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The Petals They Fall, Every Year

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Watanuki slowly drew smoke into up his lungs, and slowly still did he breath it out, the puffing wisps curling around Dōmeki’s face.
 
Watanuki smiled, and his mask remained. “The old lady you inquired about . . .” another breath. Another exhale. “Yes, she was a customer.”
 
Dōmeki watched as smoke form the shapes of anything. Nothing. Vanishing into the night. And he listened. It smelt of herbs and grasses that always touch above human.
 
“She made a choice. To exchange this,” Watanuki carefully lifted the lid of the beautiful lacquer box sitting between them. An empty bento box. Traditional red and black, “to share a meal with one of the departed before her own time.” Dōmeki remembered the whim he had earlier the day. He had been reminiscing on their school days. Ruminating on the times when Watanuuki had fits of dramatics exaggerated by the surprising ways he could contort his lanky body. And all over a trying to share whatever treat or lunch he had made with him and Himawari. But as Watanuki and Ichihara-san would have said, hitsuzen. Still–
 
“The exchange was a good one,” and as if sensing Dōmeki’s mood, Watanuki elaborated, “good exchanges make this job pleasant. And of course, good company. Too often do people forget how abundant and treasured kindness can be.” Dōmeki felt the words were spoken to comfort him. 
 
Watanuki drew another breath of smoke, and smiled at Dōmeki. “Do you wish for kindness? Dōmeki?”
 
Watanuki knew as well as he did that his words were woven with a thread from the tapestry of all those words they had never been able to, nor ever would be able to say to one another. But those words too, dispersed in the silence. They hadn’t a need to play this game of same opening and end a hundred times over, and they still did. In his heart of hearts, the answer could only be yes. For the kindness to spare him from this half-step, half-mile game. If he closed his eyes, he could see a-matter-of-fact confession. Maybe blustering words from the boy he loved. Maybe acceptance. Maybe shock. Maybe acceptance and pain.
 
But what was in front of him was Watanuki’s endless eyes. Not the person in his imagination. They begot an answer. So ignoring the weight of the stone in his pocket, Dōmeki answered as truthfully as he could, “No, I’m not a customer nor do I intend to become one. I’m here for you and only because of you.”
 
Watanuki’s eyes turned pleased crescents before Dōmeki reined in his temptuous mood his with next words, “I want chanpurū with egg and winter cabbage.”Watanuki’s smiling face didn’t change, but an icy atmosphere had settled over them now. “Oh? Is that a price you’re demanding Dōmeki? Or should I have kept the bento box and my stories squirrelled away?”
 
Dōmeki’s only reply was a sip of tea and the words, “We should give what kindness we can.”
 
Watanuki glared and pouted. He used to protest more. Now he acquiesced with a sigh and smile. A tap of the pipe. A brush of his qipao. Dōmeki still hadn’t figured out what to think of this change, except that he wished Watanuki smiled more in the manner of smiles he used to smile.
 
“My payment for the food then, is for this meal to be shared.”
 
And they reassured themselves that this was alright too.