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The day Doumeki Shizuka put his foot down seems, in retrospect, as though it came a little too late. Fourteen weeks into Kohane's pregnancy, he comes by the store for dinner and says Kohane's a bit sick today—she can't make it, but she sends her love and news of the baby's sex.

Doumeki's family has always been prone to boys, and this generation is apparently no exception. Watanuki laughs with pure joy and offers his congratulations, says he has presents from faraway lands, says he had Maru and Moro read a book about how to build cribs—

I have to spend more time with my wife, Doumeki cuts in abruptly. His voice is even, but his eyes flicker downward and stay there as if reading a secret off the dinner table. I'm afraid I can't come here too often for a little while. Her mother had a rough pregnancy and it seems as though she may follow suit.

Watanuki stays stock-still, even as Doumeki stands up and bows.

In fact, I need to tend to her now, he says. Thank you. For the eel. And...the cabbage.

He reaches down, then, terribly close. He tucks a knuckle under Watanuki's chin and takes a long, hard look at him, as if committing him to memory for a final time. Then he bows again and leaves without further ceremony, except a vague promise to visit again when things settled down.

The sound of the door shutting and the silence that follows make Watanuki suddenly, painfully aware of the sounds his heart is making: slow, loud, and absolutely indecipherable.

Doumeki means, of course, I can't do this anymore. I have a son.

Watanuki can do this forever, on the other hand. It isn't even a question.

Years later, Doumeki's son finds his way to the shop for the first time. He's lost on an errand for his mother, and the circles and squares drawn lovingly on the map in his hand seem to grant him no relief.

Seeing him—seeing firsthand his resemblance to his father—is, for Watanuki, an extraordinary experience, greater than deja vu. When the boy appears at the gate, he can feel his breath catch hard in his chest, the years that have passed announcing themselves in his very bones, heavy and weary. He almost follows the demands of muscle memory and slams the door in the boy's face.

The boy stares at his map and says flatly, "Excuse me. I need directions to the grocery named..." He squints down. "I can't read this, actually. I'm sorry, give me just a second."

"...take your time," Watanuki says bleakly.

The boy lifts the map. "My mother circled the intersection, but I think they changed the name of the street a few years ago."

"I wouldn't know," Watanuki says.

"Oh. You're not familiar with this area?"

"I'm afraid not. I don't do my own shopping very often."

"I'm sorry for wasting your time, then." He bows. When he leans back up and gets a good look at Watanuki for the first time, though, both of his eyebrows rise in high arcs. He lowers the map.

"Good afternoon," Watanuki says, after a moment.

"Hi," he says. "You're him, huh."


He extends his hand. "They said you were a wizard," he says impassively. "I thought you would be taller."

The boy comes back, just like his father. He brings desserts and letters from his parents. His mother is overjoyed and insists on the importance of keeping in touch; his father may feel differently, but it's hard to tell from his words, which are only as curt from a distance as they were in person. Watanuki dares to stipulate that eventually he'll come around, and when he does, everything unspoken between them will already have been hollowed out and removed of its purpose. They won't linger on one another, waiting for answers that just can't be. He might even bring his wife.

This newer Doumeki grows tall in a matter of moments, it seems, and his edges are sharper. He talks about girls and uses Watanuki as a sounding board, even though he tires quickly of Watanuki's parables and airy speech.

They often have tea on the porch—Watanuki isn't so depraved as to offer alcohol to a minor, unlike his predecessor—and Doumeki folds his legs underneath himself and talks about anything and everything. He's not talkative, exactly, but he's inquisitive about this world his parents knew and indulgent to strangers. As far as store associates go, he's a bit of a gift.

He takes up archery, but he prefers science to history. Watanuki loans him books, ones that won't do him any good if he wants to go into chemistry or medicine, but he always returns them at the end of the month and says what he thought. He doesn't have much of a sense for the arcane, and he has a knack for gripping parchment too tightly, but he's considerate and helpful otherwise.

The subject of his father's feelings, whatever they may have been, doesn't come up for nearly the whole school year. But it does. It has to.

"Hey. Hey!"

"You're already past the gate," Watanuki calls out the window, "so there's no point in making a ruckus! I can hear you."

He's in the middle of conducting business. A circle overlaid with pentacles glows at his feet, dripping with starlight and water. He presses his foot in the center and waits for the glow to reach a peak—

Doumeki lets himself in, ignoring the magic reeling in the room, and knocks on a wall to get Watanuki's attention. "Hey," he says, voice raised, "special delivery."

"For goodness' sake," Watanuki sighs, and the room goes fluorescent-bright instead of universe-bright. The water dries up too, collecting itself in an urn by his heel. "Where's the fire?"

Doumeki drops a thick envelope on the table. "No fire. What's this?"

Watanuki steps over. "It's an envelope," he says, nonplussed.

"Just—look inside," Doumeki says, looking away.

Watanuki glances at him, then tears open the top and reaches his hand inside to fish out the contents. It's a thick stack of leaflets bound by a cord. He thumbs through the top sheets, noting his name on the headers.

"More letters?" he asks, pulling one out from the middle. "Or are you writing a manuscript?"

"They're addressed to you. From my dad."

So they are. Watanuki glances through the first couple of lines: snippets of life in the Doumeki household, an adventure the boy seems to have had in his youth involving a toy bow and a security guard at the zoo. He pulls out another sheet: an attempt at transcribing one of Kohane's recipes. Yet another—a photograph of a scattering of trees in the woods. Picnic day, reads the caption beneath.

Watanuki looks up. "Does he know you have this?" he asks softly.

"He's out of town," the boy says.

He slides the leaflets back into the stack. "You should put this back where you found it," he murmurs. "Emotions contained in so small a space aren't meant to be dislodged."

"Emotions," Doumeki repeats.

He glowers at the boy and thrusts the envelope back at him. "You need to put this back," he orders.

"Did you even read them?"

"I don't have to. They're none of my business."

"It's all your business," Doumeki insists. "He wanted you to know. About everything. He thought about you every day."

"If he cared that I knew, I would have known." Watanuki rolls his eyes. "That's his nature. It's what you know, not what you saw in these pages."

Doumeki seems to ignore him and plows right on, more insistent with every passing word. "You should know," he says. "Every day. For years!"

"You shouldn't have known yourself," Watanuki says icily. "These words weren't meant for your eyes. There are things about him that he chose not to tell anyone. He chose not to give these to me. He chose not to show them to you." He slams the package back onto the table. "If there was a life in this, you were not meant to be a part of it. And neither was I."

Doumeki makes a sudden movement, as if he means to bury his fist in Watanuki's robed chest, but stops himself just as quickly and the movement changes into a shudder. The flames disappear from his face, but he's still rock-tense.

"I can't imagine anything worse for my father," he manages after awhile.

Watanuki grimaces, then rests a hand on the boy's shoulder. "Your father," he says, dropping his voice to a murmur, "is very strong. One of the best men I have seen in any age. And I've seen many men from a great number of ages."

Doumeki takes a second to collect himself, then brushes off Watanuki's hand.

"I could do him one better," he says. "I could never love somebody like you."

He comes back, of course, because perhaps his mother tells him to. Watanuki would rather believe it's because the boy realizes there are problems you can't solve by yelling at them, but he remembers being a teenager and wishing yelling would solve all of his problems. He supposes it's something you move past with time.

The package stays in the shop, though, and that's probably intentional on the boy's part. Watanuki leaves it somewhere conspicuous each time—on a countertop, on the stand by the front door, even on the porch next to the boy's usual seat—but each time it goes unnoticed and neglected. He's not tempted to open it again.

Someone comes by one rainy evening, some variation of a hungry ghost—a stout little man with a candle and pale fingers hooked into the handle of a briefcase.

"Evening, wizard," he says cordially, his accent thick. "I heard you had want of somethin'."

Watanuki bristles when the ghost comes in, padding onto the rug with muddy shoes. "I don't want anything, I just could use..." He waves a hand. "Never mind. Forgive me, I was rude."

"I hadn't noticed," the ghost says. "You normally have others do your groceries?"

Watanuki sprawls back out on his chaise, snaps a few of his lamps alight, and gestures for the man to put down his candle. The man obliges and takes a seat himself. "I didn't think that was news to anyone," Watanuki says.

"The other old bat never—"

"Mind your manners, please."

"Sorry," the ghost says. "Just never seen a guy like you in need of, say, an elm branch."

"I don't leave here, so I put a call out once in awhile," Watanuki says, "and that's that. So you have something for me?"

"One thing or another," the man says. He nudges open his briefcase with a toe, revealing an odd assortment of translucent items: cat treats in plastic bags, a yellow legal pad, and—most compellingly—an array of seed packets bound by a rubber band, seemingly innocuous but warm to the touch when Watanuki picks them up. "Found their way into me hands from the west."

Watanuki turns the packets in his hands and lifts them up to his face, breathing in the smell. "Impressive," he says at last. "And what would you have in return?"

"I'll be honest with you, I hadn't even thought about it," the ghost says with a shrug. "Just wanted to get ‘em off my hands, mostly, seeing as how this here case is all I can carry."

"I must offer payment," Watanuki says. "Simple rules."

The ghost nods. "I see," he says. "Of course—the rules. Let me..."

He turns his little face up and sniffs the air, his nose twitching like a rabbit's. His fingers wiggle on the arm of his chair—

He points at the barstool. "That," he says. "On top of it. What's that?"

Watanuki follows the ghost's line of sight to the barstool, then to the package of letters on top. A hard lump forms unbidden in his throat.

"Mail," Watanuki says dryly, after a moment. "I didn't think a transient such as yourself would have need of such things."

The ghost stands up. "Why, it smells delicious!" he says. "You ought to hand that right over; surely it's worth a couple dozen branches."

"Future branches," Watanuki snaps. But he stands anyway, pacing slowly to the barstool and picking up the package. It's surprisingly heavy in his hands—or perhaps he just doesn't remember the weight since he hasn't picked up the envelope for weeks. He considers its value on an objective plane, extending his awareness of it as one extends their arms, and feels a little lightheaded at what he finds.


Watanuki runs his fingers over the envelope, tracing every crease in the paper in silence. He feels the thickness of the envelope, the touches inside that have accumulated over years and years.

He reaches inside and pulls out the topmost photograph. It's a fairly recent picture of the Doumeki family, dated at the beginning of the school year. Right before the boy began his visits, Watanuki realizes.

"Well?" the ghost pleads. "I'm quite hungry, you know. When it's raining, there's not a soul on the street with a bite to spare..."

Watanuki puts the photograph back inside and turns around, holding out the package.

"The price is fair," he says calmly. "Take it and get out."

Watanuki likes alcohol. Sometimes he even needs alcohol, evidently more than he needs company. He can't turn away customers at the door—there are rules—but he can make sure people get in and out in a hurry so he can keep nursing glass after glass of expertly-crafted Japanese slippers.

His head is foggy, and though he's pretty sure he can clear it manually somehow he supposes he deserves it. He wonders what else he could have done. If he should have done anything else. If the boy's father has found out that his letters have gone missing. If he would think to look in the shop. If he would come in, for once, instead of drawing circles around their past with a pen, on dozens upon dozens of sheets of paper, in pictures with little captions inked on the bottom—

The door swings open again. Watanuki resettles on his armchair, swishing his martini glass idly in his fingers.

"Good evening," he says, carefully stressing his syllables.

"It's just me," the Doumeki boy calls from the entrance. He sets his schoolbag by the door. "What's up? You look bad."

"Rude boy." Watanuki tosses back the rest of his drink and wipes his mouth on his wrist. "What do you want?" he drawls.

"Just dropping in, nothing unusual." Doumeki leans down towards Watanuki's theatrically outstretched hand. "Smells nice. What is that?"

"I'll tell you in a couple of years."

Doumeki shrugs. He takes the empty glass out of Watanuki's hand, then heads to the kitchen. Watanuki turns his face into his own elbow once the boy is out of sight and listens to the clatter of glasses for a moment, mortified.

"My mom made a smoothie," Doumeki says from the kitchen. "She had me pack it up in a pitcher and bring it here. I think she'll be mad at me if you don't have any, so it'd be nice if you could take a break from the booze for a few minutes."

"I can quit whenever I want!" Watanuki hollers at the doorway.

Doumeki emerges with two tall glasses of pale froth and a smile quirking up one corner of his mouth. "Whatever," he says, handing Watanuki a glass. "Are you okay?"

Watanuki sits up with a huff. "Why do you ask?"

"I don't know." The boy parks himself on the arm of the chair. His limbs take up too much space. "You seem distracted."

"Work is work."

"Should I go?"

Watanuki rubs his face irritably with his hand. "If you want," he says. "Forgive me. My temper's a little short. It's been quite a month."

"Yeah," Doumeki agrees. "I made it hard too, huh."

Watanuki feels a sharp stab of guilt in his side. "Don't flatter yourself, boy," he says bleakly.

They sit in silence for a moment, Doumeki glancing furtively between his smoothie and Watanuki. For a second Watanuki wonders if the secret is written all over his face. It has to be obvious how, after so many weeks of being in plain sight, the package has suddenly vanished. Only a fool wouldn't notice, Watanuki tells himself, and braces for impact.

Doumeki reaches over to tug on the hair at the back of Watanuki's neck. "Don't call me ‘boy,'" he admonishes blandly.

"Cut it out," Watanuki grumbles, but then he realizes the boy is laughing into his smoothie, low and subdued, and the unease in his stomach unfurls and disappears.

It helps that Doumeki never brings up the letters again.

The guilt abates, as it must. Business is business. Watanuki's customers usually aren't aware of refunds as a general custom, and besides the boy never finds out, which is as good a reason as any to move on.

The boy's father passes on the thimble—the thimble. It's been years since Watanuki has seen it, longer still since he's seen it in an open palm and not on a finger, and the sight of it makes his mouth tight. He wonders how it must have felt, to have that on beside a wedding ring. If it had even seen skin in the past seventeen years.

"He said it was a gift from you," Doumeki says, turning it idly in his fingers.

"Oh," Watanuki says absently. "Is he giving it back?"

"No. Though he probably knew I was going to bring it here anyway."

"It's what he would have done," Watanuki says. He turns to a bookcase and pulls out a book at random, thumbing through the opening pages.

"It does something, right?"

Watanuki ignores him, tracing a picture with his fingertips.

"Tell me," Doumeki insists.

Watanuki claps the book shut. "It was his," he bristles, "and I don't see why he couldn't tell you himself. Seeing as how you're quite the nosy child..."

"I'm not a child," Doumeki shoots back, though there's no heat in his voice. "I was just curious. You don't have to tell me."

There's a brief silence as Watanuki slowly puts the book back on the shelf, then adjusts his glasses. Finally, grudgingly, he says: "Put it on."

Behind him, the boy shuffles his feet for a moment. "It doesn't fit," he grumbles, and before Watanuki knows it he's turning around and nearly slapping the ring out of the boy's hand.

"I assure you that joke wasn't funny the first time it was made," he snaps, holding the thimble in one hand and Doumeki's wrist in the other.

"My dad made jokes?" Doumeki asks flatly, but his eyes are on the grip on his wrist, his arm tense under Watanuki's fingers. For an absurd second Watanuki thinks the boy is going to push him away, not hard, just a casual rejection of a simple touch.

Instead he reaches for Watanuki's other hand and pulls it to his face, examining the ring under the store lighting.

"Show me," he says.

"...fine," Watanuki says. He slips his hands out of Doumeki's grip and flicks the ring back at him. Doumeki catches the ring easily and narrows his eyes. "It was a protective charm. Your father ran afoul of a lot of trouble around here."

Doumeki sways a little further into his space, smirking. "Seems difficult to avoid it."

"Go outside," Watanuki orders. "I'll show you in a minute."

The boy rolls his eyes, then slides the ring onto a finger and steps out onto the porch. Watanuki watches his back for a moment, mouth pursed.


One day, the boy comes by when Watanuki is lounging on the deck for a smoke. Watanuki has a new cigarette holder that afternoon, a piece of spare jade from a distant empire—which, as far as he knows, isn't a good enough reason for Doumeki to pull out a cigarette pack of his own.

Watanuki snorts. "And where did those come from, Doumeki-kun?" he asks, gesturing languidly.

Doumeki shrugs. "Kid from the archery club lent them to me. I liked the smell of yours, so I thought it might be worth a try." He tucks one blandly into his mouth. "Are you going to stop me?"

"Well. I suppose I'm not your dad."

Doumeki cups the cigarette in two fingers as if he's been doing it his entire life, then leans over and lights his cigarette on the tip of Watanuki's. It takes half a second too long to catch, and from the end of his pipe Watanuki can see Doumeki's eyebrow arched at him, Doumeki's eyes straying to his mouth, some sort of gyre yawning beneath their feet—

"No," Doumeki says, drawing back and taking a long drag, "definitely not my dad."

Watanuki doesn't speak again until his pipe burns out.

That night, after Doumeki leaves, Watanuki retires early and soon finds himself in a dream. It's a bad sorcerer who can't recognize a dream when he's in one, especially a dream so vividly unrealistic that he might have laughed his way to sunrise.

The only reason he doesn't, in fact, is because in the dream there are fingers in his mouth. His first impulse is to bite, which he does not do; his second is to taste, which he does. He tastes parchment. There's a noise above him, which he registers as a groan, and then the rest of the vision comes into full view and for a moment Watanuki's thoughts go utterly blank.

It's Doumeki Shizuka, but as he was almost thirty years ago, half-dressed in his high school uniform. He's wearing the determined face he'd assume during archery competitions. He's pressed Watanuki up against a door, fingers fiddling open his pants and mouth pushing hot kisses down his neck.

It—feels good. Familiar, oddly, as if they'd done this before. Or maybe it's the trust between them that makes this easy, this arching into Doumeki's open palm, this grasping at Doumeki's shoulders and melting into him like a cat in a sunbeam. He can feel himself curving an ankle around Doumeki's calf, drawing him in closer and turning his face into more kisses, licking at the corner of Doumeki's mouth, pressing gentle bites into his jawline. Doumeki's hand moves and it sends pleasure jolting down his spine, pooling liquid-warm in the pit of his stomach. The hand, in response, just seems to move faster.

Watanuki is so far outside of this moment, he may as well be outside of his own skin. And from where he's standing, far off in the dark, he can see himself laughing hopelessly into Doumeki's throat.

"Did you," he laughs, groans, "did you ever think—"

"Never," Doumeki says.

"Not even once?"

He closes his eyes and sighs, and the world of the dream seems to shudder with him.

"Maybe once," he admits.

Watanuki closes his eyes, too. There's a confused impression of memories colluding: a flash of bare shoulder here, a certain way he once stood, a look in his eyes. Doumeki's strength, vast and forever patient, brought hard to its knees for just one night. Just once. If that.

Doumeki covers Watanuki's borrowed eye with his palm. The visions disappear.

"I wanted you," he says, "but you needed me."

He moves his other hand and Watanuki comes immediately, over and over, drowning in the touch; and Doumeki doesn't do anything else, just keeps drawing deep kisses from his mouth, making his body thrum with luxurious pleasure—

Watanuki wakes up, shaking and gasping. His sheets are dry, but his face is wet with tears.

The very day he wakes from the dream, Doumeki's son arrives again with notes from his parents. Doumeki Kohane's letter is more of the same: happy and lengthy. He puts it on the refrigerator, which is further papered with accounts of her life.

Doumeki Shizuka is brief as always. He writes that he had a dream about Watanuki last night, in which Watanuki was in a hall of doors that all used the same key.

It was like you were trying to lock the doors, the letter says, but whenever you fit the key in, it would always stick. After awhile, you just gave up. Then it was as if there was a leak in the roof. Water damage started to eat at the doors. The knobs fell off. Mold everywhere. You used spells to try to set the house on fire. It wouldn't light. Too wet. I woke up when cracks started to show in the walls. Are you alright?

Watanuki stares at the letter, touches a quill to his tongue and writes, in so many words, that he is alright, everything is alright, and he is sending back a bundt cake. The boy stretches out on his sofa and watches as he writes.

He presses the letter into the boy's hand afterwards and says cheerfully, "Don't get too comfortable, now, Doumeki-kun. I hear you have a day ahead of you."

Doumeki shrugs. "Weekend competition."

"You need a good luck charm?"

Doumeki stares up at him, then reaches up and tweaks a wisp of hair by his ear. "No," he says.

Watanuki narrows his eyes.

"I'll take one, though," Doumeki amends, weaving his fingers further into Watanuki's hair, "if you've got one to give."

Watanuki gently bats his hand away, but he just lets out a harsh laugh and stands up. Watanuki watches him leave at the door, a warning flickering in the back of his mind, like a crash of thunder before a downpour.

Watanuki could have seen this coming, and when he thinks about it later, he's not sure why he didn't try more actively to prevent it. It's not like he misses the attention or wants for much of anything. He wonders if this life has made him cruel.

The boy corners him and kisses him, tight around the mouth like he could spit. It's a bit tepid as far as kisses go, not that Watanuki has had a lot of experience; he can just feel the fear and anger pulsing through Doumeki's hands from where they dig into his shoulders, and it cages some more dangerous impulse in the boy, one that might start to make demands.

Watanuki doesn't tense or relax, simply lets the sensation pass through him like a high tide.

Finally, Doumeki leans back, his eyes alarmed but the rest of him steady. It's strange how much he looks like his father now of all moments, when he's just done the very first thing his father denied himself every day.

"There," he spits. "Are you happy?"

Watanuki lifts a thumb to his mouth without thinking, then sort of regrets it when he sees Doumeki's eyes follow the movement.

"No," he says. "Doumeki-kun. I'm very sorry. I should have been more—"

Doumeki makes a disgusted noise and pushes back. "More what?" he snaps. "If anything, I wish you'd been less."


"Less everything. Less—everywhere." He licks his lips. "We have photos of you on the fridge. Did you know?"

"How could I?"

"My father doesn't talk about it," he says, "anymore, anyway, but my mother wants to see you. Once every couple of months, she says it. How she's waiting for you to come home. Dad, well—he's never rude about it, but he doesn't talk about it."

Watanuki lowers his eyes.

"Where would you be? If you weren't here, I mean. With her?"

"...your mother and I are dear friends," Watanuki says.

Doumeki seems to ignore this and lifts a hand to his own mouth, glancing sideways at a mirror to his left. "What about him?" he hisses. "Would you be with him?"

"It's not that simple."

The boy falls quiet at that, rubbing his mouth until it flushes a little under his fingers. Watanuki follows his gaze to the full-length mirror, sees double and then triple: sees the boy Doumeki stooped over him, angry and aching, and then the boy's father, who ached but never asked. Something ripples uncomfortably in his chest. It feels bitter, like failure.

He sits up slowly, gathering himself. Doumeki lowers his hands and takes a step back, a dozen emotions flickering in his eyes and a blush burning high on his cheeks, but he keeps his distance politely when Watanuki stands up.

"I made my choice," Watanuki says. He commands with this voice; he grants some wishes and grinds others into dust.

Doumeki's shoulders droop. He turns for the door, brushing aside Maru and Moro when they slide up to him. At the exit, just as he's leaving, he shoots a glower back at Watanuki.

"I haven't made mine yet," he says tersely, and slams the door behind him.

Weeks later, the boy puts his foot down as well, too soon for Watanuki to be certain of his own choices. He might have expected too much from his lineage.

It comes as little surprise to himself that it happens on a day when all he's done is sit around and finish off two bottles of wine and half a baguette. It's not that he's nervous; today has been the type of day which he takes for himself now and then, and of course he's due for an interruption. Of course the boy would come in like a thundercloud on a day where he's not really sure he even wants to stand up.

Doumeki slams the door behind him again and drops his bow on the nearest cushion, then whirls on Watanuki, his eyes shuttered, his hands shaking at his sides. Watanuki takes a last sip of wine, then sets the glass away from him and steeples his fingers.

"I knew you would come," he says delicately. "I was worried."

Doumeki shrugs. The gesture is tense, restrained.

Watanuki presses his lips together and searches for words. "I owe your father a debt that I cannot repay," he says finally. "That is why... That's why."

Doumeki nods in the affirmative, but only steps closer.

"Pay it through me," he says.

The boy misunderstands, as children are wont to do. But when he leans down, Watanuki doesn't push him away.

"I love your parents," Watanuki says, unwavering as Doumeki's face draws closer, so exactly familiar. "Very much. And they love me. But there are...things to uphold. All sorts of things. Customs and concepts. Things that are tangible and things that are not. That needed to be cared for."

Doumeki presses him back against the cushions, tugging open his sash.

"For me, it was this shop—"

Doumeki sinks teeth into his shoulder, hard. He doesn't flinch, but when Doumeki first starts to wind his way downwards, Watanuki draws him back up with a hand.

"For them," he says, "it was you."

Watanuki slowly gathers his clothes, ruffles his own hair. The boy is drawn up against the backboard of the bed, simply watching.

"Did he ever see you like this?" he asks after a moment.

"Don't think that way about your own father," Watanuki hums. "And don't make an enemy out of him, for that matter. You'll make your life too complicated; somebody could get hurt."

"I mean. Somebody sort of already did, otherwise I wouldn't be here."

"I am a settler of accounts," Watanuki says firmly. "Your parents have little need of me—that's why they don't come. I wonder if they still can. That's none of my business until they try."

Doumeki stares hard at him. "I'm here," he says, his voice thick with want. "Does that mean I need you?"

Watanuki wants to say no, because it has to be the truth. He can only see the future in shades and colors, but more importantly he knows this space—how difficult it is for even one person to fill it, how impossible it proved for two.

He steps back to Doumeki and leans down to put a hand on Doumeki's shoulder, but Doumeki tilts his head up and forces their lips together instead. It's warm. Some part of Watanuki sears with awareness of this farce. He considers the price and finds it steep, finds it stretching on into an indeterminate future.

He concedes defeat. He presses his fingers into Doumeki's back, each one an apology for the sons that will find their feet turned to his doorstep. If at points the boy under his hands feels like a man he's known all his life, he doesn't say anything, can't say anything, and anyway it's not like he ever knew firsthand.