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Abort, Fail, Retry

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1.

 

Contrary to what some people might believe, Watanuki has actually given more than two seconds' thought as to why the girl he adores most in all the world seems to bring him the most catastrophic luck, and the person who has always, unfailingly saved him gets under his skin like a ragged-edged splinter, making him want to gnaw his own arm off just to make the aggravation stop.

He's thought about it. For as long as a whole minute, before. The problem is, he's never managed to draw any useful conclusions before the headache sets in, the one that squeezes the base of his skull and grinds against the backs of his eyeballs, until he loses all interest in straining himself over impossible conundrums, puzzles without answers. His life has enough of those at it is, and just getting through most days in one piece takes all the energy he has.

And anyway, he suspects that no amount of thinking will change the way the world explodes with sunshine and butterflies, every time Himawari-chan beams her good-mornings to him. Nor will it change the way he has to grit his teeth and clench his hands to his sides sometimes, just to keep from knocking that insufferable smirk off that Doumeki's stupid face, with both fists and maybe a shoe for punctuation.

These things are just facts of his life, like gravity, like the sun rising in the east, like how any time Yuuko cracks the seal on a bottle of Isojiman (or any other absurdly expensive booze he's never heard of), she is guaranteed to keep drinking until it's all gone.

There are not many things in life Watanuki can absolutely depend on, and yes, maybe he clings to some beliefs more than he should. But since he can't remember life before Yuuko-san and Mokona, Himawari-chan and that irritating bastard Doumeki, he doesn't think he should really be blamed for taking reliability where he can get it.

Which is why it shocks him as much as anyone, on that crisp autumn day in the park, when he has the perfect excuse to punch Doumeki in the mouth, but ends up kissing him instead.

Kissing is probably the wrong word. But having never in his entire life kissed anyone, that he can recall, he has absolutely no better word to describe it. If there actually is another word for attacking another person and trying to eat their face, he doesn't think he wants to know it.

Needless to say from there, everything goes to hell.

**

 

"What do you mean, she's not coming?"

This was where it started: Watanuki kneeling on a picnic blanket, feeling that one vein throbbing in his forehead, just a little reminder that he could always die of an aneurysm one of these days. He was glaring up at Doumeki, who just stood there with his hands in his pockets, looking bored, looking like nothing in the world was ever his problem.

"A water main broke in her neighborhood last night. Everyone got flooded out. She has to help her parents clean up." Doumeki may as well have been reading from last week's newspaper, for all the feeling he put into it. And though Watanuki had long since learned better than to expect anything more, that didn't mean it didn't piss him right off, every single time.

"What, and you just left it like that? Didn't you ask if she needs help?"
"She doesn't."

Watanuki tightened his grip on the furoshiki he'd just unwrapped from the three-tier bento, sitting all by itself in the center of the picnic blanket. Unnecessary, now. And all his painstaking work, up since dawn, slicing and chopping, steaming and searing and seasoning, arranging every tray with loving care. Unnecessary.

Just once, he wanted to feel like everything he did wasn't ultimately futile. Was it really so much to ask?

And then, having ruined Watanuki's entire day--the modest hope of sharing a picnic with Himawari-chan, blown to dust and cinders yet again--Doumeki proceeded to dump salt on the wound; kneeling decisively by the bento and removing the lid to inspect the contents.

"Is that tebasaki?"
"Who invited you to open that?" Tossing the furoshiki aside, Watanuki took a swat at Doumeki's hand, which Doumeki avoided without even looking. "My god, were you raised by wolves? Do you think it's all right to go pawing through other people's things?"

"Too loud," huffed Doumeki, as if Watanuki were the only one making a scene here. He scooted to the other side of the bento to dodge another flailing arm, and pulled off the top tier, blind as always to everything that wasn't food.

Watanuki dropped his arms and took a wild-eyed glance around, confirming that this corner of the park was deserted. He could cave the greedy swine's head in with a brick, drag him off into the weeds somewhere, and nobody would know.

Keeping one eye out for a likely weapon, he growled, "Don't expect me not to yell, when you take things you haven't been offered! I did not get up before God, to prepare all this food, just to dump it down your thankless gullet! This was meant for a picnic! With Himawari-chan!"

"But she's not coming." Bland as a block of chilled tofu, and just looking at that face, Watanuki had to grip his skull to keep it from rupturing.
"YES I REALIZE THAT, I WAS THERE WHEN YOU TOLD ME."
"So it would just go to waste."

"THAT ISN'T REMOTELY THE POINT."

With a thoughtful frown creasing his brow, the soon-to-be-late Doumeki peeked in at the bento's bottom tier. "So you'd end up giving it to me anyway. What's in these harumaki?"

Watanuki would never be entirely sure what it was about this time (as opposed to every single other time Doumeki had pushed to him entirely too far) which made him finally snap. Maybe that vein in his forehead had reached its critical pressure point. Maybe it was because early this morning, tasting the pork for the harumaki, he couldn't tell whether to add more seasoning, because he had no recollection of how the dish was supposed to taste. Maybe it was the tired grim voice in the back of his head, asking why he even bothered anymore, when things always went sideways, no matter what he did. He was rootless and too disaster-prone for normal things like picnics or dates, or whatever the hell people his age did with themselves.

Whatever the cause, the effect was not so much an explosion, as this bizarre seismic shift in his brain; a slip and a thump and the world tilting off-kilter. Next thing he knew, Doumeki's collar was straining against his grip and Doumeki himself was scowling, half a spring roll still in his hand as Watanuki heaved him backward off the blanket.

"Oi. What was that for," he demanded, after swallowing hard.

"My name," Watanuki gritted out, collapsing to his knees, leaning in so Doumeki couldn't possibly miss the full force of his death glare, "is not 'Oi'. You insensitive jackass. And maybe it's all the same to you, but I think I deserve the choice about whether to share something which I, me, myself, spent four hours putting together. Does that sound reasonable to you, Doumeki?"

"A choice." The words dropped like a stone to the grass between them, and Watanuki would swear the air hadn't been this chilly just a second ago. And then Doumeki turned, looking at him, with a dangerous stillness to his expression. Mouth set. Brows pulled together to a straight dark line. Watanuki couldn't possibly overlook the cloudy cast to Doumeki's right eye, pale colored and dimmer than the left. Normally that sight alone was enough to shut him up. Make him stamp down on his frustration, bite his anger back and swallow it.

Except that on this day, this crisp cloudless autumn day, it wasn't enough. Something had been simmering in Watanuki's blood, always just under the surface for too long, and today it finally boiled over.

"What are you looking at? Don't even try and tell me you don't have a choice, when you do whatever you want, and never have to give a damn about anything. Maybe I'd like to do whatever I feel like, sometime. Maybe I'd like to not give a damn about the consequences, or what anybody thinks, the way you do. Did you ever think about that? Huh?"

Doumeki's eyes squinted down to slits, glittering like a sword peeking from its sheath. Had he been in his right mind, Watanuki would have known this was the time to back off and drop the subject, before one or the other of them drew blood. But he was furious, he was sizzling inside, and he saw no point whatsoever in trying to salvage the situation.

"Do it," came the sharp clipped answer, Doumeki crossing his arms. "If there's something you want to do, then do it. That's what a choice is."
"Do you seriously think I need to you to explain that to me?" Watanuki shot back.

"Do it."
"I will kick your ass so hard. Shut up."
"You going to do something, or not?"

 

Later on, with a cold rag over his face and a screaming migraine, Watanuki would attempt to piece together the very short sequence of events which followed. He would try his utmost, to understand where his blazing desire to hit Doumeki square in the face went so horribly awry.

It started with a hard shove to Doumeki's chest, which of course made no impression at all because Doumeki was built like a tree and existed to spite him. Immediately after that, he remembered grabbing Doumeki's collar, and then everything stopped making sense. His glasses got knocked askew by Doumeki's cheek, and Doumeki's hair was bristling between his fingers. He bruised his kneecap on a rock, and then bruised his upper lip on Doumeki's front teeth. The pain just made him more angry, and when Doumeki got his mouth open, either to gasp or say what the hell has gone wrong with you, Watanuki bit his bottom lip in retaliation.

After that it was suffocating, and wet, and he was pretty sure Doumeki ended up with a fistful of his hair before it was over. And then--Watanuki remembered this vividly, as the precise moment his fate was fixed and everything started going to hell--a child's plastic ball came bounding across the grass and thumped him in the head.

He shoved himself back, mouth wet and stinging, a cool breeze slipping in where his shirt had come untucked, and catching sight of Doumeki's expression, knew it was the most terrifying thing he'd ever seen.

"Fuck," he stated, grabbed his shoes, and ran for his life.

*****

 

2.

 

If he hadn't raced off in a blind panic, leaving Yuuko's bento container, furoshiki, and blanket to Doumeki's dubious care, things might not have escalated. Had Doumeki, when Watanuki finally tracked him down at his family's temple, not recovered from his shock and resumed his air of haughty superiority to all and sundry, Watanuki might have found some way to apologize for his temporary insanity that afternoon.

Granted it was a long shot, but alas, it was not to be.

"You ate all of it." Watanuki stared down at the bento, pristine, and quite definitely empty.
"I was waiting to see if you'd come back." Spoken in a tone which might have been chastening, if Doumeki had cared.

Still, Watanuki couldn't take his eyes off all that empty space. "You ate an entire picnic for three people. Actually, two people and you." Frankly, he was having trouble getting his head around it.
"I washed the bento," Doumeki pointed out, sounding just a little tetchy now.
"What are you, hollow inside?" He glanced up to see Doumeki scowling, and by now it was practically a reflex, to scowl back.

"I waited 'til sundown. After you took off. Do you really want to talk about food?"

What a stupid question. Of course Watanuki didn't want to talk about food. He didn't want to talk about anything, he just wanted to retrieve Yuuko's belongings, so she didn't cast him into a pit of eternal darkness for misplacing them, and get out of here. But trust Doumeki to be stupid enough to wait around in the park for five or six hours, for someone who had plainly run off and left him, someone who was so obviously too much of a coward to come back.

And there, again, suddenly he was furious beyond all reason. He spat some answer at Doumeki, something pithy and acidic, but ultimately forgettable. Doumeki's brows pulled together, mouth turning down at the corners, when he said something back. Watanuki didn't hear it; his blood was pounding too loud in his ears, and he was too busy watching Doumeki's mouth, thinking I've tasted that, and god, surely he was possessed by a demon, because why else would he have reached out, grabbing at Doumeki's shoulder this time, crowding into his space?

"Stop talking," he ordered. And of all miracles (or maybe it was just the dumb shock of lightning striking twice), Doumeki did.

They were terrible kissers, both of them. Clumsy and too aggressive; fighting for control of the kiss, fighting for balance; Doumeki trying to push off the wall while Watanuki struggled to keep him pinned. His bruised lip stung like a bitch, Doumeki's fingers digging into his shoulderblades hurt, but there was that incredible heat again, crackling down his nerve endings, and as long as he didn't open his eyes, none of this had to make any sense. He didn't have to wonder How or Why, didn't have to consider any reason for the warm hand sliding up under his shirt, calloused palm cupping his ribcage. Or the way a voice he had never heard came trickling out of his own throat, somewhere between a gasp and a whimper, when Doumeki's hot slick mouth traveled down his jaw to his neck.

There came a dicey moment, when Doumeki's ridiculously warm hands were framing his waist, kneading at the tight muscle in his lower back, searching and grasping, never still, and Doumeki's greedy mouth was suckling at his throat. Watanuki's anger wavered, threatening to become something different, something as frightening as that look on Doumeki's face in the park; wide-eyed, demolished, like a hole had just opened up in the clear blue sky and shown him the entire vast universe, all at once.

But then Doumeki started talking.
"What. What are you--."

"Don't," snapped Watanuki, deciding he had no time or patience for idiotic questions. To emphasize the point, he slipped his hand down Doumeki's waist, down the front of his yukata, to the hard bulge at his groin. He cupped his hand around and squeezed, and Doumeki sucked in a breath, an obscenely gratifying sound. Unfortunately the move put him off balance, and then Doumeki stole the advantage and surged forward, spinning them about and pinning Watanuki to the wall.

Before Watanuki could get out his shout of protest, Doumeki had latched onto his mouth, shoving aside his hands and going for the fastening on his belt. He yanked and tugged at it blindly, jerking at Watanuki's hips, until Watanuki hissed in irritation and knocked Doumeki's fumbling hands aside. Got his belt open one-handed, thumbed the trouser button loose, had exactly one split-second to think this will end in disaster oh shit what am I doing, before Doumeki, being bull-headed and stupidly persistent, took over with the zipper, slipped his hands down into Watanuki's pants, warm skin slightly rough against Watanuki's bare hips, easing downward.

He couldn't breathe. Even when Doumeki's weight moved off his chest, and his tongue left off plundering Watanuki's mouth. There wasn't enough air, and his head was spinning in the darkness behind his eyelids. Doumeki's mouth slid along his collarbone, nipping and licking, and then down to his bare belly, leaving a cool wet trail over his hip, and Watanuki's knees started to shake.

Rage and relief and dread were all melting into the same thing, and in the dizzy darkness, slumping down the wall while Doumeki mouthed his dick through his briefs; humid breath and just enough to pressure to torment, Watanuki knew he could die like this. Blind, stripped of all rational thought and right on the edge of screaming; it could all end right here and be somehow perfect. Better than any end he'd ever expected to meet, anyway.

Then his briefs were tugged down his hips, freeing his aching erection. A puff of cool air on the heated flesh before wet lips descended, tongue flicking across the slit, sending a hard jolt straight up Watanuki's spine. His head thumped back against the wall, but he scarcely noticed the pain, or his own hoarse cry bouncing off the ceiling. He needed more, more friction, more heat, fucking something, and couldn't help thrusting his hips forward. What he got was teeth scraping his dick, and Doumeki's hand clamping into his thigh as he choked on the sudden intrusion.

Watanuki flinched--"Oww--shit!"--doubling over as Doumeki gagged, and then from somewhere outside there rose a long squeal of car brakes, horns blaring, and a brittle, glassy crunch of impact.

"What the--?" It was like being jarred too suddenly from sleep; Watanuki's eyes popped open, glasses smudged and half-sideways on his face, giving him a bent, fractured view of Doumeki staring up at him, disheveled and equally startled, his swollen mouth glistening red.

For just one flashbulb instant, that sight almost stopped his heart.

And then it struck him head-on, that Doumeki was on his knees looking hungrier and more naked than Watanuki had ever seen, despite being fully dressed. He had one hand still curled in the elastic of Watanuki's briefs, and Watanuki himself was half-stripped, pants down, and had just been on the cusp of receiving the most awful blowjob in a temple, of all places.

There were so many things so utterly wrong with this situation, Watanuki didn't even know where to start. Luckily his fight-or-flight response was still in good working order, and in the absence of any better plan, it directed him to retreat, ASAP.

"Was that a car wreck outside? It sounded like a wreck. Maybe--," shoving Doumeki's hand from his underpants, gingerly tucking his hardon back in, refusing to spare one millisecond of thought for what he was actually doing. "You should go check that out. Somebody might be hurt."

Doumeki just stared up at him, with a disturbing glazed expression. Slowly, he blinked. "Wreck?"
Watanuki might have reached down and rattled some sense into him, just on principle, but he knew he had a very short window for escape, here. Best not to give Doumeki any chance to come to his senses.

Instead, he concentrated all his attention on making himself reasonably decent, as fast as possible. Yanking at his stuck zipper before giving it up as a lost cause, buttoning his pants, fastening his belt, and pulling down his shirt hem to cover his fly. He set his glasses straight, snatched up the bento, furoshiki, and blanket, and was all set to run like his ass was on fire.

And then Doumeki spoke again. "You're going?"
"Yuuko-san. Waiting on dinner," Watanuki gestured hurriedly, already making rapid strides toward the nearest exit, praying his stupid troublesome erection would just disappear, already. "Gotta take off, seeya later bye."

"...Oi."
"I have no idea who you're talking to," Watanuki shouted back, trying to sound rushed instead of nearly frantic, scooping up his shoes at the door and breaking into a sprint.

 

*****

 

3.

He knew better than to be relieved that Yuuko was nowhere to be seen, when he returned to the shop. Sure it meant he didn't have to endure her raised eyebrows and thinly veiled suggestions, or the inhuman glee she always took in dragging out his worst embarrassments. But it didn't mean he was off the hook; far from it, knowing his luck.

Just because Yuuko wasn't there to see him pelting up the front walk, soaked in sweat, shirttails flapping, hair sticking out at all angles and looking unmistakably debauched, Watanuki knew it was only a matter of time before she had him pinned and squirming over it. He had a temporary reprieve, that was all. He should probably make the most of it. Get his head together. Figure out this inexplicable force that was making him do insane things, and put a stop to it.

**

A couple hours later, after a thorough scrubbing and a long bath, lying on his usual futon with a cold rag draped over his eyes and his skull pounding fit to burst, Watanuki had to admit he was at a total loss, here.

Doumeki made him crazy. That was a given, always had been. The mere sight of him was generally enough to drive Watanuki into paroxysms of rage, wailing and gnashing of teeth. That stuck-up chilly attitude, communicating in grunts and monosyllables, staring stone-faced at Watanuki, every time Watanuki turned around. He hated it. He hated that goddamned 'Oi', like he was a dog, supposed to heel when Doumeki snapped his fingers. He hated the way Doumeki loomed all over the place, stern and grim, hulking around like he had anything to be pissed about.

Suffice it to say there was no reason, whatsoever, in any universe for Watanuki to ever, ever, ever want to kiss him.

But he had. More than once in the same day. And the only thing which could possibly be worse, was the fact that Doumeki had kissed him back. He'd done more than that, and Watanuki had let him, and to make the whole thing even more horrible and hopelessly confusing, Doumeki had somehow managed--for those scant few moments--not to be an unrepentant asshole about it. As a matter of fact, when Watanuki had been forced to actually look at him, he had....

No. Ugh. He couldn't think about that. With the heels of his hands, he pressed the damp cloth against his eyeballs, until multicolored sunbursts drowned out any errant images from the day.

He did not like Doumeki. Couldn't stand the bossy freak. This was an ironclad rule of Watanuki's existence, and the minute he started tampering with those, everything was bound to go haywire. He had to keep things in perspective.

Doumeki was a spoiled, selfish nuisance, and always would be. Today was just a slip, one of those weird anomalies, like schoolmates growing parasitic wings and disembodied hands popping up around the drinking fountain. Watanuki had only acted out because he was stressed, and who wouldn't be, putting up with a humorless shadow all the time?

Tonight he'd get some rest, put all thought of that person out of his mind, and tomorrow he'd be fine. Everything would go back to normal, and there would be no more surprise attacks of kissing, or anything else weird and incredibly ill-advised.

It was a good plan, and Watanuki repeated it to himself several times as the night wore on, refusing to make any room for doubts or startlingly vivid memories which didn't mean anything and it was a waste of energy to even contemplate them.

Eventually, he slept.

**

As good as his plan was, he should have accounted for Doumeki finding ways to thwart it. And he really shouldn't have been the least bit surprised to find Doumeki lying in wait for him, as soon as he stepped outside the gates of the shop, on his innocent way to school. Too bad he had to see all this in hindsight.

He strolled out, occupied by thoughts of classes, saying good morning to Himawari-chan, and not losing his mind today, and practically walked into Doumeki before he saw him. Lurking there with his feet planted, hands in his pockets, and serious displeasure written all over him.

"Hey."

More startled than he really should have been, Watanuki jumped back like a firecracker had gone off in his face, tangling his legs up, arms pinwheeling--"GAH!"--and fetched up against the wooden fence, heart pounding wildly.

"Don't--don't DO that, you freak! You could've given me a heart attack!"

Doumeki eyed him dispassionately. "I'm making sure you don't run off again."
"By scaring me to death?" Watanuki had one hand clutched to his chest, and the other was digging into the planks at his back. "Did it even occur to you, that might defeat the purpose?"

Then he caught his breath, and rewound the conversation a bit. "And where am I supposed run off to? I'm going to school."

Doumeki said nothing, just raised an eyebrow in one of several withering expressions guaranteed to drive Watanuki berserk. He had an entire repertoire of them. Probably practiced them in front of a mirror, for maximum effect. Just thinking about it made Watanuki want to bite something.

But he wasn't falling for any looks of any description this time. He was going to school, going to spend the whole day minding his own business, and for the sake of everyone's sanity, ignore all signs of Doumeki's existence. With that goal in mind, he pushed himself off the wall, dusted off his uniform blazer, and took his briefcase firmly in hand.

"School. That is where I'm going. I'm not running anywhere. So you can....," he flapped his hand in Doumeki's direction, before setting his eyes determinedly down the sidewalk, and setting off.

It took all of half a block, before he could sense the glare aimed at his back, and two blocks before that spot between his shoulderblades started to itch, like a rash was forming. Nonetheless, he pressed forward with long steady strides, jaw set.

Halfway to school, that glare crawled up, over his shoulder, scorching his earlobe as the Person of No Consequence who just happened to be following along, pulled even with him.
"You know this won't work," said That Person.

Resisting the urge to bristle, Watanuki lifted his chin and replied as airily as he was capable of, "I can't imagine what you mean. I've been walking to school for years. It works just fine."

This bought him half a minute of silence, during which he could almost hear Doumeki's eyes rolling in his head. One of these days, Watanuki was tempted to mention, Doumeki's beady eyes were going to stick like that, and it would serve him right. But he didn't say anything, and eventually Doumeki sighed. Watanuki knew it for an irritable sigh, and hated that he could even tell the difference.

"Whatever."

He couldn't help it. He shot a sideways glare at Doumeki, burning to ask, Whatever, what? What's that supposed to mean, Whatever? Were you born a massive dickhead, or was it something you had to grow into? But the dickhead in question picked up his pace, passing on ahead, leaving Watanuki staring at that funny little cowlick on the back of his head, annoyed and maybe the tiniest bit baffled.

**

"Ah, Watanuki, I'm truly sorry I had to miss your picnic." Dear Himawari-chan, she looked so sincerely regretful that Watanuki's heart swelled and burst into millions of tiny pieces within him. "I felt terrible, after all the trouble you must have gone to."

Unlike certain other people (Of No Consequence) he could name, forgiving Himawari-chan was effortless. She could probably have roasted him on a spit over a high flame, or run him over with a bus, and Watanuki would never even think to hold any grudge. She was just too sweet, too perfect to ever blame for anything.

"No, of course it was no trouble, please don't feel badly. Your house is okay, right? Nothing was damaged?"
"The floors got a little wet, but we moved everything in time, so it should all be dry soon." Himawari-chan dimpled at him, and Watanuki's brain floated up to a serene, cheerful place full of pink fluffy clouds and sparkles. "And at least you had Doumeki-kun to enjoy your picnic. I was glad to hear he could come with you."

Watanuki's brain thumped hard back to earth. "Eh..."
"Did you have a good time, Doumeki-kun? Wasn't the weather perfect, yesterday?" She turned that glorious smile on Doumeki, completely unaware of Watanuki's cringing, and Doumeki glowering sidelong at him. Or if she did notice, Watanuki thought, she pretended not to, because she was too gracious and kind for the company of undeserving mortals (and most especially Doumeki).

"The tebasaki was okay," Doumeki answered, staring right at Watanuki, just as he had done all day so far, to the point that Watanuki was more than ready to bounce his thick stupid head off the grass.
"Hmph. I guess you would know," Watanuki muttered.

"You could have had some." Doumeki's voice was flat, but there was a glint in his eye that Watanuki didn't like one bit. "That is, if you'd bothered to--."
Watanuki jabbed a warning finger at him. "You do not want to finish that sentence."

"How was work last night?" Doumeki asked, leaning in, matching his ferocious stare against Watanuki's near-volcanic ire.

Himawari-chan saved Doumeki from an immediate messy death, with a cheerful giggle. "It's so nice, that you two are such good friends. I'm glad you can keep each other company."

He couldn't kill Doumeki in front of Himawari-chan. And he couldn't communicate his promise through eye-contact, to kill Doumeki later on, while at the same time gently reassuring Himawari-chan that honestly, things were not as they seemed.

It was tremendously unfair. Especially since Doumeki was free to continue staring holes in Watanuki every time they saw each other, for the rest of the day. Which made for an extraordinarily long and difficult day, and by the end of it, when Himawari-chan was smiling her precious farewells to them, Watanuki had forgotten all about his original plan of ignoring Doumeki for his own good.

"Oh my God, what did I ever do to deserve you hanging around all the time? Haven't I been punished enough?" Watanuki launched into the tirade as soon as Himawari-chan was out of earshot, storming down the sidewalk, gesticulating wildly, just to burn off an entire day's worth of bottled rage so he didn't explode.

"I am done! I'm at the end of my rope, do you hear me? I have had it up to here! What the hell is your problem, anyway? It wasn't enough that you were always....always around, now you have to start this--this looking at me, do you have any idea how annoying that is? No, wait, of course you do. This is all part of your plan, isn't it. Admit it, you just want to drive me batshit crazy, it's what you've always wanted, to see me carted off to the nuthatch in a straight jacket, every night I bet you lay awake and think, 'Hm, what can I do that will send Watanuki completely over the edge?' You do that, don't you?"

Doumeki didn't answer for several steps, striding along shoulder-to-shoulder with Watanuki, mouth pressed to a thin line, and Watanuki nearly plowed into a light pole, watching him, waiting for some kind of answer.

"Damn it--," he muttered, dodging around at the last second, while Doumeki didn't even break stride.

"You don't need my help being crazy," he finally answered. "You get there fine on your own."

Watanuki could actually feel himself turning purple. "FOR YOUR INFORMATION! I dunno, maybe you want to file this away somewhere. But I'll have you know I'm a perfectly reasonable individual!" He was stomping down the pavement, waving both arms, briefcase careening freely through the air. "I am sane, rational, and perfectly well-balanced when you're not around! So what does that tell you?"

Doumeki slowed, turning a pointed look toward a woman with a baby stroller, hurrying across the street toward the opposite sidewalk. "Beats me."

"You enjoy it! Admit it!" Having lost all sense of self-consciousness in the mad flush of hysteria, Watanuki jerked a finger toward the fleeing woman. "You see that? That is a normal person's response to someone going crazy. But you are still here! I scream at you every single day, and you just stand there! You keep coming back!"

"And what," asked Doumeki, turning to face him, both of them halted in the middle of the sidewalk now, "does that tell you?"

If it had just been that one sardonic eyebrow cocked at him, Watanuki probably would have stormed off right there. But Doumeki was watching him, with just a glimmer of genuine curiosity peeking through, like in spite of himself, he really did want to know. In spite of his general lack of give-a-damn about everyone and everything on earth, there was this tiny traitorous part of him that truly had a stake in the answer.

You're either crazier than me or stronger than almost anyone I know. Yuuko being the obvious exception, but the whole idea was too much like a blasphemy, it rattled Watanuki to his very core, and threatened to topple everything he believed in and depended on, to ground himself to a world that seemed to be slipping further from his grasp by the day.

He actually staggered back a step, teetering between unspent anger and deep paranoia, suddenly certain that if he told the truth, everything he had ever known, the whole world as he understood it, would disappear. Leaving him alone in that strange blank darkness he sometimes fell into, or woke up in. A world where there was no school, no wish-granting shop, no bentos in the park on Sunday. No Himawari-chan, or Yuuko, or even Doumeki.

Truth be told, he often wondered if it wouldn't be easier just to give up and slip away to that place. Especially those times when he felt sort of blank, dark, and empty himself. He would think that if he just let himself disappear, all would be said and done and he wouldn't have to be afraid anymore. You can't lose what you don't have, after all. And once he lost this world, and these few people he knew, that would be it. There wouldn't be anything else left to lose, and he wouldn't have to worry, ever again.

As he worked it all through, for the umpteenth time, watching in a distant detached way, as Doumeki went from looking mostly sarcastic and the tiniest bit wondering, to looking sharp and hard at him, Watanuki felt himself tipping forward again, into Doumeki's gravity, pulled along by a force of will stronger than he was at that moment.

"Oh to hell with it," he might have muttered, stumbling toward the abyss, sick and tired of trying to differentiate anymore between what meant staying here and what meant slipping away. Doumeki's chest was solid enough beneath his forehead, and both his arms were undeniably there, when Watanuki gripped him at the elbows, and then by both shoulders.

"If you could try not to be a jerk, just for five minutes," he started, losing the rest of it as he looked up, zeroed in on Doumeki's mouth. It was like an epiphany, like a lightbulb switching on in his head, and everything seemed so very simple. The rest of the idiot's expression was irrelevant; he wanted that mouth, right now.

Lurching upward, he bumped his nose against Doumeki's, then his chin, then had the brilliant idea to hold Doumeki's aggravating head still. And for a too-brief second, it was just right. He would have the rest of his life to gloat over how Doumeki's lips parted for him, the sharp strong taste of him, like hot green tea. The way Doumeki's breath drew in hard, his hands fisting in Watanuki's blazer, snatching him close.

Then Doumeki was mumbling some nonsense about doing this in public, idiot, grabbing his wrists, and the next time Watanuki blinked his eyes open, they were in a claustrophobic narrow alley, with yet another wall at his back. He had time for a full-sensory flashback of Doumeki on his knees, greedy hot mouth sucking at his hip, and he was goddamn sure not doing that in a filthy alley, but couldn't resist sucking Doumeki's tongue in, between his lips, before somewhat breathlessly making his point.

"Can't go to my house," came the hurried answer. "Visitors."
"M'not fucking you in a temple anyway," Watanuki managed, between hungry little nibbles down the line of Doumeki's jaw. "S'just wrong."

Doumeki hissed, working one knee between Watanuki's thighs and rucking his shirt up from his trousers. "Who said you were--."
"Quit. Arguing." He dragged Doumeki's hips forward until he could feel the hard line of his erection against his thigh. Doumeki let out a half-strangled moan, and Watanuki caught it, tasted it, swallowed it down. He wanted to hear it again, wanted to hear that voice rasping and begging, wanted to strip down the strong body pressing him to the wall, and suck Doumeki 'til his eyes rolled back in his head.

He hadn't realized he was saying any of this out loud until Doumeki shoved against him, grinding up his thigh with a deep hungry growl, "Yes oh fuck yes, you have no idea." And surely those words melted Watanuki's brain, because there was no other way on earth he would have suggested they go to a hotel.

"No money," pointed out Doumeki, whose brain was still intact, apparently. Or maybe not. "Let's go to the shop."
"C-can't," answered Watanuki, shuddering mindlessly, at the feel of Doumeki's tongue tracing the shell of his ear. "Yuuko-san. Kill us both. Or blackmail us."
"She's not back 'til tomorrow."

He was too engrossed in nipping the tendon standing out on Doumeki's neck and sliding his hands down Doumeki's ass for Doumeki's words to register at first. "Bwuh? Where'd she go?"

"Didn't say. You didn't read her note?"
"Note?" This was too many details for Watanuki to process in his current lust-fogged state. And he didn't particularly care to be too coherent right now. Coherence hadn't been much of a friend to him, lately.

Although there was a significant gap in the logic, here. "How did you know?"

Despite the fact that he was shamelessly rocking against Watanuki, licking his collarbone, and working his hands beneath Watanuki's waistband, Doumeki managed to shrug. "She called."

This news ought to have prompted a certain amount of outrage on his part, Watanuki recognized that, but currently he was having trouble mustering anything more than momentary irritation. Even that was pretty feeble, compared to the offense in question. Yuuko had left without a word for him, and yet found the time to call Doumeki, no doubt to request his babysitting services? She had a lot to answer for, and at some point when he wasn't so preoccupied with Doumeki's hard thigh flexing against his crotch, Watanuki would definitely work out a suitable line of accusation.

But that was for later. Right now he had more important matters to attend to.
"Fine, the shop. Ow, dammit, don't bite there."

Squirming out from under Doumeki's weight was like struggling from a vat of warm taffy, while heavily inebriated. Doumeki clung to his body with every move, and he had no business tasting like he did, a rich clean savor Watanuki couldn't begin to place, and couldn't seem to get enough of. The only things that kept him moving, slowly but stubbornly back toward the street, were a staunch refusal to come in his trousers, and a fierce impatience to drag every stitch of Doumeki's clothing off his body.

 

*****

 

4.

 

"Watanuki's back from school," singsonged Maru and Moro from the doorway.
"And he brought a guest to stay!"
"A guest!"

"It's just Doumeki," Watanuki grumbled, beelining past them. "We have to...ah, study--." Wincing at the derisive huff from Doumeki, close behind. "It's important, so we can't be bothered, all right?"

"A study date!" the girls chimed.
"It's not--!" Watanuki put in hurriedly, but was drowned out by their merciless cheer.
"Study date, study date! Watanuki and Doumeki! Maru-chan and Moro-chan can bring refreshments!"

"No refreshments! Don't either of you go anywhere near that kitchen."
"I wouldn't mind something," mentioned Doumeki, slipping his shoes off and clearly missing all sense of urgency in this situation. Watanuki whirled about, to remind him.
"Do you want to study, or not?"

"We can't do both?" shrugged Doumeki.
After a few seconds delivering his severest glare, which had no measurable effect, Watanuki shook his head and headed off briskly for his room. "I'm just going to pretend you didn't say that."

"Watanuki missed reading the Mistress's note last night," called Maru, trotting along beside him.
"Mistress left it in the kitchen, but Watanuki didn't see," said Moro.
"Watanuki went to bed with a headache, and didn't see."

"Fine, I get it, I'll look for it later." Honestly, money or no, a hotel was looking better all the time.
"Watanuki doesn't have to look, we brought the note for him!"
A folded slip of paper was thrust into his hands, and Watanuki sighed. "All right, thanks, please give us some privacy now."

With a renewed chorus of, "Study date, study date!" the girls danced off down the corridor, as Watanuki thumbed Yuuko's note open, skimming over it, aware of Doumeki catching up into his peripheral vision.

"Headache?"
"It was nothing," Watanuki snapped, frowning over Yuuko's handwriting. Though as he read, he thought he could vaguely feel the ghost of that headache, creeping up behind his eyes again.

Watanuki-kun, the note began. And then, blah blah blah, last-minute business trip, blah blah, returning Tuesday, something about picking up some booze from the grocery, and then....

Be careful with Doumeki-kun... Here, Watanuki blinked and froze. And blinked again at the next line.

Don't forget to check the medicine cabinet in the guest bath, if you need anything.

"What's it say?"
Watanuki's fists clenched reflexively, crushing the note in his grip. For the moment, he was stuck in a weird emotional limbo, someplace between horror, righteous indignation, and spine-tingling fear. This was not an uncommon feeling where Yuuko was involved, and maybe someday he'd learn to ignore it.

"It. Um. What you said," he got out. "She went off somewhere. 'Til tomorrow."

She had known, he realized. With that godawful hitsuzen fortunetelling thing she did, Yuuko had known what was going to happen. She probably knew what they were up to at that very moment. Which he should have considered, all the way back in that alley, only he hadn't because he was too busy abandoning all reason.

"You really didn't know."
"No, I--." What medicine cabinet? Since when did the guest bath have one of those? Did he even dare look for it?

He jumped at the soft rattling noise behind him, spun about to see Doumeki sliding the bedroom door closed. Catching his eye, Doumeki explained, "Privacy."

"Oh." In the face of Yuuko's unsettling omniscience, Watanuki found his earlier singleminded drive was losing steam. He was not quite so sure of himself, as when he'd first strode in the door. Be careful with Doumeki. What the hell was that supposed to mean?

"Unless you want me to leave it open." Doumeki's hand lingered on the door, but his expression was a total blank. Predictable as always, then.

"Eh? Why?"
"If you change your mind."
Watanuki blinked at him in confusion, and Doumeki added, in a somewhat darker tone, "If you decide to run off again."

Ah, good. There was his anger, fizzing up right on schedule.

"You think you can scare me? You calling me a coward, is that it?" He dropped his briefcase to the floor, tossed Yuuko's note aside, and stalked right up to Doumeki, hands on his hips.

"Let's get something straight, right now. I've been chased by stuff that would make you piss your pants, since I was a kid. I've seen things in broad daylight that would make you scream and hide behind your mom. So don't even flatter yourself, thinking you could possibly do anything that would scare me." Poking Doumeki's chest for emphasis. "We clear on that? Good."

Doumeki regarded him with all the feeling of the wooden door frame at his back. Possibly less. "I didn't call you anything. I just said if you want to change your mind. The door's right here."

It would be counterproductive to kick Doumeki in the knee without shoes on, Watanuki knew that. Nonetheless it was mighty difficult to refrain from it. "You think I'm stupid? You think I can't find a door I walk through all the time, every day? I don't need your sympathy." Poke. "I don't need you to condescend to me." Poke. "And I sure as hell don't need you--," poke, "--to hold my hand!" He was all set for a good shove on the last part, but Doumeki's hand flashed out quick, and caught him by the wrist.

"Then tell me what you do need. Because I'm damned if I can figure it out."

Doumeki's eyes smoldered at him, and a deeply ingrained instinct ordered Watanuki not to answer the question, or even think about it. Talking about needs was dangerous in this house, whether Yuuko was around or not. Talking about needs was dangerous, period, he had learned. The universe had a way of screwing him over when he admitted to wanting things, making him pay some ridiculous price before he'd even properly consented to the deal. And maybe he wasn't the world's quickest learner, but hell if he was getting tripped up by that one again.

"Obviously you're not trying very hard." He yanked his arm from Doumeki's grasp, then shrugged out of his uniform jacket and slung it to the side, with only a passing twinge of conscience over wrinkles. From the corner of his eye he saw Doumeki's jaw tighten and promptly ignored it, spinning about to head for the folded futon in the corner, loosening his shirt buttons as he went.

His heart was thumping in his chest as he kicked the futon open, shucking his shirt off at the same time. Though it wasn't fear he felt. More of a reckless exhilaration; the feeling people must get from riding rollercoasters, or skydiving, or standing up in a convertible, speeding down the highway. Watanuki had never done any of those things, but for the first time ever, he thought he might grasp the appeal.

"I refuse to be the only one getting undressed," he told Doumeki over his shoulder. "So you might as well get over here." He was right on the verge of adding, Unless you're scared, but then there came a rush of air over his bare shoulders, and he would swear he could feel the heat of Doumeki's presence, like a blaze of sunlight against his skin.

Even twenty centimeters away, Doumeki was ridiculously warm, and all at once Watanuki was tantalized by a strange wisp of not-quite-memory.

Kicking his futon open, just like this, someplace else. A place that was freezing in winter, sweltering in summer, and always so very empty. He couldn't place the recollection any better than he could guess the flavor of pork harumaki, but somehow he knew he'd been alone there. Shivering his ass off, getting undressed on a winter night. Turning out the lights, checking the locks before bed. Because there was never anyone else there to do it for him.

"What. Are you doing," Doumeki grumbled at his back, although for once it didn't really touch him. It wasn't like sandpaper scraping away at his last nerve, mainly because Watanuki was busy wondering if he'd liked that place, or hated it. And then he realized it was irrelevant, since he'd probably never find it again, even if he tried.

Somewhere along the way, he had lost that place. Maybe if enough time went by, he'd forget all this too. The feeling of the tatami under his socks. Doumeki radiating heat and impatience, at his back. The lingering scent of incense and Yuuko's pipe smoke hanging on the air.

"It doesn't matter," he finally decided, turning about to face Doumeki, whose expression warned that he would soon do something monumentally aggravating. He wore that look of Who do I need to thump into a wall, to get some answers around here?, and that generally didn't bode well. But really, it didn't matter.

"I'm doing it." And even if he didn't remember it in a year, six months, next week, he would damn well make sure at least one of them did.

Doumeki made no move to evade him, when Watanuki reached for his uniform blazer. He went stone still, eyes boring into Watanuki's forehead, as Watanuki pushed his lapels back toward his shoulders. Unable to get much farther without some kind of cooperation, Watanuki stared hard at the bare sliver of Doumeki's throat, through the gap in his collar.

"So are you in, or not?"

There came the longest silence in the world. The briefest of tremors rippled through Doumeki's stillness; if Watanuki hadn't been touching him, he would never have noticed. Then Doumeki drew a deep breath and huffed it out, chin dropping to his chest.

"Fuck."
"Now you're catching on," Watanuki nodded, just before leaning in to meet Doumeki, who listed toward him with another faint shiver. Watanuki caught a close-up flash of smoky gold eyes as Doumeki's lashes fluttered closed, setting off a low thrum inside him, like a single note plucked on a harpstring, from the pit of his gut down to his toes.

From there, everything sank into an underwater blur of movement, sensation; Doumeki's taste, his scent, the heat of his hands marking Watanuki's skin. Eventually somebody's knees gave way, and they tumbled down to the futon, and then Watanuki's glasses were off somewhere, hopefully somewhere safe.

He briefly regretted their loss, when Doumeki was stretched out beneath him, the blurred lines of his body emerging as his clothing was stripped away. For just a moment, it seemed a shame not be sure whether the reality lived up to his imagination. But then Doumeki dragged him down with a hand at the back of his neck, dragged him forward with a hand on his hip, and it wasn't like he needed glasses when he was moaning into Doumeki's mouth, and grinding his hardon against Doumeki's hip.

At some point he realized his trousers were still on, shoved down to the tops of his thighs, and that was troublesome. He tried shoving them further down with one hand, needing the other one to keep him propped up above Doumeki. But finding that ineffective, he squirmed about, planting a knee between Doumeki's thighs, and prying Doumeki's hand off his ass.

"What--?" Doumeki muttered irritably, against the wet patch where he'd been trying to suck the skin from Watanuki's shoulder.
"Pants," Watanuki insisted. "C'mon, a little help, here."

For once, Doumeki didn't grumble, he just hooked both thumbs into Watanuki's briefs and dragged it all down together. There came a tricky point, when Watanuki had to teeter forward on both hands and pull his legs free one at a time, and he was pretty sure it looked completely ridiculous, but at least it got the job done.

And then he was sliding back down Doumeki's half-naked torso, feeling the cloth of Doumeki's trousers brushing his bare skin; such a novel sensation that he was awfully tempted to investigate it further. But Doumeki was grabbing at him, hands suddenly everywhere, and Watanuki had to struggle for enough control to finish the task he'd had in mind.

"Your pants," he said, tugging at them, and Doumeki huffed irritably; whether it was at him, or the contortions they had to assume in order to accomplish it, Watanuki didn't know. More importantly he didn't give a damn, not in the grip of his intense need to touch the body beneath him with every part of himself, knees knocking against knees, legs twining restlessly, chests and bellies and....

Oh my, thought Watanuki, gasping in a breath as his cock dragged against Doumeki's. He quit caring about the damned pants; he quit caring about anything, because god this was amazing and how had he gone all this time and never known?

He slid down Doumeki's body, just so he could rock himself back up again, and it was every bit as stupefying the second time. Only this time Doumeki responded, with a tiny choked noise way back in his throat, gripping the bedcover until the tendons in both arms stood out, and Watanuki decided then and there that he would not rest until the bastard's outrageous self-control was well and truly broken.

Squirming loose from Doumeki's grasp, he crept downward again, resisting the urge to bite and taste all that tempting skin on the way, since it would only betray his intent. And oh it was worth it, for the way Doumeki jolted when Watanuki took hold of his hardon, wrapping his fingers firmly around the shaft, before taking an experimental lick across the head. The taste was salty, musky. Definitely odd, though not so awful as he would have imagined, if it had ever once occurred to him to imagine putting another guy's dick in his mouth.

Though he supposed that wasn't really the point. People didn't do this for the taste, they did it for the effect, and seeing Doumeki's whole body twist on the bed--a long arch of taut muscle and sinew--, trying with all his might to stifle another low groan, Watanuki thought he had a pretty good grasp on why.

He tried another long swipe with his tongue, up the shaft, dragging across the head, and felt Doumeki's thigh quivering against his shoulder. Then he opened his mouth, remembering at the last second that teeth were very much unwanted here, and tried sliding his lips down over Doumeki's cock with slow deliberation.

He thought he was getting the hang of it, if Doumeki's gradually escalating noises were anything to go by. And given that one thing was finally working in favor, he doubtless should have anticipated some calamity throwing it all off-course. That was practically the story of his life, after all.

But when he first felt the vibration of the floor, he assumed it was just Doumeki's heels thumping against the futon. And then the roof beams were creaking, and the windowpanes were rattling, and though this ought to have been somewhat alarming, all Watanuki could think was, Oh you have got to be fucking kidding me.

"What--what's--," gasped Doumeki, having gone conspicuously still.
"Forget it, it's just an earthquake," Watanuki said, very reluctantly looking up from between Doumeki's thighs, with his jaw feeling oddly stretched. There wasn't a chance in hell he was letting a stupid earthquake, or otherworldly visitation, or even the goddamned Apocalypse get in his way now. Just this once, the universe would have to leave a message if it wanted to get hold of him.

Quick as it had come on, the rattling of the room subsided, and Watanuki licked his lips and, bent again to his task with serious determination.
"Wait." Doumeki shuddered, and then batted weakly at Watanuki's shoulder. Watanuki glared up at him, exasperated, wiping off his mouth with the back of his hand.

"What, fuck's sake, it stopped, didn't it?"

"No, I mean." Doumeki drew in a hard breath and squeezed his eyes shut for a second. "I mean don't. Don't do this."

"You mean, this?" Watanuki glanced down at the wet stiff cock in his hand, just to clarify.
Doumeki swallowed hard, but his voice still sounded gravelly. "I need--I want you to stop."

It took a several seconds for Watanuki to filter the request through the roaring of his hormones and his entrenched stubbornness toward all things Doumeki. But while he sorted it out, he noted that Doumeki was staring at the ceiling with a decidedly odd expression; one part stoic resolve to two parts frustration, with a dash of pained regret. Which for him, was an alarming amount of feeling to show.

Carefully, he withdrew his hand from Doumeki's cock, wiped his hand on the sheet, and sat up to weigh his options. After a minute or so, when Doumeki didn't say anything, and not one glimmer of insight leapt forward to help Watanuki out, he finally had to ask.

"Did I. Do something wrong?"

Doumeki stared at the ceiling for awhile, and then dragged his arm up over his eyes and sighed, very quietly.

"It should matter. When we....this. It should matter."

Watanuki would have been entirely within his rights to inform Doumeki that he was talking gibberish. But to his vast discouragement, he understood the gibberish. He knew exactly what Doumeki was getting at, and the knowledge was like sinking in quicksand, where struggling was useless, and exhaustion always won.

For one desperate moment, it occurred to him to lie, tell Doumeki whatever he wanted to hear, whatever would ease his uncharacteristic and utterly inconvenient attack of conscience, simply for the sake of seeing this through. But he suspected that was just two days of acute sexual frustration talking, and no good would come from listening to it. Anyway, he wasn't about to sit here naked as a jaybird and have Doumeki call him on a lie. He had to have some dignity, after all.

Seeing no better option available, he slumped down on the futon, elbowing Doumeki's ribs to make him budge over.
"You are." He heaved a breath of defeat, rolling onto his back and pressing his palms to his eyelids. "I can't even think of a word for what you are, right now." His body was still thrumming with heat and he was so hard he ached, and oh hell he could cry, his life was so unfair.

There came a rustle of bedclothes next to him, and then, "You're angry?"

"No." He paused, surprised to find it was actually true. Frustrated, yes. Plagued by the manipulations of an uncaring universe, absolutely. But--it was almost depressing, really--he wasn't angry.

And then he thought about it some more. "I do think you're an ass, telling me to make a choice about something, and then calling it off. Especially after giving me crap about closing the door. And you wonder why I'm always yelling at you."

"I don't wonder," Doumeki answered. "And when people make real choices, they don't say it doesn't matter."

Watanuki thought he could argue that last point; the things that mattered to him tended to get him almost-killed with upsetting consistency. For the most part, he was safer when things didn't matter so much. But he couldn't even muster up the fire to argue. All he could do was rub his hands against his eyes, and wish his body weren't so abysmally slow at catching on to abrupt changes in plan.

He needed a distraction. He needed something to vent his frustration on, something to stave off the black gloom gathering at the fringes of his consciousness.

"You are so stupid," he said, seeing as Doumeki was the closest target to hand, and if nothing else, he was always good for venting at.

He heard Doumeki snort, or cough or something. "How am I stupid, this time?"

"You could have a life. You could be anywhere else, right now. Someplace normal people go, dates, whatever." Watanuki flicked a hand in the air, indicating Doumeki's vast range of available choices.

"You could hang around some girl, like Whatsername, in Trig. She prob'ly wouldn't yell much. Maybe she'd even make bentos. You guys could....do stuff."

The words left a bad taste in his mouth, like walnut hulls or black tea left steeping all day, and he put it down to the hair-tearing idiocy of having to explain to Doumeki what was right in front of him. All the things he could do on a whim, that Watanuki never could, because all those same girls who looked at Doumeki gave him a wide, wary berth, and just seeing their bentos, he'd known it would never work out.

That world would never be his, it was never meant for him, and with every passing day it only became more apparent.

"Stuff," Doumeki repeated. Watanuki reasoned that if he didn't open his eyes, he couldn't see Doumeki smirking, and thus wouldn't be obliged to smite him.

"Yeah, stuff, jackass. Movies, amusement park, hell, don't expect me to know what people do when spirits aren't always trying to eat them. Point is, you could do any of that. You could hang around with normal friends, and just--be a high school student, for God's sake. Instead, because you're an idiot, you're always hanging around me and I'm barely even here half the time--."

That bitter taste was strong now, but he was just warming to his topic, and so was naturally a bit perturbed when Doumeki suddenly rolled over, grabbing hold of his arm.
"Don't say that."

Watanuki shut his mouth and blinked his eyes open, discovering Doumeki leaning over him, quite close, with a fierce, burning stare.

"You belong here. You're not going anywhere."

It was like out in the street, earlier; he could feel the stubborn willpower pouring off Doumeki in waves. But even as he felt it tugging at him, he was also somehow sure that it wasn't enough. It wasn't stronger than the painless evaporation of his memory, or whatever force was inexorably dragging him away from everything. It wouldn't be enough, and one day--sooner or later--they would both see that.

"You don't know that," he sighed, deliberately breaking eye contact, frowning off toward the blurry shape of the far wall, and Doumeki's grip tightened on his arm.

"I will make sure of it. Don't you dare think to give up. Not ever."

"Not the boss of me," Watanuki murmured. "Also, you're insane." Not to mention heavy and unnecessarily warm, pressing down on his chest, though at the moment Watanuki didn't feel much need to bring that up.

"I'm serious, look at me. Watanuki--." Doumeki cupped his chin, turning him, and Watanuki was too busy being stunned speechless to even resist.

Had he just....did Doumeki just utter his actual name? He stared up, flabbergasted, as Doumeki stared down, stormy pale eyes and so much raw earnestness that it hurt to look at. Watanuki could feel that gaze tearing right down through him, scrabbling against his heart; so stupid, so insistent, so exactly like Doumeki, damn him. It was staggering, and infuriating, and it was absolutely going to destroy Doumeki someday, when Watanuki finally disappeared....

Oh curse everything to hell, he never wanted to realize that.

"What do you think you're gonna do?" he demanded, scowling up at Doumeki. "You can't go the places I go. You can't see what I see. You can't give me back the stuff I don't remember. You think you're gonna make me stay here? What. Can. You. Do?"

Doumeki drew in a deep breath, making more of his heavy warm skin press against Watanuki's. "Give you a reason?" There came a lightning-quick flicker of uncertainty in his eyes, watching Watanuki carefully, and he shut them tight for just an instant, before adding, "Something that matters."

There were several things Watanuki could have said in that fateful, solemn pause. Get off me I can't breathe. Or Go talk nonsense someplace else, maybe. You're giving me a damn good reason to kick your head in, might have been apt. Or even the tried and true, Knock it off, pervert. A few weeks ago he might have said any of those things, without even thinking twice, just to get his own space back.

On the other hand, a few weeks ago he wouldn't have been lying naked in the same bed as a naked Doumeki, entertaining the faintest wary curiosity in the furthest back corner of his mind, whether Doumeki might actually be capable of making good on his offer, before he annoyed Watanuki to death.

Which was why, instead of throwing Doumeki off by the most decisive and expeditious means, he tilted his chin, and allowed Doumeki's fingers to graze his cheek, slow and hesitant, even though it tickled some. He didn't flinch or snap, when those fingers wandered into the embarrassing bird's nest of his hair, combing it back so carefully, and he didn't grimace at Doumeki's grave attention, studying every centimeter of his features, like his too-pale skin and his scrawny neck were the last sight Doumeki would ever behold on this earth.

Not that it wasn't unsettling, being the focus of that much scrutiny. More to the point it was flat-out weird seeing it from Doumeki, who paid as little attention to the world around him as he could get away with, most times. Watanuki would have been getting anxious about the staring, if it weren't for the fingers brushing soft against his scalp, sending little tingles partway down his back.

The fingers were too soft, was the problem. They weren't quite firm enough to be satisfying, and just made him sort of itchy. He was reaching up to rectify the shortcoming, when his hand strayed inexplicably off-course and ended up cupping the arch of Doumeki's cheekbone instead.

Doumeki stilled, and his eyes blinked wide, and Watanuki hadn't known he'd even thought the question before it came right out of his mouth.

"You really think you want to give up your whole life, just to keep track of me?"

Doumeki flexed one bare shoulder in an approximation of a shrug. "Already did. Just a matter of following through on it, now."

And at what point, Watanuki wondered, had he decided that? Was it when he gave up his blood, or half his eye, or when he stood in the rain for ten damn hours with nothing but a ribbon and his own intransigence to hang onto? Or was it even before that, the night he held Watanuki's wrist, as Watanuki dangled five stories up from the school roof? Refusing to let go, even when a monster he couldn't see was gnawing at his arm.

I made a choice, Doumeki had once told him. When he'd shot the spirit lady Watanuki had befriended, because even knowing she was killing him, Watanuki couldn't bear to leave her all alone. Doumeki had tracked them down, drawn his bow and exorcised her, fully aware that Watanuki would most likely hate his guts so long as he lived.

All that time, up to this very moment, Doumeki had always been there. Solid, uncompromising, irritating as hell but unshakable all the same. The world might tilt sideways on Watanuki, but every time he came back, he knew he was back, because Doumeki was there.

He'd decided to be there. He'd chosen it, time and again. Because for whatever unfathomable Doumekian reason, being there for Watanuki mattered. Watanuki could see it, right there in those watchful eyes, it was far too blatant for even him to ignore.

And in that silent moment, with Doumeki's breaths pressing against his own ribs, Doumeki's cheek warm and smooth under his hand, Doumeki's gaze pinning him in place, seeking something in him; wary, determined, and wanting, so very much. That's when Watanuki understood.

"Damn. I'm gonna have to feed you forever," he sighed.

Doumeki, he saw, started looking distinctly less fraught as the idea took hold of him. "Wouldn't turn that down."

"Glutton," Watanuki sniffed, though even as he said it, he caught an odd shivery feeling, like he'd just been brushed by the faintest wisps of some kind of future. One in which he was miraculously still alive to cook, one in which Doumeki sauntered by on occasion with bags of groceries (in Watanuki's brief fantasy, Doumeki could actually follow a grocery list).

And the sun still rose every day, and the seasons still passed, and Watanuki didn't disappear into darkness forever. He was there, and Doumeki was there, and....

"Hey. You falling asleep?" (Doumeki's hand on his bare shoulder, warm and slightly calloused. Pale eyes narrowed, sharp, so familiar to him now.)

Honestly. All things considered, it was not a fate worse than death.

 

**

 

So then something happened. Not a catastrophe; not a bristling, teeth-grinding, right-on-the-edge-of-screaming disagreement. No stinging remarks were flung, no one got wounded, or mauled, or succumbed to the smothering gloom of an existential crisis.

All in all, it was pretty low-key. Quiet. It wasn't romantic. It wasn't anything like the movies, or those appalling manga (which Watanuki most certainly did not read, no matter how often Yuuko left them laying around). It was just two people, who knew each other maybe a bit too well, who fell into an unspoken agreement not to antagonize each other for a little while.

And they also happened to be in bed. With pretty much nothing on, and a strange unknowable future stretching too far out in front of them. In a situation like that, it wasn't so unnatural to hold on to the person nearest to hand. It wasn't like either of them was proposing marriage, and it didn't mean he might not decide to knock Doumeki soundly in the head at some later date, if necessary.

But just for that particular time, there in that room, as the afternoon faded to the crisp fragrant darkness of autumn evening outside, it was.....something.

It was no less uncomfortable than should be expected, given they were on a narrow surface, and neither of them had ever shared a bed with anyone. There were a lot of unnecessary knees and elbows involved, but they'd worked out at least a rudimentary idea of kissing. And in trying to avoid whatever he'd done to spook Doumeki before, Watanuki accidentally discovered that the aim wasn't so much to attack and subdue the other person, but rather to try and cooperate with them a little.

Which wasn't all that difficult, once they were laying on their sides, with Watanuki's leg curled over Doumeki's thigh and a hand each down between them, touching, exploring, and then feeling out a rhythm they could both work with.

Watanuki knew he'd end up with marks all over, from Doumeki's mouth. But it was awfully hard to care when the heat and the barest teasing edge of teeth against his neck made the most distracting counterpoint, to the hot spike of pleasure when he thrust into Doumeki's hand, holding their cocks together, and then the noise Doumeki couldn't hold back went rippling down his skin, and all Watanuki could think was, This, oh fuck yes....

And then some indeterminate time later, it was all sticky and damp between them, and the room surely reeked of sex, and Watanuki could not rouse himself to care in the slightest, because all his bones had liquified, and his brain felt like a gum eraser, with about as much function.

 

*****

 

5.

 

"Fritters," was how Doumeki eventually broke the stillness afterward.

But Watanuki was already thinking, Washcloth, soap, yuck these sheets, nowhere near ready to venture toward Oh my God I just had sex. Sex with Doumeki. Oh God, so to him it was a non-sequitur.

"What about fritters?" he asked, forcing himself up from his lazy sprawl, finding his limbs were heavier and slower than he was used to.

"Make the ones with the black sesame seeds. And some mizutaki."

Watanuki felt about for his glasses, and found them folded beside the bed. It was right on the tip of his tongue to remind Doumeki that he didn't take orders, and furthermore hadn't even invited the presumptuous idiot to stay for dinner.

But then it occurred to him that 'the ones with black sesame seeds' actually left quite a bit of leeway. And he had half a head of cabbage in the crisper that was liable to go to waste, anyway. Why not put it in a hotpot?

So instead he said, "I'm going to wash. And then you're going to strip these sheets, and clean yourself up." He slipped on his glasses, and everything jumped back into focus finally, and he couldn't deny a certain quiet relief, seeing the room was still intact, and the world apparently just as he'd left it.

"And then fritters?" bargained Doumeki, who had yet to move at all.

By way of answer, Watanuki got up, and made his way (in a slow, stately fashion, not at all unsteady) toward the guest bath.

Where he discovered an unexpected medicine cabinet, mounted right there on the wall above the sink, just as plain as day. He mustered enough of a glare to let the cabinet know it wasn't fooling anyone, that he was well aware it had never been there previously, and then took a moment to weigh the possible perils of opening it, against how much teasing Yuuko would likely subject him to, for having lacked the nerve to open it.

Considering what he and Doumeki had just done in the next room, Yuuko was liable to hurt herself laughing at him, as it was. Giving her more ammunition wouldn't be a kindness to either of them.

Before pulling the door open, he did take a moment to steel himself for what he'd likely find inside. Doubtless it was something embarrassing, something to make him shriek and flail about, whilst Yuuko chortled merrily, wherever she was. Condoms. A stack of appalling manga. A portal that would suck him in and drop him smack in the middle of Akihabara.

Thus prepared, and with the requisite sigh of resignation, he opened it.

It was a bottle of aspirin, inside. On a single glass shelf, looking perfectly benign, pasted with the familiar label from the same drugstore where he got Yuuko's hangover remedies. He took the bottle off the shelf and shook it, hearing the pills rattle inside. He popped off the lid, and sure enough, there they were.

"Hmph. Might've been useful yesterday," he muttered under his breath. And that's when the note fluttered down from the shelf, to the counter. The one he hadn't seen, because it was under the aspirin bottle.

You would have had them yesterday, if you'd read my first note. He could hear Yuuko, distinctly in his head, teasing and chiding at the same time. Amusing herself to no end, when she added, Make extra fritters, I'll have them when I come back.

In the next room, he heard Doumeki finally thumping about, and the woosh of sheets being yanked off his bed. He'd best get a move on, or end up sharing the bathroom.

Tofu, he decided, rummaging under the sink for a wash cloth. He'd make ganmodoki with tofu, and they'd just have to live with it.

 

*****

 

end

 

 

[Author's Notes: In the original challenge post for this story, I'd included links to recipes for the dishes Watanuki makes here. I apologize that those links aren't available from this site. Below is a brief description of each dish, for those that might be curious.

1. Pork Harumaki: Pork spring rolls with grated ginger, bamboo shoots, shitake, cellophane noodles and other tasty ingredients.

2. Tebasaki: Deep-fried chicken wings, with a sauce made from mirin, sake, soy sauce, and white sesame seeds.

3. Ganmodoki: Fritters made with tofu, chopped carrot, shitake, Japanese mountain yam, and black sesame seeds.

4. Mizuktaki: Hot pot dish with chicken, tofu, Chinese cabbage, shitake, leek, and chrysanthemum greens in konbu dashi soup stock.]