It wasn’t such a big loss, really. At least, it shouldn’t have been.
Anyone with the slightest bit of fashion sense would have agreed.
Really, it was a wonder that his mother ever let him leave the house wearing that.
Because that looked like the kind of piece of clothing that any mother that was at least moderately interested in how her son looked like would have conveniently forgotten to pick up from the dry cleaner’s... or even accidentally spilled bleach onto... or confused for a cleaning rag, preferably when it came to wiping oil, ink or some other irremovable staining substance. Any mother in the world would probably have done that. Heck, probably even any father in the world would have done that, too.
Because there was only one word that could possibly have begun to describe Doumeki’s sweater, in Watanuki’s opinion, and that word was, simply and plainly; ‘hideous’.
The fact that Doumeki seemed to love that sweater and would wear it almost daily during the cold season went beyond a simple fashion crime: it was a cold-blooded fashion murder.
Whenever Watanuki spotted the guy wearing it, he simply couldn’t tear his eyes away from the thing. It was offensive to his eyes, which were well-trained to gauge quality, something that that sweater not only lacked, it actually seemed to never have heard of it. It didn’t help, either, that that particular sweater wearer had never bothered to listen any and every time Watanuki had helpfully informed him of the fact that wearing that thing should have been illegal.
But no matter how eloquently he expressed this fact, or how many visual aids (i.e.: lots of pointing and flailing around) he brought into the explanation, Doumeki stubbornly insisted on wearing it time after time.
If Watanuki strained himself, doing his best to find a good thing about that sweater, he would probably have to admit that it did look quite warm, but that was about it. It was knitted out of what seemed to be thick, authentic wool. Authentic wool, which is so rare these days, is much warmer than the synthetic variety that can be purchased almost anywhere, but it does itch considerably more. That was another reason Watanuki couldn’t understand why the guy would bother with wearing it. The thing obviously itched something dreadful, as evidenced by the fact that cooler-than-thou Doumeki could be caught scratching his neck often while wearing it.
It was unfair, really, that uniform regulations didn’t allow the wearing of hideous woollen sweaters at school, or his popularity levels would have dropped dramatically after his fanclub spotted him in that thing. It was unfair that nobody at school ever had the chance to look at the guy when he was looking so utterly and absolutely ridiculous.
Because the thing not only itched, it actually was very badly knit. It had obviously been made by somebody who had a very weak grasp on how this whole knitting business went. It was painfully obvious, and even more so to Watanuki’s eyes. Every time he laid eyes on the hideous woollen piece of clothing, he couldn’t help but be drawn to the knobbly and shapeless quality of the thing in general, the numerous dropped stitches, and the painfully obvious fact that one sleeve was much longer than the other. Not only that, the overly-long sleeve had actually been joined to the main body of the sweater at an angle from the neck that no knitting book would ever have condoned.
But badly knit, deformed, and obviously itchy as it was, what offended Watanuki the most about this sweater was its colour. Nobody, ever, in the history of knitting, should have allowed that wool be dyed that particular colour.
Because the hideous sweater was violently and shockingly orange.
It didn’t help, either, that Doumeki insisted on wearing the thing together with his other knitted piece of clothing of choice: the moss green mittens Watanuki had given him as a thank-you present. Moss green and orange were never meant to go together. Definitely not.
Had Watanuki known in advance that Doumeki was the unfortunate wearer of such a hideous thing, he would have knitted mittens of some other colour. Not that it would have helped. Almost every colour Watanuki could think of clashed horribly with the orange of Doumeki’s Sweater of Doom.
Really. The guy should have been glad for a chance to get rid of the thing.
Fate had only done him a favour that night... and nobody could have denied that the events that led to the demise of the woollen offence to the ‘Protection of the Dignity of Watanuki’s Line of Sight’ act were a product of fate.
That was of course if Yuuko was to be believed, but Watanuki had long given up in contradicting the drunken, mysterious woman.
According to her, after all, it was fate that Doumeki and Watanuki had met. Fate that they had slowly grown closer, much to Watanuki’s dismay and Doumeki’s indifference. Fate that the golden-eyed guy had taken to stalking -sorry, following for protecting purposes- Watanuki every conceivable moment of the day and night. Fate that Doumeki had been wearing the hideous thing that late winter evening as he followed Watanuki to his home and barged in, demanding tea. Fate that the wards in Watanuki’s apartment had failed as an extremely powerful ayakaishi decided to intrude when Watanuki was about to heat the water for the tea. Fate that the ayakaishi had attacked Watanuki in mindless hunger, allowing Doumeki to throw himself in the path of its attack, bow in hand, to protect the now terrified blue-and-golden eyed teenager. Fate that the thing had gotten furious at being denied its meal and turned to Doumeki with a fire-based attack before his spiritual arrow had connected and caused it to disappear into the night. Fate that the authentic wool of Doumeki’s hideous sweater had caught on fire so easily at the attack. Fate that Watanuki had had the presence of mind to throw the entire contents of the kettle to the now blazing sweater before the fire could spread to Doumeki’s hair and other items of clothing. Fate that despite Watanuki managing to successfully put out the fire, the violently orange sweater had attained irreparable damage in the process and would no longer be able to fulfil its itchy, fashion-defiling warming functions.
It shouldn’t have been such a loss, really. Doumeki should have been glad to have an excuse to get rid of the thing. Watanuki certainly was. The simple thought that he would no longer be forced to endure the sight of the orange outrage was enough to split his face in a huge grin.
That was, of course, before he caught the look on Doumeki’s face as the golden-eyed teenager inspected the damage.
For once, Doumeki’s face had lost the eternally bored look that Watanuki had grown to associate with him. In its place, there was an open, vulnerable expression as Doumeki cradled (cradled!) the charred remains of the orange monstrosity in his arms.
It was a look that, had it appeared on anybody else’s face, would have instantly been labelled as the ‘kicked puppy’ look. This was Doumeki, though. His eyes were too small to be able to properly convey such a look, but it was close.
It didn’t last, anyway. In fact, that look had come and gone from his face so quickly that had Watanuki blinked, he probably would have missed it.
Doumeki didn’t stay for long mourning the loss of his horrendous woollen monster. After barely a couple of seconds of cradling the charred and still slightly smoking remains, he had promptly thrown them aside -on Watanuki’s pristine kitchen floor!- and demanded a towel to dry his soggy self and one of Watanuki’s sweaters to wear home.
Watanuki had reacted as usual, complaining loudly and extensively about the sheer nerve of the guy for throwing the sodden, smoking, charred remains of the horrible sweater on his beautifully clean floor, but had provided Doumeki with towel and sweater much faster than he normally would have.
The annoying guy hadn’t said much more after that; in fact, he hadn’t even stayed for the tea he had so insolently demanded of Watanuki. Instead, he had set off for the temple straight away, grunting something about picking up new wards to replace Watanuki’s old ones, and ordering Watanuki to spend the night at Yuuko’s shop. He hadn’t even thrown a second glance at his previously beloved sweater before leaving, dragging a loudly complaining Watanuki in tow.
The charred remains of Doumeki’s sweater remained on Watanuki’s kitchen floor until the new wards had been placed and Watanuki had taken it upon himself to return his kitchen floor to its previously immaculate condition.
But for some reason, Watanuki couldn’t muster the heart to throw them away. The look that he had caught Doumeki wearing for that split second was haunting him more effectively than any ayakaishi ever had.
It was there with him as he picked up the still damp woollen remains of the sweater, there with him as he contemplated the holes the fire had left on the material, there as he attempted to throw it into the garbage twice and salvaged it before taking the trash out both times.
It was unfair. Such a thing shouldn’t have been able to torture him so much, but the fact remained that it did. Doumeki’s split second of weakness nagged Watanuki to such a degree that he began to inspect the charred remains of the woollen atrocity with a speculative eye until a wild idea crossed his mind.
Really. Doumeki had no right to make him betray his inherent love for quality, ‘kicked puppy’ look or not.
The morning of the third of March found Doumeki, just like many other mornings, sweeping the enormous extension of the temple grounds. Spring was already insinuating itself in the air, but it was still chilly enough that early in the day that he had had to drape himself in several layers of clothes to avoid making the task more unpleasant than it had to be.
The fact that he could have shirked his duties as temple heir -and thus non-paid helper- because it was his birthday didn’t even cross his mind. He was expecting, though, a rather succulent bento for lunch from a certain flailing teenager.
That was why he wasn’t surprised when the dark profile of said teenager stomped into existence on the temple grounds, energetically swinging the usual schoolbag in one hand and the wrapped bento boxes in the other... and was that an extra package he was carrying?
True, it was rather earlier than the glaring teenager usually made its appearance, but Doumeki didn’t think much of it. He was busy staring at the uniform-clad shape of his bento-and-amusement provider, who had now stopped in front of him, arms folded across his chest despite having his hands full, chest puffed, and an unusually smug smile on his face.
“Rejoice, you poor sullen fool, for I, the great Watanuki-sama, have deigned to come to say hello to you on the unmemorable occasion of your birthday, and have found it in the greatness of my heart to bring you, lowly mortal, a gift!”
Doumeki just stared at the package that was suddenly thrust in his general direction.
“You have the nerve to call me an idiot when I have so graciously found it in me to bring you a gift?! Repent! Repent and apologise to me on your knees for your ungrateful actions!”
Doumeki ignored him. He was busy staring at the extra package and speculating about its contents
“Is that hishimochi?”
“Why would I give you hishimochi?! You’re not a girl!”
“I know that.”
Doumeki spared a slight look at Watanuki that plainly said how much of an idiot he thought he was before returning his gaze to the mysterious but oh so neatly wrapped package.
“So is that hishimochi?”
“No it freaking isn’t! Listen when I talk to you!”
“Well, it doesn’t show! Just take the stupid package!”
Despite his previous grandiloquence, Watanuki seemed to be blushing slightly. Doumeki found this widely interesting, so much so that he found it in his duties to point it out.
“I’m not blushing! It’s too frigging cold this morning. My face is just red from the cold, the cold!”
Doumeki didn’t answer, but kept staring at Watanuki, who avoided his inquiring gaze and got redder in the face still.
Eventually, though, he took the package from Watanuki’s hand and weighed it speculatively in his hands. It was surprisingly light...
“What is it?”
“Will you just open it already? You’ll find out soon enough without me needing to tell you!”
Watanuki twitched slightly when Doumeki finally dug his nails into the wrapping paper, tearing it messily and letting the pieces drop to the ground. Did the guy have to be so impossibly messy all the time?
He pretended to look the other way while stealing glances at Doumeki, who was now holding the content of the previously obsessively neat wrapping paper in both hands, and staring at it as if it held the answers to all the mysteries in the world.
It was a moss-green sweater, with little specks of horribly bright orange here and there.
Doumeki unfolded it slowly, as if it would break if he didn’t handle it carefully enough. He held it at arm’s length and stared at it, inspecting it from the neck to the hem.
Even though the colours were different, there was no mistaking that knobbly shape, the dropped stitches and the overly-long sleeve attached at a weird angle from the neck.
It was the same horrible sweater that Doumeki used to wear before the fire-based ayakaishi had attacked.
“You’ve re-knitted it.”
This was said in such a strangled, strange voice, that Watanuki couldn’t help but cross his arms over his chest again, looking at anything but at Doumeki, and huff, trying to ignore how hot his face felt at the words.
“Well, it seemed to be important to you, so I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away. I salvaged as much of the original wool as I could, but there wasn’t much left after taking out all the charred parts. I tried to buy wool that was the original colour –though why anyone would want to knit a sweater in such a horrible colour in the first place is beyond me- but there wasn’t much to choose from. Authentic wool is hard to come by.” Doumeki didn’t say anything, so Watanuki felt in the need to add, “At least now it won’t clash so horribly with your mittens.”
It had taken Watanuki considerable effort to re-knit the thing in something that resembled the original shape. He just didn’t do knobbly and shapeless. It had actually taken him quite a while to figure out how to attach the overly-long sleeve at such a ridiculous angle from the neck, and it had been almost physically painful to intentionally drop random stitches while he knit.
When Doumeki still didn’t say anything, and kept staring at the sweater in his hands with that strange look on his face, Watanuki went redder yet -if such a thing was possible- and started to swing his arms wildly, spluttering quickly a defence against a possible misinterpretation of his actions.
“Don’t misunderstand! I didn’t re-knit it because of any particular reason! I just didn’t want to have the loss of your stupid sweater on my conscience. It doesn’t have a special meaning, or anything. I just happened to finish it in time for your birthday, that’s all!”
Apparently, Watanuki didn’t notice that this statement contradicted what he had said when he first arrived at the temple grounds.
...and yet Doumeki didn’t say anything, still immersed in contemplation of the resurrected sweater.
Watanuki deflated slightly, crossed his arms again and asked the question that had been plaguing him ever since he first realized how much the woollen thing meant to the golden-eyed teenager.
“What is so special about that hideous sweater, anyway?”
He wasn’t really expecting Doumeki to answer, but answer he did, in a small, strange voice that didn’t seem to belong to him.
“It used to belong to my grandfather.” Doumeki’s eyes didn’t leave the sweater as he talked, and his voice was unusually soft, as if confessing a very personal thing. Taking into account how much the teenager seemed to have adored his late grandfather, he probably was. “It was the first sweater my grandmother ever knit, and the first gift she ever gave him. He didn’t usually wear western-styled clothes, but whenever the weather turned cold, he would dig this sweater out of wherever my grandmother had managed to hide it and wear it until he was forced to change into Japanese clothes again. He had other sweaters, much better knit, but he loved this one and would wear it proudly until long after the days had turned too warm for woollen clothes.”
After saying this, Doumeki surprised Watanuki by stripping out of the sweater he was currently wearing and throwing it carelessly aside, apparently oblivious to the fact that it fell exactly on top of the pile of dirt he had accumulated by sweeping. He pulled the newly resurrected sweater over his head and carefully tugged it down until it was properly in place.
Watanuki thought Doumeki looked every bit as ridiculous in it as he had ever looked in the old one, but then his thoughts were promptly blown out of his mind when Doumeki looked up towards Watanuki and smiled, actually smiled, with crinkled eyes and plenty of teeth showing, and all. No smirk. No scowl. No frustrating deadpan. A true, genuine smile that actually made him look much younger than his recently inaugurated eighteen years of age.
Upon seeing that smile, Watanuki thought he could see the glimpse of a much younger boy, smiling in adoration up at the grandfather he had so dearly loved and who had meant so much to the lonely child he must have been while growing up.
That smile made something clench painfully inside Watanuki’s stomach, and before he could tell what he was doing, he had dropped the schoolbag and the bento boxes to the ground and thrown his arms around the slightly taller teenager in front of him, pulling him into a hug neither of them had been expecting.
Watanuki couldn’t really blame Doumeki for not breathing for exactly twenty-seven heartbeats. He supposed it was a bit surprising to suddenly find yourself being hugged by someone who spent every possible moment yelling at you and coming up with new and creative expletives to refer to your person. Either that, or he was squeezing a bit too hard.
Eventually, though, the woollen-monstrosity lover sucked in a breath and let it out in a bewildered “Oi!” that almost warmed Watanuki’s heart. Almost. Was his name that hard to remember, really?
“I’m just testing to see whether it’s warm enough. Stay still and endure it.”
The ribcage he was crushing under his arms shook slightly in what could have been a nervous chuckle or a desperate attempt to bring air into suffering lungs, but tentative arms were raised to drape experimentally around his back. Watanuki interpreted it as a ‘go ahead’ or an ‘if you must’; either way, he didn’t let go, only snuggled closer, thinking that Doumeki better appreciate all the effort he put into the whole thing, because hugging him while he was wearing the resurrected woollen monstrosity itched, which was aggravating no matter how warm the thing actually was.
Doumeki never did finish sweeping the temple grounds that morning, but nobody blamed him. It was his birthday, after all.