The walk back to the shop was not going down in history as one of Watanuki's better moments. Denial wasn't working, the harder he tried not to think about it the harder he failed. He needed a distraction, and right now, blaming someone else at the top of his lungs was about all there was available.
"You know this is all your fault." Watanuki shouted over a shoulder. Extenuating circumstances, spirits, what-have-you be damned, this was just about all his sanity was holding on to right now.
"Oh?" Said Doumeki, only because Doumeki was saying it, it sounded a bit like "Why?", a bit like "Any how do you figure that?" and rather a lot more like "Maybe if I don't say anything you'll shut up sooner." He was trailing about ten paces behind, which Watanuki had decided was an acceptable distance – far enough to let Doumeki know he didn't want anything to do with him, close enough that Watanuki could still yell at him without being misheard.
"Well it is! If it wasn't for you I wouldn't have been dragged into any of that! Anyway, I thought you were supposed to be the one that repels those things!"
Doumeki couldn't really argue this point, although it did overlook the fact that there was every reason hypnotic suggestion might work even better if you couldn't see what was suggesting it. Even the owner of the house had never made the thing haunting the place out to be anything malicious, just – mischievous. Or something. In retrospect, they probably should've asked more questions about just exactly what he'd meant by that.
"It only wanted us distracted long enough to get away." Doumeki pointed out, more matter-of-fact than should have been humanly possible. He was also the one carrying the still completely empty glass lantern-like thing Yuuko had given them. It had been dropped heavily earlier that afternoon, but was miraculously uncracked. This was something of a small mercy at this stage, but having Yuuko charge him for damages when they got back on top of everything else was the last thing Watanuki was prepared to deal with.
Watanuki found himself automatically trying to do up the missing button on his shirt for the fourth time that day. They both looked a little the worse for wear, though it was only adding insult to injury that Doumeki's clothes were managing to look more artistically rumpled than as outright rolled-in-the-dust-one-the-floor-in as Watanuki's did. At least the other boy had the decency to look slightly uncomfortable about it all. "Couldn't it have found some other way to distract us?"
"Why are you asking me?"
"Who else have I got to ask? And how was that even remotely normal spirit behaviour?"
"You could ask Yuuko when we get back. She usually knows this stuff."
Watanuki gritted his teeth. The reaction they were going to get from Yuuko when they got back was one of the things yelling at Doumeki had been supposed to help him avoid thinking about.
"This is still your fault. I mean, how you could just let it coerce you into doing all that!" Watanuki firmly told himself there didn't need to be any descriptive verbs in that sentence. Doumeki had been there, he knew all too well what those verbs had been. "You were supposed to be…"
"Oi!" Doumeki interrupted, rubbing the side of his head. "You really didn't notice?"
"Didn't notice what?"
"That spirit thing. It left after the first ten minutes."
The response to that statement was really quite spectacular. Watanuki not only froze and turned right around in exaggerated slow motion, Doumeki swore could actually see the exact moment the implications sunk in.
"What do you mean it left, you never said anything!" Watanuki's face had gone approximately the shade of a tomato. "You never even stopped!"
"Yes I did."
"NO YOU DIDN'T! AND I WOULD KNOW BECAUSE IN CASE YOU FORGOT I WAS THERE!"
Doumeki continued rubbing his head. "It was when I hesitated and moved back for a moment. You remember?"
Watanuki gaped at him, horrified to realise his memory had indeed thrown up a matching card.
"You pulled me straight back down." Doumeki reminded him helpfully.
Watanuki's face ran out of reds and started moving into purples. "Well of course I did! I thought you were going to do that," he made an expressive gesture, "thing again!" The gesture actually meant 'that thing where you stopped and just looked at me with that horribly intense, longing expression until I stopped fighting and…' (and here even the gesture gave up in embarrassment), but you would have had to have been there to have any hope of interpreting that. In fact, Doumeki had been there, and even he was left at a loss.
"That thing where you looked at me like… like you did when you did that thing!" Watanuki finished. There were a number of adjectives that would easily have fitted into that sentence, several of which were rarely found outside of the sort of cheesy novels Watanuki most certainly never read. He firmly rejected all of them.
Doumeki's brain took a moment to finish processing this. "Is that why? You were more scared of me looking at you than…"
"FINISH THAT SENTENCE AND I SWEAR THERE WILL BE RAT POISON IN YOUR SUSHI TOMORROW!"
"…anything else we came up with." Doumeki finished smoothly.
"THERE IS NO 'WE'. I THINK I MAY HAVE MENTIONED THIS WAS ALL YOUR FAULT." He took a breath. "And you still could have said something you – you advantage taking person!"
"It was gone by then. We'd lost our chance to catch it." Doumeki reminded him reasonably. "Besides, you seemed to be enjoying yourself."
"THAT IS NOT THE POINT."
"Well, it isn't ever happening again." Said Watanuki.
"What do you mean 'okay'?"
"Okay, I heard you?" Doumeki suggested mildly.
Watanuki actually couldn't come up with anything to yell at that. Besides, something in his chest was reminding him that with all that screaming, he was getting a bit behind on his oxygen quota, and any time he'd like to start breathing again now, y'know, that might be good.
"Although…" Said Doumeki, after a bit.
"Yuuko is probably still going to want us to go back and catch that thing."
To his unmitigated horror, Watanuki realised Doumeki was absolutely right. "Next time we'll come up with a plan."
"A plan that doesn't involve any of this happening again!"
"I can hardly wait."
Watanuki planned madly for a couple of seconds.
"I'm open to suggestions." He admitted eventually.
"Yuuko will probably have some."
"None I'm going to like. And she'll make me pay for them."
"She's going to tease you about this for weeks."
"Not me, us!" Watanuki shrieked at him madly. "She's going to tease both of us! We're both in this together! We were both there!"
"I thought you said there was no 'we'?"
"There is when Yuuko's involved!"
By the time they got back to the shop, Watanuki had let Doumeki catch up with him again. Eventually, maintaining all that distance just wasn't worth the effort.
Chapter 2: The Evening Before
While Extenuating Circumstances was conceived as a standalone scene, ideas for would have been the rest of the story went on nagging at me until I finally wrote them down. The following two chapters take place respectively before and after the first scene.
Yuuko's latest client had been a nervous looking man who wrung his hands a lot as he told them about the strange reoccurring phenomenon that had taken place at his house since the last Halloween. In exchange for an antique heirloom necklace, Yuuko agreed to take care of the haunting spirit responsible. She instructed Watanuki to call in on Doumeki, and gave him an item shaped like an old fashioned lantern. Their task, she told him, would be to bring the spirit back to her inside it.
He should have known there'd have to be some kind of hidden complication. Even though they were still bound to get there to discover that the spirit was five times too large to fit into the strange device or there was no earthly way to tempt it in, Yuuko's instructions were never anywhere near that detailed.
Yuuko had assured the man his haunting problems would be taken care of by the end of the week and made sure he had somewhere else to stay until then, before sending Watanuki out to take care of it straight away. The meeting took forty minutes and two cups of tea, not counting an extra minute or two for Yuuko to give Watanuki his instructions afterwards. When he arrived at Doumeki's shrine, Watanuki managed to summarise most of it in one sentence.
"There's this thing haunting this guy's house and Yuuko wants us to take care of it so come on," he announced as soon as the door slid back, then spun on his heel and walked off.
"What would you have done if one of my parents had answered the door?" Doumeki wondered aloud, falling effortlessly into step behind him as if this was a daily occurrence.
"Like that's ever happened. Yuuko would probably tell me it's hitsuzen that you're always going to answer the door. And the lantern is for catching it in, so don't get any dumb ideas about me carrying it around just for fun." It was hard to stalk as fast as he wanted to while carrying it; the damn thing was seriously putting him off his stride.
"You should be more careful with that," Doumeki suggested, watching the lantern nearly complete a full loop-the-loop for the fourth time. He was probably right, which only made things worse.
"Shut up. It'll survive. If it can handle a spirit it can handle a few shakes." Watanuki shook it again just for emphasis, and tried to hide a wince as he felt one of the links in the handle stretch.
"Is it going to disappear if you don't hurry?"
"The haunted house," Doumeki explained.
"What? Of course not!"
"Then why the rush?"
"You do not get to tell me how fast to walk!"
"Consider it a suggestion then," said Doumeki mildly. "Slow down."
What Watanuki wanted to say was that he didn't want Doumeki along at all, but facing a haunted house without backup was more horrifying than anything he was willing to deal with. Even spending the rest of the evening in Doumeki's company had to be infinitely preferable to that.
The house was of the traditional style that wouldn't have looked out of place next to Doumeki's shrine. The haunting might have been a recent feature, but it suited the place. Watanuki toed off his shoes, resisting the urge to knock, and stepped inside.
Doumeki watched all this intently. "You aren't coughing."
"There's no smoke or anything, why should I be?" Watanuki snapped, too irritated to care what Doumeki was getting at.
"You don't feel anything either?"
Watanuki considered, then shook his head. "Nothing so far."
"Then it's not something malicious," Doumeki concluded thoughtfully.
"Yuuko didn't say it was. But it's haunting the place, so it can't be friendly."
Doumeki frowned. "If you can't sense it, it could be hard to find."
Watanuki waved a hand vaguely. "I'll probably see it when it turns up. Come on, let's get this over with."
The house wasn't just old; it was also large. There had to be at least twenty rooms, a number of which would turn out to be little more than store rooms for a lot of old clutter. It may have had only one or two residents these days but it gave the impression it must have had at least a dozen not so long ago, all of whom had left without taking a single belonging with them, or even packing anything away. Watanuki found himself tidying rooms just by habit as he went through them.
A quick lap through the place turned up nothing remotely supernatural and not so much as an unexplained shiver from Watanuki. Yuuko's client had given very few specifics about where the offending spirit had been seen. The only way to be sure would be to look everywhere, to go through the house with a fine toothed comb – and if what they were looking for really would fit in the lantern, as Doumeki pointed out, then there was every reason to believe it could be something small enough to hide just about anywhere.
This could take a while.
After the first couple of rooms they sorted out a system. Since he probably wasn't going to be able to see what they were looking for even if it jumped right in front of his face, Doumeki stood in the doorway as a (hopeful) deterrent to any spirit that might try to get out, and helped out by pointing out places that hadn't been checked yet. Watanuki went through the hard work of searching in, under and behind everything the room contained, and complained loudly. Like most of Doumeki's ideas, it was entirely reasonable and as annoying as hell.
The trouble with Doumeki, he reflected somewhere around room number eight, was that even after so much association, getting angry at him every few minutes was still about the only way Watanuki knew to deal with him. It wasn't his fault the other boy could irritate Watanuki just by existing in the same space as him, especially since Doumeki rarely left it at doing just that. If he could just – oh, something. Give Watanuki some idea what was going on his head. Stop being right all the damn time. Stop being so damn smug about everything. Stop confusing the matter by going to such extreme lengths to save his life every other week and still being just about the only person Watanuki could actually talk to about all this stuff. Recognise that lunches did not emerge from Watanuki's kitchen by some magical process that did not involve actual work – and even if he was going to make them anyway that wasn't any excuse for taking them for granted. But like it or not, Doumeki Shizuka was becoming one of the more unpleasant facts of Watanuki's life, wedged somewhere between man-eating spirits, the employer from hell and a girl who never seemed to notice he was interested in her. It's damn hard being the scarily self-sufficient one with an over-developed sense of personal responsibility when someone else turns up, points out all the gaps where your self-sufficiency had fallen through, and starts filling them in.
"What sort of haunting was it?" Doumeki asked him after the first couple of rooms turned up nothing more supernatural than off-coloured wallpaper.
"Huh?" said Watanuki, who hadn't been paying attention.
"The owner of the house. How did he know it was haunted? It might give us a clue where to find that thing," he pointed out.
Watanuki tried to remember the details. There really hadn't been very many of them.
"Just – standard haunting stuff, I guess. Windows rattling, things being knocked over, lights flashing on and off. Oh, and people who slept here were having weird dreams."
"What kind of dreams?"
"He didn't say. Nightmares, probably." Watanuki knew all about spirit-induced nightmares. A lot of his didn't end when he woke up. "What good is that to us anyway? Because I am not going to go to sleep here and wait for that thing to show up."
As a rule, Doumeki's expressions did not change much, but there was a nuance to this one now that said: please remember you were the one that suggested that, not me. "It was just something a bit different."
For better or worse, no more was said on the subject.
It took eleven rooms of clutter before they got even their first hint that the haunting was genuine. This was more than long enough to ensure neither of them was alert enough to do anything about it. Watanuki turned over a teacup, which he'd fully expected to be as spiritless as the last eight identical cups in the set, and something small and white whizzed past his ear, spun in a full, dizzying loop around his head and zoomed away through the open door. He barely got more than the quickest of glances at it, just enough to make out a shape roughly humanoid despite its diminutive size. Either it had a long white tail or had been going fast enough to leave the impression of one in its wake.
Doumeki, useful as ever, stood right there as the spirit flew past him. He watched Watanuki with the usual bland face that he saved for his companion's Dance of the Spirit No-One Else Can See. "Was that it?"
"You didn't see anything?"
Watanuki sighed. Of course it wasn't going to be one of those few spirits Doumeki could actually see; that would have made it far too easy.
"Where did it go?" Doumeki wanted to know.
"Back out. Around the corner, I think," Watanuki pointed.
Doumeki glanced over his shoulder. "That's back to all the rooms we just looked through."
Watanuki gritted his teeth and tried to convince himself that any job they could get this far through without something trying to eat them was an easy one. It didn't work nearly as well as he'd thought it would.
The second time they saw the spirit was only a moment later, as soon as they stepped out into the corridor again. It must have been waiting for them out there, and running into it again so soon startled Watanuki even worse than the first time. Doumeki made a grab for the tiny spirit as it whizzed past, but missed by a mile. He glared at his hand with what on anyone else would have been real human frustration.
"I saw it for a moment that time," he said by way of explanation, tapping a finger under the eye that had caused them both so much trouble. He'd been trying to aim for it using someone else's viewpoint, Watanuki realised with a mental wince on the other boy's behalf. That couldn't be easy – no wonder he'd missed.
"It went in there," Watanuki told him, pointing again, and led the way back to a cluttered lounge they'd searched only a few minutes ago.
"Oi," said Doumeki, sounding thoughtful as he followed Watanuki in. "You didn't see it go through any walls, did you?"
"No, just through the doorway. Why?"
Doumeki pulled the door shut behind him with a click. "Maybe we can trap it."
It sounded like a crazy way of trying to capture a spirit, but there was no harm in trying. Watanuki surveyed the room. It was one of many they'd looked through already, and had at least a dozen places for a tiny spirit to hide, none of which looked like they'd been disturbed since he'd last seen them. Watanuki gave another sigh and got to work.
"Damn that Yuuko," he grouched, checking under a pile of lacy cushions for the second time, "We need a net to catch this thing, not a glass box. It wouldn't hurt her to give us some kind of hint, would it?" There was only silence from Doumeki – presumably he was treating this as a rhetorical question. "What if we were wrong and it really can fly through things?" Watanuki went on. "We'll never catch it. Unless we're just supposed to hold the lantern up and hope it flies in…" Doumeki's silence was starting to get on his nerves. "I know you can find some way to help me out here! The door's closed, and you couldn't catch it even if it flew straight past you, so there's no point guarding anymore. Look around or something – maybe you can scare it out."
It occurred to Watanuki a few moments later that no matter how unhelpful he might usually be, this was the sort of statement which Doumeki would usually have responded to. The other boy had been silent for a little bit too long for comfort.
Watanuki turned around. A second later his mouth dropped open and one arm sprang up to point madly at the tennis-ball sized spirit that was hovering right over Doumeki's shoulder. It looked like it was in the act of whispering something in his ear – Doumeki had taken on the look of someone listening intently, like he was trying to make out a piece of music being played some distance away in another room.
"There! There! It's right there!" Watanuki hissed, hurrying forward, arm still outstretched and pointing urgently.
Only Doumeki didn't make another grab for the spirit. He didn't seem to hear Watanuki at all. Instead, he grabbed the hand that was being pointed at him by the wrist and yanked it sharply down, making its owner stumble awkwardly towards him. Doumeki must have done something with the other hand to steady them since the maneuver didn't end with them both colliding messily, but Watanuki didn't really notice what, because most of his brain was far too busy noticing that Doumeki had taken advantage of their new proximity to line his mouth up with Watanuki's and kiss him on the lips.
There's a lot that has been said on the subject of first kisses in other sources – the hoard of new sensations, the melting into each other's arms, the impression of fireworks going off in the background. There's supposed to be that wonderful moment when you both get past the initial awkwardness and finally start to figure out how it works, breathlessness and weakness at the knees, every nerve on alert and every sense heightened as never before.
Watanuki wasn't particularly aware of any of this. If there were any fireworks going off in his head, it was his brain exploding trying to figure out what the fuck was going on.
This part took a bit longer than it probably should have, between all that mad flailing and his brain going boom. The trouble was that Watanuki was just a bit too used to assuming that everything wrong with the universe was in some way Doumeki's fault, and it took a few seconds before it occurred to him that the fact there was a spirit-thing whispering something in Doumeki's ear and the fact that Doumeki was behaving in a manner weird even by his usual incomprehensible standards at the same time was probably not a coincidence.
Watanuki managed to put some method to his flailing long enough to back away a bit. "You…! Damn you, it's that thing, it's making you…"
But it was pretty obvious Doumeki wasn't listening – perhaps wasn't even capable of listening to anything Watanuki had to say right now. He tried again to point to the offending spirit, but Doumeki was still holding his wrist down, and as Watanuki backed away he followed him. Watanuki's knee-jerk reaction to this was to back away even further, which only stopped once he felt himself bump into something and realised Doumeki now had him pressed up against a wall and there was nowhere left to back away to.
Now, if Doumeki had done what Watanuki had expected at this point and gone back to trying to kiss him again, the situation would probably never have gotten much further. Watanuki would have kept flailing his free arm until he managed to do something like punch Doumeki in the eye, and no matter what the spirit tried, this very likely would have been enough to wreck the mood irreparably. But Doumeki didn't do that immediately – he hesitated; one thumb tracing lightly over Watanuki's cheek (oh, that's where that hand wound up), the other still holding his wrist. Watanuki could still see the spirit whispering in his ear, but it didn't seem as though Doumeki had attention to spare for anything other than the boy he had pinned up against the wall. And the look on his face stopped even Watanuki.
There was just so much longing there. Like Doumeki was looking at something he'd always wanted, but had somehow never even noticed until today, and had already accepted without question that it was something he was never going to have. Coming from Doumeki, master of deadpan, for whom one eyebrow spoke volumes, it was the kind of look you could drown in. Watanuki would never know how much of it was just the influence of whatever the spirit on the taller boy's shoulder was still whispering in his ear, but Watanuki managed to spare just enough thought to muse that if this was what was going on in Doumeki's head all the time, maybe it was a good thing he didn't usually know about it.
When Doumeki leaned in again at last, slowly, not breaking eye contact until the last second, Watanuki found he no longer had it in him to object. Now that he was actually paying attention, he couldn't help but notice Doumeki wasn't bad at this at all.
Within a few seconds, there were fireworks of a very different, much more pleasant variety going off in his head.
By the time Doumeki's hands started to sneak under his shirt, objecting was the farthest thing from Watanuki's mind.
Several minutes later, Doumeki noticed what was going on. It came as a bit of a surprise, not because he couldn't remember how he got there, but because up to that point there'd been a sort of haze over his mind which had made it difficult to remember certain things. Like why, to pick an example, it might have been considered unusual behaviour to make out with the partner who was supposed to be helping you exorcise a spirit. Or strip him out of most of his clothes. Or push him to the floor, climb on top of him and start cataloguing things that could be done with a hand or a mouth that would make him shiver underneath you. Not to put too fine a point on those or anything.
Spirits. Right. That might explain quite a bit. Although it was starting to look like today's mission was going down as a miserable failure in the exorcising department. With a slight reluctance that he'd probably avoid mentioning later, he made to get up, maybe explain to Watanuki that whatever-it-was was over and see what was still to be made of the situation.
Doumeki had not to this point been immediately aware that Watanuki had arms wrapped around behind his back and head, but he was reminded of them quite sharply when, after letting him get barely fifteen centimetres away, Watanuki tightened them both and pulled him straight back down again.
Okay, thought Doumeki, nibbling distractedly on the ear his mouth was now pressed against, since this seemed to be the expected response, and besides, he was really quite enjoying hearing Watanuki make that noise (and just how much he liked that might be another of those things he'd avoid mentioning later). So there wasn't a unanimous vote on that one. Fortunately, while Doumeki may not have been able to exorcise spirits at twenty paces or resist hypnotic suggestion, he did have an ability to take bizarre situations in his stride that bordered on a superpower. So Doumeki did something that few other people in his position would ever have been able to do – he thought about the situation rationally.
He had very few delusions that Watanuki's unusually enthusiastic attitude to what was going on here would last long after it was over. If he let this continue to its conclusion, some things were inevitable – Doumeki would eventually have to deal with a certain amount of personal embarrassment, and what was going to be a seriously pissed off Watanuki.
On the other hand, if he made the effort to stop this now, he'd still have to deal with an only slightly lesser amount of personal embarrassment, an only slightly less pissed off Watanuki, and also an erection.
Put like that – and he had to admit it was possible he wasn't in a state to be entirely rational about all this, but what could you do? – it didn't seem like much of a decision.
They'd gotten this far. It would be impolite to stop now, he reasoned. Continuing seemed like the only good idea.
The status of that decision as a good idea only improved as the minutes passed, far faster than they had any sort of right to.
The journey from the pleasant fuzz of the afterglow back to reality took Watanuki about ten minutes and, compared to the ten minutes before that, was not any sort of fun at all. He had known objectively this would be coming, or had no good excuse for not knowing, but in that distracting world of hands and mouths and heat and skin, this part had all seemed comfortably far away.
The reality of the situation was a lot less pleasant, and had left him lying on the floor of a stranger's house next to Doumeki, in very few clothes and quite distressing need of a towel. The part that really clinched the back-to-reality journey, however, was that Doumeki was sitting up now, and was looking at him again.
It wasn't the same look that had started everything – thank god, because that would have been more than Watanuki could take. This was more guarded and more curious – a look of someone who wasn't sure whether to be worried about what was going to happen next and was delegating the decision over whether there'd be a freakout to someone else, but a lot of the openness from before was still there. In a situation like this, even Doumeki could only close down so fast.
It was starting to dawn on Watanuki that no matter how much he might want to deny the fact he'd just had sex with Doumeki, what they'd done was more than close enough for a number of wider definitions of the term (and in any case Watanuki was not prepared to think hard enough about anything that had just happened to contemplate that sort of classification in any more detail than that). This wasn't like being rescued by him or hearing he'd stood ten hours in the rain for you or realising, late at night, that you really wanted to talk to him. It wasn't like being dragged to one of his archery tournaments and spending the whole thing hoping and expecting him to lose miserably, only to feel this odd sense of warm pride when you saw him take first place - or even catching yourself admitting, occasionally, that from the right side, you could maybe see why there were all those girls after him. The difference was that you could deny all of those meant anything. You could deny most of them happened at all.
It was also then that Watanuki first became aware that, by dint of being the only one who hadn't been mind whammied in the past hour, it was going to be up to him to explain what had been going on.
"It was that spirit!" Watanuki blurted, suddenly discovering that it was very important that the record be set straight on this matter as quickly as possible. "It was whispering something to you. To make you do -- all that stuff! "
It had to say a lot about either the sort of jobs Yuuko had had them doing lately or Doumeki's general talent for nonchalance (and possibly both) that he looked as though he'd expected something like that. "Something like hypnotic suggestion then?"
"I don't know!" Having Doumeki back to his usual self was both terrifying and an enormous relief. "Do you even remember anything that happened?"
"Most of it." Doumeki stared at the other boy contemplatively. "Did it do the same to you?"
"Why would it…" was as far as Watanuki got before catching on to what Doumeki was thinking. He'd been there too – and he'd let all of that happen. Any reasonable person would have to assume he'd been under the same influence. "It probably couldn't whisper to both of us at once! It already had you doing everything it wanted – it didn't need to do anything to me!" he insisted, remembering too late that offering this many excuses only made his cause all the more suspicious. He'd just hit a new stage in the process of this realisation he'd been going through that the only one who'd had any chance of playing designated-driver through all of this had been him, and this was doing serious damage to his mental placement of himself in the role of the victim here.
Doumeki glanced around the room, as though the ability to see spirits was something he might have contracted through unusual proximity. "It isn't here anymore, right?"
The change in subject was a seriously welcome relief. "It's gone. And we are going too. Before it comes back." He mentally dared Doumeki to point out their failure at catching it. There was no way he was going anywhere that spirit might turn up again today. "Where are my clothes?" he complained to the universe in general.
"Next to you. They haven't gone far." There was a very slight uncomfortable edge to Doumeki's voice, but it was already so close to being back to his usual deadpan that it proved Watanuki's next breaking point.
"Is it too much to ask you to even have a reaction?" Watanuki snapped before he could stop himself. "I mean we just – it made us…" He gestured state they both were in, unable to make himself actually say any of the appropriate words, and did his level best to keep his eyes from wandering anywhere south of Doumeki's shoulders. "And any normal human being would be… would be bothered or something! Not that I mean to imply you are either normal or human, but you could at least make the effort to pretend once in a while!"
"An emotional response! I know you've heard of them. Be embarrassed! Sorry! Even smug would do, and I know you can do that one! Anything!"
In attempt to distract himself before he said anything else, Watanuki went back to the task of locating those all-important clothes. Doumeki had been right, they hadn't gone far, but now that he had them in sight, the actual process of putting them on posed more problems than he'd first appreciated. Putting on his pants right in front of Doumeki would be nearly as bad as taking them off. Putting on a shirt would leave him wearing a shirt and no pants, the image of which felt even worse. In any case he really (ogod) needed to clean himself up a bit before he got dressed properly, but that would mean walking around naked to find something he could use. He could yell at Doumeki to turn around until he was done, but saying that to someone who had already had plenty of time to get used to the sight of him in this state was more ridiculous than even Watanuki was prepared to deal with.
Eventually, he grabbed a shirt and wrestled it over his head, just in time to hear Doumeki reply, "Are you alright?" his voice slightly muffled through the fabric.
This was not a reference to the smaller boy's implied sanity based on his last outburst, Watanuki realised, this was Doumeki's idea of having a reaction, and his first reaction was to be worried about someone else.
Watanuki got stuck between "Of course I'm alright!" and "Of course I'm not alright!" and settled on "Why wouldn't I be alright?"
"I told you, I don't remember everything clearly," said Doumeki patiently.
He sounded honest enough that Watanuki had to give him an honest answer in reply. "You didn't do anything that hurt me or anything, alright?" he said, then gave in to earlier impulse and added, "Now turn around so I can finish getting dressed without you staring at me."
Doumeki raised an eyebrow at him, but turned around without further complaint.
It took another fifteen minutes before they got out of there. The room had been one of the less tidy ones when they first came in, but by the time Watanuki was done, neurotically cleaning up everything he could find, the result was, if anything, now suspiciously neat.
Chapter 3: The Day After
When they got back, Yuuko looked so infuriatingly smug that Watanuki very probably would have punched her in the face, if he'd thought there was any serious chance his fist would have connected. There was no helping the fact that he and Doumeki both looked a little the worse for wear, although it was probably safe to say it wouldn't have mattered how much effort they'd put into cleaning themselves up, she'd still have known exactly what they'd been up to.
"Well, did you enjoy yourselves?" said Yuuko, the very image of smugness wrapped in one of those far-too-revealing dresses, barely even trying to make the question sound innocent.
"Like hell we enjoyed ourselves!" Watanuki shrieked, stamping his foot and firmly telling himself he had not just heard Doumeki snort behind him.
"My." There was something about the way Yuuko lounged in her chair that managed to be even more lounge-y than usual. "Did something happen?"
"You know what happened! You always know these things!" This was not something Watanuki particularly wanted to admit he was aware of, in case it encouraged her to remind him of it more often in future, but it was turning into that sort of day. Knowing Yuuko, even if she hadn't known what was going to happen before they even left, she'd have been able to figure it out just from the shade of the blush on his face.
"Having a bit of trouble saying it, are you?" Yuuko was enjoying every moment of this. "Oh dear, they do say that if you're not ready to use the word, you're not ready to do it either."
There was another not-snort from Doumeki. Watanuki promised himself he was going to kill both of them, just as soon as he figured out where to hide the bodies. "You could have at least warned us!"
"Could I? You don't want to know what the price for that particular warning would have been." Yuuko's voice promised things that would make even having barely-consensual sex with Doumeki on the floor of a stranger's house seem mild by comparison.
Watanuki quickly decided that, since it would be no use to him now in any case, she was right; he really didn't want to know. Damn her.
"Oi," said Doumeki. "What about that spirit? We still have to catch it, don't we?"
"I'm quite afraid you do," Yuuko confirmed. "There's no helping it. I've already received the payment for this job, the task must be completed."
"But…" said Watanuki helplessly, "but if we go back there again, it's just going to…"
"Well, you don't know that for sure," Yuuko told him, though naturally she sounded as though she already knew absolutely for sure. "Not all spirits use the same trick every time. For all you know, it might have other tricks to share." She waited just long enough for the look on Watanuki's face to tell her this had sunk in properly, then added. "Of course, it's also possible it'll just stick to the one it knows will work. With such an unusual spirit, who can tell?"
Watanuki hung his head. "Isn't there any way we can stop it from happening again?"
"There is one thing that might help," said Yuuko, her face dancing with mischief.
"What?" Watanuki was already dreading the answer.
"Next time," she leaned forward conspiratorially, "just get all that nasty sexual tension out of the way before you go!"
Watanuki really did try to punch her then, and probably still would have even if he hadn't known fate would have to conspire to make sure he wound up flat on his face before he ever got anywhere near her.
The following morning, Watanuki woke up grumpy. He'd had any number of what could have been pleasantlydistracting spirit-related nightmares during the night, but in each and every one of them, Doumeki had shown up to save the day. He could only thank whatever gods might actually still be smiling on him that Haruka hadn't popped in for a chat that night – having to deal with Doumeki's grandfather after everything that had happened would have been enough to do him in for good.
Doumeki was hanging around outside Watanuki's homeroom when he arrived, in what Watanuki thought was a really pathetic attempt at looking casual. He looked like he hadn't slept much, but Watanuki wasn't even going to begin to try to figure out what to make of that. Fine, they could get this over with. He fished around in his bag until he found one of the bento boxes.
"Here," he said, thrusting the item at Doumeki, "is the damn lunch which you do not come close to deserving for going on that mission yesterday. Yuuko says we have to try again tonight, so we'll meet at the park after school. I do not want to see your face again until then."
"Watanuki-kun! Doumeki-kun!" called the voice of an angel.
"Himawari-chan!" Watanuki called back, managing to summon at least some of his usual enthusiasm.
"Good news!" Himawari practically sparkled. "The student council meeting had to be postponed. We can all meet for lunch today after all!"
Behind his smile, Watanuki's remaining enthusiasm drained away.
Lunch with these two, usually such an ordinary part of his routine, really was the last thing Watanuki wanted today. Doumeki, in his usual state, was about as readable as a world politics essay written in a foreign language. You were lucky when you got even the slightest glimpse of what was going on behind that face. But ever since Watanuki had seen that look on Doumeki the day before, now every time he got one of those glimpses he couldn't help wondering whether what was lurking underneath was something like that. The only way to guarantee not catching any of those glimpses was, as he had tried to demand, not to see Doumeki's face all day. Now, Watanuki would have to stare very hard in other directions not to have to see it constantly throughout his lunch break.
And while Doumeki might be a given, the truth was that right now, even the thought of dealing with Himawari-chan was more than Watanuki could stomach. Having lunch with her was just something so normal, and today he was feeling anything but. Worse still, he knew it was only a matter of time before she did what any polite friend would do and asked him how his job was going.
"It's going fine!" he told her, narrowly resisting the instinct to shout, and mentally daring Doumeki to contradict him. "Just cooking and cleaning and running back and forth buying hangover cures for Yuuko. Nothing of any interest to hear about at all!"
Himawari looked puzzled. "But didn't Yuuko-san send you and Doumeki on one of her errands yesterday?"
Watanuki stared at her. He knew he hadn't told Himawari anything about the errand, he was positive.
"I got stuck on that last question on our maths assignment last night and called you both to ask whether you'd figured it out," Himawari explained, cheerfully oblivious. "Doumeki-kun, when I called your house, your mother said you were both out somewhere together. Of course," she added, "it was silly of me to forget you could go out together without Yuuko sending you."
Something Watanuki had forgotten he'd been eating got stuck in his throat.
"No, it was one of Yuuko's errands," Doumeki explained helpfully, as Watanuki tried to cough up his stomach. "He's trying to forget about it because it didn't go the way he expected."
"So where did she send you?" Himawari just had to know.
"A haunted house," Doumeki told her.
"Oh dear. Was it very scary?"
Watanuki discovered, to his amazement, that it was possible to choke twice on the same piece of food.
"It wasn't scary. Just… unusual." Doumeki sounded as casual as ever, and yet Watanuki swore you could have built a house out of the substance of the pause before that last word.
"But something went wrong?" said Himawari, all honest concern.
Watanuki thumped himself on the chest, since clearly neither of the crazy people he was having lunch with were going to help, and regained control of his throat long enough to answer that one before Doumeki could do anymore damage. "It just didn't go to plan! But we're going back tonight and this time, it'll work."
Himawari beamed at him. Watanuki's smile sort of stuck.
When he looked down again, it was to the discovery that one of his sushi was missing. A glance up located the missing item (or the remainder of it) held between Doumeki's chopsticks. He glanced down at the offender's lunch box.
"What do you think you're doing? You haven't even eaten yours yet!" he protested.
"Though I'd better play it safe," said Doumeki cryptically, between chews.
"What the hell are you…" Part of one of yesterday's conversations helpfully replayed itself in Watanuki's head. "Oh for…! There's nothing in them, alright? You know I wouldn't – you know that!"
"Really," said Doumeki, and swallowed the last of the sushi. Watanuki had to wrench his lunch box out of the way before the chopsticks came back again.
"Okay, fine!" he snapped, grabbing Doumeki's bento and switching them over. "You eat mine, and I'll eat yours, and then you'll know there was nothing wrong with them. I hope you're happy!"
Doumeki's only reply was a series of munching noises as he worked his way through the rest of Watanuki's sushi. Watanuki looked down at his own newly acquired bento. The sushi aside, there was a whole lot less left in it than there'd been in his.
Lunchtime had never before seemed take so long.
The whole 'meeting at the park' idea would have worked a lot better if they hadn't both been leaving from the same place at the same time to get there. Doumeki actually had the nerve to wait for him at the school gate.
"What," said Watanuki when he found him there, "are you doing?"
"Waiting for you. We're going the same way," said Doumeki, as if this was something Watanuki would need pointed out to him in order to grasp.
"You're supposed to go home or something first! We don't have to go right away!"
Doumeki shrugged. "I don't have anything else important to do. Do you?"
Watanuki realised that, aside from dropping his books off home and spending a good hour or so away from this jerk, he really didn't. In fact, unlike either Doumeki's shrine or the park, his apartment was on the way to the haunted house, so Doumeki would be saving himself a walk if he stuck with Watanuki now. Of course, that had to mean Doumeki was assuming he could dump his stuff at Watanuki's place as well, since whatever happened it would be practically on the way home for him on their way back. Typical Doumeki, to come up with stuff like this that made perfect sense to him and ignored all of Watanuki's plans completely.
"Fine, come on!" Watanuki declared, stalking away in the direction of his apartment. "We may as well get it over with before we run out of daylight."
"Yuuko didn't say it mattered when we went, did she?" Doumeki asked him, by now too accustomed to Watanuki's stalking habits to comment on them today.
"As long as we go today, it doesn't matter," Watanuki assured him. They'd both been there when Yuuko gave them those instructions, why did he have to ask questions like this?
"Wasn't it a problem for the owner that this took more than one night?" wondered Doumeki.
"He's staying somewhere else. Yuuko suggested he'd want to."
"For how long?"
"The rest of the week, so don't worry, he won't be back yet."
"Yuuko said we'd need the whole week for this?"
Watanuki stopped in his tracks. "Oh no, you don't think she meant…" All he had to do in the evenings was work, cook meals and do homework. There was no reason why Yuuko couldn't send him back here on each of the next five days.
"Can't be sure. But it's a possibility," said Doumeki, catching on with enough ease to prove that he had been having exactly the same thought.
Watanuki hung his head and tried not to think about it. He realised he'd been doing a lot of this lately.
But the worst part by far was the little voice in the back of his head which kept saying that if, hypothetically, something just a bit like what happened last time did happen again, and if there really was nothing they could do about it, that wouldn't be all bad, would it?
On the doorstep of the dreaded haunted house, they stopped simultaneously, as if both expected the other to deal with that tricky business with the doorknob. There was an unspoken sense of 'this is it' floating over the scene.
"So how's that plan of yours coming along?" inquired Doumeki. Fortunately, Watanuki was ready for this.
"The plan is that this time I do not let you out of my sight. And this time, when it shows up and starts whispering to you again, I'll see it in time so that I can punch you in the face and snap you out of it before you do anything!"
"And how is that going to help us catch it?" questioned Doumeki, who seemed to have spotted a flaw or two in this idea.
"It won't!" Watanuki waved his arms for emphasis. "But it'll stop what happened before and it'll make me feel a whole lot better!"
"That's the best you could come up with?"
"I don't hear you making any better suggestions, do I? Now let's get this over with." Watanuki wrenched open the door. The haunted house was waiting for them.
The upshot of his plan was that, since it hinged around him not letting Doumeki out of his sight, it was now Doumeki's job to do the hunting through each room while Watanuki stood in the doorway and watched for signs of any spirits that might turn up in the process. Doumeki accepted the idea without complaint, which stole some of Watanuki's satisfaction at making the lazy oaf do some work for a change, but at least it saved them an argument. Doumeki, being Doumeki, however, still managed to find a way to stuff things up. He may have been thorough in his search, but his approach to replacing things once he'd examined them left a lot to be desired.
To Watanuki, this classified as the at least the third deadliest sin in the whole world of housekeeping.
"This is your idea of tidying up after yourself?!" he snapped, before they'd gotten half way through the second room. "You can't just leave everything lying around when you're done with it!"
Doumeki surveyed the disaster area he was leaving behind him like it had been invisible until it was pointed out. "It's not that different to what it looked like when we first got here."
"That's not the point! When you go through other people's stuff you leave it tidier than you found it, you don't just rearrange the mess. It's a basic law of courtesy!"
Doumeki looked unmoved. "We're here as exorcists, not cleaners. The owner will probably expect some mess."
"Not the kind that makes it look like a burglar's been through here!" And not the kind we nearly made here last time either, said one of those voices in Watanuki's head he was currently not on speaking terms with.
Doumeki clearly thought they had bigger problems than courtesy and housekeeping. "If it bothers you, feel free to fix it yourself."
Agreeing to that, however grudgingly, was Watanuki's first mistake. But was it his fault if the thought they were trashing a stranger's house was distracting him so badly that he couldn't even concentrate on the task at hand? He didn't even have time to do a proper job of any of it, just barely enough to throw a few things into place as quickly as possible, between sneaking frantic glances over his shoulder to made sure Doumeki remained bored and fed up, but safely spirit-free.
Suggesting Doumeki keep talking to him through the tidying process was his second mistake.
"Why?" asked Doumeki.
"So I don't have to keep looking at you while I'm trying to clean up your mess. Last time, the first clue I had anything was wrong with you – and by which I mean anything more than normal was wrong with you – was when you stopped talking," Watanuki explained. "And you didn't say a thing while you were doing any," he made the carefully non-specific gesture he'd lately developed for avoiding descriptions like the one that would otherwise need to go here, "of the stuff it made you do, either. Ergo, when it takes control of you, you stop talking. Ergo, as long as you keep talking, I'll know it's not here."
He didn't have any excuse for not knowing better. If he'd thought about it, he would have remembered that Doumeki was simply not that much of a conversationalist. He'd have remembered he and Doumeki didn't have the sort of conversations normal people did, where they both talked to each other; they had the sort where Watanuki talked (or yelled) at length, and Doumeki grunted at intervals. Watanuki could have counted the maximum number of words he regularly heard Doumeki string together without running out of fingers. But somehow, all of that slipped his mind at the time.
"What if it tells me to talk?" Doumeki wanted to know.
"It'll take time," Watanuki insisted. "Or I'll know because you won't sound like you."
"What am I supposed to talk about?"
"Anything!" Fully confident in his new plan, Watanuki rearranged a set of matching ornaments without looking up. "Talk about school or your family or running the temple or even what you had for breakfast or something."
"When do I ever talk about anything like that?"
"You can start now! They're valid topics. Talk about all of them if you run out of anything to say. You're making me do all the real work as usual so I know you can at least handle the burden of a little conversation." Other ideas started to come to him. "Or you could recite a poem or sing a song or… okay, now I think of it, I really don't want to hear you sing, so don't do that, but I'm sure you must know something you could… Doumeki?"
It was at this point that Watanuki finally turned around.
To his unmitigated horror, he'd done this just in time to see the spirit coming to a stop right over Doumeki's shoulder. There was no time to point, not even at Watanuki's usual speed of operation when in shock, barely even time for his mouth to drop open as the full magnitude of everything that he was certain was about to happen again, right down to the terror that would be reporting back to Yuuko that night – probably every night this week to come, roared through his head like a freight train heading straight for…
Doumeki's hand shot out like a snake and caught the spirit by the tail.
For several moments Watanuki was too impressed to think anything else. That had to have been a defining moment in the field of hand-eye coordination. Especially considering Doumeki had only had a maximum of one eye to work with, and even that had been leant out to him on a temporary basis by someone who was seeing the situation from a completely different angle.
Doumeki wrenched the spirit around to the front of his face and stared at his hand with the curious expression of someone seeing the same scene two different ways from two different perspectives. The spirit struggled madly, but after a few seconds of this getting it nowhere, appeared to give in and merely glared at them instead.
"You… how…?" Watanuki stammered uselessly.
"Saw it that time. Clearly. It must have upset you more than before for some reason," Doumeki suggested, managing to sound like he had absolutely no idea how that could have happened. He thrust the lantern at Watanuki with his other hand. "Open this for me before you calm down so much that I can't see what I'm doing."
As usual, he had no manners you could find with a microscope, but Watanuki took the lantern and held it up for him, door open, too surprised to argue much. Doumeki thrust the struggling spirit inside unceremoniously, and was blessedly silent on how close his partner came to taking part of his hand off by slamming the door shut the moment he let go of the creature.
"You should learn to do that on demand," suggested Doumeki, meaning the eye trick, once the spirit was safely confined. "It would make this a lot easier."
Watanuki very quickly got over the shock that had been keeping him quiet. "I'm supposed to make myself worked up every time there's some spirit you want to see?! That…"
"…would be difficult," Doumeki finished for him, with that rare understanding tone to his voice. "But if there's some other way to make it work, it could be useful."
Watanuki glared at him. "If it's something that's dangerous and you need to see it then you'll see it anyway, and the rest of the time I do not want you peeking in on me."
"It was just a thought."
Neither of them said 'it would have stopped what happened last time'.
"It's in there, right?" Doumeki asked, eying what must now have looked to him like a completely empty lantern.
Watanuki checked dutifully. The spirit made faces at him through the glass. Watanuki had to resist the urge to swing it so that it spun like a pinwheel. "It's in there," he said. That seemed to be the end of it.
It was all so easy that it was strangely disappointing. Disappointing in that relieving kind of way where Watanuki was not for a second going to think anything like that too loudly, because that would be just begging to jinx himself; but after all that build up, it was something of a let down nonetheless.
It really said something about working for Yuuko that getting through an easy part of a job like this was one of the strangest things that had happened to him all week.
Not the strangest, of course, but maybe a close second.
Back at the shop, the first thing Yuuko did after being handed the lantern was to open the door. Watanuki's jaw very nearly connected with the floorboards.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?!"
"Letting it go, of course," said Yuuko, as the long-tailed spirit flew a couple of loops around her in the relaxed manner of someone that knows the chance to do so isn't something it has to enjoy while it lasts. "This little one has been a prisoner in that house for so long that you wouldn't begrudge it a little freedom, would you?"
"A prisoner? What do you mean? We couldn't get it to leave!" Watanuki protested, surprised to discover he still had ample energy left to scream at her even after the whirlwind of the last couple of days. "That was the whole point! "
"Nevertheless, this spirit has been a prisoner for some months," Yuuko assured him, with that tone that suggested that not even the gods themselves would find the need to correct anything she said. "Watanuki, surely you know that on the night of Halloween, the boundaries between this world and that of the spirits weaken?"
Watanuki knew. He could have given a lecture of what it meant to someone with a tendency to attract spirits even on better days. He knew all too well.
"But perhaps you didn't know the same can apply to other boundaries on that night?" Yuuko went on, as if Watanuki had no excuse for this being the case. "The placement of such a ward to deny entrance to spirits of ill-nature was once a common practice on any dwelling half so well kept as that of our customer. However, this one was an old ward – very old indeed – and had aged so much that it could no longer tell the difference between fair spirits and foul. Nor could it maintain itself to its full strength on the night of Halloween – and it was then, by unfortunate chance, that is this little one happened to wander in. It would not have been until morning that it realised that the wards had returned to full strength, and once it was inside they worked both ways against it."
The spirit flew one last loop around all of them and then whizzed away.
"That, of course, is why the lantern was necessary," Yuuko continued. "This device possesses a ward of its own, and once inside it our little friend could travel safely through the one which trapped it within the house. Surely you noticed you felt no evil aura from the house, Watanuki? When not trapped and scared as this one was, such spirits are harmless creatures."
The full implications of just exactly what Yuuko was telling them took all too little time to sink in.
"But… but why didn't you say something before we went to so much trouble trying to capture it!?" Watanuki wailed. "We could have just asked it to come with us and saved all that trouble!"
"Say something? Something like what?" Yuuko had that gleam in her eye again. "I never told you the spirit would be malicious, did I? Wasn't it you who assumed it would be necessary to trap it to coerce it into the lantern?"
Watanuki realised belatedly that Yuuko never had said anything of the sort. But they'd thought this thing had been haunting that man's house deliberately. What else had he been supposed to assume?
"Besides," Yuuko went on, "there are always rules on these matters. To tell you more would have incurred a greater fee than you could pay."
Rules you make up as you go along, thought Watanuki, but he could see how pointless it would be to say any of this aloud.
"Now that we've given him the gift of freedom," said Yuuko, with that horrible smile that meant she was about to have a lot of fun at someone else's expense, "this spirit owes me a fee as well. Look," she held up the lantern for Watanuki's inspection. There was no wick or flame, but inside it now glowed a clear, white light. "This will never go out while that spirit remains in this world and the lantern unbroken. A valuable price, don't you agree? Freedom is a valuable gift."
"You already got paid for this! By the man who owned the house!" Watanuki protested.
"Naturally. It's only fair that if you provide a service that benefits two people, they both owe you a fee for it," said Yuuko, that smile as evil as ever.
This sounded like absolute garbage to Watanuki, but he was far too scared Yuuko would find some excuse to claim she was owed some fee from him as well to point this out.
Where Yuuko was involved, you saved a lot of time by accepting that you'd lost long before you ever started playing.
Watanuki was not surprised when Doumeki fell into step behind him after they left the shop, nor could he find a satisfying reason to complain. He was only marginally more surprised to realise he'd actually managed to hit the point where he'd run out of things to shout at the other boy, and even though he didn't need to be walked home, it felt pointless to object.
There was silence between them until they'd put some distance between themselves and the shop; the sort of silence that stretches until you can actually hear it twang.
"Was it that you let it happen or that I let it happen?" said Doumeki, out of the blue.
"Was what what?" Watanuki demanded automatically.
"What's bothering you about what happened the other night." Doumeki sounded tired – they had been through a lot in the last two days, but where they stood now at the end of it was a judgment he was leaving for Watanuki to make.
Watanuki had no energy left to be anything except honest anymore, "Oh… both. Neither. I don't know! But when something like that happens it's not supposed to happen like that!"
Watanuki opened his mouth to argue, realised Doumeki had actually agreed with him, and shut it again abruptly.
"We could always do it again," said Doumeki, his voice only just leaving nonchalant on the start of some long journey towards somewhere unspecified. "The traditional way, I mean."
Watanuki had to admit Doumeki was getting really good at this 'stop Watanuki in his tracks' trick of his.
"I," he said, for once sounding more honestly bewildered than angry, "will never understand how you can say things like that with a straight face."
Doumeki shrugged. "It works for everything else." He took a step forward. "Well?"
Watanuki did his mad semaphore thing with his arms. "Well what? What am I supposed to say to something like that?"
"You say 'yes', or you give me a reason why not." Doumeki was still moving forward, and Watanuki was quite definitely not so much of a coward as to even consider moving away, but this meant they was starting to get distractingly close.
"What do you mean 'why not'? You have to give me a reason why!"
"Because you enjoyed it last time," said Doumeki seriously. "And so did I. And we both know that spirit wouldn't have tried something like that if it didn't have some reason to believe it would work."
Every half hearted rebuttal Watanuki had collided messily in his brain. The best he could do at this juncture was to curse Doumeki a thousand times for being right. Again. It was dawning on him that the part of what had happened that had really been bothering him might be a lot simpler than he'd thought. But no wonder it was irritating him so much – it was a hell of a way to find out something like that. About yourself or about anyone else.
"Well?" prompted Doumeki one more time, and now his voice had put some serious space between itself and its usual nonchalance, although his feet had simultaneously closed nearly all the space between him and Watanuki.
There were still a hundred excellent reasons why Doumeki was crazy. For some reason, Watanuki was just having trouble remembering what any of them were.
Apparently that only left one other option.
"Okay," Watanuki heard himself say, and wasn't even too surprised to find he meant it.
"Okay?" Doumeki sounded as though he couldn't entirely believe it was that easy, and at the same time, couldn't risk suggesting that it shouldn't be.
"Why not?" Watanuki told him, and then, more softly, repeated, "Okay."
Chapter 4: Epilogue
Much later that evening, both of them warm and comfortably sleepy and feeling rather better disposed towards the actions of some of the more unusual members of the spirit world, it occurred to Watanuki to ask, "Hey, what if I had been the one it hypnotized? What would you have done?"
Doumeki only considered for a moment before replying, "Probably shaken you by the shoulders until you snapped out of it."
"You would?" While Watanuki could easily picture that happening now that he'd heard it, it wasn't quite the answer he'd been expecting.
"I recall you mentioned punching me in the face earlier, but that might have been overdoing it a bit," Doumeki added.
"But… I mean…" Watanuki disentangled a hand and made one last use of his things-I-will-not-say-aloud gesture over the state of the two of them. "Wouldn't you have been at least tempted?"
"Not enough," said Doumeki, with that new honesty in his voice again. "You were the one who said before – it's not supposed to happen like that. And after I snapped you out of it, you would have been embarrassed enough. Letting anything else happen would only have made it worse."
"Well. You're right there," Watanuki admitted, indignant on his hypothetical self's behalf.
"You would have spent the rest of the day assuring me you'd never do anything like that normally…"
"Well, it would have been true! Up until today, anyway."
"…and I'd tell you I knew that," Doumeki continued smoothly. "But you wouldn't be satisfied by it; you'd keep on telling me the same thing until I got sick enough of you repeating yourself that I'd tell you the fact I knew you wouldn't do that normally was why I'd stopped you."
Doumeki had not been facing him properly through the conversation so far, but here his eyes wandered a little further in the opposite direction – what might, on anyone else, be interpreted as a nervous reaction. "I'd also tell you it was the only reason."
There was a kind of pleasant fluttery feeling in Watanuki's chest, one which usually turned itself into indignation when Doumeki was responsible for it, but which never quite got there today.
"That would shut you up for a bit," Doumeki went on. "You'd have to think about what I said for a while before you figured out I meant it…"
"Sorry for not having your oh-so-mighty intellect," Watanuki countered, with entirely feigned indignation.
"…and that I really did mean what you thought I'd meant."
"I mean, it isn't my fault you're so vague all the time! You leave so many spaces for other people to fill in that it's like having half a conversation!"
"Then you'd probably have gotten angry again, and you'd feel guilty too, but you'd have had to think about it even longer before you figured out why."
"Excuse me," Watanuki mumbled light-heartedly.
"At least it would all get you thinking about this. Thinking seriously. It would probably take a few more days," at long last, Doumeki's eyes found their way back to him, and Watanuki was caught there for a moment, "but if I was very lucky, just maybe we'd have wound up here anyway."
"Aw, a happy ending," Watanuki murmured, the moment safely past. "I like happy endings. See? I knew you could find something to talk about if you only tried hard enough."
"I had good inspiration." Doumeki started to shift himself again. "Now aren't we about at the rolling over and falling asleep part yet?"
"You had to go and find a way to ruin the mood," Watanuki complained into his shoulder, although he was clearly no more than a hair's breadth from falling asleep himself.