Title: Remember the Dead
Word Count: 3041
Characters: Watanuki Kimihiro, Doumeki Shizuka
Notes: Second fic. Yay!
Watanuki receives a phone call that night. He listens patiently as Kohane attempts to tell him the news and his heart breaks every time her sobs pass through the phone. When he finally replaces the receiver, he feels empty. There is a gaping hole in his chest, stretching wide and yawning for things he can no longer have.
The others notice. He wakes up one day to find breakfast laid out on the table with Maru and Moro standing proudly on each side, waiting with eager smiles for him to start eating. He laughs and devours the food with vigour. The meal isn’t perfect and in his mind, he’s making a list of ingredients they must have either forgotten or used in excess. The toast is burnt. The tea is too sweet. They’ve forgotten the soy sauce.
He eats every last crumb anyway.
Mokona joins him for sake in the evenings, drinking through their liquor supply in almost total silence. It doesn’t help, not much, but Watanuki appreciates the company. He appreciates the silence more.
A week after the incident, Watanuki falls asleep on the porch, alone, an empty bottle of sake sitting on the tray next to him.
When he wakes, Haruka is sitting next to him. He lights a cigarette and turns, smiling. “Good evening, Watanuki.”
“Good evening, Haruka-san,” he replies, straightening his posture and wincing at the protests his spine makes; it had not been a good position to fall asleep in. “Um, Haruka-san,” he begins uncertainly.
The former chief priest saves him the trouble by finishing the sentence for him. “Shizuka is dead. I know,” he says, almost pleasantly.
“M-mm.” They are silent for a while, both ostensibly lost in thoughts. Finally, he asks, “Is he alright?”
Haruka exhales, blowing out a trail of smoke. “I wouldn’t know. I haven’t seen him.”
“Oh,” he says, not bothering to cover up his surprise as his eyes follow the cigarette smoke, curling and stretching into the night.
“Are you worried?”
“N-No. I’m not worried.” he insists and it’s the truth; he isn’t worried, not in the least. “I was just wondering.”
Haruka laughs which makes Watanuki feel more than a little ridiculous. “You should pay him a visit,” he says, inhaling deeply. “He’s waiting for you.”
He turns away at the last remark, determinedly ignoring the flush that, in spite of everything, he’s sure has begun to develop across his cheeks – stupid, stupid. “But he’s dead. How can I…” he trails off, remembering belatedly just who it is sitting next to him.
Doumeki Haruka only smiles.
He gasps then, jerking awake in a sudden rush to find himself alone. The kiseru is cold in his hands. Almost automatically, Watanuki pinches out a small amount of kizami and refills the pipe, inhaling as he stands and makes his way towards the treasure room.
The door slides open at his touch and he lets his feet carry him on a lazy tour around the shelves, breathing in the scent of the room.
Something glows orange in the dark, the smooth colour of fading sunset. As he draws closer, he recognizes the shape; it is the pumpkin-like lantern he had received a few years ago, for collecting manna during the Hyakki Yakou. Watanuki smiles a little as he recollects the nearly disastrous event. It feels like it was only yesterday that he was constantly stumbling head first into life-threatening situations. Him and Doumeki.
“Gone, huh?” he says softly to the empty air. His chest throbs in the silence.
When he reaches his room, he pulls the door shut behind him and walks towards the bed. He takes off his glasses and places them on the bedside table, next to a small black box. He slips under the covers, shifting around until he finds a comfortable position, one hand curled around the hozuki resting on the pillow next to him. He breathes out and closes his eyes.
Sleep comes to him with the footsteps of ghosts; there is no sound but its presence tickles his skin, purring at him and inviting him to come closer. He relaxes into the sensation and slowly, it surrounds him, enveloping him until he is lost in the folds of its soft embrace. There is a sense of floating, as if he’s suspended in air and he begins to drift aimlessly into the silence.
Watanuki reaches out, searching for something solid to hold on to. Distantly, he feels his grip tighten around the lantern and it fills him with warmth, subtly pushing him in the right direction. Sensing his destination before he even sees it, he looks down and spots the temple, a small miniature building below him.
He pauses at the very edge of the dream, lingering there, searching until he manages to find an opening.
Once inside, something tugs him downwards and before he can focus enough to remain where he is, he slips and begins falling. He panics and the rising alarm tugs at him, pulling him away from the dream, away from the danger and back to safety. He fights the conditioned reflex, trying to calm his nerves. Even when he hits the water, he forces his body to relax, letting himself sink deeper down until his back almost touches the bottom.
When the world finally stops twisting away from him, he begins clawing his way towards the surface. Long seconds tick by before his fingers manage to find air and he bursts through the water, gulping desperate breaths of oxygen to cool his burning lungs. Once he stops seeing spots in his vision, he looks around and realises that he has landed in the temple’s lake. He stands, looks around and silently marvels at the fact that he somehow survived that fall.
Watanuki starts at the familiar sound and turns, splashing a semi-circle of water around him. Doumeki is standing by the edge of the lake, safe and dry.
“What are you doing?”
The question rattles his nerves and despite the situation, Watanuki can feel his lips sink into an automatic frown. “Taking a midnight swim. Want to join me?”
Instead of an actual answer, the only thing Doumeki says is, “Huh.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” he demands, albeit without much heat, as he makes his way over in loud, noisy splashes. “That’s not even a proper answer. Honestly, it’s not that hard to form whole sentences every now and then, you know,” he says, waving an expectant hand at Doumeki.
Wordlessly, Doumeki catches it and pulls him out in one fluid movement, taking a few steps back. The almost effortless action picks at another string of annoyance in him and his mouth is open, ready with another biting comment when he looks up to face Doumeki.
The person standing before him is shorter than Watanuki remembers him to be – although still infuriatingly taller than him – and he is dressed in the unmistakable black uniform of their former high school.
The words die on his tongue.
Doumeki studies him intently. “Is this a dream?” he finally asks.
“That’s right,” he says, his voice dropping. “Your dream.”
They walk towards the temple in silence, passing through the small forest and leaving the lake behind. As Watanuki squelches around in his wet yukata, the material clinging to his shoulders and dragging on the ground behind him, he can’t help but feel a little miffed by Doumeki’s easy acceptance of the fact; no one should be allowed to accept such absolute news with nothing more than a mere blink.
But then again, if Doumeki really is completely at ease with being dead, then Watanuki wouldn’t even be here to begin with. That means there’s something else that’s bothering him, something important enough to hold him back in this world, although Watanuki can’t quite figure out what. After all, if his own death doesn’t bother him, what else is there?
He looks around, searching the temple grounds for signs of trouble, any unsteady structures that might represent feelings of unease at such a sudden death; there are none. The night air is cool, the trees whispering quietly as the occasional breeze sweeps through the temple ground. A full moon hangs serenely in the sky, the only source of light. The dream, in fact, is just as calm as the dreamer.
Watanuki tears his gaze away from the night sky to look at Doumeki. “So what?”
“Why are you here?” he asks, meeting his gaze.
As always, the urge bubbles rapidly in his throat; decades may have passed but even after all this time, Watanuki still can’t completely shake off his old habits when it comes to handling this guy. But this is the last, he reminds himself and with that, attempts to force a truthful answer out of his own mouth. “That’s,” he says at first before stopping. His second attempt is only slightly better, getting as far as, “I wanted.” Finally, he looks away, chickening out with, “Haruka-san told me to check on you.”
Internally, he sighs.
Watanuki turns, frowning at the way the question so easily mirrors what Haruka had asked him only moments ago. He wonders if they really haven’t bumped into each other yet. Doumeki stares straight ahead though, not looking at him, so he decides it’s safe and concedes. “A little.”
They reach the temple then and Doumeki leads him to an empty room, waiting only long enough to make sure Watanuki has taken a seat before disappearing behind a door. He returns seconds later, holding out a towel.
When he takes it and starts rubbing at his hair, Doumeki asks, “Do you want to change into something dry?”
“No,” he replies. “This is fine.”
Another silence descends on them. Watanuki focuses on the task of toweling his hair. His heart thumps heavily in his chest, despondent, yearning.
Doumeki breaks the silence first. “My son will take my place.”
Watanuki looks up, not understanding. “What?”
“My son,” he repeats. “Kaori.”
“I know who your son is,” he half-snaps. “What do you mean, ‘take your place?’”
“Just that,” is the easy reply.
It takes Watanuki perhaps a moment longer than it should to grasp the full meaning of Doumeki’s words. When it finally dawns on him, anger blossoms in his chest, blooming brilliantly like flowers. “No,” he says. “No. That won’t be necessary.”
Doumeki’s expression remains unchanged. “You can’t leave the shop yet,” he states bluntly, merciless. “You’ll need his help.”
“I’ll figure something out,” he says, waving his hand dismissively. “Maybe I’ll make Mokona do the shopping from now on. It’ll do him good to get some exercise.”
Doumeki makes a sound that may or may not be disbelieving snort. “Like that would work.”
“It might,” he maintains stubbornly. “I won’t know until I try.”
“Don’t be stupid. I’ve already discussed it with Kaori. He’ll come see you soon.”
“I don’t need his help.”
“Yes, you do.”
“Look,” Watanuki says, a little desperately because this was obviously going to turn into another one of their not-arguments unless he can make his point clear. “I don’t—If he ever comes by the shop, I want it to be because he wants to or because he has a wish he needs granting, not because he’s checking to see if I need anything. I want him to live his life the way he wants to and not feel like he’s bounded to the shop. I don’t want him to feel obliged to help me. Not like,” he pauses before forcing the next words of his tongue, “not like you.”
Even though Watanuki is looking down, eyes set on studying the shape of his hands, he can feel the heat of Doumeki’s gaze on him; the feeling is almost solid, as if the space between them is on fire. Finally, when he can no longer bear it, he looks up.
Doumeki is glaring openly now, his mouth set in the same frown that he once wore years ago – when Watanuki had passed by the temple one morning with an eye patch over his face and the whispers of a satisfied spider as it carted off his right eye. The look sends chills down Watanuki’s spine; he can’t look away.
“You,” he starts, his voice quiet. “You’re such.” He exhales, a long-suffering sigh which makes Watanuki realise that he may not be the only one trying to avoid an argument. “I have never considered it an obligation.”
“Never?” Watanuki asks, incredulous.
“Never,” Doumeki echoes, folding his arms across his chest.
He doesn’t dare believe it. “Then why did you stick around for so long? For the food?”
If possible, Doumeki’s glare obtains more heat. “Not the food, you moron.”
“Then.” He falters, feeling lost, feeling hopeful. “Then. Why?”
“Because I wanted to,” Doumeki says matter-of-factly, like he thought it was the most obvious thing in the world and that Watanuki must be a complete idiot for not knowing that already. “Because you needed it.” And then, as if feeling that even that might not be enough, he does the unthinkable by crossing that invisible line between them and says what neither of them has ever admitted before. “Because you matter. To me.”
Watanuki does not answer immediately. All these years, there has always been something sitting heavily in his chest, like a tight knot made by millions of threads wrapped around his soul. He has known from the beginning what the feeling was and why it was there, but he had never, ever dared to ask.
Now, this, the possibility of finally getting answers to the questions he has kept secret, takes his breath away. “I’ve always wondered,” he whispers.
Doumeki shrugs. “I’m happy with the life I led. There wasn’t much else I wanted.”
“So you don’t,” he stops, hesitating.
Doumeki hears the rest anyway. “No,” he replies, and his tone is almost gentle, “I don’t.”
The tight knot unravels, loosening so abruptly and so rapidly that it disorients him, making him dizzy. He exhales, basking in the sudden relief and realises that he can’t remember the last time he was this relaxed. Somebody laughs then, and it takes him a while to comprehend that the sound is hopping merrily out of his own mouth.
When he looks up again, Doumeki is watching him, all traces of his earlier anger gone. “You really are an idiot.”
For once, the comment makes him smile. “Jerk.”
Something tugs at him then, a faint pressure at the very edge of his consciousness. His body suddenly feels light, weightless and it can only mean one thing: his time is nearly up.
He closes his eyes, takes a deep breath and for the second time in his life, he says, to Doumeki, “Thanks.”
Watanuki can feel himself slipping away, losing his grasp on the dream and falling back into reality. This time, he doesn’t fight it, allows himself be pulled back towards the realm of the living.
The answer is quiet, so quiet that he very nearly misses it. Watanuki opens his eyes and only barely catches the smile sitting contentedly on Doumeki’s lips before he wakes up.
He sighs, rubbing his temple. A glance at the clock tells him it’s almost eight-thirty in the morning and he pushes himself up into a sitting position, yawning.
Quietly, the shop tells him he has a guest; Watanuki can hear the resolute footsteps padding across the pavement, towards the entrance.
There is a cautious knock on his door. Seconds later, Maru and Moro’s whispers seep through. “Watanuki, are you awake?”
“Yes,” he says, glancing at the hozuki next to him. The glow he remembers from last night has faded but when he touches it, it’s still warm. “Please tell Kaori-kun that I’ll be with him in a minute.”
Watanuki waits until after the two girls have left before he flips the covers aside and swings his legs onto the floor, the hozuki in one hand. With his other hand, he picks up the small box and carries both items to the shelves nailed into position on the wall across his bed. He places the hozuki on the shelf, next to the few books he owns.
He considers the small box for a moment before tentatively flipping it open. Inside, resting on smooth red silk, is the small ring he had fashioned from peach wood, years ago, as a gift. It hums quietly to him, a soft soothing sound that brings back memories.
At the back of his mind, he can hear a familiar voice mocking him, always. He sees again all the times he was saved by quick, strong arms, never hesitating to pull back and release the arrow when the time was right. He remembers their conversations, their arguments, their lunches together with Himawari, their last-minute escapes from Yuuko’s ridiculous assignments. He remembers the twins, Valentine’s Day, the Angel Incident, the not-human lady, the wings, the spider web, the parade, the collector’s house, the snowball fight, the ghost stories.
Watanuki remembers everything.
“Doumeki Shizuka,” he whispers and involuntarily winces. For some inexplicable reason, ‘Shizuka’ had never felt right to him.
“Doumeki,” he tries again and that feels much, much better.
His chest still throbs; the vast hole in him is still there, an ever present reminder of things gone and lost forever. But he remembers now and he remembers then and no matter how much time passes, he’ll never forget.
And that’s what matters most.
Smiling, he closes the box and places it carefully next to the hozuki. With slow, deliberate movements, he turns and walks towards the door, pushing the wood to one side with his right hand. He steps outside and pauses, listening to birds chirping and feeling the heat of the sun on his skin.
The door slides shut with a soft click.