted again. You didn't say anything— Ah. He's watching a firefly, and then... There's a... You have to squint, and then it becomes clearer. A girl. A blue-haired girl. Oh, no. She's not up your alley. That's a spirit. A powerful one, at that.

But Watanuki doesn't seem aware. Worse yet, he assumed that the one the girl was interested in was you, although she hadn't said anything yet. Speaking of which, neither have you.

She's apologizing. Now she's talking about a gift... She got up and faced you. She leans forward and reaches, and you slide back... What? Her hand—went into your stomach— Eurgh, everything's gone indefinite...there's a sour, rotten taste in your mouth from being so violated, a wrenching from deep in your gut... Your eyes roll up in your head and you faint.

[...]

(The world. It's black. This is not good, not at all.)

(Except there's speckles of blue, like the blue of the firefly Watanuki was watching. There's a good feeling all about you. A pure feeling. It's very similar to the feeling you get from Grandfather Haruka's strongest exorcist wards... Pure goodness, except this goodness is so delicate and innocent that it is easily tainted by evil... It hasn't any strength; at least in the past, it has been too shy and timid to endure testing. However, in the future it may be possible: in the far distance, golden ripples of determination are making their way across the landscape, moving slowly like thunderclouds, irresistible and arresting...)

(The clouds pass away. By and by...no telling with time...)

(Another aura. This one is anxious. There are all kinds of nervous tension, and shivers run through you as it does through everything in this space. Irritation, annoyance, a twitch of anger, a smidgeon of jealousy here and there. And yet, overall, this place is cheerful. There is kindness, too...a good will...through that kindness is a nice, peaceful reserve of patience...the only one in this place...and it is rather small... And then everything changes: space freezes into stark "black" and "white," and casts careening shadows wildly everywhere, a thousand different shadows with a thousand different light sources. Though you have no feet, the grasp that you thought you had on this space—the structure itself—is dissolving, you are falling off the edge of the abyss, an abyss you had no idea was there, like droplets of water careen into a waterfall... There is no breath to scream, there is only the horror of falling itself, of no control, of the unknown echoes through your mind again and again and again, again and again and again and you are still falling again and again and again into the darkness the horror horrifying horrifying—!)

[...]

"Hhhhh!" That was your gasp for breath, as your eyes flicker open. There is Watanuki—and Yuuko—wavering right in front of you—

Oh, your head hurts, it hurts like the dickens and you're not one to make unnecessary complaints. Something happened. Something big.

For a moment there, Watanuki looked concerned.

Everything that Watanuki and Yuuko say after that makes no sense. Your soul was an obon gift? The blue-haired girl—no, some girl—gave Watanuki an obon gift? And it was...your soul? But he...gave it back? So what was...the point? Huh? How, exactly, has anything been accomplished here?

Yuuko's story to explain everything is really interesting but you have no idea what she's saying. You aren't quite paying attention to your replies; when you listen to yourself, you sound really interested. Perplexing. How do you do that? Watanuki's going to get mad again. But maybe that was the point. Yuuko seems to like provoking him like that. Usually by using you.

After a good night's sleep, everything is better. Your thoughts are more coherent and connected to yourself. Of course, Watanuki's upset that it looks like nothing ever happened...but who can help that? Would it be better to act like you're sick? Or something? What a waste of effort. Hmph. Utterly illogical. You didn't make this much fuss afterwards when he almost crossed into death under that blood-drenched hydrangea. He barely noticed time passing, and he wasn't the one who had to battle the flu because sitting in the rain weakened your constitution for a whole week.

In the middle of his ranting, you interrupt. "If you want to make me feel better, make me..." You pick a food at random off the top of your head. Albeit a bit nonplussed at being interrupted, Watanuki remembers. The next day you can't even remember what you chose, but there it is and he's complaining about it. He never changes. The focus of his grumbling has just switched to another topic.

When you look at him…there's something...this feels familiar. But it's strange, like a thought on the tip of your tongue, weaving in and out of focus before your eyes. It's something about him, something you know but you can't quite reconcile with the way he appears. It feels like a memory from that day in the park, but you can't remember. The more you try to probe for the feeling, the more uneasy you get. You shrug. Must be something you picked up on the day your soul was temporarily stolen. Maybe it will come back to you when you need it. And then again—maybe not all of that memory was something you want to remember...

Summer House By the Blue Sea

Yuuko suddenly announces that it is time for a vacation. Watanuki wants to go to the beach, which does him absolutely no good because the sea is filled with spirits and he can't even swim. He wouldn't have any fun, but he liked the idea too much. But how could anyone have fun if he couldn't come out to be with everyone else?

It was all Kunogi's idea. Everything. You didn't think it would work, but you didn't see why you shouldn't let her try. It was a nice thought. So you did your part.

Watanuki was just a bigger blockhead than anyone could have predicted. He could have done it any time, for practically anything. You hinted. Kunogi hinted. Yuuko oozed and dripped with not-so-cryptic hints.

Mokona figured out an elaborate stunt and almost succeeded in scaring Watanuki out of his wits, and you, Doumeki, arrived to save him. No luck. Some trick.

Apparently, there is nothing in this entire world that can pull a simple 'thank-you' out of Watanuki's mouth before he is good and ready. Which is nothing new.

He is so frustrating.

You suppose you could have helped him into the sea any time, no matter what kind of deal Kunogi and Yuuko set up, but Watanuki's reticence is like an insurpassable wall between you. The balance is uneven and he refuses to see it. It goes against your nature to go out of your way to do nice things for him when he won't even acknowledge them.

You were kind of looking forward to playing with him. The refusal hurts. You're not going to agree to try and push him on this again. It's no good. Just be patient...

Errands

Despite everything, Watanuki has taken to enlisting your help on various and sundry tasks that may or may not be coming from Yuuko. This is usually because Kunogi habitually dodges the invitations and there is no one else to ask or you just happen to be around. Watanuki has a knack for noticing weird things happening that no one else can see, and he likes to follow them around. With you. Whether the business starts with Yuuko or not, the witch always seems to show up in the end.

It's rather boring. He'll ask you to look for something, and if you can't see it, then it's spirit business and sometimes he'll explain and sometimes he won't. There was something to do with angel wings, once, and then a couple of twins which he somehow convinced you to do a double date with, and a couple of other minor things.

It's not all that bad. He's gotten used to your company—or resigned to it. He's less likely to get into trouble with you there, so you agree. And these days, you have plenty of excuses to bribe him for bento.

One Eye for You, Always

Yuuko is gone on a business trip. Watanuki is alone, and he behaves as usual—until he starts coughing, and a fever falls over him that won't go away. You don't know why, he doesn't know why, but it can't be natural. You give suggestions, but he won't follow them. Or can't. What began as a mild suspicion now concerns you so much that you're on the brink of dragging him back to Yuuko's shop yourself—would've done it before, but archery season is in full swing. It has to be you that does it. You have the most awful, dreadful feeling that it would be a bad idea to ask Kunogi to do it; it's irrational, but the gut instinct is so strong that you can't ignore it.

Which is frustrating, and you don't understand Watanuki's resistance until you see the woman…

But after watching... They know. They both know that she is killing him, poisoning him slowly, although they say nothing. Watanuki knows, but doesn't care for his life enough, and he cares for her too much. She gives him something he has not felt for a long time: the love of a mother. He'll take it, whether it comes from a human or not.

You have the power to end this now. The night Yuuko organized the ghost-story telling at your temple, she taught you how to shoot an exorcising arrow that will banish and destroy spirits and monsters. All you need is your bow. You could do it now. Maybe it wouldn't hurt as much, to make a clean break between them—Watanuki doesn't even have to see. But you are reluctant. You doubt that judgment. Watanuki...he's attached, and despite only the little bit of time spent together, the connection is deep and rooted in the neglected recesses of Watanuki's soul. And as yet there's still time to persuade Watanuki to take another path, as futile as the effort may seem.

To your surprise, Watanuki finally took your advice and went to the shop. There, he collapsed. The phone he was about to pick up lay mere inches from his fingers. Yuuko quickly gets in contact with you, and you rush over to watch over him. Watanuki won't be dissuaded, he's absolutely adamant, and you know the effort is almost useless. He made a promise. The hope that had begun to spark is even slimmer now.

Watanuki had seemed interested in going to the archery contest the next day to watch you play, but of course it ended up that he couldn't make it. He already made a promise.

You won the contest, but you can't bring yourself to care; you leave before the prizes are awarded and let your mother collect them. Life, death—that's more important than any contest. Somehow, you manage to find Watanuki, still carrying your bow at your side, and you tell him to move aside. He knows what this means. Though weak and coughing pathetically, he shields the woman with his body.

There are only two choices now, and both of them will hurt. You could lose Watanuki to death, or you could vanquish the spirit and earn Watanuki's wrath. If Watanuki keeps blocking the path of the arrow to the woman, the arrow will go through his body; at what price, you don't know, but at least he will not die. That you know for sure. Even though it is for his own well-being, you haven't much hope that Watanuki will forgive you for exorcising the woman. Either way, this will be the end. And yet in your eyes, there is no choice to be made at all.

You draw back the bow, and aim as carefully as ever. The arrow flies.

The woman rushes in front of Watanuki and takes it for herself. She really must have been a good spirit, like Watanuki said, in spite of her nature. Even so, you cannot feel pity for her, only relief that your arrow didn't hit Watanuki after all. She turns into golden light; Watanuki cradles the scraps of it that he can, looking as if he is listening desperately. The expression on his face is strange. He collapses after, and you take him home, to Yuuko.

You don't expect anything— No, that's not true. Watanuki has always said that he hated you, and finally you have done something to be worthy of it. There will be no mercy. You are certain.

It makes you so afraid.

The next day at school, you have to strongly resist the temptation to avoid him. You aren't nearly as calm and cool and collected as you know you look, even if you are heir to the Buddhist temple. All you want to do is run away before he can say a single word. With one word, he could undo you.

When you finally do pass each other by in the hall, he asks you to wait. After a few agonizing moments—he must have been struggling with himself right up until the moment he says it—he says you can eat lunch with him. Since he "invited Himawari-chan already and all."

There is nothing left but tangled relief and sheer amazement. And then—you are crushingly grateful. He understood. Quickly, coolly, you slide back into yourself—beady-eyed, oafish, mannerless, selfish, loutish, sly Doumeki Shizuka, those qualities Watanuki reminds you of every day—pretending to have the confidence, the utter arrogance, to believe that Watanuki will not refuse your ridiculous luncheon demands and act as if nothing has changed. Still—it will not be the same.

You won't forget, you will never forget what you did for him, and how he forgave you for it.

One Eye on You: An Eye for an Eye

Watanuki is imperious now. "Bow before me, Doumeki, blah blah blah… I'll make you something so good you'll have no choice but to kneel at my feet, blah blah blah…" He laughs as hysterically as a villain. Well, he has that right. It's better than being insulted. And truly, you do feel like you have something of a debt to him, for forgiving you.

Watanuki is always rushing into scrapes—this time he's managed to entangle himself in a spider's web. Without thinking, you brush it off without his asking. But the spider's grudge surprises you, and it shouldn't have. It's a common tale of misfortune. You were careless. You weren't thinking.

You try to hide it from Watanuki. He finds out anyway. As perverse as he is, he takes the grudge on himself. He didn't even ask you. Perhaps he thinks he should have received the grudge in the first place. But at least now you know he cares for you…a lot. The thought inspires equal exasperation and affection for your fickle friend.

Still. How utterly stupid. The entire underworld wants his eye, not yours. Watanuki draws spirits, so his eye will give them great power. Your own eye would be worse than useless, as a latent exorcist…perhaps it might even be poisonous? But it is done: Watanuki's eye is probably lost forever. Yours would probably have stayed intact, only sealed, until amends could be made to the spider. To make matters worse, a bookworm resting in Kunogi's borrowed book ate up your only written record of a method for safely restoring his eye. You couldn't have known about the bookworm, but you are still partly responsible for allowing it to enter your grandfather's storeroom: you weren't careful enough. Furthermore, that particular tome was an important record of grandfather Haruka's. In your desperation, you care more about the information that was lost—but Haruka's words—nay, even the shapes of his letters—are precious for their own sake. You will mourn for them later.

After that there is no chance of regaining Watanuki's eye. You knew that even before he got back from the spirit world. When he comes back, you give him half of yours. The chastened fool doesn't protest, but accepts the gift quietly, and you feel a little lighter inside. This, by itself, is thanks enough. Watanuki also apologizes, which is not the same as thanks but now you don't feel as angry anymore. Everything will be all right. In some ways, it will be better than all right. For now you can see the spirits that Watanuki has avoided for all these years. You have more of "an eye on him" than ever before; your wish is very nearly literal…and you are closer than ever.

And finally, Watanuki has admitted that he needs you. Not in so many words, of course, but he seeks you out first, even when Yuuko doesn't ask for you specifically or there wasn't a reason to consult you. Sometimes he asks you to tell him what you see through your half-eye, and over time you begin to realize how eerily real the spirit world is to him. He truly can't tell the difference between a human spirit or a spirit in human guise and a human itself. Even when he can occasionally tell, he treats the higher spirits with the same kindness as he shows to human people.

Not the First Sacrifice

Bad luck has been piling up lately. Even you've noticed. It took you a year, but at last you've realized why. This must be a particularly bad season for Kunogi. Watanuki is worried, but he refuses to place blame on anyone but himself.

Yuuko has grown more urgent, not that she looks it, and she drops hints about Himawari Kunogi's bad luck constantly. Poor Watanuki can make neither heads nor tails of it, and Yuuko is not one to speak plain. There's a good chance that your exhortations, drawn from instinct rather than knowledge, would confuse him further. You would probably only convince him that his precious Himawari-chan is an innocent martyr, and that's not quite the exact truth. She knows exactly who she is and what she is risking. He's got to learn someday, and knowing Watanuki, it won't happen until he brushes right into the fire, and the experience is undeniable.

When he says he doesn't want you to accompany him for the day, you hum and say nothing. So you don't accompany him, but stalk him from across the hall, and watch.

You're still unprepared for it. Kunogi taps Watanuki on the right shoulder, and disaster doesn't happen immediately. It's such a gentle, normal gesture that you didn't quite notice, either. But then Watanuki walks forward, and accidentally knocks into a window pane … with the touched right shoulder…and you remember. He shouldn't have been walking fast or forcefully enough to do it. He falls out the window, taking the entire window pane with him, and the pane shatters on the ground below.

Kunogi is screaming, sheer raw screaming with rage and frustration and grief and despair all mixed up. She's not frightened. No, she is, but—well, she already knows. Watanuki will die soon. Class will be out in seconds.

You can't move for shock. You're afraid to look outside, and it would be a waste of time anyway. Watanuki might already be dead. There's sure to be blood, blood, blood everywhere… Thinking of it, the paralysis breaks. You run, run to the nearest phone to dial the ambulance, but as soon as you pick it up, Yuuko's voice answers without any number dialed. Yuuko tells you to bring him to the shop.

"What if his spine is messed up?" you ask. "Moving him will…"

"Kill him," she says grimly, and pauses. "Yes, it's possible. Good thinking, Doumeki. I will send a messenger to put his body in stasis—go down and wait for my butterfly to land on him. When you pick him up, it will produce a barrier against the spirits which have caught scent of his blood, and it will disguise you both. Otherwise the school would never let you take him away."

"Got it," you say tightly, and hang up, and you run down the stairs and into the courtyard as fast as your legs can take you. You dive to your knees beside the blood—oh, the blood—it's just as bad as you thought—no, worse—and the messenger butterfly is already there, perched on his fine black hair and flapping its magnificent violet wings gently.

Aware that there are eyes on you, you carefully brush the glass off of Watanuki's body and pick him up in a fireman's carry, as firmly as you can. Your own hands are now stained with blood from the sharp glass. Can't be helped. You start running…

It seems an eternity before you get to Yuuko's shop, and for the first time you can really see it. The real shop, that is, rather than the empty, unkempt grass lot. It's really there. Yuuko opens the gates ahead of you and the Maru and Moro have already slid open each door, and you follow the openings in the shoji until you get to the room that has been prepared for Watanuki. You lay him down on the coverlet, and sink to your knees. You cup his face between your hands and stare intently into his vulnerable face, watching for any change. The room seems to narrow around Watanuki, shielding, protecting, stabilizing him—at least for the moment.

Yuuko enters. "You have a wish."

"Yes," you breathe, drawing back from his body. At last. "I do." You squeeze Watanuki's hand briefly, then release it. If he was awake, he would have something to say about that.

"You wish to save Watanuki's life. I require blood, an equal amount to what he lost."

"Are we even the same blood type?" You rub your forehead. Why are you asking questions at a time like this?

She smiles mysteriously. "It doesn't matter. Really, Doumeki-kun, you must learn that symbols matter most in magic, not physicality."

"Of course you're right," you say quietly, and close your eyes. "Please."

"On the other hand, have you given any blood at all in the last year?" You shake your head. "Yokatta," she sighs, a rare sign of relief. Then she excuses herself. "One moment." She leaves the room. Kunogi Himawari is there, in the hall, silently crying streams of tears. Yuuko bargains with her, voice soft.

The first thing you hear clearly is when Kunogi says, "That's all? Are you sure, Yuuko? Will Kimihiro-kun be all right?"

"Yes," Yuuko replies softly. "Doumeki, and one other, will pay the rest."

"Don't make this burden lighter on me," says Kunogi, in a strangely flat voice. You imagine that she's clenching her fists.

"I do not. I take only what you can pay." Yuuko waits impassively.

"Then do it! By all means, do it, Yuuko-san, please!" she begs.

"Yes. But Doumeki is first. Come, Doumeki."

Yuuko leads you to another room and takes a ceremonial knife from the storage room. She draws one of her elaborate circles with a section for you and a section for her, and places the knife in the middle. Maru and Moro fetch bowls. Yuuko enchants the bowls, lays them properly in the circle, and enchants the knife in a language you cannot understand.

"Be still," she commands, and releases the knife. For a moment it hovers in the air, and then the blade re-orients, and it slices forward, quick as a flash—

Refusing to flinch, you close your eyes. It hurts. Everything hurts, an aching, tiring, exhausting hurt. You barely feel the slashes, themselves, but the blood flowing out of you, spelled to make little arcs into the bowls, is making you nauseated. So much. So much.

…It's over. Yuuko is done. You faint.

The Face of the Sunflower

When you wake up, you are propped outside the room, in the hall.

For a moment there is dead silence. Then, Kunogi screams—and screams, and screams…Suddenly, her wailing stops, and now…she's whimpering. You hear every slightest sound but the shrill buzz of her voice in your ears numbs you, divorces you from her pain and, oddly, from your own as well, leaving you cold and exhausted in its wake.

"There, was that too light of a burden?" says Yuuko, a little dangerously.

"No." Kunogi is silent after that, except for the occasional gasp of pain.

Finally Kunogi comes out into the hall where you are, and turns around. Her back is straight and proud. "My price," she says, and lifts her hair so you can see the ends of new, red, angry scars on her neck peeking over the edge of her collar. There must be more, lower down, and especially over the shoulder.

"Impressive…" you whisper, sucking a breath between your teeth, and close your eyes, fighting sleep.

"Come, Doumeki. Let's go to Watanuki's room." Kunogi makes a movement to help you up, but thinks better of it and tucks her hands behind her back, curling her fingers guiltily. Yuuko steps in, instead, and with her help you can half-crawl, humiliated and floundering, to Watanuki's bedroom. You curl up just outside, and doze, and the blood dries on your skin and clothes while Watanuki heals. Kunogi goes outside to play with Moro and Maru, because they have no souls and apparently aren't affected by her bad luck. The witch's familiars are all more subdued than usual.

You hear everything when Watanuki wakes and he speaks with Yuuko, and asks to speak with Kunogi. Kunogi hears and passes you as she enters the room. Her face is set and hard, strong but not brittle, with an expression that you have never seen before. She walks inside and speaks to him and shatters his dreams with the truth. She leaves, not looking at you, looking upset but also, at the same time, smiling to herself unawares.

Yuuko speaks with Watanuki again, and he asks her about the prices. Watanuki doesn't know at first that you paid a third of the price for his life in your blood. He's most concerned about Himawari-chan…as he should be; she looked dangerously unstable when she passed you in the hall. It still irritates you that it's all that Watanuki can think about. Once again, you fall into a light doze.

When Watanuki has also fallen asleep, Kunogi comes and wheedles you into coming out onto the porch before she takes you home, because she knows you are still too tired to go just yet. She isn't ready to go home either. It looks like she needs to talk — for real, this time, at last. She sits down, hunching slightly. "Amazing, isn't he?" she says, wrapping her arms around her legs and pulling them to her chest.

"Mm." You nod.

"I've been waiting so long, Doumeki-kun; I've been waiting eleven years to say what I said to Watanuki. I couldn't stop myself. I let it all out." Kunogi chuckles prettily enough, but the darkness in her heart escapes through the sound and blossoms in the air around her. She tinges the final moments of the day with the winnowing breath of night. She looks better, to be rid of that poison. And you know, suddenly, why she is here, talking to you. She wants to confess everything.

"Doumeki-kun, I am—this terribly twisted person, inside. Finally I let him see that, at least." Kunogi laughs softly. "It's so selfish—so terrible of me—but I wanted him to be the first person who knew my secret. I mean that because while people have guessed, like you, I'd never told anyone. I began to doubt that I ever could.

"But then I met him, and I thought—he could be someone to whom I could tell everything. He was so gentle and kind. But he was also so, so blind and innocent, I despaired of ever telling him the truth. And every time I despaired, I became angry with him for refusing to see. Though I tried to stop, I began to...to wish. I craved disaster on a scale that he couldn't ignore." Tears spring to her eyes. "Although it wasn't very much...I became careless...because I wished for something, anything, to happen. I needed him to see it. I needed him to know."

"But not like this." You say it very smoothly, evenly. There's not a hint of anger or impatience in your tone.

Still, she picks up on something. Maybe, to those who look, you don't have such a stone face after all. She looks up at you, as if she hasn't ever looked at you properly before, and sees you for the first time. "No," she says slowly. I know it's an excuse. I know it doesn't make any difference to you, her posture whispers, and her eyes say sadly, But still I dare to ask for your mercy, your kindness, your forgiveness. Her eyes search your face. "Not like this."

You can't forgive her just yet. She has some responsibility for the mess Watanuki finds himself in. You can't excuse her feelings. Out of love for Watanuki, some part of you has closed itself to pity for this girl. You understand—but the knowledge is somehow made remote. It may be unreasonable, it may be the cruelest demand you have ever wanted to ask of a person, but part of you insists, with stone-cold, sinking heavy certainty, that if Kunogi really cared about Watanuki, she would have found a way to prevent this from happening. Regardless of what Kunogi needs or deserves, because of your love for him, you will always defer to Watanuki's well-being.

But Kunogi also paid the price for Watanuki. Twisted, desperate, starved for tiny morsels of friendship and truth, she is still his true friend, and he hers. She didn't mean harm, and she hoped for something good. And that has to be enough.

Finally something in your eyes gives her relief, for she releases a small sigh and looks away. "He forgave me, Doumeki-kun," she says wonderingly, twisting her hands over her heart. She stares out, out into the dusky darkness hovering over Yuuko's twilight garden. "Doumeki-kun, how can he say that? How can he say that, and mean it?"

"I don't know," you say. "He just does." You pause. There could be a reason. "He loves you," you tell her dully, and your heart aches somehow. You don't even have the energy to add anything, like the fact that he's a complete idiot, to that statement. Whatever Watanuki may have thought, those two have no future together.

"Do-do-dou-Doumeki-kun," Kunogi stutters, half-laughing. "That is not the answer." Then she smiles a trifle ruefully. "He's just infatuated. It'll pass." A sad smile flutters across her lips, and you know she's done talking. The time for truth is over. Kunogi hops off the porch and stands in the garden, tall and straight, beaming with sorrow and pride like the himawari sunflower. She beckons you to follow her. "It's late, and you're tired; I'm afraid you won't make it, if you wait. Come. I'll lead you. Let's go home." She turns to face the west and the fading sun, and starts walking.

Kunogi leads your body away from the wishing shop, but as you walk away, your head is curiously empty. Your thoughts haven't returned from that place, as if you left them behind in the shop with Watanuki. Kunogi sees you to the temple, bows, and walks home by herself. You enter the house, crawl into bed and sleep. You dream no dreams, none at all.

Repayment Honored

The next day, Watanuki makes Kunogi Himawari-chan a bird that will stay by her side forever, untouched by her bad luck. And Kunogi's joy is sincere.

That same day, he thanks you.

Once again Watanuki has surprised you into not quite believing your ears. And you can't see his face, which is carefully turned away. Curiously, you lean over and crane your neck to catch a glimpse; he covers his face with his hands, too embarrassed for you to see. As irritating as that is, that means—

He really means it.

Perhaps he wanted to be saved.

Any other person would probably say cheerfully, "Well, it's about time! What were you waiting for? Was giving you half of my eye not enough, or something?" Half of you would like to say that, but it would be counter-productive…and the other half of you has already forgiven him completely.

Huh, his glasses are gone. They must have broken in the fall. Without the glass covering them, you can see the roiling blue of his left eye, and the subdued, swampy golden-green of his right...mysterious and secretive.