There are a million ways that people can pass each other in the streets, a thousand ways a choice can turn a life in a different direction, a hundred ways that each situation can unfold.
Mukae and Mikado meet ten thousand different ways in ten thousand different worlds.
Once Mikado comes to the shop alone. His coworker hasn't blackmailed him into checking out the freaky accurate psychic she visited – she’s never even felt the urge to visit a psychic. No one at the bookstore knows that Mikado can see ghosts and spirits and other scary things because no one at all knows about Mikado's vision. Instead he's just a lonely, scared man groping for answers to things he can't explain... and even though he doesn't believe in psychics, doesn't believe in ESP or reading minds, part of him still hopes that there's something out there that doesn't spell "brain tumor" for him.
Mukae doesn't think much about him at first; men in their twenties rarely turn into repeat customers if they don't have a girlfriend with them in the waiting room and he's far more interested in making sure he's prepared for his appointment with that elderly woman with the poodles who's come every two weeks for the last year. All that changes, though, once he grasps Mikado's hand and feels the roaring vastness of his soul. That grabs his attention like nothing else has all month and suddenly all Mukae wants to do is understand all that potential lurking behind those glasses.
Afterwards Mikado waits patiently for Mukae to wrap up his last appointment. They go out for coffee and talk, and for the first time, Mikado feels like maybe he isn't so alone after all... even if this whole psychic business is still just a big con.
They kiss for the first time six months later on Mukae's couch. A week later, Mikado meets Hiyakawa at the bookstore. He helps with the one exorcism but politely refuses to visit the Coolean office. He feels no gravity pulling him into Hiyakawa's magnetic orbit this time.
Once Mikado trips over Mukae on a running path. This isn't the first time Mukae's seen him there – Mikado’s passed him at a jog every single morning for the past three weeks and Mukae has spent more than a bit of time imagining the exact trail taken by the inevitable bead of sweat trickling down the back of his neck – but they don't talk until Mukae stops to fix a broken shoelace and Mikado (oblivious to everything but the scary things he can feel lurking next to the path) stumbles into him.
Several embarrassed apologies later, Mukae is introducing himself. At first he just wants to share training tips with another avid runner. It'll take several more months before he learns that he's not the only person who started working out to escape the monsters. By then, he knows Mikado well enough to be surprised that he lets this information slip past his friendly but distant facade at all.
Mukae somehow isn't surprised a few weeks later when Mikado lets him trace his fingers down that imagined sweat trail, though. Just like he somehow isn't surprised when he gets an apologetic voicemail breaking their next date two days later or when the calls and texts finally stop altogether.
The next time Mukae sees Mikado is in the company of a police officer who is speaking gruffly as he gestures towards some seemingly innocuous light pole along the sidewalk. Mikado doesn't look up to see Mukae passing and Mukae doesn't stop to say hello.
Once Mikado goes to a party. It's nothing big, just something a college classmate is throwing, but she'd asked him so nicely if he could please come just this once that he finds himself standing in the middle of a crowd clinging tightly to a beer and peering anxiously over his glasses every few minutes to make sure the people chatting in tight knots around him are all actual living people. It's almost fun being swept up in a crowd – like being surrounded by his happily chattering classmates in high school, only this time it's mostly strangers who won't remember him well enough to gossip later if anything strange happens. Mikado still feels the beginnings of panic, though, the same way he felt closed in during his classes at the cram school, and he takes refuge with his beer in a corner of the room next to a man cheerfully chatting up two women he vaguely recognizes from a seminar two semesters ago.
Another beer later and he's avidly chatting with the man, the women long since drifted back to the crowd. Another beer after that and the man is somberly (if not altogether soberly) explaining the cross hanging around his neck. One more after that and Mikado wakes up back home in his bed, sunlight streaming into his aching eyes and his mother's teasing voice asking if he can stomach breakfast streaming into his aching ears.
It's not until the first text messages arrive that Mikado finally learns Mukae's name and it's not until Mukae asks him if he would be interested in helping with an exorcism that Mikado finally learns exactly how many truths alcohol had forced out of him that Saturday night.
(No, his classmate says the next time he sees her, he hadn’t made a scene at the party. She'd barely seen him at all, actually, but it had looked like he was having fun talking with her roommate's cousin's friend. It had been so nice, having all those new faces there.)
By the time Mikado graduates from college, he's still unconvinced that the psychic business Mukae is so intent on getting into is anything but a giant con, but it is undeniable that Mukae's contacts in the so-called spiritual world have brought them more exorcism work than he could've ever found on his own. Mikado cuts back on his hours at the bookstore a little more each month as his schedule gets busier and busier until finally he leaves it behind altogether. The work doesn't feel blazingly good, Mukae doesn't reach inside him and leave his knees weak, but when they're together he's not scared any more.
Once Mikado hands Mukae a book. It's been a while since the last time Mukae had stopped by that bookstore; he hasn't had appointments in that part of town for a while, had no real reason to be over there, but there is a window display that catches his eye on the way to lunch with a friend, so afterwards he finds himself poking through a shelf of books. The only copy of the title he most wants to look at sits on the very top shelf, though, and stretch though he might, it's just barely out of his grasp.
Mukae plasters on his most winning smile and stops a man passing by – he’s pretty sure he saw this man fixing a display on his way inside earlier, pretty sure he hasn't just grabbed another customer even if the man does have a bag strapped on his back and his hands jammed into his pockets – and asks if he can reach it. The man's smile is plastered on and practiced, only the faintest hint of exasperation at being held up from leaving work in his face, but Mukae blithely ignores it right up to the moment their hands brush as the book is passed over and he feels something he doesn't understand.
Mukae starts finding a reason to come back each week, starts finding a reason to casually touch that man and feel a brush of that incomprehensible feeling, but it's not until he gets a call from the store manager asking for help with their haunting that he learns exactly what it is that draws him to that clerk so much.
Mikado tells Mukae much later, long after meeting for coffee occasionally turned into actual friendship, that the other employees had come perilously close to insisting he be banned from the store for harassment, and that it was only the manager's surprise exorcism request that had saved him.
And once Mikado is blackmailed by his coworker into checking out a psychic she visited after he lets his eyes wander a little too obviously one day. He is still a lonely, scared man groping for answers to things he can’t explain… but he isn’t alone this time. He has Hiyakawa with him, the relationship between them still new and questions about this new world he’s found himself in still buried deep inside him.
Mikado meets Mukae with a bad lie on his lips about what he wants to learn from his reading and is rewarded with a surprised gasp and a bone-crushing grip on his fingers when the man reaches out and touches him for the first time. The roaring vastness inside Mikado grabs Mukae's attention like nothing else has all month and suddenly all he wants to do is warn Mikado about the dangers of letting that strange man use all that potential lurking behind those glasses.
There is a possession and a punch and an apology and a warning. There are phone numbers exchanged and a glimpse at a bigger spiritual world than Mikado ever could've guessed when all he knew was Hiyakawa’s half-guessed knowledge shared with him only in passing.
As weeks pass, there are text messages and book recommendations and a friendship of some kind. There are strange dreams of darkness and possessiveness and ownership.
But unlike after another meeting in another time and another world, when a message goes out saying "You showed up in a dream I had and it wasn't a good one", the response isn't laughter and a change of subject, but "I saw you too, help me understand what’s going on".
Mukae meets Mikado ten thousand different ways in ten thousand different worlds.
In this one, he’s afraid he’ll have to let him go.