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Watanuki was crying in an empty world. He saw Yuuko get absorbed by the darkness, and he shouted at her, hoping she would be able to hear his broken voice “I’ll wait for you. I’ll stay here, in the shop... to be able to see you again, Yuuko!”

But Domeki grabbed him from the shoulder and shook him. “What are you saying?! It’s madness!”

Watanuki was surprised to see him there. “What are you doing here? How did you even get here?”

Domeki showed an egg. It was an ordinary, simple egg. “I used this. Please listen to me Watanuki”.

Domeki was trying to choose his words wisely, but his heart was pounding too much.

“Don’t do this” he begged, “Don’t do this to yourself, Watanuki”

“She doesn’t want this for you. She worked hard for you to get your own right to stay in this world. Our world. You’re stronger now. You had earned your place here.
You have a life and friends and dreams! Do you want to throw everything away?!”

“No, of course, but... if I don’t stay here, how could I be able to meet her aga-”

“She’s gone! Gone! She would have hated this for you. You shouldn’t just exist, Watanuki. You should live. There’s a lot of people that love you here”.

Domeki started sobbing. “You don’t know what you’re asking for! For a moment, just for a single moment with a dead person, you’re going to give up your future as a human? How long is it going to take to meet her again? Have you thought about that for a second?!”

“I-I’m just sad, I don’t want to lose her, I want someone to remember her...”

“You’re going to spend centuries alone! Every person you know and care about will grow old and die! And you’ll be here, trapped. Alone.”

Domeki didn’t feel shame as tears streamed down his cheeks.
“I don’t want to abandon you, Watanuki”.

 

-

“Watanuki... I have a desire”

“Oh, do you have a request, darling?”

“Well, it more like a favour”

“Oh, sure. Tell me.”

“Father is really sick. And... I don’t think he’s going to get better. Not this time”

Watanuki smoked and didn’t meet her eyes.
“I see. I guess it’s time.”

Hikari looked hurt for a moment. But Watanuki wasn’t able to see her expression. She had known him all her life. She knew he wasn’t like them. And not just because his appearance didn’t change at all in her forty-five years of life.

“He’s having nightmares, he’s suffering. I’m trying to help but there’s only so much I can do for him, and I have the children too. They’re worried about their grandpa. They’re so small... I would prefer if they wouldn’t see him like this”.

“Do you want me to take care of him?” Watanuki looked at her for the first time during the conversation. She felt like his eyes didn’t really see her, though.

“You resemble her so much. You look just like your mother, but with Domeki’s hair colour.
Not just your features, but the way you move too, how you dress... it’s almost painful.”

“...I’m asking a favour. Not for my sake. But for father. Can he stay in the shop with you?”

“Aaah... you know. In all these years, he visited almost every day, but he never actually lived here.
He stayed a couple of days here to sleep, but never more than that.”

Hikari snapped.

“Please! After all he had done for you, can you do something for him in return?!
I’m there every day, washing him, feeding him, and trying to soothe his pain and all I hear him say is ‘Watanuki, Watanuki’!”

“If he wants to, he can stay”.

-

“Was it really worth it, father?”

Hikari looked at her father, his frail body, full of scars and his tired, sad eyes. His wrinkled face that had finally started showing some of his emotions. He looked a bit better that day.

“What, Hikari?”

“This obsession. Maybe, at the start, he was human but now... he isn’t. He doesn’t care. I doubt he can feel anything any more. Aside from dull nostalgia”.

“Maybe you’re right. Maybe it was just us. Maybe we were the ones that didn’t want to be abandoned by him”.

“You, and mother... were cruel. To leave this burden to us. And for him? Tsk”.

“I’m sorry Hikari. I think I missed my chance, years ago. To make up for it, I... I know I’m asking too much. But please...”

“I’ll keep it. That egg.” Hikari sighed “I guess I should be thankful at least. I wouldn’t be born if it wasn’t for him. I’ll take care of it... someday, someone of the family may be able to use it”.

“Thank you”

“I won’t force my children to take care of him. They will choose on their own what they want to do. If they want to get involved in this... mess”

“I hoped to hear something else, but... it makes sense. I hope that it will be enough”.

 

-

Domeki looked outside, at the garden of the shop. He saw a familiar silhouette.

“Watanuki?”

Watanuki turned to him.

“Oh. You’re awake. Come here”

Domeki did as he asked, and sat beside him.
Watanuki poured him a glass of sake, and the two drank together.

“It tastes great...”

“It’s for a special occasion. I hid it from Mokona. How do you feel?”

“Good. Light. Better than I did in a while, honestly...”

Domeki looked at his hand holding the glass.
It wasn’t wrinkled and skinny. It was...

Domeki stood up, and his body didn’t hurt. He went to the garden and looked at his reflection in the pond. He looked younger.

“What does it mean?!”

“We’re in between worlds. This is the form you’re most comfortable with. This look... I think you’re supposed to be in your thirties. I was surprised too. I thought you would look around my age”

Watanuki took another sip of his sake and walked next to him. His own reflection the same as always. A young man with sad eyes.

“You’re dying, Domeki”

“...No... I can’t... it’s too early! Hikari doesn’t want to help in the shop, and my grandchildren are too young to...”

“It doesn’t matter, Domeki. You don’t need to worry about me anymore. I’ll be fine”.

“There has to be a way, maybe I can be a ghost, or...”

“There’s Haruka already. You should go ahead. Meet the others. Greet them for me as well. You’re the last one”

“I... I don’t want to leave you”

“I know. But you have to. It’s for your own good”

“But... Why are you telling me this?! You’re the last one that should say this to me!”

“You're right, and yet, thanks to my experience, I can tell you this. You shouldn’t obsess over someone else, you should think about yourself first”.

“But... we’ll never meet again”.

“I don’t think so... I think that when you’ll return... I will still be here. I hope to meet you again.
I didn’t think about that option at the time. It was so simple”.

“No! I...I love you”

“I know. It’s because of that that I ask you to go. I don’t want those regrets to turn you into something else. You’re human. A kind human. You should stay this way until the end”.

Domeki started crying like he had never done in his entire life.

“I’m sorry! I should have stopped you, I should have... I should have...”

Watanuki went close to him, holding his hands.

“It wasn’t your fault. I chose this for myself. Don’t worry, I’ll be fine. I feel things in a different way now. Loneliness doesn’t affect me the same way”.

Domeki hugged Watanuki. “Promise me, Watanuki! If I’ll ever come back... let me find you again”

Watanuki hugged him back.

“I promise”.