With a woman like Yuuko-san as his employer, it really wasn’t surprising that Watanuki should become so well-known at the local drugstore. Normally, he had only to walk into Green Drugstore before the young attendant was laughing and pulling down the hangover remedies, but today instead of seeing Kazahaya’s familiar face, an older dark-haired man lounged behind the register. To all appearances, he was sleeping.
Watanuki watched him curiously as he crept by the counter, though if the chime that had sounded when Watanuki entered the store hadn’t woken him, the mere act of walking didn’t have much hope of doing so, either. Watanuki didn’t know how the man could sleep on duty, especially not with the atmosphere in the store today.
Usually, Green Drugstore was full of energy. Not all of it was necessarily good, but Watanuki had always found the place to be... lively. And not a little entertaining, with the two attendants’ bickering. But there was no bickering today. Just a pervasive stillness, a quiet that seemed to stifle all movement within the shop, to the point where Watanuki was half-surprised to come upon Rikuo and Kazahaya, silently stocking shelves near the back of the store. Well, Rikuo was stocking them. Kazahaya seemed content to stand behind him, watching.
But he turned as Watanuki approached, and smiled slowly, not saying word, but giving a little wave. That probably should have been Watanuki’s first clue, but instead, the younger boy waved in return and said an enthusiastic, “Hello!”
Rikuo turned, and Watanuki nearly stopped in his tracks. The taller boy wasn’t pale, didn’t really look sick at all, but there was something in his face that made Watanuki feel as though the bottom of his stomach had dropped away, something tight and raw and painful.
“Welcome to Green Drugstore,” Rikuo muttered, apparently not up to his usual drawl. “Is Saiga asleep again? I’ll put you through.” He didn’t sound very willing, and Watanuki glanced curiously at Kazahaya. The fairer boy’s face was full of gentle sympathy, but he still didn’t say a word, and that was what actually made Watanuki stop.
“What... happened to Kazahaya-san?” Haltingly, because the stillness in the air suddenly felt a little like the eye of a storm, and Watanuki did not want to get caught in it.
Rikuo’s shoulders stiffened, and he slowed in the aisle. Kazahaya slowed behind him, stood a little to one side as the taller boy turned to face Watanuki again, jaw clenched, eyes closed.
“He’s... disappeared. We don’t—ngh.” He stopped, throat working in a harsh swallow. His eyes, when he opened them, were dark with something that looked a lot like pain. “We don’t know if he’ll be coming back.” And then, with a grin that looked more like a grimace, “So if you’re looking for another job, kid, now’s the time.”
Kazahaya – the ghost of Kazahaya, Watanuki supposed, since he was a great deal more distinct than the drifting shadow of a young woman that had followed Rikuo as long as Watanuki had known him – smiled at Watanuki, and stepped forward to stand between them. Expectantly, though with a sense of great patience, he held out his hand.
Watanuki swallowed, put his eki-kyabe down on a nearby shelf, and reached tentatively to grasp Kazahaya’s outstretched hand. Rikuo raised an eyebrow at him, choked on a laugh. “What are you doing?”
Kazahaya jerked his head toward the taller boy, and Watanuki said, falteringly, “I think... I think you should give me your hand for a second.”
For a moment, Rikuo looked as though he might refuse. But then, just as hesitantly, he touched his palm to Watanuki’s. For a moment, it was just large and solid and warm – like other hands he’d held, Watanuki recalled, though he couldn’t quite say who he was thinking of – and then suddenly it was burning and clinging like something molten, and Kazahaya was turning his head so that Watanuki couldn’t see his expression any more, only Rikuo’s. But that was reward enough, really, seeing the green eyes widen and the muscles in his throat tense to cords beneath the skin, feeling the sudden, desperate clench of the larger hand on his own and knowing, suddenly, with a flood of warmth and affection not his own, that the taller boy would never let go.
“Stubborn ass,” Kazahaya murmured, and his voice was the whisper of the wind through leaves and branches – not quite his voice, but like enough that Rikuo’s lips pulled downward in a sudden, fierce grimace, and his shoulders hunched and he scowled as darkly as he could, but the tears escaped anyway. Gently, Kazahaya’s free hand pushed back Rikuo’s fringe, cupped his cheek, thumb soothing the furrow that had formed between his brows. “Get a life, moron. With that mutant body of yours, there are lots of things you’d be good at.”
Rikuo made a choking sound before he could speak, but his free hand clenched around Kazahaya’s slim wrist. “Such an idiot,” he managed, croakily, and Watanuki – not wanting to watch, but unable to look away – wasn’t sure whether the words were aimed at Kazahaya or Rikuo himself. But Kazahaya seemed to understand, and even though Watanuki couldn’t see his face, he could imagine the expression on it.
“My only moment at your expense,” he murmured, and leaned forward. Watanuki’s vision was blurring, blackening at the edges, but he couldn’t give out now, not with the flood of emotion that Kazahaya’s spirit was channelling, not with Rikuo’s hand clenched to white around his own painfully crushed fingers. He scrunched his eyes shut and clenched his jaw tightly, and when he woke up the pale, delicate face of the drugstore’s owner was hovering above him, smiling.
“Thankyou for your hard work, Watanuki-kun.” He helped the bespectacled boy to his feet, and handed him eki-kyabe, pre-bagged and with a receipt taped to the outside. His hand ached dully, and Rikuo was nowhere to be seen, but the oppressive numbness that had poisoned the shop for days was gone.
Watanuki thanked the owner, carried the eki-kyabe back to Yuuko-san, who moaned that he had taken so long and she was in pain, and had he at least learned something on his journey of a thousand headaches?
Watanuki considered, and felt a small seed of Kazahaya’s gentle warmth still in his chest, a tiny remnant of Rikuo’s burning, flooding heat.
“I think so,” he agreed, and made her sandwiches.